Sunday, November 15, 2009

Competence Is a Heady Thing

This week I fixed the laser printer at the library. I had googled for hints on fixing it and found a place that described the exact problems we were having and offered to sell me replacement parts that would cure those problems. Two problems, two parts, $50.

The first part came with written instructions. It was a quick and easy repair. I tackled it soon after the order arrived and the printer was then functional. The second part came with an instructional dvd. It was to fix a less essential function -- the bypass tray. I procrastinated on that one until Wednesday afternoon when I needed to print material for a workshop the next day and wanted to use both sides of the paper, something most easily done using the bypass tray. I decided the time had come and stuck the dvd in my laptop next to the printer.

An hour later, after removing and replacing five parts and two springs to get to the problem piece, the printer was working but I had one part left over -- a paper-clip type wire spiraled into a spring. I knew I was in trouble when it went boing as I removed the bypass tray. I didn't see where it came from and couldn't figure out how it was supposed to work. The video didn't show that spring at all and the tray worked fine without it. But it bothered me to have a part left over.

Mechanical devices are not my specialty. I have a terrible time remembering how things came apart so I can put them back together. I generally try to avoid taking them apart, particularly things that suddenly fall apart without warning, such as spring-loaded devices. I had spent significant time on that spring without success and everything else about the printer was working. Should I throw it away? Store it someplace until I received sudden inspiration to replace it? I sat and studied it a little longer. It needed to be happy when the tray was in an upright position and experience mild stress when the tray was open. Study, study, back to the printer to look for possibilities. Then - voila! -- I saw how it went. Success! The printer is now fully repaired and all of its parts back in their proper place.

Fixing the printer made me quite pleased with myself. It was a significant accomplishment.

Meanwhile, a coworker made a call to take care of a matter for her adult son. She said, "Someday he's going to have to stand on his own two feet." Obviously, that wasn't the day. I remembered that he was in the library recently and wanted me to figure out a website for him. I had no familiarity with the site and he was the one who needed to learn how to use it. I told him I would simply be poking around the same as he could do himself and walked away. Eventually, he figured it out. Did he have that same sense of accomplishment in handling something himself? He tends to ask me for help every time. Does "standing on his own two feet" have no appeal to him?

Later, that same coworker told me about a call she got from an inmate at the county jail wanting her to assist him in gaining release -- attend his bail-reduction hearing, maybe contribute something toward his bail. The man is 50 years old. What's he doing in jail in the first place? How many years does it take a person to assume responsibility for staying on the right side of the law or for dealing with the consequences of failing in that endeavor?

It made me feel good to fix the printer. Capable. Competent. I can get around most internet sites without assistance. I can live well enough within the law to avoid getting stuck in jail hoping for a bond reduction or someone who cares enough to bail me out. (I've at least managed to escape that fate for over 50 years.)

What is it like to depend on others to bail you out of the tight spots you stumble into? Does such a lifestyle feel right to people with a particular personality and history? Would the thrill of competent living leave them hooked on accomplishment if they could manage to live competently?

I wonder.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Adventures of a Domestic Rabbit

This is a story with a happy ending. The rabbit is back. It's not the end I expected.

On the evening of October 8, I heard a squeal in the woods outside my bedroom window. It was the panic scream of a rodent. My first thought was that it sounded like a rabbit. I thought of the wire cage housing my "Easter bunny" and was comforted by the confidence that no predator could get to her. I decided it must have been a hapless chipmunk.

The next day, my daughter discovered the empty rabbit cage. The door was propped open. The rabbit was gone. I was somehow distracted the previous day and left the door open and the rabbit, naturally, went exploring.

As I remembered the previous night's squeal, my heart sank. What had discovered and attacked our domestic rabbit, so ill-trained for wilderness survival? I had intentionally fostered goodwill between the rabbit and the dogs and cat, trying to persuade our household predators that the rabbit was "family" rather than prey. Had those attempts resulted in disaster in the absence of healthy fear on the rabbit's part and my restraining hand on the dog?

The rabbit was a gift, a pedigreed 4H show bunny. How could I admit to my generous friends that I lost it by leaving the cage door open? Even though the empty cage was discovered as I was rushing out the door for a meeting, I took time for a brief and futile search -- no rabbit, dead or alive. It was gone. The dogs took a "no comment" position. I wanted to cancel the meeting, but, really, it was only a missing rabbit. It's not like rabbits are hard to replace. Male rabbit plus female rabbit and you have a whole litter to choose from in thirty days. And it's not as though the lost rabbit was particularly affectionate. Any time we let her loose in the house, she would lead us on a merry chase as she evaded capture. Still, the panic scream echoed in my head and my gut ached as I visualized the fate of our pet due to my carelessness.

