Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"And I Learned Some New Things Too"

On March 25, 2010, I was privileged to speak in Ms. Marian Greiman's Human Development class at Garner-Hayfield High School. My niece Jordan Blank helped host my time there, as it is a class she is taking. Jordan and I observe in our vlog (which she made before heading to track practice!) how it is possible to be related to someone and still not know things that are important to understanding the dynamics of that person's life.

The students were very attentive and asked thoughtful questions. I hope they now feel more comfortable learning about disabilities that shape the human condition. More than that, I hope they become more willing to meet and interact with people whose bodies happened to have formed differently than theirs.

Highlights of the day in quotes:

"And I learned some new things too."

"It seemed like everyone in class listened the whole time. You held their attention, even some that I know, for them, it isn't always easy to do."

"Thank you for saying what you did about not believing God did this to you. That has made all the difference to me. My brother has cancer, and I've been having a hard time. And you just helped me with that so much. I just want to thank you."

I hope to keep the dialogue going - to keep sharing about things that aren't always easy to talk about. Life gets exponentially easier when you realize you don't have to figure things out on your own.

Thank you, class. Thank you, Mrs. Greiman. Thank you, Jordan! (And, thank you, Krista, for your help too.)


Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't Call People Names

Name calling. When you are young, you know it is wrong whether you are the one calling out the offending word or the one on the receiving end.

Dummy. Butthead. Baby. Dork.

Or what about ones that might sting worse? Crybaby. Gay. Faggot. Stupid. Retard.

I can't even bring myself to type the n-word as anything other than "the n-word."

So isn't it obvious? Name calling is wrong.

When you are young, you know it. Because if you call someone a name, you get in trouble at school. When you are young, you even believe that name calling is something people grow out of. You believe that adults don't call each other names... Until you notice that they do. Then you - while still young – begin to take your cues from the adults.

Democrat. Republican. Liberal. Conservative. Radical. Right-wing.

Babykiller. Socialist. Tea Bagger. Gay-lover. Homophobe.

At some point you start to recognize that name calling holds inherent power – that people use the words – the labels – as a power ploy. And when you start to feel like you want to do it too, you figure out why. It is powerful.

Turning someone into an object makes him or her easier to handle. Yes, handle. For when a person becomes a word - even if the word represents an idea – the person is an object. Objects can be handled. Objectified. You can assign value to an object, and the value of an object can be "no-value-at-all." In fact, you can even disregard an object. After all, if an object has lost its value to you, why do you need it any more, anyway?

Objectification has occurred with women for years. If that weren't true, we wouldn't have so many ways to verbally smear a person that have roots with the feminine gender.

Sissy. Slut. Whore. Sleaze. Hag. Witch. Bitch.

Or how about the most basic: You ... you ... you ... you, Girl!

When a woman becomes an object, her thoughts and feelings no longer matter as much as what she represents. She then learns to navigate her relationships as if walking through a mine field. Which step - which person - has the power to destroy her? Which person has assigned her life as having diminished, little or no value?

Other life circumstances can turn you into a category that is easily objectified as well.

The sick, the poor, the malnourished, the uneducated.

In my life, I moved from a YUPPIE, to a woman who had had a miscarriage, to a mother of a child with disabilities (i.e., a handicapped child) in less than one year. After briefly courting the helplessness that came with my increasingly diminished labels, I knew I had to do whatever it took to avoid moving into even more maligned categories: divorced, bankrupted, unemployed, depressed.

So if children know name calling is wrong. Why don't the grown ups?

Are they too busy categorizing and labeling to notice what is going on? Are they afraid of something that seems more easily handled when objectified? Is life easier, somehow, when they turn those who think differently and live differently than they do into objects?

I hope that is not what is going on. But I wonder...

Stross still knows name calling is wrong. He still remembers what it felt like to be called a "retard." I remember that day too. When I picked him up from school, he was noticeably distraught but too confused, too scared to share what had happened in an articulate way. Instead, he sat in the van shaking, searching for the words to tell me what had happened. Finally the words came pouring out.

