17 June 2017

Competition for Perfection

Nearly 2 years ago, during the last General Convention I learned a phrase that I have found very useful in my life:Perfect is the enemy of good. In the context of general convention the quote was intended to point out that, with some legislation, the desire for perfection in wording can lead to nothing getting done at all.

Sometimes that drive for perfection comes from a sincere desire make something the best it can be. Sometimes the push for perfection masks a desire to kill all initiative.

My most recent experience with perfect being the enemy of good came in the form of spiraling expectations of myself.

After the 2016 presidential elections, I resolved to become more politically active. I succeeded in getting in the habit of reading the news intentionally, making donations to organizations and candidates, writing informational posts for groups I belonged to, learning more about social justice, and of calling and writing my state and federal legislative members about issues of concern to me.

This success lead me to increase not only how active I was but the quality of my activism. For example, instead of just calling when I was awake and leaving a message*, I tried setting aside time to call during normal business hours.

I made other resolutions about improving the 'quality' of my activism. I put quality in quotes because I was the only one who was judging that quality. I have learned before that just about any non-violent activism is better than doing nothing but somehow the sneaky competitive streak that wells up in me from time-to-time decided that I needed to do better and better as I went along.

My competitive streak has gotten me into trouble before. I'm good at a fair few things but not great at any one thing but I have a dysfunctional desire to win. Over my 48 years on this earth that desire has damaged relationships with my nearest age brother, made it no fun to play games of skill (or sometimes even luck) with me, and generally wound up leaving me feeling inadequate.

I have learned to avoid competition, and when I can't, to laugh at myself when I find my anxiety rising and my stomach churning. So when I roll a bowling ball into the gutter, or make a bad play in Pinochle I to try to let go of that desire to be the best; of that dysfunctional feeling that it is my right to do well, and of the echoing feeling of disappointment when I do poorly or when I lose.

However, it still sneaks up on me in the oddest ways. This time it was in the form of competition with myself, to continuously beat my previous 'record' of activism.

In one way it sounds like self-competition could be a way to motivate myself to do ever-better. However, in practice, I've found it never works that way.

Like most everyone else, I have limited energy and fair amount of everyday work and household tasks that need to get done. I only have so much time for activism and if I make increasing demands on myself for 'more and better' I eventually start putting off the activity all together because my goals for it exceed the time and energy I have.

This is where Perfect is the enemy of good. comes in. In my case perfect (or even 'better') can cause all activity to come to a halt. I stop calling, because I'm not making calls to my standards. I stop writing, because the list of things I want to write about is too large for me to manage. I forget the lesson that I learned in the past that sometimes done sloppily is better than not done at all.

Now that I've realized what is up with me. I've gone back to a simple plan that I think I can keep up with. I'm going to keep an eye on my desire for increasing perfection and give myself permission to just be good enough for today.

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*I'm usually asleep during most normal business hours. It's a huge effort to have my brain working enough to call before 5pm on most days.

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

03 June 2017

Being Real

I have been writing stories, keeping diaries, and thinking of myself as a writer since I was in elementary school. As I got older, it was normal for friends and family to refer to me as 'the arty one'-- which was not always a compliment. In High School when I took fiction writing classes most of the people around me regarded writing as a chore. They few that didn't were rare.

I grew up in Wyoming and at least in Wyoming in the 1980's there was a strong streak of anti-intellectualism. Being smart and worse liking things like reading and writing, and frankly, school, that were signifiers of being smart made me the target of snide remarks. However, books, both the reading and writing of them, were so central to my identity that hurtful words weren't going to stop me. Also, reading was actually one of the few things I was good at. I could read fast and retain what I read. I loved words and was terrible at just about everything else.

When I went to college I made friends with other people for whom reading and writing were central to their lives. It was as if my world had suddenly opened up. Here were people who wrote stories. I joined fandom for the first time in my life. Before that I had no idea that people connected by mail and wrote stories about characters from fiction that they loved. I learned more about writing from fellow Elf-Quest writers than I ever did in any class I ever took. I learned how to edit other people's work. I learned how to give and take feedback. I learned how to co-write with another author. It was amazing and I thought I wanted to do it professionally.

