Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sleeping with Bread: a Mary Meme

During the bombing raids of WWII, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, "Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow." (Linn, Dennis et al, Sleeping
With Bread
, p.l)

These are the beginning words of a book that introduced me to a practice called the examen. The orphans held on to what nourished them and were thus able to sleep peacefully at night. The examen, based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, helps a person hold onto what spiritually nourishes him by looking at what is giving him consolation in his life or causing him desolation. It allows someone to express his gratitude to God for the good stuff and turn to him for solace for the bad stuff.

It is quite simple. You simply ask yourself, in the last day/week/month what gave me consolation and what caused me desolation. You can also phrase the question in any of the following ways:

* For what am I most grateful? Least grateful?
* When did I give and receive the most love? The least love?
* When did I feel most alive? Most drained of life?
* When did I have the greatest sense of belonging? Least sense of belonging?
* When was I most free? Least free?
* When was I most creative? Least creative?
* When did I feel most connected? Least connected?
* When did I feel most fully myself? Least myself?
* When did I feel most whole? Most fragmented?

I've done this with groups of friends and with my family. With the kids, we call it "Best Thing/Worst Thing" and we usually light a candle, have everyone share and then blow the candle out.

For some time now, I've thought this would make a great blog meme. It isn't a "fun" one, but, come on, I'm an NF (intuitive feeler) and I'm all about the Big Picture, Meaning with a capital M and My Place in the Greater Scheme. It's my nature. So, won't you please join me for Sleeping with Bread Monday? I'll start and you can post yours here or do your own post and leave a link in the comments for us to follow. Now, I fully anticipate this meme is going to take the blogosphere by storm. I. Know. It. I anticipate no fewer than 5 participants. (Wow!) So don't miss out on your opportunity to be among the first bloggers to be a part of this exciting new meme! There needed to be a weency bit of levity in this post. ;)

Sleeping with Bread Monday

In the last month, when did I feel the greatest sense of belonging and the least sense of belonging?


Because of my ongoing adventures in sleep apnea, I have been a tired, irritable, lethargic person. It hasn't been all bad, all the time, but it has been extremely challenging. As a result, I haven't felt connected to my friends or my community very much. Reaching out has felt unnatural and even when I am with people, I don't feel like myself. I can push past it, but it feels heavy and futile like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountainside, only to have it roll back down, leaving him to start again the next day. That has led to me feeling a lack of belonging. I know this is only a feeling but it sucks.


During all this, a great sense of consolation and belonging has come from worshiping in our church service on Sunday mornings. At some of the lowest times of my life, corporate worship has provided a place where I can't keep up a facade. I am able to let go, lift up my hands and let the Spirit of God comfort me. It is often a place of tears--that feel like being shed during the week but aren't. I am very grateful for that time.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

To sleep, perchance to breathe: a boring but informative update on my adventures in sleep apnea

Note: If I've already told you the results of my doctor's visit you can skip most of this post. You've heard all this before! Also, other than a fun asleep-at-the-wheel graphic, I haven't even attempted to be wry, witty, sarcastic, or humorous in any way.

I knew the night of the sleep study that I had Obstructive Sleep Apnea (hereinafter OSA) but didn't know the severity. A couple of weeks ago, I got this in the mail:

So, now I knew I had "moderately severe" sleep apnea which shot my hopes of non-CPAP treatment out of the water and that I needed to get in to the doctor so I could move forward to the next steps which would more than likely include another night at the sleep center for a full night on the CPAP.

According to my doctor, I was having an average of 16 apnea/hypopnea events per hour. (Hypopnea is when you stop breathing for less than 10 seconds as opposed to the apnea where you stop breathing for 10 seconds or more.) When I was lying on my back, the "events" increased to 22 per hour. My oxygen saturation dipped as low as 90%. Now, I didn't think that was bad because my internet research indicated that it could go well below that. I said to the doctor, "That's not that bad," and he shot me a look that said, "It's bad enough, lady."

