The Bluevine Collective is an open community seeking purpose by exploring life and faith questions in order to live out our core values through compassionate, peaceful and just action.

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Soul
Searching

By Stanley Abell

I’ve been waiting my whole life betting on a change
See it coming getting better getting better now

“Wide Open” ~Sugarland

Sometimes I wish I could return to a state of naivety on a lot of things… not all things mind you, but a lot of things. For instance, I’m clinging to the hope that the people at the local coffee shop really think I’m a great guy and are truly glad to see me.

However, I’ll never forget my junior year in college when I finally got to take the first core class in my chosen area of academic pursuit. The class was Journalism Advertising 301. The professor who taught the class was a guy who had been on the team that developed the Oscar Mayer bologna jingle. Remember that? “My bologna has a first name, it’s Oscar. My bologna has second name is Mayer…”

Right, so this guy was the real deal, he knew his stuff. However, his in-depth, personal research for his work on the Johnny Walker Scotch campaign is what drove him from professional advertising into the world of academics where his embittered personal and worldview pervaded class lectures.

Anyway, one day, the lecture was about packaging we see on the products we buy in grocery stores. Very fascinating—truth in labeling, colors, pictures…the higher the sugar content, the greater likelihood of a cartoon character appearing on the box. Standard stuff. However, toward the end of the lecture, he made a dramatic pause, pushed his glasses down his nose, cleared his throat and said, “Young people (as he called us), let’s talk about new and improved. I want to take this opportunity to disabuse you of any thought that when you see a label on a package that says new and improved, that anything about the product is new, or that anything about the product is improved. The only thing new and improved is the advertising.” In essence, his message was that in marketing, any ad you see is not what the product, person or company actually is, it’s what they aspire to be.

Huh. Since that moment, lo these many years ago, I’ve had to live with this burden of truth. I was better off naïve. I mean, there for the longest time, I actually thought Capn’ Crunch made some improvements over time.

A few years ago the United Methodist Church launched a marketing/advertising campaign with the following slogan: “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.”

It was a very slick campaign with wonderful 30-second spots that appeared on national television, accompanied by billboards and direct mail. Many of the spots brought tears to my eyes. These were very well written and produced pieces. They described a really dynamic, inclusive, loving church I’d like to attend and call neighbor. However, as a United Methodist pastor, I had to ask myself, “I wonder who they’re talking about; there must be some mistake.” In that moment of cynicism, the old professor’s words began ringing in my ears… “It’s what they aspire to be.”

[Disclaimer: As a larger mainline denomination, United Methodist Churches around the country vary widely on theological and social issues. Reflecting the diversity of our country as a whole, there is a right, left and middle. ]

In this very clever marketing campaign the language used to convey “new and improved” was “Rethink Church.” So, let’s unpack that for a second… we say as a church, we want to have open hearts, minds and doors. AND, to try and achieve this, it will require rethinking church.

Here’s the deal though, in the boardrooms to whom marketing companies and advertising agencies are ultimately accountable when they conceive of a campaign to pitch their products, there is general consensus. Something like… “We want to sell more product, have greater market share, or strengthen customer loyalty, etc.” Within the United Methodist Church there is no such consensus (see disclaimer).

For starters, there is nowhere close to consensus or even general agreement on what it means to be an open church. How can we aspire to be it, if we don’t agree on what it is?  Open to whom or what. This struggle transcends time. Historically we have closed our doors to African Americans. We have closed our doors to women in roles of leadership.

Currently we close our doors to persons who are homosexual to positions of leadership. We give pastors leeway to deny church membership to persons who are homosexual.

The United Methodist Church is not alone in this conversation. Every mainline denomination I know of struggles with this contentious issue. However, the difference is no other mainline church deemed to launch an ad campaign extolling a rethought church with open minds, hearts and doors.

Moreover, in a great many Methodist churches, having conversation around homosexuality has been very much like the government’s current conversation over the debt ceiling. It is contentious, it is polarizing and both sides are very passionate about their points of view… and with compromise, nobody is happy.

Rethinking indeed.

At some point the theological, emotional and intellectual chasm that kept African Americans and women in inferior positions in the church was bridged. The church doors were opened. That… really, truly was new and improved.

Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors… this is the new, new and improved God aspires for us to be. The chasm is wide, and this may sound a bit naïve, but I believe God is counting on us to bridge it.

