Archive | November 2013

Thinking too hard

Abbey and me thinking really hard about something

Abbey and me thinking really hard about something

Sometimes, I think, I think too much. I think too hard about choices as I try to determine what is best. For example,  today I’m trying to decide whether to write my blog about what some inmates said the last time we shared a worship service in the jail chapel, or to write about some new insights I gained last week about why “Christ the King Sunday” really can be relevant to us today. Or, can I relate the two thoughts to each other, and avoid having to choose one or the other… I think I’ll try that.

Marian at Messiah organ 2Every week I think a lot about what music I should play for a prelude and postlude in church. I think the prelude is particularly important for setting the tone for the service, to invite the people into a sense of readiness for the worship experience that is beginning. To help me select music that is appropriate, I study the Scriptures that will be read, I consider the hymns the pastor chose for the service, and I sometimes search out Internet resources for music suggestions related to the themes associated with the lectionary readings for that week. (If I’m short on time, I look back in my files to see what I played three years ago, the last time the same Scriptures were read.)

Last Sunday was “Christ the King Sunday” – the last Sunday of the church year. (Advent, the beginning of the church year when we look forward to the birth of Christ, starts next Sunday.) Last Sunday was also the Sunday before Thanksgiving – a national holiday rather than a church celebration, but with spiritual significance nonetheless. Almost every year, I choose to play Thanksgiving music rather than “Christ the King” music. My rationale has always been – what relevance does “Christ the King” have to us today? It’s much more important to think about being thankful to God for all the blessings in our lives than to ponder the image of Christ as a king.

This year, our music director selected a new song for the women’s choir to sing – “O Christ, What Can It Mean for Us?” by contemporary hymn writer Delores Dufner, OSB. Here are the words.

O Christ, what can it mean for us to claim you as our king?
What royal face have you revealed whose praise the church would sing?
Aspiring not to glory’s height, to power, wealth, and fame,
you walked a diff’rent, lowly way, another’s will your aim.

You came, the image of our God, to heal and to forgive,
to shed your blood for sinners’ sake that we might rise and live.
To break the law of death you came, the law of love to bring:
a diff’rent rule of righteousness, a diff’rent kind of king.

Though some would make their greatness felt and lord it over all,
you said the first must be the last and service be our call.
O Christ, in workplace, church, and home, let none to power cling;
for still, through us, you come to serve, a diff’rent kind of king.

You chose a humble human form and shunned the world’s renown;
you died for us upon a cross with thorns your only crown.
But still, beyond the span of years, our glad hosannas ring,
for now at God’s right hand you reign, a diff’rent kind of king!

Delores Dufner, OSB, b. 1939, © 2001, 2003 GIA Publications

Jesus head 2

Jesus Christ, a different kind of king

The words of that song gave me something to think about. As a “diff’rent kind of king,” Christ came “to heal and to forgive.” Christ is a king who said, “the first must be the last, and service be our call.” Christ, through us, still “comes to serve, a diff’rent kind of king.”

That’s something to think about! And it transitions nicely into our discussion in the jail worship service a week or so ago.

About a dozen women inmates plus the chaplain and myself were sitting in a circle. The chaplain asked each of us to share with the group what we were thankful for. The young woman seated on my right said she was thankful for a second chance. The fact that she was in jail meant that she was given the gift of some time to think about the direction her life was going, and that when she left jail she would have a second chance, the opportunity to begin her life over again. Several other inmates voiced similar thoughts. After we all had shared what we were thankful for, we went around the circle again, each of us praying for the person on our right. We ended the service by serving communion to each other, and singing the hymn, “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ.”

As usual, my spirits were uplifted by sharing this worship experience with the women in jail. Christ is a king who loves every single one of us, forgives us, and gives us second chances. And Christ, “a diff’rent kind of king,” can be seen in every single one of us, as well.

Dr. V. Raymond Edman addressing the students of Wheaton College. I was there, sitting in my assigned seat. September 22, 1967

Dr. V. Raymond Edman addressing the students of Wheaton College. I was there, sitting in my assigned seat.
September 22, 1967

One more thought. (See, sometimes I think too much.) Another personal association I have with “Christ the King” goes back to my college days.

At Wheaton College, students were required to attend a half-hour-long worship service in Edman Chapel every morning, Monday through Friday. We had assigned seats, and attendance was taken. On September 22, 1967, (I was a sophomore) the speaker was College Chancellor, Dr. V. Raymond Edman. The title of his talk was “The Presence of the King.”

