Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Picking A Dance Step - Chapter 4 The Longing Way Home

I don't in the least presume that anyone has been waiting for the next chapter of "The Longing Way Home" while I've been mulling and trying to sort our some ideas. They have been rather big, complicated ideas that resist my capacity to make clear even to myself, let along anyone else. In one sense, the ideas have to do with the gallery of gods we all have and which we change periodically almost as easily as we change our socks or underwear. Mostly we don't realize we're doing that until our expectations of whatever god of the day we're counting on doesn't cut the mustard. Even then, we wouldn't usually consider that we've hung our expectations on anything like a god and besides, there's always another one in the gallery we can substitute for the one who didn't make the cut this time. In fact, we can have one or more of those interchangeable, substitute, minor gods in play all the time, shuffling them in and out as needed.

To unravel the snarl of all that and try to reach some helpful insights about how that process doesn't work is too much for a single attempt. So, I'm tying to break the whole ball of wax down into smaller candles to shed some light on the core claim of this book which is that longing is one of God's most primal connections to us. It helps to remember that this is a first draft of the book we're undertaking, not the final addition. That means if and when you read this chapter, or any of the others, your comments, criticisms and suggestions are needed and welcome.

Thanks for your patience and here we go. Think with me and don't forget that thinking is part of praying. Ol' St. Paul may have missed the mark in a few things but he was got it right when he said, "I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also." That's Corinthians 14:15 if you're interested. Ted

P.S. Yes, I know it's a long chapter, but you never know, it may be worth reading anyway. After all, it took me a very long time to write it. So, again, thanks for your patience and comments about what you think


Whenever I hear or read some bromide of supposed wisdom, I sigh, cuss and roll my eyes. Lately, I'm doing that a lot because of a number of fatuous verdicts much in vogue these days. Here's one such banality first peddled by advertisers, then parroted by all types of self-promoters and practicing narcissists: "You deserve the best" which gets transposed to "I deserve the best" to which I mutter, "You do? And what would that be? According to whom?" Then there's this additional head-scratcher: "It is what it is." about which I ask, "Do you mean what it is right now, which is sliding into the past as you speak and as the world whirls to a different place? Or do you mean always and forever, because nothing changes and no effort matters? And, by the way, what is the definition of 'is' anyway?" (Apologies to Bill Clinton but more relevant in this context.)

But to me, "Life isn't fair" wins the most trite utterance award for now. "LIFE isn't fair"? All life? Everyone's? Everywhere? Your whole life? The claim reminds me of a baby's tantrum, throwing toys and tears, fists, arms and legs in all directions because something makes him/her angry; or a teen ager screaming and stomping around because he/she can't do something they want to, or have to do something they don't want to, or "deserve" something they didn't get.

Or, to be honest, it reminds me of me when I run into snags and hitches or something triggers my temper by not conforming to my efforts and intentions and I slam my fists at whatever - the door, the desk, the wall, even a person a couple of times years ago and that doesn't include words spit out in a flurry of fury or cold, cutting comments at those who "don't get" what I get or "don't do" what I think they should. And you? At the very least on occasion, and probably without actually saying so, which of us hasn't felt that life is somehow unfair? The "Stomp, Point, Bow Polka" or SPB Polka surely must be one we all know -- the
stomp of anger, the point at someone else to blame, the bow of devotion to some substitute god

Okay, anger and blame we all get that. But bowing and devotion? What's that about? Try this for an example. My friend Bill Coffin, at the young age of 34 but probably near 60 in experience, was appointed Yale's chaplain, he reports being interviewed at a gathering of alumni. He wrote, "I had barely been introduced before an older alumnus said, 'You look awfully young to be chaplain of Yale, but I guess it's all right as long as you believe in the free-enterprise system.'
Fortunately, another chimed in, 'Jim, I thought you were going to say the Trinity.'"*1

And there it is, the bow toward two substitute, minor gods, one after the other. The first, "free-enterprise" is the most blatantly erroneous minor substitute god but just as dangerous as any. The second,"the Trinity," though a traditional theological and doctrinal Christian affirmation about how to view the nature of God, is still just that, an "affirmation about" God. It is a creed crafted in human terms reflecting human efforts to define God. It can helpful, thought-provocing, even a devotional guide. But for those very reasons, it can go undetected as a minor and false god because no matter how sacred we might hold the concept to be, it should never be substituted for God, any more than a map or road sign is to be taken as the destination itself. Home isn't in a creed.

You see, orthodox doctrine can be its own form of idolatry and impose on people a closed religious position or system that designates which views of God are correct and which aren't? Even Jesus might not make that cut. Any religious view that promotes some form of tyranny in the name of God is essentially idolatrous. Tricky, these substitute, minor gods, this bowing in devotion, isn't it? And soooo easy to fall into and join the SPD Polka.

Now, in the interest of fuller disclosure, and as another illustration of this point, as you may have guessed, I'm a political progressive, or liberal, because to me that is the closest public stance to my orientation as a Christian who tries to live out what Jesus said and showed as the way of love of neighbor as well as enemy. I see it as an important way for "would be" Good Samaritans to get organized. But I confess I am prone to hang too much laundry on that line of belief. Therefore, in effect it becomes a kind of god for me according to Martin Luther's definition that "whatever you give your loyalty to and get your sense of worth from is properly your god." Given the fact that I'm still in recovery from the recent "shellacking" my party/god got in the November election, I'm learning again how easy it is to slip into a contemporary kind of idolatry and end up in yet another ramble around in the desert of disappointment and despair. Now do you get it? Sure you do.

Where am I going with this? Back to the Golden Calf episode in the Exodus to begin with. That's when, newly freed from Egypt, the Israelites practiced the SPB Polka. Surely, you remember! It's one of the most widely referenced events in the bible and surely is familiar to even those who never read the bible. There the motley band is, camped out in the Sinai peninsula on the way to an unknown destination and they're a little antsy about it all. Moses has gone up on the mountain, supposedly to talk to God though the sweaty, sore-footed Israelites weren't too sure about that since he'd been gone a while. They feared he'd abandoned them in the trackless desert and they'd become food for whatever critters might be lurking out there.

