Rhonda Cagle

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Sex, Religion, and Politics

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Sex. Religion. Politics. The mere mention of these subjects makes my genteel mother squirm at my lack of civility. Given our country’s current religious and political climate, however, my mother is desperately hoping I’ll regale you with tawdry tales of past indiscretions and sweaty trysts with lovers named…

Ahem.

The truth is it would be a lot easier to talk about past peccadilloes with unnamed lovers.  The politics of our current day have become infused with the vitriolic fervor of religiosity prompting members of churches and Congress to firmly, fearfully retreat to one side or the other of the respective aisle. Crossing that aisle has become something like traveling through the DMZ with both sides sniping at the person in the middle. Just listen to Glenn Beck equating churches that preach social justice as code speak for Nazism or Communism or Rev. Jeremiah Wright preaching the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own “terrorism.” Both are extremists, encouraging those on either side of the respective aisle not to get too close to the center. These two men, and others like them, seem to be pompous windbags who earn a living on making people afraid of or angry about one thing or another. The trouble is, people listen to them.

Today I read in the news that the FBI is launching several investigations into death threats, bomb threats, and acts of vandalism aimed at lawmakers. Members of Congress have had office windows smashed. A condom and shredded American flags doused in gasoline were sent to representatives who voted for healthcare reform. HazMat crews were called in to investigate suspicious packages sent to members of both parties. Both Republicans and Democrats have been subjected to hundreds of letters, phone calls, and e-mails filled with language that would make a sailor blush and accusations of racism, Communism, and all the –isms that cause people to move further away from the clearing in the middle and take cover in the protection of propaganda. Healthcare reform will bankrupt our country. Republicans are opposed to any kind of change. The words keep flying and the people keep running. Those who don’t run – those who get too close to the middle – are cut down with insults of “baby killer” or “traitor.”

I wonder what would happen if Americans of the Christian faith or no faith – Democrats and Republicans – would be quiet for just a few minutes… take a step toward the middle… look into the eyes of the people on the other side of the aisle. We might discover some interesting facts about each other. Those on the other side have family. Like me, they’re worried about affordable healthcare and giving their loved ones good care without going broke. They don’t like raising taxes. Like me, they’re trying to figure out how to balance the good of the individual with the good of the whole. They don’t have all the answers. Like me, they’ve inherited a country facing unprecedented challenges and they’re doing the best they can with limited knowledge and ability. Looking across the aisle, the opposition looks less like a jackass and more like a person – a person like me.

My mother taught me not to talk about sex, religion, or politics. But maybe, just maybe, my mother was wrong. If we talked more – listened more – about subjects that are off limits, we might be willing to step out of our comfort zone and move toward the middle.

Now, back to those unnamed lovers…

The Art of Sipping

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm

There is an irresistible draw to the invitation found in a deeply shaded patio and a glass of wine. On a warm spring afternoon, the combination is almost impossible for me to pass up. Unlike a glass of iced tea or lemon water which can be quickly gulped before going back to whatever task is at hand, a glass of wine must be sipped slowly, it’s complexities and subtleties demanding me to sit down and put my feet up in order to truly experience the gift of the vine and the skill of the vintner.

Just as there is an art to making wine, there is an art to sipping it. A good wine requires time – time to season, time to ferment, time to age. A good wine requires that you let it alone and let it be. At this stage of the winemaking process, there is no value in “doing,” only “being.” There are no shortcuts to crafting a good wine. And there are no shortcuts to truly enjoying the essence of the vine.

Although I appreciate the textures and flavors that comprise a good wine, it is the gift of time that makes an afternoon glass of wine truly valuable. Savoring a glass of good wine means I have to stop doing and simply be. I get to be still. In the stillness, the silence becomes filled with wisdom and beauty that is fragile and easily trampled in the frenetic pace of daily life.

Breezes bring scents of growing things to my attention. Smelling the sweetness of honeyed alyssum and lavender and the damp richness of soil warmed by the sun, I’m reminded to look for tender shoots of what might be growing in my own life and the lives of those around me. Sipping allows for contemplation and I remember the times when I’ve weeded with vigor, only to discover I’ve pulled out tiny tendrils of flowers that have seeded in the shelter of their elder specimens. It’s a good lesson in not judging too quickly and simply allowing things to germinate and grow for a season to see what is working its way out of life’s soil.

