Archive for June, 2008

To an earlier post, Claire submitted the following comment:

Sandy, I would love it if you could develop a bit your idea of ‘the ability to hold paradox is an essential spiritual aptitude for our time.’ It sounds good while I am not sure I understand exactly what you mean.
Thank you.

Claire and all, I realize that what sometimes seems obvious to me might not be so for others, so thanks for the opportunity to reflect on this a bit more. Here’s my take on this idea…

As finite beings, and for many of us in western cultures, there is a tendency to want to see things in terms of “either/or”, “black/white”, “right/wrong”, and a sense of security in imagining that there is one right way to understand or do anything. A lot of what we’ve gotten wrong in western “civilization” is what I call a “hierarchical dualism”: a dualism that sees things not whole but as separate and opposite, and a hierarchy that values one set of characteristics as better than the other. This kind of thinking gives rise to all kinds of oppression – racism, classism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, etc. Unfortunately, this “hierarchical dualism” is the basis for the prevailing ecclesiology in the Roman Catholic Church, under the guise of “complementarity”. (See “Gender Complementarity” on p. 40 of Sexual Diversity and Catholicism: Toward the Development of Moral Theology.)

If I look at Scripture, I can find all kinds of confounding and delicious paradoxes. “Blessed are you when they persecute you.” “If you wish to save your life, you must lose it.” “It is in weakness that I am strong.”  “By Christ’s wounds we are healed.” And so on…

None of these statements make logical sense on a purely cognitive level. But the longer I live, the more I can assent in my heart to the deep truth of these and other encounters with paradox. The Spirit of God will not let Herself be “boxed in”, confined to one choice or the other. This realization is an invitation to “both/and” rather than “either/or” thinking, and I deeply believe that only by seeing things whole, despite many apparent contradictions, can we hope to see an end to the violence that threatens us and the very existence of all life on this fragile planet.

If we could look at our differences with wonder and curiosity instead of clambering right up the ladder of inference, wouldn’t that be refreshing?

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Well, yesterday was a very interesting day…I ended up not having anything to eat until about 3:00. Why?

The end of the engineering education conference overlapped with an annual “Furry Convention.” I moved from the hotel I was staying at to the main conference hotel for the last night, and was it ever a circus!

Not only was it the hotel in which the NY Yankees were staying, but there were hordes of folks wearing animal suits or animal tails, or carrying stuffed animals. It was just too much humanity for me, so I stayed in my room until I was ready to leave the hotel for good.

The night before I had come down on the elevator to meet some friends in the lounge, and there were mobs of people lined up behind ropes. Somehow, I don’t think they were waiting to get the autographs of us engineering professors…the NY hats and shirts were a tip off.

Anyway, I spent last night at the mothership in Baden, and then returned to Detroit today. I’m still not completely organized after unpacking, but that’s ok…

Hope you all have a great weekend!

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On Monday, the keynote speaker at the engineering education conference I’m attending was discussing a project of the National Academy of Engineering, called Grand Challenges for Engineering. A team of high profile and visionary thinkers was assembled to think about the things that the world most needs as we look forward, and what we engineers could focus our time and talent on to make a positive difference.

They came up with 14 challenges, which are presented in the below video from the website. Part of what I liked about Charles Vest’s talk was that he grouped these challenges into four categories, one of which was to “expand and enhance human capability and joy.”

Statements like this are really heartening, as they help me to make a more explicit connection between my vocation as a Roman Catholic woman religious and my current ministry of engineering education. What brings peace and joy is certainly a part of my everyday discernment about where God is calling me to invest my talents and energies.

We could all use a little more joy, and why not expect engineers to consider this as a worthwhile thing to bring about?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Grand Challenges for Engineering“, posted with vodpod

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We just finished our Chapter of Affairs – more on that later. Suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit was very much in evidence as we struggled to articulate how we desire to incarnate the mission of Jesus over the next five years.

One of my sisters asked me to play a little video clip after one of our breaks, and I thought it was a great one-minute mediation on the invitation to consider that all of creation is our “dear neighbor”.


Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Thanks to Bernadette, who offers the following reflection for us (I took the liberty of making a title for it based on my views, which you’ll see later in the comments – we are in Chapter now, which means all day meetings, and very little time to blog.)

