Summer is quickly coming to an end here in Texas land. We are on the slow side of starting school this year–for the past week I’ve been watching the wonderful back to school pictures of kids on Facebook (usually on Monday or Tuesdays). Our turn is coming. Monday it begins.
I’m working on getting in the school mood, but to be honest, I am really in no hurry whatsoever. Last year’s school year wasn’t an easy one–especially for my middlest. I must admit, I bribed my boy to attend school last spring–more or less a dollar day (to buy the computer version of Minecraft) for each day he went to school without a fight.
You can see why I may not be looking forward to school.
Starting a school year is a bit different for kids who are different learners. Soon after winter break last year, we realized my middlest wasn’t progressing like he should in reading. Despite extra help at home, at school, and after school, his reading skills weren’t developing like regular readers. We waded through the evaluation process and spent a lot of time waiting. Then we waited some more. Then summer started and we practiced waiting some more.
One week ago, I received a phone call from the school. The evaluation results were back–my middlest is dyslexic. His brain processes reading differently than normal readers–his struggles last year had nothing to do with intelligence (the report even told us that), but from having a similar brain to Einstein and Spielberg.
Those words only go but so far with a 7 year old who has thought for the past nine months that he was stupid. For him, school is a reminder he is not smart, even though all of us knew all along that he is plenty smart. He doesn’t feel smart.
Summer has been bliss for him. We’ve been reading to him–he loves books, finishing the Gregor the Overlander series and listening to four long chapter books (3 Newbery Medal winners) on our road trip. He reads to us some, but we haven’t pushed him. He reads the books I’ve leveled (found the corresponding DRA level so I can be sure he’s successful while reading), he reads road signs and bumper stickers, and the other print that occurs around him (like the texts I send). We tried to use the summer to nurture his self-esteem that was pummeled last year.
I take deep breaths while I think about the upcoming school year.
My middlest had a great teacher last year. Our problem isn’t with teachers. We loved our teachers. No matter how good a teacher is though, a child notices when he isn’t reading as well as his friends are.
It’s hard for me to be excited. I’m working on it though, because I have two others going to school this year as well. I’m trying not to worry about them either. I’m mostly successful. Mostly.
I can’t promise my middlest everything is going to be ok this year at school. I wish I could. My oldest I can confidently tell that fourth grade is going to be just fine. I believe it too–school is easy for her and she has proven she will be ok. But my middlest? The best I can tell him is that I have his back. I can tell him that we are going to do absolutely everything we can to make the school year better this year. We’ve talked about dyslexia. We’ve talked about how smart he is, how his brain is similar to super smart people’s. He’s starting to believe it too–after watching Spy Kids, he told me there were smart kids in the movie, just like him. It made my heart dance. We’ve talked about having a team of people behind him to help him break the mysterious code that is reading.
That walk through the doors of the school next Monday will be a work of faith. Prayers are surrounding my children as they start this school year–let them be intact when they leave the year. Let my youngest with a speech delay feel accepted in his kindergarten classroom. Let him be confident and love learning. Let him be himself. Let my oldest be kind as she enters fourth grade, when girls especially start being not so kind. Let her reach out to the kid who feels left out. Let all children feel like they are her friend. Let her be herself and not bend to be the person she thinks her friends want her to be.
And for my middlest…..Let him be surrounded with love this year. Let him come home from school with his head held high instead of bowed low in shame. Let him know he is smart. Let him find ways to use his incredible gifts. Let him continue to be kind to everyone, no matter what. Let his weaknesses make him more compassionate.
No matter how old my kids seem to be, the start of the year is hard for me. I am a worrier and have a collection of experiences that have justified my worry. For my oldest, it’s easier, but for my two with unique challenges who don’t fit the “normal” learner definition I worry, like I suspect all mamas out there with kids who have extra challenges worry.
If you are one of those worrying mamas, know that you are not worrying alone. It’s ok if you are terrified that school is starting and you want the lower stress of summer to continue. It’s ok if you would rather keep your loves safe in your house when they know they are enough, rather than sending them to school when they have to fight to feel like they are intelligent. It’s ok. There are others of us with you, wondering how we are going to make it through another school, wondering if we really can.
