Friday, July 11, 2014

Cosmology of Christianity


This week I’ve been caught up in an idea.  The article above has perhaps unintentionally given me a new tool in my theological toolbox.  The author uses the word “cosmology” in a new way – at least for me.  He talks about the cosmology of Christianity.

Now cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe.  We have gone through many different cosmologies in the history of science and the field (much like the universe!) is continually expanding.  However today most agree it starts with the Big Bang and proceeds from there.

In Christianity (not Christendom and there is a difference) the Big Bang would be Jesus Christ – his birth, life, death and resurrection.  This event lasted longer than the Big Bang obviously, but this is the place where it was formed. Some might argue that Christianity started with the formation of the universe and I can see that viewpoint.  After all, did God not create all of space and time?  But I postulate that Jesus was Christianity's Big Bang.

After the Big Bang, within nanoseconds, much of the universe was set into existence.  Within nanoseconds, the constant Pi was set to be 3.14 and so forth.  With different initial conditions, Pi just as well could have been set to 3.16….  And our universe would be different.  All of our constants would be different – Pi, Phi, e, square root of 2, i, the speed of light and so forth.  Mathematically all of them are related.  If you change one, you change the others.  And another idea – all mathematical constants are somehow inside all the others.  They are intricately linked.  The mystery of Pi is that it somehow contains the universe, but I digress.

If there is such a thing as a cosmology of Christianity and Jesus is our Big Bang, then our constants would be our essential doctrines and all of them are intricately linked together.  There are lists of such things and if you hold to all of them, then you are called “Orthodox.”  All flavors of Christianity have them in common – and they all start with Jesus.  (And I am NOT going to go down rabbit trails at this point debating what is and is not essential on this list, but needless to say there are commonalities.)

And just as mathematicians might have one favorite mathematical constant (mine is Phi or the golden ratio -- yes mathematicians are weird) then people might have their favorite doctrine.  Each of us comes to the journey from a different place and will each walk a different path.  I asked various people what they thought was the most essential doctrine of Christianity outside of the person of Christ and I received different answers. 

One of my daughters said, “Forgiveness.”  There’s a lot packed in that one word – enough to write entire books about.  One of my friends said, “The Law of Love.”  She meant the statement, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, minds, soul and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  Another said, “Imago Dei” or the Image of God from which we were created.  For me it’s actually the concept of the Trinity – the fact that God exists as a network of relationships and we have been invited into that relationship.

For the author of this article, it’s the church being the Bride of Christ.  Now from each of our own favorite doctrines we get a certain spin or twist on our faith.  For me, since God is actually a network of relationships, I feel that relationships are very important, almost primary in the way that I deal with this world.  For someone who answered Forgiveness, then forgiving and being forgiven is primary.  And so forth.


If your starting point is the church being the Bride of Christ – well there are many very interesting places you can go with this and I’ll talk about that tomorrow…..

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dissonance

People are interesting.  I love to people-watch.  And in my years of people watching I have noticed something.  People like to verbally claim one thing, act differently and then really think something entirely different from number one and number two.  Yes, you probably have noticed this as well.  Technically I guess we could call it the Formal, Informal and Tacit and these adjectives can be applied to many things: Formal, informal and tacit structures.  Formal, informal and tacit power.  Formal, informal and tacit doctrines, actions, value systems, learning, organizations and so forth.

If the three are wildly different it can leads to quite a bit of disharmony – both within society and within ourselves.  When we say one thing, act another and believe a third, we end up seriously conflicted.  Again there is a technical term for this – dissonance.  This is actually a musical term that means that the notes being played are “sour.”  I found a lovely quote on Wikipedia from Roger Kamien’s 2008 book “Music: An Appreciation, 6th Brief Edition” that says:

"An unstable tone combination is a dissonance; its tension demands an onward motion to a stable chord. Thus dissonant chords are 'active'; traditionally they have been considered harsh and have expressed pain, grief, and conflict."
—Roger Kamien (2008), p.41

Dissonance is ACTIVE and UNSTABLE.  It wants to move to stability. The more mature one gets, the more the formal, informal and tacit become harmonious and this mature one is said to be Wise. 

We have loads of problems in this world that cause quite a bit of dissonance.  For instance, those of us who are Christian know we need to assist the poor, the dispossessed, the outcast, the least, the last and the lost.  We say it aloud to one another.  This is our formal belief.  Informally (the way things really are), we set up our structures and organizations to be, well, not poor-friendly.  I have noticed a trend to charge for VBS, for instance.  The costs can range according to region, but most of the time, it prices VBS out of a poor person’s pocketbook.  Yes, I know there are scholarships – but how available is that knowledge to the congregation?  Is there a social stigma that will go along with it?  Tacitly, in our heart of hearts, there are those among us that are happy that the poor can’t brush elbow with our kids.

Which brings me to the subject of honesty.  How can we set up a safe place for honesty?  Most of us that live in a dissonant state know that if people really knew what we believed and thought, we would be judged and found lacking.


So let’s be honest – we ALL have those thoughts.  We all have some thoughts and beliefs that are not quite up to the high and lofty ideals that we profess with out mouths.  We all are human.  None of us really and truly live up to all of our ideals.  Let’s be honest.  We are flawed.  I think it’s worse for us to not admit that brokenness than it is for us to not live up – to not be perfect.  Yep, that’s the up and down of it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How to Have an Argument*

Now I know that not everyone is a Monty Python fan.  I think Monty Python is probably an acquired taste, rather like olives.  I really didn’t like the first bits of Monty Python I saw as a kid.  The rudeness and crudeness of the comedy just turned me off.  As an older teen and adult,   have developed a taste for  some of it (along with Greek olives but not green ones.  Yuck.) I now understand why some of their sketches are hilarious  -- they stretch the ridiculous so very far that your reality just breaks.

