This morning I watched a short video that helped me pull together several chains of thought that have been running through my mind. The video was of a speech Nancy Lublin, founder of Dress For Success and CEO of DoSomething.org, gave at a fundraiser a couple of weeks ago.
There is a lot that is motivational and inspirational in this speach, but that is not why I am writing about it here. What really caught my attention comes near the end.
Lublin is quite outspoken about some of the problems in the non-for-profit world, and one of her points is that we allow non-profit organizations, and non-profit CEOs an boards to underperform because of low expectations. Non-profits are not held to the same standards as for-profit organizations. If a for-profit company underperforms it fails. All too often not-for-profit organizations are propped up by well-meaning boards plagued by low expectations. This does not serve anyone well and is counter-productive.
"There are so many crappy not-for-profit CEOs out there who are being employed by people who know better. Review them!"
"I am not a charity. I run a charity. Those are two very different things. And if we want the best minds solving the biggest problems, it's time we learned the difference."
I spent the weekend surrounded by water.
Although I did not live on the water in my previous home, I saw it daily. Its presence was a daily reminder of its combined power of calm and strength, its power to bring life, and yes to destroy. I had forgotten how seeing the Hudson outside the windows revitalized me, calmed me and fed my introspective and spiritual side.
I had not realized it was the water itself I missed, how much the ebb and flow, the ripples on the surface, or the flat reflection of an external reality mirrored and calmed and enlivened my own reflections. Ocean or river, lake or pond, it is not really the size that is important, although a fountain won't really do, nor really a swimming pool, although I had one of those too.
I am not about to move in the immediate future. This is not the time; I know this. But I also know, deep in my heart, that I will live within sight of water again. Perhaps next to water, perhaps not. But the water will be present, and when that time comes, I will be at home in a different way than I am now. This is the time and the place I need to be in right now. My talents and my creativity need to be in this place to be expressed. At the right time, water will feed my soul again, and something else will bloom. There is time. There is always time. If we let it be.
The plan this morning was for an early morning walk. I still plan to walk, but it is not yet safe:
My neighborhood is fairly quiet and there is not much traffic, but there are no sidewalks. Here at the top of the hill, visibility is perhaps 200 feet, but the hollow, dense with fog, is less than a quarter mile's walk and the fog is growing more dense as I write.
Ahh sleep, and with sleep comes settledness and renewed energy.
My head had been filled to bursting with ideas and inspiration, as well as no shortage of lingering doubts and fears. In fact, over the past few days a few cracks and fissures were in evidence, moments where my inner three-year old burst out in a torrent of words driven by uncontrolled enthusiasm. Of course this was replaced, later, by my own personal "OMG" moments. That part of my upbringing that insisted "our people are controlled people, who count success in living a well-measured life" insists on having the last word. Combine that with my basic inclination to never live up to the standards I set for myself (I tend to judge myself far more harshly than the world) and several days of non-sleep due to sinus problems, and well, let it suffice to say that emotional control was a bit lacking.
But now, due at least in part to the passage of time, and in part to the wonders of modern medicine, although I generally avoid medication except as a last resort, my sinuses are mostly cleared and I have managed to sleep. Now my wandering thoughts are less a deluge, and more a mannerly, although still swirling, flow.
First there was my weekend in Florida, at a workshop on establishing a lay pastoral care network at Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra. It was a weekend filled with exciting ideas and possibilites; a weekend which really helped me move forward from a point of "we need to build a stronger community relationship of care", without really knowing how to get started, to a "this can be done" mentality. Then this weekend there was a workshop here in Knoxville at The Church of the Ascension, called "Invite, Welcome, Connect" on building a newcomer ministry. Although the focus of the two workshops was different they also meshed together incredibly well.
Two statements stood out:
"Are we a friendly community, or a community of friends"
"Are we playing church or doing church" which I could also translate as "Are we playing community, or doing community", because the two are intrinsically intertwined.
A church community must be, first and foremost a community. Yes, there is some core that sits as the foundation, but that core is played out in action, is played out in the way one lives one's life. A community of friends is, at its core, a closed community. A friendly community is open and welcoming, willing to accept that at our core, we are all the same, and that we all have important stories to share. Many people come to a church driven not out of a strong foundation of faith, but out of a need for community, a need for love, a need for caring hearts and listening ears. We all hear the messages Christians claim to profess: "God is love", "Love thy neighbor as thyself", and there are times when we all seek nothing but love, hardly believing it can be true. Unfortunately very often, we find it it is not true. People are drawn to community, are seeking community, and how that community interacts is what makes it grow as a whole, and also helps its individual members grow to meet their own potentials as well as expand the potential of the group. It is not what we say that professes faith, or love, or a caring soul; it is what we do and how we interact.
