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Friday, August 17, 2007

Lessons learned on vacation

I recently met up with a friend of mine I hadn't seen in a few years. She's the kind of person who, when you finally re-connect, your conversation seems to pick up effortlessly where you left off.

I'm not sure how, but at one point in our conversation, we started talking about "things left undone." We talked about those things we wanted to do - places we wanted to visit. Mostly, they were the grandiose kind of plans known to those who are limited - and strangely inspired - by the bottom line of their budget.

She looked pensive and said, "You know, for as long as I've known you, you've always said that you want to learn how to play the piano. Have you done that?"

"Um, no. No."

She frowned a bit and then said, "You've also talked about taking drumming lessons as a spiritual discipline. How's that going?"

"Um, not so much, but . . .

" . . .or going back to the spiritual discipline of Akido. Doing that?"

"Hey!" I said, "Why am I feeling judged here?"

"Not judgement. Just a friend checking-in with another friend," she smiled, adding, "When you check in with me, you'll find that I haven't done any better. Why is that, you think? Why do we make time for the big things, but we don't seem to have the time for the little things we really want to do?"

"Because we don't have the time?" I offered sheepishly.

She raised an eyebrow and said, "Well, I think it's easy to set aside a week or a day, but it's much, much more difficult to find an hour in the course of a day or in the midst of a busy week to do things like practice the piano or work on your Akido."

You know, I think she's absolutely right.

I've always been intrigued by the quote from Albert Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

This past week, I've been re-examining my schedule, looking at ways I use - and abuse - my time, asking, "Where's the insanity?" Where are those places where I've been investing my time, hoping for change, and finding none?

The good news is that, all in all, I'm not doing so bad. I not only make time for daily meditation/prayer, but I've gotten smart enough to change my routine so it doesn't get, well, routine - and thereby boring.

I write for 35-55 minutes every day - not including what I post to this blog. The summer has not been helpful to this, but I'm normally in the gym for an hour 3 - 4 times a week. I have been power walking 30-45 minutes most every day.

I also spend about 3 - 4 hours a day reading - some for study, some for pleasure, some as part of my work. I read books, newspapers, blogs, and magazines. I read and respond to email as well as snail mail. For example, I refuse to send a sympathy card or a thank you note for a gift via email. I know. How 'old school' of me.

It wasn't hard to find the insanity in my life. I had to look no further than some of the listservs I'm on. I counted them. There are ten.

Some of them are email lists for members of organizations to communicate about important events in the life of the work of our mission. These include my Vestry, as well as groups like The Episcopal Women's Caucus and Claiming the Blessing. These listservs have become "necessary evils" of our post-modern, highly technological life, making it possible to make time-sensitive decisions without the cost of travel or long distance phone calls.

But, then there are listservs like "HOB/D" - the House of Bishops/Deputies - where bishops, elected deputies and alternates, and, occasionally, the kibitzer, can discuss issues confronting the church.

It has its place of importance, I suppose, especially for those who are considering running for election as deputy. It is decidedly not a good source of news, but then again, that's not its purpose. It can give an interesting snapshot of The Episcopal Church at the local and national level.

Unfortunately, however, HOB/D has become a place where, as one of my friends puts it, "the same twelve people say the same twelve things to each other every twelve minutes."

There are really only a very small handful of "the orthodox" left who comment with any regularity - thanks be to God. I can only take so much of what turns out to be either "theological toxic waste" or "Chicken Little Theology" ("The Anglican sky is falling!")

Some of those who consider themselves "conservatives" seem to be reading without comment - or kibitzing and occasionally getting a deputy to post for them. Truth is, there are some very good conservative blogs where their opinions can be expressed anonymously and left unchallenged. That has to be much more satisfying than posting something on HOB/D and getting clobbered.

The so-called "moderates" sometimes say such hurtful things - unintentionally and without a shred of malice - that I have learned to hit "delete" even before opening or reading their posts. Sometimes, there are lengthy theological debates between a liberal and a conservative, which have been, in the main, helpful to the discussion. It's been a long, long while since we've had any of those.