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Soul
Searching

By Stanley Abell

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness 

Heart of the Matter ~Don Henley

I can’t prove it, but I think the person who wrote the rules of golf also wrote the rules of life. I think they were somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland after having one too many single-malt Scotches with the Bible open to Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. “Okay, let’s see how inane and complicated I can make it…they’ll never be able to follow, hah!”

Whereas Moses took the almost 700 perplexing laws found in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy and TRIED to create a manageable 10 (with a little help from God), golf has undergone no such reformation. Sure there are only 34 rules, but have you looked at them? There are 34 rules to each rule, and then special appendixes and such.

But then… there’s my dad, the Moses of local golf. Before I was ever defiled by the “official USGA” rules of golf, I learned a much simpler version of the game from my dad. He took the 34rules of golf and boiled them down to a very manageable three that made the game much more enjoyable.

First, I learned to play by what golf calls “winter rules” year round. This is a provision my dad taught that no matter how terrible the lie of your ball, you could improve it so you had a decent shot.

Second, the most important club in the bag (which most players are unaware) is the foot wedge. When no one is looking, simply kick the ball to a preferred position, thus enhancing you chances of success.

Last, but not least, Dad taught me the importance of a mulligan. A mulligan is a complete do-over of a shot. Consequently, if winter rules or foot wedge fail, employ the mulligan. You’re having the round of your life and you duck hook one into the woods, or chunk it in the water hazard, no problem… “I’d like to take my mulligan now.”

When dad and I first started playing together though, the mulligan had a hard-and-fast rule of its own—only one mulligan per round…that was sacrosanct. However, interestingly to me, as time wore on, and as Dad’s game waned, the rule around the mulligan got amended to two mulligans per round, three, even four if necessary.

For me, initially, this kind of took the fun out of the game. I had gotten to the point where I really didn’t think I needed the mulligan, period. Somewhere along the way though, I realized Dad’s winter rules end up being a nice rulebook for life.

In golf a mulligan is forgiveness… a do over. How many of us in life could use a do over every now and then… a little forgiveness? Moreover, if you’re like me, you get on a life course where you think your proverbial pile doesn’t stink, and you don’t think you need the mulligan. It is very likely that may be the very moment we most need the mulligan.

My dad did not live an easy life. He struggled with alcoholism. As such, winter rules meant survival for him. No matter how terrible the lie of your ball, you could improve it (AA Rule #6. We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character). He found himself in more than his fair share of unplayable lies, and had to kick the ball to a new place (AA Rule #2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.)

And lastly, Dad came to a point of seeking and giving mulligans (AA Rules 8 & 9. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all—Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others).

700 to 34 to 3 to 1…forgiveness, a do-over. I think my dad was on to something. “I’d like to take my mulligan now.”

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Soul
Searching

By Stanley Abell

See the hands that build
Can also pull down
The hands of love 

Exit ~U2

Remember the old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” I don’t know that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the validity of this statement one way or the other… until recently.

Last week I saw this short documentary titled “Validation,” which is a film about the impact our words and how we use them has to empower, affirm and validate people… or, not.

The film’s unlikely hero is a parking lot attendant who not only validates parking tickets, through is words, he validates the people who hold the tickets. Pretty soon people are clamoring to be in his line for validation. “Mam, you have lovely cheek bones. Sir, that is a great suit for you, wow! You have the most lovely smile.”

In the film, people’s days, weeks and lives are transformed (validated) through the power of the parking attendant’s words. This is the upside of the story… words of affirmation and validation can uplift and transform.

The dark, underbelly of this story is from a post I read on Facebook Monday. Words of belittlement and hate can tear down… and kill. Someone had reposted a story by Rachel Held Evans titled “Marc Driscoll is a bully. Stand up to him.” We posted this story yesterday… you commented.

Words, indeed, have great power. My favorite Irish poet puts it this way lyrically, “See the hands that build can also pull down… the hands of love.” There are many discussion points here; however, I’d like to stay (for once in my life) focused, and keep the conversation between the ditches. We could debate about homosexuality. We could debate on the differences between Progressive and Evangelical view points on Biblical truth. We could.

We are, though, going to focus on language. Mark Driscoll purportedly represents “the hands of love (Christ).” Driscoll is the preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, which has a huge physical and virtual following. Honestly, I don’t know squat about Mark Driscoll or his church, so I can’t and won’t pretend to speak on his theological views, which have been noted as aligning in the Evangelical camp (*see “What we could debate about” above).