I started subscribing to writing magazines (this was before the Internet). I worked on my writing. One day I was reading one of the magazines and there was a list of what made up a 'real' writer. I didn't match any of the things on the list. It was my first encounter with the idea that someone else might try to define what made up a 'real' anything. Needless to say I was angered by the piece. The author had attacked my 'realness' they had said that something that was central to my identity didn't exist, that I didn't exist.

I thought of that today when I was thinking about the gospel reading for Friday. It is the old dichotomy of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus and Martha busily working and Mary sitting at Jesus's feet listening.

I'm not going to go into how divisive this passage can be, instead I'm going to pretend that each woman did the thing that spoke to her in the moment. Mary sitting and listening, Martha cooking and cleaning. They both contribute something real to the moment. The gospel writer has Martha ask which way is better, her's or Mary's and Jesus backs Mary.

However, in truth, the dishes need to get done or the rats and ants will come and make an even bigger mess. The guest should be welcomed and listened to because that is the point of having guests over in the first place.

Jesus was a guest in their home, sharing a moment in time with them but by saying that Mary had chosen the better part, the gospel writer has him deny that the things that are central to Martha's life are of real importance.

This is in contrast to Jesus's other encounters with women. In those he heals them and their children, he accepts their rebuke (both his mother and the Canaanite woman), he defends them against others (the anointing woman). In those stories he rejects all attempts to deny the reality of the women who come to him. He accepts their suffering, he listens to what they have to say, and in some cases he changes his approach to his ministry because of what he learns.

I need that Jesus. I know how painful it can be to be told that I'm not real, or that I'm 'not doing it right.' Writing is central to my life, it is how I express myself, it is how I make connections, it is how I make friends. I write even when no one but God is watching.

There is no one right way to go through life, but letting other's define if we are 'real' enough is surely one of the wrongs we can do to ourselves.

A synonym of 'real' is true. We should never loose sight of our true selves, what ever that might me. For me it is the importance of the written word in my life and in my faith. I am truly a person of the book and without the written word my relationship to God and God's works would be greatly diminished.

When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.
John 16:21

06 May 2017

Humility and Hubris

It was a combination of a television show and a novel that started me thinking this week.

I have read and listened to the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Sayers more times than I can count. Her writing is exquisite and Ian Carmichael's narration of many of her books is the only thing that got me through a past health crisis.

Back in the early 1990's my husband and enjoyed watching The Father Dowling Mysteries. Recently I discovered they had been released on DVD and decided to buy a set and see how they held up after nearly 30 years. While they are definitely a product of their time, the first few episodes at least are still enjoyable to watch. The series features a Catholic priest, his nun assistant, and the vicarage housekeeper who work together to solve murders. The thing I remember liking about the show back when I first watched it was that the show at least touched on some religious themes and complications of being an active Christian (which was and still is usual for prime time TV).

In Unnatural Death Lord Peter talks to a vicar (Mr Tredgold) about his involvement in pursuing a murderer and what his ethical and moral duties are in this case. He is concerned that in investigating a death he has stirred up the murder to take action. After Lord Peter has left, the priest thinks to himself:

" I wonder what brought him here. Could it possibly be--No!" said the vicar, checking himself, I have no right to speculate. He drew out his handkerchief again and made another mnemonic knot as a reminder against his next confession that he had fallen into the sin of inquisitiveness.

This action of the vicar's, to call attention the way his thought were straying speaks of a mindfulness on his part.

When I first read the book, I was struck by how seriously Mr Tredgold took what I considered to be normal curiosity on his part as a transgression. The desire to know everything is such an all-consuming drive in our modern culture that the contrast of the vicar's self-enforced reticence to pry into another persons affairs (even in the privacy of his own mind) to our modern 24-hour news cycle where rumor can rapidly be reported as fact and where their seems to be no pause for thought before the 'publish' button is pushed.

This never-ending cycle of news, rumor, and speculation gives the illusion that we can know everything that is going and, further, encourages that thing which most of the ancient Greek plays warn against, hubris. If we begin to believe that we can know all, then it is easy to slip in to the idea that we should be able to influence and control the world around us.

When that illusion of control breaks down because we are confronted with illness and death, with injustice and greed, and with disasters that bring us up short our inflated sense of control is punctured and not only do we feel despair, we feel that we have in some way failed.