The “I Want to Have an Argument” skit is one of those.  If you have never seen it, YouTube has it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdoGVgj1MtY&feature=kp.   This skit shows a series of lovely (ha!) examples of how NOT to have an argument.  The first “argument” that the protagonist has with an opponent consists of a stream of vile abuse.  This is NOT an argument.  The second argument consists of just contradictions.   This is NOT an argument (Oh yes it is!  Oh no it’s not!  Yes it is!  No it’s not!)  The protagonist then goes to the complaint department – complaints are not an argument.  The final argument is the “being hit on the head” lessons.  Not an argument again but which IMHO is about as painful as some so called arguments.

If you have been out and about recently, cruising on the internet or IRL (in real life as the kids say), I am certain you have probably run across someone who likes to hit you over the head with their opinions and call it an argument.  Or doesn’t offer you a real argument or discussion and just contradicts everything you say.  Or just wants to complain about this or that, these people or those people without ever developing a real argument.

So how do you have an argument?  I would like to offer up some suggestions (take ‘em or leave ‘em.)

First – no yelling. Please. Really, I mean it.  No yelling.  This includes TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS ON THE INTERNET. Yelling never ever gets your point across. If you want an illustration of this, just watch Parliament sometimes.  To be honest, have you ever really listened to a person who yelled at you?  It can be painful, it can be scary; it most definitely can be frightening.  I think it shows a basic disrespect and it’s just rude.  The only time it’s appropriate to yell is when you are talking to me in a noisy, crowded place and I yell back “What??” because I can’t hear you over the din or when you are cheering your kids at Little League.  Seriously, no yelling.

Second – be polite.  Use your nice words like “please” and “thank you.”  As my mama used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” (actually I did a scientific experiment last year in the kitchen and discovered you can catch them with both, but that’s not the point.)  Why no yelling?  Why use your nice words?  Because each and every one of us is made in the Imago Dei – the image of God.  By dissing one another, we are showing disrespect for that Imago Dei within the other person.  Treat that other person with the same respect you would show Jesus and you won’t go wrong.

I think about conversations and fights.  A good argument should be a conversation – a dialogue with one another and not a fight.  I watch my husband and my kids spar in Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do.  At the beginning of a match, you shake hands.  If you greet each other with respect , you actually can build a relationship.  If you approach another person with your arms open and your hand extended, usually the other person will do the same to you.  If you approach the other person with your guard up, ready to throw a punch or block a punch, you are going to be blocked.  Enough said.  A real argument, an honest argument and a Christ-filled argument – no one is going to go away bleeding.  We are called to love one another and not pummel each other to a bloody pulp.

Third – logic is your friend.  People think that logic is hard.  It really isn’t, you just have to be intentional in learning a few things.  First lesson in logic:  If A, then B. A is true, therefore B must be true.  This is a valid argument – it’s good and if you get this you will pass the class.  If the sun is shining and it’s a clear day, then the sky is blue.  The sky is blue, therefore the sun is shining. Another?  The classic example:  All humans are mortal.  Socrates is human, therefore Socrates is mortal.  Not too hard.

Second lesson in logic – the opposite works differently. The argument,  “If A then B.  Not B, then Not A.” does not work.  An example: All humans are mortal.  Socrates is not a human, he’s a cat.  Therefore Socrates is not mortal.  This obviously does NOT work because as we all know, even though it is said that cats have 9 lives, they are indeed mortal. I’ve lost enough cats to know this is not true.

This is the basis of formal logic.  You can judge an argument valid (or good) or invalid (not good) by these two lessons.  There is also a brand of logic called “informal logic” and there are many, many more ways to judge an argument valid or invalid.  A few example are: Ad hominem, Straw-Man, Appeal to Authority, Slippery Slope, the Hitler Card, False Burden of Proof, False Causation, the Fallacy Fallacy, Appeal to Emotion.  There are more – just use the internet to look them up.  These fallacies (or errors in argumentation) are so prevalent in today’s society. They are insidious.

In an Ad Hominem fallacy, you attack the person rather than the warrant (argument) directly.  For instance, Jane argues eloquently for apples in school lunches.  John who does not want to pay for apples because he thinks they are expensive and he doesn’t like red and green foods (OK stupid reasons I know, but roll with it please) doesn’t address apples at all at the PTA meeting, instead he attacks Jane saying she’s a big idiot, smells funny and dresses her kids weird and so her idea about serving apples is also idiotic, might make you smell funny and make you dress your kids weird.

I see this kind of fallacy all the time.  I saw it at annual conference a couple of years ago when a “no-brainer” resolution came before the conference – an anti-bullying resolution.  Of course we are anti-bullying, aren’t we?  Who likes a bully?  Anyway, the person who presented the resolution was of a minority that some people don’t like very much.  Therefore, we don’t like this resolution.  Sigh.

I would like to say this: even people we consider complete idiots can occasionally have a good idea.  Occasionally they can be right. Really. That includes anyone you don’t like: Adriana Huffington, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Marcus Borg, Rick Warren.  It doesn’t matter why you don’t like them – occasionally they actually might be right.  Adolf Hitler, one of the most despised people of the 20th century, could say, “The sky is blue” and this statement be true. (This is an example of the Hitler Card, btw.)  You need to judge the argument by its own merits, not by how much you love or despise the person making the it.

