Sabbaticals Feed

Sabbatical Head Start

On Consolation

I go on sabbatical beginning on June 1.  More in later post about this sabbatical, its development and delay over the past few years, and what the plans, themes, and goals are.

Knowing that the sabbatical was coming, back in March I ordered a bunch of books for it.  I also pulled out a few from my existing library I haven't yet read and plan to during this summer.

Yesterday afternoon, I wrapped up the religion book I was reading, N. T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God, so rather than immerse myself in something else for the next couple of weeks, I decided to start on the sabbatical reading.

And first up I wanted to read Michael Ignatieff's On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times.  Ignatieff's book seemed a good place to start after two years of navigating the church through the pandemic.  And the last two years of my marriage ending and getting divorced.  Since this sabbatical is in many ways a chance to rest and recenter and heal from those experiences, consolation is a good place to begin.  

Somewhere I'd read a review of the book that interested me.  Plus I had read his last book, Ordinary Virtues, near the beginning of the pandemic  and had really liked it.  

So, seeking consolation to get a head start on this period of sabbath, I began reading and these sentences from the introduction resonated with me, and may help to set a theme for this season of life:

To be reconciled we must first make peace with our losses, defeats, and failures. To be consoled is to accept these losses, to accept what they have done to us and to believe, despite everything, that they need not haunt our future or blight our remaining possibilities.

Wendy Farley Quotes

"Redemption is fundamentally about power," writes Wendy Farley.  "It is the power that begins to unbind every form of bondage and to unblock everything that resists that flow of the Divine Eros through creation."

"Christianty and Buddhism are both built around an intuition that we are strangers and dangers to ourselves.  We act in ways that are completely inappropriate to our desire for happiness.  We are bound to misery that we conceal from ourselves by a thousand distractions and comforts that further numb us to the reality of our situation.  Our capacities to give and receive love are bitterly damaged.  All of these are ways of saying that our fundamental condition is one of bondage and illusion."

"The journey inward is dangerous and painful."

"Much of human life can be understood as addiction to patterns of life that ease pain but are physically and spiritually debilitating. They give the appearance of help but conceal their price."

"During Advent and Holy Week more than at any other time we are exposed to oxymoronic symbols of divine power that constitute a residue of Christianity's great wisdom."

"Deep compassion for all beings needs roots in something deeper than ethical principles."

"Nothing happens to our spirit, good and bad, that is not written in the details of our body.  Nothing happens to our body that is not at the same time a spiritual event."

"Darkness does not arise because we are terrible sinners or because God has abandoned us.  Darkness is the dismantling of the habits of egocentrism that have been so destructive to us."

"During periods of darkness, the virtues that were easy for us become impossible; the vocations that we loved are now confusing, dull, even a kind of torment.  The darkness of these assaults is only intensified by the desire to be good, loving, faithful people."

"The powers of the soul are released bit by bit as we practice them."

"The practice of patience helps to expose how raw and tender we are against everything that thwarts us.  But if patience is to be a virtue, a power, it must not be confused with self-deception or passivity.  It is not the repression of anger or bitterness."

"Patience, perhaps even more than other virtues, is extremely vulnerable to confusion with its 'near enemies.'"

"We are God-bearers.  As our trust in this reality becomes more stable, we will need to be less afraid."



We leaned on the fence overlooking the old barnlot and the dry, scruffy landscape of what Willa Cather called "The Divide"--the high land between the Republican and Little Blue Rivers.  And as the hot wind blew in our faces, we understood in rich new ways the difficult struggles of the pioneers in Cather's stories.  Why would anyone try to farm this landscape, we pondered?

We were at the Pavelka farm, the inspiration for the final scenes of My Antonia, the place where Annie Pavelka (who inspired the character of Antonia) raised her ten children.  Fred and I had traveled to "Catherland," as the local signs identify it, hoping for experiences such as this.  Our hopes were more than satisfied.

