Thursday, December 30, 2010


 This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What's the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?

While I’ve had several great gifts this December (a leaf shredder and a worm farm stand out as ones I really, really loved), the most memorable gift was my ring.  When Kathy and I were first together we’d gone to Santa Fe for a conference. While we were there we’d gone to the square and bought matching $25 turquoise and silver rings.  We’d each worn them ever since.  When we got our wedding rings (also silver and turquoise) we tried to wear them instead but they weren’t very comfortable and so we went back to the $25 rings.  This fall, I looked down one evening and noticed that the stone had fallen out of my ring.  It upset me a lot.  I began to wear my wedding ring instead, but I really missed having the other ring. The day before my birthday, Kathy and I went out for dinner.  At the end of the meal, Kathy gave me my ring back with a new turquoise stone in it in place of the one that had fallen out—best gift I could have been given!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Achieve and Defining Moment

What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

I feel like I’ve already answered this question in several of the other Reverb10 questions: the one about 11 things, the one about future self, etc.  So here goes again.

 Next year I hope to find more peace and balance in my life by focusing more on sustainability and less on consumption, more on things I can do and make myself and less on things I buy, more on ways to stay centered and focused in the present and less on things I hope for in the distant future, more on enjoying whatever is in front of me (or breathing deeply into it when the situation is not enjoyable) and less on grabbing after something I don’t yet have.

 Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.

Two series of events stand out this year:

  •              Becca’s going to college and then coming back home and all the changes and reexamination of life that those have meant.

  •            The gardening-green yoga sangha-master composter- Roots & Wings – permaculture interweavings in my daily life.   This is causing me to not only rethink daily physical decisions (what I use, where I go, what I eat, etc.) but also my moral and spiritual approaches (how to make moral decisions on behalf of future generations, a theology for God and the kingdom of God that would better reflect a sustainability model,  language choices I make that move away from an anthropocentric worldview into a worldview that takes into consideration all creation).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ordinary Joy

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

            There were so many joyful ordinary moments this year that picking out one as standing out wouldn’t do justice to the year.  I’ve tried this year to stay focused on the idea in the following quote by Wu-men:

“Ten thousand flowers in spring,
            the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer,
            snow in winter—
If your mind is not clouded
            by unnecessary things,
this is the best season
            of your life.”

I’ve enjoyed watching the birds at the feeder this winter, sitting on the front porch in the evening being surrounded by fireflies or bubbles, watching my kids play videogames together, listening to bird calls, playing ball with Chase, lying in the hammock and looking up at the clouds and trees, sitting down to dinner, working in the garden, feeding the worms, canning tomatoes, listening to Macy purr, kneading bread, and so much more—all ordinary, joyful moments.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Soul Food

What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

            Food that stood out for me this year were of two very different types.  The first was a meal at Per Se in New York City.  The restaurant itself with a view of Central Park and Columbus Circle, where there were two or three waiters for each table, was in and of itself an experience, but each course of the food was memorable.  Except perhaps for the meal we had at Buddakan for Dan’s 25th birthday, I don’t think I’ve had a more memorable meal.

            The other food that stood out though was the weekly food Kathy cooked from the things we grew in our garden and from the CSA.  We had the most amazing meals—soups of all kinds, vegetables like kohlrabi I’d never heard of before, much less tasted, and casseroles and dishes from a wide variety of cuisines that used what we were growing.  I loved sitting down to those meals and tasting those tastes, knowing that we were eating as locally as possible, as healthily as possible and as “tastily” as possible.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

The picture was taken on a beach in Dennis Massachusetts in early September, when Kathy and I were spending a few days up at the Cape. In many ways, while I also love forests and fields, beaches –or any place where water and land meet- are the most natural non-work setting for me.  There I can relax, reconnect with my more reflective spiritual side, and just be my non-work self. I don’t like the Cape beaches much during the summer—too many people, too much noise and too much disturbance.  Once Labor Day comes and goes, though, the crowds empty out and, whether it’s warm enough to swim or windy (as it was the day that this picture was taken), the beaches are fairly empty.  They’re perfect for walking along, sitting on, or just watching the wildlife that makes them home in the off seasons.  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Name

 Let's meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?
            My first reaction is to say I don’t want to meet by another name.  I’m not trying to become someone else.  I’m trying to become more uniquely me and part of who I am is the name I’ve had since birth- Susan.  I’ve had alternate forms of my name.  My mother called me ‘Susan Gay’ (especially when she wanted to show either her irritation at something I was doing or her extreme approval), one of my best friends in high school called me ‘George’ (I called her ‘Dave’.  These were both base on our last names and made a lot of sense because in an all-girls’ school it was easy to yell out ‘George’ and only have one person look up, while calling out ‘Susan’ might apply to a group of people), and my godmother called me ‘Sue’ (for some reason I’ve never understood nuns and ex-nuns tend to do that with my name).  I’ve been called by lots of appellations- Professor, Reverend, Doctor, and mother.  But I’ve always stayed Susan throughout it all.