I was also diagnosed with mild Periodic Limb Movement Disorder and mild Delayed Sleep Phase. PLMD is when you limbs thrash about in your sleep and rouse you from your good sleep. So, it has a similar effect as apnea but at least you are breathing. It was recommended that I monitor my caffeine intake as it could make the PLMD worse. Delayed Sleep Phase is merely that I go to sleep later than the average person and, if possible, sleep in later. It isn't not a big deal, especially because when I filled out the questionnaire which led to this diagnosis, I was having a lot of interrupted sleep and so I was sleeping in when I could. With the onset of swim lessons for Marley and summer school for Colin, I have had to get up earlier and so have also gone to bed earlier.

So, the complete recommendations are that I lose weight and start CPAP therapy. I was given a prescription to Rhinocort to help with congestion. This should help me tolerate the machine better. The most interesting little bit was my doctor's telling me not to drive after 4 pm until I begin my CPAP treatment.

Because of the suspicion that many, many car accidents are caused by people nodding off at the wheel, the doctor was very serious about me not driving in the later afternoon. So, I should have my CPAP in 3-4 weeks and I live close to a lot of things, I have people who can give me rides if I need it, Paul will only be gone about 6 days during that time. I can live with the restriction for that long.

So, that wraps up the update. Thanks to everyone who has made sympathetic noises and sent up prayers for me. They are much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In which I elaborate on item 94 from my 100 things list. . .

. . .and risk sounding like a pompous know-it-all. The purpose of this post is not to let you know how wise I am and shouldn't you all start thinking the same way I do. No, the purpose of this post is to reveal myself by expressing an opinion. An opinion you may or may not understand or agree with (or even care about.) You will, however, come away understanding a little more about how I think, and thus, come a little closer to knowing me, Mary.

94. I cannot stand John Lennon's song Imagine. I think it has the stupidest lyrics EVER.

That may sound like a harsh statement. And I guess, if push came to shove, I would have to admit that the lyrics probably aren't the stupidest ever. Don't get me started on that "I like big butts" song. However, because Imagine is so iconic, I think the lyrics bother me more than another song which might have similar sentiments.

Before I get too far into this, let me make the following disclaimer: I have nothing against John Lennon. He was an excellent singer/songwriter/musician. His music has had a tremendous impact on the world. I love the Beatles yeah, yeah, yeah! I just happen to dislike the lyrics of this particular song.
I first became bothered by this song in 1984 when it was used in the movie The Killing Fields. I was troubled by the idea of imagining "...there's no countries...and no religion too." Initially I thought the song wasn't a good match for the movie. Dith Pran, one of the movie's main characters, fought to hold onto his faith and his life. He fought fiercely and with great determination. He lived hiding his true beliefs and self to survive. He endured hunger and pain. He witnessed horrible atrocities including the indoctrination of children which turned them into killing machines. He saw the killing fields after which the movie is named where hundreds of thousands of Cambodian skeletons were discarded. In the midst of all this, one very poignant scene is Dith Pran's praying at a ruined Buddhist temple. That scene and the idea that in order to have peace, we should have no religion struck a discordant note in my heart.

As the years passed and I would occasionally hear this song, I began to be more and more concerned by its message. This anthem to peace and love seemed to be saying that the only way we could have those things is by not being human. While we can and should always strive to end political conflict, religious abuse, crimes against each other, what I imagine when I hear this song is nothingness... an absence of... a lack.

I believe in John Lennon's sincerity as he wrote this song. I believe this song reflects the conclusions he came to after experiencing life in the 60's and 70's. Perhaps, seeing the unfairness of the world in his time and rejecting so many of the long-held ideas of the earlier decades, he imagined that by doing away entirely with what he saw as the cause of the world's problems, what would be left in its stead would be a paradise where we all would come together "to live as one." And like all the genie stories where someone makes a wish without realizing the consequences, I think the wish of this song, if granted would have had unforseen repercussions: a world with no countries might be a world without diversity; a world with no religion might be a world that never looked past the sky above; a world with no pain might be a world without joy.

Now, decades after this song was written, after experiencing life in the 80's, 90's and early 21st century, I know that I can't and don't want to imagine a world without spiritual beliefs, a world without the hope of heaven and a world without diversity.

And that is why I cannot stand John Lennon's song, Imagine.

Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Oh What a World!

Isn't that what the Wicked Witch of the West says as she's melting away?