My faith journey veered in a slightly different direction after I moved to Austin some 17 years ago. Somehow, I became aware of the contemplative movement–meditation, guided prayer, silence, and the teachings of monks (nuns) and mystics. No doubt this coincided with Oprah telling us all to be present in the moment as well. It stuck though. I try to live in faith, to not move so fast, to give thanks for all that I see around me, and to live out the first instruction God gave humans in the creation story–Take care of the earth. While a large part of my food choices emerged from what food tastes the best and what is the best for our bodies (extra antibiotics that encourage strains of antibiotic resistant infections? No thanks), over time, I found myself unable to go back to the way things were because of my desire to love God and love others.
Along the way in the Christian church story, the role of Christians emerged as conquerers. We were victorious over death in Jesus’s resurrection and somehow, we were also to be victorious over non-Christians, the earth, and the sinful bodies we were given. The instructions in Genesis to “till and keep” the earth meant we could do anything we wanted to the earth because it was ours. We had nothing to fear so we could do whatever we wanted to the earth to become prosperous in the name of Jesus.
In the US, the farm bills, the big agriculture and food lobbyists insist that faster is better–crops grown faster, chickens raised to maturity faster, food prepared faster. In return, we cease taking care of the earth, thinking it is ours to use up and until it is all used up, hoping technology will help us grow food when the land won’t support us any more.
It’s an issue of faith for me.
In Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, Ellen Davis says the following about the Genesis 2:15 instructions to till (‘avad) and keep (shamar):
The first reorienting idea, stemming from the verb ‘avad is that the land is something we may be expected to serve. Typically we think of fertile soil as a “natural resource.” But the Bible has chosen a verb which implies that we are to see ourselves in a relation of subordination to the land on which we live….The needs of the land take clear precedence over our own immediate preferences, as the master’s requirements override a servant’s desires. (p. 193).
The vision of people living in permanent committed relationship with nature, a relationship of dependence on and responsiblity to the fertile soil, is what animates the agrarian movement….Consciously or not, the agrarians are bringing us a message that is genuinely prophetic-that is, it accords with what we may understand from the Bible about the function of prophecy…First, what agrarians tells us about how we stand in relation to the fertile earth confirms on all essential points to the picture set forth in scripture. Serving and protecting the land, observing its natural limits, and protecting it from violation–all these are the basic operating principles of modern agrarianism….Second, the agrarian movement qualifies as prophetic because, like the biblical prophets, agrarians are issuing a fundamental challenge to power. They expose the self-serving “wisdom” promoted my the multinational conglomerates that control the vast majority of food production and processing in this country. (pg.196-197)
Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle first brought this dichotomy between using the earth and taking care of the earth to light. When she decided her family would eat locally for a year, I was enthralled. Could I do it to? I couldn’t (see Part I of my Trader Joe’s saga). As I read more, I found myself drawn into the the responsibility that Genesis places on us. As Davis states, in the original Hebrew, we are not called to pillage the earth. Instead, the original Hebrew suggests that we are to serve the land. Jesus says the same thing, calling us to be good stewards (managers) of all that has been given us–the point of being a steward not to get the most possible out of the powerless, but to respect and nurture those (and those things) we are relationship with. The love Jesus calls us to can extend to our treatment to the land as well. The love can extend to our future generations, creating rich, fertile soil for those who will need to eat in the generations after us, not leaving them at the mercy of technology and land that has been expended.
On my table for daily reading is Joan Chittister’s book, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. While there is seemingly little connection between the Rule of Benedict and food/faith, there connections are rich. Benedictines speak frequently of doing intentionality–recognizing that every thing we do is a choice and has positive or negative consequences. Benedict’s Rule calls us to make choices that reflect God and loving others. We don’t exist in a vacuum and the food choices we make have consequences as well. While I often, I think that I am just one consumer, I don’t need to worry about my own choice, the Rule of Benedict reminds me that my choices impact those around me and enough individuals can make up a large whole.