Then it was my turn to search for words. I wanted the best words to share in a written note to the boys who had taunted and traumatized my son. They needed to know that no one would be able to take away their power to verbally abuse Stross. But he was my son, and I hoped they would not use their power to wound him emotionally. I needed them to know that when they wounded him, they wounded me as well.

I kept a copy of the note I sent them somewhere. Someday I'll try to find it. I don't want to right now. I don't want to remember. I've worked hard to keep my thoughts of them as young boys who made a mistake - not bullies or monsters - because they each are someone's son, too.

A son. A daughter. No one better than the other. Each a child of God. Now that's a label with real power.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ecumenism is the Word

I am aware that many regard "ecumenism" as a dirty word. I am not among them.

Those who attended Mark's and my wedding should not be surprised. It was conducted by a Methodist, a Lutheran and a Southern Baptist. Sorta sounds like the beginning to a good joke, doesn't it? Yet our life together has been no joke. Far from it. Still, neither Mark nor I would have it any other way.

Our relationship - centered on divine love - has informed all of our other relationships: those that existed before we met and those we developed after. We are not the center of each others' lives. God is. But we play an extremely close second. That hasn't always been easy or healthy.

Our individual identities and our shared identity as Mark-and-Joy easily entwine, at times, with other dominant relationships. That makes us a force that isn't always helpful, for example, concerning matters of work (we've shared an employer for more than a decade) or children, namely Stross (and his lifetime of educational and medical interventions). But when we get our synergy moving in positive motion - there is nothing on earth like it.

I credit our marriage to God; I am grateful our marriage has ecumenical roots.

How incredible would it be if the churches of earth could do the same?

I listened with awe two weekends ago as my friend, Debby Chenoweth, shared stories of her 15-day ecumenical journey with the ELCA's Presiding Bishop Rev. Mark Hanson. In February, the ELCA's traveling delegation met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams; His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I; and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, among other global church leaders.

I so would have loved to have tagged along.

As Debby tells in my vlog, this was more than the trip of a lifetime - it was a trip beyond a lifetime. And as she also shares, everywhere they went, she sensed that Lutherans were regarded as being capable of bringing people to the table.

Bringing people to the table. Isn't that what Jesus asked the disciples to do? To go out and invite others in - not picking and choosing who got the invitations - but making the invitations because the banquet table was ready.

Ample food. Ample drink. Bountiful portions of grace and love.

Holy Week is about to begin. Not just in your life but in lives the world over. What does it mean to you? To them? To us?

I hope it means you know you have a seat at the table.

Amen. May it indeed be so.
ELCA Delegation Meets World Church Leaders


ELCA Presiding Bishop, Delegation Meet Archbishop of Canterbury

ELCA Ecumenical Delegation Visits Church of England, Anglican Communion

World Orthodox Leader Tells ELCA Delegation Dialogue Will Continue

ELCA Delegation, Pope Benedict XVI Meet, Exchange Greetings

ELCA Delegation, Roman Catholic Ecumenists, Discuss Future Vision

Dark Chocolate Decadence

Stress eating. It is a real phenomenon. I know from personal experience.

My vice is dark chocolate. The biggest amount of dark chocolate I have consumed in a day (in recent memory) is a 220-calorie Dove bar (five melt-in-your-mouth squarish sections) with three–maybe even four–Lindt Lindor extra dark chocolate Truffles (melt-in-your-mouth round balls). That makes an additional 150 to 200 calories.

Basically I consume a whole meal's worth of chocolate to feel better about my day - and I do it one piece at a time until I feel a return to equilibrium ... or intense guilt about what I've consumed.

I like to think that awareness of my weakness is the first step to controlling it. I hope so. But the Lindor Truffle slogan is "Do you dream in chocolate?" and I actually think I might. I also think I don't want to regain control. I've read the studies. I know about the science. Dark chocolate helps me somehow.

No pretending. No pretense. I rely on dark chocolate to give me an emotional lift nearly everyday.

On a continuum of vices, I am aware that dark chocolate isn't horrendous. Still, I could do something a bit more healthy - even if it means limiting the amount I consume. More than that, I don't like the weakness I feel when at the mercy of chocolate. I'd like to eat chocolate for enjoyment, not for stress relief.

