Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for October, 2007

A Record Breaking Day

Well, folks – thanks to YOU readers (and a comment I posted in response to Naverette’s CNN commentary yesterday), Midnight Musings received a record one-day number of hits yesterday: 264!

fifth_fastest.pngWe also reached two other milestones yesterday: number 5 on the “Fastest Growing WordPress Blogs” list and 1,000 total hits on the blog since I moved it to WordPress in August.

Thanks again for visiting, reading, and above all, commenting!

Out of the Ashes

I get most of my news aurally from NPR and when the kids are not home, visually from CNN.com, so I am just now watching video of people in California returning to the ash piles that were their houses.

People had to evacuate quickly, and their goal was to get themselves and their most precious belongings out intact. And what did they take? When they had less than 5 minutes to get out, when they didn’t even have time to grab shoes, what DID they grab? Their family photos.

Interview after interview, evacuees tell us either how glad they are that they had time to save their photos or how they are mourning the photos left behind. Interviewers ask, “Were you able to get anything out? Pictures…anything?” Furniture, cars, clothes, and even houses can be replaced, but we all know that family photos are priceless treasures.

But really, it’s not even the photos themselves that are irreplaceable, but the memories, stories, and celebrations they represent. For some, a photo of a loved one is the only tangible thing that’s left. Photos link us together with other human beings and give us a way to tell our own life stories. Photos help us remember and celebrate, and be remembered and celebrated by others. Photos link us with the past so we can forge our future.

So even though houses have burned, homes will be recreated – and family photos will be a huge part of that.

If you are not preserving, documenting, sharing, and enjoying your family photos with those you love, please email me. As a Memory Celebration coach, I am passionate about helping people celebrate and share their lives and their stories.

If your photos are so important that they’re the first things you’d grab in a fire, what’s holding you back from enjoying them now? I can help you with that.

Neither Judge nor Jury

Obviously, the Dumbledore revelation has the world plugging its ears and shouting at the top of its lungs – again (still?) – about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of homosexuality. It is interesting and sad to me that so many religious people who have strong opinions on this issue (either way) have not taken the time to study for themselves what the Bible says nor to pray for the wisdom to interpret the scriptures with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Several years ago, my husband and took a class studying what the Bible says and doesn’t say about homosexuality. Or more precisely, we took a class that discussed how various interpretations of the Bible apply – or not – to homosexuality. The intent of the class was to present, in as balanced a way as possible, the views and arguments on most sides of the issue. I personally did a 360 in the class – I ended up with the same opinion I had when I came in, but for a totally different set of reasons! These were my conclusions from the class after 6 weeks of study:

1. There are just a few versus in the Bible that even obliquely reference what we know as “sexual orientation. ” None of the passages explicitly references homosexuality – a term not even coined until the late 1890’s – and condemnation of that particular sexual orientation (whether genetic, as I believe it to be, or chosen) doesn’t seem obvious based on the text when Biblical textual context, historical/cultural context, and nuances of the original Hebrew language are considered.

2. At Baptism, we are adopted as children of God. Although we may turn from God, God will never “unadopt” us.

(I think all people do, by virtue of our human nature, turn from God. I believe this is a consequence of the free will with which were were endowed by God.)

3. ALL sin is regarded equally before God and that ALL people fail and fall short under the Old Testament law. No one can redeem him/herself in God’s eyes by adherence to the law or through actions taken on earth.

4. Jesus’ life shows and the Word tells that the most important commandment is to love: God first, yourself next and your neighbor as yourself. Over and over again, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with questions of law, he responds in love, regardless of the law, for the people affected. Love truly is the answer!

Generally speaking, Lutherans believe that to go to heaven, you must believe and be baptized. Since faith itself is considered a gift, and baptism represents God’s adoption of us into God’s family, both “belief” and “baptism” are really acts of God, not acts of humankind.

gavel.jpgPersonally, I am at peace with my current stance on homosexuality, though I will continue to seek input from others who disagree or have differing nuances of opinion.

I am so thankful that I do not need to judge for myself who is or isn’t going to heaven! I am so often wrong at unimportant things that I would never trust my own judgment on something so important. I feel that my job is to do my best to reflect Jesus’ love for me by loving and showing love to everyone through word and deed (more than enough work there to keep me busy for the rest of my life) and leave the judging to God.

Dumbledore: Does it Matter?