As I waited for time to ease the initial shock of what I had done, I wondered... How many parents are haunted by a child's scream -- a child hit by a vehicle, maybe theirs; a child losing his or her grip and falling or being swept away by current or wave. How can they endure the endless echoes of that final scream of pain and panic? How do they ever go on with life? What would it be like to multiply the grief I felt for the rabbit by the huge value factor involved with a child. I can't begin to imagine the pain and suffering.

A week after the rabbit escaped, my husband captured her in pixel form sitting not far from her cage by the kitchen door. As soon as he touched the doorknob, she was gone. I wouldn't have believed it but the rabbit in the photo he printed was definitely ours. A few days later he found her by the woodpile. Three of us closed in on her. She let us get close and then disappeared under the wood. A flashlight revealed her at the end of a long hollow run, far beyond reach. The day after that, she let Dave touch her nose when he was out feeding the wood furnace. And a few hours later she sat still by the entrance to her woodpile "burrow" and let me catch her.

Was twelve days enough for the rabbit get her fill of life in the wild and decide to resign herself to being caged in exchange for protection from the dangers of the world along with daily food and water? Did the change of diet from pellets to greens leave her without enough energy to run? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a domestic rabbit? She seems lighter and more appreciative of being a pet, easier to catch in the house, less determined to get away when carried, more inclined to come close to fingers reaching through the cage wire. The failure to fight capture could be simply a lack of energy, but it doesn't take much energy to avoid fingers coming through the cage wire.

I'm pretty sure the scream I heard that first night was the rabbit. It must have escaped from whatever was after it and found a hiding place. What blessing there is in happy endings. Oh that all the endings could be happy endings. My heart still aches when I think of all the many tragedies for which there is no happy ending.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

One more blog post

Five months. Almost. That's how long it has been since I have added anything here. As I have mentioned before, it turns out a blog can continue to exist and attract visitors based on existing material rather than requiring constant updates. Still, I fear that blogspot may someday notice that I'm not writing on a regular basis and "weed" me out just as I weed books from the library shelves.

There's hope for more. My garden is winding down. I'm gradually emerging from the crushing to-do list that ate up the summer. I even went to Google reader today to see who else continues to blog and who has fallen silent. It turns out not everyone has wandered off to twitter.

I wonder how substantial additions need to be to stave off the weeding fork. I think I'm past 140 characters now. Is it enough?

Now I just need to come up with some things to publicly ponder before the holidays move in like an elephant in a small room and leave me crushed against the wall.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fighting heresy

I was reminded again this week that fighting 'heresy' is a delicate operation.

A number of years ago, I left the library at about the same time two days in a row and caught a few seconds of a radio preacher. The first day, he was ranting about the false teachings of "Sanders and Boyd." I turned the radio off. The second day, he was still going on about how wrong "Sanders and Boyd" were. Apparently, these two people were making some pretty big waves. I listened a little longer and came easily to the conclusion that I would find more to like about "Sanders and Boyd" than the one trying so hard to refute their views. A little research led to a more complete identification of John Sanders and Gregory Boyd, proponents of open theism. I bought and read The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence by John Sanders. Sanders' views fit well with my beliefs and the book was profitable. I wondered if I should write a thank you note to the radio preacher who introduced me to him.

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a website exposing the 'heresies' of the emerging church in America. Her son had the dubious honor of being noted as a student leader on this road to heresy. As I looked around the site, I found some of my favorite Christian writers highlighted, along with other names I had not previously encountered. I have left the site open in a browser tab and revisit it now and then. There is useful information there -- links to sites connected with the emerging church, spiritual formation, and contemplative prayer. I don't know of another place on the internet that does so well in pulling together such an attractive set of resources. Being well-practiced at overlooking offensive tirades from the established church, I'm not overly bothered by the negative words that surround these resources.

What is/are the person(s) behind the site thinking in presenting all of these open windows into the ways God is working in the 21st-century Church? Am I supposed to look at them and immediately agree that they must be of the devil? Is that an obvious conclusion to the site manager(s)? Is there any fear at all that visitors such as me will follow the links and embrace what they find rather than joining the "ain't-it-awful" crowd in rejecting them?

