Monday, July 31, 2006

The Marriage Sabbatical

One of my online friends (who comments here and may reveal herself if she likes...) brought up an interesting concept on a board where we chat. She asked what we thought of the idea of a sabbatical from our marriages - a time for personal renewal, growth, reflection and rest. Professors take sabbaticals from teaching, pastors take sabbaticals from preaching and nurturing their flocks. Why not wives?

Cheryl Jarvis wrote the book called The Marriage Sabbatical, which was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
What is a Marriage Sabbatical?

A marriage sabbatical is a "personal time out from daily routines for creative, professional or spiritual growth, reflection or renewal." A sabbatical allows women to get away from the noises of caretaking and judgment. In the stillness, you can find your own voice by going deeper within yourself.

Description of Jarvis's book:
The Marriage Sabbatical weaves together the absorbing account of Jarvis' precious time away from home with the stories of the rewards and challenges felt by other women who also braved social pressures and public scrutiny to temporarily take leave of their daily routines. The liberating experiences herein are as varied as the individuals who lived them—from a few magical weeks of immersion language study to six months of adventure travel to two years of Peace Corps teaching. Eloquently describing how desire becomes a departure date, how women reconcile their decision with family and friends, and, finally, how they come home again, Jarvis shows how a marriage sabbatical need not be a trial separation or a midlife crisis.

Without much more to go on, what do you make of this idea? Is this a uniquely female need or should men be just as free to say "I need time off - from the demands of working 40 hours a week, raising children, being married, being fully responsible"? I know lots of my readers are male so I'm wondering how it strikes you to read that women need time off. How would you receive it if your wife asked you for two weeks, a month, a year!?

I'm reminded of the book by Anne Tyler called Ladder of Years. In that story, the wife having not paid attention to her needs, leaves her family for an unplanned sabbatical of a year's length without warning, without admitting to the ways in which she has been complicit in her own life's deprivation. She winds up renting a room over a coffee shop in a small town and not calling home or even letting her family know where she is for the first month. (If my memory serves me right.) What was fascinating about that book was the way the wife/mother only had the courage to leave when she did so without any plan, without any permission or clarity or honesty in her relationships.

I can well imagine taking time off to serve, to pursue an artistic endeavor, to take on an athletic feat (like hiking Mt. Whitney or kayaking in Alaska). I do wonder more about long-term sabbaticals - two years in the Peace Corps while you still have children at home? How would you experience your wife telling you she needed a sabbatical of that length? Or your husband?

And I also wonder about the experience of leaving home and husband when the marriage is in danger. Thomas Moore wrote (in Care of the Soul) about a wife who moved out of her home for six months to repair the marriage. He explained that living alone for a period of time was a non-traditional solution to marital troubles and that he did not predict the outcome when she moved out (that it would necessarily lead to healing their marriage), but that her soul was asking for this experience and it needed to be trusted. In their case, the wife stayed in the same town sharing the responsibilities of child-rearing, communicating with her husband etc. as they worked through the issues that had led to her desire to leave.

I don't know what I think about this concept. I like the idea (I have wanted to have a month of undistracted writing where I lived alone to do it) on one level, but I also wonder about it on another. Is there a danger here of asking for time out to renew self when really one is testing time away to leave the marriage? Is that fair?

What do you think?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Random Rants

A few things got to me today as I thought about them.

Why does Paris Hilton have a record? It isn't cute, she sounds like a tin can tuned up with remix equipment and why is it that she can say that singing's been a dream of hers since childhood and that makes it "legit"? I'm pretty sure lots of us dreamt of being stars... and then learned to shut up already. Shut up, Paris, already.

Why do some people categorically judge homeschoolers as weird? Over at Jesus Creed (tell me to stop getting sucked in to those screeds), a raging debate about the value of homeschool versus supporting the public schools as devoted Christians is getting everyone's panties in a bunch. I might have to up my chocolate intake to cope.

Let me just say it once here: homeschoolers are weird. So are public schooled kids. What teen do you know who isn't "weird" in some way? God, they've perfected it as an artform!