So Aaron, Moses' brother and second in command, offered to placate them by molding a golden calf out of whatever jewelry they could gather up and when it was done, this incredibly credulous bunch proclaimed that this Golden Calf was the god who brought them out of Egypt and would take them to a land of milk and honey. You'd think that knowing how the thing got made, and out of what, they'd know better. But no, they made sacrifices to this Golden Calf, and danced around it in revelry. It was the SPD Polka: the stomp of anger because things weren't going the way they want them to, the pointing at Moses and Yahweh to blame for the situation, the bow of devotion to the idol of the Golden Calf. Ir was the polka of guile, of cunning deceit, primarily self-deceit, which is always the first stage of guile.

I won't go into the details of what happened when Moses came down from the mountain and found the Israelites shimmying and shouting around the Golden Calf. It wasn't pretty. Moses was enraged, and reportedly so was God. The Calf got ground to powder and mixed with water which Moses made the people drink. Whether it was that, or God's wrath, or something else, a significant percent of the Israelites were "blotted out," to use that biblical euphemism. However you interpret the thinning of the herd of Israelis that day, the essential point to file away here is that the SPB Polka always has grim consequences one way or another.

So file that in your mind and let's come back to the present and to the recent election as another example of how the SPB Polka happens, and doesn't work. It's redundant to describe the political climate in this country as polarized, ideologically judgmental and divisive, and the election campaign harshly caustic. The political pundits spoke and wrote incessantly about how angry the voters were and listed the things people were angry about, primarily the economy but other things as well. So did the candidates. Obama and Pelosi were named the culprits behind every problem.

Noted New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote this in the September 12, 2010 Sunday edition, beginning with a quote from Robert Samuelson: " 'The unstated assumption of much school reform is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of school and teachers.' Wrong, he said. Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don't like school, don't work hard, and don't do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 28 percent cited 'student apathy.' "

Friedman suggested: "There is a lot to Samuelson's point and it is a microcosm of a larger problem we have not faced honestly as we have dug out of this recession: We had a values breakdown -- a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs … Our big problems are unfolding incrementally -- the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our leaders never dare utter the word 'sacrifice.' All solutions must be painless … So much of today's debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, 'is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It's a contest to see who can give away more at precisely a time they should be asking more of the American people.' "

And who is it demands painless solutions to our problems and challenges? It couldn't be us, could it? Quick now, blame must be assigned, right? Let the SPB Polka begin: Altogether now, Stomp, Point, Bow to the Scape Goat that's replaced the Golden Calf for us. Someone else is surely to blame. We'll never run out of offenders.

Plus, we can ultimately blame God. After all, why does God let bad and painful things happen to me/us/whoever? How many variations on that theme are there, and don't we all play some of them? Well, to answer that probably we should begin by asking why does God let good and beautiful things happen, like composing symphonies or cures for diseases or incredible paintings and dramas? Maybe then we could ask if we really think we're the only free creatures in creation or might not freedom be laced all through creation from photons and atoms and cells to meteors and solar systems as scientists are finding to be the case? Okay, I'll write more about this issue later but in the meantime, think about where blaming God takes you, or us. Here's a hint: nowhere.

Now, one step down and back to the SPB Polka we're free to dance, or not. How many Aarons are at large in your network who continually shape the Scape Goat(s) for you, and the rest of us, by pointing the longest finger and plucking the loudest tune we dance to: Falalalalalala, someone else is always to blame.

But are they always to blame? No, at least not exclusively! And Yes, to hold others accountable is an honest, ethical, even prophetic way to live. It's how Jesus lived and, to some extent, why he was put to death. Well, death is not a likely outcome for those among us who do that, but the odds are that some form of retribution might be. That threat gives most of us pause.

And yet, to hold others accountable is part of loving them as ourselves. And that's the kink of honesty in the pointing finger, isn't it? " … as ourselves" as in "love your neighbor as yourself." To hold others accountable requires we be held accountable ourselves, and first of all by ourselves, even if we need a kick-start in starting the self-examination. Of course, there's alway enough blame to go around, at least a couple of times, and a significant portion belongs to us. The wonder is that, at its core, the process of holding ourselves and others accountable is a crucial piece of loving your neighbor as your self. Otherwise, any show of love is counterfeit.

Here then, is a little help in starting to walk the maze of our own selves. If you step back from the SPB Polka for a moment and cock an inner ear, you'll realize that the Polka is always seriously off-key. Why? Because under most anger is anxiety. Take another step and keep listening: What are you and I really afraid of? That's a big question. I wrote something about it in the last chapter and I'll probably write more about it later,

In any case, each of us would likely give a different answer to the question of what it is we fear. But from my own ongoing self-examination, and years if listening to others I counseled, I think there might well be a somewhat common undercurrent in them. The eminent psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan wrote of three basic mental images that help us understand ourselves and the world. In recent years they've opened a crucial long locked door in my my understanding my own life and self. I offer them here, in summary:
  • The first image is the "good-me" which is what we like about ourselves, focus on and openly share with others.
  • The second image is the "bad-me" which is about things about ourselves that are considered negative and repulsive. We tend to try to hide those things from others, even from ourselves, but under certain circumstances, the "bad-me" crashes our party, leaks anxiety that turns to some form of "life isn't fair" defensiveness and anger.
  • The third image is the "not-me" which refers to all those things that imply such crushing anxiety we can't accept them as part of us and try all our lives, in every way, to avoid, and deny entry to our conscious self. But unconsciously, that anxiety sneaks around the psyche undercover, twisting us into various forms of destructive feelings and thoughts, even that of not being at all, blotted out somehow..
I think the answer to what it is that we fear is some combination of the "bad-me" and the "not-me." The consequences are a crippling lack of self-awareness and self-acceptance that distorts and impoverishes our own lives and relationships. We become as those who the poet T. S. Eliot memorably described this way entitled a poem The Hollow Men: "We are the hollow men/ We are the hollow men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!/ Our dried voices, when/We whisper together/Are quiet and meaningless/As wind and dry grass/Or rats' feet over broken glass/In our dry cellar."*2

Granted Eliot's imagery exceeds gloominess and seems a bit over-stated and outdate in our present technological modes of communication. But don't scoff and miss the point. When we deny parts of who we are, we do become hollow, empty, heads filled with the straw of anger, whispering together in dried voices our familiar self-justifying half-truths, trying to stem the leak of anxiety of our 'bad-me" or worse, our "not-me" but not being totally able to stop the trickle of it, even as we do the SPB Polka.

