What is our golem?

Another blog I read quite frequently (Mudflats) had a post about a golem recently in relation to national politics. I hadn’t thought about the golem in a long time…but this triggered some interesting/challenging thoughts.

For those who may not know the story of the golem, it’s a Jewish legend about a creature created to follow its creator’s instructions to the letter. It has no soul, no mind…. Once it is created, it is very difficult to destroy. One version of the legend says that in order to animate the golem, the word “truth” is written across its forehead in Hebrew. To destroy it, the last letter must be removed, and that changes the word “truth” to “death.” Accomplishing that task is nowhere near as easy as creating the golem in the first place.

The problem with the golem is that once it is given an order by its creator, it follows it exactly as given…not necessarily as the creator expects it to. And so sometimes the golem destroys what the creator expected it to protect…and sometimes it turns back on its creator.

The story of the golem is not unrelated to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Again, an individual creates a being to follow orders–and again, things don’t turn out as expected. Without a mind or soul, the being is limited to following the words of the orders exactly as they are given–not as the creator imagined the orders.

In many ways, the golem is a false god, created in a human image. If each of us were to create one–and I think in many ways we do–each golem would be different. But the end result would be the same…destruction.

The only way out that I see is to recognize that we are not in charge of the whole world…we are only in charge of ourselves. We may know our version of “truth”…but we need to learn that it is only our version, and that is a partial version. It is by listening to each other–truly listening, so that we can learn–that we can begin to put together pieces of the truth.

Otherwise, we will continue to create golems…and once we create them, struggle to control/destroy them before they turn on us.

Advertisements

Being the middle of a sandwich

For a number of years, I’ve heard discussion about my generation being the “sandwich” generation. I’d nod my head in agreement…and then quietly wonder why it seemed so much of an issue.

Now I’m beginning to understand…really understand!

The issue with our grandson that I posted about a few days ago seems to be doing much better. He’s back home…and is laughing and interacting with people like he hasn’t for quite a while. I know there will still be issues–after all, he’s just starting the teenage years, and they’re difficult enough without the other “baggage” he has to deal with. But it looks like maybe this time–including a change of medicine–allowed him to be willing to open up…to get some things off his chest that he’s been carrying close…to let counselors/therapists in to help him deal with his “garbage.”

So that part of the sandwich is–for the moment, at least–doing better.

The other side of the sandwich–my 90-year-old mother–still needs attention. She’s back in her more independent living unit (in the nursing home)…back from rehab for her broken hip. But 90 years of behavioral patterns are hard to change, and she still doesn’t understand that when the therapists told her she needed to use her walker all the time, that meant in her unit as well as when she goes out.

And so…she fell again Monday. Fortunately she didn’t hurt anything, but she couldn’t get up by herself. She was frustrated at being the center of so much attention, but it still won’t change the behavioral patterns.

So we’re starting doctor visits again. Tomorrow some lab work for a visit with her kidney doctor next week, followed by a follow-up visit with her primary-care physician. Next week, the kidney doctor. Three weeks after that, the dentist…a few weeks later, a follow-up with the orthopedic surgeon. Those are only the currently scheduled ones–who knows what else may come up?

I struggle with patience, especially since I can get up, dressed, and out the door in 10-15 minutes. Tomorrow I will go down to Mom’s at 6:30 to wake her up and get her dressed so that we can hopefully be heading out the door at 7:45 to be among the first ones at the lab (which is on a first-come/first-serve basis).

Sometimes I feel like the two sides of the sandwich are each pulling, each demanding more of me…and I wonder when/how I can find the time to take care of the things I need to do. Somehow you find ways…but being the middle of the sandwich is always challenging!

Why the arts?

A while back a friend of mine sent this quote from Cott Mail:

… the culture as a whole is in need of repair, serious repair, and the arts are one of the few ways we have to fix things.  … [Our culture] decided not to care as much about the things we hold truly in common — our cultural heritage, the natural world.  The arts aren’t elitist.  They are the opposite of elitist. They work on everyone.  We push arts organizations into a tiny corner of the culture, and we say, you are isolated from us, and then we turn away, as though it wasn’t our doing in the first place.  My only suggestion to the arts organizations?  Fight your way out of the corner and land your best punches.

I’ve been thinking about that for quite a while!

What are the first things that get cut when budgets get tight? You’re right…it’s arts programs. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a school situation, a local community, or even state or federal government. The arts are somehow seen as “frills”–nice add-ons that we can somehow do without.

