Thursday, January 31, 2013

So Much to Learn

In 16 1/2 years at the School of Public Health each move in which I took on more responsibility was an incremental one.  I knew most of the players.  I understood constraints. And I understood objectives from the university's down to my co-workers.

After spending one day in the transition to my new position yesterday I have already learned quite a bit.  First, there are a lot of new terms from HR phrases like "onboarding" to CRM (customer relationship management) used for potential applicants.  Second, there are lots of new people.  Third, while there will be many things done to facilitate my success, ultimately I have to figure out what I need to know, figure out what part of that I don't know, and figure out from whom to get the information.  Once I have done that, I can move ahead and hopefully help the school to move ahead.  My conclusion after yesterday is that there is a LOT I need to know and a lot of different people from whom I need information to learn what I need to know in order to make the best decisions possible.

What an adventure ahead!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The First Day of the Next Stage of My Career

Looking ahead to tomorrow I think of it as the first day of the next stage of my career.  Why?  Well, it is not the official day of my transition to the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School as their new Vice Dean for Education--that does not come until April 1.  But I still see tomorrow as an important piece of the progression as I will be (for the first time) at a meeting that has not been called simply because I am there.  Rather, I will be integrating myself into the regular rhythm of the school which has management team meetings on Wednesday afternoons.  These will inevitably become a regular thing for me looking ahead.  And since tomorrow is the first one that I will attend, it really does mark the first day of the serious transition stage.

I am also cautious to say the next stage of my career rather than the rest of my career.  I had for a while thought that I would be a Bloomberg School of Public Health lifer.  Now, my hope is to be a Johns Hopkins University lifer even if I end up in different places along the way.  Given that I will have spent 16 3/4 years at the Bloomberg School of Public Health before I transfer and that my active working career could include that much time almost twice again, (that would pu me at about 78 which many people in academia work until), I really think it may be the next stage.

I have no idea what will come after this stage, but every transition I have ever made has been exciting, and I can only look forward to what comes next.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cramming for First Reconciliation

As a college professor, I'm supposed to encourage students not to cram.  And I do. But it is hard sometimes not to end up cramming myself.  Or in this case, indirectly causing my eight year old to "cram".  And of all the things to "cram" for, preparation for first reconciliation.

The meeting for kids at our church who are due to celebrate their first reconciliation this year (in preparation for first Eucharist) was months ago.  We had Christmas break.  We've had other opportunities.

But finally tonight, less than a week before another workshop for the kids to prepare them for first Eucharist, we began.  (Yes, I hate to admit it but there it is.)

In any case, it was interesting to hear his comments as we went through stuff.  The book points out that the goal of God's laws (i.e., the Ten Commandments among others) is to tell us how to live with and love each other and to show our love for God.  It asked the child to think of a way our family shows our love for each other.  From his perspective we apparently don't do that as much as I'd like to think we do.  He fights with his brothers.  He sees people arguing.  He notes that we all have different things we enjoy.

Yet, we do all enjoy a good meal and every week we ultimately come back to coming to mass together.  So, he did eventually see that showing love for family is not as hopeless as his first comment would lead a person to believe.  And, I suppose that if we can still say we eat together and go to church together, even if what drives the rest of our days most days takes us in a million different directions, we are doing okay.

Never perfect, but who is?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Hamster Half and Risk Aversion

Borrowing a phrase from a friend's post on Facebook, today I trained a "Hamster Half". My friend indicated that he would be doing a snow run because he was not a hamster.  I thought about that comment a lot as I ran 13.1 miles in 99 minutes and 55 seconds--doing it just fast enough so that the counter on the treadmill would not "turn over" (an old arcade term).  I suppose I even felt more like a hamster with the treadmill inclined up just a little.

In any case, many of my friends ran outside this weekend, and it certainly was warm enough to consider it late this morning.  But I have concluded that I am fairly risk averse--reflective of not wanting to take any risk os possibly taking a fall or twisting an ankle on a small spot at a corner or on an un-shoveled walk where snow was not fully removed and could now be slick.

It is interesting to think about risk aversion. In general, I think of myself as a fairly risk averse person.  Wanting to know that things are almost certain to work out before I take them on.  But Friday, someone pointed out that I have taken a new position at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School as the Vice Dean for Education.  It is a fairly new school with a change in leadership and a change of school and a lot of new responsibility for me.  My colleague thought I could not be too risk averse.

So, it is interesting to think about the combination of activities that I have and how my risk aversion fits (or does not fit) with each one.     