Again, I want to focus on language. A man who claims to be a representative of the hands and voice of love, apparently, frequently, uses language that anything but offers a message of unconditional love, hope and compassion. Again, I don’t know anything about his past, only his present:

I’m not sure exactly what book of the Bible this comes from? I only looked for it in the New Testament. Perhaps it could be found somewhere in the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament? Oh no, wait, I know where I’ve heard it before… It was in the locker room during my 8th grade year of junior high. However, anymore, even boys in junior high have enough sense to know these kinds of childish antics aren’t acceptable.

“Effeminately anatomically male worship leader.” Really? Seriously? It is this kind of seemingly benign language that gave permission to torture, beat and kill Matthew Shepard. It is this kind of language I have hear followers of Driscoll dismiss as no big deal and overblow as long as he is theologically on-point.

My tradition, The United Methodist Church, is bi-polar with our official language regarding homosexuality. In our Book of Discipline we say on one hand homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” On the other hand we say, “Homosexuals are people of sacred worth” (*see “What we could debate about” above).

Here’s my deal… How on earth can one proclaim love in one’s heart and spew hate with one’s mouth. If there is anything on the planet incompatible with Christian teaching THAT is it. We teach our children not to verbally bully. Was Pastor Driscoll absent at school that day?

BTW… While even though I didn’t look through the Old Testament for the pastor’s words, I did happen to remember this old proverb…“Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.” Proverbs 12:18 (The Message)

Sticks and stones…. words. The words of our mouth are the songs of our heart. What song are we singing?

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The Wrinkles
of the Road

By Matt Peyton

Over the weekend, I was flipping through the TV and I couldn’t help but notice that it seemed like the Harry Potter movies were being played everywhere I looked. As I settled in and watched parts of two or three of them, I was struck by a contrast. The weekend before, I had caught a Lord of the Rings re-airing. And for all of their similarities – good vs evil, warfare, hope in unlikely places – I couldn’t help but key in on one key difference. The understanding of evil.

I’m know I’m not the first person to notice this, or write about it. However, as we get ready for the final installment of the Harry Potter movies this weekend, I wanted to look at what the two movies have to say about evil in the world.

Let’s start by looking at The Lord of the Rings. I’m mainly going to focus on the movies because a) I think more people are familiar with them and b) people have dedicated their whole lives to studying Tolkien and I’m not ready to dive in that deep.

In the movie’s portrayal of evil, you may recall the character Sauron, the primary antagonist. Basically he is a big, fiery eyeball in the sky (well, at least that’s how he’s mostly portrayed). When all of the rings of power were created, as the backstory goes, Sauron created one more secret ring which could control all the others. This ring has some connection to him and even as Frodo (our favorite Hobbit, the one charged with destroying the ring) crosses strange lands, Sauron is aware of the ring’s presence and can see the ring whenever someone uses its power.

In one of Tolkien’s many new languages written just for this series, Sauron began as one of the Ainur, or angelic beings. In a trope that should sound familiar, Sauron was a once good and angelic figure who has fallen turned evil. [It’s much too long and difficult to go into, but it should be noted that Sauron has masters in this mythology, he himself is not the totality of evil, just a manifestation.]

Sauron, then, using his influence and power, builds up an army and wages war on an epic scale against the different kingdoms trying to gain control of the Earth and his ring.

The Lord of the Rings stories were written in the same time period as the great World Wars. The author, J.R.R. Tolkien, had firsthand experience of the horror brought by armies squaring off against each other. This experience in the first World War is a major contributor to his worldview and thoughts on evil. Literary scholar Tom Shippey points this out saying, “Tolkien went through it himself (as an infantryman) in World War I. But it just got worse in his lifetime, … I think he was very preoccupied with the nature of evil, the nature of technology, the way in which things could be abused, the way good intentions are subverted. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tolkien was also raised Catholic, and much of his faith can be seen in the epic nature of his stories. For example, the fall of Sauron echos the storied fall of Satan from being once an angel of God to the embodiment of evil. In many ways, Tolkien is taking a fresh approach at age-old motifs and notions surrounding evil.

So what about Harry Potter?

In Harry Potter, the evil character is Voldemort – a former student at the school Harry Potter attends who was named Tom. This is the first glaring difference between the two stories. While there is a somewhat mythical back story to Voldemort, we are told he began as a regular boy, much like Harry Potter.

This similarity between the protagonist and antagonist is a constant worry to Harry Potter, who is told by his mentor Dumbeldorf at one point that it’s not their similarities that are important, but rather their differences.

