Sunday, June 24, 2007

Some good advice about marriage

I visited my son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren about three weeks ago. My daughter-in-law is deeply religious and we often discuss spiritual things. Among others, we talked about the Bible study course she was giving on the book of Daniel. At my request she loaned me her richly annotated “Life Application Study Bible” so I could read the book of Daniel. The evening before I returned home, she gave me her bible. Reading it has become part of my morning quiet time.

Two of my young women staff members told me this week that they have become engaged and proudly showed off diamond engagement rings. Whenever I hear this news – or attend a wedding – it recreates personal memories of the joy, love and commitment that most of us experienced during courtship, engagement and on our wedding day. But, as I have written before, I am also saddened when I see so many older couples whose marriage vows have become a bondage that links them, unwillingly, in lives of quiet – or not so quiet − barely suppressed anger and resentment.

In a commentary on the relationship between Adam and Eve, the Life Application Study Bible provided a section entitled “what the Bible says about marriage” that I found useful.

• Marriage is God’s idea
• Commitment is essential to a successful marriage
• Romance is important
• Marriage holds times of great joy
• Marriage creates the best environment for raising children
• Unfaithfulness breaks the bond of trust, the foundation of all relationships
• Marriage is permanent
• Ideally, only death should dissolve marriage
• Marriage is based on the principled practice of love, not on feelings
• Marriage is good and honorable

Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical

President Bush’s public statement, given at the White House, justifying his second veto of a bill liberalizing stem cell research restrictions, included the following:

“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical -- and it is not the only option before us.”

I could not help but juxtapose this against a report in the Economist magazine entitled “Unfriendly Fire.” It described the inadvertent killing of seven Afgan policemen by American air strikes. A second example of unfriendly fire was the bombing of a Medrassa, alleged to be an Al Quaeda hideout, that killed seven children.

This incidents, of course, are only two recent excerpts from a long litany of similar events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Am I the only one struck by an apparent inconsistency between President Bush’s stem cell and foreign policies?

Father's Day

When one is 69 years old, it is unusual to be able to celebrate Father’s Day with one’s own father. As readers know, my father is 96, and still intellectually sharp, though he tires more easily. Like many in his assisted living facility, he has purchased an electric cart to travel long distances. This means that getting about is easier, but also that he gets less exercise – a dilemma of prosthetics and the aging process.

Anyhow, we had the sort of father’s day dinner one hopes for when planning such celebrations. My two sisters and younger sister’s husband and older sister’s nephew gathered with us at father’s apartment. We drove together to an elegant restaurant nearby, sat outdoors and had a delicious lunch. Conversation reminded me of the best of our family dinners when I was growing up - funny and fun. No serious topics were discussed. No family skeletons emerged from the closet. Our father joined in occasionally, but mostly sat quietly with his thoughts and memories. Then we all drove off to our respective homes and quite different lives, hours and miles apart.

A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I am clear

For past several weeks, I have been reading the Journal of George Fox, along with commentaries by three well known Quakers, William Penn, Henry Cadbury and Rufus Jones. George Fox was born in 1624 and died in 1691. He lived most of his life in England, but with brief travels to America and Europe. He spent many months in prison, on three occasions, because of his religigious beliefs. The Society of Friends owes its origins to Fox’s ministry. Most Quakers regard him as the Society’s founder. I consider myself a Quaker and hold membership in a Friends meeting, though I fall far short of the ideals George Fox professed and lived.

I could write more about the Friends, but that is not my purpose. I simply want to quote from Rufus Jones’ concluding commentary on the Journal, which I read this morning. Jones writes:

“…When some friends came to his room … he told them he ‘felt the cold strike to his heart as he came out of meeting.’ ‘Yet,’ he added ‘I am glad I was here’ (i.e. in the meeting.) Now I am clear, I am fully clear.” Later, when Friends were visiting him, he said “All is well; the Seed of God reigns over all and over death itself. And though I am weak in body, yet the power of God is over all, and the seed reigns over all disorderly spirits.” Lying thus in a heavenly frame of mind, his spirit wholly exercised towards the Lord, he fell asleep in peace on the evening of January 13th, 1691. The funeral was attended by a very large concourse of people and the body was laid in the burying-ground near Benhill Fields, where the grave is now marked by a modest stone.

Few men in their dying hour could say more truly, “I am clear

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I won't be writing these monthly letters any more

Martha Stewart (not the housewares guru) was one of those luminous individuals that we may encounter, if blessed, on rare occasions in a lifetime. For several years our work brought us together and we shared a deep connection. We then drifted apart – neither of us made the investment of time and energy necessary to sustain our relationship.