Days without Running

Despite my best intentions, sometimes the combination of the weather and schedules can lead to unplanned days without running.  Right now, I have not run since Thursday night.  Yesterday morning at breakfast, I was tapping like crazy with the extra energy I had.  I used that energy throughout the day to enjoy a breakfast of pancakes and sausage at a fundraiser for boychoir, to take my youngest to a round robin hockey tournament just about an hour away, to go to McDonald's (a first in a long time--especially with a child with me), and to go to a potluck at which I served my favorite coconut, cocoa-nut, banana bread and even told a story about how I came up with the recipe (which was the challenge for the group at the potluck yesterday evening).  The hockey was fun to watch (although the facility allowed for doing little other than watching the hockey game while the kids plays), and the conversation at the potluck was fun.  Today, I'll take the bottled up energy and run 10-12 miles after Sunday school.  And we will see what the rest of today will bring.  Have a blessed Sunday.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Vanilla Sambuca--Revisited

Tonight I am sipping vanilla sambuca again.

And, I am looking at two events today that show what the "interesting mix" that is vanilla sambuca is analogous to in my day to day life.

Interesting mix part 1--general career shift.  I will be moving from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins to the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins.  

Interesting mix part 2--the move will also include an advance to a role as the vice dean for education at the school.  Very big change in roles.

Interesting mix part 3--on the day on which I could publicly share the exciting news about my job, I also was asked to share information about the artist for my tattoo.

Who ever would have thought that I would have such an interesting career opportunity in a school so different from that in which I'd trained and worked for 20 years now, and that I'd be someone giving recommendations for tattoo artists?  And that I would get all this in one day?  My life is an interesting mix and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.    

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Uplifting Things

I just saw something in yesterday's Wall Street Journal as I waited for my middle son while he ice skated tonight talking about the proportion of American workers who don't get enough sleep and who then have a substantial loss of productivity while at work which is referred to as presenteeism.  That, of course, is not uplifting.

I am probably as guilty as the next guy when it comes to insufficient sleep because I enjoy doing so many things.

What I have been finding recently is that there are things that definitely lift me up and they lift me up even more when I can share them with others.  And they can take me from being sleepy to being ready to go and do some more.

For instance...

  • Playing bass.  Especially in my church's worship band.  Especially when the songs are ones I know when.  Especially when the songs are upbeat.  It can give me a lift and leave me ready to take on other things when I get home from either mass or just rehearsal.  
  • Teaching.  I love it.  I see it becoming an even more important part of what I do on a day to day basis at work.  My own teaching.  Overseeing educational processes in general.  I know that both days when I taught my "new prep" (in other words the first time I am teaching a course) this week, I came away from the end of class just on top of the world.  And teaching Sunday school gives me a lift too. 
  • Running.  No matter how tired I am at the start of a run and no matter how much I feel like I am dragging myself through the first half of a run, I often (but not always) feel stronger as I go and just feel the exhilaration when I am done.
  • Spending time with my kids.  Sometimes they are draining.  But usually it is just exciting and more exciting as they get older.
  • Talking with Sherry--as long as I am not already beyond tired.  But when I am awake and we engage in conversation we talk about really interesting stuff that matters to us both and makes our world go around.  
Each of these is so essential to my existence.  Each of these is made even better because they involve sharing with others.  Running is the one things on the list that I can really do on my own--but even that is so much better when I am with my team or my training partner.  Or tonight the simple example of someone at the Y asking me when I was done my 12 mile workout with 10 of them at 7:19 pace if I was a marathon runner and how long I'd been doing it.  Sharing experiences is uplifting.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vanilla Sambuca--Symbol of a Life of Unexpectedly Good Mixtures

Since this is a blog about something in the kitchen it could be an occasional entry in my kitchen blog, but I don't think that when my three kids are all under 21 I should put something about sambuca in a blog about a dad and three boys in the kitchen.

So what is vanilla sambuca about?  I took about a shot of sambuca, three ice cubes, some water to dilute, and a half teaspoon of vanilla and it has a sort of vanilla vodka with sambuca taste.  (That might be an even more interesting--and potent--drink especially if I put it over some serious crushed ice.  Could also try sambuca with vanilla soy milk over crushed ice.)

So why comment on it other than to say it tastes yummy?

Well, it is a mixture of flavors I am experimenting with.  It is a twist on two otherwise good but separate flavors.  Sometimes when I experiment with mixing things that are not obvious combinations they produce a wonderful result.  Sometimes when I experiment with mixing things that are not obvious combinations they produce a result that I don't care for (or others around me don't care for) and I go back to the drawing board and try again.  Taking chances.  Chasing dreams.

This particular combination was a winner.  Whether it is a mixed drink, interdisciplinary research in my career, many family activities, running, or other parts of life--I hope that other unexpected mixtures that I try may turn out so well.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Outsiders and Creativity

Despite being on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins University, I don't always read the Johns Hopkins magazine (a publication for alumni, students, faculty, etc.) every time I get it.  A couple days ago, I was trying to straighten up some of the mess that is "my stuff" at home and paged through the magazine coming upon an interesting article about whether "outsiders" are more creative.  It was fascinating as it told the story of a paper by Sharon Kim, a faculty member at the Carey Business School, who had done a study that produced evidence consistent with the idea that "rejection is not merely a byproduct of the fact that creative people can be unconventional but that the experience itself may promote creativity."  (For the record, I am quoting the article which directly quotes the paper by Professor Kim and two colleagues.)  The article concludes with a quote from Professor Kim as she thinks "the hero in this story is independence.  That is something that people don't talk about often, the benefits of being different...I think that identifying the ways in which being independent can foster creativity is important."