This is a drastically different understanding of evil from Tolkien. For J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, evil is not some unknowable “other,” but rather begins the same as everything else. The evil, then, is born out of experiences and choices made.

The thing that stands out to me immediately in looking at the differences is that J.K. Rowling’s understanding of evil seems as much influenced by a world filled with terrorism and economic inequality (or maybe, rather, a growing understanding of economic inequality) just as Tolkien’s understanding of evil is shaped by the global far with fascism.

What do I mean by this? Well, aren’t we constantly being shown that those driven to acts of violence have been driven to do so based on their experiences and decisions made because of them? We may not (and hopefully do not) agree with their actions, and can agree that taking another’s life is an evil thing to do, but does anyone believe that terrorists were born as an embodiment of evil? No, instead, we are constantly talking about how their perverted understanding of religion led them to commit these horrible actions.

Looking back at the evil character in Harry Potter again, Voldemort, we are told at one point that he was conceived from a love spell being cast, not out of true love. Rowling points out that this is “a symbolic way of showing that he came from a loveless union – but of course, everything would have changed if (Voldemort’s mother) had survived and raised him herself and loved him. The enchantment under which Tom Riddle (Sr.) fathered Voldemort is important because it shows coercion, and there can’t be many more prejudicial ways to enter the world than as the result of such a union.”

Rowling comes out and directly says that if Tom Jr. had grown up in different circumstances, with love around, he would not have turned into the evil being that he was. Nowhere in Tolkien’s stories are we told that under different circumstances Sauron may have turned out differently.

Another difference between the two depictions of evil is what the goal of evil is. Voldemort’s main concern is not power over the world, but rather power over death. Author J.K. Rowling said, “My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry’s parents. There is Voldemort’s obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We’re all frightened of it.” Again, doesn’t this seem to make sense in a post 9/11 world where terrorists aren’t trying to take over the governance of a foreign land, but rather install fear of death?

All of this isn’t to say that J.K. Rowling’s representation of evil doesn’t have Christian or religious bases. For instance, we are told that Voldemort has splintered his soul into several pieces in order to protect himself. Voldemort had a soul, but it was broken. He is broken. And he can’t or won’t let go of that brokenness (even when Harry Potter gives him a final chance) and it is that decision that is ultimately his undoing.

The thing I like about Rowling’s stories is that, ultimately, she has given children (and adults) a more complete and complex way to think about evil in our world. She seems to be telling us that people don’t come programmed for good or evil, but rather people make a set of decisions based on their circumstances.

It gives me hope that if we can change some of these circumstances - economic inequality, intolerance, etc – we can not entirely rid the world of evil, but drastically decrease the presence of it.

Shippey, the literary scholar, said of The Lord of the Rings, “If we’re looking back in 1,000 years time, his work will be instantly recognizable as 20th century, … entirely characteristic of that period, and articulating the concerns of the century.” Maybe Harry Potter, then, will be seen instantly recognizable as 21st century. Maybe it will be seen as a turning point to understanding evil in a different light – still real, but less inevitable.

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He’s clearly not as good as The Edge, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful, does it?

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Soul
Searching

By Stanley Abell

We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy 

“One Tree Hill” ~U2

Just Tuesday I was able to complete one of the Five Pillars of being a U2 fan by completing the Hajj… if possible, all able-bodied fans are to make the pilgrimage to a live U2 show once in their lifetime.

Where, in the past, I may have lapsed on the other four (confession of faith, prayer, fasting and alms-giving), I have surely made up for those lapses through the Hajj. After all, last summer I made the Hajj to Mecca (Dublin). Shouldn’t that count for something?

So, to be clear, I am not poking fun at Islam… I am poking fun at me. Many of you are aware that my affinity for U2 goes far beyond what the word “fan” connotes. Maybe fanatical? Obsessed? Fixated? I’d prefer something spun a little more positively; how about… devoted? Nonetheless, I have made more than my fair share of Hajjs… lost count in fact.

Why? Why the devotion? I do actually have my own five pillars that one day I’ll share with you, but one of the most tangible reasons I am drawn to U2 was on display Tuesday night in Chicago… their imperfection.

Several years ago in an interview Wynonna Judd was asked what she liked about U2’s lead singer, Bono. Her response was, and I paraphrase, that Bono’s voice is far from perfect, far from polished, but that is precisely what makes it work. He is authentic and passionate with his voice, which far exceeds note perfection.