       When I thought a little longer, though, I realize that I’ve been given one other name that I’ve come to accept as my own and that fits me, though I’m not sure I can explain exactly why.  It’s the name Ishah Ezer.  It was given to me one year by my students at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. One of the things I’d learned the first year I started teaching at Sing Sing was that inside a prison, men have two names—the legal name (the one that appears on my roster) and their prison name (the name they’ll answer to in class). As I learned the names of my students-- names like Cipher and WooWoo – it was usually impossible to match them with the legal names on my attendance roster. For about 90% of my class, those names had no connection with each other and I wasn’t sure how they originated, though once in a while a student would share a story about the origin of his name.
       One year I was teaching Introduction to the Old Testament to a group of thirty men who were part of the New York Theological Seminary certificate program.  We were doing Genesis 1-3 and I explained to the class the meaning of the Hebrew words a’dam (human), ish (man), and ishah (woman).  We practiced the formula from Genesis 2 that ish + ishah = a’dam.    As we practiced, someone made the point that they were each an ish and that I was the only ishah  in the building and that, to practice their Hebrew, they’d call me ishah for the rest of the class.  A little later in the same lesson that the woman was an ezer c’nego for the man, a phrase that means a partner, a helper.   A student in the class pointed out that that’s what I was for them, a helper helping them transform their lives by partnering with them in education.  Ishah ezer’ he said,’ that’s you.’  The name stuck and for years afterward I’d be walking the Sing Sing school building and hear someone call out ‘Hi Ishah’ and know in my deepest being that, just as I’m ‘Susan’ in most settings, in a few I’m also ‘Ishah.’

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

            Aside from a trip to London and a trip to Minneapolis, my travel was by foot and (mainly) by car.  When weather and time allowed for it, I went to the college, to my office at the church, and on nearby errands by foot.  Most of the time, though, I’d be splitting my day between working in a local place and a place out of town and so I’d have to drive.
            For 2011, if transportation options were better and cheaper, I’d love to be able to take public transportation when walking (or maybe even biking if we get the bike rack at the church!) isn’t possible.  As far as travel, if we could both get the time and afford it, I’d love to both see some new place outside country (Greece, Egypt, Norway, or Argentina would be on the top of my list) and also visit some area of the United States that I haven’t explored.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Future Self

 Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead?

            While I can hope that in the future I’ll live a simpler, more ecologically sound life (ideally in an area where we can grow more vegetables and perhaps have a goat and some chickens and bees), be in good health, and be feeling a sense of accomplishment in the work that I’m doing, five years from now what I’d really like is for my children to be happy and more settled than they are now.  But my advice to myself is that life always sends you in directions other than you’ve planned so, while having a sense of goals and priorities is very important, so is not expecting things to work out in the future in ways that you’ve pictured.  It’ll be what it will be. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Beyond avoidance

What should you have done this year but didn't because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing?

Short, easy answer: I should have found one full-time job rather than all the part-time jobs I currently have.  I didn’t for several reasons: First I’m sort of caught in this area of the country for a while longer than I thought I’d be and so can only apply for jobs within commuting distance of Westchester.  But even then, there should be some sort of full-time job that would be easier and pay more than all these part-time jobs.  I applied for a number of which I became aware, but I’m just too busy with all the part-time work to do intensive, every-day job searches. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010


What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn't go for it?

In 2011 I want to try lots of things.  I could spend the full day just writing them up, but here are three:

            First, I want to can more of the food that we grow ourselves.  This year we canned tomatoes and catsup, things that were acidic enough that we could do them with our hot water bath canning system that we use when we make jelly.  Next year, however, I’m hoping we can branch out to canning other things using the pressure canner that’s Kathy’s Christmas present to us. 

