Saturday, September 1, 2007


I was born with beautiful blue eyes. They are an intense indigo with gray and hazel flecks—a gift from my father’s side of the family. Unfortunately, they aren’t very functional—another “gift” of genetics.

I have worn glasses since I was 5, and my myopia has grown steadily worse, requiring a new prescription almost yearly. I’ve worn glasses so long, my nose permanently bears the indentations of nose pieces.

Nearsightedness was the bane of my existence when I was in junior high and high school. Back then wearing glasses was a stigma consigned only to the ugly. I hated my glasses, and as the lenses grew increasingly thick, I grew to detest them.

Since my parents couldn’t afford to buy me contact lenses, I was forced to endure my glasses. But, rebel that I am, in high school I set myself free. “I may have to wear glasses to see,” thought I, “but I can live without seeing!” And so, for the sake of vanity, I stopped wearing my glasses, condescending to put them on only during class when I absolutely had to see, but stuffing them back in my purse as soon as the bell rang. I learned to memorize the clothes my friends were wearing each day, thus, when I saw a green blob walking toward me in the hallway, I could be reasonably sure it was Jenny; a purple blob, must be Amanda, and so on. Unseeing but feeling much prettier, I blindly continued my glasses-less ruse for most of high school.

But life has an amazing propensity for crushing vanity—and it doesn’t do it kindly. My dad and I liked to go bike riding together. One beautiful Albuquerque afternoon, he suggested we ride to the Los Altos Golf Course, quite some distance from our house. I agreed, but, since we were going out in public where someone important might see me (like a boy), I left my glasses behind.

Glamor intact, I followed along after my dad, keeping close, lest he get too far ahead and I lose my way. Things went well until we reached the pedestrian bridge over I-40. I’ve never had a good sense of balance, so, as my dad negotiated the twists and steep inclines of the bridge on his bike, I dismounted and gingerly walked my bike across.

Unfortunately this meant that my dad got way ahead of me. Squinting frantically, I could make out the miniscule dot that was him heading off towards the golf course. I mounted my bike and pursued. In my desperation to catch up, however, I failed to notice that I was crossing a parking lot—a parking lot with medians. Too late (because—go figure—I couldn’t see without my glasses) I realized I was heading straight toward one of those medians.

Then—BANG—my front tire hit the median and I was launched into flight. I remember it in slow motion, the flight upwards, the feeling of being out of control, the harrowing fall to the ground. Fortunately I didn’t fly head over tail, nor did I fall off the bike. Instead I fell, still seated, hitting the ground with a sickening thud.

I was too stunned to do anything at first. Then, I heard some nearby golfers asking me if I was okay. I was too embarrassed to respond. Rolling my bike back onto the paved surface, I remounted and attempted to act as though crashing into the median was normal practice. But the bike chain had fallen off, and there was no graceful exit. By then, my dad had noticed I wasn’t behind him. He found me sullenly walking my broken bike across the parking lot, ego (and other parts) terribly bruised.

I’d like to say this incident cured me of my vanity, but, aside from never again riding a bike without my glasses, I continue to forsake intelligence in the name of beauty. While I no longer mind wearing glasses (after all, they’re fashionable now), I have deferred going to the optometrist for over three years. Why? Because I’m due for bi-focals—the dreaded symbol of late middle age. And so, for the sake of vanity, I sit before my computer myopically writing my blog, the screen magnified so the words are visible, headache forming behind my eyes . . . .

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Today would’ve been my mother’s 76th birthday. If she were alive, I would call her and apologize for not sending a gift in time. I was always chronically late sending her gifts, because I suffered from “gift anxiety” brought on by my inability to compete with Mom’s incomparable talent for gift giving. She had a gift (for gift giving)—the ability to pick out just the right thing, the sensitivity to know what would make the recipient most happy, the uncanny knack for surprise. But I didn’t inherit that gene, so I usually succumbed to defeat, sending belated flowers or picking out some item that she probably didn’t need and never used.

