Saturday, July 30, 2005

Luggageless Vacation

Although I didn't have my luggage during my entire vacation (see previous post), I did have a very nice time. We were in the mountains in Colorado, and it was beautiful.

We went up to the Continental Divide one misty, cold morning. Here are some photos. We drove up a long rugged path to get there, and I also took pictures along the way there and back again. At the top, we were at 11,800 feet.

It was really nice to be in such a beautiful setting.

I really liked these lovely red flowers (picture on right), plus all of the other wildflowers I saw. I also enjoyed watching how the flora changed as we went higher up.

Here are some more pictures (it is kind of hard to arrange them very artistically, so I apologize if they end up in funny places as you view this):

Having a luggageless vacation is not so terrible if you are with understanding people, have access to a way to buy or borrow necessities, and have remembered to pack the really important things, like your camera, in your carry-on luggage!

It's kind of liberating, actually, to be stripped down to what's most important to you. Then to stand there in such a beautiful setting, vividly aware of yourself in the world in such a pure way, is both humbling and empowering.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Luggage Returned!

Update: My luggage did return tonight! What a relief! So, I don't have much laundry to do, but wow is everything wrinkled!

Lost Luggage

Hi. I'm back again.

This third and last trip of my summer was a trip to Colorado for a family reunion. It was a wonderful trip. But it had a surreal dimension: my checked luggage did not arrive with me. In fact, it never arrived, for the entire week.

Daily calls to the lost luggage telephone number became increasingly frustrating when even the sophisticated computerized system gave up on me after a few days, no longer giving me the daily message, “unfortunately, your luggage has not yet been located,” but instead tried, unsuccessfully, to divert me to a real human being (whereupon which I repeatedly received the message: “All of our representatives are busy helping other customers. Please call back in a few hours,” except when I instead got a busy signal and then the system would hang up on me).

The day before our return, we finally got through to a real human being, who told us that they remove the tags after three days, but there was a bag matching the description of my bag in the Denver airport—could I identify a few items in my luggage?—if it was a match, they’d be sure to deliver it to me today… With much hope, I mentioned a few items ("oh, and there's a label on the bag with my name on it as well..."). Later that day, there was a telephone message informing me that it was a match and they’d get it to me that day.

We checked that evening. The people at the reception desk at the camp where we were staying said, “Unfortunately, those deliveries tend to come between 10:00 pm and midnight.” But this was hopeful news to us. I had great fun telling everyone that my bag was likely to arrive at midnight the night before we were all leaving!

Since I went to bed before midnight, it wasn’t until the next morning that I learned that the bag had not in fact arrived. Although by now I had arranged that they would send the bag back home to me, I did check at the Denver airport after arriving there to see if they had heard any more where in fact the bag was at this point, and to my enormous surprise, they came out of the back room with my bag, for me to check through myself on my flight home!

So, briefly, I had possession of my bag again! I happily opened zippers to confirm that my stuff was all still there, and wheeled it to the ticket counter to check it through.

Half a day later, when I finally arrived wearily at my final destination, I went hopefully to baggage claim, only to discover that, again, my bag did not make it. By now I was well-experienced in chatting with the lost-luggage folks.

Will my bag actually return today, as predicted? Stay tuned!...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

On Practicing in Strange Places

One reason why I find I tend to have a little resistance to traveling is that I like to stay in practice with my music, and that requires practicing every day, if possible, but when you are on the road, it can be difficult to find places to practice. If you are an anxious sort who doesn't like others to hear you except in performance settings, then it is even harder. Real practicing is not pretty.

Before the trip to Chautauqua, my friends told me, "Oh, don't worry about that! You can play on the lovely grounds -- people will like it! Or, you can always play in your room!"

When we got to our lodging, among the rules about our stay there was in fact a specific note requesting that people not practice instruments in the house, as it "disturbs other guests" -- exactly what I most feared!

(By the end of our stay, we were all laughing about this, because the house was right next to the Amphitheater, and so we were subject to loud rehearsals and piano tuning all day, not to mention concerts that went late every evening! Of course, I didn't mind -- I really liked this -- but the irony was funny.)