The article was also careful to note that not everyone who is an outsider is necessarily creative and that not all situations that make someone feel like an outsider necessarily result in greater creativity.  That was definitely neither the article's purpose nor the conclusion of Dr. Kim's research.

What is interesting for me to ponder what this means in my own life. It is neither Biblical nor religious at all, yet the search for meaning fits perfectly with my Augustinian spirituality.  In any case, I think about feeling like an outsider (in some ways) in high school and playing Dungeons and Dragons.  The latter (known as D&D back in the day) was not necessarily creativity for the good of society, but it did involve creativity.  I think about leaving the hard sciences after my freshman year at Penn State and after spending what felt like years in high school preparing for and switching to health policy as an "outsider".  That led to seeing things in ways that may have been a little different.  I eventually moved into "health economics" and the economics part particularly having been admitted to the School of Public Health at Michigan first and then joining the economics department and coming at things a bit differently.  Even my success at Johns Hopkins in the Bloomberg School of Public Health--successful as a researcher, yes, but with a love of teaching that is not as highly rewarded as if I were at a small liberal arts college, and the creativity and new thinking that I have brought to my teaching.

Am I saying that I have been perfect in any of these tasks with extra creativity?  No.  Am I saying that I was ever as wildly creative as Steve Jobs--of course not and I will never be?  Am I saying that I am always an outsider--no.  I just tend to come at things from the outside and then hang around long enough to become an insider.  What is interesting is that once I become an insider new opportunities appear for me to find a way to come at something new from the outside and take a fresh look.  It may or may not benefit society--or even my little niche within society.  But I find the new challenges refreshing, uplifting, and amazing.

What will happen when I turn the next corner?  Who knows--but I'm sure it will be interesting, whatever it is.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

As Excited about God as about Ray Lewis

Today, during the homily Fr. Sam said that St Pius X in Towson is a hard parish to preach to.  I think that he has said this before and I think I have even blogged about it at least briefly before.  He talked about being difficult because people don't respond.  He noted that another parish at which he says mass where they do respond and where they are surprised and ask if he is not well when he has a homily of less than one-half hour.  If he gave a half-hour homily at St. Pius X people would be very unhappy.

So, why is this something to write about?  Well, earlier in the day at home we had been discussing how long mass would be today and I talked about how people should be as excited about God as we are about Ray Lewis and the Ravens.  I think it is worth reflecting on two aspects of that comment.

First, excitement about Ray Lewis implies respect for Ray Lewis.  I wrote about Ray Lewis when he announced that he would retire at the end of the year.  After I wrote that and just before the first playoff game the Ravens were in this fall there was a piece in USA Today reminding readers of the murder case in which Ray Lewis was involved after the Raven's Super Bowl victory.  He only pled guilty to obstruction of justice.  The piece commented on how not everyone was glowing with respect for Ray Lewis.  Then, I had lunch with a former student who had lived in Atlanta when the Raven were in the Super Bowl and she was not a football fan.  So, all she knew of Ray Lewis was the situation with the murder.  He has redeemed himself amazingly since that time, and forgiveness is a good thing  But I always find it interesting to see what people are willing to forgive in others.  And people remain willing to get excited about Ray Lewis.  Many people at church today had Ray Lewis jerseys on.  Clearly, excitement for him is part of the excitement for the Ravens in general.  

Second, why are people not as excited about God and celebrating mass as they are about watching Ray Lewis?  If we really believe what we say we believe, then shouldn't we be excited.  Isn't the idea that God sent his son to die for the forgiveness of our sins incredible?  (Skeptics may say yes, incredibly in the sense of being not credible.)  Isn't Jesus blessing us with the Holy Spirit amazing?  (Something else that Fr. Sam commented on--many Catholics' disregard of the Holy Spirit in our day to day lives.)  Do we not get excited because we hear about it 52 weeks a year every year rather than just 16-20 times a year for 17 years in Ray Lewis's case?  And even if we claim to be excited in our hearts and minds, we certainly don't tend to vocalize and verbalize about our excitement about God in the same way we do about sports--Ray Lewis, the Ravens, or anything else.

Some may say it is all a matter of what is considered appropriate and context.  Great.  Maybe I can understand that argument.  But why has our culture evolved in the way that?  That is an interesting question to ponder.  And I'll be the first to admit that I don't vocalize in a crowd at church, I do spend time writing, thinking, pondering, and sharing for any who care to share with me.   Since I don't get all that excited about sports, maybe I could say that I do get as excited about religion as about sports.  Or perhaps that would still be giving myself more credit than I deserve.  Nevertheless, it is something for which I strive and try to find ways to make clear that I am as excited about my faith, my spirituality, and my belief in God as I am about any sport.  