When I was watching the first episode of the Father Dowling Mysteries, I was struck by a quiet moment of prayer. Father Dowling is praying in church after witnessing a man seemingly commit suicide right in front of him. He had been trying to talk the man off of a ledge and was distracted for a moment and looked away. The nun comes in and chides him for taking the blame for the man's death on himself.

While she does not use the word 'hubris' it becomes clear that part of the point she is making is that Father Dowling is falling into the error of believing that he could control the actions of another person.

It was in this moment that something I've been struggling with for years came into focus. When I was growing up in the church, it felt like a great deal of stress was always laid on the idea that humility was a virtue. Between the be-attitudes in the new testament and the teachings in Sunday school, the importance of being meek and humble seemed to be everywhere--especially if you were a girl.

My mother, from my early teen memories, was determined that I would be able to take advantage of rights that women had only gained in her lifetime (and some in my, then young, life). In particular, I remember her telling me that I should always have my own credit and bank accounts because it was only in the 1970's that women could have their own credit cards independent of the men in their lives.

Needless to say the idea I was getting from the church that girls should be meek and humble was in direct opposition to what my mother was teaching me. She stressed the importance of being independent to stand up for myself. As a result of this conflict and aslo of the churches own abuse of the 'Mary meek and mild' stereotype to keep women in their place, humility, as a concept has been contaminated for me. I was never able to see it as a good thing.

What I realized through the fictional exploits of Mr Tredgold and Father Dowling is that humility can protect us from hubris.

It is so very easy to slip into the idea that if we just know enough we will be able to have some measure of control over our lives.

Jesus comes to tell us to put down that burden. Only God can know all. We are imperfect and so our understanding is also imperfect and prone to error.

It is one of the reasons we say the Confession of Sin every week. Our own imperfections combined with a sometimes misplaced enthusiasm can lead us astray.

Embracing the idea that we can not know all, that we can not be all, and that we definitely can not control anything but our own choices is my new working definition of humility.

Like Mr Tredgold, I hope to go forth with knot in my handkerchief to remind me of the protective qualities of true humility.

As the celebrant says during the Great Thanksgiving: In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

May we always choose to be brought out of error into truth.

22 April 2017

Two Visions

I was at Norwescon 40 Easter Weekend. The Science Guest of Honor was Ethan Seigel who is both a a theoretical astrophysicist and a costumer. I saw him in his "Neptune" costume on Friday of the convention and in his "Rainbow Dash" costume on Saturday.

Norwescon is an all-volunteer fan-run convention that has been going since 1977. I've been attending regularly since 2006 and went a few times in the 1980's when I was in college. One of the best things about it is that it is full of 'both/and' people. Everyone there has a day job from baristas to, well astrophysicists. We are at the convention because something about Science Fiction and Fantasy media speaks to us on a deep level. For me it is the fundamental hope for a better future that was embedded in much of the science fiction I read as a teen combined with the wealth of creativity I see in the fan community.

Fans of all ages from toddlers to great-grandparents attend the four-day convention. Many (me among them) wear costumes they have made (or talked friends in to making for them). I love seeing what everyone has come up with.

One of my best moments of the convention was seeing Mr Seigel in his "Rainbow Dash"* complete with having dyed his beard rainbow hues. While he was walking through the convention I saw one child spot him and squeak excitedly "Mom, Look! It's Rainbow Dash." Less than 30 seconds later another child about age 6 came up to Mr Seigel and said: "Are you the science-man?" Mr Seigel said yes, he was. The second child said, in an solemn, passionate tone, "I love physics."

In an instant, two children saw one man dressed as a make-believe pony in two different lights. They were both thrilled to see the embodiment of something they loved manifest before their eyes and their joy lit up the hallway around them.

The best thing was that the child that loved science was not disappointed that 'science man' was blue with a rainbow colored beard and the child that loved Rainbow Dash was not disappointed that Mr Seigel was also a human theoretical astrophysicist. In that moment he embodied the concept of 'both/and', enchanting two children (and many surrounding adults) simultaneously.

I don't really know what this has to do with the scripture for Friday. The daily office readings didn't speak to me this week. However, I do think that we all can get locked in certain roles in our lives and forget about other aspects of ourselves that need our care and attention.