Likewise, the opposite is true.  Someone you admire and see as a role model in your life can be wrong.  Your greatest hero could say, “The sky is green.”  Just because this is your hero and you love them doesn’t make the sky green.  This is an example of an “Appeal to Authority.”  Sometimes people know what they are talking about and sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes actors know a lot about salad dressing (I love Newman’s Own) but sometimes they don’t (what does Harrison Ford think about salad dressing – beats me!)  Ask this: does this person actually make salad dressing?  Do they have a PhD in condiments?  Have they published papers on how to shake up oil and vinegar into tasty concoctions?  If the answer is “no,” you might want to give their opinion or stamp of approval a pass and find a real expert or even (gasp!) research it yourself.

Fourth – Listen.  As my mama used to say, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth.”  You should listen twice as much as you speak.  Listen not only with your ears, but with your heart. 

Please y’all.  I am asking for a favor.  Please be civil to one another as we work through our society’s problems.  Let’s engage in civil discourse, civil discussion and use just a little logic here and there.  After all, we are all in it together.  We all share the same planet.  Peace out, ya’ll.



*NOTE: (and I’m not yelling)  This was written to be light in tone about a serious topic.  The tone was meant to be humorous and not mocking; it was not meant to be disrespectful or patronizing.  Please take it in the manner offered.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Vacation

We've been on vacation for about a week now.  First the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and now Mexico Beach.  I love the beach.  I don't even have to go into the water to enjoy the beach.  This beach is a tad too crowded for me.  I'm spoiled by Dog Island, Sapelo and St. George.  I'm used to being the ONLY person on the beach.  People a quarter mile away are just too close.  Also the houses and condos are way too close here - I'm just a recluse at heart.

Katharine Hepburn used to have a sign at the end of her beach house driveway that said "Please Go Away."  I understand that sign all too well.  I'm still tired of interaction with people.  I know where it comes from - I deal with way too many people who always want something out of me.  I know that it comes from dealing with the indigent and those who really need a hand up - or a hand out.  I know that I am "taken" too often by those who probably see me as an easy touch.  But I do it anyway and then I end up where I am right now - antisocial.  I'll be glad to be back and by Sunday I'll be myself again.  But right now I'm OK with being in this condo with just us.

I've noticed that my attitude toward food has changed since the last time I was at the beach.  I can't eat (gorge) on beautiful huge seafood platters anymore.  Bill and I have to split a platter.  That's OK because we save money and it means that the surgery has worked for me.  I'm content to split a platter.  All I need is one or two bites of truly delicious food to be content.

Food is still enjoyable - I just can't have that much anymore!

I have also noticed that my bathing suit really doesn't fit anymore.  Today I'm going to have to wear a bra under the suit - which will look funny but it will keep everything where it need to be.  I'm planning on wearing a shirt over the bra and suit to hid all the extra straps.  Added benefit is that I'll have that much more sun protection!  Maybe by the next time we come to the beach, I'll have had skin surgery to take care of some of my problems...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reflections upon Vacation

It's been 4 1/2 months since Weight Loss Surgery and I've lost 50+ pounds.  I have at least 100 more to go, if not 150 so I'm not excited yet.  I have a certain amount of hanging skin already.  I'm really concerned that I'll get so much, I'll look like Elephant Woman or a Shar Pei.  The kids say that I've been "deflating" instead of shrinking.

I honestly can't tell except that my legs and arms are smaller.  I still have a double chin and a HUGE stomach.  I suppose it's time to exercise more, but I have a tremendous reluctance to go "out" to exercise.  I have an exercise bike and I have purchased a really nice set of hand barbells.  I also need to walk more.  I'm still wearing the same clothing as before - it will seem more real when I start needing new clothing.

I'm also looking at pictures of people who have had skin removal surgery and really thinking about what that might entail for me.  The stomach thing and the "batwings" are the most distressing for me.  Grandmother had a very large amount of skin hanging on her arms that it was almost disabling.  I'm going that way myself.

I think this surgery is going to allow me to truly LIVE until I die ... eventually. I'm not there yet.

*****
I've needed this vacation for quite a while now.  I'm feeling like a piece of chewing gum that's had all the flavor chewed out of it.  I need the recharge.  I'm great about preaching how Jesus took a break from people from time to time to go off alone by himself for prayer and reflection - and I'm lousy at actually doing it.

I've noticed the difference from previous vacations.  Used to be I looked with great anticipation to the next delicious seafood scrumptiousness to be eaten at the next meal.  Now - eh, not so much.  I can nibble off of Bill's platter or the girl's and be satisfied.  I can only eat a few bites at each meal and I want those bites to be excellent: delicious and nutritious. I didn't realize how much of my vacation time was centered around food!  What can I do instead?!?!

I think the NOT focusing on food or photography or watercolors or puzzles or anything else that I am accustomed to doing on vacation has given me more time to be.  Just to be.  I wonder how many of these things I use as distractions. I guess I should turn off the internet as well to do away with ALL distractions.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Optimism and the Board of Ordained Ministry

I am at heart an optimistic person.  Although I am enough of a realist to know to expect the worst possible outcome, I almost always anticipate the best.  I am reminded of Ronald Reagan's favorite joke.  To quote:
"The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities - one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist - their parents took them to a psychiatrist." 
"First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. 'What's the matter?' the psychiatrist asked, baffled. 'Don't you want to play with any of the toys?' 'Yes,' the little boy bawled, 'but if I did I'd only break them.'
"Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. 'What do you think you're doing?' the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. 'With all this manure,' the little boy replied, beaming, 'there must be a pony in here somewhere!'"  - excerpted from How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson
I am that optimist - there's got to be a pony in here somewhere!  I think that we are promised that in Romans 8 - that all things, no matter how good or how bad - in fact how incredibly awful, stinking and horrible - all things will work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. We may not see it immediately - we may NEVER see it, but this is His promise.  And I rest in that promise.