The debate centers on the idea that public education is the grand experiment that is achieving homogeneity and tolerance of difference in our nation. Like that's what's going on. Like kids in public school have become tolerant, globalized, responsible citizens because they share square footage with people from outside their cultures. Uh-huh.

I know it can happen. I know a few families who are devoted to those values who live them. I have a friend whose kids are in a Spanish immersion school in Santa Monica and who study Chinese on the weekends. These kids (this family) gets it. They believe.

But is that what is going down in the inner cities in Cincinnati? Are suburban schools in the midwest that are 90% white really leading to the grand vision of racial and ethnic diversity and tolerance? Or are they reinforcing insidiously (through their fancy equipment, their semi-professional sports teams and their pressure on students to perform academically so that the schools show a high percentage of college-bound graduates) the idea that being white, gifted, educated and moneyed is the key to the American dream?

For the record: We homeschool because we love to. It's been the greatest joy of my life to be with our kids every day, to share in their academic and personal growth, to create a family culture that is a pleasure to us every day. These same kids have a global awareness, exposure to other religions and cultures because that's who we are as parents. Public school is a tool in our educational kit, not the focus of our devotion or faith or aspirations. Somehow, I think parenting is the key to raising culturally sensitive citizens, not school.

So yeah, I guess we're pretty weird, on balance.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I am literally flat out these days

We've had a non-stop stream of people (family) and more come tomorrow. Jon completely threw me for a loop and flew my sister in for Noah's college party. My mom and her husband were here from Thursday to Tuesday and Friday to Monday for my sister, Erin. Tonight my aunt and uncle come into town for the weekend and today is Liam's birthday! He turns 12 and we're visiting the aquarium. Yesterday we made two trips to the local lacrosse store to buy him a new shaft for his stick.

On top of all that, my business is in high season (this is curriculum-purchasing season for homeschool and my inbox is full of questions, orders and needs). All that to say, I don't even have a UPI column for today. I am just barely keeping my head above water. Hopefully things will quiet down next week and I can come out and play.

Peace to you all!


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tiger Woods Wins British Open

and I missed it.

We had a wonderful party with all of our friends and family, but I admit it was hard to hear that Tiger won and did so beautifully and I didn't get the joy of watching his success. I did scoot over to YouTube to see his emotional breakdown on the 18th (as he thought about his dad) and his stunning birdie on Friday on the 14th. What a player!

I'll share some details about the party later, but just wanted to send out good vibes to Tiger and his family. Congratulations!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Theologically Dangerous

UPI Column

Great reading all of your comments. Hope I can get to them later. We are preparing for a big party on Sunday for Noah's send-off to college. :)


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Plus ca change, the more things

stay just like they've always been.

Do you remember the altar calls?

Back when I was getting ready to enter the adult world and leave college behind, I went to a little conferrence put on by Campus Crusade called "KC '83." Elizabeth Elliot, Howard Hendricks and probably Bill Bright (though I can't remember now) spoke. Scratch that. They commanded the 20,000+ students gathered there to be "the next generation" that would change the world because we had finally understood the real mission of the church. Go to the ends of the earth. Die for Jesus, if need be, just like Lizzie's hubbie Jim. (I must have memorized Shadow of the Almighty.)

I hooked up with the U.S. Center for World Mission (USCWM) in Pasadena after that. Those folks took missions seriously. They had maps of remote, least reached-peoples locations like the Maldives Islands glued to the walls of their church basement apartments with prayer reminders on post-it notes. I remember feeling like I had descended into the depths of the most important room on the planet when I first visited the leader of the Maldives team at the time.

The USCWM was a magnet for serious Christians. We read the Bible through the lens of the Abrahamic covenant of being a blessing to the ends of the earth. We would bring a contextualized message, not the usual missionary strategy (so we had heard) that brought hymns and jackets and ties along with individual style salvation to indigeous peoples. It would work because we were following the true Gospel principles.

It all made a lot of sense, the Bible sprang to life, the young adults signed up.