Dr. Edman described his experience of meeting the emperor of Ethiopia, His Majesty Haile Selassie. He explained in detail the court protocol that was followed, and then he related that experience to how we should approach coming before the presence of Christ the King – how the Bible says we should “Be still and know that I am God.” He talked about how we should be quiet when we enter the chapel, and how we should quiet our minds as we prepare to listen to what God has to say to us.

As Dr. Edman was making that point, he suddenly stopped speaking and fell to the floor. As Billy Graham said at his memorial service a couple days later, he had moved into “The Presence of the King” as he was speaking.

Here’s a link to both the text and an audio recording of “The Presence of the King”  http://www2.wheaton.edu/learnres/ARCSC/exhibits/edman/. The ten-minute audio version is the actual recording of Dr. Edman delivering this message in Chapel.

Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.

Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.
In his chapel address, Dr. Edman described walking through this long room, bowing, and being beckoned to come forward to talk with the emperor.

I guess how we approach being in “The Presence of the King” is appropriate to think about on Christ the King Sunday, or any time we approach God, whether we’re at home, work, church, or even jail.

Delicious Solitude

Monastic Way 10-13During the month of October, the daily reflections in The Monastic Way pamphlet by Joan Chittister were on the theme of “Delicious Solitude.” I loved those reflections! Here’s a sampling.

October 1: Solitude, like black olives, is an acquired taste. But once it touches the soul it is the only place where we can come to know ourselves.

October 2: To be alone is to come to know the self for the first time.

October 7: Solitude is the place where we assess our blessings and choose the best of them to be grateful for so that when we go back into the throes of life we are more aware of life’s blessings as they go by.

October 18: Solitude and silence are those places where the creative fountains flow…

October 23: Solitude is outer separation from the frenzy of the world. Silence is inner separation from the frenzy in ourselves.

October 25: Solitude and silence heal the broken parts in us by exposing them to ourselves.

I’ve written before in this blog about how important it is to take time to be alone. Personally, I usually take a few days once or twice (or more) a year to go off by myself to our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells. The time away has always helped me reflect on life in general, or the time away has helped me think about specific issues I’m dealing with at the time. A time of solitude for me is a time to rest, to read, to play music, to talk at length with God, and invariably, to be refreshed. When I can’t get away for a few days of solitude, I treat my soul to a couple hours of playing the piano, or reading, or writing, or going for a walk.

Marian playing Baldwin wideWhen I was a child, I found a time of solitude by playing either the piano or the small electronic organ we had in the living room. When I came home from school, I was supposed to play every piece assigned in my piano and organ lessons ten times each. That’s not what I did. I usually played through each piece once or twice, and then I’d just play what I felt like playing – picking out a tune that was in my mind note by note, or learning some new songs in one of my mom’s gospel songbooks, or trying out all the pieces in a new music book I’d spent my allowance on (like “Greatest Hits of 1962”). I was usually alone in the house. Mom was still at work in Madison; Dad was in the barn; Danny was outside; and Nancy was away at college. I would often spend a couple hours being absorbed in the music, thinking about my feelings, talking with God. If I came home from school angry about something, I’d start by playing loud, discordant music, and gradually I’d work my way toward peaceful sounds. I loved my time of solitude. I still do.

In the introduction to October’s reflections, Chittister observed,

For the first time in history we are no longer an agricultural people who live miles away from one another. We are a people who live in a nest of noise, 24 hours a day, every day of the year…

Silence, solitude, and the contemplation of what it means to be a human being in a world of machines may be long overdue in this society. We take war for granted, crime for granted, cacophony for granted, everything for granted except the need to be alone, to think a bit about something besides the externals of life, to think about not wanting to think about anything at all…

Silence, solitude and contemplation have gifts to give all of us that no amount of frenetic activity can possibly provide. Rest, peace, insight, calm, concentration, serenity, energy and transcendence are no small bounty to garner in the midst of a world in perpetual motion.

Mim treeI’m thinking about trying to schedule a Christmas Mountain retreat sometime within the next few months. I’ll bring my keyboard along, and a brand new hymnal I just bought.

But first, it’s Mim’s turn to go away for some time of solitude. She’s leaving this afternoon to go to a timeshare in Oconomowoc, between Cambridge and Milwaukee, and she’ll come home on Friday.

It’s usually hard for Mim to get away. All of us who live in our house depend on her to take care of us. I’m sure we’ll survive, but we’ll sure miss her. Mim works all the time. She really needs a few days off.

