Community, Religion

A visit with the Lutherans

In my assignment as a public affairs director for my church, I was asked to attend a Holy Cross Lutheran meeting Sunday morning. One of our local congregations was holding a three-week Bible study course on Mormons and what we believe.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church http://www.holycrosslutheranchurch.net/

Prompted by the presidential election and the possibility of having a Mormon as the Republican nominee, many members of the congregation were asking the pastor questions — could they support a Mormon? Are Mormons Christian?  What would it mean to have a Mormon as president of the United States?

To help educate his members, the pastor planned a series of three classes.  For the first two classes, he showed videos about the Mormon church.  I don’t know what the first week’s video included but I know it prompted a woman to ask her Mormon colleague several questions about what we believe.  He happily answered her questions and clarified many of our beliefs.

Then she asked her pastor if she could invite her colleague to their second meeting.  The pastor agreed and the woman took her colleague to church with her last week.  The pastor showed another video that was produced by a group of ex-Mormons.

You can guess how that video was slanted…

The pastor invited the woman’s colleague to come back to their last meeting, and I and one of my assistants were asked to join him.  We welcomed the opportunity to explain who we are and what we believe. When we arrived, the pastor warmly greeted us and then introduced us to his congregation.  Then he went on to teach about some of the differences between Mormons and Lutherans.  Among them: they believe we are saved by grace alone, and we believe that while Christ’s atonement ultimately saves us all, we are still required to spend our lives doing good works.

He pulled up a page from http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/ about what we believe then he said it was hard to find objective, fair information about the Mormons because on the internet he could only find anti-Mormon or the actual Mormon Church’s official websites.

Mormon.org

I believe that the official Church websites are legitimate, credible sources of information, but the pastor’s point was that the Church’s sites are more conversion-oriented than informational so he wasn’t sure he wanted to share that with his members.

I respect that viewpoint although the Church has really worked hard to make more information available for the curious as well as those interested in becoming members.

Just a couple of days before attending this meeting, I read a comment from Krister Stendahl, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69DkoG-m8Agemeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, who said he believed in three rules for religious understanding:

Krister Stendahl photo from elijah-interfaith.org

1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies;

2. Don’t compare your best to their worst;

3. Leave room for “holy envy” by finding elements in other faiths to emulate.

He said these principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.

I believe in these three rules.

http://amy-gordon.blogspot.com/2009/03/holy-envy-part-1_15.html

I’ve never understood why people seek out ex-Mormons to learn about the Mormons.   That’s like asking Mitt Romney to tell us all about President Obama.  His view will obviously be a little skewed.

I love the third rule: leave room for “holy envy.” If we could follow that one simple rule, imagine how interfaith relationships could be improved — softened and strengthened at the same time, and how that would benefit a community. If we could learn to take the best from each other and build up from there, we could really accomplish something powerful and positive for everyone involved.

 

As the pastor described different points of doctrine, he graciously allowed us to make corrections as he went along.  For example, one member believed that Mormons worship Joseph Smith instead of Christ. We quickly said that we follow Jesus Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and leader of our church whom we hold in high esteem but we worship Christ. A woman behind me said, “Well, then is what we learned wrong?” In unison, all three Mormons in the room, said, “Yes!”

I appreciated the pastor’s willingness to let us speak up, correct and clarify.

After the meeting concluded, many people thanked us for joining them and some wanted more information.

Many of them were shocked to find out that my assistant public affairs director works for President Obama.  They thought all Mormons had to support Mitt Romney. We had an opportunity to dispel that notion.

We have a long way to go in this effort of telling the world who we are and what we believe, but today was another small step forward.

And while all religions may have some doctrinal differences, most of us are seeking to live good lives, help our fellowmen, and strengthen our own relationships with God.

As for “holy envy,” I think that’s a beautiful concept and one that we should more readily embrace. We are all truth seekers who want to understand the world, our purpose and our destiny. When we share the bits of truth and goodness we all have  in our religions we build each other up.

I never imagined myself spending a Sunday morning in a Bible study class with the Lutherans talking about my religion, but I think when we respectfully share our faiths, we increase our knowledge and understanding of each other. We promote tolerance and religious freedom.

