Your LinkedIn Profile: An Obituary in Progress?

As I updated my Linked In profile today, it felt like I was writing an early draft of my obituary. Perhaps the difference between the two documents lies mainly in timing. A LinkedIn profile covers work in progress. An obituary doesn’t show up until our work is done.

Since LinkedIn is a professional tool, the information has to fit certain parameters: keep it positive; use active verbs; highlight results; quantify accomplishments. I tried to do those things. But as I crafted my profile, I thought about the transitions from one position to another. Words on paper convey a certain inevitability; they even create their own reality. But the real reasons for job transitions might be different from the ones we announce. After all, we know that professional transitions are supposed to look seamless and logical. Defensible. But transitions are rarely seamless, and in my life, at least, might appear to make little sense. Yet there is more to life than logic.

Why did I leave a successful church position in order to write a book, for which I had no publishing contract? What about salary, benefits, pension? Why did I take a lowly job as an administrator when my previous positions had entailed significant responsibility? What about the career ladder?

To an outsider, my decisions might appear daft! But I did not make them based solely on bettering my finances, or climbing a ladder. Like many people, I was following my sense of the Spirit’s leading.

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2015 Intentions

One of my blogposts was among the 14 most-read Christian Century blogposts in 2014. Perhaps I should use foul language like “stinkin'” in my titles more often! My thanks to all of you for reading, and to the good folk at CC, especially Celeste Kennel-Shank and Steve Thorngate who curate a tremendous amount of blog material related to church, religion, spirituality, culture.

Onward to 2015! Do you write Resolutions or Intentions? Some people scoff at the practice, but each year I choose a phrase to remind me how I intend to live my life in the year ahead. It helps me focus. My 2014 intention was Do the Work. I often muttered this to myself as I sat down to write. It was so helpful that I even renamed this blog, which used to be Work in Progress. I prefer the verb: Do.

My 2015 intention is similar: Love the Work. (You might remember that I’m borrowing the phrase from Gordon Lightfoot.) May all of us love our work in the year ahead! Isn’t that one of the secrets of happiness? Work is one way we become ourselves.

Want to share your intention for the year ahead? I’d love to hear it.

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A Reversal of Communication

Today I got a haircut. The stylist is competent so I have a level of trust.  In fact, I wonder why she works at Hair Cuttery. (Though I’m glad she does.) English is not her first language but we communicate well enough. I mentioned that I was letting my bangs grow out a bit and was pushing them to the left side. She proceeded to cut the hair and style it from the right side. Then she admired her work.

Oh well. A right/left mistake. An easy fix once I get home, right? Dyslexia exists in every language! I was proud of my ability to forgive her.

Then, as I stared in the mirror I realized the error was mine. You’ve already figured it out, haven’t you? Mirror reversal. An elementary error.

I wonder how many of our communication problems are sometimes at this elementary level. A miscommunication between two people who have some measure of trust, revealed in a moment of thought, rectified with ease, and conquered with a smile.

But if this mistake had involved a scissors and the lopping of many inches of hair, we’d be at a whole different level of conflict, right?

Maybe I’m thinking about communication and conflict because the General Assembly of the PCUSA is meeting right now. I’m holding the commissioners in prayer.

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Move Along Lake Wobegone

Garrison, You've Had a Really Nice Run, but

Last night my family went to see Prairie Home Companion at Wolftrap. Doug grew up in Minnesota (Golden Valley). We met there, married there, and our daughters were both born there. All told, I lived there a decade. So we had earned our spot on the lawn.

It was a beautiful evening, weather-wise, and the crowd was Minnesota-mellow. I’d packed a nice picnic and our daughters were able to meet up with us as planned. The entertainment was enjoyable and all the radio pieces were in place, if a little worn around the edges. The best part was a song about Washington, DC, which had a feeling of freshness. All in all, it was a perfect evening.

Another item off the bucket list! Now you can retire, Garrison.

Seriously. You can retire.

Retirement is not a bad thing. It creates a little space in the world for the next thing to appear.

Maybe I sound like what I am — someone who used to listen “back when” PHC was a Minnesota show, not a national one. Back when things that happened in Lake Wobegone were a delightful surprise. Back when tater tots could be a punchline.

I have some compassion for the next generation. There are only so many really prime spots, career-wise. When you’re in one, it’s important to pay attention, and know when to move on. It’s part of the legacy process.

Garrison, you’ve had a really nice run. But honey, it’s time to move along.

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Protect that Work-in-Progress!

Mockingbird vs. Kitty

Wrangler, the Poet.

Wrangler, the Poet.

There are mockingbirds nesting in our neighbor’s tree. Whenever our cat, Wrangler, goes outside, one of the mockingbirds flies over and dive-bombs her. So Wrangler streaks across the yard looking over her shoulder, then escapes into the storm drain.

I feel for the mockingbird. Some work-in-progress needs aggressive protection!

I wonder if Wrangler will want to write another haiku.

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Amish Fiction vs. House of Cards, Utopia vs. Dystopia

paradise-valley-by-dale-cramerEarly in the week I read a novel about an Amish family that moves to Mexico to begin a new community where no one will force them to send their children to school.

I’d never read Amish fiction before so I thought I’d try it. Cold February nights call for warm diversions.

The story is simple and sweet. Although there are moments of tension, everything turns out well for the main characters, who are noble.