As Joan Chittister said last month, “Silence and solitude are the Sabbaths of the heart…”

Sibling Rivalry – We’re at it Again!

Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way.  [Pamela Dugdale]

Danny and me a long time ago

Danny and me a long time ago

My brother Danny was almost two years old when I was born. According to our mom’s notes in my baby book, Danny’s first reaction to me was “pretty baby Marian” as he watched me sleeping in my crib. His next recorded comment was an exasperated, “Marian cries so loud I can’t think!” We’ve had a love-hate relationship ever since – for the past 65 years. I agree with Anna Quindlan when she says, “There is a little boy inside the man who is my brother… Oh, how I hated that little boy. And how I love him too.”

Danny Marrian Kittens

When we couldn’t get along, our cats were our friends.

As little kids, we played together – baseball, football, croquet, cowboys and Indians, Monopoly, and on very rare occasions – maybe once or twice in our whole childhood – we played with dolls. We worked together – feeding calves, gathering eggs, baling hay, washing and drying dishes, and whatever other chores Mom and Dad gave us to do. And almost every day we got into a fight over something – such as which story book Mom should read to us before bed, or whether or not the other person had done their fair share of the work we were jointly responsible for doing. Sometimes the fights were simply words and looks. Other times we’d hit each other. I was usually better at word fights. Danny was better at hitting. Fortunately, our anger at each other never lasted longer than a few minutes.

Danny and Marian - teenagers

Our teen years were not our best.

As we got older, we fought less, but we played together less, too. In grade school, I had become the studious little girl who got straight A’s, and Danny had become the boy who was interested in construction and mechanical challenges, and had little interest in books. If we passed each other in the hallway, Danny would look the other way rather than acknowledge that he knew me. I was an embarrassment to him. I guess the feeling was pretty mutual. The closest friendly thing I remember doing for Danny in high school was type a book report that his girlfriend had written for him so he would pass English.

We lived through those awkward years. When I graduated from college, Danny and his wife (who had written the book report) and their 3-year-old daughter helped me move from Wisconsin to Connecticut for my first job as an English teacher. From then on, we learned to relate to each other as adults, mostly.

Family Portrait - early 1960s

Family Portrait – early 1960s

I still love Danny, and I know he loves me, but we’re fighting again. He’s become the conservative, and I’ve become the liberal. Usually, we can avoid topics where we strongly disagree. But that wasn’t possible last weekend. A friend of ours held a wedding reception in her home for Mim and me. Our friend wanted to provide an opportunity for my family and a few close friends around Cambridge to celebrate our happiness. Although Danny has treated Mim as extended family for the forty years we have been together, he refused to come to our wedding reception because he doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage. That hurt me just as much as all those childhood punches. I’m sure our mom and dad are looking down from heaven and saying, “Won’t those kids ever stop fighting!”

No, I don’t think we will. We’re both human, and I’m sure we’ll both hurt each other, and forgive each other, until we die. “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” [Desmond Tutu]

Danny remodeled our old farmhouse into the perfect house for Mim and me. He also built swinging doors to help us keep guests out of the kitchen when Mim and I had a B&B.

Danny remodeled our old farmhouse into the perfect house for Mim and me in 1992. Later he built swinging doors to help us keep guests out of the kitchen when Mim and I turned the farmhouse into a bed and breakfast.

Implementing New Systems – the Way God Did It, and the Way We Do It

colorful sky

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2 NKJV]

OMG! What did God do! He just went ahead and created a whole new system – the  heavens and the earth – and it doesn’t work! He didn’t allow enough time for analyzing all the implications of this new system. And there was NO TIME AT ALL set aside for testing the system before implementing it. Whatever made him think he could do it all in one day! Now what’s gonna happen? Space will never be the same again! I can’t believe he’ll be able to fix it. I can’t even imagine the cost of this foolhardiness.

Then God said, “Let there be light: and there was light.” And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. [Genesis 1:3-5 NKJV]

Fortunately, God is all knowing and all powerful. God quickly started debugging his new system and implementing new features, and by the end of six days, the system worked flawlessly according to the design he had in mind.

DSCN1295

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. [Genesis 1:31 NKJV]

If you’re not God, the implementation of a new system simply does not go smoothly. I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the past few weeks, partly because of all the news about the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of healthcare.gov, and partly because of some bugs in a new system I’m trying to learn.

