Friday, January 30, 2015

Simple Suggestion # 225... Avoid "stuffocation"...

I wish I could take credit for inventing the term, "stuffocation," but I can't. A fellow named James Wallman seems to have come up with the term to describe the fact that the lives of many people in the developed world are so full of stuff that we're running out of room, mental health, and general well-being in our lives. He's written an excellent article about it that you can access by clicking here, and a book too.

I've been thinking about this suggestion all week, not just because of the article, but because of the outdoor Christmas ornament phenomenon. Have you noticed it? On my long walk with Shadow this morning, I passed at least a half dozen homes where the homeowners hung over-sized, metallic Christmas baubles in the trees and bushes outside their homes. Sure, it looked nice, but the problem is that all that stuff has to be stored somewhere for the 40-some weeks of the year they aren't using it, and... someday, it will probably end up in the landfill. Is it really necessary?

And, is it necessary that "nine out of ten [homes have] so many things that they [keep]household stuff in the garage" to the point that there's no room for the car?! (See article link above.) Something is definitely wrong with this picture.

There are all sorts of ways to avoid stuffocation:

1. Only buy what's needed.
2. Ignore trends.
3. Use things until they are no longer usable.
4. Collect experiences and memories, not things.
5. If there's no room in the house, closet, cupboard, dresser drawer, etc., give stuff away.
6. Don't replace stuff given away with more stuff.
7. Share things with others who can use them.
8. Have just enough, rather than multiple items.
9. Buy long-lasting quality rather than cheap and breakable when something must be bought.
10. Avoid temptation in the form of "Buy one, get one free."
11. Buy things with a mind to use/keep them forever. Think of them as a long-term commitment.
12. Reuse, reuse, reuse... and there are probably dozens more, but that's enough words.

And if all else fails, here's a little song to get stuck in your head for when the temptation toward stuff becomes too strong. I have to put it out there every so often, or it's sitting uselessly on the YouTube sidelines instead of helping to save the planet and our sanity. It always amazes me how much of a chord it strikes in first time hearers.

If your new year's resolution was to clear the clutter and get a new lease on the space in your life, I'm backing you all the way. Avoiding stuffocation requires some effort and maybe even a shift in consciousness, but hey, it's worth it! Now, I think I'll go empty some drawers...

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

From conflict to grace

It's been a very interesting week for moodling. Not that I've done much here, online, but I've been doing a lot while dog-walking, crocheting, and working. I'm spending a fair bit of time these days writing up an interview I conducted for the history of L'Arche Edmonton, one that was particularly painful because it encompassed a time of conflict and gossip in the community.

The thing is, the people involved at that time were all really good people, doing what they felt was best for the community at that moment. But human egos got in the way, and in protecting those egos, it became easy to act less than charitably. We humans are a funny breed -- we so easily convince ourselves that what we do, we do for others, not ourselves, and sometimes don't see that for the power trip it can become.

That's where it can be helpful to have a wise and impartial third party come in and offer an outside perspective, but only if that party's suggestions are carried out. In the portion of the L'Arche history that I am working on, the mediators weren't heard, and for many people, the hurt continues, its tentacles sometimes touching into what happens here and now. Time doesn't necessarily heal all wounds.

I wish I could heal it all, but I'm not God. All I can do is moodle and pray about it, and try to learn from it in my own, human, limited way. The biggest thing, perhaps, is seeing and admitting my own mistakes and foibles, asking forgiveness when I am wrong, and working to make things right again. Then grace has a chance to take hold.

Of course, every bit of grace costs some ego! I guess that's why international conflicts are so difficult to solve -- so many egos are involved. I'm thinking in particular of my fellow blogger, Debbie, and her husband Dean, ecumenical accompaniers in East Jerusalem. You can find Debbie's writing by clicking here. And if you have time, maybe you can send a note to your politicians regarding a just end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That's on my list of to-do's for today.

There was a small conflict in my house last night that needed to be brought to grace, and I was one of the instigators, so I had to ask forgiveness of everyone involved, and work things out. Maybe, just maybe, I'm getting better at seeing my own sins and mistakes more clearly as I get older, but I still have a long way to go to get to grace, full-time.

How about you?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

For our good, and the good of all creation

It drives me crazy, how we human beings have separated ourselves and the things we have created from God's creation. I've been thinking about this for a long time, being an environmentally conscious kind of person, but it was really underlined for me this past week in the daily emails that I received from Richard Rohr, OFM, and his Centre for Action and Contemplation.