The ground doesn't look like this where we are at... but it feels like this. It was definitely over 100 degrees today. What is up with that? You'd think it was the middle of July. Oh yeah. It is the middle of July.

Ah... that looks better. Just plunk a giant one of these down in my living room. That ought to cool us off.

Question? I wonder how many bloggers are complaining about the heat this weekend?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Booking with Imperfections

Booking Through Thursday

  1. What is most battered book in your collection? The one with loose pages, tattered corners, and page edges so soft that there's not even a risk of paper cuts anymore? After a quick perusal of my bookshelves, the muckiest book I came across is Baby & Child A to Z Medical Handbook by Dr Miriam Stoppard

  2. Why is this book so tattered? Is it that you love it so much that you've read it a zillion times? Is it a reference book you've used every day for the last seven years? Something your new puppy teethed on when you weren't looking? This was my child illness bible when my son was small. Eight years later, I used is again when my daughter was born. I used it to look up everything from earaches to febrile seizures (actually needed it for that!) I used it for friends when they called with questions about rashes, things in their children's eyes or fevers. As I look at the cover, I can see that it has something spilled on it, one of the kids drew on the back pages and some of the pages are torn. It has been a good friend to my family!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I had a dream. . .

Note: This is a long post, much longer than my usual, but I would love for you to read it.

Sometime during the last presidential election with its usual onslaught of name-calling, fact-blurring loveliness, I had a dream. (I really did.) In this dream, I decided to start my own political party. I can't remember the actual name I was going to give it but it had something to do with being the Party of Reasonable People. We would not have any political platform other than committing to being rational and kind in our dealings. I realize this is more of a club than a political party, but it was a dream, after all. The Party of Reasonable People would be a grassroots movement that would sweep the nation. No matter what side of an issue you were on, you would have the reassurance that you could agree to disagree and there would be no hate-mongering.

I woke up that morning with an incredible sense of well-being. All warm and fuzzy inside, it took a minute or two for reality to sink in. I was crushed. It was only a dream and I knew, in my heart of hearts--as a good, old southern minister might say--that it would never come true.

I grew up in a Democrat-voting household when that had more to do with where you thought the government's money should go (Social Security.) Most of my family are now Republican-voting because to them it means more about what you think people shouldn't be doing (abortion, etc.) Mostly though, we didn't have a lot of political discourse. Our lives were more about where the next dollar was coming from and keeping food in the refrigerator. I have voted Democrat. I have voted Republican. I have skipped voting entirely. I have never, ever affiliated myself with any political party. It has always had something to do with not wanting to be labeled and I am just this close to being completely apolitical.

As the years have passed, it has also had something to do with, as you can read about in any news magazine, the polarization of America. I am not alone in thinking that the political climate continues to get nastier and nastier. People think nothing of calling you an ignorant, Bible-thumping, racist idiot if you are conservative or a valueless, godless, family-killing monster if you are liberal. As one blogger has written in his About Me section,
. . .after 28 years of loyal support of the Democratic Party, I decided to register to vote under the category "Decline To State", and I describe my political stance as "Centrist". Critical thinking will not allow me to discount the viewpoint of others based solely upon their political affiliation. . .
It would appear that he is one of the minority. Instead the political arena has become an absurd theater of insults in which each party's only audience is like-minded people, the rare dissenting voices drowned out in a choir of outrage.

Edward R. Murrow said:
"If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox — if we deny the essence of racial equality then hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are shopping about for a new allegiance will conclude that we are concerned to defend a myth and our present privileged status. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the . . . confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought."
I believe that is exactly where we, as an American people are today. Because of fear of the future, fear of being in the minority, fear, fear, fear, we are choosing to deny another's right to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox. And, ironically, this is done in the name of preserving freedom.

So, having yammered on and on about that for some time, the purpose of today's post. I came across this speech by Barack Obama. I don't know him from Adam. Obviously I don't pay very much attention to who's who in American politics. I have heard of him and understand that he is being touted as the Democratic Party's next, great hope, but that is about all. So, somehow, blog hopping from here to there, I came across this speech. I read it. I agree with a lot of it. I find it refreshing his view of Christianity and the place it has in politics. And get this: I don't care if he is completely genuine and authentic or full of himself. I don't want to hear about why he is really an idiot or the next great leader. I like these words whether or not the man who said them is all these words make him out to be. Sometimes a man's words can be greater than the man himself.