Or as Thich Nhat Hanh would state it:
"'Neither defiled nor immaculate.' Defiled or immaculate. Dirty or pure. These are concepts we form in our mind. A beautiful rose we have just cut and placed in our vase is immaculate. It smells so good, so pure, so fresh. It supports the idea of immaculateness. The opposite is a garbage can. It smells horrible, and it is filled with rotten things.
"But that is only when you look on the surface. If you look more deeply you will see that in just five or six days, the rose will become
part of the garbage. You do not need to wait five days to see it. If you just look at the rose, and you look deeply, you can see it now. And
if you look into the garbage can, you see that in a few months its contents can be transformed into lovely vegetables, and even a rose." excerpted from The Heart of Understanding.
Things just ARE.  Most really are not that different in substance - the good that we perceive cannot really exist without that which we see as bad, just as the rose cannot exist without compost, the rose is on the way to being the compost and the compost the rose.  It's all a part of the cycle.

I was deferred by the Board of Ordained Ministry for a year.  Some see this as bad, awful, rotten and so forth.  I see the pony, I see the rose. I am on the way to becoming the person God intended.  How can this be bad?  All things work together for the good, for those who are called according to His purpose.  If God is for me, who can be against me?  Praise God!  I am becoming.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

One month, two days post surgery.

Tonight the loving husband and I went out to dinner at a new restaurant that features Mediterranean food.  All went well with the hummus and pita bread.  I tried a Dolmos - started to feel queasy.  I ate half of a Falafel - not so good. I ended up in the Ladies' room, sick to my stomach.  It's the first time I actually have lost food.  I guess I'll stick to the blander diet the Doctor suggested.

I end up eating ... meat.  Lots of meat.  I *have* to get in 80 to 90 grams of protein.  If I could eat a steak, I'd have no problem.  But I have a stomach the size of a banana and can only eat every three hours -- just a couple of ounces at a time.

Good news is that I'm down 29 pounds today.  I'll take it.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Day 23

It's day 23 since surgery and I'm down 26 pounds total.  I had hoped for more, but there it is.  I weigh now less than I have in 5 years, so that's good.  I hope to weigh less that I did 10 years ago before I have to go before the board in March.  And I hope to weigh less than I did between children before conference in June.  It's not been easy.  I still am not on a solid diet - all pureed foods and liquids.  Most of the protein shakes I've been drinking have tasted bad - and I just can't stomach them.  My taste buds have indeed shifted since surgery.  I want something different just for the flavor.  I have to force myself to drink 3 protein shakes and eat the two meals (even if they are only 4 ounces!) The worst of it is taking my pills.  I can only take one or two per hour, so it takes HOURS to take my pills.

++++++++++

To continue on with the last posting:
When did I become ready to have the surgery?  Physically, I'm sure it was quite a while ago, but mentally it was when a piece of cake won.  It had power over me.  I gave into a desire for that cake, even when I knew that the consequences were not going to be good because it wasn't my cake.

When I realized that I really don't have power over food, I gave over my desires to a higher power.  Prayer really does work - prayer and meditation.  When I finally realized I couldn't lose the weight on my own, that I needed to do something drastic, it was probably last June.  I researched what I needed to do.

First I needed to see if I would qualify for the surgery.  The surgical center around here needed to see:
  • A body mass index of greater than or equal to 40
  • Body mass index between 35 and 39 and at least one major medical co-morbidity, such as:
    • Respiratory problems (sleep apnea or hypoventilation syndrome)
    • Diabetes
    • Hypertension
I didn't have the co-morbidities, but I did have the BMI.  Not having the co-morbidities is the reason I wouldn't have qualified 15 years ago, but I have gained a considerable amount of weight since my mother died in 2001.

Then I looked at the requirements of our health insurances (I'm covered by two - mine and my husband's).  They were many.
My insurance company require six consecutive months of documented weight loss attempts. We needed documentation for each visit:
  • Vital signs (must include weight)
  • Discussion of and suggestions of diet
  • Discussion of physical activity or exercise program 
  • Discussion of behavioral modification
  • Discussion of or use of weight loss drugs.
In addition, there was an extensive psychological interview.  My husband's insurance had the additional stipulation that I needed to document several years of obesity (which I obtained from my PCP.)

After I gathered all the information, I had to attend a nutrition seminar which was followed up by a one-to-one discussion with the nutritionist.  Then I had to be cleared for surgery by my PCP, a presurgical appointment with the doctor, a presurgical appointment with the hospital, EKG and a two week liquid diet.

This takes a lot of work and perseverance.  And it's only the beginning.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 17 - Update and What I Did Before Surgery

First, I haven't lost anything in the past few days.  I've lost approximately 24 pound since Jan 1 and then I have hit a "stall."  Not unexpected - perfectly normal, but slightly discouraging.  I'm continuing on with the program and I know something will have to give eventually.  I understand that the process MUST have stalls and plateaus.  From what I understand, the lipids (fats) leave the fat cells, but there is still cellular structure left behind. That cellular structure is filled with lymph and "water" - but not all the way.  Water weighs more than fat, therefore I weigh the same amount, although I am smaller.  Eventually the cellular structure gets redistributed and I will lose weight again.  But as with all waiting, the anticipation gets to me.  The tape in my head says things like, "See, this isn't going to work either."

I also need to change it up a bit.  Maybe bump up the protein.  Maybe more exercise.  I need to get on the exercise bike today because it's just too cold outside to walk.  But I think the main thing is to NOT FREAK OUT because I'm not losing weight like I think I should.

