Thursday, June 26, 2008


Since I broke my wrist a month ago our household appliances are suffering a wave of sympathetic malfunctions. Our dishwasher has now been out for over two weeks. Our hot water heater sprung a leak last weekend and we just had a new one installed this morning. One of the two heating elements in the stove stopped working; the repair man for that is coming on Monday. We also had a guy in today to look at the DSL which has been slow. This on top of a couple of household accidents directly attributable to my being handicapped and clumsy and attempting to do stuff I shouldn't have been doing.

It makes one wonder whether the universe is trying to tell us something. But the answer is no. The universe (code for God) doesn't arrange the world in order to teach us specific lessons. I don't believe God has that power, and theologically a loving God would find a way for us to learn what we needed to learn without inflicting pain and suffering. That doesn't mean there's nothing to learn by paying attention to what's happening around us but the lessons are what we draw out of our experiences and observations, not something embedded in them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

back to the gym

With a broken arm I couldn't keep up my regular exercise practice. Cycling is out. And so is most of the gym routine I usually follow. I can't grip free weights, and a lot of machines require even pulling from both hands. And for the first few weeks after the accident (I'm now in week five) my left leg hurt too much to put weight on it so even cardio was out.

All this puts me in a dilemma because exercise is one of my most potent spiritual practices, as well as exactly what I turn to when I'm feeling run down and depressed. Now when I most need a spiritual and psychological lift, I'm denied it. But with the leg finally feeling better I felt I could ride the stationary bike.

So I went to the gym for the first time yesterday and enjoyed it so much I went back again today. I rode the bike for 40 minutes each day and sweated and felt physical and felt my legs moving and feeling strong. It was bliss. When I went back today I also hunted around for some weight machines I could do. I found three: a chest machine where you hold your arms out and use your elbows to bring your arms together in front; and then two leg machines: a leg raise and a leg extender where you lie in the machine. I also did two sets of bicep curls with my left arm. Although I'm worried about working just one side of my body it felt so good I just had to do it.

zombie arm

I got my cast off on Friday. New x-rays show that I'm healing but slowly. The doctor transfered me to a brace instead of the cast but held off starting me on physical therapy until he sees me again in two weeks with the idea of letting the bones have some more time to heal.

The hand was pretty disgusting under the cast. It had been nearly five weeks since the bike accident that shattered my wrist and broke the radius bone of my right arm. In all that time I hadn't been able to wash the arm, and although it had stayed fairly clean, dead skin had built up and it smelled like rotten flesh, which in fact it was. The nice thing about the brace is that I can take it off to wash. I couldn't wait to get home and give my hand a thorough wash and take a shower.

But even cleaned up the arm is pretty bizarre looking. The wrist is stiff. I couldn't move my wrist more than about 2 degrees (now it's up to about 5 I'd say). I also can't rotate it even 90 degrees. (If you hold your hand out straight, elbow at your side you should be easily able to rotate palm down to palm up - 180 degrees). It's swollen so it looks a weird shape. And I've still got the bandages covering the six inch scar running up the inside of my arm where they put the metal piece and screws iniside.

Worse than the way it looks though is the way it feels. It feels like the life has gone out of it. Like I don't have control of it. Like it isn't "me." The experience calls to mind questions of identity and whether the "I" is really dependent on the body or separate from it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

old seed

An Israeli scientist was able to grow a date palm from a 2,000 year old seed. The seed was found at Masada, the hilltop fortress beside the Dead Sea built during King Herod's rule and destroyed by the Romans in CE 73. Dr. Sarah Sallon planted three seeds of several that were collected during the 1960's. One germinated and is now a healthy plant about three feet tall. This makes it by far the oldest seed ever to sprout. What's more this plant comes from a line of date palms that were famed for their taste and quality but had died out.

Please Be Courteous

Because my congregation rents worship space just for Sunday mornings I don't have an office. And because I live about 30 miles away from the community I serve I often find myself needing a place to hang out between, say, a lunch appointment and an evening meeting. A local Starbucks has become my de facto office. With a cell phone, a lap top, and internet access, I'm all set.