As I prepared for this sabbatical I had written publicly about wanting to see some parts of Nebraska I hadn't yet visited in our six years living here.  Fred Nielsen, who lectures in the history department at UNO and is a church member, asked what those might be.  When I mentioned Red Cloud and the Willa Cather State Historical Site, Fred said he had never visited there, despite living in Nebraska for decades and reading much of Cather's oeuvre but that he planned to visit this summer.  So we discussed sharing the costs and company and going together.  This being my final week of sabbatical we almost ran out of time before finding two days that fit our schedules.


Our journey began early Wednesday morning as we drove due west from Omaha toward the small town of St. Paul and the Nebraska Major League Baseball Museum which Fred wanted to visit as "an antidote to the political season."

We diverted (through much road construction) to drive through the village of Wolbach where Fred had lived as a child when his father was the local Lutheran pastor. The town has seen better times, though the house he lived in was well maintained.

In St. Paul we first lunched at a main street café filled with hundreds and maybe thousands of cookie jars. I ate from the fried chicken buffet.


The museum was a labor of love and a very well done presentation of Nebraska's major league ball players and Nebraska baseball history with a focus on the hall of famers. Grover Cleveland Alexander, the first such Nebraskan so honored, was from St. Paul.

We also walked among the (locked) buildings of the Howard County Historical Museum—the standard old church, one room school house, general store, blacksmith shop, and railroad depot. These were attractively laid out and very well maintained. They were adjacent to the very republican county courthouse and a tasteful (unlike, say, Saunders County) war memorial with a puzzling inaccurate start date for the Persian Gulf War, which they also contend (maybe correctly) has never ceased.



We arrived in Red Cloud shortly before the Cather Foundation (located in the old Opera House) was to close for the day. "We worried about you," said the receptionist, as she gave us our keys for the Cather Second House Bed and Breakfast where we were scheduled to stay. This is the home Willa Cather's parents purchased when she was an adult, so she never lived there, though she visited in the summers and for holidays and was known by locals to use the upper porch for reading and writing.

Local volunteer Cheryl oriented us to the house. "I was born here," she surprised us. This was a maternity hospital after the Cather's sold it. "I also had my tonsils taken out here. The living room was the recovery room. I remember waking up and seeing that window," she said as she indicated the front picture window.

We told Cheryl we planned to walk the Cather Prairie that evening. She said that was good and that the prairie was south of town, past the Republican River. "If you come to Kansas, go back 100 yards." Humorous advice that was actually helpful later when we had to do exactly that.

She offered dining recommendations. "There are three options, and one I've never eaten at." We agreed to eliminate that one. "For breakfast, there's the bowling alley."

The next morning we stayed in and enjoyed the breakfast provided at the house—homemade granola and pumpkin bread with special Willa Cather brand peach butter which was so delicious I bought a jar despite the anticipated mocking from my husband that I had bought yet another jar of jelly or jam (which did occur when I returned home). We breakfasted on the wrap-around front porch with two other guests, one of whom is an American who is an English literature professor living in France who was preparing to teach My Antonia this coming school year.

Wednesday night we enjoyed our walk at the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, identifying wildflowers using the handy flyer available at the trailhead and watching the sun set.


Thursday morning, after breakfast, we walked over to the Opera House for our tour of the Cather-related sites. "Which tour do you want? We've got the 7 building, 3 building, or 1 building tour?" We took the seven. It was $15 and why drive all this way and be cheap?

Living room--smaller


The tour included the childhood home filled with Cather family possessions and the attic room in which Willa lived, reading books late at night and looking out her window to imagine a wider world. Also included were homes and buildings that inspired various settings in the novels. We even saw some items specifically described in various novels. We were surprised to learn how many of the characters and places had direct connections to real life people and places. After the guided tour we drove around town and out into the country to see even more locations, and there were dozens more on the map that we could have seen. We enjoyed our stay in the home and our sight-seeing so much that we both intend to return and bring family. I hope to make a writing retreat there some time during a future project.

