Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Altars in the World - Barbara Brown Taylor

"We receive enlightenment only in promotion as we give ourselves more and more completely to God by humble submission and love. We do not first see, then act: we act, then see. And that is why the man who waits to see clearly, before he will believe, never starts on the journey." - Thomas Merton

"Most heresies come from espousing one opposite at the expense of another. Uncomfortable with paradox, Christians tend to tilt in one direction or the other, usually with disastrous consequences." - Philip Yancey in "Living with Furious Opposites" from "Christianity Today"

p. 6-7 "The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do. What if the gravel of the parking lot looks as promising to God as the floorboards of the church? What if a lost soul strikes God as more reachable than a lifelong believer? What if God can drop a ladder absolutely anywhere, with no regard for the religious standards developed by those who have made it their business to know the way to God?"

p. 44-45 "'Do this,' he said - not believe this but do this - 'in remembrance of me'... Duke ethicist Stanley Hauerwas [says]... Christianity 'is not a set of beliefs or doctrines one believes in order ot be a Christian... but rather Christianity is to have one's body shaped, one's habits determined, in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable.' ... the last thing any of us need is more information about God. We need the practise of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned as dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God."

p. 116 "In a world where the paid work that people do does not always feed their hearts, it seems important to leave open the possibility that our vocations may turn out to be the things we do for free."

p. 124 "I know you do not sleep well. It does not make any sense, since you are exhausted, but the fact is that it is very hard for your body to go from fifth gear to off just because you say so - at least not without a little pharmaceutical help. It is hard to watch the eleven o'clock news with your heart wide open, letting in the misery of neighbors near and far, and then sleep soundly through the night. It is hard to dream rejuvenating dreams or sink into those deep-sea delta brain waves when you keep waking up at three o'clock - what is it about that hour? - to think about how man y unanswered e-mails you have in your inbox, how much money you owe on your credit cards, or how odd your heartbeat sounds all of a sudden."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wendell Berry

I've long loved Berry, particularly his poetry and beautifully challenging exposes on nature and our responsibility in the world. His novel, "Jayber Crow", may not be my favorite book of his, but it's a work of layers and depth nonetheless.

"My questions were still with me, but for the time being anyhow they weren't crying out to be answered. I wasn't yet as free as I was going to become, but I knew that I was freer than I had ever been before". - Chapter 7

"The sermons, mostly, were preached on the same theme I had heard over and over... We must lay up treasures in Heaven and not be lured and seduced by this world's pretty and tasty things that do not last but are like the flower that is cut down. The preachers were always young students from the seminary who wore, you might say, the mantle of power but not the mantle of knowledge... You couldn't learn those things in a school. They went to school... to learn to say over and over again, regardless of where they were, what had already been said too often. They learned to have a very high opinion of God and a very low opinion of His works...

To them, the church did not exist in the world where people earn their living and have their being, but rather in the world where they fear death and Hell, which is not not much of a world... the young preachers knew Port William only as it theoretically was ('lost') and as it theoretically might be ('saved'). And they wanted us all to do our part to spread this bad news to others who had not heard it - the Catholics, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Buddhists, and the others - or else they (and maybe we) would go to Hell. I did not believe it. They made me see how cut off I was. Even when I was sitting in the church, I was a man outside.

Those world-condemning sermons were preached to people who, on Sunday mornings would be wearing the prettiest clothes... While wickedness of the flesh was preached from the pulpit, the young husbands and wives and the courting couple sat thigh to thigh, full of yearning and joy, and the old people thought of the beauty of the children. And when church was over they would go home to Heavenly dinners of fried chicken... and hot biscuits and butter and cherry pie and buttermilk. And the preacher and his family would always be invited to eat with somebody... and the preacher, having just foresworn on behalf of everybody the joys of the flesh, would eat with unconsecrated relish." - Chapter 15

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Growing Older Gracefully

A beautiful book, here are just a few choice quotes from my reading:

