Dee's Blog
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
Sun 09/28/2008
The Death of the Story
Topic: Making Changes
Considering that we need stories to connect ourselves with our universe and with our history, it's a tragedy that story-telling has almost died out.  That's what Patrician Monghan points out at

It started dying with the advent of TV.   That box that tells stories very quickly, stories that we only see and hear once so they don't slowly sink into the crevices of our hearts and brains, especially due to the noise.  TV makes us think that life happens at a break-neck speed.  And it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy since it now does. 

My guess is that it TV was just the start.  Maybe cars were the forerunner, for they quickly took us off of the slow roads that our ancestors had to take, filling their otherwise boring lives with slow-cooked stories that spoke from the heart, without visuals, and required so much creativity.  That's the kind my grandparents told, the kind my mother still tells as eyes glaze over and we rush to find ways to rescue ourselves from that slow way of life that is so much a part of the pre-technology age that they treasured.

As much as I prefer change as a whole, today I find myself agreeing with my mother.  Maybe some things shouldn't change so fast.   We need to hold on to the stories that have shaped our lives.  For it is in the stories that the eternal or spiritual threads are woven. 

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Fri 09/26/2008
How Stories Grow into Legend
Topic: spirituality

Society wants to shape how our stories are told and sometimes limit how often we tell the same story.   It's like a tug of war.  Society gets bored easily.  OK, I'll admit I certainly do, especially when hearing the same story told by older people in my family.  To me, they seem to tell the same story over and over.

Not so, says Patricia Monoghan.  Each time a story is told, new truths have opportunity to emerge.  We are able to tell and see the story in a new way.  While the facts may remain the same, even those can change without us being dishonest.  Facts do get lost over time, but facts aren't nearly as important as the legend--unless you are in a court of law, where people are so often more interested in proving and disproving the facts than of examining the principles at stake.

Legend is what needs to survive as we make sense out of the story.  Legend is what shapes our cultures and effects changes--in the culture, as well as in ourselves.

Monoghan even suggests that there is no real story until it is reiterated.  For it is with the re-telling, that the real story emerges.   I guess that is true, even if nobody is listening.  For story is powerful even in our own individual hearts, especially the broken ones.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Thu 09/25/2008
The Importance of Stories
Topic: spirituality

One method I like to use, in exploring new ideas, is to take a profound book that gets me going down a new thread of thinking, then to work quite a lot off of the bibliography as the author picks up many strands that she or he has woven into writing to formulate creative thoughts that will stimulate thoughts of various nature in readers.

Real art does not lead us all to the same conclusions.  Nor to necessarily to the exploration of the same strands of thought.  It frees our minds to roam--okay, as Leslie Van Gelder would say, "on the wild side."

Patrician Monaghan is the author that recently caught my eye, thanks to Leslie.  This scholar's work is mind-boggling.  I don't contend that I understand half what she is saying, but I love her thoughts on the importance of story.  You can explore some of her ideas through an interview:  Here's the gem that I bring to you today:

I think that (with) a group of people talking, and really listening to each other, the situation becomes more complex because they note their connections through storytelling. Then they become connected to each other. I told my story last night, because Joe told his. Systems move towards complexity and then to a stasis where you've heard each other's stories....."

Seems to me that stories that are difficult to tell and difficult to listen to so easily get lost in history.  It is SUCH work to keep them alive.  Or even to keep the principles that they illustrate alive!  Yet so important that we become more willing to connect through stories--especially the listening part.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:07 AM CDT
Wed 09/24/2008
Let's Just All Get Our Guns!
Topic: Making Changes

Heard it no NPR this morning.  Election predictions and concerns.  I have a love-hate relationship with trying to keep up with this campaign.  Figure it's a lesson in human behavior, anyway.  And Lord knows, I need lots of those lessons as I continue to try bringing my expectations and appropriate responses to violence and oppression into check.

This time it seems that the people in Southern Pennsylvania think one of the biggest issues is the right to hunt down wild animals as a sport.  So they are showing great excitement for Gov. Palin now.  She's one of them, they are thinking.   Rather significant observation since this is one of the the geographical areas where the way the vote goes may determine the final outcome of the election.

Amazing the attitudes people have toward the "wild life"--whether it's animals or people thinking outside the box!   More amazing.....

Last week I was shocked to read that 40% of Caucasians in the United States are hesitant to vote for a person of color, just because of the skin color!  Yes, in this "enlightened day," 40% say they still "do not trust 'em" and think "black people are lazy."

Sad to think that we are such a backward nation in our thinking, after all these years of "progress."  When will I ever learn that paradigm changes always take much longer than I think they take?   When will I stop being shocked at bigotry?   I hope never.   Heaven help me when I do!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 10:59 AM CDT
Tue 09/23/2008
Keeping the Wild Life Reserves from Becoming Dangerous
Topic: coping

Back in the 80's when we were living in Malawi, a young mother and her daughter were walking in an area near a wild life reserve.  It was located right in the heart of a major city, however.  Generally, the wild animals did not leave their protected area.  This time, unfortunately, one did.  When it was least expected--right in the heat of the day!  The result was disastrous.

The young girl, walking ahead of her mother, was suddenly attacked by a hyena.  In order to save her daughter, the mother distracted the hyena, who then turned on her and bit off several of her fingers before somebody managed to come to her rescue and somehow scare the animal so that it ran off into the woods.  I do not recall what decisions were made about tracking down the wild animal; but as I recall, people were quite certain it would be impossible to even do so.  People could only look at the story and learn from it, drawing conclusions as best they could about what actions to take in the future--in regard to city politics, as well as individual actions for self-protection.

The protected area had always been considered quite safe for visitors, as well as wild life.  There were rules so that hikers did not trespass onto the rights of animals.  It was as though there was invisible fencing around the wild life reserve. 

Nobody knows what went wrong, but the results sent shivers down the spines of the city's residents as they read the paper telling of the incident.

It was a strong reminder that we must be vigilant, and that there are limitations and unpredictable outcomes at times, even when we've lived for years in harmony with others who are enjoying the wild life areas.

So do we want to do away with the areas where we can learn and explore and consider how we want to believe and live in connection with other creatures, including people who are also learning and exploring, learning to tame the wildernesses of their lives?  Or do we want to just work to make them safer while respecting the choices of those who choose to use the areas and choose where and how they will roam?

Those are the big questions that keep environmentalists, as well as politicians, engaged in conversations that aren't about to end anytime soon.  They are the same nature of conversations that take place in our institutions when it comes to what we do with people who act like wild animals.

Keeping the freedom to think and move, while still enjoying the advantages of the wild life, is indeed a challenge!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Mon 09/22/2008
Diversity in Thinking--the Way of the Wild Life
Topic: spirituality

When we are comfortable living the "wild life" way, we do not expect everyone around us to think like we think.  Nor do we believe that our way of thinking if necessarily the ideal way to think.  We accept diversity and are content to live in our own section while respecting others.



Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 2:31 PM CDT

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