++++

This surgery had been a consideration for me for a long long time.  I think the first time I considered WLS (Weight Loss Surgery) was 1994 after my first child.  At that time, I was maybe 40 to 50 pounds overweight.  It took a few months to lose that "baby fat" but I eventually did it and was able to wear a size 12 in between kids.  After my second child, I encountered some medical issues unrelated to weight and gained.  I wasn't too concerned at the time with the weight and put that worry on the back burner.

After the second child, I became an At Home Mommy.  It just made sense at the time.  However, I really went through a grieving process at the lost of my identity as a career-woman. There was also additional stress in my extended family that caused me more anxiety.  Stress + Anxiety = Weight Gain.  Simple equation.  I still didn't consider surgery an option, but did some research.

In fact, I didn't really consider surgery as an option until we moved to Rome and I began to gain more weight.  By this time, I think I had tried every diet known to man (OK, an exaggeration).  I figured out that I have spent more than half my life on a diet, losing weight and then the other half gaining weight.  I have spent literally thousands of dollars on the pursuit of losing weight.  I know this because my loving husband, Bill, keeps meticulous records of our spending and one day I added it all up.  Thousands of dollars, and for what?  In 2012, I weighed more than I have ever weighed before.

So in November 2012, I attended a WLS seminar given by Harbins Clinic and the office of Dr. Ryland Scott.  I filled out preliminary paperwork to see what kind of coverage I had with my insurance companies.  Then I waited.  I was interested, but I wasn't ready.  When did I become ready?  Next installment....

Interesting Articles about Church Closings, Decline in Giving

7 reasons (among many) why my church died

Report: Church giving reaches Depression-era record lows




Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day 8 - Theresa Vs the Volcano

Well, not the volcano, but her her health insurance company.

When I decided to get this surgery, I of course contacted my insurance company to make sure I knew what was necessary to be covered.  I contacted Bill's as well.  I ended up with a page long list of things that I had to do before hand to be qualified.  The list ranged from things like a doctor's letter with my weight for the last 10 years, 6 months of a doctor supervised weight loss program, psychological testing and so forth. I was assured that as long as I followed the plan, I would have no problems.

This was probably in late June 2013 or early July.  I immediately made appointments with my primary care physician, went on a diet and started working the list. If you have ever known someone who had done WLS (Weight Loss Surgery), you know that there are many hoops to jump through.  I finished the final hoop on Dec 13, 2013 and the final paperwork was submitted to the insurance companies.  Surgery was scheduled Jan 13, 2014 at 6:30 am.  All I had to do is wait a month and do the pre-diet. Little did I know that the fun was just starting.

On New Year's Eve, around 2:00 pm, I received a rather disturbing phone call from the surgeon's office.  They needed to "convert" my surgery to gastric by-pass so that insurance would pay for it.  I deliberately did not choose by-pass.  I didn't like some of the side effects, including the malabsorption issues.  I already have malabsorption issues with the pernicious anemia.  I don't need more.  I didn't choose the Lap-band because I really really don't like the idea of permanent man-made materials being left in my body.  If I didn't have VSG, I was going to just not have surgery.  Immediately, I called my health care coordinator at the conference office - but only was able to leave a voicemail.  I called my insurance company to no avail.  The people in the call center were polite but just not capable of helping me.  I called the GBOPHB (General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits) and talked to several people.  I called the Georgia Insurance Commission, but I could not really resolve this on New Year's Eve.

On Jan 2, I began calling again.  I was most displeased with the insurance company. Their call center employees are not at fault - the fault lies with those who wish the customer to NEVER talk to anyone who can make a decision.  EVER.  I finally talked to a customer service rep who asked if I had filed an appeal - I didn't know I could do that.  So she gave me a fax number and told me to get the doctor's office to write a letter and mark it "URGENT."

The doctor complied but didn't mark it URGENT.  They tried to recall the letter and do it again marked urgent, but was told by the insurance company that the letter had already been received, a file had been opened therefore it was too late. They guaranteed that we would hear back in 30 days!  Surgery was 11 days away - no way was I just going to sit and wait.

I called the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's office.  I was offered an opportunity to begin a case against the insurance company and would hear back - in 30 days.

That Thursday I also talked extensively to the General Board.  They were most helpful.  We discovered on the insurance company's website their own qualifications for 2014 - and that VSG was indeed a covered surgery.  We both searched online for the previous document - the 2013 - under which I was originally told that the surgery was covered.  I couldn't find it, but the General Board did.  It seems that VSG was NOT an excluded surgery in that document.  However, when we submitted the final paperwork, it was also NOT included under approved surgeries.  VSG did not appear in the document at all.  This was the basic problem.

On Monday or Tuesday, the doctor's office marked the appeal "urgent" and submitted it again anyway - by Wednesday they were told that it did not qualify to be urgent and we would hear back from them - guess what - in 30 days.

So the Doctor's office decided to go with my husband's insurance instead.  By Thursday, they had approved the surgery, but with a LARGE deductible and co-pay.  You see, we had decided to go with an HSA this year instead of a PPO for his insurance because my insurance was so much better.

AND - just as an aside - all this time I am working on my full-connection paperwork.  150 plus pages of papers, 10 DVD's - you know, nothing much at all.  So on Thursday I went and visited conference office and talked extensively to Karen in our benefits office.  What a lovely woman!  She reassured me that we would work it out.

And it was worked out.  Sometime after 4 on Friday (remember that surgery is Monday at 6:30 am!) I received a phone call that insurance would indeed cover my surgery.