I'm not alone in my stress struggles, either. My husband, Mark, has a food vice too. He relies on Little Debbie Nutty Bars and buys packages of them without me around–because he knows I won't buy them for him. Dark chocolate is one thing. But nutty bars? Not even in the same league, if you ask me. But that is Mark's issue to deal with. He has his food vice. I have mine.

Actually, we have a shared vice as well: chocolate-frosted raised donuts. But this food habit is decidedly more controlled. We have agreed that every Saturday we are each allowed one donut, accompanied by a wonderful cup of decaffeinated coffee. But lately, something else has begun to occur in our home. I could try to explain it, but it is probably more fun for you to see for yourself.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Designing Women

Because my blog is dedicated to answering the question, "Who am I now?" only I know what I might be compelled to post from one day to the next. (Feel free to think or say aloud, "Duh!")

Earlier this week I was in Chicago for a meeting of The Lutheran Advisory Committee, a group charged with guiding and directing the future of The Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I am currently the chair of this advisory group; and during our time together, I felt a renewed sense of pride about what the staff accomplishes each month. Telling the faith-filled stories of this more-than-4.6-million-member denomination is surely daunting. The people of this denominational identity are compelled to do "God's work with our hands," and the work being done is spread throughout more than 10,239 congregations in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. As a matter of church polity, that breaks into 65 synods in 9 regions - a daunting reporting task for a staff of nine plus a parcel of contributing writers. Still, this talented professional staff gets the job accomplished every month, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Another part of who I am is a professor – an educator who sees opportunities for lessons and learning no matter where I go. That is what's going on with this vlog. Amber Leberman, web manager and associate art director for The Lutheran and its associated publications, graciously recorded it with me just before I left to catch my plane.

Why did I want to record it? Well, I believe many think of themselves as a good designers - at least to some degree - even people who aren't employed as designers. However, few stop to think about what lies at the core of good design – and even good designers have to be reminded from time to time. If I had to sum it up I'd say it like this: "It's about the audience, stupid."

(No, I don't call my students stupid or even think of them as stupid. I'm just rephrasing a cliche'. And, remember, students taking Editing, using a cliche' is bad. So much for teaching by example. *sigh*)

At least listen to Amber on the topic of design. She knows what she's talking about. So does art director Michael Watson. Michael, I'll put you on the spot next time. Be warned.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stross and I Discuss Life...and MTM

Most days I can ignore the reality that someone who has graduated from high school is usually living separate from his or her mom and dad or guardians. But now that my oldest has graduated from high school, how he spends his days weighs heavier with each passing month. That's because it is more clear than ever that Stross' life choices - his quality of life - are Mark's and mine to shape.

What a blessed and holy responsibility.

Those who have heard me speak or present know the clinical reasons why this is true - for I openly share information about the intellectual and physical disabilities that shape our shared life journeys. I won't share the details here - only because I think it is unnecessary. The conversation I have with my nearly 19-year-old son speaks for itself.

Stross and I recorded it on a day when he was bored spending time with me. His dad and brother had gone to cheer on our local basketball team in the state tournament, and we were left spending the day as we saw fit. Part of our day was spent talking, and our conversation is pretty typical of how deep we are able to go, even on a deep topic.

I love it when Stross asks a question or makes an observation about life that is profound in its simplicity - like when we helped the new president of our college locate the building in which he was to participate in a class as a guest speaker.

Stross' remark afterward: "We have to help the president know his own college?"

Me: "Yes."

Simple yet profound.

Stross could just have easily said this about the president of the United States: "We have to help the president understand his country?" Yes - with only the purest of intention - we, the people, have to help the leaders we look to in all walks of life.

We are interdependent. Our shared and individual successes depend on the assistance we extend to and from the greatest to the least of these.

I wanted to capture this conversation with Stross to help me remember things simple, yet profound, and to remind me how well he understands the dynamics of life - far more than we sometimes give him credit for.

The big topic in this conversation: life expectancy. However, you will only see the part that I was able to recreate to some degree. There is one part I didn't want to recreate. In fact, I didn't even try, because it shook me a bit. Stross asked how old he will be when Mark and I die.