Martha had fought cancer for many years. I eventually learned she had suffered a relapse and was dying. Why is it, I wondered, that a crisis, life threatening illness or death may be the only ‘wake up call’ that returns people about whom we have cared deeply into our field of vision.

From the time I learned of her relapse until she died, I wrote to Martha nearly every week. And I sat down and compiled a list of friends and relatives with whom I wished to stay connected. For about three years, through the beginning of a new marriage and my year in Sri Lanka, I wrote these “Dear Family and Friends” letters every month. Then a turbulent period in my personal life began. It seemed to demand all of my psychic and emotional energy. I stopped writing. Many connections I had nurtured over more than three years weakened, atrophied and were lost.

But the process helped motivate a more durable institution. Dana Meadows had been one recipient of “my Dear Family and Friends” letters. She had started to write a weekly column, The Global Citizen (now archived on line). She made copies available monthly to a growing list of subscribers, and began prefacing the columns with a “Dear Folks” letter. These letters chronicled the breakup of her marriage, her bout with cancer, her decision to resign from a tenured Dartmouth College professorship, her Pugh Fellowship, and Macarthur “Genius” award. For years, “Foundation Farm” in Plainfield New Hampshire was Dana’s home. Her letters were enriched with descriptions of gardening, making hay, lambing, sheep shearing and much more. Foundation Farm was often a refuge and workplace for me. As I write, this Sunday morning, memories of listening to Prairie Home Companion, singing hymns accompanied by Dana’s piano playing, making blueberry ice cream and struggling with books we were writing, together and separately, become vivid.

Dana’s letters described her decision to sell Foundation Farm, to buy the Cobb Hill property in Vermont and to create a co-housing community that would be linked with the Sustainability Institute she had founded. Later letters told how she sought to build and blend the two institutions by empowering them with a common vision. In February 2001, Dana was struck down with Bacterial Meningitis and died.

But the “Dear Folks” letters did not. Susie Sweitzer, who was both a Cobb Hill Resident and Sustainability Institute staff member continued them for an additional six years; until now. They came in ‘hard copy’ once each month, not as one of the scores of emails I received each day. When they appeared in my mailbox, I opened them almost immediately, created a quiet time for myself, and was transported.

In her concluding letter Susie writes, “So why …would I stop doing something I enjoy so much and you enjoy reading The short answer is that it didn’t seem to make sense any more, this monthly hard copy, rambling, farmy, community-experiment sort of letter.” The longer answer is that each of those aspects of the letter were an issue for someone on the Sustainability Institute staff… A number of the Institute Staff wanted our publications to focus primarily on the projects and programs and ‘serious’ learning that is the mission of the Sustainability Institute which has, after all been the sponsor of the “Dear Folks” letters all these years.”

The absence of monthly Dear Folks letters will create a void in my life. It would be easy to criticize, but irresponsible. After all, I could have played a far more active role in the Sustainability Institute and Cobb Hill. In fact, I was seriously considering how best to do so when Dana died. That was not to be my Karma, however. Now the appropriate response to the final “Dear folks” letter is to thank Susie for her contributions to my life. I wish the Staff of the Sustainability Institute well as they pursue their new vision.

In a small way the idea that began with news of Martha Stewart’s relapse does live on in yet another incarnation, this dormgrandpop blog. Blogs may now be the genre of choice for such communications. In their Dear Folks letters, Dana and Susie rose to a daunting challenge: staying connected by blending the personal and professional sides of committed lives with grace, humor, civility and humanity. Though Susie “won’t be writing these letters any more,” the challenge remains.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

An alternative Lord's Prayer from the youth of Leeds Church

Today we celebrated Trinity Sunday at Leeds Church and it was also the Sunday service that was given over to the Church’s youth group. The service’s focus was the youth group’s interpretation of the Trinity, complete with a ghost-like Holy Sprit intervening on earth and a representation of Jesus Christ to liked Arrowsmith.

Here is the alternative Lords Prayer, in common (hip) language that the Leeds youth drafted.

God, you are our Dad in heaven
You are cool and really holy
We want Markham to be like heaven
Everything that happens in Markham to be like you want
We ask that you give us all that we need
Please forget the things that we’ve done wrong
Keep us away from bad stuff
Keep bad stuff away from us
Everything fantastic is yours and from you.