Dee's Blog
Fri 10/10/2008
The Power of Creative Crisis
Topic: Power

Today, I speak to you totally out of my role as a piano teacher. Yet what I have to say relates so much to the process of impacting individual lives and institutional dynamics, as well.

Sometimes, as a teacher, I create crises.  It may appear to be a semi-involuntary response.  It may even feel like that.  Yet I've seen it coming for a while and usually am rather certain that it's highly unlikely to avoid a crisis.  I do it when I sense that the student or his or her family are going down the wrong road and refuse to wake up.   Knowing that occasionally a family does.

You see, families often think that learning to play the piano is play. Now, play is optional, right? It's an important part of our lives, but we can play the way we want to play and choose what we want to do in a whole realm of what constitutes play.  What I often wonder is if the parents have had this same pattern growing up and are now unable to cope with the demands of responsible parenting.  It's difficult to tell.  There are some things I know for a fact, though.......

Learning to play the piano is not a matter of life and death, and I never want it to be. It IS, however, a matter of commitment to a very difficult task that will eventually allow the student to truly play the piano--at a time when working to learn something new is going to be a lot more fun than in the initial stages. 

One of my colleagues with a highly respectable record recently told me that she had picked up only two new students this fall.  "Both of them decided it was just too much work for them," she said with a chuckle.

The problem with individuals learning skills that have the potential for lasting a lifetime is that it is a lot of work.  This is true for institutions, as well, if they have had a history of pretending to be something that the institution obviously is not.  It is a lot of work to face the depth of reality that is required to develop character and responsibility.

So here's the crux of it all: It is just totally against my philosophy to contribute to the developing irresponsibility in a kid, even though that refusal has cost me quite a few students. It is, likewise, against my philosophy to spend much time with people or institutions that are irresponsible or immature. If that sounds selfish and demanding, that may very well be a good assessment.

What happens when we create crises? We may end up the losers of some things and winners of others. There is a price to pay. What is remarkable, however, is how many times I've seen my students turn around, just as I did my patients in mental health nursing, when I have the courage to hold the boundaries and keep the crisis alive! To that I'm committed, and it's not child's play doing it.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 11:02 AM CDT
Thu 10/09/2008
New Perspectives Bring Comfort
Topic: coping
Traumas and griefs kind of have a way of layering, one thing on top of another.  So whatever technique works to alleviate the weight of one of the layers may help to alleviate the entire column that builds over time.
One of the best techniques I know is being used right now--in the economic crisis--by the media.  They are helping us to focus, sometimes, on the individual blessings we do have. Or, in another way of looking at it, the problems we have not sustained.  They are helping us to even see how we can be kinder to the world around us and the world beyond our own little worlds. 
This morning someone sent me an e-mail about a Malawian-born woman who is making a big difference in her native country, while working in America.  Like many people who immigrated to this country, she is sending a third of her $3000 per month back to where so many of her relatives have died.  In a sense, demonstrating to the rest of us that we are blessed and can reach out to others, even in our own sorrow.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 3:25 PM CDT
Updated: Thu 10/09/2008 3:27 PM CDT
Wed 10/08/2008
Security Comes in Many Different Flavors
Topic: spirituality

"As long as there are garage sales, free libraries, and ad matches," I recently told a gracious checker at my nearby super market, "I'm going to do just fine."  Being able to enjoy the simple things of life is one of the greatest securities I know.  And it DOUBLES!

Not talking about doubling coupons here either.  It doubles because that philosophy is what feeds me both economically and spiritually.  It's something the Quakers seem to have learned long ago.  Long before people thought much about the stock market or how to "bail it out."

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Tue 10/07/2008
Difficulty in Protecting Children in Nebraska
Topic: Making Decisions

Even with the best of intentions, lawmakers and social service agencies can find it difficult to protect vulnerable children.  Those of us who live near the Omaha-Lincoln, Nebraska metro have gotten a stark reminder in the last couple of weeks.

Not long ago NE lawmakers passed a law to protect infants who might be abandoned by their birth mothers.  At least, that was the intent.  Apparently, some had fears that the law would be misused by distraught parents of older children.  The wording technically allowed children up the age of 19 to be dropped off at any hospital with parents not being held responsible for abandoning their children.  There would be no questions asked, according to the plan.