I have a relatively strong systems background. During most of the years I lived in Chicago between 1972 and 1992, I worked in systems planning, development, and implementation. From this experience I understand the processes and the problems fairly well. When I had my own systems consulting practice, one of my clients was the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. My first assignment with them was to conduct a review of a newly implemented case tracking system. Cook County had spent millions of dollars and over a year implementing a new system designed to help the 600 attorneys in the Chicago office keep track of the status of all their cases. Most of the attorneys hated the new system and claimed that the system data was unreliable. The new system was “without form and void.” Apparently the system lacked internal controls, and the natural result of weak controls was that the data was inaccurate.

My job was to interview attorneys in all divisions of the State’s Attorney’s Office to learn what the specific problems were, and then to determine whether or not the problems could be fixed or if the system should be abandoned. It was a fascinating study to conduct. I learned all about what the Criminal Division needed from the system, what the Juvenile Division needed, the Tax Division, Probate, Victim Advocates, and so on. All these attorneys needed different things from the system, and each division had different reasons for hating the system.

Upon completion of the study, my recommendations were to make a few technical changes to the system to improve data integrity and to provide more extensive training in the use of the system so that the attorneys would have a better understanding of the controls within the system and the specific benefits the system would deliver to each division.

The most important thing I learned about implementing new systems is that patience is needed more than anything else. Eventually most of the bugs will be fixed, and system users will get through the learning curve.

Abbey helped me keep at the project despite all the frustrations I encountered.

Abbey helped me keep at the project despite all the frustrations I encountered.

However, I am still learning more and more about the use of new systems and how steep the learning curve can be, especially for systems that have a few glitches. My patience was severely tested over the last few days.

I decided to put together a photo book with all the pictures from our wedding, and to include pictures from our Blessing Ceremony 25 years ago. I have never used any of those Internet services that enable you to create a hardcover book of your pictures, but I have seen some of the books my nephew Kevin has created through these services, and I’ve been quite impressed. I called Kevin to find out which services he has used and to see if he had any advice for me. He said he’s used different services, and they’re all pretty good and relatively inexpensive.

I explored several services and decided to try Shutterfly.com for two reasons – it looked like it would be the easiest software to learn, and it’s the service Kevin had used on the photo book he had lent me to look at for ideas. After about twelve hours of stumbling along, learning by trial and error, I had created a 52-page photo book online. When I tried to save and submit the book for publishing, I received an error message that said the service was still uploading my photos and it would save the photo book file upon completion of the upload. That never happened. I finally called Shutterfly for customer support. After a 40-minute phone conversation, I concluded that they didn’t know how to fix the problem. Apparently I must have encountered a bug in their system. They told me I would have to recreate the whole 52-page photo book from scratch.

So that’s what I did, but I decided not to invest any more time with Shutterfly’s system. Even though it meant starting the learning curve over again, I decided to go with mpix.com. I spent about eight hours recreating the first 32 pages of the photo book on mpix, and then I ran into a bug in their system. Even though I had faithfully saved the book after every few pages, the whole photo book was deleted when I tried to go on to page 33. I tried to call mpix customer support, but discovered that they didn’t show their phone number on their website. They wanted to force users to request help via email. They responded to my emails within about an hour and forwarded my problem to their technical team to try to restore my deleted file. Although we exchanged several emails and mpix seemed to be trying to help me, they never were able to restore my file.

This is the wedding photo that will be on the cover of the book

This is the wedding photo that will be on the cover of the book

My patience was beginning to wear a little thin. Between the two services I had worked 20 hours on this photo book, and I had nothing to show for it. I really wanted to make a photo book, or I would have simply given up. I needed to start over from the beginning again. I decided to stay with mpix rather than go through another learning curve with a different service. At least the customer support people at mpix were nice and tried to be helpful, even if they wouldn’t let me call them.

Through another eight hours of careful work I created a 44-page photo book. I did my final edits on the book yesterday morning and successfully submitted the photo book for publication by 7:30 a.m. I expect to receive the hardcover book in the mail later this week. Hopefully, when I receive the book, I’ll be able to say, “Let there be a photo book, and there was a photo book. And I saw the photo book, that it was good.”

And likewise, may Americans say, “Let there be affordable universal health care, and there was affordable universal health care. And Americans saw affordable universal health care, that it was good.”

I’m sure God is thankful that He had the foresight to create the heavens and the earth before computer-based systems were invented to “help” him build his creation. Otherwise he might still be “fixing” the system.

Oh, wait. I guess he is . . .

[NOTE: I quoted from The New King James version of Genesis to keep some of the familiar language of the creation story. To be consistent with that style, I used masculine pronouns to refer to God – even though I know better. That’s a glitch in English we still have to deal with.]