Does that apply to me?

There have been a couple of recent events that have made me wonder if people (myself included) really listen sometimes.

I’ve mentioned before about the Daily Prayer for Peace service in my faith tradition. It’s a beautiful–and short–service, held each day at 1:00 CST. At the end of each service, there is a brief statement that invites people to remain after the closing ministry of music, inviting them to “remain in the quiet of this place and pray or meditate as long as you wish.”

Yet quite often, as soon as the service is over, someone will greet a friend in the sanctuary or make some comment on the way out–not waiting until they’re out the door. What part of encouraging quiet in the sanctuary isn’t understood? I know that sometimes they believe that if they’re whispering, it won’t disturb anyone–but whispers (especially sibilant ones!) can be heard very clearly in that place. It’s not that many steps to move into the foyer; is what they want to say SO important and essential that it necessitates disturbing someone else’s quiet meditation?

Does that statement really apply to me?

Then–while I normally try to avoid political issues here–this same question arose as I was listening to some of the speeches of the Republican National Convention. (I’m sure it will also arise during the Democratic National Convention–that just hasn’t happened yet.)

There was a lot of talk last night about what we can do when there is bipartisanship…with the implication being that the Republicans were willing to be bipartisan, but the Democrats weren’t. However, bipartisanship–by its very nature–implies that all parties involved have to be willing to listen to each other…have to be willing to work together to find common ground…have to be willing to let some things go. And unfortunately, compromise–an essential part of bipartisanship–seems to have become a dirty word.

Bipartisanship doesn’t mean “I’m willing to work with you as long as you see everything my way and agree with all the decisions I want to make.” Not in politics and not in religion. Unfortunately, when those two get mixed together and inextricably combined–as they seem to be in the United States currently–there doesn’t seem to be room for compromise and bipartisanship.

So as I listened, I heard a lot of talk about the need to work together…and I wondered if anyone was sitting in the convention and asking themselves in all seriousness, “Does that apply to me?”

Maybe if each of us started asking ourselves that question–regardless of the situation we’re in–just maybe we’d find ways to support each other and solve the problems that currently seem to insurmountable.

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The impact of small things

There’s a saying from Mother Teresa that I’ve always appreciated…a challenge to “do small things with great love.”

Sometimes we think we have to do “great things” in order to make an impact, but recently I’ve been reminded of the impact that small things can have.

Part of my job responsibilities include helping guest organists feel at home on our wonderful instruments–a magnificent Aeolian-Skinner built in 1959 and a Casavant built in 1993.

Sometimes they are organists who are going to present a full-length concert; sometimes they are individuals who want to share a 30-minute recital in our regular recital series (daily during the summer, on Sundays during the school year).

Such was the case recently. I met an individual who wanted to play one of the 30-minute recitals and who was willing to drive several hours in order to accomplish that. We were able to schedule practice time that was convenient, and I spent some time showing him around the organ and helping him begin to be comfortable with it. I gave him some registration suggestions, since it’s sometimes hard to tell how things balance because of the location of the console…and then turned him loose to enjoy!

He played his recital, and I was delighted that we had a number of people there to hear him. It went well, and he seemed to also have a good time at the console.

When I visited with him a few minutes afterwards, he unexpectedly handed me a small package containing a set of Thomas Kincaide coasters and a card of thanks. I didn’t think I had done anything out of the ordinary–but apparently he did.

And his response was a blessing to me! The card that he selected–and the note that he wrote–both carried a message that I needed to hear at that time–a message of affirmation and appreciation.

It was a small thing–but it had a wonderful and powerful impact.

Mother Teresa was so right…

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Now I’m mad!

I usually don’t say much about politics here. I have some pretty strong feelings, but I’d rather focus on other things. However…

I cannot let Rep. Todd Akin’s comments yesterday go unchallenged. Here’s what he said:

He’s spent much of the time since then back-pedaling and apologizing for his “mis-statement.” A mis-statement? Right!

A mis-statement is a word or two that are poorly chosen–not a whole paragraph that basically tells a raped woman that if she got pregnant, then she really didn’t get raped. It wasn’t legitimate!

