Friday, July 29, 2011

Two Podcast Highlights from This Week

Recently I've been listening to podcasts during my commute. Some of them have been especially noteworthy. Here are a two that I have found and are think are worth a listen (and isn't it strange both are from March 13?):

The Spirit Indwelling - Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley from March 13, 2011
- I love the ideas of God's making his home amongst us as discussed in this podcast. A really great discussion around how God's home had been first found in a tent, amongst the Israelites, and later in the tabernacle of Jerusalem. Finally, that Spirit makes its home in Jesus, and with us, in the flesh. Obviously I like anything that has to do with the Spirit :)

Hyper Reality and the Bread of Life
- Matt Chandler, The Village Church from Sunday March 13, 2011.
This podcast really hits the heart of the matter, and Matt discusses how today's media constantly provides us with unreasonable and overcharged versions of reality. I love his take on this!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Grace of God, a Quote by Frederick Buechner


"The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you." - Frederick Buechner

Click through to Flickr to download the image in a larger size (hooray! desktop wallpaper!)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"The Wilder Life" and a Connection to the Great Beyond

Growing up, I fell in love with Little House in the Prairie. It might have been because we lived in Minnesota during the years that the Little House TV show was on the air. I read every book, I had the yellow bonnet with tiny red flowers. I watched the show. I was a "bonnet head."

My love was rekindled when I started TiVoing Little House again this last year. Sean hadn't seen the show. It was fun introducing someone to the characters. It was amusing to tell him about what had been in the books, and that Albert was just an addition for television. It was also really cool to see the nuances of Ma and Pa in a new light, now that I have a baby of my own.

My sister knows that I love Little House and she gave me the book "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure. Wendy is also a bonnet head, and as an adult she has gone in search of "Laura World." Much like myself, growing up she felt like she knew Laura, was her friend, experienced life through Laura's eyes. Part of McClure's book is her journey in search of pieces of Laura's life, visiting places she lived and taking in the sites that Laura may have seen.

One of the first stops for McClure is in Pepin, Wisconsin, known in the books as The Big Woods. She stops at a log cabin that has been re-created near Laura's birth place. It feels like little more like a high way rest-stop, lacking the feeling that it was the Ingalls' home. While Wendy was looking for Laura, she found little to tie her to the past in the uninspired space. That is, until she pauses to look out across Lake Pepin, where Laura had gathered pebbles as a little girl. This lake is also in the beginning of Little House on the Prairie. The Ingalls family crosses the frozen-over Lake Pepin at the end of the winter in their covered wagon as they are leaving the Big Woods.

"As solid as the lake looked, there was also something sort of miragelike about it, with the overlay of gray weather between us and the opposite shore. I felt, very distinctly, that if we went across we would follow them. I mean 'them' as them, and it seemed to me, too, that the same other side they'd reached in their covered wagon would be there instead of Lake City, the present, whatever. It seemed perfectly matter-of-fact that it would be this way; that just as the winter turns water into roads, it makes the world revert like this. 
'I hadn't expected it to be like this,' I told Chris. Meaning I hadn't thought I would find something like an opening into Laura World, that I would come this close."

I was really struck in reading this passage. McClure is out on a mission, a pilgrimage, looking for a place, a feeling, an understanding of something she holds so dear to her heart. She's longing to understand more about the past, about a real person, and to really feel something that Laura felt and saw.

I feel like this longing, this searching, this feeling of connection is something that each of us is searching for. We are all looking for those fleeting moments were we feel deeply connected to something larger than ourselves, something timeless, and something that transcends the here and now. I have felt that looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, another time surrounded by friends on my 18th birthday as we looked over the San Francisco skyline and could hear Paul McCartney playing in the distance. I have felt it praying, singing with others, and tonight when Zoom and I were laughing.

It seems like these moments are like the white pickets in a larger fence surrounding a gorgeous garden. We can see the fence, and it is beautiful, and through the pickets, we can see hints of the breath-taking garden beyond. These fleeting moments of life are glimpses to heaven, to our larger connectedness, to God. They are reminders of our longing to be connected, to live beyond this world and this body. They are lovely and simultaneously remind us that there is something beyond this existence. And what lies beyond is the ultimate connection, when we will be one with our interconnectedness, with a larger love, with an understanding beyond our full comprehension in this life time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Working on the Next Retreat: Digital Gluttony

Last night I finished up an article that I titled "Daddy Warbucks in Pantyhose" and sent it off to Catapult Magazine. I'm really enjoying being a part of their community. Even though I have such limited time now, it feels good to have a deadline. I can't wait to share my Daddy Warbucks piece with you all!