Yet, I realize now that, in spite of my gift-giving inadequacies, I managed to give my mom one present that endlessly delighted her: grandchildren. I am the only fertile one amongst her progeny, my sister being a Poor Clare nun and my brother being a happily married father of multiple cats. Thus, Nathaniel and Eliana received her undivided grandparental love.

My mom took every opportunity she could to be with her grandchildren, flying to Abilene even though she was terrified of airplanes. When we went to Albuquerque to visit, she cooked for weeks ahead of time filling her freezer full of all sorts of goodies for the kids—cookies, orange rolls, baked spaghetti, apple pie. When we arrived in the driveway, she came bursting out the front door, covering the kids with kisses and hugs. She kept a treasure trove of surprises for them, so that each day of our visit they were presented with a new game, or bubbles, or books, or crayons. Saying goodbye was always so difficult—I could see the joy ebb in her eyes as visibly as a cloud covering the light of the sun.

Tragically, cancer robbed my mom of her favorite gift. It cruelly cut short the time she had with her only grandchildren. She didn’t live to see Nathaniel finally get his two front teeth (lost prematurely in a driveway toy car accident). She never heard him play in a piano recital or see him become one of the top ten readers at his school. She missed hearing about Eliana’s first day in Kindergarten, and she’ll never know that her granddaughter can ride a horse, play soccer, and sing beautifully. I grieve more over this than anything else: that my mom will not see her grandchildren grow up.

Happy birthday, sweet Grammy Mary Kay. We miss you.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Marfa Lights: A Mystery

Seeking out the Marfa Lights was my husband’s idea, inspired by an animated short in the DVD Cars where Mater is tormented by “Ghost Lights.”

So, off we went, leaving our RV parked in the Davis Mountains, traversing mostly flat terrain—perfect for mystery hunting. After dinner in the Ghost Light Mecca known as Marfa, we made our way to the Marfa Lights Observatory. Yes, they have an actual observatory on the highway between Marfa and Alpine, complete with an official Marfa Lights plaque, an architecturally intriguing restroom (orb-shaped, just like the lights), and a viewing deck with complementary binoculars.

We pulled in about an hour before sunset, and we were all alone.

I was, of course, a skeptic. I figured that Marfa Lights were about as real as the Roswell Alien Autopsy, but I was having fun anyway. Pretty soon another family showed up, and the kids played tag until twilight. As the sun made its way downward, more and more people arrived, and they all looked pretty normal. There were some nervous giggles, and people shared stories about the Marfa Lights. One lady had seen the Marfa Lights when she was nine years old; she had made the pilgrimage back.

As we peered across the horizon in the growing darkness, a hush fell among the onlookers. Someone said, “I see lights over there!” We all squinted and tried to decide if this was it—the Marfa Lights experience! But, alas, they were stationary—just lights from a nearby ranch.

Time passed, and the kids grew restless. I was beginning to think that the whole trip had been a dud, when Kelly said, “Look over there!” Sure enough, just above the red blink of a radio tower was a glowing whitish orb. It hovered for awhile and then disappeared, reappearing in a different place in the sky, much to everyone’s delight. More lights appeared and so did goose bumps all over my skin. With each appearance the crowd grew louder and more jubilant—“I see one!” “So do I!” “Look, over there! Another, and--oh look! Another!” We were mesmerized, all of us--a community of disparate pilgrims brought together by the inexplicable.

The kids grew tired, so we piled in the truck and headed back, weary believers who had seen the Marfa Lights with our own eyes. We discussed possible reasons for the phenomenon. Surely there was a plausible explanation—car lights from the nearby Presidio Freeway, mirages caused by temperature changes, St. Elmo’s Fire. But people have studied these things for years, and as the observatory plaque indicates, the mystery of the lights remains unsolved. My husband said, “I hope they never figure it out.” “Why?” I asked. “Because that would ruin it—what makes it special is the fact that no one can explain it.”

