Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why Church?

Organized religion is imperfect, as imperfect as its participants. We are all imperfect beings, flawed in our own unique ways. Being part of a church family can be uplifting and inspiring at best, distressing at worst.

Actually, it is generous to describe the worst as merely “distressing.” To paraphrase a nursery rhyme from my childhood: When it is good, it is very, very good. When it is bad, it is horrid. I’ve seen good, and I’ve seen horrid.

When I was young, I saw only the good–a church environment that was loving, caring, nurturing, supportive, and fun. I was too naive to understand the causes of sudden departures and shakeups, shielded from painful truths.

After college, out in the wide, wild world, the habit of regular church attendance was broken. The lifestyle I adopted in the big city did not include church. My belief system was ingrained, I thought. Sunday mornings were open, and church was optional.

Fast-forward through the life events of several decades and relocation to a small town. Pause. I am back in church. Why?

Not because church is woven into the social fabric of small-town life, or because there is an expectation on anyone’s part. My first step toward church was in search of spiritual renewal. I sought a place for inspiration and a style of worship that spoke to me, and I found such a place.

My transitional life-stage needed inspirational input, and the weekly hour in a lovely little chapel became my Sunday “happy hour.” I decided to become more than a Sunday pew-sitter, and responded to a call for volunteers to help with a children’s program. I answered more calls, and became part of a church family. It’s a good thing…mostly.

Sometimes, we behave as a dysfunctional family. As with all relationships, we have conflicts and disputes. During difficult and frustrating times, it is tempting to walk away without looking back. I’ve stayed, because when the church system works well, it can evoke the best in us. When we are focused on our mission, we make a difference in the world. If we could learn to love our neighbor as our self, we could change the world.

We may differ on theological points, but when we come together to serve others, we are united in the spirit of service. When we act in unison as responsible stewards of the earth, we are united in a community of divine stewardship. When our communal acts of kindness speak louder than our words and intentions, we act in grace. When Christian fellowship is vital and strong, mercy and grace are contagious.

Why church? Because it can inspire us to become our best selves, and our best selves can change the world.

Trayvon Martin: What Have We Learned?

How long will the furor over the killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman loom large on the public radar screen? What have we learned from this tragedy? Will anything change? There are numerous issues that beg for attention and responsible discussion.

This tragedy was avoidable. Zimmerman’s role as volunteer neighborhood watchman was to report suspicious activity, period. Not to apprehend but to report. When he reported activity he deemed suspicious, he was directed to stay in his vehicle. He did not. If he had heeded instructions, Trayvon Martin would still be alive. He likely would’ve been inside his dad’s house before the police arrived. The police are trained to investigate “suspicious” activity. Zimmerman was not.

What was suspicious about Martin’s activity? Did Zimmerman profile Martin because he was black, or because Martin appeared to fit a profile of suspects related to recent burglaries in the area? If the burglary suspects had been young white males, would Zimmerman have pursued them as he did Martin? Was this a case of racial profiling, or of a volunteer watchman assuming a responsibility for which he was neither trained nor qualified?

Why is Zimmerman not held accountable for Trayvon Martin’s death, when his poor judgment and unnecessary actions led to Martin’s death? Zimmerman had a choice: to stay in his vehicle and let the police do their job, or to take matters into his own hands. He chose the latter, and an innocent young man is dead as a result.

Did emotional public outcry get in the way of the criminal justice system, pressuring for charges that require evidence of intent, for which there was none? Did the prosecution fail because they tried to paint a picture of intent that did not exist, instead of charging Zimmerman with an equivalent of reckless homicide?

Can we non-minorities fathom what it means to be black in America? Do we make sincere attempts to be sensitive to what minorities experience simply walking down the street? Do we care?

What lessons do we take from this tragedy? How can we use these lessons to make our world safer for our children, and to honor the memory of an innocent young man whose life ended as a result of undeserved suspicion?

Return On Investment

This morning I read an article about college degrees with the lowest “return on investment.” Among those listed were degrees in sociology, theology/religion, fine arts, education, and psychology.

It is no surprise that median salaries in fields related to the aforementioned studies/degrees are not in the top income bracket. I also know that not everyone chooses a field of study and a degree based on earning potential. However, I’m stuck on the concept of “return” as monetary.

Granted, this degree-to-salary ROI is pragmatic and serves a useful purpose in career-planning. The financial reality of the cost of living comes as a mind-bender to young people who haven’t explored such facts of life.

I’m not taking issue with the reasons for examining the ratio of earnings to cost of degree. I am, however, ruminating on what is considered a good “return” on investing in a college degree.

If a degreed woman chooses the role of stay-at-home mother over a career outside the home, how would her ROI be determined? Would she need an income—let’s say from her spouse—for the investment in her college education to be deemed a positive return? Would the amount of income from the spouse determine the value of her ROI?

If an individual with a degree in religious studies earns only a small stipend while he builds a school in Africa to educate previously unschooled children, is his ROI negligible?

If a social worker with meager income from a non-profit organization establishes a food pantry that feeds hundreds of hungry persons in the community, would the ROI on a degree in social work be determined solely by earned income?

If a person with a degree in business, finance or accounting never realizes an income within the projected salary range for those studies, would this be viewed as a negative return and/or a bad investment?

I can see that I’m mixing apples and oranges—value of degree vs. value of education; “return” in terms of dollars vs. successful effort, personal satisfaction, and making a difference.

I’m just ruminating.

A Writer’s Friend

I think I understand why some longtime writers still use an ancient typewriter. Until this very moment of recognizing my old desktop computer as a familiar friend, I assumed that writers using archaic machines were resistant to the learning curve of new technology. I failed to see how anyone could not appreciate the shortcuts of copying a typed document onto disk, CD, flash drive, or simply transmitting electronically to another site. But I’ve experienced a light-bulb moment.

For many years, I’ve used a laptop with internal mouse at the office, and at home for research and general communication by Internet. I also have a tablet device. But when I want to write, to get in the flow, to escape into writing, I use my old desktop with external mouse and a keyboard that my fingers touch as if connecting with an old friend, a tactile sensation that is familiar and comforting. I’ve developed a habit of caressing the keys when I’m searching for words, as if the keyboard will respond to being petted and deliver the words for me. Maybe it’s a subconscious gesture to try to stimulate my brain, or perhaps just a fidget. I can’t say that this habit renders productive results, but my fingers like it.

The monitor at eye level gives a sense of communicating with someone. I look at the screen as I write, and I’m telling you my story. You are the reader, and I’m sharing my thoughts with you.

Unlike typing on a compact laptop, eyes and hands directed to a few square inches, sitting before my desktop feels open, natural, and less restrictive.

Some writers still pen in longhand on paper. Really! I actually know someone with that habit. I suppose this, too, is a familiar position for the body to assume when in creative mode — a favorite chair, a particular writing pad, a certain pen.

At one time, pen and paper were my writing tools. And then my new best friend was an early-generation notebook computer, pre-Windows, pre-mouse, pre-Internet, smaller than the laptop that now feels confining. So maybe size doesn’t matter. I would likely still be connected to that special friend, except that it became obsolete, unusable, and went to a computer graveyard.

What does matter is the distraction-free haven that lets me visit the creative zones of my mind, and the familiar electronic friend that records my thoughts and facilitates the creative process. I stroke the familiar keyboard and words appear on the screen. I’m in my studio. I think. I write. It feels good.