Depressed yet? Don't be!! There's another dance we can learn if we choose to. The first step is courage, the second is honesty, the third is trust. It's called the CHT Jig and the three steps are interdependent.

But start with the step of courage. It takes courage to really examine your self, all the bits and pieces, especially the bad- and no-me parts we don't want to face because to do that seems too threatening. And in some ways, it is. It threatens the distortions that trick us into feeling safe.
And it exposes our illusions about the world. In his story The Cardinal's First Tale, Isak Dinesen has a scene that powerfully makes the point:
God asks of a candidate for some spiritual position, "Do you take it that I have meant to create a peaceful world?"
"No, my Lord, the candidate answers.
"Or that I have meant to create a pretty and neat world, or a world easy to live in God asks.
"O good Lord, No!" the candidate says.
"Or do you hold and believe that I have resolved to create a sublime world, with all things necessary to that purpose in it, and no one left out"
"I do," the candidate replies.
"Then …" says God, "take the oath."

Do you understand how that "oath" is close to the core of living a true, honest human life? Can you imagine how such an oath begins to deliver us from the illusions of privilege, entitlement and exceptionalism, the toxicity of self-righteousness, the corrosion of hypocrisy? Can you grasp that taking such an oath, as surely Jesus' disciples must have, would enable us to live as a finite human being unburdened from the grinding load of self-importance and pretending you have to be perfect, or can even come close? Can you see how courage is essential taking that oath and that it requires a lifetime to begin to embody it? Carlos Castaneda helps to clarify it; "Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it -- what weakens us it feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of others, Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone." I would add, what a waste that is. I takes courage to take the oath and keep trying to apply it to your self and your life, no matter what anyone else try to sell you.

Then take the step of honesty and examine yourself without filters or excuses. No one of us is without flaws, limitations, faults, failures. No one is perfect no matter how hard we might try. as I did for far too long, persuaded that nothing less would be acceptable, and breaking down in that process. The question is, "acceptable to whom?" Perfection is a fantasy, a pretense, and curiously enough, Christians can be particularly susceptible to buying into it, practicing it, suffering from it and causing others to suffer because of it. Honesty is one way to argue that sin is the most "provable" Christian affirmation and honesty counts us all "in" or it's all in us. Thats why I always hang on to Luther's advice, "Sin on boldly but believe more boldly still." That isn't to advocate for sin, just to acknowledge its pervasiveness and what to do about it.

Honesty is about wrestling through the demons of pretension and self-righteousness to reach find our souls. It is to dismantle the emotional and mental armor of defensiveness and duplicity and gratefully accept who we are. It is to tune our hearts' music to the pitch note of longing whence we muffle with our illusions and realize that the longing that abides beyond all our successes and failures, lies and idolatries is the truth about who we are and are not, and whose we are, and are not. Psychologist James Hillman helps here. He says, "The dimension of the soul is depth (not breadth or height) and the dimension of our soul travel is downward." I assume "downward" means down into the depths of your self. That is the first direction of the step of honesty. And I would differ with Hillman's statement that the dimension of the soul is only depth. From depth comes the breadth and height of the soul. Look at Jesus' life.

Here's a song that sums up what I'm trying to say here. It's entitled Anthem and Leonard Cohen wrote the lyrics. In paRt, they go like this:
"The birds they sang at break of day,
Start again I heard them say.
Don't dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be …

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in …

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum.
You can strike up the march
there is no drum.
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."

There is a crack in everything. Mortality, finitude is a crack of sorts. Limitations, failures, flaws, mistakes, heart breaks and aches, disappointments, loneliness, are cracks. Losses, crises, wounds, anxieties, rejections are cracks. The list could go on. But it is not a list of woes and laments, or of anger and accusations. Cracks are how the light gets in. It's the light of that glimmer of longing that won't fade even if you don't attend to it. It's the light of hope that doesn't depend on hopeful circumstances as my old friend Bill Coffin used to say. It's the light of the grace of God, the love that doesn't seek worth but gives it to each and all of us. It's the crack in us and around us that's how the light gets in. We need to keep learning that.

And the final step of the CHT Jig is trust. Trust is not so much something we have, like faith or belief which, of course, are spiritually essential. And I am always encouraged and repeat the words the father said when Jesus healed his epileptic son; "I believe, help my unbelief." I repeat those word so often because I think faith or belief is a process and it involves facing into our unbelief as well as our belief.

But trust is something we do, how we live, what we earn from others who our lives touch. In that sense, it is fused with love. I'm always glad we don't have to like those we are called to love, anymore than we like ourselves all the time, or what we sometimes do that is unlikeable.
But love goes past liking. It's about being fair and honest about ourselves with others, meaning what we say and saying what we mean, being just, generous, compassionate, empathetic, peace making, actions we can live by and with no matter how we feel.

Of course, it is trusting as much of God as we know, as we can, as we will take risks for and get our sense of worth from, again, no matter how we feel. Trust is about how we live and what love is about when the chips go down and we make our choices. Trust is about ringing the bells that still can ring and there are an abundance of them once we forgo the illusions of our "perfect offerings."

When Joan Hemenway, a beloved colleague and friend, a marvelous leader in the Clinical Pastoral Education field, died, this benediction she used with her CPE groups was printed on the cover of her Memorial Service bulletin: "When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and step into the unknown, one of two things will happen: either there will be something solid for us to stand or we will be taught to fly." That's about trust and it touches on the freedom we can live in when we do.

Another benediction in stammer out as often as I can is like it. We often used it as an Affirmation of Faith in the church I served. It's Saint Paul's affirmation: "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, not height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord," or the love of God revealed in anything or anyone else ever.