Feast of St. Sebastian

As I look ahead to 2013 starting from the Feast of St. Sebastian, I see many times ahead where praying for intercession from a saint may be useful:

New career opportunities with some big changes may be available--I will have to focus on the choice of how to share my gifts in different potential roles.

Challenges with cars--not very much religious here, but the stresses that are sure to follow can be difficult to handle and it will be important to lead life of serenity and to not let the stresses with physical possessions affect the way I relate to people.

Challenges with the house--it may need some repairs.  Again, not religious but just thinking about stressors.  Same set of challenges.

Growth of my children--praying for their continued success and development and for them to find their ways to share their gifts despite challenges.

Marriage--will be affected by all of the above and will continue to require a consistent commitment as it has from day one.

Running--knowing the right place for it in my life, especially after the Boston marathon.  I told my weekend training partners yesterday that Boston might be my last marathon.  She just chuckled and said something to the effect of not being able to imagine that.  Still, even if I continue to run, I have to come to grips with how the running fits in against everything else I am asked to do.

So, I will pray for all this today and into the future. I will ask for St. Sebastian's intercessions, and I will try to live a life guided by God.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Catholic Gospel Reading on the Feast of St. Sebastian 2013

I have commented on three of four readings for tomorrow's Catholic mass on the Feast of St. Sebastian.  Today, I will end with a comment on the Gospel.  The Gospel is the story of Jesus's first miracle in the Gospel of John, the wedding at Cana.  As a person who, here is what I take away from it:

(1) At weddings, miracles happen. It is amazing to think that two people would promise each other one year together.  It is incredible to think that two people would promise each other the rest of their lives.  Sherry and I got married at 22.  That could be 60 years--or even 70.  Through all of a partner's changes.  Opinions.  Self-expressions.  Aspirations.  And moving forward together.

(2) Our gifts should be shared.  Mary asked Jesus to share a gift when the wine at the wedding ran out.  Jesus was hesitant at first.  Then he decided to do what his mother had asked.  Part of that is respect for parents.  Part of that is sharing gifts.  I am all called to do that.  St. Sebastian found bold ways to do it.

(3) Knowing when to share our gifts.  Sometimes I think that there is a specific time for development and display of particular gifts or talents. Sometimes I think my life is on a certain path and a certain timeline.  But life rarely follows the exact path and the exact timeline I expect.  As Jesus overcame his hesitation, in some cases so must I.  Life is not on a set path.  And I must respond when at the right time even if I was not originally thinking that the time was right.  The tension between what I expect to be the right time and what actually turns out to be the right time is tricky to figure out sometimes.

Many insights from the readings on the day of the saint I have adopted as a patron saint for the last year.  Now, I hope to continue throughout the rest of this year in the process of my own development of living out the roles in which I am given the opportunity to show and share my gifts.  For my own benefit and hopefully for the benefit of others.    

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sunday's Response

In the Catholic church I attend we rarely use the written and recited response.  We always have a song.  Despite rehearing on Tuesday night, I could not tell you off the top of my head what the song we will use instead of a response will be this Sunday.  However, looking at the written response that is to be recited, we find that the Catholic church chooses to draw on Psalm 96--more or less verses 1-10 on this year's second Sunday of ordinary time and feast of St. Sebastian.

The people's response is "Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all nations."  Certainly after having one amazing year (20th anniversary, qualifying for Boston, new career opportunities emerging, children maturing) and with another amazing year ahead (still teaching Sunday school, still playing bass, more running, more cooking, approach our 21st anniversary, looking forward to celebrating my parents' 45th anniversary, helping our oldest apply to college), I see many reasons to proclaim marvelous deeds that I, for one, attribute in part to God.  I realize that plenty of people see no room for God.  But I do and I think that all this good begins with God.

The verses talk about singing a new song from all the lands that reflects the blessing of God's name.  I know that St. Sebastian spread the word of God.  I don't think of myself as necessarily singing a song to the Lord, but every day when I blog, I am proclaiming in some way.  Each day is new.  Each year I teach Sunday school there is something new.  And I thank God every day for what I have.

The verses proceed to mention that we should announce his salvation day after day. Again, for me this goes along with blogging.  And for St. Sebastian it meant continuing even after he knew just how much his life was at risk.

Then the verses shift to giving glory to God's name.  And they chose with a reminder to worship God who is king and rules with equity.

In some ways this is a bit repetitious. Simple praise verses while being very positive and uplifting tend to repeat the same message.  It is that way with many of the songs we sing  It doesn't make them bad.  It simply makes them read as though whoever was inspired by God to write it was inspired to "beat us over the head and remind us in every way possible" of the importance of the message.  Still, reminders are important.  Reminders are what St. Sebastian brought to the world in his words and reminders are what he kept bringing to the world even thought it put him at risk.  I have never felt at risk from the reminders I bring.  I try to use actions as much as words and let the way I lead my life following God speak for itself.   