            Second, I want to try to find a humane way to deal with the groundhog that caused such havoc in the vegetable garden this year.  Maybe that’ll mean moving more of the vegetables he ate to the front of the house (and, following Fritz Haeg’s model, getting rid of the rest of the lawn there).  Maybe it’ll mean a sprinkler system on a sensor. Trying to do it this past year with pin wheels and Epson salts just didn’t slow him down at all. I’m not sure yet what I’ll come up with for 2011, but I want to try to be creative in how I do this while also not harming him.

            Third, I want to find the time to explore more systematically what I think a Christian faith that addresses 21st century issues—the hunger for community, environmental and ecological concerns, new ways of connecting using technology, a more glocal worldview, etc.—would look like.  I’m curious what images, what structures, what worship approaches, and what ecumenical relations this would create.  I had hoped to do this more consciously in 2010 but the time for it never materialized.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lesson Learned

What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

         What I learned this year is to have less expectations for what the future will be like, because life hands us lots of completely unpredictable things. All we can do is do the best with the situation presented to us. As the sign I have on the bookcase says “It is what it is.” If I can stay centered and focused during whatever “is”, it’s a lot easier than either fighting against it or shaking my fist at God the way the prophet Jeremiah did all the time. 

Perhaps this is at least partially a function of age. Maybe everyone learns the equivalent of the AA serenity prayer as you get older. For years I loved the section of Jeremiah that said "If you have raced with people on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” (12:5) and used the racing and weariness as an occasion to keep going and pushing for more.  Now my response is “Well, maybe I don’t need to compete against horses or perhaps even people on foot.  Maybe all I need to do is stay centered and do what I can with what I have.”  I don’t say this in a defeatist way.  I still aim to accomplish a lot but I’m hoping through this learning not to waste a lot of anxiety and angst on things over which I really have no control

Friday Five: Christmases Past

At RevGalBlogPals Jan writes: “Tell us about five Christmas memories you have.”

1.    1. Almost every year that I can remember from the time I was four or five, we’d have either Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas afternoon dinner or both up in Tarrytown at my Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Harry’s home.  My mother, my grandmother and I (and once I was married, Max) would gather there with my most of my grandmother’s sisters and brothers and their families and often my Aunt Eleanor’s extended family as well.   People would sit around the tree and talk for a while and, once everyone had arrived, exchange gifts. Then we kids would go upstairs to the attic or down to the basement to “explore” while some of the adults finished up dinner prep stuff. We’d all gather back together around the dinner table for lots and lots of food- turkey and ham, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, two or three vegetables, homemade rolls, gravy, stuffing, and then several homemade pies and various cakes and cookies. Depending on how many people were there, children might or might not be at a separate “children’s table.”  If the “family highchair” was out (one that most of us of several generations around the table had sat in during our babyhood) people would comment on the new addition.  After dinner, the women of my grandmother’s generation would go into the kitchen to clean up and chat more.  Then most of us would gather again around the dinner table to play the card game “pennies” (that each of us would save pennies for for weeks ahead of time).  I loved these intergenerational, extended family gatherings and have always wished that I had had a way to do something similar for my children.

2.  2.   I was about four months pregnant with Dan at Christmastime.  I’d just begin to feel him quicken at the time and was still in awe of the experience.  Feeling him bouncing around as we sang Silent Night at the end of that year’s Service of Lessons and Carols surrounded by the stars from the slideshow has always stayed with me at later Christmas Eve services

3.   3.  From the time Dan was about six I’d let him go on the Christmas Eve Midnight Runs with Frantz and me.  We’d go in a series of cars to about four or five stops – outside the United Nations, at the Bandshell in Central Park, in Riverside Park, at St. Thomas’ Church, and a few other places that’d vary each year--and distribute pieces of hero sandwiches, homemade cookies, mulled wine and eggnog, and gifts of hats, thermal underwear, and gloves to the homeless poor living on the streets of New York City.  One year, when Danny was about eight, Max was with us and driving us in his Jeep.  The radio was on playing Christmas music and, as we pulled into the 79th street Rotunda in Riverside Park, the announcer said that Santa had just been spotted flying over Philadelphia and was heading up the east coast toward New York City.  Danny got so worried about not being at home before Santa got to New York that we had to quickly get into our car and head home so that he could be in bed before Santa got to our apartment.