In the most earth-shattering Harry Potter news since book 7 was released this past July, author J.K. Rowling revealed at a reading at Carnegie Hall last night that she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”

harry-potter-7-release-night-in-hudson-oh.jpgAs a devoted Harry Potter fan (albeit a relative Johnny-come-lately since I didn’t catch on to the pheonomenon until 2002, several years after book 4 was published and before book 5), I must admit that I was shocked by this news – but mostly because that possibility had never really entered my mind! I regularly read The Leaky Cauldron for all news Potter, but I don’t read or post on Potter chat boards or read fan fiction where Dumbledore’s sexual orientation had apparently been questioned before.

I knew immediately that this news would cause a huge uproar, so it’s been interesting to watch the comments on Leaky and in blogs across the ‘net.

There are two sad things happening. First, that SO MANY people are saying that this news will give “Christians” another reason to hate the book. Those folks are very wrong. I believe that people who oppose the content of the book in the name of Christianity are misappropriating the title (of “Christian,” that is). The central message of the series isn’t witchcraft or homosexuality, but the power of pure, selfless love. And that’s the ultimate message Christ was sent to earth to reiterate to humanity.

The second sad thing I see is people questioning their own love of the character based on this new information. What has changed about Dumbledore? Not one thing, really! So why would someone who loved the character before feel any different today?

When I was in college, a dear friend of mine revealed that he was gay. I was taken aback at the time, and unsure how I would – or should – interact with him. But after much thought, I realized that not one thing had changed. Everything I loved about him as a person and a friend was just the same. He hadn’t chosen to be this way – no one grappling with the pain of denying who (s)he is for years upon years would choose that struggle – but even if he had, I don’t think it would have mattered.

Some people are criticizing Rowling for revealing this information about Dumbledore. I’m seeing comments like, “If his sexual orientation was so important, why didn’t she make it more apparent in the books?” The answer is that it WASN’T important! In fact, she revealed this aspect of the character for the same reason she has been revealing so many deeper aspects of so many of the characters – in response to direct questions from fans who, like me, have been so drawn into the multi-dimensional characters she created and fleshed out that we just can’t learn enough about them. (Thank heavens they are only characters in a book because it’s positively voyeuristic the way we crave more details about their lives!)

I’ve also seen some comments now criticizing Rowling’s humanization of Dumbledore in book 6 and 7, questioning whether she is somehow stereotyping homosexuals by making him more human. This is just patently ridiculous. In contrast to the first 5 books, when the character is less developed and more single-sided, the Dumbledore we know and love by the end of book 7 is revealed as more human, more capable of human failings and frailties, and yet more heroic and beloved in spite of – and possibly because of – them. In this age of flat, one-sided fantasy t.v. characters, Rowling’s devotion to very imperfect human characters is admirable.

[By the way, please don’t misunderstand me. I do NOT think homosexuality is an imperfection. Dumbledore’s human frailties, as discussed in the books and by Rowling herself, include an early lust for and potential to abuse power, a desire to manipulate and control people around him, and the tendency to trust people who perhaps should not be trusted.]

Baby, You CAN Drive My Car!

We need to redefine “education” in this country and we need to do it NOW.

Education in the 21st century must NOT emphasize memorization of facts and figures. Back in the 19th century (and even into the early 20th) information was not easily accessible – books were still a cherished sign of wealth – so it made sense for schools to drill facts and figures which might be needed later into children’s heads. Plus, far fewer people were formally educated, so there were fewer people able to personally pass information on to their children.

Society and culture have changed dramatically in the last 100 years. Information is readily available in books, at libraries, and online. Facts don’t need to be memorized, but they DO need to be retrieved efficiently. Education needs teach people how to retrieve the information they need and assimilate it with what they already know. In other words, education needs to teach people how to learn.

I touched on this subject back in August in my blog post titled “Old School Skills” when I argued that though learning to alphabetize is an important foundation skill, being able to look words up in a dictionary isn’t.

Now, I do believe that a certain basic body of factual knowledge is necessary for efficiency. Kids need to quickly recognize by sight commonly used words so they can spend their time comprehending the meaning of the text instead of sounding out. Knowing basic “math facts” quickly allows you the freedom to do more complex math more efficiently. A grasp of a general timeline of basic American and world history helps you see the bigger social picture. These are still “facts” that education should teach.

But over and over again, I interact with adults who rely on their knowledge of facts and have never learned how to learn. The “Taste of Tech” blog has a fantastic entry on this topic.