So, my heart sank. There was no way I was going to play on the grounds! Chautauqua is densely populated, and once I arrived, I realized how many fine musicians there were because of the music programs.

But, to my delight, I learned that there were practice rooms that you could rent out! Even more wonderful (or so I thought), they were stand-alone little cabins! Here's a picture of what the cabins looked like:

Initially I thought it was a splendid idea for there to be separate little cabins, because that would help provide natural soundproofing. But as I walked among them, I realized how woefully mistaken I was. It was so hot and humid that of course everyone had their windows open! What a bizarre mixture of sound! Harps, French Horns, pianos, singers, an accordian, violins, clarinets ... you name it, I heard it! All wafting into my open window as my own practicing wafted out:

Fortunately, there was an overhead fan:

The furnishings included a chair (with my flute on it as evidence that I really was there!), and two mirrors (one is shown here), but no music stand! Fortunately, in playing Irish traditional music, I don't need a music stand.

I think the pictures do capture some of the rugged and desolate feel of the space. Still, I must say that I appreciated it very much! Even though I could hear others and they could hear me (and there were constantly people walking among the cabins peering into the windows), I didn't feel self-conscious. Everyone was seriously practicing, and like I said, that's not pretty -- so I didn't feel self-conscious about not making pretty music myself. I'd screech my high notes while the xylophone player next door played the same passage a hundred times and the singer on the other side wailed her scales and the pianist across the way pounded loudly through intensely moody music. It was a thrill to be in the midst of so many dedicated, serious musicians!

On my next trip (coming up in a few days) it may be harder to find a good place to practice, but I'm still taking my flute! Because now I know you never know what you may find!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Language and "Translation"

Someone recently was telling me about the difference between "high-ramified language" and "low-ramified language" in talking about religion. When you talk about religion with "high-ramified language," you use terms and expressions that are clearly religious. But the problem with speaking in this way is that those terms and expressions might be obscure to those outside of the speaker's particular faith tradition, or might have ambiguous meanings. Communication can be hindered. Those outside of the speaker's faith tradition may feel excluded. Miscommunication may happen.

Low-ramified language is a translation of those concepts into simpler, clearer language that connects with belief-systems beyond the speaker's own faith tradition.

The point of our discussing this was not to argue that one kind of language is better that another. It simply depends on context. Within your faith tradition, speaking in high-ramified language is appropriate. When speaking to broader audiences, it is often better to use low-ramified language.

As we discussed this distinction, I came to realize that I very often try to speak in low-ramified language, because that is the way I can speak about what is meaningful to me in ways that are most likely to connect with what others find meaningful, regardless of their different faith traditions (or lack thereof, if anyone can be said to lack a faith tradition altogether -- but "faith" is a high-ramified term, so it depends on how you define it!) These just are the settings I most often find myself in. During other parts of my life, I was heavily immersed in Quaker subculture, living in Quaker communities and such. Now, when I attend Quaker gatherings, I do feel a strong sense of "coming home" and being able to "speak my native language," a highly-ramified Quaker language. It is a relief!

But I have had so much to speak the low-ramified language that this has now become my default way of speaking about ideas and experiences that I myself regard as religious.

In fact, I may sometimes be too successful in this -- so successful that people can miss completely how deeply religious I actually am. Once I was criticized because my drafting of our Meeting's State of the Society Report made no explicit mention of God. I felt that the presence of God pervaded the document, and so I was a bit taken aback. But I dimly realized then (and much more clearly realize now) that such a document really can and should use what I now realize is called high-ramified language, and so I changed it accordingly. More recently, I have found a site where my blog is listed not among Quaker blogs but in a kind of extra listing that the lister described as not being religious or political! I do regard my blog as intending to speak to those who are not Quaker and who may not regard themselves as religious, and so maybe I should take this as an indication that my use of low-ramified language is highly successful!