Horrible story.  Torturous story.  Worse than the full connection papers. More stress than Christmas. But now done with.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day 7 - One Week

And two cats down.  Since my cats weight differing amounts (Set of Coleman Cat Weights) = {7,8,10,10,12,12,15,16} and the average Coleman cats (Coleman Cat Standard) = 11.25, I can express my weight loss with the Set of Cat Weights or Coleman Cat Standard.  Today, I have lost approximately 2 Standard Cats, or about 22 pounds since the beginning of the year.  At this rate, I'll be invisible before Autumn, so I don't think the rate will be constant.

Today's big accomplishment will be BOTH getting dressed and bathed on the same day. Yes, high and lofty goals.  By this afternoon, I want to get outside and walk around a little.  I've been walking the length of the house, touching the utility room door, going through the Den, down the hall, touch the back hall closet door, up the hall, through the Living/Dining Room, Kitchen and to the utility room.  3 and 4 times at a whack.  I feel like Pastor Gerbil running the Parsonage Habitrail.

I think I was a little optimistic about my recovery rate.  I anticipated bounding out of bed around Day 4, twirling batons and ribbons.  I was mistaken.  I haven't had any serious complications except I encountered some breathing problems end of Day 2 into Day 5 that meant that I had to take hits off an inhaler.  Blech.  My pulse/ox was not very good without O2 in the hospital and the O2 was so very dry.  I ended up with bloody noses and a cough.  You know, it hurts to cough when you've been stabbed in the stomach six times.  I would hold a pillow on the incisions and cough, but still see stars.

Other lofty goals today: email people about EOY reports, weed out the inbox, be compliant with the Dr's instructions about water, vitamins, protein and meals.
Big Stuff.  =o)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Day 6 after Sugery

I choose not to preach this morning - and probably a wise decision.  I'm hitting most of my goals:  drinking water, getting about 2/3 of my protein, getting my pills down, getting my vitamins and moving around.  However, I'm still not 100 percent when it comes to energy level.  By about 3:00 pm, I've hit a wall and have to go take a nap.

Tomorrow's big goal - to get completely dressed and get in ALL my protein.  Doesn't sound like much, but there it is.  it has occurred to me that I am a "recovering fat person" or "recovering obese person."  Food has always been my drug of choice - easier to eat your emotions than deal with them.  For that reason, I am always going to have dis-ease with food.  This is going to be a great tool to help with the disease, but I will ALWAYS be a fat person in recovery.

This was apparent several months ago to me - screamingly obvious when I had a deep struggle with a piece of cake.  Although it was small in volume, it won.  I lost.  And I will never ever really have power over food.  I can only depend on God to help me. I will tell you this - a fat person with an unhealthy fixation on food will indeed take candy from a baby.  And then search the stroller and diaper bag for more.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Day 5

I have made a big life-style change.  A decision that literally will stick with me the rest of my life.  On Jan 13, I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy.  It's taken me 15 years to get to this point, but I finally decided that my obesity was more life threatening than the surgery.



I started the journey in Nov 2011 when I attended an information seminar from Floyd Baratrics.  I pursued the idea of the surgery with fits and starts until I got serious in July 2013.  I just had enough with the weight.  By the time I started the two week pre-op diet Jan 1 (propitious day, eh?), I weighed the heaviest I have ever weighed in my life.  I lost 8 pounds.  I have lost an additional 11 as of this morning, making it a 19 pound weight loss.  I'm OK with that - I'm not feeling like it's "real" yet, until I see it stay off and I get down another 27 pounds.  I don't know why, but that weight will make it seem "real."

The surgery was more intense than I anticipated.  I guess I'm a "pie in the sky" kind of person.  The recovery is taking longer than I wanted - which makes me mad which makes me push which makes me overextend -- and I end up worse than if I hadn't pushed.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dreams

I had one of *those dreams* again yesterday.  It was so vivid at the time, but like all it's brethren  it starts to fade in my memory after a while.  I dreamt I was in the parsonage, on the carport, cleaning and gardening (my two most common activities right now.)   The local kids were hanging around, as they are wont to do.  The weather started to turn - this area is the worst in Georgia for tornados. The kids ran down to the ditch at the bottom of the driveway and laid down.  I yelled and screamed for them to come inside either the parsonage or church for shelter, but to no avail.  I barely got inside to lay on the kitchen floor before it hit.  The wind was so strong, it moved me around on the floor of the kitchen.  I was able to get the door shut but to keep it shut for my safety and the safety of the kids and cats, I had to lock it.  The kids in the neighborhood had no way to get in - and I was incredibly sad at this.  I was able to take refuge under my desk.

Yesterday, the dream seemed so real that I wondered at the state of the house and yard.  I kept expecting it to be covered with storm debris.  I had dreamt that the roof was partially ripped off and that much of the house was soaked with water - and was surprised to get to the kitchen yesterday and find it OK.

I know what my dream probably means.  And it makes me sad.  The power of God moves through - the justice and righteousness of God is like the power of the tornado.  Shelter and safety are offered, but not all take advantage of it.  I know that's one meaning.  Sitting with it today.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Why I Have Not Been Blogging

Answer number one: it started to seem like effort.  I set up arbitrary deadlines for myself (like blogging every day) and when I failed to meet them - well, it felt like failure.

Answer number two: Facebook, Twitter and the like.

Answer number three: Candy Crush Saga (and its like.)

Answer number four: fear.

Answer number five: lack of "space" to do so (on many levels.)

I don't think it's because I have lack of things to say - but I edit myself quite a bit now-a-days.  I edit out the 'Dark Thoughts' and the critique of people, places and things.  For instance, my thought process this morning was just frankly depressing.  It goes like this:

We are all "special" or at least we have been told so all our lives.  We are all as unique as snowflakes.  But y'all - there are billions of snowflakes.  There have been billions in the past and there will be billions in the future.  How special can one snowflake really be amid those billions?