Just what doctors has he been listening to?

While I agree that the rapist should be punished, unfortunately many rapes are not reported, precisely because of attitudes like this.

I’ve appreciated the remarks from both Democrats and Republicans who have found Akin’s comments offensive. Unfortunately, more often than not, the remarks I’ve heard from the Republican party have tended to be more along the lines of what Akin said–and that whole mindset terrifies me.

How far back into the Dark Ages does he (and others who agree with him) want to send us? He has already gone on record that he is opposed to most forms of birth control. Are women supposed to be kept barefoot and pregnant? and is anybody supposed to be exposed to education that might challenge preconceived ideas? There is panic about countries run under Sharia Law–but is somehow the idea of Christian fundamentalism being the law of the land okay?

I think of the woman taken in adultery and brought before Jesus, surrounded by a group of men ready to stone her. Where was the man? Was he in the group, blaming her? And I wonder…have we really changed that much? I hope so–but then I hear comments like this…and I really do wonder.

So what is age anyway?

Many years ago we were taking my grandmother out to her favorite restaurant to celebrate her 80th birthday (although she thought we were going out to celebrate my birthday!). On the way, I remember asking her what it felt like to be 80. Grandma–who was a bit of a spitfire–shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know…what’s it supposed to feel like?!?”

At the time, that response made no sense to me. Of course every memorable age was supposed to have its own unique feeling. After all, I had just turned 21, and so there was a sense of freedom with that age…

However, as the years have passed, her response has come to make much more sense. I’m not as old as she was yet, but I’m definitely a senior citizen. So what does that feel like? I’d have to shrug my shoulders like Gram and echo her response: “I don’t know…what’s it supposed to feel like?”

When I look in the mirror, I see a face with a few more gray hairs, some sags that didn’t used to be there…. My body doesn’t always do what I would like it to–but that’s not particularly because of age. I’ve been dealing with that for 30+ years, ever since I was diagnosed with MS. I have more experience–and there are some things I would do differently, if the opportunity came again.

But inside? I still feel like the young woman who wanted to know what I would feel like in the future. What would it be like to turn 40? 50? 65? 80? 90?

I can tell you the answer to some of those ages–the ones I see now in the rearview window of my mind. It doesn’t feel any different.

  • I’m still me. I still have many of the interests I had when I was 20…although many new ones have been added as well.
  • I still love life, even if I can’t do everything I used to (and some of those things I don’t miss–like pulling all-nighters to cram for a test or finish writing a paper!).
  • I have a lot of friends, some of whom have known me since I was a kid–but some of whom have come to me as the years have passed.
  • I have a family I love. Okay, maybe it’s not necessarily the family I daydreamed about–but what family is? We love each other…laugh with each other…cry with each other…disagree with each other…but we’re family.
  • I’ve experienced some losses–but I’m still glad to have had the time I had with those individuals. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
  • I still have dreams for the future. I don’t know if I’ll get around to fulfilling all of them–but I still have things I want to do.

I’ve known a 25-year-old who was an old lady…and a 55-year-old who was still young. So what is age anyway?

Age is only a state of mind…and Gram was right. Any age feels just like we want it to.

Two countries?

As I listen  to the news coverage and read the newspapers and news magazines recently, I’ve begun to wonder if the United States is again splitting into two countries.

My reading of history would indicate that the last time there was this much division was 150 years ago–prior to the Civil War, when the division was North-South, business-agriculture, abolitionist-slavery… There wasn’t much desire to compromise on either side, and neither side seemed to be willing to listen to the other. Both were absolutely convinced of the rightness of their cause.

I’ve wondered what it would have been like to live then. Which side would I have been on? It seems so simple now…so clear.

But are we there again?

The divisions again seem clear-cut in so many ways, and obviously any way of describing them is going to imply which position I believe to be the “correct” one. So I think that rather than doing that, I’ll leave it to the reader to think about the divisions. It’s not hard to see them…all one has to do is to listen to two newscasts and the differences are starkly present.

Do we have to go down the same road that we did 150 years ago? Is there no way to find common ground?