The book of Acts in the Bible contains the account of a zealous young Pharisee named Saul who witnessed the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and then went on to persecute the early church. In chapter 9, Saul is off to Damascus to round up followers of Jesus Christ in that city when he encounters a blinding light and a voice that says, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks." (KJV memory version) There's a short conversation and then Saul gets up and becomes just as zealous for Christianity as he has been in opposing it. It strikes me that such a complete turn-around didn't start when that light flashed, that at some level Saul (later to become the apostle Paul) was already beginning to wonder if he might have it all wrong and be working against God rather than for Him. Perhaps part of his zeal was designed to squelch the doubts that had begun to nag at him.

I wonder about the person(s) behind the Lighthouse Trails Research blog. Are they so blind to the appeal of what they are presenting that they are confident that no readers will be drawn to it? Are they struggling to maintain their position of disdain while nagging doubts erode away their convictions? Alternatively, is the site maintained by someone only pretending to oppose this stuff and banking on the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity? (I would seriously entertain this idea if honesty and transparency weren't a strong value among people embracing spiritual formation.)

Perhaps we should all stick to supporting the stuff we love rather than risk spreading the word about the stuff that strikes us as wrong-headed in our attempt to fight against it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let me tell you how it is.

(How's that for a subject with no keywords?)

This morning I was sitting in a hotel lobby using my laptop. A businessman settled into a nearby chair with his laptop, and he and his companion discussed the availability of internet access. When they couldn't get an immediate connection, the companion decided to go get a jump drive rather than waste time trying to get connected. As I continued with what I was doing, I thought I saw the man left behind with his laptop glance my way a couple of times as though he were curious about my success in obtaining internet access. It occurred to me that maybe I could help him get connected but I pushed aside the suggestion. After all, what was I really going to do?

The day before, I stood in a Metro station in Washington, D.C. waiting for a train. A family disembarked from another line and came up to study the map beside me. The mother said they needed 7th & C and thought they would emerge at that intersection if they walked to their left. They discussed it a while and then started that direction. But the mother turned around to check the map one more time to make sure. At that point, I said, "I just came from 7th & C. You were headed the right direction."

I've been taking some training for library software. It's sort of a learning together process. Those doing the teaching are only a little ahead of the students. Questions are welcome. Sometimes I have questions. More often, it seems, I have observations, maybe a helpful tip to offer. In other situations where I'm supposed to be a learner, such as in Bible studies, I might put my observation in the form of a question, such as, "Where in the Bible does it say what you just told us?" Interpreted that sometimes means, "I don't agree with what you said and am quite certain that there is no biblical support for it. I'll let it stand rather than challenge your authority, but I'll at least cast a shadow of doubt over it." It's not really a question.

Ah, the attraction of being an authority. Let me tell you how to get connected, where to go. Here's a tip for doing this computer process. This is what I know about the Bible.

Sometimes I'm the one on the receiving end when other people are eager to share their expertise and help me out well before I've indicated any interest in being helped. Sometimes it truly is helpful and I welcome their input. Other times, it can be quite annoying. In those times, I tend to quit responding while I wait for them to run out of words and go find someone more appreciative of their help. I figure no response beats a negative response.

So when is the right time to offer help to a family trying to find themselves on a map and when is it better to wait for them to look around and ask? Are there times and places in this world for offering unsolicited help? Is this urge to help those around me a character flaw or a gift to be honed and used to bless others?

Just pondering.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Note to self

It may not be a good idea to link from a post here to a blogger update. The link gets listed below the update and attracts far more strangers wandering through than usual. Site traffic is up. A bunch of people who don't know me and aren't interested in knowing me now know what I think about linking my blog to my Facebook account.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

As iron sharpens iron ...

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another - Proverbs 27:17 (NRSV)

I have mentioned in recent posts some troubling things said to me about myself by friends. It might occur to someone that it's time to find new friends. And the truth is that some of my friendships are more challenging than others.

Some people are easy to get along with. They don't question my motives. If they don't understand what I say, they ask for clarification. They give me the benefit of the doubt. There are virtually no harsh words between us.

With other people, even my closest friends, I have occasional clashes. Something is taken the wrong way and brings a defensive response. Or I am labeled as selfish or insensitive. Or my friend speaks frankly about an annoying trait.

So why hang out with people who don't even like me part of the time? The verse from the Book of Proverbs at the top of this post might shed some light on this. Sometimes it takes sparks to sharpen a metal tool, honing it to a sharp edge.