In the past two weeks, almost 20 children have been dropped off--9 in one family, when their overwhelmed father decided he was unable to cope with the children after their mother died a year or two ago.  Then, heaven forbid, the courts and the Dept. of Human Services couldn't agree on where the kids should live.  Sleeping two to a bed, even in a loving relative's home, the courts said, wasn't good for the kids--even if it was a temporary arrangement and even if the home had been approved by DHS.  So the kids, already in grief from losing a mother, were footballs.  All because we haven't learned how to be a "village" who cares for our children emotionally. 

It will take time, but people are working on the problem.  Somehow trying to keep children (and, in this case, a father) from being left out, unaware that there are safe places they can go when life throws them a curve they cannot manage.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:08 AM CDT
Sun 10/05/2008
This Song Says It All
Topic: music

Edward A. McDowell, Jr. wrote the words back in 1954.  The song is "Ordained of God," and I believe pertains to anyone who has an important message.  This certainly includes those of us who are working to address the problems of sexual and domestic abuse.  For it is a work of prophecy, and we must never forget this.

I'm offering stanza 1 of the song, since they especially pertain to this work:

"Ordained of God, true Prophets rise.  They seek not gain nor earthly prize.  They heed the challenge of Christ's call.  They ask to give and spend their all."

May we claim our ordination, knowing that this is the only source we need in order to do this work effectively.



Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Fri 10/03/2008
New Article to be a Podcast

You can read the article now

I've just been asked to do read it, in it's entirety, on a Podcast through

Will let you know when it's available.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Thu 10/02/2008
Topic: Power

Twenty-four years ago, I stood in the pulpit where my father was pastor and spoke from my heart about what I believe.  I was talking then about the belief that we Americans need to all be concerned about the crying needs of the world, looking out beyond our shores where we have a limited understanding of what constitutes "need."

At that time, the dispute over women's ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention was just getting started.  It had so many folks in a panic.  As I told the congregation that evening, I did not have to be ordained in order to bring a prophetic message.  Nor did I have to be ordained to do ministry.  I "preached" from my heart, though my father and his congregation would not have called it "preaching."

I was visiting my parents in Texas, on paid leave of absence from Malawi, where I was serving in social ministries--wrestling with the problems of extreme drought, refugees, illiteracy, and malnutrition.  My parents had many needs at that moment, as well.  They were my priority, and that's how it should have been.  For my father was dying, even though he was still functioning relatively well and would for 2-3 more weeks.  He was leaving behind two granddaughters that my parents were helping to raise.  As a nurse and as a daughter, I had a special role to fulfill, and I did so even while being concerned about the work I'd left behind and my husband and two children back in Africa, managing without me.

In the back of my mind, was another concern.  Yet it was not going to take center stage of my life for two more years.  That was the fact that my report of a sexual predator in our midst, back in Africa, had been brushed over lightly by our American co-workers. 

This past Sunday was kind of a milestone day for me.  I again filled the pulpit, as I have a number of times since that day in 1984.  This time, it wasn't as a missionary, and I wasn't serving to stop the panic in the church my husband pastored because (as happened one Sunday) the "supply preacher" didn't show up!  This time I was the "supply preacher" because my husband asked if I was interested in doing so, since he could not be in two places at once.  I must say that it was a rewarding experience to find myself in that role.  What was surprising--my message contained some elements of what I had to say in 1984!  It was about being pro-active and persistent, being a voice of advocacy for the oppressed in our world.

How do we manage to attend to the variety of "cooking pots" we find in our lives--when there are multiple priorities, each needing attention.  It's certainly not easy.  Yet we can do the most effective job by learning to focus an appropriate amount of time and attention to the particular "pot" that appears to be priority for that moment in time.  We attend to our own health, first and foremost.  The health of those around us and our careers.  Yet we must never forget that we are extremely blessed and have a responsibility to take a look far beyond ourselves for a significant portion of our time and energy, as well. 

As I see it, we are all ordained to do that.  As I understand it, that is what Jesus came to teach us!