When I choose to buy my food (and produce in particular) at Trader Joe’s, I am choosing to support the draining of natural resources–through transporting the produce here from California while there is better tasting, fresher (and even less expensive) sometimes produce that was grown in my area. I do buy produce sometimes at HEB and Whole Foods. When I make the choice about which produce to buy, I first reach for those things that were grown in Texas. I know that does not guarantee that the fruits and vegetables were grown sustainably. I do know that less gas was used in transporting the food. Most of our produce is grown here in town, through our CSA. I know the farmer who grows our food–I have made numerous trips to the farm and have talked with the farmer and know he is committed to serving the earth, growing not just food but also soil.
I won’t be buying produce at Trader Joe’s, who stocks no locally grown produce. My choice does matter, and it is a choice that I feel compelled by faith to make.
We traveled for over three weeks in July–it is becoming an annual occurrence I think I could get used to. While last year we covered a large swath of the US, this year we only headed East. However, I found more places to add to my ever growing list of places I love and will dream of returning to.
Before I send us traveling on though, I can’t go without mentioning the annual neighborhood Fourth of July parade and pool party.
Cape May Lighthouse–evening walk home.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This was our book club pick this month. I missed book club since we were gone over 2/3 of the month, but I read the book. I had read Little Friend by Tartt years and years ago for another book club (I think), so I was wary going into it. I loved this book though. It was sad and depressing and a train wreck at times, but I found myself thinking about it over and over. I kept trying to sneak stories from it into conversations (but managed to stop myself). It’s a long, long book and a lot of people don’t like it. I liked it and would recommend it.
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. I noticed one of my neighborhood (swim team) friends reading this at the practice. It caught my attention, mostly because of the evening prayers from Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbrian Community that I say with Madeleine every day. I loved this book. I learned so much about the fall of Roman civilization and the crucial role the Irish played in preserving Western civilization through their love of words and manuscripts. At one point, Cahill says the church would have done well to incorporate some of the traditions of Celtic Christianity instead of squashing them, such as the end of slavery (the first culture to do so) and allowing women to not only lead churches but be bishops as well. I couldn’t agree with him more.
The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman. I was kinda lukewarm on this book. I didn’t love and I didn’t hate it. It was one of those books that halfway through I was thinking, “this can’t end well.” I must say though, the book ended better than I envisioned it ending. It was well written and a much lighter read after the Cahill and The Goldfinch.
That’s it. There may have been one more book I read earlier in the month, but I just can’t remember what it was. In my defense, I was on vacation with three kids and The Goldfinch was a mighty long book. Next month friends.
On our trip to Virginia, we would stop daily for ice cream. I was excited to find a cute little neighborhood in Nashville where we got ice cream. The ice cream was ok, but the neighborhood was fabulous and quickly turned Nashville into a city I would like to spend more time in.
I ate doughnuts. What can I say? I was on vacation. Favorites were from Fox’s Pizza/The Baker’s Dozen in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Their boston creme doughnuts are pure perfection. They really couldn’t be better. My dad picked us up doughnuts from Dot’s in Ocean City as well (however, I learned post trip that there is another Ocean City establishment I need to tell my dad about in two years for another doughnut experience).
I ate at one of my favorite Harrisonburg restaurants with Madeleine–Bowl of Good. Yum. I also got food from Sheetz and Wawa–convenience store food doesn’t get any better than either of these places. Why haven’t they expanded to Texas yet? Other than the excellent food we had our family meals at the beach houses in Cape May (homemade bagels, homemade tiered s’mores cake, homemade fried chicken, fresh fish, homemade klobasneks–aka sausage kolaches, and pork barbecue to name a few), my favorite food in Cape May was a little shop called Bliss where I had an incredible affogato (espresso with homemade vanilla ice cream). I also had a Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia, however it wasn’t from the “right” place, but from the Philadelphia Zoo. It was still awfully good. We also stopped for bathrooms/snacks at Savage’s Bakery in Birmingham, Alabama which was wonderful and at a bistro/espresso bar in Athens, TX that was also an antique store (with strict instructions on the door that all children’s hands must be held). The atmosphere at the Athens bistro was fabulous, but that’s about all I can say about it.
Phew. I cooked a little–fresh summer vegetable meals such as Ottolenghi’s tabbouleh and a kale salad from Food and Wine using kale from my parents’ garden.