"The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully" - Joan Chittister ACCOMPLISHMENT
"Scientists have discovered that older people, while not as quick computationally as younger people, do think just as well as the young, but differently - with more depth, with more reflection, with more philosophical awareness... the difference between between the quickness of a computer game and the quality of a logician. The young produce ideas in rapid quantity, but often without form or figure. Older people might reflect on the very same data younger people do, but instead of manipulating it, tend to reduce it to concepts."
"...the number of absolutes in my life [are] precipitously reduced. I'm a lot less dogmatic now about the nature of God. I'm not as sure as I once was about what is gravely damning and what is not. Most important of all, I am happy to put that decision in the hands of the God whose nature seems far more compassionate now - as I have gotten more compassionate myself."
"...Harvard University longitduinal Study of Adult Development... says, [constantly learning] makes the difference between healthy and unhealthy aging. It determines the degree to which life will be satisfying to us, as well as the degree to which we will be interesting, valuable, life-giving to others."
"There are temptations for the elderly... that are particularly deluding because they sound so sensible while they are increasingly destructive. 'I'm too tired tonight...' we learn to say early in the aging process. But the others go on to the show or the party or the civic event, without us. 'She's older now and can't do these things,' they say. We teach them to ignore us and then wonder how it happened."
"There is no time to waste anymore. The now is no longer one moment on the way to another one. It is everything there is to life. When we learn to sink into the moment with that much passion, that much pure, unadulterated sensuousness, we finally learn to be alive."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Party 2009

About 20 of us... and yet more good times.

Currently reading: Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater - Alan Richman

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winter Cocktail Event with Scott Beattie

Photo: Bleeding Orange (topped with foam, edible lavender flowers, grilled & candied Rangpur limes)

Taking a Winter Cocktail class at the Ferry Plaza Building through CUESA was exciting because lead by artisanal cocktail master, Scott Beattie,
from Healdsburg's Cyrus (I wrote about it in The Perfect Spot). Besides getting educated on how to make gorgeous foams, rims and syrups, Dan and I got to imbibe and make three cocktails, the beauty of the day in taste and presentation being the Bleeding Orange, found in his book. Topped with edible flowers and a candied or a slow-roasted Rangpur lime from Scott's back yard, the drink was Charbay Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon vodkas with fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon, blood orange, Fee Bros peach bitters and homemade simple syrup of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon.

Currently watching: The Catherine Cookson Collection: The Moth

Thursday, February 05, 2009


A fluffy read, Frances Mayes' "Bella Tuscany", still is a poetic ode to my Italy, where I've traveled three times yet ever craving another trip, a long residence, a second home... I share her reflections:

"[Arriving in Venice]: I am knocked silent. The beauty does not just pass before your eyes. It ravishes. I begin to feel the elation a traveler experiences when in the presence of a place supremely itself."

"Growing up in a small town, I felt the tight bit about my mouth. I couldn't wait to leave. The pull of cities was strong. I remember, however, a slight pull, too, toward life far in the country... What rings you out and, truly, what rinses you with happiness? What comes from my own labor and creativity, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it, stays close to the natural joy we all were born with and carry always. Mystic, Georgia, was not for me. I would have been hell on wheels by thirty. Oddly, oddly, I probably could live a happy, sensuous life there now."

"Life would be different if you grew up bouncing your ball against the wall of the Orvieto cathedral... In Italy, it would be curious not to be intimate with art. You grow up here surrounded by beauty, thinking beauty is natural. Art always has been outside, something I appreciated, loved, sought, but something not exactly natural. American towns often are void of art and are often actively ugly. In schools, art is usually a luxury which falls with no thud when the budget ax swings. Art, music, poetry - natural pleasures we were born to love - are expendables, fancy extras, so very non-binary. The unnaturalness comes, too, from the hushed atmosphere of museums, where most of us experience art. In Italy, so much art is in churches... Art and the mass come not from on high, but with a familial attitude."

"If you settle in, even for two weeks, live in a house not a hotel, and you buy figs and soap a the local places, sit in cafes and restaurants, go to a local concert or church service, you cannot help but open to the resonance of a place and the deeper you go, the stranger the people become because they're like you and they're not...
It can be dangerous to travel. A strong reflecting light is cast back on 'real life', sometimes a disquieting experience. Sometimes you go to the far interior and who knows what you might find there? ... But the passionate traveler looks for something... Something must change you... Change - the transforming experience - is part of the quest of traveling...
Often we take America with us. How can we not, being thoroughly products of our culture? We see what we know how to see... we are wary everywhere of being robbed and mugged. We fear the violence of America everywhere...
Travel can reinforce the primitive urge to bring the new into the circle of the known. I went to Pasadena... and walking around on a perfect day, I saw Starbucks, Banana Republic, the Gap, Williams Sonoma, Il Fornaio - all the high-end chains with identical merchandise in dozens of other cities... Nothing happened to me. And yet, surely if I'd stayed longer than a day, there are layers of Pasadena.... In America, with franchises and TV pouring their solvents over us by the second, you have to look longer and harder. In Italy, it's easier."