I also have an interesting opportunity to write a piece about "Finding God and Oneself in the Digital Age" for the Yale publication "Reflections." It's a little mind boggling, but the editor asked for entries about experiences in social networking. The topic for the Fall matches what my August retreat will be about. I had a good call with the editor and I'm excited about sharing some of my retreat experiences with "Reflections."

This leads me to the place where I need to get the rubber to the road on creating content for the August retreat. That's not to say that I haven't done anything, I have. Most of it is still swishing around in my head.

I'm going to try my hardest to get back to the business of writing regularly about the topic. Some of this will be a rough cut, allowing me to figure out what to put forth for the weekend retreat.

One of the things that interests me about the Digital Age is what I've come to all "Digital Gluttony." I am guilty of this kind of gluttony myself; spending hours upon hours of surfing the internet. I pour over pictures on Facebook of people I don't really know and wouldn't recognize in the grocery store. I get lost in World of Warcraft. I play games that serve no Earthly purpose, not for a few moments of entertainment, but for hours.

In some ways, I can see that the lure of the internet (and I'll lump gaming in to this bucket) is that there is so much to see and do. When you're purposefully and thoughtfully engaged in doing things, I think the Internet is a wonderful tool. But it's when one is mindlessly, compulsively clicking that surfing the web becomes more like an addiction than it is a tool for information.

And it's in the over-saturating stage that one often finds the other darker side of Digital Gluttony - isolation. When one is mindlessly clicking about, only viewing the events of others' lives from the sidelines, when one is acting more like a voyeur than a participant, the internet can be lonely.

I realize that anything in life can be isolating when it's not done in moderation. Even the happiest and healthiest behaviors, when done excessively, can leave a person outside normal social circles. In order for us to get past this, we have to remind ourselves to be present and active participants. This is the same in anything in life. At work, at home, with friends, if we don't actively engage with others, look for joy in the moments we have, we can find ourselves in a lonely place.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Zoom Friday Has a New Home

Hi friends - I've made the leap to move Zoom's stories over to his own blog. If you'd like to join in on his ongoing adventures, please let me know by emailing me at welcomingspirit at gmail dot com. The new blog is private, so I'll need to send you an invitation.

There will still be Zoom updates here from time to time, but I'm going to get back to focusing on retreat work with Welcoming Spirit.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Zoom Friday: The Joy of Swimming

First time swimmingWith summer upon us, we've been spending a lot of time in the pool. We're lucky enough to have a community pool nearby; we can see it from our windows and it's just a quick walk away.

I think I have always known that Zoom would love to swim.This might be what some call maternal instinct. It's more than that, I KNEW. He would flip and flip and turn around again and again when he was in the womb. Always moving.

The first time we took him swimming, it was sheer joy. We were in Tucson. My own mother was there and got to see him, wide eyed, joyous, laughing, kicking, free. I was so glad that she got to share in the joy that he embodied in the water. He smiled an impossibly large smile. He squealed with delight. He had found something that made his soul sing.
I'm so glad that we live so close to a pool, and that we can go swimming whenever we want. Over the last week, we've been three times. Zoom has two swimsuits now, one with dogs and lifegaurd rings and matching hat, the other without a nautical theme. Very preppy. We get ready, Sean throws little Zoom on his shoulders, and we grab towels and his floaty toy and we go. Zoom smiles bigger and bigger, knowing where we are going. Sometimes we see a dog on the way and he laughs. He is so happy.

We get in the pool and the kicking, the laughing, it is the same as the first time we went. His eyes squint, he smiles so big that his five teeth show. He puts is face in the water, blinks his eye rapidly so that he can see again. All the while, his eyes are saying all he ever needed to say,"thank you momma, thank you, this world is so good and so big and so amazing. I am swimming. Swimming! Do you see? We have a pool and we are lucky."

And all I can think is that yes, little one, you are right. We are so very lucky.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Generation X, the Cold War and Faith

This piece was published in *cino magazine on June 24, 2011, as part of their "My Generation" issue. I'm excited to share it here, and once again thank Vineeta of artnlight for her inspiration.