As Gordon B. Hinckley once said, there really is no room for bigotry, self-righteousness and arrogance.  We need friendly dialogue that leads to tolerance, brotherhood, friendship, appreciation of others, respect, kindness and love.  We should have quiet, friendly dialogue not vociferous argument and debate.

He said, the world knows “we carry on a vast missionary program in the Church. But it is not argumentative. We do not debate. We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.'”

That is a form of “holy envy.”

We all share the good that we have and we all benefit.

In a world fraught with more and more intolerance and disrespect, we could all be better with a little “holy envy.”

Change, From the News, Uncategorized

The Glad Game

So we’re stuck in a hotel room waiting for some computer glitches to get worked out so that we can return home to Virginia.

A good friend sold us some travel passes at a discounted rate that have turned out to be nothing but trouble since we started this trip.

Not her fault, just one of those things.

But remember that post I wrote about saying no to stress? http://wp.me/p1zHNf-jJ

I’m trying to stay true to it.

I’ve had some great opportunities to practice my say-no-to-stress strategies.

Here’s a review:

For Christmas I gave Doug tickets to opening day at the Nats. The game fell on the same day I wanted to leave to go to Utah. So I decided to fly out of Reagan National Airport, which is closer to the stadium.

Trying to support some clever entrepreneurs who started a game day bus business http://www.ballparkbus.com/, Doug bought tickets to ride this new bus from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to the game in DC.

This meant I needed to haul my luggage on the bus. When we boarded, the owner of Ballpark Bus said, “You know this is a home game, right?”

Hahaha.

The bus wasn’t even close to full but we tried to encourage the owners that once the word got out, business would pick up. We want this company to succeed.

They turned on the Nats radio station, played baseball trivia games and offered us beer or water bottles.

We took the water.

Traffic sailed along until we got to 395. Then we hit a snag. We barely moved.

The clock ticked closer to game time and the bus stood still. The owners started looking nervous and worried. I wondered whether we would make the game and if I’d have to go straight to the airport as soon as we arrived at the game.

Not to worry I told myself. Everything will work out. Just relax.

We finally crossed 14th Street bridge and landed in another mess of traffic.

The national anthem played on the radio.

We saw fireworks out the window.

We were missing the excitement of opening day.

One on-edge passenger asked to bail out as we got closer to the stadium, believing he could walk faster.

Another wanted his money back.

We smiled and gave encouraging looks to the owners and said things like, “You can never predict how DC traffic will be!”

Loyal to Ballpark Bus, we continued to smile, nod our heads in support, and pretend to be calm.

I admit I was tempted to hop out but I had that darn luggage I’d have to tote all across town and I didn’t want people wondering if I thought it was an away game.

Finally we arrived at the stadium. We hauled my luggage up the steps at the back entrance and went to guest services where they happily stowed my bag. Then I donned my red Nats hat and we found our seats.

The innings were rushing by and I had to leave before the real excitement even got started. I went back to guest services, retrieved my luggage, and headed out to find a cab.

I got to the airport at least 90 minutes early and tried to check in at the kiosk.

“Cannot process,” the machine said.

Okay, no reason to panic. I had plenty of time to get on the flight.

One flight attendant after another tried to help me but they kept getting the message I got. “Cannot process.”

I started to wonder whether I would make the flight as the attendants called managers and headquarters and who knows what eles. They punched in one computer code after another, made me call my friend that sold me the passes, and did everything they could to help me get on that flight.
About 15 minutes before takeoff, they delivered the bad news that the ticket wasn’t going to work.


Okay, I could be mad at the attendants, mad at the friend that tried to help me out by selling me a bargain ticket, mad that I left the game that the Nats ended up winning in extra innings, but none of those options would help my situation.
I had two options: figure out how to get back to VA because I already missed the game bus back, and Doug was on that bus so I’d have to wait for him to get home, get in the car and come back to get me in rush hour traffic or I could buy a one-way, last-minute ticket.

Considering I had a funeral I wanted to attend for a dear friend’s dad the next morning and a rare girls night out with all my favorite girls — my mom, sister, daughters and nieces, I opted for the exorbitant ticket.

It was like jumping off the high dive when I was a kid. I just closed my eyes, plugged my nose and jumped. Then I tried to forget about the amount of money I’d see on my next month’s charge card statement.