I know many of our differences are based on the way we read the scriptures that have shaped us. But if our interpretations build walls rather than bridges…if they bring division rather than unity…then is there a chance that we’re reading them incorrectly? And if there’s that chance, then can we take the time to talk together? to actually talk with each other rather than past each other? Can we work together to find ways of meeting the needs that we hopefully all agree are present, even though we may not agree on what has brought us to this point?

It’s not easy. But if we lock ourselves into absolute rigidity for our own perspective, our own understanding, then it feels like we’re again traveling the road we did 150 years ago. I don’t want the same result we had then.

Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?” I’m not asking us to put aside our own beliefs, our own understandings. I’m just asking us to try to find a way to work together to build bridges between our experiences, our beliefs, our understandings, so that we can truly become one country, not split into two.

Honoring each other

As I’ve continued to watch the Olympics, I’ve been interested in seeing how the athletes relate to each other after their turn in their events. Sometimes I’ve been delighted at what I’ve seen…other times disappointed.

Just a few of the situations that have stood out to me…

Michael Phelps: I know that there are some who do not like Phelps, and I know that in the past he has come across as arrogant. But as I watched him in the interviews after the relays he was involved in, he made a point of acknowledging his teammates and the role they played in getting the medals…not claiming that it was all due to his incredible swimming ability.

Gabby Douglas: Her performance on the uneven bars was not what she had planned/hoped for, putting her in last place. But she went over to congratulate her opponents–the medal winners–and then in her interview, she acknowledged that she just didn’t have it. No excuses–but still, that beautiful smile.

Lashinda Demus: It wasn’t just watching her run…it was watching her 4-year-old twin sons yelling and cheering for Mom, and then watching her smile and wave to them after she won her gold medal. A beautiful family!

And then, this one. When Liu Xiang was injured in his qualifying meet for the 110 hurdles race he was the favorite in–the second time in as many Olympics that he’s been hurt–he still didn’t give up. He hopped to the finish line–in last place, but he still finished. And then…this, after he was helped off the track by some of his competitors:

His Hungarian competitor Balazs Baji came to Liu’s side and lifted his arm in the air, the way a boxing referee would acknowledge the winner of a fight.

Winning a medal isn’t the only way one wins at the Olympics. Honoring your opponents achievements–even if you are disappointed in your own–makes you a bigger winner in my eyes.

Winners…

I sat in my chair last night, watching more of the Olympics, and thought about what it means to “win.” Who are the winners? Is it just the few who reach the podium? I think  not.

Yes, those who take home medals are definitely winners and definitely to be honored. They perform what seem to be absolutely incredible feats at times, feats I could never imagine doing in my wildest dreams (and that I sometimes cringe, watching). They–and their families–make incredible sacrifices…sometimes willingly, sometimes not so willingly (depending on the culture). They spend hours training, disciplining their bodies and their minds.

But what about those we never hear about? Those who come to represent their countries but who never make it past the qualifying rounds? How should they be described?

Or those who make it into the finals but who don’t end up on the podium? What are they?

Winners!

It’s easy for me to sit in my chair and critique (or criticize) their performances. It’s easy to say, “Oh, there’s no way they should have missed that!”…all the while knowing that there’s no way I could even begin to do the things they do. It’s easy–as I’m sitting there in comfort–to wonder how they could have let their nerves get the best of them…knowing that I’d be likely to be in the bathroom, throwing up out of nervousness.

Just getting to the Olympics makes them winners in my mind–especially when you can tell that they are doing their best. (Those who intentionally try to lose–or those who use unfair means to try to win–are something else, and they’re not the ones I want to talk about.) Many of them come, knowing that they don’t have any realistic chance of standing on the podium, but they are there doing something that they love…that they’ve trained years for…that they want to represent their country in.

Why wouldn’t nerves sometimes get in the way? In some of these events, they’re still just kids…16, 17 years old. They’re competing in front of audiences they’ve never dreamed of…against people they’ve looked up to…under unimaginable pressure.

And so to me, any of the athletes who are there, doing their best, are winners–whether they are standing on the podium or not.