You don’t really want to know. I listened to four books on CD’s–all kid appropriate and three of them Newbery Medal winners–The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (which paired perfectly with our trip to the zoo), Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli which inspired us to try TastyKake’s Butterscotch Krimpets, Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (my favorite Roald Dahl book), and Holes by Louis Sacchar. We also listened to Veggie Tales Silly Songs one too many times. My nine year old still loves them and I must admit, the first couple of times we listened to it, I laughed. I bought a Billy Bragg album to listen to. However, I listened to way too much that kept my kids happy and not nearly enough of my choices. I guess that kept me happy in the long run.
I watched World Cup soccer on TV and that was absolutely it. Sad. I know. We watched The Lunchbox way back in the beginning of July and both Curtis and I enjoyed it (although we had a hard time getting the English subtitles to show up).
I am prepared for this to be a rather controversial post.
Trader Joe’s is somewhat revered in urban middle class settings. Cheap food, mostly of the same brand, of decent prepackaged quality draw in the masses. Here in ATX, Trader Joe’s finally broke into a market dominated by Whole Foods and HEB/Central Market (a Texas brand grocery and high-end grocery store) last fall opening one store on the other side of town. In the past month, they opened their second store within a couple of miles of our house. Being the lover of food that I am, I had to check it out (on the opening day of course).
I won’t be going back frequently.
I am lover of all things Barbara Kingsolver. I started reading her books back in the 1990’s, when she wrote primarily about the Southwest and Central America. After traveling in Central America, I found myself drawn to her books. I read the Poisonwood Bible along with every other Oprah watching woman who liked to read but preferred Prodigal Summer because of its setting in the Appalachian Mountains. I naturally picked up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle because it took place in town I’d driven through on interstate more than once.
If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, let me give a very brief synopsis. The book is a mix of memoir and nonfiction writing on the ecosystem and gardening. Kingsolver packed up her family living in the dessert of Arizona, where they relied on others (in California, etc) for all their food to move to a place where they could produce all their own foods. She desired to move from a consumer lifestyle to a producer lifestyle, living off their own land. The family decided to only buy food products they couldn’t produce themselves locally for a year. They did give themselves each one guilty pleasure–coffee for one of them, dried fruit for another. The book combines chapters on their experiences being “farmers” (the turkey chapter being one of the most humorous and educational) with information on sustainable living–living in a way that our earth can handle for years on end.
I consequently joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at a small farm called Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Once a week, a drove out to the farm and chatted with Farmer Brenton and picked up my box. At first we had no idea what the vegetables we were getting were…what was this thing called Bok Choy, all these funny looking summer squash thingies, and these alien looking vegetables? (turned out they were kohlrabi). I bought a split quarter of beef from a local farmer, whose farm I drove out to in order to pick up my cow. I only bought my meat and eggs from the farmer’s market (for a while our CSA had their own eggs, now they sell another farmer’s eggs with their shares). When I shopped at the grocery store, I allowed myself to buy onions and garlic year round, but the rest of the produce, I passed over unless it was in season and from the state of Texas (much to my husband’s chagrin). I bought a lot of my vegetables at the farmer’s markets and learned where the apple orchards in the state were (and even visited one once). I had my own garden in the back yard where I grew tomatoes in the summer and greens in the winter. I had enough tomatoes from my heirloom plants to can them as sauce for the rest of the non-tomato producing year.
Wasn’t this expensive, everyone asked me? Well, the meat and eggs were. We found ourselves eating less meat though, which according to some, is rather good for you. I cooked a lot more. I made my own bread, cakes, and cookies. For awhile, I made my own yogurt and tried my hand at mozzarella. (I didn’t like the taste of mozzarella–it tasted too much like milk–imagine that). I bought partially pasteurized milk at the farmer’s market and made wicked good chocolate pudding from the creamiest part of the milk. Buying a split quarter of meat was actually cheaper than buying organic, grass-fed meat at the farmer’s market or whole foods. I actually spent less on food than other of my friends.