4.    4.  The year that Becca was about three, I’d promised several of the men who I’d gotten to know on the streets of New York City that I’d bring her on the Christmas Eve Run.  Max agreed that we’d all drive down to the city together and do just the first two stops in Central Park, stops where people would be expecting Becca. That same year Max and Dan decided to get me a dog from the pound for my Christmas gift.   They came home with a white collie mix that was about five years old. Becca named her Christmas Joy (Joy for short).  The day of Christmas Eve they brought her home to me at our apartment and promptly freaked out our cat, Midnight.  The two just couldn’t get along.  Joy was spooked by noises from neighboring apartments and barked.  Midnight was spooked by Joy and hissed over and over.  That spooked Joy who barked.  It became a vicious circle.  I headed out to the 5:30 service hoping things would get better before I returned.  They didn’t.  It was clear that leaving Joy alone in the apartment barking while we were out on the streets of New York wouldn’t work so at 11:30, as we bundled Becca into the back seat, we also put Joy next to her.  Stop by stop, not only were the men delighted to be greeted by Becca, but they were also happy to have a dog standing beside her, wagging her tail as one person after another came to take a Christmas cookie from Becca’s hand.

5.    5. Our first Christmas together, the winter before we bought the place we’re currently living, Kathy and I had agreed to have Christmas at Kathy’s apartment.  Between the end of the Service of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve and daylight Christmas Day it snowed a huge amount, though, and the streets were from my perspective impassable.  I wasn’t sure how to get to Tarrytown to get my Aunt Ruth, the one remaining sister of my grandmother still alive and in the area, much less how to get her and my children to Bronxville to Kathy’s.  Kathy, less skittish in the snow than I am, agreed to come get us all.  We slid our way over to Bronxville and were joined by her younger son, who came up from the city by train.  The snow continued to come down.  Just after Christmas dinner it became clear that all the roads back home were closed and, except for Jon who quickly left to walk the block to the train before it stopped running, we would all have to spend the night.  At about 7 pm Aunt Ruth announced that it was time for her to go to bed.  I suggested she take one of the two twin beds in the one bedroom, saying Becca could sleep in the other bed.  She said she wouldn’t sleep in the room with “the little girl”.  I asked if she preferred to share a room with Dan or with me.  Her answer was no to either suggestion.  That meant she had to take Kathy’s bed away from her to have a room to herself, that Dan would sleep on the living room couch and Becca, Kathy, and I would have to sleep on the two twins pushed together.  After a few complains about the height of the bed Aunt Ruth finally went to sleep.  About 11 or so, Becca went to sleep and around 12:30 or so, Dan, Kathy and I did the same. I was exhausted. At 4 am I awoke to a noise.  It was Aunt Ruth standing beside me, saying that she was rested and getting up now and “only needed a little breakfast”.  I put on my glasses and headed out to try to fix her something before she woke anyone else up, but she made enough noise heading through the living room and then complaining that there weren’t any of her usual breakfast foods, she’d soon awoken Dan, and then everyone else with him.  Even “the little girl” who usually slept through anything once she got to sleep, was awake.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010


How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

            I’m not sure there’s been “a friend” who has changed my perspective on the world.  Instead there have been a stream of conversations with friends that have gradually done this.  One friend, for example, told me how energized he was with permaculture and that led me to taking a day-long workshop.  There someone I met told me about the Master Composter-Recycler training program and pointed me toward all that I learned by doing that.  That’s brought me to worm composting, shredding the leaves, and other more environmental choices.

             At the permaculture workshop I attended, another acquaintance started a conversation with me in which we discussed community gardens and that, combined with the training around permaculture, led a group of us to begin Roots & Wings, the permaculture vegetable-labyrinth that is now being built on our church lawn and funded by the presbytery. 

            My new teaching assignment for the spring of 2011—Global Religions and the Environment—has also begun to engage me in conversations with friends that have changed my perspective.  As I’ve preached more on these issues, friends and congregants have come up to me to share insights from the scriptures of various religions.  Last Sunday, for example, after I preached on Isaiah 35’s vision for a new Advent way of living on the earth, I had a conversation with two friends interested in Hinduism about how parallel that vision is to one found in the Bhagavad Gita. That conversation was followed by one with someone else discussing how Isaiah 35 fit in with the Buddhist views that Jack Kornfield had been teaching her for the last five days.
            Together, these two sets of conversations are broadening out my understanding of how to live daily life in a spiritual way that sees each choice and action as so much more interconnected than I used to. I’m hoping that I’ll find more and more interesting ways to connect the “green” options that our Roots & Wings project is offering the neighborhood with a “green” theology that can interweave my Christian beliefs with the insights of other spiritualities in a way that will really work for the 21st century world. 
            All of this is to say that I hope in 2011 I can continue to do what I did in 2010-- to stay open to small, local changes based on small casual conversations about passions with friends that seem to make long-term differences.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Five Minutes