By the time I hit thirty, the whole thing felt hollow and I was hearing a new message about what the Bible really meant, how we were to understand the Gospel in light of this "better" interpretation. We were being called to not ignore the gifts, to trust God's Spirit to use miracles to reach the ends of the earth, to create houses of prayer in every city on the planet so God would be moved to send a mighty wind of the Spirit to sweep the lost into the kingdom for God's glory, not ours.

I dedicated the next ten years to pursuing that vision. It hurt to hear preachers tell this new crop of kids that they were the ones who'd really do it this time, who'd really bring God's glory because of their much "better understanding" of the Gospel.

But I went with it... until I couldn't any more and started grad school.

What is eating at me now is that I am listening to Rob Bell and his sermons about the marriage of the personal salvation message to the social gospel message as though we have "finally" got it right, we now have the right mix. Maybe this next generation of kids will "be the ones."

The rhetoric is toxic for me.

I am not able to be moved, broken, open, inspired, surprised or even enlightened by these kinds of sermons. They remind me too much of the old altar call, of the old Bible studies, of the thousands of sermons... like a rehash with a new twist.

I started asking myself what is moving me these days, what vision of the Gospel do I care about, what role do I see myself playing in the scheme of things (now that grandiose idealism is dead)?

I realized that I don't have the heart any more to be swept up into idealism, answers to complex theological issues, well-crafted systematized explanations of ancient texts. I am a living question mark. What moves me now is to be around people who ask really good questions.

Somehow in the mix of questions ought to be some recognition that Christianity just doesn't have the answers. It doesn't. It offers some lamps along the road, it gives us some principles and narratives that help us to reconsider our selfish ways, it even creates a collecting pool where lots of interested people intersect.

But it is no longer an answer to me. It is one big question... which keeps me interested, which causes me to wonder. When someone sews it up too neatly, I start to lose my interest and I feel myself shut down... remembering how genuinely I have given my heart, have listened to others, have believed and trusted the answers I was taught. I am weary of needing answers. Maybe that will change, but not today.

As long as Christianity can sustain the questions, it is of value to me. The day it answers them, I lose faith.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In which another camera catastrophe occurs...

Those of you who are regular unplugged readers will remember that last year's trip to Italy included yet another in a series of photo disasters. This trip was no exception, though this time I blame the thiefs of the big city.

Before I get to that dastardly little detail, however, let me rave about our vacation. The whole two weeks were completely swept up in seeing the dozens of people we know in CA. The first week, we stayed in Catalina, a little island off the coast of southern CA that has funky (expensive) beach cottages and requires golf carts to get around (no cars). There were 93 people related to me in some fashion on that island. We had a square dance on the third night and that's when they took the head count. This side of the family is actually my step-family mostly with my brother and sister thrown in for good measure. My dad's wife has a huge Jewish clan and they were all there, and some of their UCLA grad friends and their children and children's children join in every year as well. I was meeting people as much as I was huggging people I already knew. Wild.

We snorkeled and swam in the cold Pacific (but it felt great), we ate dinner on the beach multiple nights, we played cards, took nieces and nephews out for ice cream, watched fireworks on the 4th over the water and had nightly gatherings of some version of the extended family and friends. I had lots of wonderful time with my sister and her family. We miss each other.

One of my high school friends brought her kids over for a day which was a treat.

When we left, tears everywhere. Everyone wanted us to move back.

Jon left Catalina the night before the rest of us did because he had to fly to the very north of CA to go to his high school reuinion. He saw all of his old buddies while I drove the kids to northern California. We would hook up two days later at his sister's in a town called Guerneville (set in the Redwoods next to the Russian River).

On the way up north, I took the kids to UCLA for lunch and we walked around a bit so they could see my alma mater. It still looks great - better than ever. Why do we all love and miss college so much?

Then I drove us to the exits for my house where I grew up and I showed the kids my high school (looks really dowdy... sad), and the community I grew up in (startlingly developed and too suburban compared to the more rustic town I remember). Instead of funky pottery shops, there are now BMW and Mercedes dealerships. We drove by my old house and also the apartment I shared with my mom my senior year of high school.