One evening last week I emerged from Starbucks to find the following note slipped under the windshield wipers of my car:

Please Be Courteous. This parking lot is for Orchard Village Plaza Customers only. We applaud those who choose to carpool and to Park and Ride, however, our parking lot is not big enough to accommodate those who do and still have room for our customers." The note then told Park and Ride customers where they should park and warned that cars parked against the policy could be towed at owner expense.

It bothered me that I couldn't defend myself. I am a customer! I am courteous! How dare some stranger think ill of me. But I also liked that so many more people are taking public transportation that commuter parking is overflowing.

does size matter?

Yes it does, concludes three social scientists, but it's not what you think. In their article, "Does size really matter?: a reexamination of Sheldon's somatotypes and criminal behavior" the authors (Sean Maddan, Jeffrey T. Walker, J. Mitchell Miller) present their findings that persons entering prison (they examined 5,000 Arkansas inmates) were more likely to be athletically built (around 2/3 of the prison population) than either overweight or skinny. Their research confirms the connection between physically fit body types and violent criminal activity implied by William Sheldon's earlier work.

Of course a correlation does not imply a cause. But I understand the correlation. One of the reasons I go to the gym is that I enjoy the feeling of strength and power it gives me. For me strength and power is a spiritual gift leading to self-discipline, mental health, leadership and the ability to care for others, but I can see that for other people physical strength and power can lead to violence. I also know as a physically fit person I'm more comfortable in risky situations because I feel I can take care of myself. Thus my physical fitness exposes me to potentially violent situations other folks would avoid.

On the other hand I can think of at least two reasons that physical fitness would tend against violent behavior. One, physical exercise relieves negative emotions like depression or anger. I come away from the gym happier (less prone to destructive behavior) than when I went in. And exercise makes my body more attractive, my social standing increases and I'm led away from anti-social behavior.

You can purchase the article here.

why I'm not down at the court house signing marriage licenses

I'm excited about the new ability of same sex couples to get legally wed. And I love to hear the stories from colleagues who have spent the last few days, especially the first day, Tuesday, at the court house being part of the celebration. There's an important part of the ministry acted out here, public witness to a justice victory. I've also attended rallies and press conferences for that purpose.

But it's never been part of my call to ministry to sign marriage licenses. I do it as a convenience to the couple when I perform a legal wedding, but I would just as soon clergy weren't involved in that bit of state business. The couples who are marrying on the first possible day on the court house steps are looking for a legal witness, not a spiritual ceremony, better handled by a court official than a minister.

I have performed many weddings for same sex couples over the 10 years since my ordination. I look forward to performing many more in the future and will sign their license if they choose to receive legal recognition. But planning a spiritually meaningful ceremony, particularly in the Unitarian Universalist practice of making every ceremony unique to the couple, takes time and careful consideration.

mariage equali-tees

Some very good friends of mine have designed several cool tee shirts with slogans supporting marriage equality. They're for sale at cafe press. And $5 from every sale will go to support marriage equality in California. (Remember we still have to defeat that ballot initiative in November.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

green glasses

I've been literally unbalanced with the broken right wrist. Since the accident I've been awkward, and clumsy, and weak, and also tired all the time as the bones are using up all my energy trying to re-grow. My decreased physical capability has meant I do a lot less, and when I've tried to do too much I've often ended up making a mess of things.

One small disaster was that I sat on my glasses a week ago. I'd laid down on the couch for a rest, taken off the glasses, laid them next to me, and then when I got up crushed them, snapping off the right ear piece. ( I broke both my glasses and my body on the right side). I wore them without the ear piece for awhile, balancing them on the left ear and my nose. And then I had a chance to get to the optometrist and look at some new frames.

They had some lovely stuff but at $300 or $350 for the frames, plus new lenses, plus I wanted to get a pair of sunglasses in my prescription, too, which I didn't have before, it got to be really expensive. The lady at the optometrist herself suggested I go back to where I bought the old pair not to repair them, which would be impossible, but just to replace the one broken ear piece. It hadn't even occurred to me to think I could buy a replacement part.