My own personal version of trust, which I try to hang onto, better onsome days than others, but is always my close to my soul. I've never verified its source though it's attributed to Charles Spurgeon but I read it first in a book by the Scottish theologian, Donald M. Ballie. I share it now as a sort of benediction for this chapter and a summation of trust, indeed of the CHT Jig:
"Let me no more my comfort draw
from my frail hold of Thee.
In this alone, rejoice with awe,
Thy mighty grasp of me." Amen.
*1 - William Sloane Coffin, Jr. - Once To Every Man - Atheneum - New York - 1977 - pg.134
*2- T.S. Eliot - A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry - Charles Scriber's Sons -1946 pg. 292

Thursday, September 16, 2010

9-27-2010 Progress Update on The Longing Way Home +

I hope you understand that writing a blog as a book is not a quick, seamless process. At least it isn't for me! If that sounds like an
excuse, it probably is. Among other things, I'll be away from my study for a couple weeks which means, despite my intentions to try to squeeze in a few writing sessions on "The Longing Way Home" it isn't likely I'll make much progress while in an unfamiliar setting devoid of my usual inspirational resources.

So if you happen to be waiting for Chapter Four, please be patient. If you're ever in the mood to do so, please take seriously my invitation to send me whatever ideas, comments, critique, suggestions or questions that what I've written so far have provoked, It would help and encourage me in what is the long hours of "blood, sweat, toil and tears" required in the process of trying to write something truly worth reading and thinking about. I assure you I'm committed to posting Chapter Four ASAP.

Thanks for your interest and blessings to you and those you love, Ted Loder

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Memoir Supplement - Chapter Three

Guilt was big in my family and probably in most families at the time, 1930s & '40s. It was used in my "moral education" from a very early age through at least high school. I suppose an argument could be made that guilt outweighed my moral education by two to one since morality was pretty much defined by my parents rules pertaining to right and wrong and their rules reflected those of the midwest, small town culture in which we lived. There was little ambiguity, gray area or room for discussion about what being moral entailed. It was mostly aligned with puritanism with a dose of piety thrown in and topped off with a serious protestant work ethic. When the superintendent of schools in Aberdeen, South Dakota, was ticketed one night for driving under the influence he was summarily fired the next morning before breakfast and any inquiry.

In my case, one example of many is that once, when I was ten years old, my fifth grade basketball team played another team at that schools gym across town, Huron, South Dakota. The school was no more than a mile or so from where I lived and the game was probably over by 4:30 P.M. But I hung around with other kids and didn't get home until 6 P.M. or so. There was my father at the door, my first inkling I was in trouble. He sat me down in the kitchen and gave me a lecture on how irresponsible, thoughtless, insensitive and wrong I was to cause my mother such terrible worry. I knew the next usual step was that we'd go to the basement where I'd get spanked with a piece of wood of some kind. From the beginning of the lecture, tears were rolling down my face. I couldn't have felt worse. I just wanted Dad's words to stop and the spanking to begin because it wouldn't hurt nearly as badly as the lecture.

My Dad, Theodore (Ted) W. Sr., was not a mean man at all. He was the oldest of four boys in his family and as such took very seriously the tacit responsibility that often goes with that birth order rank. He was big, strong. handsome, popular, outgoing, sang in the Elks Chorus, went to church every Sunday, was devoted to my Mom, my sister, Rosemary, and me. He loved sports, had been a football player until he blew out his knee in college. At the time they had no way to repair the damage so he had to live with a very loose, painful knee. He worked hard, leaving home as early as 5:30 A.M. and working until 6 P.M or later in those dust bowl ravaged, harsh depression days.

In spite of my lurking fear of him, my Dad was my hero. I idolized him and more than anything, I wanted to please him though it seemed I seldom did until I became an All State football and basketball player in high school though the effort to please him took some of the fun out of playing sports. As I said in Memoir Two, Dad's temper had a short fuse and he was constantly stressed, anxious about his job and taking care of us. As I also said earlier Dad worked for a big wholesale company that supplied grocery stores all over the midwest in those days before big chain stores. It was a dicey business and no matter how good he was at his work, or maybe because he was good at it, Dad got transferred from one branch to another without any say in the matter so the family was in constant flux.

Dad never complained, at least in my hearing, and he drilled into me the conviction that being tough meant never complaining. From a very early age, I must have sub-consciously realized I'd never be the man I believed my father was and that weighed on me. It wasn't until many years later that I realized my father wasn't the man I believed he was either. No one could be. I had to break down emotionally and get a lot of therapy before I was able to see (squint at) Dad more wholly, and so accept, love and be grateful for the very good man he was.

My Mom, Bess, as I wrote earlier, seemed fragile though she really wasn't, which was confusing. She was very beautiful, gracious but quite shy, a somewhat strange combination. She had her ways of getting her way: a grim sigh, pursed lips, a steely look, teary eyes, the flare of a nostril, the ominous sound of her silence. Unquestionably she was the fuel, fulcrum and shaper of the family. It was she who tended the scrapes and cuts of our bodies and the sprains and bruises of our egos and emotional crises and was the consoler of us all, sometimes to an excess that frequently made me feel ashamed and squeamish.

And yet, despite her manifest strengths, Mom was curiously lacking in self-confidence. It's beyond knowing for sure what caused that deficiency or the sadly futile ways she tried to camouflage it. I do know her lack of confidence, as well as her compensations for it, were contagious and personally infected my sister and me, which makes trying to sort out the what and why of it is especially relevant to me. Was it the result of her small town upbringing? Was it the traditionally and legally designated subordinate position of women when she was a young since she was already 18 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed giving women the right to vote? Was it society's widely held assignment of women to the role of wife, mother and homemaker? Was it her accepting for herself the embedded myth of male superiority? Or did it result from from the deep influence of her little church which espoused women's deference as a virtue and element of faith?

Squinting back at her now, I see her lack of confidence probably came most seriously and sadly from the religious factor but includes some combination of all of the other possibilities with that of her church being the most significant and permanent. Of course, there could have been other less identifiable causes as well. In any case, my Mom used to tell us that when she had trouble with arithmetic in school - i.e. why 1/3rd was more than 1/4th when 4 was more than 3 - she would tell herself the her confusion didn't matter because her future husband would take care of such things. And yet, she felt insecure and stupid dumb for not knowing herself.