We were impressed by the Willa Cather Foundation. They have restored many buildings in town and are currently remodeling a large stretch of the main street to become the National Willa Cather Center with a museum. Knowing how sites like the Mark Twain House have struggled in the last decade, this burst of money and energy around Cather is all the more impressive.

Our experiences in Red Cloud and Catherland complete, we drove east on the minor highway 4 through very small towns, villages, and hamlets, paralleling the Oregon Trail. At one crossroads in the middle of nowhere we stopped at a tiny 19th century cemetery and marveled at how many infants and children were buried there without their parents in adjacent graves, maybe a sign that the families later moved on someplace else.

Our last stop was Homestead National Monument, which I had last visited six years ago. Fred had been there as well and toured the inside exhibits but hadn't walked the trails through the prairie and along the creek bottom. So, we did that.


I made it home in time for a delicious dinner of leftover beans and cornbread, a walk to our community garden plot with my son to pick fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and sitting on the couch with my husband to watch Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech.

Beauty beyond all knowing and naming

"Human consciousness plunges into depths to which we normally have little direct access. We might think of consciousness through the image of a spiral," theologian Wendy Farley begins her book The Wounding and Healing of Desire.  "Spiraling down deeper, we find the places where the ingrained habits of our spirit dwell . . . deeper still we come to an incandescent fire that has the power to burn away every obstacle to love.  When, like Dante, we pass through this sweet, excruciating fire we come to the great emptiness where the divine image burns beyond light and darkness in a purity and luminescence that nothing can stain."

This volume seems to be a meditation upon suffering and the spiritual ways of healing.  This summer I've mostly read books from areas of Christian theology of which I was only marginally (if at all) acquainted.  I've previously read two of Farleys books.  Her Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy we read in my undergraduate Evil and Suffering course and the book was transformational in my own thinking on the topic.  Gathering Those Driven Away I read a few years ago and it shaped an Advent sermon series on desire.  So, I'm reading this book because I enjoy Farley's writing and thinking.

This book is a little different.  More reflective and less focused.  At first this didn't engage me as much, but over the few chapters I've read, the style is connecting with me.  She wrote this as she was recovering from an illness and was listening to a lot of folk music, which she takes as a source of profound theology.

This beauty beyond all knowing and naming pulls us out of ourselves and toward ourselves and in doing so pulls us most intimately and scathingly toward the world.  It is impossible to be drawn to the beauty of Christ without entering more vividly into the beauty of everything else.

I'm in the final week of my sabbatical.  After 11 weeks of not working I am both eager and a little grieved to be returning to work.  It has been difficultly strange not to do what I love doing for so many weeks, but also a wonderful time of simply being and not focusing on a list of professional tasks to accomplish.

Yesterday we finished the patio installation and now look forward to design and landscaping and decorating in the coming months and next spring.  Today I did yard work and am, this afternoon, cooking a fun meal of old comfort foods--the beans are even now cooking, and how I delight in that smell.

Tomorrow I will head to Red Cloud to visit the Willa Cather site.  One more stop in my sabbatical endeavor to visit some of the locations in the region that I hadn't so far.  I've been thinking about the soundtrack for the drive.  Definitely some Emmylou Harris because of her song "My Antonia."

Song quotes

Here are some of the quotes and excerpts I marked from Choan-Seng Song's Third-Eye Theology.

Salvation is the external event in which God's pain-love succeeds in locating homeless people and winning them back to God.


Where there are people, I want to assert, there theology must be.  Where human suffering is, there theology must find itself.  Where human joy is, there theology must be also.  Theology does not take place in a vacuum.  Theology is an event.  It happens.  What else could it be?


Theology is not to be learned but to be lived.


If the cross cannot meet the lotus's thrust into a sea of suffering, how can we say the cross is God's redemption for people in all places and at all times?


Evangelization is an act of empowering people with the power to suffer unto hope.  It is an act which makes people aware that God does not condone social and political evil, that God does not accept suffering as the inevitable result of fate.