Fear can play a part in locking down parts of ourselves. Some are rational fears-- society isn't always a very safe place for folks. Some are irrational fears-- that we carry with us that none of our friends or loved ones would suspect because we mask those fears so well-- but in masking them we lock away critical parts of ourselves that we need to be present in the world as Jesus would have us be.

Christ comes to tell us over and over that God does not want us to fear. God wants us to love. To love is to be vulnerable. To love is to put your tenderest self out in the world like a spring flower sending up fresh green shoots. Sometimes we will become beautiful daffodils and sometimes the deer will eat us.

But when we get that moment to flower, when the child comes up and says, in an awed voice: are you the science-man?, or are you the beautiful pony? not only will our own heart fill with joy, but bystanders on all sides will be able to receive the joy of that moment of open vulnerably, and open a little more themselves to love.

-=-=-=-=-

* Rainbow Dash is a character in the animated series "My Little Pony, 2010".

25 February 2017

Family History

I was reading about Saint Matthias and was struck by how little we know about this disciple.

 Since he was chosen to replace Judas he falls in a an odd place in the New Testament. He was not one of the 12 during his ministry, though he had apparently been one of the people who followed Jesus during his ministry. We can infer, then, that he and Joseph (called Barsabas) were both trusted followers as they were both nominated to become disciples. It is interesting that the custom of drawing lots did not 'take' as the way to select the leaders of the church. This is a recorded instance of someone being elevated to a leadership role but did not evolve into a tradition like many other things in the church. 

 That is a side issue to my main thought. I have observed the culture wars that revolve around the interpretation of the bible and the desire some people have to treat the bible as the literal word of God. I reject that. 

 In my experience, the bible is a lot more like a family scrapbook. Such a book can contain news clippings (especially birth and death notices), photographs of family and friends, prize ribbons, programs from professional concerts and plays, ditto sheets of children's recitals and other flat (or pressed flat) memorabilia. 

The stories in the bible are like the ephemera those of us over a certain age we keep in scrapbooks (the younger generation might wind up with digitized collections of similar items). Each photograph, poem, or flower represents a story that the person who assembled the scrapbook wanted to remember. 

Each story in the bible from Adam to Zaccheaus, from Eve to Priscilla from Israel to Carthage is a snapshot that the various people who compiled and edited the various books in the bible wanted to keep so it would be remembered. 

 However, like a scrapbook the stories get muddled, changed and reinterpreted with each generation that inherits them. 

 A personal example from my own life: My great-great-great grandmother Susan was born in Scotland. Her daughter, Jemima emigrated to the US with her family in the 1880's. Her daughter Annie married and had 4 children, one of whom was my own grandmother, who always hinted that our family was some sort of landed gentry that had to leave Scotland. 

 Part of this was driven by her own grandmother Jemima's perception of Americans as unwashed and uneducated. The family had benefited from excelling schooling that was avalalbe to Scots. (Fun fact, the Scots as people had a higher literacy rate than their English neighbors of the same time period.) The fact that her daughter, Annie, probably didn't have anything to say about being forced to move to America, likely encoraged a longing for civilization (Scotland) in both mother and daughter. 

 While I was going through my family's history documents, I found a invitation to a 21st birthday ball for the son of the local lord. This may have added fuel my grandmother's romantic version of our family history. 

 The reality, as far as I have been able to work out was quite different. Jemima listed her mother and her father on her own marriage license, but not only is there no record of Susan's marriage, she lived with her own mother for much of her life and she, her mother and Jemima are all on the census together without a man in sight. My best guess is that Susan and Jemima's father never married. He died with Jemima was a child and was listed as living with his brother. 

About 10 years after Jemima was born, Susan had another daughter. That daughter had a son who emigrated to the US with Jemima's family. 

The entire family worked in Scotland. Jemima was a 'jute weaver' her husband was a 'slater' (roofer). The house where the family lived was owned by the mills and when the mills closed the jobs dried up. 

 My family were, like so many others, economic refugees. I don't know how much of my own grandmothers stories came from her parents, how many were driven by the pressures to be of 'good class and breeding' when she was growing up in the 1910-1920's. I do know that my grandmother was status conscious all her life. She worried about what other people would think. Being ladylike and having good manners were very important to her. All of that, combined with lack of easy access to historical documents, informed her own interpretation of her family history. 