Currently watching: Brief Encounter - Criterion Collection

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Revolutionary Road

"Revolutionary Road", the film and especially the book, are haunting me. I've been awake into the night unable to put the book down. Richard Yates is a writer with a direct voice that penetrates bulls--t. The concept of the story could sound "done" yet he expresses it as fresh and unique. A tragic, depressing ending to be sure, but that's not what I come away with.

I am struck by the image of the few turning points in life when we have the chance to do something different, to not "settle" or take a safe, expected route. Not because one path versus another in and of itself is the answer but because to not make the most alive choice in any given moment is to slowly lose pieces of our truest self, of our childhood dreams that signal more about who we really are than all our adult goals and "have-to's". I think the little daily compromises are what lead to the bigger ones. Some we have to make, but they do add up over time, until we've lost so much of our true self, we cannot find it again... or it takes years of work to get back.

To stay awake and alive requires constant work and effort. Being my life's goal and mission to do just that for myself, and thus for others, I know full well it's an ongoing struggle. But what haunts in this simple story is the cost for not doing it. Not necessarily meaning the dramatized ending, but the cost to our souls. No matter the difficulties, when I am alive, even in sadness or pain, I am ultimately happy. I feel ecstasy and agony down to my fingertips, pulsing through my veins. The gift of life created in me, gives me the freedom to, in turn, create.

May I never take it for granted, settle or walk the expected path just because it is the expected path. May I fight for what is real, even when it hurts. To commit, as I have in many areas, to the reality of daily life and relationships, yes. But never to stop reaching for what my soul cries out for, what makes me come alive (as both Dan and I are committed to). To look for beauty and make it a part of my life no matter the routine. To make time to listen to the inner, deeper urgings, which I believe, come from the Creator. And, most of all, to say "yes" to them.

Currently listening: Dear Science - TV on the Radio

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Hollow is a closet-sized, darling new cafe in the Inner Sunset (Irving near 15th). I spent the morning there, journaling, staring out the window, reading as I sipped Ritual coffee and heard Sarah McLachlan playing (how's that for 'ancient' memories when I was 19-20 and couldn't get enough of "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy")!?

Later, after a sushi lunch with my dear Manka and Karen, I brought them back to Hollow for more coffee and a long, liberating talk on where we come from, why we are forever joined to that and why we are not, how we're uniquely ourselves, made for freedom. In this little nook of bird baths, candles, chocolate truffles and friendly warmth, I sensed hints of restoration... in areas I've been talking about with my Spiritual Director for ages. Restoration that heals the wounds of old days and births them into something new.

Currently watching: HBO's "John Adams" miniseries

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rooftop Cocktails

In this balmy, gorgeous January we are experiencing, Dan and I threw a spontaneous Italian pasta, lounge music, cocktail night (Negronis, anyone?) As the sun set, we lingered on our rooftop with friends, taking in the peachy hue of a warm, city night. Lights began to coyly twinkle, air inhabited our lungs and warmed our skin. Smiles on each face. Savoring the grace of Spring in the midst of Winter.

Currently watching: Fellini's "8 1/2"

Friday, January 16, 2009

Berlin and Beyond Film Festival

Last night as I went for free (thank you, work!) to the opening night of the Berlin & Beyond Film Festival to see the German film, "Kirschbluten" (or "Cherry Blossoms"), I was hit with images and emotions that stay with me, especially the image of Mt. Fuji emerging from the mist. Old age, loneliness and compromise are presented along with rebirth, restoration and awakening. The film reminds that even at an older age, it's never too late to re-awaken to your dreams, to creativity and connection... but it's also about how much we miss out on until we do.

Currently reading: Insecure at Last: A Political Memoir By Eve Ensler

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I blaze forth in peace

I journaled this in Spring of 2007, but it holds true now, hinting at my state these days:

Peace invades my life of striving
in the hurried rush of my mind
comes calm

Soothing waters rolling over my turbulent sea
and I am at rest

Nothing but to be
no need to prove to you or to me

Earning is not possible
measuring worth, a joke

I flow with this calming stream
realizing it was always there

But other boats ran my waters
invaded my shores
demanded right of passage

One by one
I've denied them entrance
to now make way for what I need

and thus the passageways have begun to clear
horizons, widened
all in the name of freedom

Won by pain
and waiting
Most of all, by surrender

I see its approaching, no longer fearing, this freedom
It's claiming me for its own
and I blaze forth in peace

Currently reading:Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices - Brian D. McLaren