Then we continued up the coast and visited (for an hour) my freshman roommate from UCLA (she and I also went to the same high school). She lives is a gorgeous house in Santa Barbara which butts up against the Botanical Gardens. They have a view of the ocean from up in the hills. Had a great time reconnecting with her and sharing the five kids with her for the first time.

Continued up the coast and wound up at my best friend from high school's home in San Luis Obispo for the night. I love the homes in CA. They have such open spaces - nothing closed off. This house was especially delightful with high open ceilings that had these huge metal tubes suspended over head. They took out the typical ceiling but left in the "guts" that hold wires etc. Made the house feel open and funky, which I like. Great kitchen too.

Her mom and her mom-in-law were also there and I know them both very well. Mom-in-law was my high school counselor. Her son married Dana and the three of them visited Jon and me in Morocco twenty years ago. Such memories. Dana's mother was like a second mom to me during my parents' divorce. It was wonderful to share memories.

While we were in San Luis, Noah called his soon-to-be roommate who lives (we discovered) in a town next to SLO called Arroyo Grande. The friend was at a wedding only two exits from where we were staying so Greg (the friend) came over to see Noah and took him out for a night of fun. Noah got to meet Greg's mom and the other roommate coming from CA to live at University of Cincinnati with the two of them. Such a surprise!

I had a lot of fun walking with Dana through Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (they live right down the street from it) and into the canyons there. California blew me away again - stunningly beautiful, rugged, majestic, various... absolutely magnificent state. I kept thinking of Bilbo as I drove. :)

We headed out on Sunday a.m. to drive north to meet Jon. He descended from where he was up near the Oregon border. We met in Santa Rosa and then drove out to his sister's.

In Guerneville, we stayed in a nice little motel in the Redwoods that was about five minutes from Jon's sister and four of her adult kids who also live there. Jon's mom came up from Palm Springs and two of his brothers and one sister (from Montana) also made the trip to see us. Cherie (Jon's sis) has four kids who are married each with kids (except one couple) and we had a fantastic time with all of them.

This trip was full of toddlers and small children, hikes in the mountains, swimming in the gorgeous pool at our hotel, eating dinner or breakfast every day with this large extended family. I enjoyed the nieces and nephews who I had last seen when they were still under twenty. They were all homeschooled and I enjoyed talking to them about their reflections on their childhood now that they are adults.

I hope to blog about that some time in the future.

We ended the trip in San Francisco where we hooked up with an Internet friend of Jacob's. This boy and his "mum" (who is British) drove into the city to spend the day with us. They were wonderful! The only blemish on the day of cable cars, Pier 39 and the Hard Rock Cafe is that our camera was stolen.

Yes, stolen!

Jon accidentally left it on the back of our chair at HRC and when we discovered it five minutes later, someone had already walked off with it. We had fortunately downloaded most photos onto his computer by then, but lost all of the SF ones and the last day with family... and the camera which we loved. Sigh.

That's what I get for ever caring about pictures. :(

One strange effect of being in CA for me is that I lose my voice within a day of arriving. It is still sore. The whole two weeks I found it painful to talk and that I was straining to communicate. Very hoarse. Interestingly, when I got off the plane in Cinci, the moist air literally felt like a balm. I knew it would help, but the dramatic feel still surprised me. It is recovering already.

The kids said yesterday, "Wow, your voice is different in Cincinnati."

We loved our visit, miss family and friends so much, love California (I mean, who wouldn't?). But the whole time, I was also struck by how expensive everything is, how strangely self-contained the state is, how much my life in Ohio is actually satisfying and smaller scale and doable, how much Cincinnati is a much better place to live than say, Fresno or Clearlake (two of the only places in the state we could even talk about buying a house).

In the end, I was ready to come home. I really want to make money (!) because I'd like to be able to travel back and forth when I want to (for family events). But I don't want to live there. At least not now.