As an educator, I LOVE teaching people and seeing the virtual cartoon light bulb appear over their heads as they “get it” – that is, when they take a new piece of information, fit it into what they already know, and make it retrievable for them in a new context. But as the “Taste of Tech” blog points out, “If you are writing down step-by-step directions to do things, and blindly following them, you are hopelessly lost in this society. If you cannot do something you’ve never done simply because no one has taken your hand and shown you how to do it, I don’t want you teaching my kids.”

Six weeks ago, I was demonstrating some new software to a small group of people. One person in the group had been using the software for several weeks, had sat with me one-on-one for training, and had attended three other demonstrations in the past two weeks. She asked a very specific and completely off-topic question. So as not to derail the entire group, I mentioned that she could find the answer using the help menu or help icon . This person actually came up to me after the demonstration and asked to be shown the help icon – then tried to write down in her pages of long-hand notes where “help” was.

This person has her own laptop, has been using computers and Microsoft software for years, and was even a long-term school sub and high school teacher – yet she had no idea how to access the help menu. This person does not know how to apply old knowledge to new situations. She does not know how to truly learn.

dodge-charger-rt-2006-20060503040316497.jpgTo me, this is as ridiculous as saying you can’t drive a car because you’ve never driven THIS PARTICULAR car before. Most cars are so similar that 60 seconds of orientation is all you need to be able to drive someone else’s car, because you have a basic body of facts and general knowledge you can apply to this new situation. The key goes in, the ignition is ignited, you shift into drive, and you drive. I can even drive my parent’s 1/2 ton semi truck because the basic principles are the same. Sure, I won’t be as comfortable in an unfamiliar car – just as I’m not as comfortable in a new or different software program – but I know where the steering wheel is, how to work the pedals, and how to use the turn signals.

“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

Changing History

The concept of changing history used to be science fiction. One of my all-time favorite t.v. shows was “Voyagers!” where Phineas Bogg and Jeffrey Jones traveled through time to “fix” history that had gone wrong and get it back on track. I’ve blogged before about the nature of reality as a function of perception. Today, more than ever before, we have the power to alter memory, effectively changing reality. This bring up some interesting practical issues and sometimes thorny ethical ones.

On a practical level, the advent of digital photography allows anyone to alter her own reality. Creative Memories’ Memory Manager software makes it easy to change photos in all sorts of useful ways. Crop your photos, adjust light levels, and even use the clone tool to “erase” unwanted blemishes. As useful and fun as these features are, they are a form of altered reality. How much is too much?

In this fascinating article, a doctor talks about a split second choice to deliberately alter 10 minutes of a young mother’s reality through the administration of a memory-erasing drug. Ellen had chosen to undergo surgery for a suspicious bone tumor with only local anesthesia and the pathologist, not realizing the patient was awake in the operating room, announced over the intercom that the tumor was definitely a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer. The anesthesiologist immediately administered to Ellen a drug that caused her to fall asleep and erased the last 10 minutes of her memory. She woke up calm and happy at the time, although she was told about the cancer at a later date and ultimately died from it 6 years later, never knowing that 10 minutes of her reality had been altered.

As new as this issue feels, we humans have been struggling with “reality” for centuries. The psychological state of disassociative memory disorder is a physical way the brain copes with trauma, essentially altering reality to something the person can handle. But this is a rare disorder. Much more common is “selective memory” where only some of the events in an experience are retrieved. (I think this is also called “aging”!)

So is altered reality a good thing? How much alteration is too much? When is or isn’t it appropriate to alter reality? I suspect we will uncover similar questions and struggle for more conclusive answers in the coming years.

Invisible Women

I don’t know where this story originated. If anyone finds (or is) the author, please let me know and I will happily give credit where credit is due! The piece was emailed to me and I thought it was too good to keep to myself. (For the record, I did correct a few grammatical mistakes in the original sent to me.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’ Obviously not. No one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: “Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?” Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Pick me up right around 5:30, please.’

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude — but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going … she’s going … she’s gone!

One night, a group of us was having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean.

My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

20050705_sprinklestchapelle.jpg

In the days ahead I would read — no, devour — the book. And I would discover what would become for me four life-changing truths after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals — we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.’

And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’ely4.jpg

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.’

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder, as one of the people who shows up at a job that she will never see finished, to work on something that her name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand-bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, ‘You’re gonna love it there.’

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

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