The liberal/progressives tend to be very, very long-winded - so much so that I confess I simply begin to gloss-over and nod off. Why can't we learn to make our point and then shut up? Why do we feel we have to justify everything we say? (Hmm . . . like this essay. Okay. Okay.)

The bottom line is that it has all become so predictable and sad. One of my fellow deputies from Newark asked an important question, "How does this build up the Realm of God?" I don't find much evidence of that on some of the listservs I've been on.

So, I've decided that I need a hiatus from all that chatter. I can and will continue to subscribe to ENS (Episcopal News Service), and read my favorite blogs for news and opinion and yes, even wacky humor (no, of course that's not MadPriest).

I've also determined not to read comments left by anyone named "anonymous" or whose "tag" can't be connected to a web page or private email. No matter whether I agree with them or not, they are cowards, every last one of them.

I'm now down from ten to four listserv memberships - including HOB/D and related listservs - which seems much more reasonable.

I'm not expecting to take piano lessons tomorrow to fill in the time, but I do hope it will be better with my soul.

Or, as Einstein promises, to begin to lessen my level of insanity. Although there are some who would steadfastly deny that as a possibility for me, it can't be denied that this would be a very wise investment of time for anyone.


Muthah+ said...

I have often wondered how you were able to read all your mail and still run a parish.

But I have gotten something from HOB/D if nothing more than listening to how the statements seem to move infinitesmally to something new. It does happen. It also keeps me up with Episcopal gossip which has a force of its own. It has gotten a little flat over the summer but it will pick up as we get closer to HOB meeting and the ABC's visit.

I have appreciated your comments on HOB/D too. Every once in a while your voice cuts through the he said/she said stuff and it is spot on. Don't stop that. For women's sake and for gay folks don't stop that wonderful commentary that slices through all the gobbledygook.

Laura said...

Great post, Elizabeth. I too scratch my head at the end of the day and ask myself, "Where did the day go?" My excuse is that we have just moved and have no set routine. The flip side of that is that we will have no set routine until we create one--it just doesn't happen by itself.

Reading the blogs you describe upsets my stomach as a lay person (probably does the same to an ordained one). I look at them on occasion but get back to the nitty gritty stuff that I tend to work the best with. I'll leave the philosophizing to those better equipped.

Thanks again!

Lisa said...

Ten listservs, Elizabeth?? Great God a'mighty! No wonder you were feeling overloaded!

Indeed, it's all too easy to become overwhelmed in the world of blogs and e-mail. Sounds like you're doing some wise winnowing. Blessings to you.

Aleksandr said...

I think as a person 'ages' the time, space and movement thing takes on a different life for itself.

My brain now 'deletes' what it doesn't need to store on its 'hard drive' and my RAM knows how to protect itself. My 'mother board' is ample enough for everything that comes to light.

I enjoyed this current posting, because your situation calls my former situation to mind. I didn't do anything to change what I used to be like, I have merely aged, and gracefully, I hope.

Yes, my work still involves helping people on welfare or those with no income find employment, and it demands a lot of energy. But I still read, I still write (not including blogging) and still attend the liturgy, albeit I am not a cleric.

My art still gets done, I sketch and paint and when I am spiritually tuned in, I write icons in the Russian style of the Novgorod School...walking my dog keeps us both active to a point...anyway, thanks for being here, and for causing new thoughts to course through my being.

KJ said...

I think that it is possible to fill ourselves with dis-ease as we consume the internet anger with great frequency. We become obsessed with things that John and Jane Doe Public know nothing about, and it hampers our ability to aid John and Jane.

Peace of Christ, and moderation in all things! :-)

Bill said...

Elizabeth, your winnowing process sounds like Sherman’s march to the sea and with good cause.

You wrote, “The liberal/progressives tend to be very, very long-winded - so much so that I confess I simply begin to gloss-over and nod off. Why can't we learn to make our point and then shut up?”

As a prerequisite for posting, maybe everybody should be made to read or re-read “Strunk and Whites – Elements of Style” Then they could say clearly and precisely whatever it is they have to say and be done with it.