Thursday, January 17, 2013

More on Sunday's Readings

Yesterday I commented on the second reading in the Catholic church this coming Sunday--the feast day of St. Sebastian.  Today, I will comment on the first reading: Isaiah 62:1-5.  The footnote to the reading on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' website notes that this is the prophet addressing Zion about the changes of fortune.

Changes in fortune.  Certainly a good description of St. Sebastian and being left for dead but nursed back to life.  Certainly a good description of what the city in which my spirituality matured (and is incorporated into my tattoo for that reason) has tried to achieve and is largely continuing to achieve.

For myself, I would say that I enjoy changes in my life and have had positive ones.  In fact, almost my entire life has been positive.  I am blessed.  For that, I count myself lucky.  And I pray for God's continued blessings and continued guidance so that I may be a light for others.

Sometimes being a light for others can be a very religious thing.  Sometimes being a light for others can be a very spiritual thing.  But mostly being a light for others just means being present, being a positive influence, and being someone who can stand by someone else's side for support with no strings attached.

Five short versus from a prophet.  Much probing into my life as I move forward.   

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Looking Ahead to Sunday's Readings

I don't usually comment on Sunday's readings in advance.  I sometimes comment on readings after I hear them and hear the priest's interpretation in the homily.  I sometimes comment on readings during the week just as the days go by.  But this weekend, I am actually doing what priests generally hope the congregation will do and encourage the congregation to do--reading the readings, processing the readings, and thinking about the readings in advance.  That way, my read, my ideas, and my interpretation can come right up against the priest's, get mixed around, and come out with even more insight at the end.  At least I hope.  It should make the readings more interesting for me to listen to.

Sunday is the second Sunday in ordinary time, the Feast of St. Sebastian (January 20), and the day when much of Baltimore will tune into a Ravens game.  So, I'll be listening to readings, thinking about how they relate to me and to the saint in whom I have taken a larger interest, and taking in the mass while many are worried about how quickly the 5:30 mass will end so they can get home to see the Ravens game.  I enjoy watching football, but in my mind the mass remains more important--particularly as someone involved in the music ministry.  So, I will just take it all in and go watch whatever remains of the game when mass is done.

I think I'll comment on the second reading first.  The second reading is 1 Cor 12:4-11.  The reading talks about how there is just one spirit but how the spirit gives many gifts.  The gifts that are enumerated include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, varieties of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  Whether the list was intended to be exhaustive or not is not relevant here.

The key is that there are many different gifts.  Gifts that I have been given.  Gifts that my favorite saint was given.  Sometimes as I have gone through my own life, I have felt as though the spirit of God (perhaps coming back to the ruach from Sunday) has given me different types of gifts.  The variations I have experienced make life incredibly interesting.

The reading also explicitly states that different people are given different gifts.  Not everyone has the same gifts.  Not everyone is asked to use them in the same way.  Everyone, however, is asked to use their gifts, but there is plenty of variation in how and when, and even how people interpret their gifts.  For this reason, I try not to judge.

I have no way of knowing what gifts anyone else has been given and whether they have been able to maximize their use or not.  It is for God to figure out.  My job is to set an example of maximizing the utilization of my own gifts and hope that others will follow suit.  It is incredible to imagine what life might be like if everyone made the effort to maximize the use of their gifts and did not use their gifts to denigrate others.  I am not saying that everyone should work together for a common good necessarily.  But if everyone at least worked for their own good and did not trample others in the process and put the gifts they have been given to their ultimate use, we might have a much different, much better, much more prosperous, much less stressed out, world.

Here's to hoping.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Motivational Images

Earlier today I wrote my entry that was supposed to be for yesterday, and I discussed my experience of community in Baltimore at a dinner for donors to WEAA--a local public radio station.

I noted that when I think about Baltimore, I think about contrasts.  Elaborating on what I said earlier, I think about something new around every corner.  I think about a city of the unexpected.  Wonderful music.  Wonderful artists.  An incredible running community.  Interesting African drumming.  Dancers.  Great churches.  Spoken word artists.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  So many things that once a person has lived here as long as I have you can know all about but that may take a visitor or newbie by surprise.

I think about the image I have of Baltimore.  The image I have in my head which is mostly described above and in my earlier entry.  And the image I have as part of the tattoo on my leg.  The image that reminds me of where my spirituality matured.

I think of all the symbolism and I think of me.  I think of how much symbols have meant to me--in my day-to-day life to guide my own spirituality and my story of myself (I wonder what a psychologist would say about the use of images to guide my self-image?) and in my marathon training.

The first marathon I ran, the imagery was all about Rocky--the music, the story of someone making it through many trials.  Now, I find the images of Baltimore more useful than the images of rocky.  A city that if you only visit it as a tourist you may think of as a flat city with mostly a "touristy" existence.  However, once you get to know the city it has many hills and many nuances that make it a very interesting place to live and to raise a family.  I mentioned all the unexpected things that one can find if one "turns over some rocks" or "looks around corners" in Baltimore.