If the people around me spoke well of me all the time, how would I become aware of character flaws? How would I work on my ability to handle criticism without falling apart emotionally? Who would challenge my thinking?

I like the comfortable times with comfortable friends. I also value friendships that have seen hard times and survived. Our friendship has been tested by the winds of adversity and we have chosen to hold on to it because the value we find in it outweighs the pain of the occasional conflicts between us.

A few years ago, some people walked out of my life by walking away from the church that provides most of my social life. I did an inventory around that time and realized that, with their departure, I was down to five people with whom I had occasional conflict, that I was getting along quite well with everyone else in my life. (The fact that the conflict prompting the departure of those people had absolutely nothing to do with me was encouraging -- apparently, I wasn't the only one with whom they had conflict.) A couple of years later, two more of those people walked away leaving me with just three friends with whom sparks sometimes fly, three very good friends whom I love. They make my life richer and challenge me in ways that are good for me. I am blessed.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted ... -Proverbs 27:6a (NIV)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Invisible People

Classic literature has given us two books entitled The Invisible Man. From the pen of H. G. Wells comes the story of a man who discovers the path to true invisibility. In contrast, the main character in Ralph Ellison's book is quite visible -- people just don't see him.

A more recent addition on the subject of invisibility is Neal Shusterman's book for young adults The Schwa was Here. It is a humorous-yet-sad story of an 8th-grade boy who blends in so completely with his surroundings that people don't see him. The narrator of the story befriends him and relates the challenges and opportunities this feature provides.

I have felt invisible many times in my life. I even experimented once in high school to see how invisible I truly was. On the evening of a "Youth for Christ" meeting/party, I determined to speak to no one unless that person either spoke to me first or looked directly at me in a way that invited me to say something. The only person who came close to providing that minimal level of invitation was the mother of the host student. She didn't know me, but greeted everyone at the door, including me. The only words I spoke all evening were a response to her greeting and a word of thanks as I exited. The rest of the evening, I sat quietly in the shadows, and not one person appeared to notice I was there.

My own experience with invisibility is partly what motivates me to be deliberate in my effort to see people. It can be hard work. People move in and out of my line of vision. Sometimes I notice them; sometimes I don't. There are various factors that contribute to a person's invisibility to me. Perhaps the hardest to see are quiet, ordinary children whom I don't know in a group that includes more flamboyant personalities. Or maybe it's the people who appear to be so far outside my usual social circle that interaction with them doesn't strike me as worth the effort.

What has me pondering the idea of invisibility, however, is not the invisible child or the invisible stranger on whom I slap a label, but invisible friends. There are people in my life, people whom I see frequently and know relatively well, whose presence somehow doesn't stir up enough brain cells for me to remember that I have crossed paths with them. I can seldom remember if they were in this place or that. Was he part of that group? Was she in her usual place at church this week? Did I see him at a store sometime? Have I seen her in the library lately?

Working at seeing people prompts me to sort out those quiet children and learn their names. It prompts me to treat people as potential friends, even if I detect nothing about them that makes me think we have enough in common to sustain even a casual friendship. I keep working at seeing the invisible people. And generally, once I get to know someone, they are no longer invisible to me. Except a few, who continue to blend into the woodwork no matter how much effort I make.

I wonder ... Does invisibility go with the person, as in the books I mentioned? Are my invisible friends surprised when someone sees them? Or is their invisibility to me a flaw in my own vision? Maybe it's a little of both.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Blogger and Facebook

I see that I can have my blog automatically post as a note on Facebook. (Click here if you want to know how.) On the face of it, this seems like a nice feature. But it didn't take long to figure out that I'm not going to do it.

For more than a decade, I have moved between two different worlds. First, there is my "real life" world. The people who populate this world have faces and voices and talk not only to me but to each other when I'm not around. They know me by what I say, by my body language, by what I look like, by what others think about me. They hear my voice and enter my life with a physical presence. Few of them focus much attention on me specifically. Few of them care what I think about either Blogger or Facebook.

My other world is an online world. In this world, there are no voices, only typed words on a page. I type posts such as this and people show up to read them. Many are strangers coming in off the search engines. Others, I know only from the internet. Only a few are part of my "real life" world.

Facebook is a place where my two worlds intersect. It's actually a place where many worlds intersect for many people. It specializes in one-liners. "Marsha is typing a blog post." Does someone trying to keep up with 100 friends really want to know more than that? If they do, it's not hard to find this blog.