Two years ago, I was leading a weekend retreat entitled “Spiritual Pilates: Strengthening our Spiritual Core,” and giving the final talk on a Sunday morning in Lent. I’d chosen a closing quote that tied in nicely with our theme and printed it out with a graphic to leave on the participants’ chairs as they came in for our final session. The quote read:

"When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly."
- Edward Teller


Art by nairvee of artnlight, on Flickr

As the people began to read the quote, a strange quiet came over the room. One lady, likely from the Baby Boomer Generation pulled me aside. “You know who wrote that, don’t you,” she asked me, seemingly distraught.

“Well, Edward Teller,” I said.

“And you know he worked on the atomic bomb, don’t you?” she continued, “He was part of the Manhattan Project and is known as ‘the father of the hydrogen bomb.’”

I felt a little sick. Uncharacteristically, I hadn’t done my homework on WHO had written the quote. I’d been taken by the hope, the light and the notion of God’s abundant love I found in the quote. And that’s what I told her. “Well, I thought you should know who wrote that before you talked about it,” she said.

I got the sense that she was worried that in a room of mostly Boomers, I’d stumbled across a taboo topic. There seemed to be a fear in the room, a palpable sense that a quote from the man who invented the nuclear bomb could not and should not be considered as a source of inspiration. But I couldn’t retrieve the handouts at that point. This was a teachable moment and I just had to figure it out.

I took a moment to pray about the quote. Why had I been drawn to it? Was it inspired? I felt that Teller eloquently wrapped up the hope that is inherent in every thing, every day, every person. That morning, I told the retreat group that I saw Teller as a man who was reflecting on his own humanity, as he had to live with the knowledge that he’d had a hand in an invention ultimately used for destruction. If that man couldn’t reflect on faith, hadn’t lived through meeting darkness head on, then I didn’t know who had. He understood as well as anyone could that when you do reach the end of light, all you have to hold on to is faith. The retreatants seemed to be satisfied with my thoughts and we moved on to closing prayers.

Born in 1972, I sit squarely in the midst of Generation X, which is often defined as those who were born between about 1960 and 1982. I know what others say about my generation — that we question authority, that we’re the materialistic “Me” generation, that we don’t quite fit in. We’re quirky. We’re all going to make less money than our fathers. Or maybe those are the things they said about us when we were teenagers, and that’s what everyone thinks of all teenagers.

Generation X inherited of the long-term effects of a nation used to being at war. Many of us were born during the Vietnam War. Even the titles of the generations before us are defined by the wars, with our parents being in either the Baby Boomer or the Silent Generation — those either too young to go to World War II or born after troops returned home victoriously from the “Last Great War.” By the time the first of Generation X was being born, fighting had been a part of the United States’ collective reality for so long that much of the sixties was spent objecting to war. And, once the world was free from actual long-term combat fighting, and there was no longer any “real” war, we entered in to what we called the Cold War from 1946-1991.

The Cold War wasn’t something that Gen X really understood. Maybe no one really understood it. While there was still an army, there wasn’t a traditional battlefield like there had been in the World Wars, or Vietnam or Korea. The Cold War, from the eyes of a child, was a war of Fear. I knew that we were trying to keep the world safe from communism. However, the Communist Bloc that we were most familiar with made appearances in films and television, like the James Bond and Rocky movies. It seemed like this war had become less about reports of battle and combat to a mass-media obsession with spies, nuclear threat and possible global annihilation.

I remember being frightened as a child that a loosely defined “they” were going to drop the bomb on us. Literally with each plane that flew overhead, I wondered if it was my last moment on Earth. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, but I figured that everyone else felt it, too. I didn’t sleep much from age 10 to 20 (I was about 20 when the Cold War ended in 1991), and I now wonder if my many sleepless nights can be attributed to an omnipresent threat that over which I had no power. I felt fear that at any moment, the hundreds of silos stocked full of nuclear warheads would be unleashed on us, without warning, and we would all be part of a nuclear holocaust.

In the early 1980s, the media helped feed and document this fear. Movies like The Day After depicted the horror of waking up the morning after nuclear war to a world of radiation and impending death. WarGames was the story of a young hacker who broke into a U.S. military computer that was programmed to run nuclear war simulations, and nearly started World War III.