It is community that drives me, drives me far more than any individual differences in the details of faith or belief, culture, or any other arbitrary criteria that we humans use to distinguish ourselves from other humans. Community must be warm and welcoming, but it must also be connected, willing to listen and accept, and through that caring relationship with others, care itself is a central concept. We must be caring. We all need to be cared-for, but we also all need to care for others. It is a central part of relationship. It is also a central part of human nature. We humans are designed to be in relationship with others. We complement each other. We are meant to complement each other and we seek community. We seek out relationship. Through relationship we seek care.
"Invite. Welcome. Connect"
Open Hearts, Helping Hands, Caring Communities.
Would that these were our guiding principles. Yes, I recognize that my own dream, of a world interconnected through personal relationships, a world where we do not have to divide ourselves into little walled enclaves of our own defined beliefs and sacred shibboleths, is not likely to materialize in my own lifetime. But that does not mean it is a not a vision worth striving for. It doesn't mean we don't sometimes fall short. We are all merely human after all. But we strive for something more, something greater than ourselves. Any vision worth striving for, is also worth the stumbling blocks, worth falling flat on our face on occasion, worth the effort to pick ourselves up and try again.
The backbone of the watering system is in place. Next comes planting.
A small community of plants are waiting at the transfer station (my driveway) looking forward to their relocating to their new homes.
All remains in transition and I am once again struggling to keep on track. It is not that I do not have enough time, there is enough time for what needs to be done, and what isn't done is not truly important. But still I struggle. I am not good at the day to day routine stuff, keeping everything together and neat and orderly; or more exactly I am organized and I can be good at that, but it is a background activity, a support structure as it were for my more free-flying thoughts and inspirations. And I am in free-flying visionary mode right now, filled with ideas and plans and not therefore very efficient at the mundane day to day details. Not that I am actually a detail oriented person by nature. I only do details when they capture my fancy, relate to a specific vision or goal, are a means to an end.
And so, here I am with a plan for the activities over the next few days, and a schedule of what must be done by when, but in the meantime I am easily distracted by other things, and there are piles on the dining table and my desk, which would drive me to distraction except that at the moment I am ignoring them.
Far more important was noticing the sky yesterday late-afternoon/early evening, about 2 hours before sunset. The sky was a deep cerulean blue, lightening and brightening toward the horizon, but still saturated with color. It was a painterly sky, filled with puffs of painterly clouds. Although the play of light highlighted texture and color and the clouds had weight and presence in the air, they also seemed so bouyant and light, ephemeral even. Is it possible to be simultaneiously weighty and ephemeral?. It popped into my head that if you crossed cotton candy with popcorn and let the result float freely in the air like a balloon, this is what you would have. It is not profound image. I apologize for that. I tried to take a picture with my phone from my car. Mistake. I really need to learn more about photography, take more time, pay more attention. The artifact from the car windows, the assorted telephone poles and wires, had more life than the sky behind them. Of course this too could be a metaphor, how sometimes we need to look beyond the everyday clutter of our lives, and see the perfection of the sky that lies just beyond the fringes of our attention. It was one of those moments when reality looked more like a painting than it normally does, one of those moments where art and life coincide, were the real and the ideal align for just a moment, and if we are looking capture our breath and reward us wtih infinite possibilities.
Oh my, here it is Thursday again! My schedule has been pretty much off-track all week, but at least the train is still running. So what am I thankful for today?
1. Autumn. Even though the temperature is still warm, or once again warm, I love the cooler nights, the colors of the changing leaves, the different scent in the air and the shift in the angle of the light. Fall is my favorite time year. Not surprising for a person who's favorite liturgical season is Lent. Both make me want to pull inward, reassess, reaffirm. Both make me seek purpose and intentionality.
2. Apples. Fresh apples in all their many varieties are one of the joys of fall. I never liked apples growing up. All I knew were standard grocery store apples, red delicious I think they were, still my least favorite variety. I didn't learn to love apples until I moved to apple country. Although there are a wider variety of apples available in the grocery store today, I am happy to live in a place where there are apple orchards nearby.