I refused to feel upset and stressed out about that travel day.

I told myself the day would come and go and I would either be where I wanted to go or I wouldn’t, but neither option was worth a panic attack, a nervous breakdown or an angry snit.

A few hours later, I made it to Utah. The next day, I attended the funeral, had fun with my favorite girls, and considered the ticket a sunk cost.

Fast forward to the end of the trip when I supposedly had everything worked out for Annie and I to return home, using the same kind of tickets that failed me before. But this time, the problem had been worked out, and we weren’t going to encounter any difficulty.

We arrived in plenty of time for the flight.

And guess what?

“Cannot Process” greeted me again.

The agents at the desk ran into the same problem as before and couldn’t process the tickets.

Since Annie was coming home from college, we had more luggage to deal with but we patiently moved everything from one window to the next while travel agents tried to figure out why our tickets wouldn’t process.

Let me toss in here that Annie hadn’t been feeling well and so we decided to make a run to the doctor to see if she had strep throat. Turns out she actually has mono. So we had a little “respond well” rehearsal before we even got to the airport.

We refused to let the stress of mono ruin our day. Then we had to refuse to let another ticket snafu ruin the rest of it.

Finally, the flight attendants told us we couldn’t get the ticket problems worked out and wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Okay, we were still calm.

We called Marriott. We ordered room service. We played the glad game. We repeatedly decided to “choose happy” no matter what happened.

We decided to cheer for the Jazz in their big game against Phoenix. (They won.)

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

I keep telling myself it doesn’t matter what happens. We will roll with it. It will be part of our travel adventure.

Because we will not let stress win.

Really, no matter what happens in the morning, we are not going to get mad, frustrated or fed up.

We are going to breathe in, breathe out, and keep adjusting our plan until one finally works because that is how we roll.

Yes, stress can hover over me, taunt me and try to enslave me but I will not succumb.

Tune in for the rest of the story tomorrow…

Family

Family of Four

Oh how I love my family of four.

We just returned from a quick trip to Southern California to relive our first trip to Disneyland.

This time we didn’t chase princesses around with autograph books or listen to Sara sing her way through the “It’s a Small World” ride in Fantasyland.

Image

But we did enjoy Splash Mountain.

Image

Although Annie doesn’t look like it, she enjoyed it too.

And could my mouth get any wider?

Even though it’s embarrassing to share such unflattering pictures of myself, I had to post it because it captures a fleeting moment.

We saw Mickey, Cinderella, Jasmine, Rapunzel, Snow White, and the whole Disney cast.

We watched the parade and sang M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E.

Before the parade came our way, we enjoyed watching a little girl dance in the middle of the street like she was in her own Disney movie.

It reminded me of watching an uninhibited Sara dancing on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, waving her American flag and entertaining everyone around us.

I glanced at my college girls all grown up and remembered how it felt to hold their soft, little hands through the park.

Image

Then I noticed Sara, Annie, and Doug all wiping tears from their eyes. 

Not because they remembered our first magical Disney trip.

But because they were mesmerized by the moment.

How many times does that happen in our lives?

I love Walt Disney and his genius imagination.

I love that he had a vision and a dream, and that he followed it.

I love that he created a world of make believe that is so real and tangible that it moves people to tears.

Most of all, I love my family of four and our memories.

From this trip, I will remember Annie getting drenched on the Grizzly water ride at California Adventure, celebrating Doug’s birthday at his favorite restaurant, P.F. Changs, and watching him make a wish and blow out a candle, knowing he wished something good for all four of us, not just him, because that’s just how he is.

I will remember our girls’ night before Doug arrived when Sara, Annie, and I snuggled in my king size bed and watched a movie.

And I’ll remember the warm feeling of just sitting in our hotel room together after several months of being apart.

Oh how I love my family of four.Image

 

 

 

 

Community, From my Bookshelf, Uncategorized

Duped

My Grandma Snow used to subscribe to every magazine imaginable.

After she read them, she stacked them up and gave them away to her friends and visitors.

So often after I visited her I went home with a stack of magazines.

I usually thumbed through them and took the Reader’s Digest vocabulary tests and the personality quizzes in the women’s magazines.

The slick covers were always so enticing, but the stories inside rarely lived up to their headline hype.