 I took that same fragments of information that she had and made them into a different story. One that comes just as much from my on biases and romantic notions of the past as hers did. For me, the bible is like that: fragments of family stories that we each pick up, investigate to the limit of our interest and ability, and re-tell to our own family with our own spin on the story. 

 My own line of stories runs through Isabella, Susan, Jemima, Annie, Dorothy, Ann, and finally me. The stories that I tell about these women and their families, like the stories I tell about the people in the bible are informed by my history, education, and culture. The people who come after me will carry a bit of my interpretation with them, but will go on to create their own. 

 That is what makes history live. The stories we tell. I will never know if Annie wanted to come to the United States in 1880 or if she resented leaving Scotland for the rest of her life. I will never know if Susan wanted to marry Jemima's father and couldn't, or if she never wanted to see him again, but I can tell myself stories based on the fragments that remain. 

That is what give us a personal connection to the faith-- seeing our own life and experience in the fragments of stories our ancestors-by-faith thought were important enough to pass down to us. We give them new life with our own breath. Matthias, who ever he really was, lives on in the story of Jesus that was left for us by the church's early scrap-bookers. 

 There is no 'one right way' in storytelling. The only wrong way is to stop telling the story.

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This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe on 24 February 2017.

10 February 2017

The value of "yes"

Over the past 30 years I have worked with a variety of organizations as a paid employee, volunteer, or church memeber. 

I was never the primary leader, but have been a board or vestry member, secretary or assistant, or a trainer within the organization. One of my own skills is organizing information so I frequently wound up working directly with the primary leader of the organization on reports, manuals, and databases. This has let me see the way small organizations function over the long term. 

 One issue I have observed in several of the organizations I worked with was how important it was that the main leader be they a director, a supervisor, a president, or a priest communicate well with their staff and find ways to say 'yes' more often than 'no'.

 This was especially important in organizations where there might be one paid staff person to 50-100 volunteers in both secular and religious non-profit groups. Harnessing the skills and enthusiasm of a group of volunteers can be tricky. In my experience, there are some things leaders of such organizations can do to engage that enthusiasm.

 Don't kill enthusiasm by waiting months to respond to a suggestion or to an offer to help solve problem. If you know you are a slow decision maker, ask the person making the offer when they need a decision by and then get back to them no later than that date. Don't feel you need to be rushed into a yes or no in the same hour an idea is proposed to you. But don't kill it off by your failure to respond. I have seen 3 different organizations wither and die as volunteer interest dried up due to a lack of good communication from the group's leader.

Saying 'yes' can be scary, especially if, like me, you are a control freak. However, there is no way a single leader or even a small team can keep up on or be everything to an organization like a church or a secular non-profit. If your first instinct is to say 'no' to requests, ideas or suggestions then you will cut yourself off from the energy and enthusiasm of your volunteers. They are approaching you because they see a need and want to help. Honor that impulse by reining in the automatic no. Find a way to say at least a provisional 'yes'. 

Find a balance between training volunteers to be effective in their roles and killing initiative by mirco-managing. This is a bit like having a child and training them to clean or do laundry. When the task is new, there is value in showing the child how you do the tasks to get good results. There comes a point where as long as the results are close to what you desire how they get that way is best left to the person doing the work. There are many right ways to get a job done-- be open to saying yes to a way that is different or unexpected but gets the job done. 

Be respectful of the skills and expertise of members. Many volunteers bring very specific skills to an organization. With those skills comes the knowledge of what they need to do be effective and how much time they need to do a good job. If someone with niche skills offers to help solve a problem with those skills make sure they have the time and resources to do a good job. The only pay they are getting is joy in a job well done for an organization that they support. Don't kill that joy by being exasperating to work with. 

There are steps a board of directors or vestry can take to support the leader in doing these things. One is to have a clear idea of what the organization's main focus is; and, given than focus, what roles volunteers can fill what roles require paid staff. Not every job in an organization can be covered by volunteer labor. 

 Another step is to define some volunteer roles so that it is easy to say yes to offers of help. In churches, things like altar guild, flowers, lay ministers, cleaning crew, bulletin production, and newsletters are common tasks that volunteers do. In this modern age other roles might be: social media, webmaster, and computer/tech support. Identifying potential roles and the training or guidelines needed for those roles can allow a volunteer to step into a job without having to reinvent the wheel. 