Strictly speaking, we cannot speak of the resurrection life as "life after death."  Rather it must be "life after life.". . . The resurrection . . . has removed this deadly obstacle to life. 


The life of Jesus from the beginning to the end is now perceived as the life of transfiguration.  What they began to see in their postresurrection encounter in Galilee must have been the Jesus who had been transfigured from a lowly carpenter into the herald of the good news of God's salvation, from an ordinary human being into the way, the truth, and the life, from a lonely religious teacher into a bold opponent of the powerful religious hierarchy of his day, and from an insignificant man of an oppressed race into a towering figure standing without fear before the oppressor's tribunal.


How then is it possible for the church to be the church of God if it refuses to take sides when a social and political situation demands it?  


God in the Bible is the God of surprises.  God always has a surprise in store for those who believe.  A God who has ceased to surprise us does not interest us.  Such a God is too predictable to forgive and forgive again, to redeem and re-redeem, to create and re-create.  A predictable God cannot raise Christ from the dead. 


The power of the resurrection makes us into "the living extension" of God's creating power.

Third-Eye Theology

Third Eye Theology: Theology In Formation In Asian SettingsThird Eye Theology: Theology In Formation In Asian Settings by Choan-Seng Song
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A marvelous exploration of theology from an East Asian perspective. Song insists that Christian theology must listen to the spirituality of Asian peoples, and he proceeds to demonstrate what Christian theology can learn. He draws upon wisdom from Buddhism and Confucianism to inform his Christian theology and shares the stories and experiences of Asians as source material for theology. I don't think I've ever before read a theology book that seriously grappled with the theological implications of the Vietnam War, for instance, from the perspective of the Vietnamese instead of Americans protesting the war. The final section is a powerful discussion of the Politics of the Resurrection.

As it is now late in the evening, tomorrow I'll blog a more thorough response with some quotes and excerpts.

View all my reviews

With or Without You

As we drove up the Missouri River valley last night, U2's "With or Without You" came on the radio.  I, of course, began singing along.  Then I realized that Sebastian was singing as well.  Singing U2 with our son was a great way to end our long, hot family vacation, which Michael had dubbed the "Show Off Sebastian Tour."

Garden walk

After our time in Arkansas, we visited my Mom, the extreme heat limiting our ability to enjoy the outdoors, but we still toured Lindenwood Gardens and played at the local splash pad.  Sebastian loves gardens, particularly hunting for rocks.  Everywhere we go he now collects one or two rocks. 

A quick excursion to Miami one evening allowed us to see dear friends, and we stopped in Claremore to visit my step-dad who delights in his new grandson.


In Oklahoma City we attended Cathedral of Hope, the church I pastored from 2005-2010.  Sebastian ventured up and down the aisles greeting people, many of whom were so delighted to meet our son.


While seeing family and some friends (and struggling to survive the extreme heat) we took Sebastian to some places that meant a lot to us--the parks and streets of our old neighborhood, the spot where we were married, the restaurant where we had our first dinner and date.  Our final evening he played in the pool with his cousins.


He seemed to grow up a lot during this trip.  He now gives high fives and has learned to shake hands, even venturing around restaurants to shake hands with strangers.  He gets out of bed on his own, even when they were a little too high for that.  He can slide without being held the whole way down.  And he understands more and more words.  Plus, he sings along to U2, which is really cool.

Good Art Work

Museum plaza

The first time I visited Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art about five years ago shortly after it opened, what stood out to me besides the pretty setting, the architecturally marvelous buildings, and the fine collection was the people.  When Ann Walton opened the museum she wanted it to be free and open to the public and to bring fine art into a region that was often lacking.  Of course free museums have become more common now, but at the time this was a new thing.  And the people in attendance at the museum were not the sort one usually saw in museums.  It was a noticeable difference.

The second time I visited, later that year when Michael, Mom, and I jotted over from her house for a quick, after holiday tour, what impressed me was the fine collection of queer art--both gay artists and gay subjects.  And some of the cards even drew explicit attention to the gay themes.  A daring step in Northwest Arkansas, I thought.