I have often told people that the key to survival in a small town is to be so boring that no one cares to talk about you. "Marsha who? Who's that and why would I care what she did? Don't you have anything better than that to tell me?" I find blogging to fit into that same pattern. Most people don't care to read my ponderings. Even though this blog is easily picked up by the search engines, I'm counting on the fact that only people who are truly interested in reading it because they have some level of appreciation for what I write will bother to come by more than once. Thus, I can share things here that I wouldn't necessarily share with everyone I know. Force-feeding these posts to my Facebook friends, whether from "real life" or from other internet settings, seems way too "in your face" for me. It's a neat concept that I can see would work for other people and I hope my mindset doesn't discourage you if you're interested in doing it, but I myself am not ready to invite that level of exposure.

So if you're here from a search engine, you're just getting in on some thoughts. If you're a regular visitor, thanks for coming by. I appreciate your interest.

Friday, February 20, 2009


I've been pondering the idea of self-centeredness. Selfishness. Self-focus. Whatever you want to call it. Being concerned primarily with me and mine.

Not too long ago, I suggested changing the schedule for something. Someone to whom I made the suggestion asked for supporting reasons. As I listed the advantages, she countered each with an objection. I was torn between doing rebuttals and arguing for each point versus continuing my list. Did she want to hear a brief summary of my reasoning or not? I became agitated and confused as my points were torn one-by-one to shreds and scattered to the wind. Then my friend uttered words that ended the exchange totally. She said, "I can see how you think this would be good for your group, but there are other people to consider. You're not thinking about others."

Whoa! That's a serious accusation. It's not that I'm thinking only of myself but that I have identified with a group of people and don't care about anyone outside that group. Group selfishness. I'm willing for everyone outside the group to suffer in order to accommodate the needs and desires of me and mine.

The reality was, I wasn't particularly sold on the idea I was presenting. I had picked it up from someone else for whom a similar change had proven beneficial. I was simply sharing that information and asking about the possibility of trying it in our setting. If the cons outweighed the pros for everyone involved, I was perfectly willing to drop the matter. I'm not sure how including factors that would benefit "my" group in my list of advantages revealed the proposal to be basically self-focused. I think I caught my friend at a bad time and should probably let the comment go.

As the scene described has impacted my thinking on selfishness, however, I've been thinking about the spectrum from pure and complete selfishness to pure and complete altruism. I'm not sure either extreme can exist in pure form. At the conference I attended recently, I heard the results of scientific research that support Jesus' words that "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Those who give reap significant benefits in terms of health, happiness, and longevity. Thus, there is no giving that doesn't involve receiving of some kind. Once someone experiences the pleasure of giving, would they continue to give if all the pleasure were removed or does self-benefit become a motivation?

At the other end of the spectrum, one might expect to find some purely selfish people who care for no one outside themselves. Maybe such people exist, but they aren't obvious to me. It seems that everyone has at least a "mine" outside of their "me" for whom they care. At what point does "me and mine" become something other than pure selfishness? How large does the "mine" need to be to no longer qualify as selfishness? Is it me and my family? Me and those who suffer as I suffer or once suffered? Me and my social circle? Me and my community? Me and my nation? Me and my world? Me and my universe?

In between the two extremes of pure selfishness and pure altruism, there is a whole spectrum of mixed motivations for actions -- good for me, good for you but not me except when doing good for you makes me feel good, good for us but not them, good for them but not us except when doing what's good for them turns out to be good for us. When giving up my life turns out to be the way to gain it, is it truly unselfish to give it up?

Mostly, it all makes my head spin, but eliminating the end points of totally selfish and totally altruistic does put a different perspective on being labeled as selfish when a proposal that I'm tossing around might be of more benefit for "me and mine" than for some larger group.


OK, you may not notice, but I finally moved over to one of the new Blogspot templates with block editing. Maybe this will inspire me to keep the sidebar more up-to-date.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Interpersonal relationships - hearing what is being said

Recently, I used a word incorrectly. The misplaced word turned a simple observation of current events into a rather arrogant assertion about the future. The friend to whom I made the statement took it at face value and informed me that I was wrong.

As I have considered my friend's response, it interests me that she heard the misspoken statement, compared it to the realm of possible statements I might make, and didn't question whether she had heard and understood me correctly. A statement with that much arrogance apparently is not inconsistent with her view of my character.