But it points out a problem of low-ramified language. While low-ramified language is good in its capacity to forge connections across different belief-systems, some might mistake such language as language that is not religious at all. If the person you are communicating with is "allergic" to religious language (a concept I heard Johan Maurer use when he came to speak at a Yearly Meeting I was attending a few years ago), then that person's not interpreting your language as religious can be good: it can facilitate communication, where highly-ramified religious language may have blocked communication. Rhetorically sensitive religious people can "hear" the religious connotations in low-ramified language. But there remains the possibility that religious people who are less rhetorically sensitive might so miss the religious connotations of your language that they regard you as non-religious or even anti-religious -- and the problems of high-ramified language (the possibility of miscommunication) reappear in inverse form.

My advice then: rhetorical sensitivity is a virtue among both speakers/writers and listeners/readers. To speak/write with rhetorical sensitivity is to be aware of your audience and adjust your own terminology in ways that are most likely to facilitate effective communication. To listen/read with rhetorical sensitivity is to (a) be aware that the speaker/writer might be doing this, and adjust your own interpretation of their language accordingly, or (b) be aware that the speaker/writer might not yet be skilled in rhetorical sensitivity, or just might not be fully aware of all the variations of belief among the audience, and so it can be helpful to try to be open-minded in your interpretation of that person's use of language.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Report from Trip to Chautauqua

Hi, I'm back from my latest trip. I went to Chautauqua, an amazing place, where I helped lead some discussions about the theme of the week: The Law in Religion and Society (in the Abrahamic Traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam). My friends and I attended many excellent lectures and learned a lot. Our facilitating discussions helped people of diverse faith traditions have a chance to talk about what they were learning, and share with each other about how their own faith traditions regard the relationship between law and religion.

There is much I could say, but I'll start with the most dramatic news first. One of the lectures we all were most looking forward to was a lecture by noted Islamic Scholar Zaki Badawi, who is principal of the Muslim College in London and formerly the director of the Islamic Cultural Centre and chief imam of the London Central Mosque. More information about him can be found from this page (week 3). But he was denied access to the U.S. It is amazing that such a speaker, coming to such an institution, be denied access! Here are some of the news reports about this event:

From the Associated Press (via Washington Post):

British Muslim Leader Denied U.S. Entry

From the London Times:

Eminent Briton refused entry

From the BBC:

BBC NEWS Americas UK Muslim leader barred from US

We so urgently need good dialogue across the faith traditions, and Chautauqua is such an important setting for such excellent education, but our week was diminished by our not being able to hear from someone so important, who himself is so concerned to foster understanding across faith traditions!

So, why did this happen?

In other respects, the week was just amazing. I'll probably have to write about it in installments. For now I'll just say that this was my first visit to Chautauqua, and I am profoundly impressed by how the Department of Religion there is trying to build peace and understanding within and across faith traditions. This felt like a very important week, not only for me and all who were there, but for the world as a whole. Building better understanding among even smallish numbers of people can sometimes make a huge difference in the long run.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Dangling Threads

Ok, back to the personal. Avid and devoted readers may be wondering about certain things from my previous posts that have been left dangling. (Or, even if not, my own artistic sense for closure and completeness compels me to do this bit of catching up.)

Music: My last two postings on music (40% and Hiding One's Light) were a bit steeped in regret. Has anything positive been happening in my musical life? Actually, yes. I recently played something on my baroque flute for a friend's ordination, and that went pretty well. And I've been doing a good job of keeping in practice, especially on my Irish flute, which in some ways is the most demanding of my instruments. I had thought about trying to find other Irish traditional musicians in my area this summer, but I'm enjoying the chance just to consolidate my own playing a bit, for now.

Travel: "Didn't you say you had two more trips coming up this summer? When and where?" I will be departing on my second trip tomorrow in fact! I'm rather shockingly calm about it all right now. Rather than say much about what it is in advance, I think I will wait and comment on it afterwards. For now: I'll be leading some dialogues, helping people to learn about points of view different from their own. The other faciliators and I have been carefully planning a mode of leading dialogue that we hope will be effective in this respect.

Opportunities and Decisions: In another recent post (Overwhelmed), I noted that I had been asked to take on something rather big. So, what did I decide, then?! I decided to postpone it for at least a year. This coming year I need to devote to writing. Then another opportunity knocked on my door. I said no to that, too, for a similar reason. Finally, a third opportunity knocked on my door. I said yes to that one, because it is harmonious with my current, "can writing be an effective form of activism?" question/trajectory.