Just listen to his words and think about them. That is what I am doing.

'Call to Renewal' Keynote Address
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Washington, DC

Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference. I've had the opportunity to take a look at your Covenant for a New America. It is filled with outstanding policies and prescriptions for much of what ails this country. So I'd like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you've given so far about poverty and justice in America, and for putting fire under the feet of the political leadership here in Washington.

But today I'd like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we've been seeing over the last several years.

I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; and we can raise up and pass out this Covenant for a New America. We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won't have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

I want to give you an example that I think illustrates this fact. As some of you know, during the 2004 U.S. Senate General Election I ran against a gentleman named Alan Keyes. Mr. Keyes is well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

Indeed, Mr. Keyes announced towards the end of the campaign that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.

Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously, to essentially ignore it. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, and his arguments not worth entertaining. And since at the time, I was up 40 points in the polls, it probably wasn't a bad piece of strategic advice.

But what they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take Mr. Keyes seriously, for he claimed to speak for my religion, and my God. He claimed knowledge of certain truths.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, he was saying, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.

And so what would my supporters have me say? How should I respond? Should I say that a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? Should I say that Mr. Keyes, who is a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope?

Unwilling to go there, I answered with what has come to be the typically liberal response in such debates - namely, I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can't impose my own religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois.

But Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer did not adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and my own beliefs.

Now, my dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we've been having in this country for the last thirty years over the role of religion in politics.

For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

And I speak with some experience on this matter. I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I.

It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.

I was working with churches, and the Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me. They saw that I knew their Book and that I shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me that remained removed, detached, that I was an observer in their midst.

And in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well -- that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.

And if it weren't for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church.

For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against , but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope.

And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship -- the grounding of faith in struggle -- that the church offered me a second insight, one that I think is important to emphasize today.

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts.

You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values.

And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.

Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's I Have a Dream speech without references to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical, though. Our fear of getting "preachy" may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.

Solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturers' lobby - but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we've got a moral problem. There's a hole in that young man's heart - a hole that the government alone cannot fix.

I believe in vigorous enforcement of our non-discrimination laws. But I also believe that a transformation of conscience and a genuine commitment to diversity on the part of the nation's CEOs could bring about quicker results than a battalion of lawyers. They have more lawyers than us anyway.

I think that we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys. I think that the work that Marian Wright Edelman has done all her life is absolutely how we should prioritize our resources in the wealthiest nation on earth. I also think that we should give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished.

But, you know, my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.

I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology - that can be dangerous. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith. As Jim has mentioned, some politicians come and clap -- off rhythm -- to the choir. We don't need that.

In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that.

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.

Some of this is already beginning to happen. Pastors, friends of mine like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes are wielding their enormous influences to confront AIDS, Third World debt relief, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious thinkers and activists like our good friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality.

And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you've got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don't need and weren't even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate.

Across the country, individual churches like my own and your own are sponsoring day care programs, building senior centers, helping ex-offenders reclaim their lives, and rebuilding our gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

So the question is, how do we build on these still-tentative partnerships between religious and secular people of good will? It's going to take more work, a lot more work than we've done so far. The tensions and the suspicions on each side of the religious divide will have to be squarely addressed. And each side will need to accept some ground rules for collaboration.

While I've already laid out some of the work that progressive leaders need to do, I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do -- some truths they need to acknowledge.

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles.

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example.

We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God's test of devotion.

But it's fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason.

Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion.

This goes for both sides.

Even those who claim the Bible's inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages - the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ's divinity - are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.

The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.

But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase "under God." I didn't. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.

So we all have some work to do here. But I am hopeful that we can bridge the gaps that exist and overcome the prejudices each of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don't want faith used to belittle or to divide. They're tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that's not how they think about faith in their own lives.

So let me end with just one other interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:

"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you."