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 11:56 AM CDT
Wed 10/01/2008
Revisiting a Place or Time
Topic: coping

As we learn to re-shape our stories, by going back over them many times, they certainly do take on new meaning.

Gelder suggests that it is good to either go back to the place where something meaningful happened or to try to re-create that place in our minds.  Either way can help us to see and feel the story in a different way.  Each time we go back, we are able to do this.  As we mature and get older and wiser, the feelings eventually can change, as well.  Partly because we may be able to increasingly separate from that moment and its feelings.  Or from a place and the feelings it evokes.

Several years ago, I took my husband back to see the house where my family and I lived when I was in high school.  It was a joyous time in many ways.  For I loved school there and had some wonderful teachers.  A few good friends that helped me understand myself and begin to blossom, too.  It was in the church there that I began to recognize and develop some of my unique strengths and abilities. 

It was also a very sad time in some ways--like so many things in life, there were strong contrasts.  My mother was quite ill when I was in high school.  The lot of being the "mother" to my much younger siblings fell to me.  It was a role I really did not mind or resent back then, but I have since come to realize how much my mother's illness robbed me of much of my adolescence while it taught me coping skills and self-esteem that have continued to come in very handy throughout my life.  Only as an adult, looking back on the story, have I gotten in touch with my fears and sadness that often clouded the brightness of those days.  The canvas on which life was painted had many colors in those years, and the picture was certainly unique--one of those stories that is very hard to capture in words.

As an adult, I've always seen that house where we lived as a large and luxurious home.  Truth is it was, compared to all the other places we had lived.  The others had been older and more on the humble side, though my mother and I were quick to make them colorful and homey as soon as we could after moving in to each place.

Somehow this place in Ardmore, Oklahoma was far from the sprawling place I remembered, however.  Time had re-shaped my ideas and opinions about what constitutes luxury.  It was quite small, in fact.  The beautiful brick was no longer so pretty.  The one-car garage didn't look up-to-date at all.  Certainly no longer a place of luxury.  It even needed a paint job. 

Going back allowed me to revisit the house, but more importantly the sounds and feelings of some of the stories that have helped make me into the person I am today.

What places do you possibly need to revisit?

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Thu 10/02/2008 11:35 AM CDT
Tue 09/30/2008
Words are Inadequate
Topic: Stained Glass

When we have had the stained glass of idealism shattered--whether in families or institutions or simply by facing the realities of life and the suffering that it brings--we always have stories for which there are no words adequate to accurately convey the story.  That's what Leslie Van Gelder says in Weaving a Way Home

I think she's right.  Such has been my experience with quite a few of my own personal journeys or mini-journeys.  

Seems to me that those who fail to understand this phenomenon end up believing that they are the only individuals in the world who cannot adequately convey to others what they have experienced or suffered.  Truth is, if Gelder is right (and I really believe that she is), we may do well to stop struggling with the idea that we are "the only ones in such pain and isolation."  It helps when I remember that, for I can look at others with a different set of eyes and with arms more open to the world, even if I cannot comprehend the myriad of unique stories that I'm half afraid to hear from others at times. Or simply cannot fully relate to because I've not been in their unique situation. 

At times when I am more able to bridge the gap between myself and another person, I find that I am asking questions that invite sharing while having a heightened sensitivity to what other can teach me.

I become so interested in learning and rejoice in the ways the world is opening up to me, as never before.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 9:30 PM CDT
Mon 09/29/2008

"This is the greatest transfer of wealth out of minority pockets into big corporations that has ever happened in the history of America!"  That's what one economist said on NPR earlier today, commenting about the housing crisis that was "designed" to bring big business benefits to those in power.  I hadn't stopped to think of it that way.  Just another form of oppression--with people in power in a panic because they couldn't figure out how to squeeze any more out of the middle or out of other corporations where there just wasn't the opportunity in the desperate economy.  "Desperation" leads to greed leads to exploitation and suffering.  And the beat goes on!

Yet the verse I learned as a kid came ringing into my head immediately:  "Be sure your sins will find you out!"  Seems they have, no matter who has to help pay the price.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 2:24 PM CDT

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