I’ve relaxed a bit since 2007/2008-ish when I started thinking about my eating as an extension of my faith. I buy fruit in the grocery store, but I try to buy as much Texas fruit as possible when it is in season (and as little Chilean, New Zealand fruit) to limit the number of miles my food travels to get to me (Limiting the miles food travels does two things–the food tastes better because it can be picked riper and it uses less oil/gas to produce the fruit). I buy my meat at Whole Foods to help limit the amount of antibiotics my children receive without them ever knowing. My kids’ sports schedules make it harder for me to get to a farmer’s market as often as I like, but when I can go, I do.
Food choices are a bit like parenting. We decide what our philosophy is and then we look around at everyone else. On one side, people are letting their kids drink sprite and gatorade and the other side parents are not letting their children have any processed sugar (like white sugar or brown sugar we buy at the store in addition to all the high fructose corn syrup). We judge the people on both sides. How can those parents care so little about their children’s health? How can they follow the paleo fad and take their children with them? How can they make their children be vegetarian or vegan?
As I’ve relaxed my vigilant eating habits a little, I’ve relaxed my judgment a lot. Nutrition is a funny thing. While we know some things (eat lots of fruits and vegetables), other things are the great unknown. Is sugar the cause of all our health problem? Or is it fat? Or is it meat? Or is it simple carbs like white breads, white rice, and white pasta? One person can quote one study (or at least google their position) and someone else can quote a conflicting study. It’s not clear cut, except regardless of what you eat, unless its fruits and vegetables (especially leafy or colorful vegetables), too much is not a good thing.
People on each far side of food choices can judge me…I’m too hippie or I’m too lenient in what I (and my children) eat. Just know, whatever your choices are, I won’t be judging you. I’ve been wrestling with my food choices since I’ve had children. I love Nutter Butters and Oreos. I can also remember that Madeleine didn’t have a milkshake until she was probably 5 and she didn’t like it. She also thought McDonald’s was for dogs, because I told her so many times their food wasn’t good for us, which is why we didn’t eat there.
Sometimes I sit down to write with a plan in my head. By the time I get to about 1000 words (my internal limit which I rarely manage to stop writing by), I discover what I set out to write about I entirely missed. Thus, this is the end of Part 1. Maybe in Part 2, I’ll get to more about why I don’t love Trader Joe’s and a couple of books I read recently that I love (and have to do with this subject).
Until next time, savor your food and thank the farmer, known or unknown, who grew the food for you.
Where in the world did June go? I am trying not to panic, knowing the first month of summer is over already. However, I am intentionally not filling up the fridge with calendars past July, because it only reminds me that school will come again soon.
But why am I talking about school in July?
This happened in June:
Someone turned 9. We had our first sleep over, complete with Angel Food cake. Between the cake and the madeleines (see the end of the post), I was baked out. Instead, we had birthday root beer floats with good root beer.
There was lots of time spent at the pool–playing, scaling trees, celebrating swim season, and swimming.
The month ended with the arrival of my cousin, Kim, and her boyfriend Kevin. It helped us finally get out of the neighborhood and go do summer in Austin. We watched the bats for the first time (ever for the kids) in probably 11 or more years. I forgot what a thrill it is to watch the bats emerge.
Ripper by Isabel Allende. Allende is one of my favorite authors, however I just didn’t love this book. I suspect if it was by another author, I would have thought nothing of it. Allende was the author though, so I expected the rich imagery I found in her other novels. At one point, I hoped it was just a poor translation. It was switch of genre’s for Allende-murder mystery, instead of her usual magical realism/historical fiction mix.
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Purse by Alan Bradley. This is the second in the Flavia de Luce series. I found it as enjoyable as the first book, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I mostly just love the protagonist–Flavia de Luce is a 10 year old girl who loves chemistry, is picked on cruelly by her sisters causing her to plot revenges, and solves mysteries better than the small town police. The challenge in a series of a detective in a small town is exactly how many murders can really happen in a very small town in short periods of time with a different culprit each time (similar to the challenge the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny). This was quite an enjoyable book though and I look forward to reading the third book.