Do the details of these recent invitations matter? To the extent that they do, the details will seep out in their own time. But for now, what matters (and what may be meaningful to those who are not me) is that I am learning that saying "no" to enticing but nevertheless not-quite-right opportunities is very clarifying and empowering. I feel good about these decisions. I feel like these seemingly negative decisions are actually positive decisions because they hold open the contemplative space I need. My ability to say "no" reflects a growing ability to believe in myself as a writer, and to center my identity around that call for at least the next year. The one opportunity I said "yes" to will help me to learn more about the potential of the web for sharing writing and for building networks of collaboration.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More on Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism

I raised a difficult question in my last posting. I thought that this time I should share some of my own thoughts.

Another blogger, Contemplative Activist, points out the Quaker stance on such issues:

We are called to live 'in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars'. Do you faithfully maintain our testimony that war and the preparation for war are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war. Stand firm in our testimony, even when others commit or prepare to commit acts of violence, yet always remember that they too are children of God.

Quaker Advices and Queries
(British Yearly Meeting)

I find this very powerful. Since terrorism is itself born out of fear and desperation, the ultimate solution to the problem of terrorism is to create a world in which there are no groups of people who are oppressed and desperate.

But how do we get from here to there? It would involve investigating the realities, sources, and reasons for oppression. Oppression itself is rooted in fear: the fear that ultimately there is not enough to go around. When someone (or some group) is truly afraid that this is true for some important resource, then that person or group wants to control access to the resource in order to be sure that they and their group continue to have it. Many (most?) people regard this as perfectly rational behavior -- you protect first yourself and those you love.

In many cases, such resources are either not as rare as we may think, or not as important as we may think. Research and education that helps show this to be the case can reduce fear and increase generosity.

But what if there are resources in short supply?

I've been interested too in how much discussion there is in the media on "our way of life." Many different people have said, "we refuse to be intimidated by the terrorists, who threaten our way of life. The best way that we can show that we have not been defeated by the terrorists is to continue in our way of life." There is usually something about our "values" and our "freedom" as well.

So, it may appear that this is an ideological struggle over religion or values or a "way of life" that presumably includes important freedoms, and maybe even important kinds of equality.

But what if "our way of life" is really code for "our affluent, addictive, consumer-driven depletion of resources"? Then it is not just an ideological struggle, but a struggle over resources.

I am deeply deeply troubled that a very small percentage of the world's population is addictively consuming far more of the world's resources than we need, while others do struggle for food, clean water, and adequate medical care.

It seems so idealistic -- but is it possible for the wealthy countries to voluntarily scale back, develop more sustainable and renewable sources of energy and methods of production, and agree to re-distribute wealth and environmental care? It's a complex path to peace -- but it is a path, and it is probably the only reliable path to a lasting peace.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

War Against Terrorism

This morning's news about the bombings in London made me very sad.

My students often think that nonviolent action cannot be very effective against terrorism. Then I ask them: Is violence an effective response to terrorism?

What if you don't really know who is responsible? Or what if those responsible are suicide bombers? Then they are already dead. So, instead, retaliatory violence too often gets unleashed on someone else. Innocent civilians die. If what made the terrorist attacks evil was that innocent civilians were killed, is our country evil for killing more innocent civilians in return?

Violence is irrational.

"But we have to do something!" the students say.

"'Doing something' does not have to mean engaging in violent attacks!" I reply.

"So," my students press me, "what would be an effective nonviolent response to terrorism?"

They are right to press me on this, and so I am proud of them. I have only given half an answer, if that. Ok, less than half an answer. Ok, hardly any answer at all.

What does the peace movement have to say about the problem of terrorism?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Not Showing Off (or, Hiding One’s Light Under a Bushel)

Yesterday I went to a picnic at a friend’s cabin on a lake. I knew that we would spend a good part of the day there, and so as I set off to leave, I made sure I had the picnic necessities – sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. And the thought popped into my head, “I should bring my Irish flute.”