Obviously I disagree. But not just because I’m an organist.

The arts–whichever form they take, whether music, visual arts, drama–provide ways in which we can connect with each other, connect with our souls, make sense out of what sometimes seems to make no sense. There’s a reason composers sometimes write pieces they title “Songs without Words”…. When we can’t find the words to express our pain or our joy, sometimes simply the music does that for us.

I remember years ago sitting in a practice hall, listening to a young man in one of the rooms. He had just received word that he was being drafted–and would be going to Vietnam. He was a talented pianist–and for about half an hour, he played his anger, his fears…and we who were listening heard and understood what he could not put into words.

At one point in my life, I had been given a decision that was emotionally devastating, that felt like a repudiation of everything I had spent my life in preparation. There were no words I could find, not even in prayer. I found myself in a chapel with the lights off–because I didn’t want anyone else around–sitting at the piano and playing my prayer. The music was at times savage…at times agonizing…and ultimately finding a place of peace.

There are some things in the arts world that I look at–or listen to–and go “Huh??” But there are many, many more that express for many of us…for all of us…concerns and issues that all humans deal with. We all deal with rejection, love, death, war, peace…and those are all themes that can be found in works of art, whether they are opera, orchestra pieces, ballet, paintings, dramas…

The arts can draw us together, can help us find those issues we have in common, can help us find ways to express what we didn’t think anyone could express.

God help us if we ever decide to try to completely do away with the arts–because in doing so, we would have lost our souls.

Always a parent…

Years ago I heard someone say that when you become a parent, you always stay a parent…and your heart remains vulnerable.

That’s true–and perhaps even more so when you are a grandparent.

It’s been hitting home the last day or two…again.

Our 13-year-old grandson has had lots of issues he’s had to deal with in his short life, many of them beyond his control. There have been losses of beloved family members…dealing with severely dysfunctional biological family that he only sees a couple of times a year (but still has to deal with)…wondering if God hates him…and all the issues that go along with becoming a teenager.

Yesterday, as school started, everything came to a head again. He has learned some coping skills–but when he is overwhelmed, he doesn’t know where or how to start using them, and so he resorts to more dangerous ways of trying to deal with the emotional pain…ways that have resulted in his going to a residential psychiatric center.

It hurts.

It hurts when you see your grandchild in pain–building a shell around himself for protection, even though you know that it’s only when he will allow someone in that he can get the help he needs…and wondering if he will do that this time. When you know what a wonderful, beautiful, caring, gentle and vulnerable child is in there…how can you help him cope?

And it’s not just him.

You know that his father is hurting as well…angry, scared, uncertain… My heart breaks for him as he struggles with knowing what the best decision is for his son–how to help him understand.

You just never stop being a parent…

Musing on aging…

Over the last few days, I’ve had several strands of thought running through my mind. While they deal with different aspects of life, they seem to all be interconnected in that they deal with various aspects of getting older…

It started (I think) last weekend with moving my 90-year-old mother from rehab (for her broken hip) back to her independent living unit in the nursing home. This is a good move…but it also brings some concerns, since she has significant short-term memory problems–and since she’s spent almost two months with someone telling her where she needs to be when, and making sure she gets to her meals. She was pretty confused when she moved back; we’re hoping that being in her more familiar environment will help. If it doesn’t, we’ll be looking at yet another move–to a floor with more structure for her. I really don’t want to have to go there–not yet. I’d like her to be able to stay where she is until the end.

Then I began to wonder if I was going to have to deal with some MS situations. I’ve been very fortunate in that my MS seems to have mostly been in remission for the last 20 years or so. It’s there–and I am aware of it–but it hasn’t created significant problems. I use my electric cart to save my energy when I’m in situations that would require a lot of walking…are super stressful…are hot…but most of the time I’m mobile, although I do have to make sure I get my nap every day and I need to watch stress and heat. However, last week my legs began to tell me that they were pretty tired and heavy–to the point where I didn’t stand for the opening hymn at church…I just couldn’t. It seems to have cleared up, at least for the moment. But it was just another reminder that things change as one ages–and this may be something I’ll have to deal with again.

And yesterday I had a cyst removed from my back. No major medical problem–just more of a constant annoyance. The outpatient surgery went well, but my back is kind of itchy–and sore! I find myself wanting to gently pat the spot in order to stop the itching, but when I do, I find myself wincing a bit at the pain. When I got ready to go home, the nurse asked if I was married–and since I am, she gave instructions for how my husband is to clean it and change the bandages twice a day for the next ten days. I got to wondering on the way home…what if I were widowed? How would I have dealt with it then? That’s not something I’m anticipating in the near future–but I’m aware that it is a possibility, much more so than a decade or two ago.