I think that’s true for more than Marfa Lights. We live in a world increasingly devoid of mystery. We have an insatiable need to explain, to resolve, to drain life of mystery. I think it’s due, in part, to our scientific world view. What the ancients ascribed to God or the gods, we, in our sophisticated and altogether modern way, attribute to natural and very un-mysterious phenomena.

Now, I’m not saying that we should live in ignorance. I don’t believe that God sends hurricanes to punish people in New Orleans, nor do I endorse the very biblical concept of a flat earth. What I am saying, though, is that, in our well-intentioned attempts to explain everything, we divest ourselves of a sense of mystery.

And what of mystery in our church experiences and theology? We have a tendency to try to make spirituality systematic and God tidily unambiguous. We do our religious devotions each Sunday, not expecting the unexpected, but instead happily content with the familiar. We theologize about God, categorizing the deity into simplistic syllogisms or haughtily proclaiming decisive truths. We paint God in broad strokes of black and white instead of varying shades of gray. God and church are neatly packaged so as not to offend or frighten or invite questioning, and mystery is stifled by our throttle-hold need for control.

Perhaps, we all could do with some goose bumps now and then—a tingling reminder of our limitedness, a humbling chill on our human omniscience, a hair-raising glimpse of that all too uncommon mysterium tremendum.

Friday, August 3, 2007

My Dad's Best Advice

The best advice my dad gave me was very simple: "Follow your bliss." Though these three words were popularized by Joseph Campbell, my dad lived them and I have lived by them.

My dad was a successful engineer at Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was successful, but he wasn't happy. The 8:00 to 5:00 stiff-shirt-and-tie lifestyle didn't suit him, and though it brought in a great income, he was miserable.

My father's bliss took shape one Christmas when my brother and sister received a puppet stage as a gift. I'm not exactly sure how the events transpired, but my dad decided that he wanted to be a puppeteer, and my siblings lost their Christmas present. I wish I could've been there to hear my parents' conversation when he dropped the idea on my mom.

But this was my dad's bliss, and pursue it he did. My mom and dad saved up enough money so they could live for a year without his income, and Ron and Mary Kay Puppets was born.

My childhood was spent in the shadow of my famous (at least in Albuquerque) parents, who evolved from doing marionettes to large hand puppets. My brother created the puppets (he's the artist in the family), and my parents did a Christmas show and a spring show every year at all the local schools. The income wasn't good, but my dad was happy. By doing puppets, he got to do all the things he loved: write and play music, create drama, work with kids, and be an all-around total ham. My mom didn't go into this kicking and screaming either, she was just as talented as my dad (and just as much a ham). They made a great puppeteering team. (If you would like to know more about my parents' endeavors, see my brother's wonderful website devoted to them at

So, when dad told me to follow my bliss wherever it led, I listened. That advice took me to Hardin-Simmons for college and caused me to change my major to Bible even though there were only two other female students in the entire School of Theology. My bliss led me to Southwestern Seminary to major in Church History, and convinced me to change to Old Testament though job possibilities for Baptist women in Bible were virtually nil. My bliss has inspired me to be creative and unconventional in my teaching. It has drawn me into vegetarianism and animal theology. Following my bliss has meant never doing things the way they've always been done, never doing what's logical simply because it's logical, and always, always following my heart wherever it takes me.

Thanks, Dad, for some great advice. It has served me well.

The Ligatures of Legalism

I took a class in college called "Discipleship." It might just as well have been titled "Legalism" since, at least for me, it was an exercise in rigidity. In this class we were required to keep a Spiritual Journal and turn it in for a grade. We had to memorize a certain number of scripture verses, and, as I recall, most of the lecture notes involved steps to achieve some spiritual goal: "Ten Steps to a Better Prayer Life," "Fifteen Ways to Convert the Lost," etc.

What I learned from this class (and from much of the church-based education I have received through the years) is that discipleship is about "achieving" something, and if you fail to reach goals, you are a poor Christian (if, indeed, a Christian at all).