So I went to the old store. They looked up my record. I had bought the glasses 10 years ago, but even then the style I had selected was 10 years old. They couldn't find an exact replacement but she found something pretty close so I bought new ear pieces for the right and the left so they would match. Total cost: $150. And instead of a second pair of sunglasses I'm just going to buy those plastic ones that clip on and flip down.

Saving money is nice. But it's also nice to re-think the idea that anything broken has to be replaced with something new. And although part of me still cringes at the idea that my glasses are 20 years out of fashion, I realize that idea too is just a fiction our culture sells us. The truth is they look pretty cool.

what are you so happy about?

lots of good news lately.

Supreme Court ruling affirming the right of Habeus Corpus, and rejecting the Bush ploy to give the Presidency unconstrained power by declaring a permanent war.

The Democratic Party choosing a black man as their Presidential nominee. This is at least symbolic of a major evolution in US racial attitudes, and will change the dynamics of the discussion on race. It's a civil rights milestone if not a complete victory.

Clinton's candidacy has also changed the dynamic of the discussion. She has shown that a woman could be elected, or at least be the nominee of a major party (she nearly was). My guess is that a major party will nominate a woman within 20 years, and we'll have a woman president within 30. (non-Christian and gay candidates will have to wait awhile longer).

California's Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. My husband and I will make it legal within the next month or two.

High gas prices - yes it hurts - but sales of gas guzzling SUVs are way down, less polluting smaller car sales are up, public transportation ridership is up. Less pollution, less global warming, less traffic. And the cars on the road will take up less space and be easier to see around. All for the price of $4.50 a gallon. I'll take it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

cool online art tool

today's favorite website.

preaching without a manuscript

Due to my wrist injury I'm not able to use my right hand for typing, which made preparing a manuscript for Sunday problematic. Instead of laboring with one hand (as I am now) I decided to use the opportunity to try preaching from notes.

The congregation was very supportive and the experience went well. People remarked on the "of the moment" quality and the higher level of engagement. One person said it was even a better sermon than usual, despite this being my first attempt. I prepared way too much material and went way over time but no one seemed to care.

I'll continue to preach from notes for the next few months as my hand heals and look forward to developing a new skill. But I'm still of two minds about the practice. I miss that at the end of the sermon I haven't produced a written document that I can share or publish. I miss the beauty of language and the careful progression of an argument that I've always seen as my real talent. The no manuscript style seems to lend itself to story-telling and personal observations, which people clearly relate to and enjoy, but sermons can also be effective when they are abstract and theological. I've never had any problem preaching in a manner which is lively and engaging even though I'm reading a text.

Perhaps because both seem to have their appropriate use the positive outcome of this experience is that I'll be able to choose one or the other depending on what I'm hoping to accomplish in that week's sermon.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

11 screws

I saw the post-op x-rays of my wrist yesterday. I counted 11 screws: 4 extending up the forearm, another 7 into the wrist, all held in place by a tee-shaped piece of metal buried under the skin. The surgeon said I had basically shattered my wrist and my injury was among the most severe he has treated short of the cases requiring amputation.

It occurred to me that in the very recent past my injury would have resulted in permanent disability, or indeed amputation. In much of the world without access to healthcare, that would be the result even today. X-rays for medical use were first developed only in the first decades of the 20th century. The developments in orthopedic medicine have given me a very different prognosis then I would have had even a few decades ago. I have some insurance, and can afford to pay my share of the cost, and I have access to a highly skilled surgeon.

Our lives seem so routine. But we also live forever very close to radical change. How close we are to tragedy depends not only on our personal care and attention to safety, but also on whims of who we are, and where we live, and when.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

16 days to make a fist

I went back to the surgeon today. He cut off the original cast, cleaned up the arm a little bit (this was the first time I had seen my arm since before the surgery because they put the cast on while I was still knocked out) and took new x-rays.

Everything seems to be going along fine. I now have a new cast, smaller and lighter than the first one, thank God. And I have a new challenge. When the doc sees me again, on June 20 he wants me to be able to make a full tight fist. Right now, under their own power I can curl my fingers toward my palm but they won't quite touch. I can't move the top joint of my thumb at all using just my will. I'm to practice daily and he says iy will get stronger.

When I see him again he'll take off this cast, put me in a brace and then I start physical therapy