But then Northwest Arkansas is always a bit of a paradox.  Eureka Springs represents that quite well.  The old Victorian heart of the city is very gay-friendly, with rainbow flags and gay-owned businesses and one of the first equality ordinances in the state.  But the outer ring of more modern hotels and attractions is very evangelical, include the towering statue of the Christ of the Ozarks and the Passion Play.  When I was a kid, we stayed in the outer ring, as an adult we stayed in the heart of the town.  The whole region is like that--liberal pockets surrounded by right-wing fundamentalists.

This visit there was a noticeable increase in African-American art and more attention to it.  

I continue to marvel at the fine collection and the wonderful buildings.  I have yet to enjoy the trail system, as the days have either been too hot or too cold when I've visited.


Sebastian's new mobility made him not as easy a museum guest as he once was, but still not too bad.  Fortunately Crystal Bridges has a great kids space, where he played with other children, and some wide rooms where he enjoyed making noise and running around.

My favourite new addition was the installation of four massive sculptures--one in the courtyard and three along the trail from the upper parking lot--of the four seasons.

Good work is being done with this museum.


Old Ties

Town Square smaller

I was 27 years old in 2001 when I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas to become the Associate Pastor for Student and Family Life of Rolling Hills Baptist Church.  Now I'm 42 and many of the youth I worked with at the time are older than I was then.  I'm now older than some of the parents were then.

Since 20o5 I had made no extended visit to Fayetteville, returning for a couple weddings and a few funerals or a quick stop going and coming between Oklahoma City and Eureka Springs when visiting the latter for a romantic weekend.  So there were many people I had not seen in more than a decade.

I've always loved Fayetteville.  I enjoyed visiting there before I even moved there, as it contains my favourite used bookstore.  The area is rich with artists and farmer's and natural beauty.  Michael and I have often talked of retiring there.

This trip we stayed in the home of Brad and Sherri Fry.  Sherri was my realtor in 2001 and when my house wasn't ready for my start date at the church, she offered to let me live with them for six weeks, which I did, sealing a lasting bond.  They came to Omaha last summer to meet Sebastian and this visit Sebastian and Brad in particular developed a close bond.  

Rolling Hills is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of their church plant this coming Sunday.  I wrote the pastor that I couldn't make that celebration but would be in town the week before and that my family would come to church that week.  He wrote back welcoming me and invited me to share a reminiscence.  Introducing my husband and son to this Baptist congregation I served was a remarkable moment for me.


After church we lunched at the best fried chicken in the world--AQ Chicken's "Chicken Over the Coals."  Sebastian was so tired he slept on my shoulder throughout the meal, compelling me to eat fried chicken one-handed.  I have decided that the key parenting skill is learning to do everything with one hand.


That evening dear old friends the Wardlows, the Fergusons, the Spicers, and Julianne Brown came over for a visit and to meet our son.  The visit was filled with such encounters with former youth and youth parents and other Fayetteville friends, occupying our lunches and dinners.  Tuesday night we met up with Julie, Aaron, and Jonah Weegens.  Julie had been a high school student in 2001 and I performed her wedding sometime later.  When Jonah was born six years ago he was the first child of one of my former youth, so Michael and I made a quick stop to hold the newborn baby.  Now he and Sebastian played together.  What a delight.


We stayed up late each night sharing stories and laughing.


And we visited some of my favourite places. The arts colony of Terra Studios where Sebastian frolicked among the quirky sculptures, we bought some new art, and even Sebastian picked out a pottery bowl that he liked. The Farmer's Market, encircling the town square with its well-maintained gardens (the Pride display in the visitor's center was a welcome site). Hugo's for the Blue Moon Burger.  Wilson Park for the whimsical castle.  And there were a handful of other places we didn't get to.


The trip was healing and restorative for me, strengthening and in some places retying bonds.  But it was mostly fun, sharing people and places I enjoy with my family.