If I were to lose my memory of the year, then short phrases about the year would mean nothing to me.  It’s reliving and refeeling the various activities that mainly matter.  But if I were to list the things that most stand out, they’d be:
·      The February trip to London, Oxford, and the Cotswolds with Kathy, Dan, and Becca
·      Concerts and theater—Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, Susan Werner, Wah, Live from the Crooked Road, Next Fall, Carol King and James Taylor, Emma’s Revolution, Mrs. Warren’s Profession
·      Rediscovering a new apostle Paul as I did Bible study series for First Presbyterian and Bedford Presbyterian
·      Starting Roots & Wings at South Church and then getting the $70,000 presbytery grant to fund it
·      Becca’s senior prom, high school graduation, and graduation party
·      Jon and Ilona’s wedding in Allentown
·      Minneapolis to give General Assembly speech on same-gender marriage and to visit with Kristen and Heidi
·      Vegetables- both from the Rexcroft Farm CSA and our garden—and a woodchuck
·      Becca starting and then dropping out of Manhattanville College
·      My Master Composter-Recycler certificate classes, almost all of which I enjoyed a lot
·      Kathy and my joining the Green Yoga Sangha to look at the relationship between environment and health
·      Attending the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC
·      Noah’s birth in early November, then his bris 8 days later
      ·    Trying to get ready to teach three new courses  (including one on global religions and the environment) at Pace



Tuesday, December 14, 2010


  What's the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

            If intangible things count as answers to this question, my answer would be my relationship with Kathy.  It’s been a tough year for us in a whole series of ways.  Her job has been up for grabs because of budget cutbacks.  My work schedule has meant that many days I work all day and most of the evening (not to mention weekends). Her work and some of mine are in places where we’re less than happy, but financial constraints make keeping the jobs a necessity. We weren’t able to make any of the vacation plans we had in mind for this winter-next spring a reality because of changing circumstances. The possibility of moving that we’d both had in mind for years needed to be put on hold for a while—and with that comes the fact that we’ll continue to have to draw from our retirement fund to get by each year that we stay here. And then there are all the family and health issues that continue to swirl around in this mix.  Despite it all, Kathy has jumped in with huge amounts of energy to participate in so much of what I’ve wanted to do this year.  We joined the CSA and Kathy cooked interesting meals around vegetables we’d never heard of before receiving them on a Sunday morning.  We’ve doubled the size of our small garden by not only taking over most of the rest of our back yard but by also using half the front lawn (and Kathy plans to make the other half a garden next summer as well).  We not only moved from one compost bin to three but I wanted to try vermicomposting. Kathy bought me a warm farm and two pounds of red wigglers are on their way to our door as I type so that we can give it a shot.  We’ve put in a cold frame to have fresh greens all winter. We’re eating out less and less and cooking more nutritious meals from scratch using mostly organic vegetables and whole grains. In all this and more of the environmental changes we’ve made, I couldn’t be happier. And for a whole variety of reasons, so much of this all has fallen to Kathy.  I’m doubly conscious of this at this time of year.  For most of the years in my previous marriage, along with my added church work and piles of end-of-semester papers in December, I had to find time by myself to do all the holiday shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating myself.  Now it’s shared and, when my schedule makes it impossible for me to get to something at a specific time, Kathy just keeps going with it. While I was at a meeting at the church last evening, she put the lights on the tree so that I came home to Christmas lights and to a tree all set for us to trim next time we’re both home and have some free time. How do I express my gratitude for this?  Pretty poorly I’m afraid. While I try to make clear how much I appreciate all of this, I wouldn’t know words that could begin to show how very grateful I am!

            If intangibles don’t count, then I suppose what I’m most grateful for this year are all the wonderful vegetables we’ve had (and continue to have) access to.  Between those we’re growing ourselves and those from the CSA, it’s been amazing.  I’m convinced that, along with the vitamins and supplements that my integrative doctor suggested five years ago, one of the reasons both my thyroid problem and my ongoing (and very annoying) fibromyalgia aren’t as bad as they had been is because of the better food.  Having access to choices of healthy, organic, locally grown food is a luxury that I’m aware most people in the world don’t have.  Each time I sit down at our table to eat, I remember with gratitude how lucky I am to have not only enough food but a variety of healthy foods to choose from.