And that is a nice way to feel after a trip like that.

Anyway, that's a little travel report from me. Hope to catch up with your blogs soon. My mom and her husband come out on Tuesday until Sunday; Noah's big send-off to college party is on Sunday and the following weekend, my aunt and uncle will be here. July is the month where we will see every family member we have I think (except those who live in Italy! LOL).

I've changed my blog look for a fresh start too and I hope to have a new UPI coumn up for this week. I took last week off.

For those who missed it, I posted a paper I wrote about yin-yang and the environment on the Thursday ten days ago: A Yen for Yin and Yang.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

California, rest in peace, simultaneous release

The view from where we sit on the beach.

Caitrin hanging out in the water.

**Brownie points to whoever knows where the title of this post comes from.**

Hello everyone.

We have terrible WiFi Internet here on the island of Catalina. I've been trying to get on for days and each time, our connection slowly fades to nothing as I attempt to do business or answer any email. I gave up even thinking about posting to this blog.

Today, the connection bars look happy so I'm hurrying to make a quick entry.

So far, I've gotten to jog along the coast of the island each morning (listening to U2 via the miracle of iPod), I've swum in the ocean twice a day (I love kelp!), seen and chatted with more relatives than I knew I should know (lots of step family here) and we've had Mexican food every day at lunch (the real kind with cabbage on the tacos).

We had a big family square dance and BBQ that included 93 relations and friends of relations! Un-friggin'-believable.

My kids are having the best time with their cousins. Lots of giggles and hugs. Last night at the fireworks over the harbor, little kids were paired on big kid laps. So darling. There must be about 20.

We have some hard news to deal with. My step-sister's husband (Gene) was suddenly taken to the hospital in Long Beach because of agressive leukemia the day before we arrived. He started chemo last night. He has three adorable little boys. We are all reeling from that completely unexpected news. Gene is in his mid-thirties.

Aside from the undercurrent of concern for my step-sister's family, the hardest part of the trip for me so far is missing my time alone, writing, thinking and interacting online. I get a bit frantic when my days have this much in-person interaction without the kind of depth and private thinking that I'm used to. I'm also conscious of how family can get under your skin - in both good ways (I miss my sister's family and wish we lived closer) and in tricky ways (calling up painful memories, or that barb or comment that throws you back and you didn't know it still could).

I'm also keenly aware that I'm in the land of white money. How that skews a worldview...

Sometimes I find myself overcome with how impossible it seems to be for most people to think outside their own tribes, to think beyond their personal security and well-being, what seems reasonable to them, to imagine life from another place. Many of us are convinced that how we see is right... for everyone.

Noah and I got into a discussion about rap with my dad and brother. Let's just say they don't understand rap at all but feel quite confident of their judgments about it. It was one of those moments for me where I saw my past, present and future in a flash. An underlying thread of my adult years has been learning how to empathize or to see from a different place than mine. I even said to Noah as he expressed frustration that his relatives would speak from ignorance with such authority... even that place of confident judgment is worth trying to understand, to imagine. What causes someone to make a sweeping statement about what they don't know and won't learn? What shapes their fear, why are they willing to override your more knowledgeable position? When conversation becomes a battleground of ideas, that's the time to move into empathy mode - ask questions that help you understand why those with whom you disagree see things so starkly and with such conviction.

I'm pretty tired of everyone having such defined opinions about every topic under the sun.

California is a place where diversity is prized on the surface but not in reality. I'm seeing that now. It's a place apart... there is a fundamental sense of privilege and "we're right" that goes with the territory. I'd say that one of the features of my childhood and identity as a Californian has been that we are naturally superior to others. Living in the midwest is helping to curb that sense.

So that's my warm and fuzzy report from the island.

I'm glad to be here, but I'm also exhausted.

Miss you all and hope that you've got cool breezes where you are. :)


P.S. Just gotta ask - when did every middle-aged Californian male decide he was an ex-surfer? They all wear surfer glasses, haricuts and brands. Cracks me up. Ahhh... the power of marketing.