My self-image and the link to motivation is as a city of the unexpected.  Crazy turns.  Changes.  Contrasts.  I think of my life as a stream of turns, changes, and contrasts.  And I see how the city is trying to come back and how it sports teams have shown an amazing ability to come back.  And I think of the saint I have on my tattoo against the Baltimore skyline and how he came back and kept going.  And I think of the many professional and running opportunities I have ahead of me that offer opportunities to persevere, or come back, or change or take a turn and always seek and find something new that can open incredible doors on a wonderful future.

Thus, this year, when I run at least one marathon, I think I may occasionally hear a Rocky song running through my head, but I also think I may have finally outgrown that set of motivational images and moved on to images of Baltimore as my guiding light to moving forward on the marathon course and in my life.  


Last night I have the pleasure of attending a dinner hosted by WEAA for donors who gave a specific amount during the Marc Steiner or Anthony McCarthy shows.  The gathering included both gentlemen, several other WEAA, staff, and a number of donors and their guests at a restaurant called Chazz’s that Sherry and I had never been to before.  Over dinner we spoke with two other couples seated closest to us and at least one of them knows Father Sam—the priest whom we hear most often at mass at St. Pius X. 

The dinner was lovely.  The most interesting part was after having eaten.  Each guest was invited to stand up and say something and then we had what was very similar to an “open phones” show in the restaurant.  What was so exciting was the fact that we the donors were all so engaged.  Different backgrounds.  Different educational levels.  Different amounts of time in Baltimore.  But everyone appreciated the open discussion that the two men encourage.  Everyone appreciated the varying points of view that the two men bring to the table.  Everyone appreciated being part of a community.  This community we call Baltimore.  This community that is big but small; that is troubled and troubling but vibrant; this community that is gritty; this community that is educated and educational and yet struggles so much; this community with so many different faiths, beliefs, ethnicities, and races.  And a community that everyone was interested in making a better place.

Just 30 individuals on one evening.  But the world can only become a better place one step at a time.  This was a step along the path.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Women in Luke's Gospel and in Spirituality in General

Just a quick thought--today at mass, Fr. Sam Lupico mentioned the women of St. Luke's Gospel.  He listed off a few and commented on the role they played in Jesus's life.  With a quick online search, it does not take long at all to find many entries in which people have written about the importance of women in St. Luke's Gospel.

It is interesting to me as I think about the importance of women in my own spiritual development:
  • My mother was a larger influence on my spiritual growth as a child.  Not that I didn't admire my father and my father is now a cantor which brings him into the mass in an entirely different way than my mother who attends but does not lead singing, but in my formative years it was m mother.
  • My mother encouraged me to join the Newman Catholic Student Association.
  • There was a woman prominent in the campus ministry at Penn State.
  • Much of the leadership during my years there was young women.
  • We had a very active sister in our parish at the University of Michigan.
  • Of the leaders of our pre-Cana training before we got married, I could relate to the woman (who was a more senior grad student) than I could to her husband
  • While my tattoo is of St. Sebastian, he is accompanied by Irene who played an important part in the story
  • Nearly all the youth/children's ministry leadership at St. Pius has been female
  • Our pastoral life director is female

Now, I am not Jesus.  And none of the women with whom I have the experience to relate to over the years would compare themselves with Elizabeth, Mary, Mary Magdalene, etc.

But, I do recognize the importance of women in my spiritual life.  It is interesting that as I have to raise my own kids, I am the father taking an active spiritual role in the life of three sons.  We will see how they turn out.  And when they grapple with the Bible and with their own spirituality some day, will they see themselves in the same context that I do or will they see themselves and interpret their spiritual growth through a completely different lens?

I don't know, but I suspect it will shape how they think of their spirituality as they grow and how they end up living their faith as they grow and become adults.  It is interesting to wonder how much different my day to day adult mid-life spiritual experiences woud be if I'd had a different set of influences as a child and in my young adulthood.  The context matters immensely.  

Ruach--the Spirit of God

Today, at the 5:30 mass that my family regularly attends and at which I play electric bass in the worship band, our priest talked about the Ruach--or the creative spirit of God.  I hope that this is a correct use of the term as it is Hebrew and from the Old Testament, so I can't vouch for the interpretation other than what I heard and other than how it was interpreted in turn by a Catholic priest.

In any case, he talked about it with respect to Genesis.  And since today the Catholic church celebrates the baptism of Jesus, he also talked about it with respect to the conception of Jesus.

What was interesting to me was his reminder to each of us that God's creative spirit is in each of us.  And that in this broken world (perhaps more broken these days but adrift from God's plan ever since Adam and Eve), each of us is called upon to help to fix the world.  And each of us is called upon to figure out how to put to work the gifts that we have been given through God's creative spirit in order to help the world.