As Bono said in lyric, “I was born to sing for you, I didn’t have a choice.” Now, this alone would be reason 1b I am devoted. To whom do you think “you” refers in the above lyric? He could hit you over the head and capitalize the “Y.” Instead he leaves an open invitation for you to experience it in your own way. Or, as Bono said it in an interview when asked about their music’s foundation in faith… “It’s there for people who are looking for it, and it’s not for people who aren’t.”

I digress, back to imperfection. In the timeframe of the Joshua Tree record (1987), the band was working in New Zealand and a local Maori, Greg Carroll, had made himself indispensible to the seamless execution of their shows. He so impressed Bono that he was hired as his personal assistant. To make a long story short, Greg Carroll was killed in a motorcycle accident and the song “One Tree Hill” was dedicated to his memory. They had not played the song live in probably 20 years.

On Tuesday night just before U2 launched into its last song of the evening, the beautifully melodic “Moment of Surrender,” Bono asked the band if they wanted to try another song. The other three band members sheepishly shrugged and fidgeted. Bono leaned in and privately counseled with The Edge. “Well, we’ll go ahead and play this song, and they’ll see if they can get if figured out downstairs (technicians below the stage).

After “Moment of Surrender” ended sporadic calls of “do it… play it, come on” erupted and grew into a chorus. Finally Bono responded, “Here’s the deal. If we screw up really badly, you don’t put it on the Internet.” With the crowd’s raucous approval, The Edge began trying to find his way toward the song on his guitar. Bono bellowed a lyric or two, Larry struggled to catch up on the drums, and Adam fumbled on the bass. After the fits and spurts start, they finally kind of skidded into the groove of the song.

It never got right. Bono messed up lyrics, and for those of us who have listened to that song a zillion times, it never got close to approaching…perfect. However, in that moment, it wasn’t about perfection. It was the power of the arguably the world’s biggest band willing to be perfectly imperfect. The power and meaning of that song was vividly conveyed as a direct result of their imperfection.

No doubt, they could have rehearsed that song and performed it note perfect. I dare say though, to borrow another lyric, the power of their imperfection made it “Even better than the real thing.”

This is really, really bad news for those of us who are perfectionists. Imperfect is better than perfect? So… you want me to strive for imperfection? Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks? Is it possible to reprogram what seems to be so hard-wired? What do you say? Do you guys want to try another song together?

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen

Where are you building your life? What if your “where” isn’t a physical location at all?

Where are you building your life? What if your “where” isn’t a physical location at all?

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Soul
Searching

By Stanley Abell

Your life is now your life is now, your life is now
In this undiscovered moment…

“Your Life is Now” ~John Mellencamp

In the world of grammar, a place I rarely travel, future tense denotes a verb that expresses actions in the future. A much more ominous verb tense, at least grammatically speaking, is future perfect tense, which describes an action that will be completed in the future.

Now, let’s travel from grammar world to our world where “future tense” takes on a little different meaning. Think how stress-free our lives would be if we could be certain about actions in the future: our career trajectory, our children’s well-being, the stock market, world peace, our health.

Let’s go one more step to future perfect tense, which is where Harold Camping comes in (and don’t end your sentence with a preposition). Remember him? He’s the President of Family Radio, a Christian radio network, and the guy who predicted the end of the world (Rapture) on May 21st. So, to state this in future perfect grammar, “The world will have ended on June 21st.”

Let me check my calendar for a moment. Okay, Mr. Camping, try again, second chance… Ah, October 21st you say, thank you… I feel much better, much more confident about the future. This gives me much more time to have sold all my worldly possessions and let your organization have the proceeds.

At least the rapture, the end of the world… the second coming of Christ is Biblically based (but open to wide interpretation); predicting it is most decidedly not. Camping’s predictions are based on Biblical numerology… as real as basing the Constitution on National Treasure and National Treasure 2.

In the wake of Camping’s ridiculous claims, many well-meaning Christians came to his defense saying that while he was mistaken, let’s not be too hard on him because at least the heart of his message is accurate even if his prediction wasn’t. This guy is a sham, a charlatan, a crack-pot and a person who give people of faith everywhere a bad name.

Of course Camping and the rapture became a media circus. Again, well-meaning Christians said don’t belittle this guy… again, because at least his message is accurate. Seriously, as Christians, is the best we can do? To most of the world, the answer is yes. Far too often nut jobs like Harold Camping become the face of Christianity and make anyone associated with Christianity a laughing stock.