My mother's children, her family and her church were the heartbeat of her life. She leaned toward social and political liberalism in moderate conservative, populist, midwest, though my Dad was a bit slower to come to that view. In 1940 she voted for Socialist Norman Thomas instead of F.D.R. or Wendell Willkie because Roosevelt drank, Wendell Willkie was an unknown businessman, Thomas was a Presbyterian minister and therefore must be a teetotaler. Her father, Jacob Pflug, was a strong advocate for women's education and sent his three daughters to college as well as his four sons. Mom, fourth of the seven and the oldest girl, went to Nebraska Wesleyan for two years to get her teaching certificate, and coincidently, to meet and bond with my Dad. While he finished college, she taught first through sixth grade in a one room schoolhouse. By then she must have mastered enough arithmetic to at least teach those young students.

I think my Mother also felt even more intensely lonely. guilty and inadequate because of her two miscarriages. They were loses that deeply wounded her though I knew of only the second which happened when I was four. The other one happened before I was born and I learned of it later. Both miscarriages and their consequences undermined her in subtle but painful ways which also impacted my life in ways I began to understand much later in my life but subconsciously sensed as a child. That also involved looking back from the different angles of time and reflection.

Her work was to be a mother and homemaker because there really weren't many other viable options and she was as good at that one as it was possible for anyone to be, given the limited psychological and sociological resources available at that time. She fully invested herself in my older sister, Rosemary, and me. Clearly there were many benefits of her care. There was also a cost to us as well as to her. For Rosemary and I the cost was the burdensome, inescapable sense of owing her, of nagging indebtedness which we were expected, and somehow came to expect ourselves, to pay by shaping our selves to her expectations and not giving much weigh to our own inclinations, wishes and hopes.

For our Mom, it was the stultification of her own talents and energies about which I learned and appreciated decades later. The lesson came most forcibly when helping my parents move to another apartment in a retirement home, I found some superb paintings tucked away under their bed. She had done them as a young woman, then given up her art when she got married. I teared up looking at them. Truthfully, they helped me squint even harder to see both my Mom, and Dad, and certainly myself, in a different way than before.

What I saw was her, and more obliquely, Dad's, unfortunate, misdirected and ill-fated longing which had sadly constricted her life. That misdirected longing not only squeezed their lives but burdened those of their daughter and son. Of course, Dad in his own way, and Mom in hers, blessed us with their work, provision, devotion, spirit, attention along with a good sense of values and helpful lessons. Her life, and his, were gifts to us.

The painful and somewhat debilitating glitch in their gifts was the implied expectation that Rosemary and I return their investment in us by being and doing what they wanted us to be and do. They were misguidedly trying to fulfill through us their disappointed dreams for their own lives. We could not do that, hard as both of us tried. Given what I believe longing is, namely a permanently unfulfilled primal link to God, no human being can do that for another, or even completely for themselves, common as that subtle expectation is in our human relationships.

For many years, the effort my sister and I made to meet Mom and Dad's expectations resulted in frustration, anxiety, guilt and grief that lasted for years. The irony is that it was the gift of their mutual courage, faith, spirit and unspoken but implicit belief that help me see I could be my own version of the quality of persons they wanted so much, that finally helped me, at least, squint and see them and my self more wholly and begin to lay down some of the burden she inadvertently put on me. In her own, different way, my sister did the same.

For now, I add this final word, about which I'll no doubt write more later. One way I tried to meet particularly my Mom's expectation for me was to become a minister. I didn't want to go in that direction and resisted in whatever way I could, but to no avail. I took as rebellious a course toward that designated outcome as I could, but take it, I did. I knew almost nothing about theological schools but assume Yale Divinity School (YDS) would be the top one since it was a department of Yale University. So I applied and, miraculously, was accepted. I got married at the end of my Junior year of my undergrad study at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and a day or two after graduating, Dory and I started for New Haven, Connecticut in a secondhand Dodge coupe with everything we owned in it. Talk about being naive. It was the beginning of a tough journey with many twists and turns.

Happily, YDS was indeed a great school and I took course of study would which lead to post-graduate study and a Ph.D. and again, was admitted to that program. To get housing and a squeak by income, I took a part-time appointment as a student minister of small church in a village near New Haven. By then we had two baby boys, Mark and David, and were expecting a third who turned out to be a little girl, Karen. Shortly after her arrival, the church began to grow because of the housing boom that turned farms and orchards into suburban sub-divisions. The church needed a full-time pastor, asked me to take the job with better pay and I agreed, thinking I could just take a break from my studies for a year or two and then go back to my Ph.D. program and plan to teach college. I persuaded myself that only temporarily would I be… what else, a minister? Two years later, we had another boy, Tom, and any thought of going back to finish a Ph.D. completely faded. Within a few months, I had a terrible emotional breakdown and began several years of therapy. That turned out to be a seminal, life changing experience to which I'll return to expand on later.

That was over fifty years ago. I always say, rightly, that I became a minister because that's what my Mother wanted me to be. But that isn't the complete story, is it? The rest of the truth is that I may not have wanted to be a minister but, obviously, I didn't want to do something else enough to stand my ground against becoming one. Squinting back now, I see that outcome was not a huge mistake. I became a pretty good minister if a somewhat unconventional one, making every effort to not be phony or hypocritical in the process and sometimes paying a price for it. It was worth it!!

The mystery of it is that someone, or Someone, squinted, perhaps through my Mom's eyes along with some others along the way, and saw me as someone who could serve better in unsought calling and larger purpose in ministry than in any other way. It's safe to say that I never thought for a minute that being a minister was what or who I longed to be and it was misguided for my Mom, and secondarily, my Dad, to feel that my being one would satisfy her or their longing, or after all these years, satisfy my own. But one thing I've learned over those years is that longing abides beyond all attempts to satisfy it and is the mysterious whisper of God to pay attention to it, and the Eternal Father-Mother of us all.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Start Squinting More- Chapter Three: The Longing Way Home


You may not have wondered about it but I want to explain the long hiatus since I've written another chapter of our book, The Longing Way Home (TLWH). Actually, so far it hasn't been "our" book since I've received no questions or suggestions to ponder and/or include in it which is not exactly encouraging.