See?  Dark and depressing.  And so I edited it out of my thought process most of morning until I sat down and did some prayer and meditation.  And it faded and slipped away into that dark morass of fear and anxiety from whence comes the majority of my Dark Thoughts.

Does it edify anyone whatsoever to know those Dark Thoughts?  Does it add to the goodness of the world for them to hit the light? I don't know, so I don't blog them.

There might be goodness found to know that others struggle with Dark Thoughts.  There might be some goodness found to know how others cope and deal with them.

Thinks to ponder. (Yes, and I said "Thinks.")

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What does it mean to be the church? Newsletter article.


What does it mean to be the church?  Some people might think immediately of a building, the property on which the building sits or just the sanctuary.  Not a bad answer and one you would get from the dictionary, but based on the Bible, the church isn’t our property or building.  We can get a clue of what church is and is meant to be by looking at Acts 2:42-47: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Let’s break this down a bit.  First in verse 42 we see that the people (the church) were devoted to 1) teaching and 2) fellowship 3)breaking of bread and 4) prayers.

First comes the teaching. We gather together on a weekly basis first to learn about the faith, to hear the word proclaimed and expounded upon. And this teaching is just not about information: this teaching should be for transformation. We should be people who are being transformed (look at Romans 12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.)  We come together to learn so that we are not conformed to this world, but transformed into something much better.  We come together to learn so that our minds might be renewed. Is this why you come to church?

Second, the church was devoted to fellowship. John Wesley would call it “Christian Conferencing.”  This can take on many different faces.  Potluck dinners are fellowship.  Movie night is fellowship.  Even workdays can be fellowship.  Any time we gather together and it is not specifically for worship can be considered fellowship time.  So often we just come to church on Sunday mornings thinking that’s all we need to do and we miss out the richness of relationship we can have with God and one another in deep meaningful fellowship.  What have you done this week to deepen your relationships with God and one another?  For every hour you spend in worship and learning, another hour should be spent in fellowship and service.

Third on the list is the breaking of bread.  This can take a couple of forms as well.  It most definitely means communion in church.  But it also means potluck dinners and dining with one another.  I’m making it a goal this year to break bread with everyone in the church (well, at least those who want to have dinner with me!)  I’m doing this by inviting people to dinner at the parsonage, having a couple of parties at the parsonage and going out to eat in groups.  I want to break bread with YOU.  By doing so, we will get to know each other better and build relationship with one another.  When is the last time you had some other member of the church that isn’t your blood relation over for dinner?

Fourth is prayer.  Prayer is the one thing that can be done anytime and anywhere.  It’s done during worship every Sunday.  It’s done before Sunday School Classes.  It’s done in your car on the way to work.  It’s done by saints and sinners.  Where do you pray? With whom did you last pray?

As we go forward together in ministry, I want us to be intentional in our being church.  I pray God will strengthen us individually and together as we go about being HIS church.
Amen!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Change and my favorite restaurant


Yesterday I was crushed to find out that my favorite restaurant for more than a decade has changed hands: new owner, new wait staff, new sushi chef.  We had dinner anyway and it was OK, but …. It just wasn’t the same.

I had a long day yesterday – lots of new stuff to integrate into existing systems, new tasks to do, new ways and processes.  Things can change rapidly.  I left our meeting and drove multiple miles through territory that I know well, but it’s been a while since I’ve been here. So many changes in the landscape.  Trees cut down, roads widened, new buildings put up in place of older ones.  I was looking forward to something that didn’t change –  my favorite restaurant and my old familiar standbys: salad with ginger dressing, miso soup, spicy fried rice and a sushi roll.  But it was not to be.  The ginger dressing was spicy not sweet, the spicy fried rice was just not spicy enough.  My yellow-tail tuna roll wasn’t constructed properly and fell apart in my soy sauce.

I really was upset. Kind of the “final straw” feeling. As we drove home through the pollen tinged rain last night, I asked myself if there was anything in life that felt like it didn’t change – that felt like security, that felt absolute.  And truthfully, in this world, the byword is “the only thing that doesn’t change is that things change.”

And so this morning I woke up with tremendous empathy for those who are fans of traditional, conservative worship.  I understand why at a funeral you insisted on the 23rd Psalm in King James Version.  I really understand why you wanted the traditional Lord’s prayer instead of our contemporary one in the hymnal.  You wanted not just the message to change, you wanted the medium to remain the same as well.  I feel the same at times.  I like some of the older liturgy as well – I occasionally want to say that, “We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”  And then I finish the statement,  “But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.”

You are indeed the same Lord and your byword is grace and mercy.  Praise be!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Communion Bread Recipe

Candler Communion Bread Recipe (for those of us who have gone to two stores looking for pita bread and can't find any)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In a bowl mix:

4 cups of whole wheat flour
4 tsp. of DOUBLE ACTING baking powder (or 8 tsp. of single acting baking powder)
2 tsp. of salt

Make sure ingredients are thoroughly mixed because it will affect the taste of the bread.

In a separate container mix thoroughly (I put them in a container with a lid and shake)

3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Gradually add the wet mix to the mixed dry ingredients mixing them together with your hands (this will be very, very sticky). You're shooting for a ball of dough that's cohesive, but not too sticky; this may mean that you don't add all the wet ingredients or if your dough is just a sticky mess add a bit of flour. Knead the dough once you have a ball. Once you've kneaded, roll or pat the dough out and cut it into 6 inch rounds (I use a six inch bowl to cut them out). The recipe suggests the dough be about a 1/2 inch thick; you can make it thinner if you can do it without tearing; they will rise in the oven.