Monday, December 13, 2010


When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen. What's your next step?

The way I make my way from ideas to concrete results is through checklists and deadlines.  If I can see how an idea can become reality step-by-step and list out those steps and when each has to be done, I’m fine with making it happen. On the other hand, if I’m given a project and I have no idea of what steps to take to get it done, then odds are very good that it’s not going to happen. The same is true with deadlines. If, for example, I’ve a writing project that I’d like to do but it can be done at any point in the future, it will always be something to be done in the future since there are a hundred other things with specific due dates to which I have to get first.  Checklists and deadlines—those are my needed steps.

Body Integration

This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn't mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?
     These days I’m making a conscious effort to STOP thinking of myself as mind and body and START thinking of myself as my SELF, an integrated being.  I want to eliminate all Cartesian thinking from my way of dealing with my life, my choices, my world.    I don’t feel “most integrated with my body.”  My body is part of my very being.  I AM a cohesive ME. 
         Having said this declaimer to the question, I feel more ME when I can stay fully present in whatever I’m doing.  If I’m swimming and can be totally centered on the feeling of moving to a rhythm as I go through the water, I feel fully alive.  If I’m engaged in a conversation where I’m fully present, I feel fully alive.  If—and perhaps this is one of the places it’s easiest for me to be fully present these days—if I’m working shredding leaves or tending to plants or bringing in the vegetables or doing something else on our small postage stamp of land and I’m fully present, I feel very, very alive AND very grateful for being so.

11 Things-- Or 1?

What are 11 things your life doesn't need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?
  11 things?  I’d barely be able to keep up with one or two major changes in my life.  If I took on 11, I’d end up not being able to do any of them.  SO—In 2011 I’m aiming to get rid of using products that are unhealthy or toxic.  This will be true in my cooking (eliminating the use of cans that could be lined with PVC or other bad plastics), in my storage (again eliminating as much plastic from usage as possible), in my personal care items (getting rid of parabens, parfum, and other toxic items in my shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and more), in cleaning items (like laundry soap or household cleaners) and in a more general way in other items I use and buy.  

Friday, December 10, 2010


 What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?
         Wisdom isn’t something that I feel I have.  One of the hardest parts of writing a sermon for me, for example, is coming up with something the least bit original to hand over to people who are listening. Stories I’ve got, biblical and theological points I’ve got, but my own wisdom to hand over to people I don’t have.  Luckily on most Sundays the scriptural message has wisdom I can use in place of my own.
            So I’m not sure I’ve made any wise decisions this year, though I’ve tried to make some important ones. I’ve stayed focused, for example, on trying to make decisions best I can using the principle of ahimsa (non-injury) as my first guide. 

I’m not very good at it yet—especially when it comes to immediate, personal, family-related situations—but I’ve begun to apply it on more general life choices.  I’m trying to consciously choose the products we use in our home—be it food, cleaning items, clothing, or gadgets—in a way that will do the least harm to the earth, animals, etc.  I’m working on keeping the little bit of land that I’m directly responsible for as healthy as possible by composting and putting more back into the soil than it had when I began to live on it.  And I’m trying to stay as awake as I can to political issues and ways in which practicing ahimsa impact on them.  Is living in this way wise?  The Jains, Hindus, Buddhists, Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior among others all seem to think so.  I can’t tell. I just know that it feels like it’s the right way to orient the decisions I’m making in this part of my life.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.
There are three or four (non-work-related) social gatherings that stand out from the past year, though I’m not sure any of them “rocked my socks off.”  There were the gathering for Becca’s graduation celebration, the gathering for Jon and Ilona’s wedding, the meal up at Mount Tremper Arts just before a great performance and discussion of gay issues in performance art, and various gatherings around holidays and birthdays.  I think, though, that the gathering that currently stands out most for me—perhaps because it’s the most recent—was the one the day after Thanksgiving at some friends.  We were each asked to bring our leftover food and booze to their house.  We gathered in the living room to eat, watch the fire, and socialize. After everyone had eaten we ended up playing Pictionary in teams of four with the ages of those playing ranging from 5th grade to in our 50s.  Teams had people from a variety of countries; besides the US, there were folks from Belgium, France, Germany, and England.  It was very laid back, very friendly, and at times, very competitive. I wasn’t hosting and, while most of the families gathered were members of my congregation, it wasn’t a group that expected me to wear my ministerial hat in any way. I think all three of us—Kathy and Becca were with me—were able to just be ourselves and relax.  I had a lot of fun.