The Age of a Spirit: How an Ancient Spirit is Shaping the Church by Phyllis Tickle. This was my introduction book into Phyllis Tickle. While the book wasn’t earth shattering for me, I did enjoy learning the church history around the Trinity and Holy Spirit and was thankful to be pushed to think about the Holy Spirit for a change.
Soil and Sacrament by Fred Bahnson. I read this book back in March/April and loved it. In June, SheLoves read this as their book club pick so I took the opportunity to buy the book for myself and read it again. This remains one of my favorite books, combining two of my favorite things; food and faith. Love, love, love.
Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry. Bahnson inspired me to finally read Berry’s essays on farming. I must admit, I didn’t read every essay in this compilation–after a while some of them felt repetitive and to be honest, I was more interested in the food part than the farming part. There were three essays in the middle I didn’t read. I found myself simultaneously agreeing with Berry and wondering if maybe he was a bit extreme–suggesting we leave machinery by hand and only farm with actual horsepower (from horses). Other parts though, I found inspiring, especially the sections on living as a producer/creator and not only a consumer.
Once again, I mostly read and talked to people–I did very little TV viewing other than World Cup Soccer. Messi is now a well-known name in our house. Music also revolved around the World Cup–I downloaded the FIFA World Cup Mix and found it makes wonderful dance party music. I think the only movies I watched this month were our Saturday, post-swim-meet movies, the most memorable on being Holes.
This was also a sad month for eating out. The most exciting food I had was from a food trailer at the Mueller Farmer’s Market. Mmm…I have no idea what I ordered, but Madeleine and I shared it and both loved it. It’s been a solid month of the kids and I which doesn’t bode well for exciting eating. There was that peach shake from PTerry’s….
Tomatoes are in full swing in Texas–our season is considerably earlier than most because when the upper 90’s hit, the tomatoes quit. I bought 30 lbs of tomatoes from our CSA and canned 20 pints of pasta/pizza sauce. I also made gazpacho and caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, with a little bit of olive oil and salt). From our garden, we’re getting tomatoes and a very occasional red pepper (I found those produce better in the fall than the summer for some reason). I also made a mess of madeleines for someone’s birthday.
The big food news? A new cookbook. I checked out Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream from the library because I’ve heard her ice cream is pretty good. I made two recipes from it: Backyard Mint Ice Cream and Buckeye Ice Cream and immediately ordered a copy for myself. Since then I’ve also made Salty Caramel Ice Cream (my favorite I think) and Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet to give to a friend who has a daughter who can’t eat dairy. Yum. I must admit, my initial reaction to the book was meh. Corn syrup in ice cream? What?? Why would you do that? However, ice cream is not made to be healthy and that ice cream is so good, I quickly got over my initial dismay. I also made Smitten Kitchen’s Pretzel Rolls. Yum. I didn’t use lye, but stuck to the basic baking soda bath and I was just fine with that.
I’m linking up again this month with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into
Can we talk about a difficult subject? one that will make me squirm?
How about the Holy Spirit then, folks? Not your everyday conversation starter, nor is it even written about much by mainline Church goers (mainline = not Pentecostal or Charismatic). In fact, most of the time, I think those of us who go to church most Sundays would rather forget that third part of the Trinity. Father (or Creator if you prefer a more inclusive title) we can imagine. The Son was made visible and his life was documented in the New Testament of the Bible (and no, I am not saying the Bible is a historical document). But the Holy Spirit? There isn’t much explaining or categorizing or discussing the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is intangible and the most mysterious part of the Trinity that the Nicene Creed laid out way back in 352. When I sit and try to explain to you what the Holy Spirit is, I can’t even do it. The Holy Spirit just is, moving in ways we can’t predict, acting in ways we can’t put into words.
I’ve been wanting to read one of Phyllis Tickle’s books for awhile. I’ve seen her name mentioned numerous times. I listened to her interview on On Being with Krista Tippet. Tickle’s name comes up when people talk about where Christianity is headed–not because she is necessarily leading Christianity there, but she is writing about where she sees Christianity going. I wasn’t quite sure where to start and I noticed that a new book of hers recently came out: The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. I had found my first Tickle book to read.