I thought about all the opportunities I have had to date and all the opportunities that may come my way in the near future.  Some of them are about creativity.  Some of them are about persistence.  Some of them are about intensity.  All of these are gifts that the creative spirit of God has given to me.    Even the tattoo I have is a sign (in my mind) of a creative spirit.  My creative spirit of things I wanted to pull together.  The artist's creative spirit in what she brought to the design.  And the story of a saint and the person who rescued him who each used the gifts given by God.  

As I continue with my contemplative prayer life, I will continue to try to connect the dots of what I hear each Sunday with my actions, my life, and my future.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Luxury of Thinking About New Things

Many days at work I am so busy that all I can do is take care of making sure that things that have already been initiated get finished.  Maybe at one point there was something new.  Maybe my new idea.  Maybe someone else’s new idea.  But on a particular day there is nothing to initiate.  Nothing to dream about.  I am just moving things ahead along a pre-defined path or bringing things to an end.  

But today was different.  Today included a number of meetings that were all about brainstorming and thinking up new ideas.  New contexts.  New opportunities.  New projects.  New people. 

Days like today are pretty exciting.  And a luxury.  A blessing.  And for that I am thankful.

I miss my family at home but am looking forward to seeing them tomorrow for a visit with extended family.  Not necessarily anything new there but always good.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Living Life to It's Fullest

Someone observed on my Facebook page this morning that I had done almost a whole day's worth of activity before most people started their day.  Well, I suppose that baking a few more than two dozen buttermilk biscuits with cinnamon and sugar and running 7.5 miles and putting up a few Facebook posts all before 6:50 AM does represent a lot.  What does it mean?

Well, recently, a few colleagues have commented on how they think I need more sleep.  I probably do.  Certainly while I have been recovering from my cold, I have tried to get an extra hour of sleep each night.  It has helped me to recover and I have felt much better.  But I like to try to get by on just the minimum amount of sleep because the key to my life is to live life to its fullest.  Enjoying every moment.  Making the most of every moment.

But as I reflect a bit, I have to decide what "making the most" and "fullest" mean.  Not just what they mean but what they mean when I ask different people. I have my own sense of priorities.  But I try not to be completely self-centered.  My priorities are guided by my family.  How I incorporate my family's priorities is guided by my love for my family.  My love for my family is guided by my spirituality.

But when all is said and done, I have to make sure that I balance my priorities with my family because the family (not always necessarily by blood) is the most important unit for society.

Every once in a while I just need to check back in to make sure that what I have prioritized as living my life to its fullest contributes to my family being able to live all their lives to their fullest.  I know I miss every once in a while, but I try to get it right.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Day in the Life

This is not a Beatles song.  This is a short entry about a day in my life.

Tried to wake up early.
Went back to sleep.
Got up close to regular time.
Decided that after being awake an extra hour last night hacking that I should sleep more.
Still up early enough to make cornbread before work.
Ate breakfast and packed lunch and packed some cornbread for dinner.
Walked the dog.
Worked on a project to do a cost-benefit analysis tying post-jail services to health.
Talked to colleagues at our School of Business.
Talked to my department chair.
Prepared for a meeting in Philly Friday and Saturday.
Prepared for a meeting that will include the university President tomorrow.
Worked on some old grading.
Evaluated some work a student had done.
Went to see perspective drawing done by my seventh grader and his class.
Noticed that one child had mimicked a St. Sebastian picture when they visited the local art museum and showed off my tattoo.
Read to my eight year old.
Snoozed a bit.
Washed dishes
Pondered a colleague's recent loss.

Such varied activities.
Such an interesting mix.
Not perfect, but a very rewarding way to live.
I count myself lucky!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I Should Just Compare Myself with Myself

A friend posted on Facebook today the top ten ways to feel miserable as an artist.  The first was constantly comparing oneself to other artists.  The same thing can be said for runners.

For instance, today, a friend posted something in relation to the Boston marathon joking that the three of us who will room together in Boston were added to the elite group.  I know I am not an elite runner.  It is interesting to think about what they run and what I run, but there is no point in comparing myself with the elites.  There is really no point in comparing myself even with any sub-3 hour marathoner at the moment.  It serves no purpose.  The second member of the group said "maybe in another life".  I said, "If I get a personal best then I'll be elite for myself and that is all that matters."

Still, I know I compare myself to at least some others.  Comparing myself with a small number of others gives me something to aim for.  Comparing myself to the people who are 5-10 seconds per mile ahead of me is a good thing, if I can't stick with the healthiest thing which is just to focus on comparing myself to my goals and what I have been able to do in the past.

There are other ways in which sticking with comparisons with myself is helpful.  For example, today's theme was pain.

When someone asked how I am feeling, I could say pretty good.  Yes, I had an occasional awful dry hack.  But that is much better than I was two days ago.  No more sore throat and voice is back to normal.  Only comparing myself to myself was helpful.