Never-the-less, I'll keep on keeping on even when there's an occasional lapse in the process. The most recent one happened when I signed on to write an article for another publication which took time and thought (and required more of both than I assumed it would) away from TLWH.

Another was a rupture in a waste pipe from a second floor bathroom that damaged the kitchen and basement powder and laundry rooms and the repairs are still underway in those rooms and there is dislocation everywhere.

Even so, I'm back and here we go again. Thanks for your patience and whatever comments you're moved to send which always mean much to me.
Blessings in abundance. Ted


I keep remembering something novelist Leo Rosten said: "We see the world not as it is, but as we are." I find that statement persuasive, yet disconcerting, especially if we include that we see each other as part of the world we see as we are. Mostly we see each other hurriedly, superficially, partially, even a bit suspiciously as critics or rivals, often as someone to be won over,used or defended against rather than as human beings to be respected.

So we live almost constantly in relative degrees of tension, strife and anxiety in a world of "others" we readily criticize as flawed, even threatening, without acknowledging that we see them as we are. The problem is that the way we see them provokes them into seeing and responding to us that same way, too, and that causes all sorts of antagonism and acting out behavior by a majority of us.

But the insidious quirk is that we tend to see ourselves as the world sees us, that is, as others or society or culture see us. And there's the creep of the astigmatic view! The trouble is that we collude in seeing ourselves as the "world" sees us. That is, we start seeing ourselves as objects, as Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, pro this or anti that, consumers, upper, middle, lower class, poor, white, black, Latino, successes, failures, saved, damned, whatever, the list goes on ad nauseum.

Here are two somewhat extreme examples: if society, culture, marketers, advertisers, see women as sex objects, women begin to either see and act that way themselves or risk being seen as dull, unattractive loser, old maid types -- until at least some women don't! If society, culture, marketers, advertisers see men as insensitive, unemotional, aggressive, belligerent, men start to either see and act that way themselves or risk being seen as geeky, undesirable, impotent wimps --until at least some men don't. Keep those "until at least some don't" in mind as we move deeper into this chapter.

One consequence of seeing ourselves as others see us is that it cons us into adopting some variety of one or the other, or an unstable mix, of two deceptions:
The first deception is being drawn into and acting out the illusion that we're more that we really are, more virtuous, innocent, right, faithful, intelligent, liberated than we are. or could ever be, as imperfect, limited beings, and in that process earning graduate degrees in hypocrisy and emptiness;
The second deception is submitting to the view that we're less than we really are, not competent or smart or good or creative or lovable or whatever enough to matter much and thus spending much of our lives compensating and hiding and all the while being carriers of anger, self-pity and gloom. Both of those views muffle and/or misshape our longing and mangle how we see ourselves, others and the world.

How and why does such astigmatism happen? For clues, go back to Adam, Eve and the serpent in Eden. Remember, in the story God first created Adam from dust, then from Adam's rib, created Eve as his equal partner and put them in the garden to be together: capable, sentient, unashamed, wondrous and beautiful in their nakedness. God entrusted them to tend the garden and thus participate in creating it, i.e. to share in God's creating activity. Out of love, God gave them each other, their freedom, talents, purpose, responsibility, accountability … and, yes, longing, longing as a faint, mysterious clue to who they were, and whose. That was how they were to see themselves and it was enough.

The ugly snag is that isn't how they saw themselves. They didn't quite trust God, or even begin to sense the mysterious depth of the longing mixed in the breath of life God breathed into them. There was just one thing God told them not to do which was mess with the tree in the middle of the garden. That did it and off they went to the middle of the garden to check the tree out. From the first, they misconstrued their longing and attached it to the tree's forbidden fruit.

When along slithered the serpent, they were ripe for seduction. All the serpent had to do was recast their longing by persuading them to see themselves as able to be like God. All they had to do was to dump their charge to be tenders of the garden and eat the off-limit fruit of that suddenly irresistible tree. The only ones who could keep them from doing that were themselves and they weren't about to. They preferred the image of seeing themselves like God so they chucked their charge and chomped away on the fruit.

Only that didn't make them like God. Instead, it swamped them in anxiety and shame so they quickly covered their nakedness with fig leaves to try to hide themselves and pose as though they were no different from the other animals in the garden. They must have thought that would make them no more guilty for their action than animals who had no capacity for such guile.

When asked by God what they'd done, Adam and Eve came up with the first variation of fig leaves by blaming each other and the serpent, trying to somehow hide from God and from themselves. What they failed to see was that in essential ways they were really not like the other animals in the garden. Here's how they were different:
First, God continued to address them as the human beings He/She created however badly they'd acted.
Second, by laying out to them the consequences of their betrayal and sending them out of the Garden, God confirmed their responsibility and attendant accountability as human beings.
Third, God confirmed their continuing worth and the capacities he'd endowed them with by giving them difficult tasks to do in order to provide for themselves.
Fourth, and most importantly, God went with them, giving them clothes to replace their sticky fig leaves, a clear metaphor for covering their shame with mercy and grace!

But Adam and Eve were so blinded by anxiety and drained by shame, they missed all that and what it meant about who they were. I wonder, "What would be different about how they viewed themselves and God if they had just 'fessed up to they'd done and their accountability for their abuse of their freedom, and asked God to help them use their compromised but still ample freedom more responsibility and vigilantly in the future?" The answer doesn't matter for them but never-the-less is relevant to us. We'll stumble onto that later, so keep it in mind.