There has been a cultural shift that has changed the nature of volunteering. Vestries and Boards of Directors need to ensure that they the are not working from outdated assumptions about how much time people can volunteer with organizations when they identify roles for volunteers. 

Lastly, a board or vestry, needs to be willing to both support the primary leader and hold them accountable for engaging volunteers. No one person can keep an organization going on their own for long. If a volunteer board leaves the primary leader to do all of the work, that leader will either burn out or develop bad habits-- neither of which is good for the long term heath of the organization. 

The organizations that I worked with that lasted the longest had a responsive leader, a supportive, engaged board, clearly defined roles, and training for volunteers. Planning ahead and being able to say "Yes, and we will train you!" is one one the most effective ways to welcome the enthusiastic volunteer and help them find a way in to your organization. If you don't find a way to say "Yes" to an offer of help the potential volunteer likely won't offer a second time. If they feel their contribution is not welcomed, they will find a place where it is. 

 A volunteer's only reward is joy of service. An effective leader can deepen that joy and awaken further excitement by appreciating what a volunteer has to offer. In volunteer organizations, you don't always get the help you want, but that doesn't mean you should ignore the help that is being offered. 

 Say "yes" and find joy.

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This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe on 10 February 2017.

06 January 2017

Well-meaning Christian

I'm supposed to be writing an essay for Friday but am so happy about some news that I have been waiting for that I'm having difficulty sitting down to write.

For the past two years we had a friend living with us. He was on the edge of becoming homeless after extended under/unemployment. A group of our friends chipped in so he could finish out his lease at his old place. There were an even smaller number of folks in that group who had homes that were large enough to fit one more person into. Of those, the only one in an area with transit and access to job opportunities was ours.

When we got into to this I thought it would be for 6 months or so. Our goal was to give our friend time and space to get back on his feet. He found a job within a month of moving in. At the end of the first year we set up an agreement that he would pay rent and plan to find his own place by the end of year 2.

Today it is almost 2 years to the day since he moved in with us and my husband and son have spent the day helping him move into his new place. To say I am thrilled is an understatement.

Part of my desire to help my friend came from my faith. I believe that those of us with more have a Christian duty to help those with less. I don't believe in a 'prosperity gospel'. I do believe that God calls me to help make earth Heaven for those who share it with me and not to help create a hell-scape of unending poverty and despair while I look on.
Also, my luck could change in a moment. We are all just an accident, illness, economic recession, or natural disaster away from losing everything. The only thing that can help us through the bad times is other people.

I would rather their was a reliable safety net so my friends and family did not have to face poverty and homelessness if luck turns on them. But, aside, from a few overstressed programs, that is not current reality. The stress of poverty, unemployment and unstable housing can make it very difficult for people to climb back up to economic stability after a crash.

After consulting with my family, we agreed to be the support network for our friend. We offered him a stable place to live while he re-built his life.

There are differences between being a well-intentioned Christian and providing effective help that prepares a person for re-entry into having their own housing. Here are a few lessons we learned along the way:

If a person is really down to their last dime, it is going to take at least a year of stable employment and minimal housing expenses in order to start saving. Plan on at least 18 months (and that only if they have good credit). Two years is really the minimum for someone with no resources left.

Folks who are near-homeless frequently have debts run-up during the time they tried to hold it together. Something I would do differently is insist from the get go that the person moving in get some sort of financial counseling and tell someone (it doesn't have to me) all of their outstanding debt and make a plan to repay it. This back-debt will affect things like the ability to get a new place even after they have had a job and built up savings.

It is difficult to know how long the person will be staying with you. However, make sure that the person knows from the get-go that this is only temporary, and once the immediate crisis is past, make a plan (in writing) for how long they can stay and what your expectations are. Expectations can be: saving a certain amount, getting financial counseling, taking steps to connect with agencies that can help. Offer to help with networking and time consuming research.

It is important to have a written agreement because, depending on where you live and your housing laws, you could accidentally create a tenancy agreement with the person. While many housing laws favor owners who are renting out a room in their home, it can be messy and expensive to get someone out if they refuse to go. We didn't consult a lawyer but that is because of circumstances in our background and our relationship with the person who moved in with us. At the beginning of the 2nd year we did have a written agreement that stipulated that it would not be renewed and set a move out date.