The fear went beyond the U.S., with music reflecting the concern of global nuclear warfare. In 1980, the British Group OMD recorded the song “Enola Gay,” which questions the decision to send an airplane of the same name to drop the first atomic bomb (“Little Boy”) on Hiroshima in 1945. 1984’s “99 Luftballons” by Nena addressed the possibility of a nuclear war being started after both sides of the Cold War mistook red balloons sent up by children over Berlin for hostile weapons. Indeed, in mass media, the world was still trying to make sense of the power and destructive force of nuclear weapons 35 and 40 years after World War II ended.

The general feeling of persistent, malicious, yet inescapable fear of impending nuclear death was well reflected by Alphaville’s song “Forever Young.” An upbeat, danceable song, its lyrics are dark and recount the reality of a world simultaneously resolved to and obsessed with dying from nuclear war. Written by a German band, it has become the macabre ballad of a generation concerned with the youthful pastimes of dance and style, and all the while clouded by the fear of death through a war they don’t fully understand and can’t control:

let’s dance in style, let’s dance for a while
heaven can wait, we’re only watching the skies
hoping for the best, but expecting the worst
are you going to drop the bomb or not?
let us die young or let us live forever

The legacy left by the nuclear bomb, a weapon used in a war to “end all wars” and to “promote peace,” was a deep global fear.

On that Lenten morning, it became very clear to me that the fear that gripped the world during the Cold War was not a fear that was limited to my own generation. Perhaps the Boomers in the room didn’t think that a Gen Xer could possibly understand the fear that was rampant in the Cold War. I see now that the fear we felt in the Cold War was something that extended across generations. I understand now that I was not the only one afraid to sleep, not the only person terrified by an annihilation that the media wanted us to believe was impending. Instead, I realized that we all inherited the global concern and fear that comes as the price for having unleashed such a powerful weapon.

What strikes me now is that I first presented this quote in Lent, and found myself asking these questions that are true of Jesus’ time in the desert and true of our time in the Cold War. There is a tie between hard times, times of trial, times in the darkness and in the wilderness. I believe we were met with one of these times during the Cold War. These are my thoughts on Teller’s quote from my blog, posted before Ash Wednesday, 2009:

How do we move ahead in those times when we don’t know the ending? How do we bravely face moving ahead into these days as we examine our lives, our thoughts and our hearts? While each of us may have dark hours and tough times, we may be met with disappointments and hardships, faith keeps us true. Perhaps one of the big lessons in the time of Lent is learning to lean into that faith. Feeling with our whole being that even when we don’t know how the story ends, we will be held in capable hands. Hands that hold us tight and safe or hands that push us along to our own potential and our dreams. Hands that made each of us. Hands of the One who loves us, totally, completely, and abundantly.

Teller’s quote helps answer the question of how we move forward even though all of the generations after the end of World War II have been met with dark hours and tough times. The decision to use a destructive weapon had dire consequences and created ripples of emotion that would take decades to resolve. In fact, we may not have seen the true “end” to the story yet. Perhaps Edward Teller had already begun to wrestle with the ideas that the generations during the Cold War have encountered. Perhaps in inventing the bomb, he’d already met the fear of nuclear destruction head on, and settled the score with God in his own mind. Revisiting the words of Edward Teller brings all the more meaning after contemplating his story, and considering the effects of nuclear warfare on the world. His words bring hope to us as the generations move forward together:

"When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly."

A Coffee Filter Wreath

I'd been looking for a new wreath for our place. After looking around a bit at blogs for ideas, I found that some people had been using interesting materials to them. I decided to try my hand at making one out of .... coffee filters! There's no sewing, and it's super easy to do! I'm loving how this looks :)
coffee filter wreath

Here's how you can make a coffee filter wreath of your own. You'll want to gather:
- a foam wreath from a craft store
- 50 or so coffee filters, I used the non-bleached kind.
- some muslin or fabric
- corsage pins, at least 2 inches long
- shells
- velvet ribbon


1. I took about 50 filters and placed them in a tupperware bowl with old coffee grounds. The idea is that it gives them some differentiation in colors and ads interest. After they'd all sat for an hour or so, I took them out and dried them in the sun.

2. A white foam wreath as the base for the project. I picked this up at Jo-ann's for about $5. Here it is with the filters.

3. I used scrap muslin I found at the craft store for $1.75 to cover the foam. Rip the muslin into 3 inch strips to give it a rustic look. It took four long strips to cover the wreath. I pinned the muslin on with corsage pins.

4. With the filters now dried, I began forming rosettes with each one. You can do this by grabbing the center,and twisting the filter.