Why all this fuss about an old Bible story? At least two reasons. The first is because it's true even if not literal. It confronts us with real, crucial questions about life and ourselves. Here are a few which I hope you will think over and come up with your answers:
  1. Hasn't Adam and Eve's story been repeated in every generation of human history?
  2. In some variation, how much of it is part of your personal history?
  3. How often are we tricked into seeing ourselves as like God if we'll just buy the views of society's hucksters and the mirage of promises of they make?
  4. How often do we see ourselves as victims, blame others for whatever's wrong and excuse ourselves and, in the name of security and self-defense, advocate and act out that view of ourselves in nasty ways that actually harm us and those around us?
  5. How often are we blinded by anxiety, drained by shame, driven to hide in pretense and hypocrisy from our longing and miss its faint signals of our real identity?
  6. If we admit that we are not like God, does that make us the same as the other animals of creation with an excuse to live a "dog eat dog" existence?
  7. However the millions of intersections and turns were negotiated to bring us from the "Big Bang" to where we are, like it or not, don't we have responsibility for each other and other creatures in the garden, that is, in creation itself?
  8. Isn't it possible, even probable, that false ways of seeing ourselves end up keeping us from seeing that the essence of our difference from other animals is what our longing is about and who we are not only meant to be but really are in spite of our foibles and fallibilities, if we look hard enough and speak our "don't" to the way of seeing ourselves as the world does, with our collusion, which is superficially, partially, distortedly, defensively, destructively?
Okay, time's up. Probably my answers are obvious and support the point of this book. But just so you can be sure, here they are:
1. You betcha 2. Not in every detail 3. Causes my nightly acid reflux 4. 364 days a year, except July 4th. I'm patriotic after all 5. Only before and after breakfast. 6. Only occasionally at ball games 7. Earthling types, Yes, but not Klingon types 8. Absolutely but the question is too long and it's tough losing big bucks saying, "Don't."

If you got at least 6 right, we can move right along. If you got less than 6 right, we can also move right along. After all, this is about thinking and reflecting together about longing, not necessarily agreeing about things.

So, the second reason for the Adam and Eve fuss comes with a quote from theologian Reinold Niebuhr: "Evil is done ultimately not by evil men but by good men who do not know themselves." In Niebuhr's day, the term "men" referred to human beings so don't get hung up by his chauvinist terminology. And don't get distracted by arguing whether his assertion includes "all" evil. Even some is quite enough and to our point. Niebuhr is addressing the human condition in both its personal and social dimensions. Not to know one's self is to overlook and/or disregard essential truths about ourselves which warps how we see, think, feel and act and leads to destructive (evil) consequences for others as well as ourselves.

Here's how poet Robert Frost echoed Niebuhr's evocative insight: "Something we were withholding made us weak/ Until we found out that it was ourselves."(1) What is it we withhold if not honest, critical. penetrating, balanced self-knowledge? The truth is all of us are both participants in nature and time, and also have intimations of transcendence and the eternal. That is our consecrated and challenging place in creation. It is awesome to be human and, at the same time, it is exceedingly difficult to keep our balance as such. It always has been. We tend to keep trying to reach up to be like God or squirm down to indulge, then excuse, our lowest animalistic impulses. Either way we lose our balance and crash. Every one of us can describe the wreckage.

It is our mistaken view of ourselves that makes us weak in ways that are dangerous. We exaggerate our capacities and disguise or excuse our limitations and that makes us defensive, self-righteous, entitled, angry, manipulative. Those traits often lead to commit dozens of kinds of violence from lies, slurs and accusations to discrimination, exploitation and oppression to guns, bombs and missiles.

How do we "find out" it's ourselves that make us weak and dangerous? One way is to start squinting more often, squinting at the world, at others, at ourselves which means to look a little askance, obliquely, at an angle, off to the side, which isn't way and where we usually look at life or ourselves. Remember when I said earlier to keep those "until at least some don't" women and men in mind? Well, some people do squint is why they don't see themselves the way the "world" does. They see themselves more truly.

If I now quote Emily Dickinson to advance the point, it may seem I'm on some show-off poetry roll here except that it's often writers, artists and poets who show why squinting matters so much. That's what Dickinson does in her poem,, only she uses the word "slant" instead of squint but it means the same thing.

"Tell all the truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise.

"As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanations kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind."(2) ***

*** Comments on poem:
* I think Dickinson uses the word "Circuit" to suggest circling truth to see it from differing, unusual angles, or see it "slant" -- which is what I mean by squinting which precedes telling.
** I interpret "Explanations kind" as telling truth, not lies, to children in simpler ways to ease their fears which truth can do when told compassionately and that applies to adults as well. See Jesus and parables.
*** As I said, I believe to "tell all the truth … slant" implies first seeing it that way which is necessarily "gradually," in order. first to integrate it and then to avoid blindness.

I believe squinting is the way to keep our balance as humans who teeter between two poles. One pole is being inescapably part of, but not completely bound by, the the complex, stunning processes of nature for which we're grateful while often falling for its baser seductions of self-indulgence, unbridled hunt for gratification and cruel preying on others.

The other pole of our teeter is truly being unlike other creatures of nature and having the extraordinary capacity to experience moments of transcendence, enlightenment, moral discernment and the realization of our responsibilities for all of life, while often succumbing to the delusion of the claim to posses Godlike knowledge, judgement, moral certitude, spiritual superiority and requiring the deference of others or their vilification.

All that teetering and tripping up makes maintaining our balance in life a tough but essential challenge. I hold that it requires squinting as often as possible, squinting to see gradually, through lifetime, our longing as a core truth of us, our primal, indelible link to our Creator no matter how numerous, various and frequent are the illusions to which we attach it by not squinting at ourselves.

One serious caution concerning Dickinson's plea to "Tell all the truth but tell it slant …" applies to the word "all." If and when anyone … anyone … claims to know or tell "all" the truth, starting running away as fast as you can, especially if it's "all the truth" from or about God, as in "straight from God's lips to theirs" about who's saved and who isn't, who's in and who's out, who's going to heaven and who to hell, what God absolutely wants us to do about what, when, where and to whom -- except love them as ourselves which includes far from all the answers to the "how" questions we're left to figure out. So the "all the truth" folks give spirituality, ethics, theology, religion, Christianity, churches, and especially God, a bad rep.

In fairness, the illusion of infallibility also plagues people who argue that "all the truth" resides in the "fact" that since there is no way to prove the existence of God by logic, reason, or scientific research, it proves the contrary or negative, namely that there is no God and ultimately everything, i.e. "all the truth" concerning the what and why and how of creation, human life, consciousness and experience, can and will result from logic and scientific experimentation and inquiry. The response to such supposedly infallible insistence about "all truth," is to ask, "Well, to begin with, what about a totally conclusive explanation of why there is anything rather than nothing?" Since there isn't one, that's always a stumper even to such narrow-vision rationalists who's intransigence gives reason as well as science, education, art, music, creativity and sacrificial love a bad rep.