Place them on an ungreased cookie or pizza sheet (I use Teflon pie tins)
Then use a knife to cut a cross into each of them (don't go all the way through the dough!)
They will bake in 10-15 minutes, however they may need just a bit longer or shorter depending on your oven. 
They are finished when they no longer seem doughy. You don't want them super dark (burned) on the bottom.
This recipe makes 6-8 rounds 8 is usually plenty for the service.

Recipe from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit
Modified, Steve Reneau

Monday, March 25, 2013

Maundy Thursday with readings from John


Full script with Director's notes here.


Invocation
John 1:1-18
“Once upon a Tree” by Pepper Chopin -- Choir

John 12:1-4
“My Jesus I Love Thee” UMH 172 – Ist verse woman’s solo joined by choir rest of verses and congregation

John 12:4-8
Luke 22:7-14
“What Wonderous Love is This” UMH 292

John 13:2-17
Invitation to Footwashing
“Jesu, Jesu” UMH 432
“O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” UMH 430

John 13:21-35
“Gift of love” UMH 408
Luke 22:15-20

Words of Invitation to Table and Consecration
Solo- “Remember Me” by Mark Schultz
“Be Thou My Vision” UMH 451

Matthew 26:30-44
Solo – “Into the Woods” lyrics by Sidney Lanier
Words of Dismissal
“A Wind Blew Over Calvary” by Greg Sewell – Choir

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Reflections about Snakes and Evangelism


Yesterday my husband Bill and I entertained a local traveling evangelist from another (unnamed) denomination who came knocking on our door. Rather, Bill entertained and I sat and listened in the other room. I usually invite all who knock on my door into the house for a cup of coffee and conversation but I was in the midst of paperwork and that kind of stuff.  I usually invite them in because serves two purposes – it allows me to witness to my faith and it allows me listen to listen to as they witness to their faith.  I’m pretty non-discriminatory – I invite them all in: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon Missionaries, Baptists, non-denominational. Whatever they are, all are welcome.  It boosts me up to be able to talk to people about Jesus regardless of the circumstances.
Of course I know that not everybody feels this way.  Most of us consider these people to be annoying, even unwelcome.  After Bill had closed the door on our latest visitor he said, “I think next time I’ll get a snake.”
It’s an inside joke - he’s referring to an incident that occurred early in our marriage when I still worked at Fernbank Science Center.  I babysat two different snakes over two different summers.  The snakes had a definite purpose in life – we used them as teaching tools to show kids the difference between venomous snakes and non-venomous snakes.  Buzz was a Florida King Snake, mostly yellow with black stripes.  I kept him quite a while but my favorite was Scarlet who was a Georgia Corn Snake.  These snakes were not very docile and had to be handled everyday so that they wouldn’t forget to be “nice.” 
One summer afternoon, I had Scarlet up my sleeve and she had gone to sleep curled up around my elbow.  When the local traveling evangelist knocked on my door and I answered, Scarlet woke up and traveled down my sleeve to my hand.  I held out my hand to shake my visitor’s hand and …. the snake poked her head out of my sleeve and started to go toward my visitor.  She gave a shriek and left rapidly.  To be fair to her, most of the time corn snakes get killed because they are mistaken to be copperheads.  I’m sure she thought I was handling copper heads.  Nonetheless, that was the last time they came visiting while we lived in that house.
So when Bill said, “I think next time I’ll get a snake,” he was really meaning, “I don’t want them to come back.”  Yet I do.  I enjoy it and encourage it.  I find it a boost to my faith to hear their stories.  And I pray for them and with them, that their journeys from house to house might be fruitful and that God use them to increase the Kingdom.
I think evangelism is the number one place Methodists fail. We are really good with the fellowship components of Christian community. We excel at Christian Education and Formation.  We are superlative at Acts of Social Justice, be they right or just well intentioned.  But we are not adding to the Kingdom.
Old methods and models of evangelism are just that – old. Some of them have worked and some are just well intentioned.  I was trained in the late 1970’s (as a very very young child, I will have you know) in a method called Evangelism Explosion.  I either was not very good at it, or perhaps the methods had seen their day because I don’t think I ever really entered into a good, rich and deep conversation about faith with anyone I approached.
I think the oldest of the methods – Jesus’ method— might work the best.  If we look at how Jesus gathered people together we can start to see how we might gather them together.  He first approached them as people – individuals – and not “prospects.”  He made relationships with them.  He ate with them, He healed them.  He loved them.  He took care of their deepest need and then said, “Follow me.”
We need to approach individuals and see them as unique in God’s eyes, a beloved member of God’s great creation and realize that  each of them will come to Christ in their own way.  Let us seek out the un-churched, the least, the last and the lost and enter into relationship with them.  Invite them to dinner.  Eat with them.  Go to ballgames with them, shop with them, watch movies with them, get to know them and find out their deepest need.  Pray with them – and pray for them.  Love them as God would love them.  Ask them to church, share your faith with them and things will be transformed. 
And what’s amazing to me is that even if they never come to church – even if we never see the fruit from the seeds that we have planted, things will be transformed.  YOU will be transformed.  I will be transformed.  By echoing Jesus’ methods of evangelism, we will become more like Christ.  Our faith will become deeper, richer and more mature.  Our lives will be enriched, we will be transformed.
So it doesn’t require special training, y’all.  It doesn’t require extraordinary skill or special formulaic words.  And you don’t have to keep snakes.  Just a lot of love. 
 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
            - 1 John 4:7-12 (NRSV)