The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of the Republican agenda.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor went on to write:

"I sense that you have a strong sense of justice...and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason...Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded....You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others...I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

So I looked at my website and found the offending words. In fairness to them, my staff had written them using standard Democratic boilerplate language to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

Re-reading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in fair-minded words. Those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

So I wrote back to the doctor, and I thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own - a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

And that night, before I went to bed I said a prayer of my own. It's a prayer I think I share with a lot of Americans. A hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It's a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come. Thank you.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Booking through Thursday, Pristinely

Booking Through Thursday

  1. What is the most pristine, perfect book in your collection? The one that looks like it's never been opened (and in fact may never have been)? Whose binding is uncracked, the corners still perfect? Credo by Jaroslav Pelikan

  2. Why is that book so perfect? Was it a gift? Is it a coffee table book too beautiful to use? Something you simply have no interest in and haven't bothered to open? Credo is in the best shape because a) it was expensive; b) it is too academic to be read easily; therefore c) it hasn't been handled much.
I read through a lot of the posts for this BTT and, wow, I am so different than many of my fellow book lovers. I do not keep books in great condition. If there is a bookmark handy, I use it, but I will fold down corners. Dust jackets get lost or torn. The bindings--oh! the poor bindings. I guess someone should call BPS (Book Protective Services) on me. Would Spec Ops 27 handle that?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Question for My Fellow Bloggers

I was reading Kvetch over at her blog tonight and in a post titled I Heart Snark, she confesses her desire to be a snarky blogger who can have you laughing while striking at chord at the same time. The problem: she writes about her life and her life isn't all that funny right now, what with raising two kids post-divorce and post-mortem. Shortly after getting a divorce, her ex-husband died leaving her a single parent -- again.

This got me to thinking about my blog and what I want it to be, what it is, what I can be and what I can't be. (The question is coming soon. You can probably guess what it is.) I know that I would love to be full of witticisms, a quotable blog, you know? I would like to write self-deprecatingly with authenticity and humor. Ummmm. . . I don't think I'm quite there, yet. I know that as a blogger I am, how shall we say it, chatty. My motto is why use 50 words when 500 will do. Just look at almost any post or even my comments on other blogs. Lots o' words. I am genuine, but I know that I am not consistently witty or wise or humorous. Maybe that will come in time, or maybe, as in almost every other area of life, I will grow to accept and appreciate the blogger that I am and leave it at that.

I have recently asked some of my fellow mombloggers who they want to read their blog, but now my question is this, "What do you want your blog to be?"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Things you are not likely to hear said in a movie in the 21st century. . .

Said by a fisher woman as John Wayne's character is famously dragging his wife to go confront her brother:

"Sir!... Sir!... Here's a good stick, to beat the lovely lady."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

To sleep, perchance to breathe. . .

Well dear hearts, here begins the story of my adventures in sleep apnea.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of a migraine followed by almost two weeks of really feeling bad: lethargic, irritable, emotional. More than usual, more than PMS. It was not a good time. This “not good time” was promptly followed by another migraine and a special encore appearance of “really feeling bad.” I, as I am wont to do, began to self-diagnose my problem. The suspected culprit: low thyroid. I had enough of the symptoms that it seemed like a possibility (I’m sure doctors just L-O-V-E the internet) and, as it was well past time for my annual physical, I decided to talk to the doctor about it.

Well, my blood work came back fine. Shoot! I was really hoping for the low thyroid. I would take a pill and perk right up. All is said and done. Now I had to actually talk to my doctor about my vague list of symptoms. If you’ve ever had a vague list of symptoms you will understand the dread feeling of having to speak to the medicine man about it. My doctor was great. He actually listened and looked like he cared. (Good job, doc!) He asked me some more questions including, “Do you ever wake up and feel like you are choking?” Um... well, sort of. Occasionally. More like I wake up gasping for breath. The medicine man decides to send me for a sleep study. He explained that all of my symptoms are those of a person who isn’t getting enough sleep and that I should do this study and we’d go from there. I wasn’t an obvious case because it is usually a man who is snoring so loudly his significant other can’t sleep in the same room. He wrote out a referral and sent me on my way.

The referral called for a split sleep study with CPAP trial. CPAP? I go home and get online and at one sleep apnea site I find this description: CPAP works by gently blowing pressurized room air through the airway at a pressure high enough to keep the throat open.” Oh, that sounds simple enough. (Insert foolhardy optimism here.)