Overall, The Age of the Spirit wasn’t a game changer for me. What I learned was an old, fancy word, filioque (Latin for “from the Son”), which was added in the Third Ecumenical Council to change the Nicene Creed. The addition of the filioque, which stated the Holy Spirit not only proceeded from the Father but also from the Son, enraged the church in Constantinople, eventually causing them to split from the Roman Catholic Church some 500 or so years later, forming the Eastern Orthodox Church It was the first major split of the Christian church (the second split from the original monotheistic church–the first being when Christianity split from Judaism). I must admit, most of the whole filioque debacle I didn’t really understand. I was lost when they discussed the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, much less adding the Son.
What the Age of the Spirit did do was to make me think about my view of the Holy Spirit. Let me restate that. It made me think about how little thought I give to the Holy Spirit. In fact, I work my hardest to avoid thinking about the Holy Spirit.
Based on the amount we talk about the Holy Spirit at our church, I suspect I’m not by myself in Spirit avoidance. The Red Couch book club (over at SheLoves) is reading one of my favorite books this month, Soil and Sacrament. The author, Fred Bahnson, alternates between his journey in the present, visiting four farms over the course of a year and the past, sharing his early (ten years prior) farm experience that led him to his current journey. I love this book for countless reasons, but the most pertinent to today is that I feel like I can connect to Bahnson. One of his visits takes him to a Pentecostal farm which reaches out to young violent men in the Skagit Valley of Washington (if you, like me, are shaky on your geography, that’s the area between Vancouver and Seattle, bordered by the water and the Cascade Mountains). During that visit, Bahnson came face to face with his own thoughts on the Holy Spirit and I found they deeply mirrored my thoughts.
In the evangelical church of my youth I’d heard a lot about demons. Junior high Sunday school classes often featured talk of spiritual warfare. There was a great spiritual battle raging all around us, we read books like Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness, and if only we prayed enough we would help the angels defeat the demons. I had graduated from all that. I did not doubt the existence of evil, but I also believed that God granted us human agency. I’d seen too many people use Satan as a smoke screen to cover their own mistakes, and it was hard not think about these things as I sat rigid in the pew while the violent and annoying wind of a prayer banner nipped at my neck. Whenever I’d seen people get charismatic I was not like those witnesses at the first Pentecost who were amazed and perplexed and asking “what does this mean?” I was one of those ready to sneer and say “they are filled with new wine.”
The Holy Spirit isn’t easy to receive like the love of God or Christ’s sacrifice. With both of those things, there is an element of human choice voice involved. I choose to accept God as Creator of heaven and earth. I choose to allow God’s love in the sacrifice of Jesus to transform me (although, I must admit, this isn’t particularly easy either). What do I choose about the Spirit? I can plead with God to send the Holy Spirit to me, so I can be like those witnesses in the book of Acts in the Bible, who repeatedly are filled with the Spirit. However, the Spirit coming to me, is an entirely different matter.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.
A spiritual gift is given to each of us, so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another Spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is give the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. The Spirit alone decides which gift each person should have. (I Corinthians 12:4-11)
I avoid talk about the Spirit because I am scared. (I told you this subject would make me squirm). I am cynical about others’ Holy Spirit experience because I haven’t been knocked down, filled with laughter, spoken in tongues, healed or have been healed, or broke into uncontrollable dancing. I hide in my liturgical services, guided by the quiet prayer of Benedict of Nursia and other nuns and monks. Because I haven’t spoken in tongues, healed others, prophesized, or performed miracles, I think that I am not good enough–I am not faithful enough or trusting enough or my life is filled without too much of me (and not enough of God). I ignore that third leg of the Trinity because I haven’t experienced it in those ways. However, I don’t need to be scared. While I perceive certain gifts of the Holy Spirit, as being greater than other gifts, according to Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, I clearly shouldn’t feel that way. All gifts are equal—the ability to listen, share wisdom, and have faith are as “great” as speaking in tongues and healing.
It is Pentecost, friends. Pentecost is that time when the Holy Spirit was poured out onto the masses, causing them to speak in tongues (the fancy, technical word is glossolalia). Just like the Christian calendar acknowledges the other parts of the Trinity (Christmas and Easter), it also acknowledges the Holy Spirit in the celebration of Pentecost.