Father Richard is a Franciscan, which already gives him high marks in my books, and he's also a man who has figured out a lot of really important things when it comes to faith. He shares his understanding in books, presentations and the daily emails that land in my inbox.

Actually, I think a lot of us have a sense of those important realizations in our heart-of-hearts, but he has a knack for putting them into words. From my email on Monday, January 19th:

We must know that creation is our first and final cathedral. Nature is the one song of praise that never stops singing, as many of the Psalms say. If you are drawn to "kneel" in this cathedral, you can always talk to a Mystery that is so much larger than yourself. It takes no theology classes whatsoever, no proofs, or arguments. Aweism is the one true religion. All the other native and historical religions merely build upon this primal awe that bows before everything. 
Adapted from "Nature and the Soul," Radical Grace,
Vol. 24, No. 3, Summer 2011, pp. 3, 22; 
and In the Footsteps of Francis: Awakening to creation

The first humans knew this, and lived it. But several thousand years later, we over-intellectualized it all, and started having intellectual arguments, forgetting that the Love that created everything probably didn't want us arguing about Him and Her as much as living love. And somewhere around that time we lost the idea that She and He is in every created thing, which allowed us to objectify and "use" creation rather than treat it as God's body. So...

Acknowledging the intrinsic value and beauty of creation, elements, plants and animals, is a major paradigm shift for most Western and cultural Christians. In fact, we have often dismissed it as animism or paganism. We limited God's love and salvation to our own human species, and even then we did not have enough love left to cover all of humanity! God ended up looking quite miserly and inept, to be honest.
Adopted from "Is 'Green' a Christian Position?" Radical Grace,
Vol. 22, No. 1, January-March 2009, pp.3, 22

And this is where I really struggle with my church. God is still miserly and inept, according to its vision. People are kept from the table of plenty because of their perceived "state of un-grace" or their sexual orientation or their unwillingness to "join the club" -- only suitably holy "club members" are allowed. The church forgets that Jesus ate with everybody, and we shouldn't bar the way, either.

My other pet peeve is that the words of our liturgy rarely remember creation in prayer at all. Sure, there's talk about blessing the "fruit of the vine and the work of our hands," but what about blessing all the other stuff God made? And all the other people who believe differently than my church? Jesus had an intimate relationship with nature, always drawing it into his teaching, and he certainly didn't shun people who believed differently than he did -- remember his praise for the centurion? (Matt. 8:5)

So I have become a rebel (as though you hadn't guessed by my refusal to call God by only the traditional masculine pronouns). I change the words. I don't just pray that God accepts our prayers "for our good and the good of all his holy church," I pray for the good of all creation. Not just for my church and its good, but for everyone and everything.

And I expect that God, who is anything but miserly and inept, is just fine with that.

(If you're interested in the writings and teachings of Fr. Richard Rohr, information and daily email signups can be found by Clicking Here. The email sign up is on the upper right side of the webpage.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Becoming a writer

I think it was Malcolm Gladwell who paraphrased some scientific research and suggested that if a person wanted to be an expert at something, she or he needed to put in at least 10,000 hours of practice. I looked that idea up, and there's some controversy around it, but let's pretend, for the sake of today's moodling, that it's true. Well then, that means I'm an expert writer, ha!

It's an interesting idea. I've never really thought of myself that way. True, I've always loved to write. It all started in Grade 2, when Mrs. Hansen had my classmates and I publish our own big books. I still have mine, and seeing it reminds me of my earliest dreams of being a writer. Throughout my school years, I saved pieces of art and writing of which I was particularly proud. My best friend and I wrote each other lengthy letters through Junior High School, and I kept fat journals of my thoughts and dreams in High School and university days, and beyond. When my youngest daughter was two, I started a novel, and finished it 5 years later. These moodlings began in 2010. And now I'm writing the history of L'Arche Edmonton in fits and starts, when other, smaller projects don't get in the way.

I'm guessing that I've probably spent well over 100,000 hours on writing, stretched out in bits and spurts throughout my life. Does that mean that I'm an expert? Well, that's debatable. I guess it depends on how a person defines the word "expert." Some folks think that if you publish a book or make the short list for a literary prize, that you qualify as an expert. But my sights aren't set so high. I know I'm a writer, simply because I write. And I think I might almost claim the title "expert" (though the literati would laugh at me) simply because I write so much, have learned so much by doing, and have seen a lot of improvement in my work. And because sometimes, people enjoy reading it.