Beautifully Different

Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.
Somehow yesterday’s email with the question for the day didn’t come through, so I’ve only a minute to reflect on this question.  I don’t really think of myself as beautifully different.  I’ve begun, as I’ve gotten older, to think of myself as eccentric (and I mean that in a positive way).  And last week, at a dinner gathering, a friend lovingly suggested that I move to Vermont where I could be “as crunchy a you want.”  I think that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more distinctly myself and generally I’m happy with who that is though I’m not sure it “lights people up.”  And that’s fine with me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

            Finding community remains a challenge for me. I’ve always hoped to be part of a small intentional community that worships together, studies together, is involved in social justice work together, and plays together. I’ve never found the group though.  During the early and mid-90s, a small group from my congregation came as close as any group I’ve been a part of to being that community, but that was a non-intentional coming together of circumstances and as a few of the circumstances changed, so did the existence of that community. I’m still friendly with many of them but we do less of the “all around” community stuff together than we used to. 

            I discovered community of a different kind in the online cohort doing their doctoral work with me.  We met online at least weekly during the years when we were doing our work and also gathered F2F several times throughout the years and I feel fairly well connected with them –all but one of us keeps in touch with each other and a few of our profs on FB- but since we’ve graduated there’s been no regular gathering.


            Recently I’ve tried to find the community I long for in a variety of places. I’ve tried various types of gatherings in Second Life—mainly worship settings or educational gatherings—but so far they just haven’t cut it as a community, mainly because I find it very hard to be part of groups where the way of communicating is only typing slowly back and forth and each group I’ve connected with uses that method of communication rather than SL voice.  I enjoyed one of the SL congregations that ran a book group and worship service I attended this summer but their fall gatherings have all been when I’ve been at work so attending hasn’t been possible.  Maybe in 2011?
            Kathy and I have also joined a small group called the Green Yoga Sangha.  It meets about once a month and focuses mainly on environmental issues as they impact our personal lives and our communities.  It seems to have a movable feast of interesting people who come and go and I’ve enjoyed each of the three times we’ve met with the group.  They come from all types of careers (though last month for some reason the bulk of the group were lawyers) and all types of philosophies of belief but most, if not all, practice yoga regularly. I’m hoping that as we attend more of their gatherings in 2011 that may begin to provide more community for both of us.
            What kind of community would I like to connect with in 2011?  An intentional one.  The setting—online or F2F- seems less important to me than the intentionality and the focus. I’d love to be with a group who are intending to live lightly on the earth in an environmentally responsible way, who want to treat all creation as sacred, and who are interested in finding ways to make that intent and that belief more concrete in the world around them.  I keep searching environmental groups that are out there—especially permaculture groups, who from stuff I’ve read seem to come closest to this—to try to find such a local and/or online community, but so far, no luck.  But I’ll keep at it and hope that, in 2011, it’ll become a reality.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Making Things

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

            Over the last several years I’ve moved toward making more and more of the things we regularly use.  We now grow our own vegetables – this year using a cold frame outdoors and a small “greenhouse” bookcase indoors in the winter to keep that going—and use them regularly in our cooking.  We make our own compost, both in outside bins and in an inside worm-bin. We hot-water can tomatoes, ketchup and jellies—and hope to start pressure canning next year so that we can do a wider variety of food.  We make our own bread and use very little prepared foods in any of our meals these days.             I also knit and am currently working on a scarf for my youngest and a throw for the living room sofa.

            What I’d like to make and have actually gathered the material for, though I haven’t had the time to work on it, are two quilts.  One would be a more traditional “country quilt.”  The other would be a quilt make out of favorite old tee-shirts of the middle child that I’ve intentionally saved over the years for this purpose.   I’ve never quilted though, so it’d be a long process learning step-by-step learning to make the quilts I’ve got in mind.  I’d have to set aside lots and lots of blocks of time to make it actually happen, time that at the moment I don’t think I can clear.

Letting Go

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

            The first thing I let go of this year was the idea of trying to do the best job I could at preparing for each class I taught, each sermon I gave, or each project I worked on.  Toward the end of this year, as I added a sixth part-time job to the five I already had, it became clear that, even if I gave up sleep entirely, there just wasn’t enough time in the day to make that happen.  Now my goal is to do a “good enough” job at each that I won’t be wasting people’s time but will still be able to get all the work done.