So I’ve always been a little skeptical of magazines because few of them deliver what they advertise on their covers.

Still, every once in awhile, I can’t resist.

While shopping at Target I passed the magazine stand and saw the May issue of O Magazine all bright and colorful with a young-aged and current-aged photo shopped Oprah on the cover and a huge headline across the middle of the page that said “How To Get Better With Age.”

* Rev Up Your Metabolism

*Rejuvenate Your Skin

*Refresh Your Style

*Recharge Your Spirit

In addition to learning the secrets about aging well, Dr. Oz promised to teach me four easy ways to reverse the effects of time.

There was a serenity diet designed to help me calm down and slim down — two things I always need.

On top of that, Oprah had six steps to a more honest life.

I couldn’t resist.

A little time with O Magazine promised to transform my life.

I had to buy it.

When I got home I eagerly searched for how to become better as I age.

Boy, nice Target ads I thought.

That ad about Oprah’s “Lifeclass tour ” intrigued me.

And Julianna Margulies is quite the beauty.

There were  five things Rahm Emanuel knows for sure, and Donna Brazile’s advice on starting over.

Emanuel might dabble in interior design if he ever leaves politics and Brazile says painting your house is a great way to start over.

This is all so fascinating but when I am going to learn how to revolutionize my life?

Oh, here it is… Martha Beck talking about interior motives.

Hmmm, maybe I missed something profound in her column but it didn’t really charge me up and help me cleanse my inner life like it promised by the headline.

I flipped to Dr. Oz for the good stuff — revving up my metabolism!

He suggests yoga, which I believe is a good thing. Then, cold water, white bean extract, forskolin (what?), tahini dip, peppers, coconut oil, green tea dill weed, chives, wine, coffee and sleep.

I somehow doubt these potions will get my  metabolism so fired up that the weight will just fall off of me.

Maybe the style advice will lift me up and revive me.

I love the $310 dress, the $242 skirt and the four-inch heels.  They will look smashing on me for my next run to Target.

Finally, I get to the good stuff — the secrets to rejuvenating my skin.

Get your pen and paper ready because you’ll definitely want to follow this regime:

Botox, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, skin-toning laser, light laser resurfacing facelift, eyelift, and more laser treatment for dark spots.

Wow!

I am so grateful for these insightful, practical self-improvement hints.

Oprah has outdone herself this month.

Thank you Oprah for giving me exactly what I don’t need — photos of beautifully, touched-up women who truly know How To Get Better With Age by surgically enhancing themselves.

They are just the kind of role models I don’t need.

And in all that reading, not one quiz or vocabulary test.

When will I ever learn…

My idea of aging well
Family

Rock Star Wife

Last week Doug came home from work and rushed outside to mow the lawn, hoping he’d have time to finish it before our dinner guests arrived.

However, halfway through the mowing, our guests arrived, and Doug turned off the mower to greet them and come in for dinner.

He planned to finish it the next day but ran out of time.

This happened for a few days in a row.

I thought about helping him out but, honestly, I didn’t want to mow the lawn.

Here comes the whining…

I don’t like lawn mowing.

It stirs up my grass allergies.

And, I hate gnats swarming around my face.

I also didn’t want to deprive Doug of his lawn mowing pleasure.

Seriously, he takes pride in his lawn mowing skills.

Like my mother, when Doug finishes mowing, he likes to admire the yard – the perfect edges, even strips, and alternating patterns.

I’ve never been like that, probably because I’ve been spoiled with a yard mowing mother and husband.

The few times I’ve mowed, I’ve felt the pressure of pleasing two perfectionists who like their lawns mowed in certain ways – horizontal one week, diagonal the next or around the parameter first and who knows what.

Spirals, rows, contrasting stripe effects, light reflections – wonderful if you’re into that level of detail about grass.

I’m not.

My get-the-job-done approach doesn’t measure up to their standards.

So while I didn’t want to mow the lawn, every time I walked outside or drove up the driveway and saw the half-mowed lawn I thought,

“A nice wife would finish cutting that grass.”

I finally decided to be that wife.

As I carefully mowed, trying to follow Doug’s established east-west pattern, I realized I’d have to re-mow the part he’d already mowed because if I didn’t the grass would be different heights.

He would never be satisfied with that look.