After making an appointment confirming that my insurance does indeed cover a sleep study ($4700!) I’m ready. Or so I thought. For the 10 days or so before the study, the disharmonic convergence of my life events led to the most interrupted sleep I have experienced in a loooooong time. I’m a wreck. I’m barely functioning. In this compromised state of being, I had the following expectations:
  1. I would actually get some sleep during the sleep study.
  2. I believed them when they said it only would take a few minutes to get used to the CPAP contraption.
  3. With the CPAP on, I would get some more sleep. Better sleep. Sleep with oxygen! Whoopee!
Woe, woe, woe to those with such expectations for they will be dashed to the ground and crushed.

I arrived at the sleep disorder clinic just before 9 pm. I had faithfully brought with me my favorite pillow, dutifully showered and shampooed and used no hair products or lotions per instructions, and carried with me about 10 pages of sleep questionnaire and sleep journal they had requested I fill out. My sleep technician takes me to the room, basic inexpensive hotel/hospital room standard. There is a television playing, a night stand with booties, a toothbrush, tissue, etc. I get changed and the 30 minute wiring begins. And when I say wiring, I mean 29 some-odd wires attached from my ankles to the top of my head, including the front of my throat so they can record my snore. How nice. They should call him a sleep electrician. Additionally, I get the pleasure of two elastic straps around my waist and below my armpits to help measure my breathing, a pulsox measuring device, and finally, as I get into bed, a plastic tube to go in my nose. We’ve all seen those oxygen tubes that people wear in the hospital. This tube looked like that except the tube was very thin and, in addition to the two prongs to go up my nose, there is a third, longer prong which goes in my mouth. The better to determine how much air you are breathing in and out, my dear.

Picture my face in these two pictures and the little metal box being blue instead of white. Such a dignified sight.

By the time this all gets finished, it is time for the testing of the equipment in which sleep study patient lays down on the bed and the sleep technician, from the “observation” room, gives commands like, “Flex your left foot. Now your right. Look to the left. Look to the right.” So, I’m hooked up properly and it now after 10:30. I decide to forgo watching television or reading The Banyan Tree and get right to the work of sleeping. I roll over on my side and get some sleep, wake up ask to use the bathroom, am unplugged from the pulsox finger torturing device, unwrapped from the nose/mouth tubing and draped with the blue box containing the 29 leads I’m hooked up to. I do my thing, get retortured, rewrapped, undraped and replugged back in. My sleep technician asks me to try sleeping on my back for awhile. Sure. No problem. After a time (I have to be vague about the time of things from here on out, because, of course, there are no clocks anywhere) he comes into the room and tell me that “we” will be trying out the CPAP now.

This post is getting long (over 900 words, so far) and so I will leave you with the following information:

  • I’m claustrophobic.
  • I was sort of freaking out.
  • I had to use the restroom at least three more times that night (I guess we could say it was a watershed evening!)
  • My technician tried out at least 6 contraptions on me, two of which that looked like this:

This is the panic-inducing version. Don't ask me why, but the cover the whole nose thing made me feel like I was being suffocated. Oh, and when you open your mouth wearing one of these, air blows out. So weird!
This is the type that worked best for the longest amount of time. I wish we had worked with this one more because I think I could have dealt with it eventually. The nostril plugs started hurting after awhile so we moved on. Sigh.

  • I slept very little for the rest of the night
  • While technicians aren’t allowed to tell you anything, mine said I would probably be sent back for another full night with the CPAP after talking with my doctor (panic, gasping, nooooooo) and that I could make my own assumptions about whether or not I have sleep apnea (ya think?)
I left depressed, gooey from electrode glue, tired, weepy. When I went to sleep that night, it was with the knowledge that there were going to be episodes of at least 10 seconds at a time when I wasn’t breathing. I knew this was what the doctor was looking for, but knowing it is different.

And that, dear friends, is the condensed version of my new adventure in sleep apnea. I’ll keep you up-to-date as there is new information to share.

In the meantime, are you breathing while you sleep?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I wanted it to turn out that way!

Welcome to the LUE Photo Gallery. Today we are showcasing some spectacular photos by a new, relatively unknown artist. We are sure that you will be as impressed as we were with her dazzling lack of ability to capture fireworks on film.