Working with agencies that help low income, disabled, or seniors takes time. The have a lot on their plate and response time is slow. Start finding and working with them as quickly as possible. Be firm with the person moving in that this is a requirement. Things that take a week in the commercial world will take 4-6 weeks in the non-profit world. Adjust expectations and time-lines accordingly.

Be clear in your expectations with the person moving in. In our case he was joining a complicated household with 3 adults and one teen. We have a lot of 'house rules' after 20+ years of living together. I wrote them up when he moved in and was surprised to find that they covered 5 full pages. These 'rules' were really the unwritten agreements that evolved over the years we have lived together. It was eye-opening to write them all down. 

Expectations for living with you can include: quiet times in the house, cleaning responsibilities & standards, what areas of the house the person has access to without having to ask, how appliance work (especially if you have any ones that need special treatment to keep working), how trash and recycling should be dealt with. It sounds like a lot, but if you are up front with the person it will be more helpful than if you keep springing 'but we always do it this way' comments on them.

We are very glad we could help our friend avoid homelessness, but it took work and active effort on everyone's part (not just our friend) to make it happen. My husband in particular did a great deal of networking to try to find resources.

Well-meaning Christianity can provide an opportunity to "Seek the Lord while he may be found" in our actions towards our fellow beings, but having a plan and following through will make that well-meaning Christian impulse that much more effective.

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe on 6 January 2017.

03 January 2017

Clearing the decks

The readings for 3 January didn't speak to me this week. They are at Mission St.Clare for those that are interested.

What I have been thinking about is clearing the decks, physically, mentally, spiritually. This is fairly typical of me, I harbor deep impulses to get rid of things when I am stressed. There is no doubt that 2016 was a stressful year for me personally, medically, and professionally. The details of that stress are less important than there effect. I'm ready to start the new year with a clean slate.

I want to let go of books I've been keeping because I might read them someday. The reality is that I do most of my reading in short form on electronic devices these days. I used to be an avid long-form book reader, but that part of me is gone and keeping the left-overs adds unneeded weight to my mind. My mental inventory of my stuff becomes clogged with such items.

Un-read books* are just one category of physical things that weigh heavily on my mind and cause me to think "I ought to do X" and then feel bad that I'm not doing X. I suspect the coming year is going to be difficult without X in it.

What I am really doing when I clear my physical space, is clearing my mental space of outworn ideas, things I thought I wanted to learn, or concepts about myself as a person that no longer fit who I really am.

My self-concept used to include being a voracious reader. Years ago I couldn't imagine not being that person, but here I am in 20167 and I read two hard-copy books and a small handful of e-books. That was it, from someone who used to read a book a week and could devour an entire book in a night. Some of that shift was cultural and some internal to me but the net result is that my habits and what I enjoy are different than they were when I was in my 20's. My 20's reading self is, for all intents an purposes, dead.

One of my on-going projects has been to encourage people to get their estates in order. As part of the work I have done on that topic I have learned how little our personal possessions mean to the friends and family we leave behind. I am the person in my family who is the most into family history and all of the objects I have from various grandparents and great grandparents would fit in one small room with space to spare. That is multiple full households of belongings boiled down over the years to a few keepsakes. Most of what they owned may have meant something to them, but without the web of their life the meaning falls away.

If I have things in my own life that no longer hold meaning for me, letting go of them will make more space both physically and mentally for the things I want to do and the ways I want to think.

If the present is a boat in the rough seas of the past and present, it behooves me to think about packing only that which will nourish me on the journey.

So for 2017 I want to pack in daily prayer for my spirit, yoga for body and mind, political action for the future, and knitting, baking, and music to feed my body and spirit. Hopefully these things will give me strength to do the work I have been given to do personally and professionally in the year to come.

What do you want to pack on your own boat and what would you choose to leave behind?

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* And if I do feel the need to read a physical book, I have a physical library within 3 blocks of my house with amazing inter-library loan options (and ebooks!). So not only can I read all the books I want, I can do it for the cost of the taxes that support our library system-- for which I pay anyway.

Originally published at The Episcopal Cafe on 3 January 2017