No, my novel hasn't been published, and I'm struggling along with my history writing, but last week I submitted an article to The Edmonton Journal, the one I mentioned in Sunday’s moodling. It took me a whole day to write it, but when it was finished, I was happy with every word that had been wrestled into place. Though the editor came up with titles to fit printed and web pages, she didn't change a word in the rest of the piece. Here’s a link to it.

Now I'm feeling like maybe my 100,000 hours of writing have paid off. I may not be an expert, but, hey, close enough for the moment... and you can bet I'll keep on writing, and learning as I go, and sharing what I come up with.

That's what life's about -- doing, and learning as we do, and finding satisfaction by sharing what we do with others.

Thanks to all my readers for helping me to become a writer.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Trusting the Holy Spirit

My main work this week (and odd days before that) has been preparing for our Taizé Prayer in 2015, and in particular, for tonight’s prayer to kick off the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Done in little spurts, it never seems like much effort, but if I added up all the hours spent contacting churches to set dates, designing the schedule, and choosing and organizing music and readings for the prayers, it's probably more than I think. But that's quite alright -- I get so much more out of the prayer than I put in!

This January prayer has been a particularly challenging one, due to factors beyond my control, and a few less-than-wonderful decisions on my part. To make a long story short, our singing group is rather small this time because several musicians can't come, I chose a few too many new chants, and we'll likely have more new participants than usual because of an article published in yesterday's Edmonton Journal (don't get me wrong -- it's always exciting to have new people pray with us!) The thing about Taizé prayer is that it's the work of the Holy Spirit, and no matter how we human beings do things, the Spirit always makes it into something beautiful.

I'd like to take this opportunity to invite you to join us for our prayer this evening at Providence Renewal Centre (3005 119 St) at 7 p.m. We'll be singing the chant below, but using these English words, mostly (though I love the original Portuguese in the video):

I will sing to the Lord my whole life long;
I will worship my God as long as I live.
For the Lord brings joy to his people.
For the Lord brings joy to his people.

Come, Holy Spirit,
bring us all to reconciliation
and unity.

Monday, January 19th
For the record, it was a beautiful prayer last night. The Holy Spirit definitely did her/his thing, praying through us. Thanks to all who joined us.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Simple Suggestion #224... Listen

Looking back through these simple suggestions, I've decided that my favourite ones have the shortest titles and need the least explanation. Today's is no exception.

Initially, I was going to call it "Use fewer words." But I've also been thinking a lot about the idea of not using words at all, just listening, and trying not to let anything get in the way of my listening -- to others, to God, to life around me. My own words and thoughts get in the way more often than I realize, and prevent me from really hearing. I miss too much of life that way!

I just wrote three examples to illustrate my point... and deleted them as I realized that it was too many words! I'll just say that I've learned a lot more by keeping my mouth shut and my ears open than I have by talking, and leave it at that.

Who will you REALLY listen to today?

P.S. For more Simple Suggestions, click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A wintry walk

On Sunday, Lee and I took a lovely stroll around what we call the "Emily Murphy loop," though others might call it the "River Valley Road run."

We parked at Emily Murphy Park, south of the river near the U of A,
and walked the shady side first...

Someone decorated part of the path beside the water... two more baubles further along...

We're heading toward the Legislature and the High Level Bridge...

I've always wanted to walk on the LRT Bridge, 
named after Dudley B. Menzies, 
a man who did a lot for Edmonton...

View to the west... 
The "Pearl," Edmonton's newest high rise accommodation
stands head and shoulders above the others 
along the river's edge...
(at the moment, the top of my blog has a better picture)

View to the east...
you can almost see the red supports 
for the bridge being built to replace 
the old Walterdale Bridge...

We didn't pass too many people on our walk...
Edmontonians seem to have gotten used to staying home
because of our recent cold snap...
but it was a pretty pleasant walk -- only -12 C (10 F)
with almost no windchill...

I love these spiral ramps on the ends of the Menzies bridge,
and now I can say I've walked them both!

The sunny side of the river, near Victoria Oval...

The view from Groat Bridge,
looking back to the High Level --
our loop is almost complete...
We stood and looked at the snowy river for a long while
trying to decipher what the coyotes had been doing...
were they chasing a deer, or just trying to figure out 
how to get across the open water to the other side??

Shadow has a frosty beard,
and we've had a pretty good walk.

