Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Churches ...

 As I have done several times recently
I am again promoting the upcoming website of my friend, and self-professed Catholic Geek, Travis. I am previewing pictures of churches and cathedrals that he is going to be featuring on his site. This time it's a second view of a church local to the Twin Cities and a view of one near Fargo, ND.

Church of Saint Thomas More

( p.k.a. Church of Saint Luke )
Summit Avenue
Saint Paul, MN

The high altar depicts the Calvary scene with Virgin and Beloved Disciple attending. Other saints – notably Saint Luke – circle the stone nave. Fossilized shells can be seen in the stone quarried for the sanctuary.
( See April's post to see this church's apse. )

The birds drink from the font of eternal life, Christ, depicted as a stylized Chi Rho -- P with superimposed X.

Lintel of Main Door
St Mary of the Presentation
Breckenridge, MN

If you get a chance, even if you're not into churches but, perhaps, "just" art or "just " architecture, stop by one  or both of these. ( Perhaps on your way to the oil fields in North Dakota. )
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Friday, May 23, 2014

What Will I Wear? - #2

Convergence is now six weeks away, so I figure it's time for a preparedness update.

I did not have a hotel room reserved, and they just left me in limbo about it for months.  I still haven't heard back.  Not really happy about that.  I was able to get a room a fifteen minute walk away.

As for my Rumpelstiltskin costume, I've had a heck of a time.  I found a vest that was decent for the character, and looked great, but they had sold out, and canceled my order.  The only place in town I was aware of that rented period costumes closed, so a rental is out.  I had to scavenge a bit, but ended up saving some money in the process.  Here's what I came up with.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Succeeding in Diversity

The trainers barked, “Mill around, get next to people, look for the most desirable person for your Personal Goals group next year. Keep milling around, try different people, see how you feel near them. In the end you will choose one and tell him/her why you did so.”

An expert directions follower, I milled … and wondered how I got here.

My engineering education and skills had served me well. I did technical work well enough and long enough that my employer thought it was time to lead and direct. I immediately took to it, sensing perhaps I had found a hidden skill. Even if true, I knew that, like a diamond, to shine I’d need considerable honing, and possibly some pressure.

I needed to break my addiction to analysis, judgment and all manner of left-brain activity common to engineers.   To explore this, I enrolled in a two-year training program. Each year consisted of six weekends bookended by two additional, longer, residential weekends. It was an intensive program in the Theory and Methods of Gestalt Psychology.

This psychology believes that the whole person is involved in his reaction to and relation with her environment. All change, then, involves the entire person. Awareness is the fulcrum on which everything balances. The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, and its offshoot organization in the Twin Cities, provided the staff. Its mission: “To create powerful, positive change in individuals, groups, organizations and communities.” I knew and respected some of the staff, and people whose opinion mattered recommended this program.

Diversity may have blessed me; the other students were in the helping professions. I was one in twenty-five. A male, I was another minority. My fellows brought some diversity in their own right, and included a young woman from Duluth, just starting her counseling career; an established male psychiatrist from the VA whose solution to a mental health problem was a chemical; a blind female psychologist hoping to be a management consultant; a male chaplain at Methodist Hospital.

My peers understood psychotherapy, but not the Gestalt approach. And I experienced the approach as somehow embedded in my DNA. It was not easy; I am not saying that. I readily understood, but struggled to implement, individual ideas. I frequently struggled to integrate the many ideas. I hated practicums, practicing the ideas in mock one-on-one therapy with other students. But I both learned and grew.

The head trainer was adamant that, for the best training, everybody must apply the material in a personal way. Thus, each of us belonged to a four-person Personal Goals group, whose purposes were to help us do that and hold us accountable for doing it. Except for purposes and makeup, everything about this group was self-defined.

In the current milling about, I sought the person I most wanted in my group. I milled. And milled again. I finally found someone next to whom I felt good, about whom I felt good, whom I wanted in my Personal Goals group.

To my utter delight and surprise, exhaling, I saw that five students had also chosen me as their most desired. I was elated, humbled, and not a little choked up.

One of the trainer trainees later said, with a hug, “Walter, you’ve broken through, you’ve succeeded here.” Indeed.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

More Writing

This is the beginning of a story for our latest writing class.
I wake to the sound of rain pattering on the window at the head of my bed.  The Chrysler building is a welcome site, illuminated by the diffused lighting of a rainy day.  It's clearly a day meant to be spent in bed with a good book, even if my bedroom is a four by four by seven foot cubbyhole.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Complementary Spiritualities

“Fr Pat, do you have a minute?” Thus I began mixing my Benedictine spirituality with this Jesuit retreat.

For Christmas, a friend gave me a book about Jesuit spirituality. A wonderful book, it intends to make the 500 year old spiritual methods of the Jesuits’ founder meaningful today. Admittedly, I am one of today’s seekers. However, I didn’t know what to make of a book on Jesuit spirituality, as I am a Benedictine Oblate, immersed in and, I believe, happily practicing Benedictine spirituality.

“I invite you to come with me on retreat; you will really like it: 3 days, silent, preached by a Jesuit, at a Jesuit retreat house.” I was still pondering the book and its meaning for me when a different friend offered this invitation.