So I mowed the entire front yard again.

As I swatted gnats and greened up my shoes, I felt proud of myself.

I knew the lawn lacked Doug’s expertly mowed appearance.

My stripes weren’t even and the grass didn’t all bend the same way, but hey, it was done, and he didn’t have to worry about doing it.

Besides, I don’t know how to make the grass bend toward or away from the light anyway.

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “grass bend” until I looked up why people mow grass in alternating patterns in the first place.

For a moment, I gloated and thought, “Doug is so lucky I’m a nice wife.”

Oh, what a little good deed can do for a girl…

It went straight to my head, making me feel like wife of the year or something.

And the best part was when Doug got home, the first thing he said to me was, “Hey, lawn mower!”

I know, romantic, huh?

I felt a little swagger in my stroll as I walked toward him.

“Yeah, I’m feeling like a Rock Star Wife today,” I said.

“A Rock Star Wife huh? You’re always a Rock Star Wife!”

So maybe I didn’t have to mow the lawn to earn a few good wife points, but I’m glad I did because it’s good to keep investing in my marriage like that.

See, it’s not really about the lawn mowing.

In fact, he probably secretly wished I’d left it alone.

But, it’s about the marriage, the partnership and teamwork.

It’s about the “us.”

And that’s worth swatting a swarm of gnats any day.

Family, Friends, Relationships, Uncategorized

Below the Surface

Doug, my font of all wisdom, says if we barely scratch the surface of people, we find their hearts aren’t buried too deeply below that surface.

Calm and serene above the water but paddling like crazy below the surface.

I’ve learned the truth of that statement in my writing classes.

I teach personal writing workshops where we focus primarily on essays and memoirs.

One of the assignments I gave this last group was to write about a turning point in their lives — a time when one day they were one person and the next they were someone else.

While the stories are turning points for them, they are turning points for me too because they open my mind to the challenges and resiliency of others. I am moved by their courage, their faith, and their determination to keep going in the face of such difficulties.

Writing workshops are a type of therapy, and when people write their stories and face the big, ugly, scary things in their lives, they get stronger.

It’s like teaching children to look in the closet when they imagine something threatening is hiding inside that could hurt them. When they open the closet and face the perceived monster, the scariness diminishes and the monster is de-clawed.

Similarly, sometimes when we write about our challenges or fears, just that we are exposing them in the bright sunlight diminishes their power over us.

In Doug’s personal coaching training he learned that emotions are pieces of energy designed to move through us — not get stuck inside of us.

Problems arise when we stop the emotions and dwell on them.

I often listened to a healing meditation during my cancer treatments (forgive all my cancer references but that was one of my turning points!).

The goal of the meditation was to realize that emotions and pain have a natural life cycle — they approach, we recognize them; they hit, we briefly feel them, and then we watch them leave. Bad feelings and pain are like buses we can choose to get on and ride or watch them slow down in front of us and move on.

In Doug’s training, he learned the same kind of lesson. Many of us don’t progress through some things in life because we let them stop and take up residence in us.

I love this!

Part of the therapeutic power of personal coaching and writing workshops is that you get to tell your stories and have others genuinely listen. And,when we have good listeners and feel heard and understood, we always feel better.

The New York Times ran an article last week about why talk therapy is on the wane and writing workshops are on the rise.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/magazine/why-talk-therapy-is-on-the-wane-and-writing-workshops-are-on-the-rise.html?pagewanted=all

The author, Steve Almond, confessed that he starting writing for the therapeutic benefits. About a writing workshop experience, he said, “…Looking back, I can see that the instigating impulse for me, for all of us really, was therapeutic. We were writing to confront what Faulkner called ‘the human heart in conflict with itself.’ And not just any hearts. Our hearts.”

I’m fascinated with what’s below the surface of people because I keep discovering such strength and beauty there.

As I walked to my car last week carrying a beautiful bouquet presented to me by my writing class I wondered, “what is it I love about teaching these workshops? Is it the writing and helping people become better writers and craft stronger essays or is it the people themselves and their powerful personal stories and the strength I get from them?”

I decided it’s all the above because every time they share something unique and moving from their lives, I get to experience a subtle turning point in mine.

And by the way, I’d love to hear about your turning points! Send them to me and I’ll post them on my blog.