Time for some R&R in one of his favourite places.
Stay warm, my friends.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Neither satire nor revenge needed

I just don't understand. Can someone explain to me why it's necessary to poke at our brothers and sisters of different faiths by publishing ugly cartoons that make fun of their beliefs? And can you help me to understand why it would be necessary to take revenge for those cartoons when killing people is so clearly against any valid belief in the God who loves us and calls us all her/his children no matter our belief? And since when does belief need to avenge itself?

I guess it's been happening since the dawn of time, but I still don't understand it. Clearly, these people who choose to settle small differences with guns are using religion as an excuse for their own inability to love the way God loves, the way God calls us all to love. And the only response to such behaviour is forgiveness and a deeper love that reaches out to quell hatred of all kinds.

Compassion, in other words. From all sides to all sides, until there are no sides.

This song has been running through my head since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday. Of course, the video maker has chosen a lot of lovey-dovey pictures, but I like to close my eyes as I listen to John Lennon's voice and his simple piano melody (which I once learned to play) and think about love between all peoples of all faiths, so that neither satire nor revenge are necessary in our world. Then the song becomes a prayer that we can all pray together. Join me?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Simple Suggestion #223... Sand, don't salt

I was out with Shadow pup before Christmas, and ran into Brian, a neighbour who has three big dogs: two huskies and a golden retriever. He was putting sand on his sidewalks, which had a few ice patches. A gregarious guy, Brian often engages passersby in long conversations about everything and anything, and that day, he stopped me to tell me that sand is much better than commercial de-icers when it comes to our wintry walkways.

"Yeah, I bought one of those jugs of the so-called "green" de-icers last year," he said, "but it was fluorescent pink. That should have been my first clue. No harsh chemicals, the label said. Won't harm vegetation. Yeah, right, who are they kidding? The stuff ate into the concrete, killed my lawn all along the edges, and my dogs didn't like it much either. Got stuck between the pads of their feet, and it must be pretty uncomfortable because they sure made a fuss. Sand is better. Not so convenient, but better."

True, sand doesn't actually melt ice unless the sun shines down hard enough to warm it. It leaves a bit of a slipperiness of its own when sidewalks are dry (of course, then it can be swept up and reused the next time it's icy). As Brian noted, sand doesn't pit the sidewalk, or kill vegetation, or make dogs whine.

Five minutes after my chat with him, I was carrying Shadow because he'd gone lame, working my fingers into the fur between his pads to find a chunk of salt from a sidewalk next to Brian's. After that the dog was okay -- until we reached the next salted sidewalk. And when we got home, I had to put his feet into a basin to wash them. No point in letting him lick that salt off and have him end up with kidney trouble in addition to sore feet.

De-icers made with chemicals or salt seem a convenient solution to the problem of ice... but salt is what conquering armies used to lay waste the arable land of their enemies. Salt and/or chemicals spread on our sidewalks has to go somewhere... and usually kill something, so if we're living by the Hippocratic oath and doing no harm, maybe we should just use sand for our walks... and keep salt for our seasoning!

Shadow and his kin will thank us.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Writing hard

So I had good intentions to moodle today, but I got busy working on my actual work. You see, I'm still supposed to be writing the 42-year-history of L'Arche Edmonton, and quite often I find myself lost in moodling instead. But today... I got lost in L'Arche history, and made some real progress. And I really want to get it finished, so that perhaps I can share some of it (with the community's permission, of course) because there are some really amazing stories in our past. I wrote hard today for L'Arche, and wrestled words all day yesterday, too, for my ecumenical efforts (I'll tell more about that soon), so tonight I'm not exactly very inspired after two almost full days staring at this screen.

Perhaps my need to moodle here is becoming passe, because lately I'm finding all sorts of other ways and places to moodle. Never fear, I'll keep you in the loop.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Warmth for a chilly Sunday

Happy New Year, and Happy Epiphany Sunday! It's a chilly one! Here's what Canada looks like this morning on the Environment Canada Weather website.

All the red indicates regions under weather watches and warnings, everything from freezing rain to extreme cold to outright blizzard conditions. Only the tiny island province of Prince Edward Island is exempt. I suspect that the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut probably have regions that would qualify for extreme cold warnings at temperatures even colder than here in Edmonton, but as that's normal for them, they don't get a mention, which strikes me kinda funny.

Anyway, on a cold winter day, here's a bit of warmth for you, dear readers. You know this man is on the right track when he equates a life of greatness to a life of service. Warms the heart...