Flaming ball of fire
flaming ball of fire
mary rachel

Threads of Fire
threads of fire
mary rachel

Flaming Dandelion
flaming dandelion
mary rachel

Thursday, July 06, 2006

chickenone of ky coop cast: LUE Mother Blogger Interview, the Finale

Michelle is one of my nearest and dearest friends who ditched So-So Cal to live in Kentucky. We make a point of staying in touch by burning up the phone lines and arranging as many trips to see each other as possible but blogging has been a fun new dimension to our relationship. She has a great way of giving you a visual picture when she tells a story like in this early post about being stuck in the car wash. So, without further ado, chickenone of ky coop cast:
1. How long have you been blogging?  February, 2006

2. What made you start a blog? I had been reading yours and thought it would be a new way to connect with my friends and family in California.

3. Who is your ³target² audience, that is, who do you want to read your blog? My friends and family.

4. What is your greatest challenge as a mom? Boredom and loneliness. I have to always remind myself that progress and goals are achieved incrementally.

5. How do you keep your identity as a PERSON, outside of being a mom? Lots of reading, and I try to do things that I enjoy - (cooking, movies, long walks) One or two hours once a week with no kids gives me a new lease on life!

6. What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to moms everywhere? I think that shaping and guiding my kids' character is the most important thing I can do to contribute to their success in life. It's achieved very incrementally and over a long time.

Thus endeth, the Mother Blogger interviews. (I do, however, reserve the right to bring back the MBi's at any time!)

Booking through Non-fiction

Booking Through Thursday

This week's questions were suggested by Christine.

  1. Do you read non-fiction books for pleasure, not counting books required for courses or for work?Yes, I do, although I do have to say the scales of fiction versus non-fiction are not balanced. Fiction is my favorite!

  2. If so, what areas of non-fiction interest you the most? If not, why not?I like non-fiction books on topics that are of particular interest to me: Meyers-Briggs Temperament Inventory, parenting, spiritual formation.

  3. What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) books from those areas? Nurture by Nature covers both parenting and MBTI. Almost anything by Mike Yaconelli on Christianity is excellent. Resource books like Celtic Daily Prayer are great.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Thomas Louisa Reddick: born November 20 1922, died July 4 1996

Grandma and Grandpa

10 years ago today, my grandma (Tommie Lou) died. Everyone loves their grandma and grandpa, but as I grew up and had more opportunities to talk my grandma about her life and memories, I began to appreciate her more and more. She was something special, I can tell you that. Orphaned at a young age, married at 14, a mother at 15, she had four children by the time she was 21. Nine years later, she had her last child, my Uncle L.T. She married a strong-willed man (understatement) and spent her life moving with him and the family back and forth, mostly between Oklahoma and California. Her life wasn't easy but she enjoyed her family and took solace in her assurance of meeting up with the Lord in heaven.

I have so many memories of her:
  • driving an old blue VW bug with the grandkids piled in the back
  • her loving to see just what was going on when the police were pulling someone over
  • watching soap operas with her
  • ice creams at Thrifty
  • chocolate gravy (a family legend and story of resourcefulness)
  • endless pieces of paper and gum and mints in her purse during church
  • girdles and nylons
  • almost losing her false teeth on the Pirates ride at Disneyland
  • going to the Free Will Baptist youth camp at Camp Seely
  • and so many, many more.
I love you Grandma. I wish you were here to meet Marley. She's a little pistol and I think you would disapprove and yet adore her all at the same time! I also wish you could see Colin and how he has grown. He is a perfect blend of Paul and me and has a sarcastic sense of humor and love for physical comedy (others, not his own!) You never really got to hear any of Paul's worship music. I think you would really have loved some of his songs. Mostly I wish you were here just so I could spend time with you. My one regret is that I didn't take the time to ask you more about your life and write it down. There is so much of your humor and perspective and just your story--your own story--that I missed and now that chance is gone. I'll have to catch up with you in heaven!

Note: This is also posted (in a post about our Independence Day happenings called Great Balls of Fire) over at Tales from the edge of sanity. . . my family blog. If you read that one also, I'm sorry for the duplication.