“I hardly know these people!” I replied to myself. “Keep it simple! If I brought the flute, I might be hindered by it.” For example, it cannot stay in the hot car, so I’d have to carry it around with me if we went for a walk or something. So I didn’t take it.

But there reached a point in the late afternoon when I suddenly wished I had a strong and secure enough sense of self to have brought the flute. Then I might have, at that point, pulled it out and started playing it.

In the abstract, I can imagine this sort of thing being a magical moment at a picnic. For example, I would have loved it if someone else had done something like that! Suppose there were other closet musicians around who would then join in! Those not so musically inclined would listen, amazed for a moment, and then would resume their conversations and activities and that would be that.

I’m not actually sure if I could have done that if I had brought the flute. But the moment did show me something important about myself. Music is so deeply a part of my being that I must play at regular intervals. I used to worry that my urge to play was a problematic urge to “show off.” It’s terrible how powerfully we can internalize such negative messages (and where do they come from?). It was only yesterday, as I sat for a quiet moment longing for my flute, that I finally interrogated this negative interpretation.

Do I want to show off? No. My urge to play had nothing to do with showing off. On the contrary, the presence of people was the primary factor that blocked me from playing. My urge to play was because of the music itself. And my urge to play is because of the way this just is, for me, an important mode of my being. (Some people wear flashy clothes; I emit music. Not that it’s necessarily well-executed music, but that’s beside the point.)

It has often struck me as odd that people don’t routinely bring instruments to picnics and other parties. Are there just so few musicians who can play that way? Has the world of recorded music de-motivated large numbers of people from making their own music? Why should I be apologetic for playing live music when others are unapologetic about cranking out recorded music loudly into public spaces all the time?

Would it in fact be good for more people to interject live music into their social worlds as much as possible to help people remember that music really is from people and for people, a form of communication, a form of social bonding?

In retrospect, I think maybe it was wrong of me not to play yesterday.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Losing Myself, Finding Myself Again

I came back from my conference so clear, so centered, so happy.

Then it all began to dissolve. I'm not even sure why. I think it was because I got sucked into urgencies, and lost sight of what is important-but-not-urgent.

It is really important to pay attention to what is important but not urgent. But what is urgent tends to seize our attention. Some of what is urgent is important too. But not all of it necessarily is. If we just let our lives be driven by what presents itself as urgent, we are letting ourselves relinquish control over our lives. We are letting the urgencies that present themselves to us control us.

At one point in my life, I made the dire theological mistake of assuming that the urgencies were the voice of God speaking in my life and guiding it. "If this person asks me to do this, maybe it is the voice of God telling me that that's what I am called to do." It's an easy theological mistake to make, especially when you surround yourself with good, religiously sensitive people who are never, of course, asking you to do things that are obviously wrong for you to do.

But it is, nevertheless, a theological mistake to take their requests as God's commands.

This has been very hard for me to learn. I still tend to relapse. When too overwhelmed with the complexity of my inner sense of drive, I can distract myself by turning my attention to others' requests and let them control my life. It is momentarily satisfying, because their gratitude feels good. But inside, I feel a growing restlessness that threatens to turn to resentment or even anger. I begin to have highly emotional dreams. All of this signals to me that I'm neglecting myself and my inner sense of call.

So I need to find myself again.

I have a new idea, a new plan. I realize that I am happiest and feeling most centered when I can keep in mind a sense of who I am and what my life is really all about. And a lot of this is connected with the "important-but-not-urgent," because it is connected with long-term goals (rather than short-term urgent tasks).

In fact, the more centered I am in that kind of vision of myself and my life, the more I understand how the short-term urgencies fit into this wider perspective. If I cannot see how a given short-term urgency fits into this larger vision of my life, then I have to ask myself whether it really is mine to attend to. Maybe it isn't. Maybe I need to let go, and let someone else take care of it, because maybe it fits someone else's vision of their life and work better than mine!

So, my plan is to make sure on a daily basis to give some time to what is important but not urgent. For the rest of the summer, I'm going to make a point to do this for at least a couple of hours first thing each morning, to center myself and set the right tone and attitude for the rest of my day.