“This is weird, but reeks of synchronicity”, I thought. “I accept your invitation,” I actually said.

It was wonderful, but it offered a retreat experience quite different from that of my private retreat last September ( written about here ).

When arriving at my room last September, I wrote that the silence was palpable. It was not so on this retreat; I conclude that perhaps it was not the earlier silence that was palpable, rather the aloneness. I was not alone here; the retreatents shared a common purpose.

There were many structural things making the retreat weekend different from a typical weekend:
  1. There were 73 of us together from Thursday evening at dinner around 7:00 to after dinner Sunday, about 8:00.
  2. The ‘seventy-three of us’ above means seventy-three men.
  3. The ages of the men span 3 generations.
  4. We lived in 6 buildings, each in his own room but sharing bathrooms.
  5. Except for a brief period after dinner on two evenings, we were silent.
  6. The seat we took in the dining room Thursday evening was our seat for all the meals. Similarly for our seat in the chapel a bit later.
  7. We were tightly scheduled … and the day was pretty long, rising at 7:00 a.m., concluding with Benediction at 8:00 pm, followed by a conference; yard lights out at 10:15 p.m.
  8. With adequate time for individual prayer, there were many activities ( liturgies, meals, conferences and group prayer ) scheduled over the course of the day.
  9. While we ate meals together, we were silent, except for before and after meal prayer ( said as a group ).
  10. During meals, Fr Pat provided oral stimuli delivered over the sound system.
I began my talk, “Father Pat, I am a Benedictine Oblate ... ,”

“So you are a man of prayer.”

Nodding tentatively, I extended my left hand, palm up, as though holding something ( something Benedictine ), and went on, “ … and here I am, attending a Jesuit retreat,” putting out my right hand. Palms up, I exaggerated the distance between them. I looked plaintively at him, looked at my hands, moving as though I’m trying to put them together, looked back at him: “What the hell?”

A wry smile, “We are all, Jesuits and Benedictines, serving/seeking the same God! You certainly have no conflict.”

We talked some more, he heard my confession … and I returned to the silence, virtually floating to the next conference. I had left a load in Fr Pat’s office and I am confident mine was not the only one keeping him company.
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Friday, May 9, 2014

To Denounce the Evils of Truth and Love

Who want's to be told they're wrong?

No one wants to be wrong, but the fact is, you will be.  Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but it's gonna happen, and you need to decide how you're going to deal with that.  You have two options.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lonely ... Shy ... or what?

“I have not played a game on a regulation-sized board in over 35 years. And besides, I’m shy.”

“You’re overstating the importance of the size of the board, and you are not shy,” Benjamin replied. “I don’t believe it for a minute.”

“I am; I just manage it very well,” I insisted. “Read the blog how we met.”

“You can strike up a conversation with almost anyone,” he continued, as if I had said nothing; “I’ve seen you do it.”

We got into this conversation because we were talking about going to a meeting of our local Go club. Although each of us had occasionally played against a digital opponent, and he had occasionally played the digital opponent on a regulation-sized board, we had been playing Go against only each other and for only a little less than a year. ( See my post or Benjamin's for posts on the background of, and our interest in, this ancient yet timeless game. ) And we always played, for the sake of both time and complexity, on a 13 line board, whereas the official game is played on a 19 line board. That doesn’t, perhaps, sound like much difference; but it is huge.

Failing to be familiar ( not to mention failing to be proficient ) with playing on a 19 line board brought me some anxiey; my being shy was a second barrier to attending a meeting of the club. Realizing I was getting nowhere in this conversation ( and realizing that could mean either I was not really shy or I managed it too well for my own good ), I promised to share on our blog a story I wrote in our last writing class. I responded to the prompt: “Write two short pieces, each responding to a different one of these three words: anger, happiness, loneliness.”

Creatively ( not ), I call it, “Loneliness.”

“Fire” ( drill ) … “Fire” ( drill ) … the management team screams.

We all leave our workstations and calmly find the nearest exit, moving mostly as one down the staircase and outside to escape the pretend fire. It is late spring, the sun shines, there is a breeze. Being outdoors is pleasant.

Suddenly strangers surround me. These are people whose names I know, whose friendly faces I recognize; people with whom I can talk endlessly about any and all details of our work. As they mill about in small groups and converse in an animated fashion, I realize that, absent shop-talk, they are either people that I have nothing in common with or people with whom I have no knowledge of a common life. 

Nobody beckons me to join the group s/he’s part of; I don’t have it in me to invite myself. I wait silently and anxiously for the “all clear” signal to return to our workstations.

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Friday, May 2, 2014

It's a Tiny House, and I Helped

A coworker of mine decided to build his own house a while back.  I was skeptical.  He works a desk job like me.  He had never mentioned his carpentry skills before, and didn't have a large amount of savings.  To my surprise, he had a plan, and it was a good one.

1.  The first important piece of his plan was move to back in with his family for ten months while he built it..  Without rent to pay, he was able to spend about a thousand dollars a month on building his house.  Ten thousand dollars later, he had a house.  Living with his family also gave him a place to build it.