For me the Spiritual Journal (along with the requisite "Quiet Time") became a source of extreme frustration. The journal we were required to use listed the five steps in prayer, and you were expected to pray them in a certain order. You were supposed to begin with praise, then thanksgiving, then confession, then intercession, and finally, if you had been very, very good, you could ask some things for yourself. Prayer was all about the business of telling God how divinely good God is and selflessly telling God how to take care of others. And when it was all done, the implication was that you would "feel" refreshed and fulfilled. But I always felt defeated because I was so busy talking to God I never thought to listen.

The Spiritual Journal also specified a certain way to read the Bible. In fact, from every reading you were expected to hear God speaking a personal word to you. If you didn't glean some super amazing insight, it must be because there was some unconfessed sin in your life. Personally, I find it really hard to find warm fuzzies in the scriptures, especially when reading about lobes of livers in Leviticus (as much as I love Leviticus, I think there is something wrong with trying to force some personal spiritual revelation out of every passage of scripture). But try I did, and I'm certain that I did damage not only to the interpretation of scripture in my efforts but also demeaned my own soul in the process. Deep down, I knew that I was being false to the intent of scripture and I was denying my own intellect.

There's something to be said in favor of legalism: it puts you in control. Spirituality becomes a list of "dos" and "don'ts" by which you measure your own progress. Relationship with God is irrelevant, really, because with legalism you never really have to worry about the unexpected. Trembling in the presence of a holy God who is unpredictable and unwilling to be manipulated isn't necessary with legalism because you never sit still long enough to let God be God. Legalism is about controlling God, manipulating God by your good actions and expecting God to bless you for your efforts.

It's amazing to me that in spite of all of Jesus' teachings against legalism that Christians have spent so much of their history promoting it.

For years I have avoided prayer, fearing the silence, fearing the feelings of failure because I couldn't hear God speak. I felt like Saul who approached God all the "right" ways but never received an answer because God had rejected him (1 Samuel 28). I was certain that the sound of divine silence was the mark of God's rejection of me.

Legalism taught me that relationship with God was about getting somewhere, pursuing goals, and reaching benchmarks. And legalism suffocated me spiritually—its ligatures encircled me, choking the breath of God from my midst.

Recently I've been learning something new and amazing: time with God does not have to be goal-oriented. Prayer can simply be a time of existing, being with God. I don't have to go into it expecting God to do my bidding; I don't have to come away from it with any wonderful insights. I am discovering that in silence one can listen. And even if I hear nothing, I can rejoice simply in being in God's presence.

I am learning to breathe again.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why I Became a Vegetarian

The stewing chicken pushed me over the edge.

I was deboning it for Chicken Tetrazzini, one of my all-time favorite meals. But as I stood at my kitchen counter pulling chicken legs apart, stripping the greasy meat off the bones, and stretching arteries until they snapped, I thought, "I can't do this anymore." The reality of this chicken's creatureliness overwhelmed me.

It's not like I somehow failed to realize that all the chickens before this one were, well, chickens. It's just that, up until this chicken, I had never thought of them as creatures. They were meat, packaged antiseptically in foam containers with plastic stretched over them. They didn't look like the real chickens you see on TV--with feathers and beaks and general all-around quirky cluckiness. No, what I was buying in the store, I had deluded myself, was meat, not a being.

But on this particular day three summers ago, the illusion was shattered. What I was shredding with my fleshly fingers had itself been flesh and bone, a living thing that was now dead. The thing lying before me was a corpse and I a cannibal.

From there, I began to do what I do best: research. I got on the Internet and began discovering other reasons for being a vegetarian. I visited the obvious websites first, such as PETA, where I watched a gruesome video called "Meet Your Meat." I never made it all the way through. What impacted me was that meat production involves horrendous suffering—suffering you don't see or realize exists as you carefully choose the lean hamburger at HEB.

Then, I turned to Christianity—were any vegetarians out there Christians? Or, did most people shy away from a lifestyle that is often associated with wild-haired, hippy liberals (well, that's what I had thought!). But, much to my amazement, I found a whole community of vegetarian Christians. And, after visiting several websites, I discovered a library of popular and academic works on vegetarianism and Christianity. I read everything I could get my hands on.