Here, then, is the conundrum of our human existence: of the incredible number of what we human beings can do and know, "all" and "everything" are not among them; not about nature, not about human history in large sweep or small particulars, not the universe or every element of earth, not even about ourselves. Even when we squint at ourselves, or others, we can never see or know all or everything about us or them. As mortals, we simply cannot completely transcend the boundaries of time and space that necessarily define us. It is precisely those inescapable "limits" that make our longing such a gift, such a clue, faint as it is, to who and what we are. We cannot know/experience/see all or everything but we can know and see enough essential truth to dazzle us to live abundantly.

As mortals, seeing and "telling ... the truth slant", that is, squinting at ourselves from as many angles as we can, involves coming gradually to a glimmer of truth that dazzles. The word is "gradually" which emphasizes the finite limitations that apply to us as humans. It suggests that temples gradualness requires patience, trust, courage, humility and honesty. Our squinting is never finished because our longing is never over no matter how much we ignore, distort, misdirect it. That's why our longing is a primal link of mortals to the eternal, mysterious God who created us in whatever way it happened, and keeps happening with our participation because love gives freedom to the beloved while holding them accountable while not abandoning them.

So after all this pondering and floundering, where are we? Surprise, surprise: how about back to my after the fact (okay, story) question about Adam and Eve scratching in their fig leaves, stammering their excuses to God without a squint in mind? Now the question gets put to us, "now" meaning hourly, daily, constantly, even when ignored: "What could/would be different about how you/we see yourself/ourselves and God if you/we just fessed up to the messes you/we make of life and accept accountability for the abuse of your/our freedom, and asked God to help you/us to use your/our chronically shortsighted but still squint-able use of freedom more responsibility and vigilantly to make things better for you/us/others?

Here are some possible answers from which to choose yours:
a) No difference. b) It depends. c) Maybe a little to me, not much to others. d) Some. e) Who knows for sure? f) Worth a try. g) Why bother to find out, things are bad/good enough as is?
h) Can I do the "ask God" part without the "fess up, accept" part? i) Don't understand the question.

I'd say the only suspect answers are a) and g). I hesitate to rank the others but prefer f). But the point goes deeper and is more elusive. The point is about longing which eludes answers and has more to do with the certainty part of uncertainty. Okay, that's really oblique, slant, a squint eyed view of who we are. There is a certain sense of direction, or filtering process, about uncertainty which gives uncertainty a certain positive quality, a gradual truth dazzle about what isn't certain that we take as being so when it isn't, things we settle in with or for rather than going on in uncertainty with our longing for what we can't satisfy but which keeps summoning us and, one way or another, won't leave us alone.

There are many images that might partially fit the ambiguity of our longing and so of our view of ourselves. I think "home" intimates it best because home refers to where we come from and where we long to be or go, not necessarily our literal home but something at once more inclusive and elusive. When I was a kid, my mother did needle work and she made one that was framed and hung in the living room. It included words from Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave but not our hearts. The link may lengthen but it never parts." At least that's how I remember them and in significant measure the words are right and stretch past memory into imagination, intimation of something even more real than we consider reality to be. It has to do with those faint finger prints our Creator leaves on our souls, like a mother leaves on our hearts, prints that point to something present but beyond our grasp. Yes, it's a mystery, a holy mystery, the mystery of God, a truth that dazzles gradually and partially lest it blind us and turn God into some kind of celestial seeing eye dog.

One next to last word about longing and home for now. Home isn't Eden. We may fantasize about home that way but it isn't really some idyllic, comfortable, beautiful, innocent place or time we long for as if our history and identity doesn't matter at all. Remember, it wasn't Eden or God that changed because of Adam and Eve's distorted view of themselves and each other. It as their betrayal of who they really were. It was Adam and Eve themselves. That is still how it is for us, isn't it? In a sense, Eden went with them when they left the garden because Eden was creation but they couldn't see it that way. And God went with them as well, was with them as He/She was in Eden.

So actually
"home" is who we really are, not a where, not a place we occupy, or ever can this side of eternity. So just like Adam and Eve and every generation since, our critical challenge is to squint as often as possible until we gradually see ourselves more fully, more truly. And that is also our most vexing problem. For most of us, in spite of using all our psychological, sociological, cultural lenses and making all our claims of being aware, insightful, honest about ourselves, we leave something out because we want to be sophisticated and smart in each others eyes. What we leave out is any sense of God, any admission of a longing too amorphous to be completely reasonable and definable. What we leave out is something primal about ourselves.

So I repeat what I've repeated through this whole chapter: we need to squint more often, much more often in following hints to being home in and with ourselves. And that would make a difference worth finding out about. It would throw some penetrating light on what it might mean to "love our neighbor as ourselves" as well as to "love our enemies." Go figure try to figure out and live out what that might mean, my friends.

Here now is my truly last, beautifully simple, profound insight about squinting to see ourselves as "home." It comes from Marilynne Robinson in her incredible novel, Gilead. Toward the end of the story she has the old pastor write these words in his journal: "There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world's mortal insufficiency to us. Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. 'He will wipe the tears from all faces.' It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.

"Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that also allows us to be brave --- that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and that to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful. It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing." (3)

To which I presume to add that longing is surely a form of prevenient grace and prevenient courage.

You may have labored to get to the end of this chapter which may be too dense, long and contorted to easily follow. You may also have sensed that I labored to write it as well. Let's hang in together with our longing anyway. And I hope and pray that these words of this old man I am will help you be in touch with your longing, squint to see and be your real self, and allow you to be useful and generous along with me.

(1) Robert Frost: "The Gift Outright" pg. 424, The Poetry of Robert Frost Holt Rinehart Winston 1962
(2) Emily Dickinson: Poem "1129" pg. 506, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson Little Brown 1960
(3) Marilynne Robinson: Gilead pg. 245-46, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2004