Camping’s posturing obscures the real, life-giving message and ministry of Jesus. To seriously follow Jesus is to be concerned with the present tense: injustice, world hunger, girls being sold as sex slaves, racism, economic gluttony.

The “heart” of Camping’s prediction is a scriptural assertion by Jesus that he will return and that there will be a judgment between the wicked and the righteous around which the circumstances are uncertain. The most certain part of this scripture IS the timing of this event. “No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know, Jesus doesn’t know. Only God knows.” (Matthew 24:36)

Camping’s scare-tactic rhetoric is better suited for a traveling side-show. It is reminiscent of the door-to-door pamphlet-wielding eschatological prognosticators who blithely ask, “If you died today, do you know where you are going.” My all time best answer to that query, which has guaranteed my house is permanently bypassed… “Why, yes I do, to the mortuary.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I have accepted Jesus into my life, and for me, it’s a simple present tense. John Mellencamp and Jesus said, “Your life is now your life is now your life is now… in this undiscovered moment.” It’s those undiscovered moments where we are called to follow Jesus. It is God working in and through us to help make whole the broken amongst us…today.

What will happen in the future, I trust to God (including, and especially October 21st). What happens in the present God is counting on us.

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It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself…

Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’ This was where I faltered. I preferred to listen rather than speak, to see instead of be seen. I was afraid of listening to myself, and of looking at my life.

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Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri(Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has said that she feels more comfortable observing other people than being a participant on the stage of life. But in this week’s New Yorker, Lahiri opens up and tells the story of how she became a writer. Hers is a story of stealth audacity and of finding a home for herself in solitude the of her desk.

~Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

(via beingblog)

Source: beingblog

In Therapy, Cellphones Ring True (New York Times)

psychotherapy:

The isolation of the office is shattered; the patient has allowed someone from his or her life to enter. And I have the privilege of witnessing the person across from me interacting spontaneously with that world.

Most patients handle calls with a quick apology; then they switch off their phones, surprised they had forgotten to do so before coming in. Some screen their calls, always available to selected callers.

Others do not make anything at all of interruptions and answer every time their theme song sounds. Even their brief conversations can be revealing. “I’m seeing my shrink.” “I’m with Doc S.” Who knew they had pet names for me? To one family, I’m “The Big B” (though I stand 5-feet-2 in heels.)

A mother receives a call from her teenage daughter. One theme of our sessions has been how to deal with the daughter’s “demanding behavior.” The volume is up; I hear both sides. The daughter is insistent about something trivial; mother is endlessly patient, even solicitous. Now I see that this child hasn’t been getting consistent feedback that her behavior is problematic. Guilt has driven my patient to conceal her anger. She is surprised to learn from me how successful she has become at this deception and how counterproductive it is.

When another patient’s husband calls to learn the results of her medical tests, I sense his tenderness; this counterbalances my knowledge of their sexual difficulties.

A calliope blares from the coat pocket of another patient, a young man. “I bet a hundred dollars it’s my sister!” he says. Clearly she calls him a lot, and he kind of loves it. Oddly, he rarely mentions her in therapy. Now I learn why. He had been afraid to disrupt the sweetness of his sibling relationship by uncovering its competitive core.

I am witness to another patient, a physician, juggling a potpourri of calls: colleague needs urgent consultation; child wants sleep-over; spouse craves takeout; nurses worry about wound infections, fevers, bleeding. I really get the stress involved in ceaselessly shifting from matters of trivial consequence to those with life and death stakes.

Sometimes patients hand me their phones to hear their messages. We play them and discuss whether we discern the same nuanced implications between the lines.

And patients show me those little glowing screens with photos of pets and progeny, apartments they might rent, last week’s rash (for diagnosis and for empathy). I see messes that have become the focus of family fights: the kid’s room with wet towels piled atop clean clothes; the cluttered dining room table that hasn’t allowed for dinner parties.

In trying to grasp the infinite complexity of an individual’s mind, it helps to narrow the focus by closing out the world and creating a place of privacy. But, for understanding the context — the life a patient inhabits outside the office — it helps to let in some of the sights and sounds. The pictures are worth a thousand words; so are the voices.

Source: psychotherapy

blue-eyed:

(via loveyourchaos)

blue-eyed:

(via loveyourchaos)

Source: loveyourchaos

"Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough."

- O.W. (via stanleyabell)
Source: stanleyabell