               The other thing I’m conscious I gave up this year was the expectation that there would come a time in the near future when I would be able to work one full-time job of my choosing rather than all the part-time jobs I’m currently doing.  For a good number of years now, I’d made peace with having the “ever-increasing number of ever-decreasing salary” part-time jobs by believing that, once my youngest child had graduated from high school and headed off to college, I’d be free to take a job of my choice anywhere in the world that I’d like to move.  I’d talked with Kathy, the one person who would then be affected by it, and she was more than happy to move wherever such a job might take us.  Toward the end of August I began to look for such a new job and found a possibility or two that looked intriguing (and, though long shots, might even possible despite the denomination’s position on lgbt clergy).  But then the youngest left college and came back home, making such a move much less possible.  And in November Kathy’s younger child, who lives in New York City, had her first grandchild, which makes a move away from the metropolitan New York area even less desirable.  Now “following the ideal job” seems very unrealistic.  I’m doing the best I can to let go of that expectation and beginning to rethink what life for the next ten or fifteen years of work might be like.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Cultivating a sense of wonder isn’t a problem for me and, as far back as I can remember, has never been.  It doesn't seem to be something I need to cultivate.  It just grows in me on its own. I am in awe of nature and the universe around me day in and day out, even on my most depressed or difficult days.  In high school I discovered Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I Am Waiting” and always thought that, if you changed  the word ‘awaiting’ to ‘experiencing”  in the following lines of that poem, it would be what life is like—or at least what life is like for me.

“…and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder.”

There is so much around me that amazes me but that I don’t understand and that I want to understand—not just by knowing about it but, when possible, by experiencing it.  I look out the window and want to know where do the birds at the feeder go at night or when it’s cold and snowy, how do they fly, what factors allow the tree to go through its changes seasonally and to grow into the unique shape that it has taken in all its particularity.  Not only do I want to understand the principles behind those things, but I want through whatever kind of mimicry is possible to understand them in my very being so that I’ll feel firsthand the awe of how it all fits together.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of even the smallest area of such wondrous possibilities. I’ve only begun to experience the awe of the world’s religions, of prayer, of stillness, of being at peace and at one with the universe around me.  Even in this small area, there is still so much I’m hungry to know firsthand.  And then there’s all of the other parts of life yet to explore.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become painfully aware of all the things I won’t experience in this life.  I’m too old and in too poor shape physically, for example, to hang glide now and experience just a little of what it would be like to fly. I won’t be able to learn to play all the music or dance all the dances that I’d love to feel within my very being. I won’t be able to live in each of the areas of this earth that I’d like to experience life from within, much less to travel to other parts of the universe. I won’t even be able to know and be amazed by the one small yard of Dobbs Ferry that I spend most of my time in as well as I’d like to.  The part of me that is a glutton for wonder finds myself like W.B. Yeats in “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”.

I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men…
I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reverb 10- the Beginning

I’m going to try to do Reverb10 for a while in December to see if I can find some time to write –about anything—rather than just doing work.  I’m three days behind so this post is my catch-up.

December 1st  Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
         Word for 2010- frenetic
         Word for 2011- focused

December 2nd Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
         Almost nothing I do during a day contributes to my writing. It’s not that I don’t write each day. I write a lot—lesson plans for church school, lessons for the courses I teach, outlines for Bible studies, sermons and prayers for worship, emails for each of the six different jobs I have, and on and on. With the exception of the legal material, I enjoy doing just about each of the types of work the jobs demand and I discover new connections as I write about them, so that’s good.  All of the writing, though, is driven writing—responding to immediate demands—rather than focused writing, which would focus on a writing project that I’d like to complete.  When I look back on my work at Drew, the one thing that stands out is that, while the topic I worked on for the doctoral project wasn’t my first choice of a topic, I actually enjoyed focusing upon and then writing the work.
         Can I eliminate the other work so I can write more?  Nope.

December 3rd Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
         I’m not sure there is any moment this year that stands out as a time when I felt most alive.  I often feel alive in a lot of what I do because I’m curious to learn more about it- whether it’s doing the adult education events, having pastoral conversations with people, working on Roots & Wings, leading worship on a good Sunday, swimming, much of the time working in the garden, kneading bread or canning tomatoes, or so many other things—but there’s not one specific time this year that stands out as a time when I felt more alive.  Maybe down the road when I look back there will be, the way the year before the drive on the red clay washboard dirt roads through the surrounding jungle in Belize, with its deep rich smells that I’ve called up a lot since, stood out.