I said only, "Pretty old."

I thought about a lot more things than I said.

We have a lot to do before then.

We have a lot to get ready to be certain his quality of life will continue beyond ours.

What simple but profound issues are you pondering these days? May you find the help you need, as you need it. That's what I'm counting on.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Evening with Ben Klipfel - Theatre Talk

I enjoyed yet another opportunity to vlog with a friend. (Can "vlog" now be used as a verb? I think so.) This past Saturday, Ben Klipfel took shelter for a night in our themed guest room known as The Elvis Room. (Not that we have an "unthemed" one.) Because of Ben's official duties as the college's alumni board president - and our volunteer contribution as his lodging provider - we enjoy catching up with him on a regular basis.

Mark and I first met Ben as a Waldorf College student in our respective classrooms. We remember him basically as he is today: intelligent, passionate, driven, talented, creative and challenging (in a good way). As with all the students we teach, we enjoyed watching Ben absorb every learning experience possible.

Ben's time spent as student body president has served him well during his four years as alumni board president, and he continues to passionately serve his alma mater during a tumultuous time of transition. Whenever he comes to town, we always enjoy catching up on how he's being led to spend his days. This time we got to hear about this master's degree thesis and swap stories of our shared passion: live theatre.

Our vlog conversation is a quintessential Ben-and-Joy conversation ... well, almost. We both were on our best behavior, somehow avoiding an argument about a random topic that two other people might not find disagreement on. But, of course, we aren't just any people. We are thespians at heart who find poetry and deep meaning even in life's most shallow moments.

On this night, we stayed on the deeper end of observation. Ben even offers this platitude: "Weber is to Sondheim as Handel is to Mozart."

Isn't that positively ... well ... delicious?


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beautiful Moon

A full moon on Sunday, Feb. 28, was absolutely beyond description. It was also beyond the capabilities of my flip camera - but I had to try, and I am glad I did.

This clip reminds me to close my eyes and picture the way the moon really looked like that night: luminous, brilliant, enormous, magnificent, detailed, friendly, inviting.

While Mark and I drove toward our actual destination, it felt as if we were trying to reach the moon - and that if we drove all night, we could maybe get close enough to touch it. Just maybe.

O, Universe, you are too magnificent to grasp. Too wonderful to comprehend. Thank you, God, for allowing us to be part of some greater whole.

Hello, God. Hello, Universe.

Hello, Moon!

Friday, March 5, 2010

God Does Not Pinch

Sometimes - more often than you would think - I encounter someone who shares a remark such as: "God sure knew what he was doing when he gave Stross to you and Mark." Or "I think God gave you Stross as a gift because he (Stross) can help you learn something about God."

I don't ascribe to the theology that shapes those statements - a belief that God causes babies to be born with birth defects, albeit, if only for a good reason.

I don't ascribe to the theology that shapes unspoken (but known to exist) thoughts either - a belief that God gave us Stross because of something we had done and that we needed to be taught a lesson. Stross, they assert, was to be our tutor.

Now here's what is most fascinating to me: Stross has been a wonderful life tutor - a definite gift from God. But I have never believed - nor can I imagine ever believing - that God knitted Stross together in my womb defectively. Not on purpose and certainly not accidentally. It simply happened, because that's the way things go sometimes in this imperfect world we live in.

Usually those who make the comments noted above are uncomfortable with my refusal to believe in a God who makes malformed babies. Even if for a reason. But I simply cannot believe in a God who "pinches." (That sentence won't make sense until you watch the video.)

In today's vlog I share a guilty story about something I did when I was probably 9 or 10 years old. What happened on the day I describe is likely the reason I never - not even for one second, honestly - have been mad at God about Stross. Oh, I get mad at the world and other people sometimes concerning circumstances related to Stross - but never mad at God about Stross' life condition or how it has shaped our future.

I wonder what you will think after you listen to the story.

I also wonder if the people who make the comments I shared above ever stop to think this: If they are right about God giving me Stross to teach me a lesson, he or she should really pay attention to what I have learned because of Stross, despite my protestations.

God has given me a lot to say.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. - I was sick last week: a monster cold. Feeling better now, thankfully!