Sipping a while longer lets me see my surroundings with new perspective. The art of sipping holds a clearer vision of what presently surrounds me. It also offers time to envision the possibilities of what can be. This kind of unhurried observation gives insights into the seasons and rhythms of life. The dead, dried leaves of last year’s shade line the same branch that holds the tender sprigs of promise of respite from the coming summer’s heat. Eventually, the new growth will overtake the tree, but for a season, it is proof that death and life are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Fodder for continued thought on what this means in my own life, post-Dennis.

Swirling the last of the wine in my glass, I realize I’ve spent the last little while listening – to myself, to God, and to His creation. Sipping allows me to hear my soul’s breathing – the exhale of my hurts and fears, the inhale of heaven’s hope and healing. It lets me hear God; not in some big booming voice sort of way, but in the quiet insistence of a new idea infusing my brain with fresh creativity or the irrational reassurance that somehow, someway I will survive and find myself safely on the other side of circumstances that would have killed most people. And in the midst of my soul’s breathing is the sound of God’s creation, the steady heartbeat that reminds me that in spite of death and pain and uncertainty, life still holds moments of beauty, moments to be savored.

Shift Happens

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Stream of consciousness writing is something I diligently attempt to avoid – at least publicly. I have a rather eclectic amalgamation of immediate and extended family members, clients, Christians, atheists, evangelicals, and Roman Catholics who read my ramblings, which means that without an edit button and carefully crafted words I’m guaranteed to offend virtually everyone. However, I’m crazy tired – the kind of tired that causes me to drive several miles past my exit on the freeway because I’ve zoned out or circle three times through the grocery store because I can no longer remember where to find the cinnamon. And it’s been ages since I’ve written anything except what my clients pay me to write and there’s a lot of life going on right now so I’m going with stream of consciousness musings and will ask for forgiveness when I am less crazed and more well rested.

For those who care, we’re roughly three weeks into Lent. I will confess that I have a love/hate relationship with this season of the church year. It’s akin to that old joke that assures you, “after it stops hurting, it’s going to feel a lot better.” I usually like what I see as a result of this 40-day season, but the actual 40 days just suck. I really should use better and more spiritual vocabulary and tell you that they are a time of discipline… introspection… focused austerity. Sometimes that’s true – but, at least in my life, it’s almost always true that they suck. Even before I was aware of Lent, I can look back in my life and see that this general timeframe has consistently been a season of great upheaval and internal reorganization in my life.

This year, my Lenten observance has been overshadowed by the unrelenting demands of life. Over the past few months, I’ve become keenly aware of how exhausting it is to keep all of the bases covered and all the balls in the air. In this economy, earning a living is difficult. As a single mom who is self-employed, it is overwhelming. Even the tiniest shift of the scale can create a tipping point that upends everything, leaving me flailing as I try to regain my balance.

Finances are uncertain and money is scarce. Tip. Megan was in a car accident and is having continuing challenges with concussion symptoms. Tip. Her car is totaled and I have to buy a new one. Tip. My mother-in-law likely has only weeks to live and funeral arrangements and costs have to be addressed. Tip. The scales of life keep shifting and tipping and I find myself off balance. I think this year, my Lenten lesson is abundantly clear: Shift happens. The question becomes how to respond to the shift. (And yes, the pun is intended!)

If I was a more insightful writer, a more spiritual person, or perhaps less tired, I might have an answer. I don’t. Perhaps that’s part of the lesson. Each time I feel myself seesawing as life tips the scales, I find myself praying. In my better moments, the prayers are in complete sentences. Mostly, however, it’s simply me breathing in and out, whispering for God to somehow help… somehow show up… somehow keep me from falling. And somehow, when I reach my tipping point and I feel everything giving out from under me, God provides a counterbalance – a person who helps, an unexpected client project and income, or simply a moment of divine mercy when I’m able to catch my breath and find my footing, even if it’s only for a few moments.

It’s not sermon material and it definitely won’t end up in any of my client writings, but it’s the truth about these weeks in my life and this Lenten season. Shift happens. So does prayer. Somehow God shows up and keeps the scales from tipping. And, although I am bone weary and desperate for solid ground, I find myself so profoundly grateful for God’s provision and presence in the midst of a topsy-turvy life.

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