I thought: Why do people read this stuff?                            It skates over the difficult parts of life.

house-of-cardsLater in the week I watched the first episode of the newly-released Season 2 of “House of Cards” about Frank and Claire Underwood, who will do anything to become more powerful, including lie, cheat, and murder. (According to the Motley Fool, 600,000 people binge-watched the entire season last weekend!)

The story is complex and upsetting. Although the sounding bass of the theme music frequently indicates impending drama, everything turns out well (so far) for the main characters, who are amoral. (From one season to the next I had forgotten just how amoral!)

I thought: So this is why people read Amish fiction. Because life is difficult and dark enough.

How about you — do you prefer Utopia or Dystopia?

EDITED TO ADD: Check out this interesting blogpost by Peggy Noonan in the WSJ, about the real life politicians who are spouting the lines of the fictional characters, on camera no less. Yes, let’s “pretend” our politicians are amoral because nothing could be further from the truth, right?

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2014 Intentions: a Word

As the old year ends, I like to choose a word or phrase that captures my intention for the new year. I might put this phrase on a card over my desk, or at the bottom of my emails, somewhere I’ll see it with some regularity.

My 2013 phrase was: “Be Lighthearted and Gracious.” My mental image for that phrase was a fluffy white feather. The extended version — the commentary, or midrash, or hashtag — was: “Remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

The phrase was helpful to me, especially during a time that was professionally difficult. I won’t pretend I succeeded in being gracious, but the intention did serve as an anchor, which is the point.

My 2012 phrase was: “Close the Loop” which is still a mantra of sorts. At any rate it helps me get the clothes out of the dryer, or empty the dishwasher.

Now I’m choosing my 2014 phrase. I’m entertaining this one: “Do the Work.” I have a massive amount of writing to plow through and it is rather intimidating.

Do you choose a word or phrase for the year? Want to share?

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The Secret to Happiness: Want What You Have

I know the secret to happiness. Do you?

If you don’t, just ask my daughters. I’m forever telling them. Which is super-annoying, I’m sure.

“Want what you have.” Isn’t that easy? Four words that lay out the path to happiness. Embrace what you have.  Don’t want what you don’t have.  Find the gift in this circumstance.  This relationship.  This job.  This season of life, whatever it is.  Want it, and dig into it.

“Want what you have.” Four words that are easy to say, but difficult to live.

For the past three weeks or so I’ve really been struggling. I haven’t wanted what I have, I’ve wanted something different. It’s pretty non-creative actually. I want to have more money. I want my book to be a bestseller. I want to have a flat stomach. I want to be the minister of a congregation again, but not a real congregation, a dream one that doesn’t make any demands on me.

The truth is that I’ve made some difficult choices in the past few years, by leaving ministry to write. To earn some money I do administrative work on a part-time basis. I answer the phone and take care of correspondence. I’ve learned Excel and Quickbooks. The work is for a worthy organization. But sometimes it’s hard to work for an hourly wage after I’ve had the status of being “the minister” for so long. I’ve been the one giving the administrative person directions, not receiving them.

But I want/need to contribute to the family income. I have been going halve-sies on income with my husband for almost 30 years now. We have an egalitarian marriage and that has always included finances.

“Want what you have.” But the truth is that I want things I don’t have. Money. A bestseller. Professional status. A flat stomach.

But there is a deeper truth. What I have is enough. We have enough money for our modest life. My book is not a bestseller, but the writing between the pages doesn’t embarrass me. And while I’m grateful for my decades of ministry experience, I was also ready to move on. The reason I moved from parish ministry into writing was because I felt called to it by God.

And do I really want to fall into the female pit of thinking that how I look — a pound or two around my middle — is the difference between happiness and unhappiness? Would I want my daughters to think such a thing?

I’ll tell you what clarified this muddle for me. I noticed a posting for a ministry job and immediately had a surge of powerful feelings. I thought: I could do that, I need to do that, I would be somebody if I did that.

Then my Sub-conscious spoke up. She said: Don’t you have a book to write? Don’t you want to love what you already have?

It was an epiphany, like popping a bubble.

So I’ve decided to love what I have: the work.

And I will exercise my faith, and trust that God will lead me to the next place. Seems like the thing to do during this season of Advent.

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The Secret to Happiness

I occasionally play a game of Sudoku before bed.

I play puzzles that are “Medium.”  For months I’ve been looking forward to the day I could manage to move up a step, to “Hard.” (“Hard” really is hard.)

The other day I tried a game that was “Easy.”

It was fun. I whizzed through the puzzle. I felt smart and competent.

Who knew? Maybe life doesn’t have to be so Hard all the time.

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God Bless Antoinette Tuff

In case you missed the story of Antoinette Tuff, Here it is from NPR.

A 20-year old man, armed with assault weapons, entered a school building full of children. He encountered Antoinette Tuff, who was the school clerk. She called 911, and then she handled the situation, but in a most unusual way.

She talked to the gunman. She asked his name. She told him her own story. She treated him like a human being. Because she SAW him as a human being.

“I just started praying for him,” Antoinette Tuff said. “I just started talking to him … and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be OK.”

Read everything about this story. It is better than any sermon. Have you ever known anyone who lived out Jesus’ words more fully? Her compassion prevented great harm. There was nothing naive or foolish about her actions. But she was grounded in prayer.

“She asked the suspect to put his weapons down.”

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