What I learned was that very thoughtful, even brilliant people, had come to the vegetarian lifestyle. Their reasons differed—some became vegetarians for ethical reasons, others for religious reasons, and still others for dietary reasons. What impressed me most, however, was that all of them acknowledged that animals are beings worthy of respect and concern.

My favorite writer on this issue is Andrew Linzey, an Anglican scholar who has written on the subject since the 1970s. His major premise is that while God's people are called to have dominion over all creation, dominion requires service and intervention for the powerless, not wholesale, tyrannical subjugation. I obviously can't summarize his entire argument here, so you'll just have to read his books. There's no one better at making the theological argument for vegetarianism than Linzey.

It seems such a futile gesture—becoming a vegetarian. I mean, how can one person refusing to eat meat change the suffering of billions of creatures? But, I consider it to be a worthwhile gesture. I view vegetarianism as a perpetual fast, a spiritual protest against cruelty and utilitarian use of other creatures for our pleasures. I see it as one small step toward the Peaceable Kingdom envisioned by the prophets and by Jesus himself (more on this another day).

So, the stewing chicken pushed me over the edge, but what I found on the other side was well worth it.

**If you're interested in reading about Christianity and vegetarianism, go to my librarything site where I've posted most of my library.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


My name is Susan, and I'm a technoholic.

I admit it, I love gadgets--no, I adore them. There's nothing more luscious than the arrival of a new gadget. The pristine corners of the box. The wonderful smell of plastic and electronics. You open the box, and everything is neatly packaged--the object of your lust, centrally placed in the box, surrounded by accessories, instructions, the warranty card. You pull out the central gadget, wrapped lovingly in plastic, carefully pull open the taped end, and hold the virginal device for the first time in your hands. No fingerprints yet, just a gleaming, beautiful, techno-scented piece of equipment beckoning you to explore its wizardry (after, of course, you charge it, which seems to take endless hours as you wait in anticipation).

Over the past several years, I've suffered from technoholism. It started with a Palm PDA (I owned the original one). I've since succumbed to a Canon Elph, a Treo 600, a fifth-generation iPod, a Treo 680, and a Canon Powershot (well, the Canon Elph I had was only 3.1 mp, the Powershot is 7.1 mp!!!!).

And now, I'm ashamed to say, the iPhone is singing to me like a Siren. I've tried to plug my ears and eyes, but, alas, it's to no avail. I knew I was lost when I went to Apple's evil website and explored the iPhone's features. My husband caught me in the middle of this lurid episode--I quickly minimized the page, but too late.

"Susan," he cried, "No! Not an iPhone."

"I'm just looking," I lied, "I don't really want one. I mean, my Treo can do lots more than the iPhone. Pshaw, I'm loyal to Palm."

But as soon as he left, I maximized the page, ogling over all the amazing features. Sure, I keep telling myself that my Treo 680 is better. But as soon as I assure myself that the iPhone is evil, my Treo crashes (yet again) or refuses to let me answer a phone call. I skulkingly return to the Apple site and my fingertip reaches toward the computer screen and caresses the iPhone picture lovingly.

No, I wasn't one of the crazies, standing in line on June 29th to get the first iPhones, though, admittedly, I wanted to be. I read every news article I could find about the iPhone's arrival--brazenly using my Treo 680 to access them--oh the adultery of it.

And then, yesterday, I took the next-to-last fatal step. I visited the local ATT store, dragging my children with me, making them swear not to tell my husband where we had gone. We walked in, and, when a salesperson approached, I asked imploringly, "Do you have an iPhone I can look at?" The salesperson assessed me knowingly, "Ah, another one," she surely thought. "The display's over there."

And like Mecca calling her pilgrim, the iPhone drew me to her temple. There were three iPhones at the altar-just enough for me and my two innocent children. We walked to the shrine and dared to touch the shiny idols.