5. Once you have the rosette formed, place a corsage pin through the little tail that is formed. The pin holds the flower's shape. And you can use the pin to place the rosette on the wreath. Bonus!

6. With all of the rosettes done, start pinning the flowers on the wreath. To spread the rosettes out evenly so the coverage was about the same all over the wreath.

7. Work from the center so you get even coverage.

8. I then took some shells glue gunned on to a velvet ribbon and used them to add more decoration to the wreath. The velvet ribbon gets pinned to the wreath to hold the shells in place.

9. Tie another piece of muslin around the top of the wreath and hang!

Shared on: Somewhat Simple

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gluten Free Tuesday: Glutino Gluten Free Yogurt Covered Pretzels

As far as the gluten free brands go, Glutino consistently offers tasty treats that easily compete with their wheat-filled counterparts. I LOVE these yogurt covered pretzels. They completely capture the buttery goodness of regular pretzels, and the sweet yum of yogurt.

The only sad part? Whole Foods insists on stocking these on the top shelf of the chips aisle, making it impossible for me to retain my dignity as I try to snag this delicious snack.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How to Plan a Retreat: Locations and Budget Thoughts

This installation of the "How to Plan a Retreat" series takes a break from some of the step by step instructions. Today we're going to dive into some of the resources that go into planning a retreat. I know first hand that budgets for retreats are often slim.

When you look at it, there are three major ways that you might need to think about budgeting when you're planning or leading a retreat.

1. Fees covered by individual retreatents - as the leader, you're going to need to list out all of the expenses, and then divide by the number of people attending. That gives you your break even point. On the upside, this method allows you to hold your retreat wherever you'd like. On the downside, it requires that someone be a book keeper and help keep an eye on budget, and you'll need to prepare or plan meals and room and board for everyone.

2. Basic fees are set by a retreat center, your group has to cover for supplies - in this scenario, you're working with a retreat center (or a hotel) and they have a set rate for the nights you stay over, and the meals. Your team needs to assess costs for supplies, speakers, and books or materials to add on top of the basic fees.

3. All in one package - Your group is signing up at a luxe retreat center, and all you need to do is pay a flat fee and then attend in style. They may allow you to bring in a speaker and use their facilities, in that case you'd need to figure payment for your speaker and any supplies they might require.

San Damiano Retreat: Upper Fountain

So, friends, what are some of those expenses you might run in to? Let's look over a hopefully fairly full list:
- cost per room per night, considering both single and double occupancy. I encourage you to look to offer both. Some folks like to pay a little less and room with a friend.
- food and snacks - plan on meals to cover the time period you're there. And, you may want to inquire of your attendees if anyone has food limitations. This is a good thing to ask on a registration form. Don't forget a midnight snack if you're having a social event!
- drinks - including water, coffee, soda, possibly alcohol - for an evening social
- folder or binders with a schedule, information, etc
- notepads for journaling
- speakers' fees - it's a nice gesture to offer your main speaker a stipend
- speakers' room and board
- clergy room and board
- musician or music fees - for live or recorded music
- scholarships - some retreats offer a 'scholarship' for a set number of people who may not be able to afford their own way
- supplies for activities - these are all going to be fairly activity specific, and lists should be drawn up by your activity leaders. I actually recommend giving the leaders a set price point, so you can move forward with covering costs long before your fliers are printed
- worship supplies - candles, small items for services
- room and equipment rental - will you be using an additional room or meeting space not covered by your initial fees?

Once you've created your list, run it past your retreat team. It's always good to have another set of eyes to review the costs.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Zoom Friday: A Library for a Little One

Zoom has really enjoyed reading books for awhile now. We kept his books in various places throughout the house, some mixed in with toys, and others upstairs in his room. We've reached the stage where he likes to get in to things in the living room, and since he's pulling himself up, anything on the coffee table or side tables gets moved the floor in a quick fashion.

Instead of being constantly frustrated, I decided to turn Zoom's fascination with the shelf below the side table into an opportunity to provide him a place for his little library. Here's the serene and organized view of his books:

And here's Zoom exploring his books. You can see that he likes to get everything out to see it all:
library 1

Zoom's favorite is the "Colors and Shapes (BABY TOUCH & FEEL)" book that I picked up on a whim. His favorite pages are the one with the orange, and the peas. He likes the sparkly center of the star / cookie, too. Here he is showing us his favorite book:

library 2

What have you done to make your space work better for your little one?