Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ambiguous Loss

We weren’t expecting this;

Now there’s a hole,

Where we thought we’d stand,

We’re face down -

In a hole.

A large hole.

A cave.


Lots of ambiguous space here –

Weird things here.

What’s that smell?

Something is dead…right?

The hole we’re in looks like the hole in me;

In us.


So much doesn’t mean anything;

Even familiar things can’t mean what they used to;

All the labels fell off;

Nothing sticks like it used to.

I’m angry,

We had labeled them ourselves.

We had agreed.

It will take forever to label everything here.

I don’t even know if it’s worth it.


Can we go home now?

How could this be home?

My body arrived, but my heart found some other place to be.

Home is where?

The distance between me and the rest of me is measured in ache.


I am at a loss, an ambiguous loss.

All I know for sure is that certainty is out of reach,

But for God’s sake, hand me the Sharpie!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sermon on the Mount 17: Boomerang

Scripture: Matthew 7:1-5

Focus: Judge

Reflection: Jesus gives some sage advice here. I get the feel he is not so much making commands as he is describing how people naturally behave with each other. Commands are not always practical. No, Jesus has seen how it works and is helping people along here in people trying to have life together. His observations are practical.

Jesus understood the flow of relationships. What is the natural reaction to being judged? It is to get defensive. One of the most common defensive acts is to give back a dose of what was dished out. “You judge me? Well, let me find your imperfections and announce them.”

But it goes the other way as well. When someone humbles themselves and admits their own issues and problems, they earn a credible spot with others. If someone is willing to risk and admit their own shortcomings, then the meaning of any judgment that person could ring true. It doesn’t feel like an attack when the person has taken an inventory of their own life first.

Failure to reflect on one’s own life generally results in nobody caring what you have to say. “If you can’t even reflect on your own life then how could you reflect on mine?”

Judgment is a boomerang; it comes back just like it was tossed. It is like an infection; it spreads and grows. But so does humility, self-reflection, and generosity toward one another.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dissertation Acknowledgements

One year ago today I defended my dissertation. As I reread this with one year of facultyness under my belt, these words mean even more.


I have something in common with Dorothy, Alice and Neo when they took their journeys to Oz, Wonderland, and the Matrix. When I entered into doctoral studies and dissertation writing, I embarked upon a journey I did not understand, to a place I had never been, with people on whom I had to place my trust. Without my travel companions, I would have been lost. My gratitude for their companionship, guidance, support, and expertise is great and I could use a lot of ink giving a full description of what my travel companions have done for me. Allow this modest note of acknowledgement to suffice.

My primary guide on this journey was my adviser, Dr. Jodi Dworkin. Her knowledge and wisdom were demonstrated when she pointed out new and interesting ideas, theories and articles for me to chase down and get to know. She knew when to hold my hand and when to let me wander on my own.

There were times on this journey when I doubted my ability, when I was riddled with fears about what was to come next, and was uncertain about whether I could continue. Dr. Bill Doherty provided well timed doses of courage so potent that my doubts scattered, my fears evaporated, and my uncertainty became indefensible.

Perhaps the strangest land on this journey was a place where an unusual language was spoken – the language of statistics and quantitative methods. It was a privilege to have Dr. Martha Rueter as a companion who not only spoke the language fluently, but was clever, benevolent, and patient in how she helped me in my efforts to become bilingual.

When embarking on a journey in social science, having a travel companion who has a bag stuffed full of sociology is an incredible asset. Dr. Ann Meier pulled all manner of stuff out of this bag and let me look at it all. She also had a way of responding to my work that left me feeling like my ideas, questions, and research efforts were smart and interesting.

On this journey, there were many paths diverging from the main path that held out some promise of interest and intrigue. Had it not been for my wife, Gail, reminding me of why I started this journey in the first place, I would have quickly gotten lost, making the journey longer…or even endless. She reminded me that I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.

No one travels without provisions. Because of my mother, Linda, and my sister, Amy, my children wore new clothes, my family ate well, and my marriage had child-free time to be nurtured in connection and intimacy. Furthermore, with their help, we established intergenerational rituals that gave order to my unwieldy schedule and will live on in our hearts and souls when we move on from this place.

The value of having friends who believed in me, cohort members who included me, and voices of wise people who provided encouragement to me is impossible to calculate. John Ogren is a trusted friend with whom I shared my academic challenges. His wise words and faithful prayers helped guide my steps. My cohort believed I deserved to be one of them – amazing. Dr. Cathy Solheim and Dr. Liz Wieling were so incredibly affirming that they had me believing I could walk on water.

I am grateful to God for all of my travel companions (angels?) who walked with me. I thank God for the privilege of this journey and look forward to the next.


Monday, May 02, 2011

An American Christian Prayer

God, Can we talk? Osama Bin Laden was killed last night. Lots of people are cheering his death. I am not cheering, but there is a huge part of me that wants to. As an American I want to cheer, but as a follower of you, I don’t feel right about cheering.

You see, most of the time it is not a conflict for me to be both a citizen and supporter of the United States and a Christian. I believe that you have unleashed all kinds of gifts and blessings and responsibilities to America. However, there are other times when I must decide whether I will be an American or a Christian. Ultimately, with whom does my allegiance rest? The killing of Osama Bin Laden is one such time. Help me dig within myself and learn who it is that I am and how I want to express myself. 

Yes, there is a nationalistic impulse in me that desires to cheer along with many Americans and pledge my allegiance to the flag. I have not forgotten the pain we all felt on 9/11. It was one of the most uncertain times in my life. I had two small children. I lived near a symbolic “target” that was shut down for a few days. I was scared. There is no doubt that 9/11 changed me and how safe I felt in my own home, in my own country. I learned on 9/11 that living in America was not immunity from terror.

Yes, I feel the impulse for justice and revenge. I feel the desire to make things right.

But you did not call me to be an American. You did not create me to dominate others. You have not laid out for me a plan of revenge against enemies. You did not desire what I desired. This impulse I have for revenge is not faith and this desire I have for this kind of justice is not what you have asked of me. I read your word and see these things:

“Do not kill.” Exodus 20:13

“Pray for your enemies.” –Matthew 5:44

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…While we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of is son.” – Romans 5:8, 10

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” Proverbs 24:17

You never told me to be nationalistic. You never commanded me to have an allegiance to a nation. You never required that I take out my enemy. You never told me to kill in response to killing.

I cannot rejoice. Forgive my desire to cheer.


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