Another example from today was feeling irritated when I had to take a bandage off a big scrape on my elbow from running this morning.  But I thought to myself "I run for 3+ hours and I spent 7+ hours getting a tattoo.  What is a little irritation when removing a bandage?" I got the bandage off quickly.  And life goes on.

Comparing myself with myself keeps like simple and straightforward and very real. It does not promote jealousy.  It promotes (for me) a way of staying focused only on whether I have what I need and being satisfied with life as it is.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Thinking about Humanity in Baltimore

Just a short thought.  Tonight on The Marc Steiner Show co-hosts Marc Steiner and Anthony McCarthy were discussing homicides in Baltimore City.  I missed the show recently when Marc read the names of all 217 people who were homicide victims in Baltimore City last year.  They commented on how important it was to get the names out as each one was a life lost--even if the person had a criminal record and died in gang violence.  Each person was human.  And saying "it's just gang violence" sort of dehumanizes the individuals involved.

That got me thinking.  When I speak with people who might move to Baltimore, I describe it as a basically safe city--if you avoid the drug trade and know what neighborhoods to stay out of.  I tell people that the whole city is not like The Wire.  I make such comments off-handedly.

What struck me is the following.  It is good to encourage people to move to Baltimore.  And I do think Baltimore is generally a safe city for most of the residents and most visitors.  What I realized though is that when I "write off" neighborhoods with off-handed comments about just avoiding them to be safe, it ignores something important.  It dehumanizes the people of those neighborhoods.  Avoiding the fact that there is a problem does not help to solve the problem.  And while there may not be much that I, as an individual, necessarily can do to solving the problem, writing it off is definitely not the right answer.

In the future, I'll still tell people the city is relatively safe.  However, I'll tell people that being safe involves having some street smarts.  And, I'll admit that there are areas of the city that are less safe.  But I won't say, "But you can just ignore that."  Instead, since most people I talk to about moving to the city are thinking about moving here to study or teach a a university, if I finish with anything, I'll try to finish with, "I hope you can come here and help be part of the solution."  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Healing Power of Music

Today was the first time I had played my bass in nearly two weeks (having been away for the one Sunday mass between Christmas Eve and now).  After mass today (at mass was where I played bass), I was speaking with my 13 year old who commented that I sounded a lot better than I did earlier in the day.  I commented in return that while my voice/throat was feeling somewhat better, just playing my bass during mass (particularly for a couple of the more upbeat songs), I felt better.  At that point, he threw in a comment about "the healing power of music".

It was a fascinating comment because the Maryland State Boychoir (with which he sings) has a concert each year with a local hospital called the healing power of music.  

It was a fascinating comment because I truly believe that music has healing, uplifting, energizing power.  Whether my son was just joking because of the annual concert or he really belies it.  

Finally, it was a fascinating comment because I remember back to a first conversation I had with a student I was mentoring who was interested in health and music, and I commented that she should consider music therapy.  (Now, she remains interested in a career that will involve making people's lives better and she remains interested in music, but I don't see music therapy in her future.)

And throughout life, music has always had a healing power.  It can be a focal point to focus on something other than what you need healing from.  It can be something that helps you think through an issue.  Sometimes it is the words.  Sometimes it is the melody or harmony.  Regardless, music can very often have healing powers.  

I won't deny that there is some music that can have destructive power as well given some lyrics, but where I have looked, I have always been able to find healing.  As I try to shake the last bit of a cold I have, perhaps something about music alongside my family and my running will help me to heal and be ready to take on another busy week at work.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lesson of the Morning

The lesson I learned from yesterday into today is that the conclusion I draw about the advisability of a choice I am making may depend very importantly on how I am looking at the choice—or where I am looking at it from.  Yesterday, I chose not to run as my head felt very stuffed and I felt very tired.  When I got out of bed, I felt a little better but decided to stick with the decision not to run.

For this morning, I made a decision yesterday not to run with my usual Saturday training partner. That was disappointing as I love the company on the long Saturday runs, but I needed to have the options (a) to run where it is warmer inside at the Y (sometimes it hurts to breath very cold air for a long time, especially when I am not feeling 100%), and (b) to quit if my body told me to.  Both of those point to running on a treadmill inside.

So, this morning, I was lying in bed thinking about whether to run or not.  If I had all the time in the world to just rest, was not training for Boston, and was not motivated to be a “doer” in my running, I probably would have just rolled over one more time (I had already ignored my alarm several times) and slept in until having to take my eight year old to hockey,

Instead I got up to (a) finish making bagels and (b) assess my running options.  With a clearer head and a slightly energized body, I decided to run. 

It emphasizes the importance to me of how sometimes just making a little effort to get started really facilitates the decision to continue.  Never even bothering to start makes it easy not to try.  At least trying makes it so much easier to continue.

I could think of that as part of the physics of inertia and momentum.  I could also think of it as the nature of always being willing to get up and keep going, as embodied by the story of St. Sebastian.  It’s a great day for thinking about the latter as I get the final touch up on my first tattoo today.

Have a great Saturday!