Happy Pentecost, friends. May we all be more open to how the Holy Spirit works and moves in our lives. May we move beyond our fear of that which we can’t understand and embrace the Holy Comforter (I love that term for the Holy Spirit in the Bible).
Summer has gotten off to a rip-roaring start. OK. Not really. In our house, summer has gotten off to a nice leisurely start, full of mornings at swim practice, lunch together, afternoon quiet time, and afternoon entertain yourself time. I’ve applied my teacher skills to this first week of summer. During the first weeks of school, teachers try to set the tone for the year, spending time doing some tedious things (like getting from one place to the next, classroom routines and procedures, etc) in order to ensure the rest of the year can be spent teaching and not establishing routines. I decided this summer that I wanted to set the tone for the summer in this first week. We made lunchtime routines immediately, which meant everyone either had to help with setting the table or clearing the table, every day. They could choose which one they did, they just have to do one or the other. We’ve done quiet time every day, because I know myself well enough to know that 30 minutes all by myself, whether it is spent folding laundry, baking cookies, reading a book, or taking a brief nap, can help me get through long days much easier.
This summer also includes a summer project. While this may include Madeleine creating several books (we have ideas for at least 3) and working with John on his reading, the summer projects we are diving into involves things such as character building, vulnerability, and change.
When I read Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, what I thought of over and over again was, “How do I raise my children to be vulnerable with others, allowing them to experience more creativity and deeper relationships?” I know that sentence seems a little backwards–children are born extremely vulnerable. Why do we want to make them more vulnerable? To clarify, when I say vulnerable, I am not speaking of the inherent smallness of size and need for adults that children have. Vulnerability encompasses the ability to take risks, fail, be honest with emotions, and live with less fear. Vulnerability is taught to us by the Velveteen Rabbit–it is what makes us come alive. Without it, we can’t experience the wonderful emotion of joy. How can I teach my kids to combat shame and be more vulnerable?
For each of my children, their struggles with shame manifest themselves differently. One child displays his shame obviously, burying his head and crying when he has accidentally and unintentionally hurt someone or messed things up. Another child reacts to shame with anger, yelling and throwing things. The third responds with either anger or withdrawal, depending on the day. How do I help each of these children with their own unique struggles?
I’m learning to ask questions. When anger emerges, roaring and throwing punches, I search for the real feelings behind the anger. Rarely is the anger a display of the anger. Mostly anger is a cover for feelings of shame and unworthiness. I probe, asking if anything has happened today that has made him sad, asking how it felt when something happened. In a stream of tears, I hear him tell of his shame. He didn’t mean to hurt that person, he was frustrated because he couldn’t complete a task he wanted to. With words comes a sigh of relief. Once the shame has been expressed, he is freed. Brene Brown says this in Daring Greatly:
Shame derives its power for being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists–it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins [Yes--like gremlins from the movie of the same name], language and story bring light to shame and destroy. (p.67)
Our summer project looks different for each of us. I am working on not being so critical. I’ve realized over the past month how fast I am to criticize what others d0. I nitpick–the towels weren’t folded correctly or that outfit for the five year old doesn’t match or someone is not 100% accurate in the words they use. I started listening to myself and became appalled at how fast I tell people what they are doing wrong. I do it without realizing the words that come out of my mouth. I worry that I am contributing to the voices that tell my children they are not good enough.
Our summer project this year is to work on voicing our feelings–for both the child that responds with anger and the one that withdrawals. I am working on responding first with compassion, not criticizing and not correcting. I, too, am looking at the feelings behind the criticism–do I criticize because I feel like others are being critical of me? Do I criticize because I need things to be “right” all the time? Do I criticize because I have an inflated sense of self-worth? I think of Karen Armstrong’s words in her TEDTalk she gave back in 2008, “It is more important to be compassionate than to be a right.”
That ought to keep us busy this summer. We’re armed with jewels, daily meditation books, and the Bible to accompany us through the next months. Most importantly, we are surrounding ourselves with grace and second chances–this isn’t a project we’ll accomplish in three short months. Any headway we can make though can help us love neighbors and our God better, which is the ultimate goal.