I knew I was lost the moment I touched the iPhone. It was smaller than I imagined and lighter. Its screen awoke the moment I touched it, and it whispered, "Slide to unlock." My finger swept the pristine glass screen, and, the beautiful icons appeared ready to be pressed.

I don't know how long I stood there mesmerized. But I tried several times to leave the display only to be drawn back--Apple's fruit seemed good to the eyes and useful for making one techno-fulfilled. The coup-de-grace was when I confessed to another salesperson how frustrated I was with my old lover (the Treo 680). I was told how simple it would be to dump it for the iPhone. "It's so easy," the salesman breathed, cunningly luring me like the serpent in the Garden, "You just buy the phone and Apple will do all the rest."

I left the store without a phone (I have no money, right now). But I am only one writing project away from being able to afford one. It's inevitable now. I've reached the point of no return.

The most lurid part of all of this is that my addiction is contagious. As we were leaving the store, my son (only a tender nine years old) said, "Mommy, everyone in my class has a cell phone--everyone except me. I need one, I really do. I only need $400 more dollars in my account, and I can get an iPhone!"

Monday, April 9, 2007

What I Learned from a Liturgical Easter

We celebrated Easter this Sunday in a liturgical setting. The kids and I didn't make it to the early service (with the flowering of the cross), but the later service was just as beautiful and symbolic. We walked in to the sanctuary and the altar was transformed. During Lent, there had been no flowers and the cross on the altar and the ones used in procession were covered. Easter Sunday, the altar was bedecked with beautiful flowers and the crosses were unveiled. Symbolically, the death and resurrection were displayed on the altar, in the colors, and in the liturgy of Lent and Easter.

During the service, as the acolytes processed, the first cross was adorned with a crown of thorns interwoven with roses. The second cross bore Easter lilies. The crown of thorns had been used during the Maundy Thursday service, during which the priest scrubbed the altar clean and placed the crown, all alone, on the altar. It stayed there through Good Friday and Saturday, until Easter. The symbolism of all this is so powerful--death in the crown of thorns, hope in the blood-colored roses, and joy in the Easter lilies.

We sang celebrative songs, and the sermon reminded us that, while the resurrection certainly exemplifies God's power, more importantly it exemplifies God's love--love is what caused Jesus to rise from the dead.

There's nothing more incredible than celebrating the Eucharist on Easter Sunday--what joy it represents! Since for me the past several months (since September 2006) have been an awakening, the celebration of the season of rebirth and new life has been especially meaningful.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Easter Eve

Okay, so it's Easter Eve, and I'm up sitting in front of my lap top. I've done the Easter Bunny thing, about which I'm guiltily ambivalent, feeling like I've cowed to culture, but at the same time wanting to make childhood really fun for my kids. Of course I know Easter's not about a dumb bunny, but there's something incredibly magical about waking up and finding Dove chocolate eggs all over the house and discovering an Easter basket with some goodies in it. My mom always made it special for me, so I figure I need to carry on the tradition. I'll never forget the Easter after I became a Christian, when Mom put a real leather NIV New Testament (and Psalms and Proverbs) in my basket. It was extra sweet of her, since I'd been lambasting her with threats of going to hell if she didn't know Jesus. The fact that she acknowledged my Christianity in this way was a tender act by a mother too loving to be offended by her over-zealous daughter.

Tomorrow my kids will experience Easter for the first time in a liturgical setting. I bought them some flowers so they can participate in the flowering of the cross tradition. They've been noticing how different church is during Lent--how somber, how symbolic, how incredibly moving. Tomorrow, they'll sense the excitement of resurrection, of hope, of joy. And so will I, since this year I rediscovered joy in worship.

Initial Post

This is my first post, and I'm just trying things out for now. My plan is to include ideas about teaching religion at the university level, vegetarianism, animal theology, and my current spiritual journey. My sabbatical is coming up in the fall, so I'm hoping that will be integral to my blog, as I will be concentrating on my current interests in animal theology.