Another friend taught me the value of forming a good opinion of someone and seeing words and actions that don't mesh with that good opinion as out of character for them. He encouraged me to say words such as, "That's not like you. You're better than that."

Another friend demonstrates to me the value of active listening. I can't know for sure, but I don't think that friend would have responded to my "arrogance" without first verifying that my words conveyed what I was trying to say. He might have said, "Huh? Are you saying ...?" or "Do you really think so?" I could have then reviewed my words and detected the problem.

The "you're wrong" response not only revealed a negative assessment of my character but also devalued my opinion. My friend accepted the misspoken words as something I would conceivably say and then brushed the assertion aside as invalid. Which it was, in its misspoken form. But it was still a statement of opinion rather than fact and could have possibly contained something worth hearing if I had actually intended to say what I said.

I wonder if I can figure out a way to put a filter into my listening, to measure what I hear against the range of statements someone is likely to make at their best, and ask for verification when the words don't fit into that range.

I decided long ago that negative examples are as valuable as and sometimes more valuable than positive examples. This example of a friend who has apparently developed a rather negative view of my character, judging both by this most recent exchange and previous misunderstandings, seems to be a good source for learning about relationships.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Flying under the radar

Last week I traveled almost 2,000 miles to attend a theology conference. I disappeared from my world for a week and traveled to a far-off, distant land called Idaho. People noticed I was gone. They want to know why, tell me they missed me, and ask about my trip. But they show no interest in the conference itself, just in my absence. If I tell them about visiting my daughter for a couple of days and traveling with her that satisfies both their curiosity and their duty to take an interest in my life as a friend.

The conference itself has left me more aware of the need to "see" people, i.e., to focus on them and love them. One thing that distracts me in that area is when they show enough interest in me to get me talking at length about myself. I become more interested in what I am saying than in my long-suffering friend who is stuck listening. It's obvious when that happens. My own sad self becomes the star of the show, which is not particularly edifying to anyone involved in the exchange.

Thus far, no one has been either interested enough or duty-bound enough to actually ask me about the conference, what I learned, who I saw, the nature of the sessions, etc. A few people have asked about the theme. When I tell them it was about love, they look a little puzzled, but don't pursue the topic. A theological conference about love? What do love and theology have to do with each other? Curiosity is there, but not on a level worth pursuing.

I've told a couple of people more than they wanted to know about the logistics of the trip -- those who are most duty-bound to listen to my experiences. Someone else told me she wants to hear all about the conference -- another time. With only one friend in my everyday world, have I shared anything that came out of the conference itself. That person didn't know I had been gone. Our paths don't intersect enough for her to notice. But they did at one time and she's a good friend. She came into my world this week and asked a generic "how have you been" question. I responded by prompting her with a smile to ask about my trip to Idaho. And she did. I gave her a brief report along the same lines I have given others. The difference is that I could tell she was interested and open to hearing more. When the conversation took a direction that reminded me of something I had learned at the conference, I inserted a brief comment about it into the conversation. She listened and responded with interest.

The "flying under the radar" title to this comes out of the realization that I could have been hunting polar bear in Alaska last week rather than actually attending the theology conference with no particular discomfort when someone turned their radar on me and demanded a trip report. All I needed was a couple of days with my daughter on the way to Alaska to put on my official report and everything else could slide by undetected.

This is not a bad thing. It's not like I'm going to start lying about my outings. My accountability for doing what I say I'm doing and living honorably doesn't depend on people grilling me for details. The reason it interests me has more to do with the give-and-take nature of relationships. Friendships involve two-way communication. I talk to you. You talk to me. In some friendships, I spend more time on the receiving end; in others (or in the same friendships at other times), I do more talking than listening. It seems that people would be hesitant to share deeply with me if I don't respond with some type of vulnerability on my own part. However, I'm noticing that listening to other people often forms a bond that doesn't require more than surface information on my side. Many people never notice that they are sharing more of themselves and their thoughts with me than I am sharing in return. In fact, they seem quite satisfied with that arrangement.

Sometimes I have a need to talk about things as an aid in processing various happenings, but I don't often have a desire to tell everyone I know about it. I'm pleased to realize that there's no need to share more than surface details even when I disappear from my world for a week. People are easily satisfied by simplified, incomplete explanations for such absences. It doesn't take much to satisfy them that whatever happened isn't worth their effort to probe into it.

The nature of relationships is a subject with limitless fascination to me.