3. Homemade yogurt. I can buy yogurt, even good yogurt, although not every store in town carries plain, unsweetened & unflavored, whole milk yogurt, much less organic whole milk yogurt. I buy organic milk from pastured cows. I make my own yogurt. It is still cheaper than the stuff I buy, but that is not why I make it. I make yogurt because I can, because it easy, because I can strain it to the thickness I like. I make my own yogurt because I can choose the cultures to make my yogurt the way I like it, creamy and rich, with a subtle tartness and sweetness, although I suspect much of that is due more to the quality of the milk than any effort of mine. I make my own yogurt because it brings me joy.
(pictured is a small bowl of yogurt, almond butter, and syrupy black-walnut balsamic vinegar)
Driving home from Florida, we stopped in North Carolina and bought apples. We had been discussing applesauce, and although I hadn't actually made applesauce since I left New York state, I was game, so we split a half-bushel of Cortlands.
A large part of yesterday's general busywork revolved around tasks in the kitchen. I made a pot of chicken soup, which was pretty much a guaranteed success. Then there were my experiments: applesauce and lemon meringue pie.
I ended up with a little over 3 quarts of applesauce with enough leftover apples for a pie. I am freezing the pie filling for future use, as I plan some experimentation to perfect my gluten-free crust. The applesauce is being frozen in pint jars, although I only had 3 on hand, so the rest of the applesauce is in a bowl in the refrigerator, waiting for me to pick up more jars this afternoon. That is, if I manage to avoid eating it before I get the jars in the house. I hadn't forgotten how superior homemade applesauce is to the store-bought stuff, but I guess I had forgotten how utterly delicious it really is.
Even using only one kind of apple in this batch, I was impressed with the depth of flavor in the finished applesauce as well as the subtle sweetness (I added spices but no sugar). My applesauce is darker than some because I simply wash and quarter the apples before cooking. I am a lazy cook and I'd rather run the cooked apples through a food mill than peel and core the apples, especially considering that these apples were on the small side. The skins enhance the flavor and even though my apple skins were not deeply red, they still added depth to the color of the finished applesauce.
The lemon meringue pie was a less successful experiment. I used to make this pie all the time but I had never really written down the adaptations I had made to the original recipe to make it successfully gluten-free. I knew I used a cookie crumb crust, made from ready-made gingersnaps, but I had not written down the proportions and a few other details. I was hoping to make the pie again this weekend for a dinner party, but thought a test run was in order since it has been about 4 or 5 years since I have made this pie.
The pie looked beautiful although I knew there were a few issues even before the first cut was made. First of all, I had the proportion of butter to cookie crumb wrong. Butter melted all over the oven while the pie baked and made a mess. The resulting cookie crust was too dense and a little oily, although the flavor was good. Since the dripping butter made a lot of smoke, I took the pie out of the oven too early. This wasn't evident until I cut into it, when it became apparent that the center was still just a touch too soft; another 5 to 8 minutes of cooking time would do the trick.
The bigger problem is my own ambivalence. It is not really a question of taste, the lemon part of the pie is nicely tart and lemony and it sets off the sweetness of the meringue nicely. Even so, the pie was just too sweet for me. This surprised me. I've been plagued with a sweet tooth all my life. It was a good thing my mother didn't keep sweets and desserts in the house when I was a child because I would have been sneaking around stealing them. I always had a stash of candy under my bed. In 7th grade I took my lunch money and bought a hot-fudge sunday for lunch every day for at least half the year. Even 4 years ago, although I ate sweets rarely, once I started I couldn't stop.
Now, it is not that I never crave something sweet; I do, but a small piece was enough. A small piece of this pie however was too much. I always assumed I would bake things for others if not for myself. Now I wonder. I wonder even if I want to make dessert for Sunday. Perhaps store-bought cookes and ice cream would be enough. Personally I would probably prefer some cheese, a little fruit, and some coffee or dessert wine. I wonder how that would go over. What is the worst thing that could happen? People would think I am weird and not come back?
I think I need to reconsider my menu.
The backhoe person is here today and my patchy grass is quicky becoming nothng but a memory. Strange as it may sound, I think the bare ground actually looks better than the scraggly grass. I suppose this is good since scheduling conflicts have delayed the sod until after October 6th. I reserve the right to change my mind if it becomes a sea of mud, however I think at this point even mud is filled with promise.
Not that activity will stop: the sprinkler system goes in this week and after that new trees will appear and the flower beds will start to take shape.
In the meantime it is noisy and the cats are piled up on my desk, making work somewhat difficult. They follow me around whereever ago, happy to have me back, probably also reassured that I am here while strange people are making loud noises around the house. The noise disrupts my chain of thoughts as well, and it is a better day for general busywork than for activities that require focus.