None of this is particularly unusual…or threatening. I’m just becoming more aware of the passing of time–and realizing that things that seemed to be so far in the future at one point are coming closer to living with…and remind me of just how much I have been blessed.

Reading the Bible seriously…

Faith Matters, a blog I read on a regular basis, had a link to an interesting article this morning (8/11) about reading the Bible.

I’ve always felt that the Bible needs to be read seriously and honestly, but that a literal reading does neither the Bible nor us any favors. This article reinforced that belief.

And for me it’s an extremely important notion–that the Bible should not be read literally–because how we read scripture is at the heart of the issues that have the potential of tearing so many denominations (including my own) apart.

Part of the problem is that we tend to read the Bible from an “Enlightenment” point of view–as a historical document. But that was not how it was written. Yes, it was written to tell a story–an important story–but not a story in which every fact, every detail happened exactly so.

I once heard a Native American storyteller begin his story this way: “I don’t know if the story I am going to tell you happened exactly this way–but I know that it’s true.” His focus was on the point he wanted to make, and the details were selected from what happened to make that point.

If I don’t insist on reading the Bible literally, then I am freer to see the focus…to see the emphasis on God working in history. I am freer (and more able) to understand the context out of which biblical stories and letters were written–and to look for the underlying/foundational principle rather than saying that every word that was written 2000 years ago exactly fits my century. I don’t have to worry about all the contradictions to be found in the Bible (and there are plenty!).

Reading the Bible seriously allows me to see it as an important corollary to the scientific stories–which focus on the “how” of life. The Bible focuses on the “why” of life.

It allows me to read the stories of imperfect/flawed human beings and society–and still see God’s love and caring for God’s people. It allows me to read all of this through the lens of what Jesus called the two greatest commandments (out of all of the ones he could have chosen):

  1. Love God with all of my being–my heart, my soul…everything.
  2. Love my neighbor just as much as I love myself.

Everything else (according to Jesus) hangs on these two commandments. And for me, they are the lenses that allow me to read the Bible seriously and have a better understanding of its message.

The world is mine…

My dad was a minister–and he had an incredible cache of sermon illustrations that he used. I have some of them, but some of them he never wrote down–or just put a word or two in his sermon notes.

One that I remember him using quite a bit was this poem. I don’t know who wrote it…I don’t know if he did. I do know that he frequently introduced it by talking about the lady who gave it to him–and who he thought wrote it. Towards the end of his life, I asked him to write down her story, because he indicated that this poem–coming from this woman whose life apparently was incredibly difficult–really touched him. He never did, so I don’t know what her experiences were that touched him so much.

But I got to thinking of this poem this morning when I visited my 90-year-old mother, who is in rehab in her nursing home for a broken hip. I am able to walk quickly and easily down the hall–while I pass people struggling with getting their walkers to move…working the wheels of their wheelchairs…slumped in the wheelchairs, waiting for the aide to move them…sometimes walking on their own–but slowly….

I have some medical issues of my own–but I have been blessed, and I do not currently have to deal with most of its side effects. This poem, coming to mind, reminded me that I forget way too often to say “Thank you, God. Forgive me when I whine, for I am blessed and the world is mine.”

Today upon a bus, I saw
A lovely maid with golden hair;
I envied her — she seemed so gay —
And oh, I wished I were so fair.
And suddenly she rose to leave,
I saw her hobble down the aisle;
She had one foot and wore a crutch,
But as she passed, a smile.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two feet — the world is mine.

And when I stopped to buy some sweets,
The lad who served me had such charm.
He seemed to radiate good cheer,
His manner was so kind and warm.
I said, “It’s nice to deal with you,
Such courtesy I seldom find.”
He turned and said, “Oh, thank you, sir!”
And then I saw that he was blind.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine,
I have two eyes — the world is mine.

Then when walking down the street,
I saw a child with eyes of blue.
He stood and watched the others play;
It seemed he knew not what to do.
I stopped a moment, then I said;
“Why don’t you join the others, dear?”
He looked ahead without a word,
And then I knew, he could not hear.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two ears — the world is mine!

With feet to take me where I’d go,
With eyes to see the sunset’s glow,
With ears to hear what I would know;
I’m blessed indeed, the world is mine.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.

Author Unknown