Well, this is an invitation I’ll take you up on. I do indeed feel the need to chatter and as some might do, as we hide behind our keyboards, I can have a sense of being anonymous… which leads me into our topic.

For being anonymous, unknown, you can place yourself into an introduction and be literally whomever you wanted. Now I don’t mean in a sneaky, lying or underhanded way to any extent, I simply mean you have a choice of being. There is a quote stating, “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitudes.” Yet is the attitude and persona shown to the world or each person encountered, the one’s that are most favorable to you? Do you really have a choice? And I use plural because with all of us, there are several roles that we play for certain situations and people. My thought is my dislike of having to conform to so many different people that it becomes a worry on whether you have lost who you yourself really are.

As an example of what I speak of; a female police officer must have a persona during many situations other than how she behaves with her mom or how she feels inside. This is understandable. Many jobs require a certain mannerism that is nothing to who you are inside. Deep within ourselves we are who we are, but often we must keep much of who we are, well hidden. Although I don’t know for sure, but I would think a nun/sister wouldn’t have too many situations where she must conform her personality to society. I know others are watching her like a hawk to see if she matches up to their ideas. That would be stressful all by itself, possibly annoying as hell and maybe in some ways, humorous. As for me, I don’t like having to pretend so much, it makes me feel harsh, like I’m killing something within myself. But, if I’ve learned anything, I am a survivor. Well, thanks for inviting my chatter.

So, I think this is a great topic for all of us to reflect on, not just nuns. What are the ways we reveal different aspects of ourselves in different settings? Under what circumstances, if any, is this being inauthentic or compromising our personal integrity? Please join the conversation…I certainly will respond when I get a moment.

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So, things have been a bit quiet lately… I don’t have time for a “deep and real” post tonight, as I just arrived at my Chicago destination, and have to get up early in the morning.

So, I’m taking this opportunity to prod you, dear readers…what types of issues would you like to see me address in future blog postings? Remember, this is meant to be a conversation, not a monologue.

We can talk about nun stuff, Catholic stuff, religion stuff, spiritual stuff, justice stuff, outdoors stuff, etc, etc…anything at all within reason.

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In my recent post about our autonomous vehicle team, I was commenting about how impressed I was with these students. The “Millennial Generation”, or those born from around 1982 to around 1998, are the primary age demographic I see in my engineering classes at the university. Here are some of the characteristics of these young people, as listed by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation”:

  • special
  • sheltered
  • confident
  • team-oriented
  • achieving
  • pressured
  • conventional

Of course, most of us older folk know that these young people run circles around us with their tech-savvy skills and their use of social networking sites and text messaging. And I’ve heard some adults of my generation wonder if online networking masks an inability to establish and grow in “real” relationships.

If that is true in general, then we must have an extraordinary cohort of students at my institution, because so many of them are thoughtful, articulate, open-minded, and hard-working. I for one have been able to expand my circle of relationships because of what I’ve learned from them.

If we in religious orders fail to recognize the opportunities for outreach that these folks are demonstrating for us, then shame on us!

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Change happens

My time with my parents on Saturday caused me to reflect on change and the need to be gentle with myself as I and the people in my life move through change. It seems to me that every change, no matter how exciting and positive, always carries with it a need to grieve that which has been left behind. For example, when I got sober, it marked a new beginning of healthier living, and yet, I felt as if I had lost a close friend, as I had depended on alcohol as I had never depended on anyone or anything, with the possible exception of God.

On the other hand, my experience with Mom and Dad this past weekend reminded me that they are getting more frail as they age, and it is difficult to see them require more effort to do things they used to take for granted. Yet, in the past year, I feel we have grown closer than ever. Partly, it is the very changes in them I find difficult that have opened them in new ways to receive the whole of who I am. Almost a year ago, with the help of my little brother, I took the risk of sharing more of what I have discovered about myself in my spiritual journey. I had a very real fear of being rejected by them, but it turned out to be no big deal for them, and ever since then, I’ve felt closer to them. As my Mom said, “We’ve gotten mellow in our old age.”

It occurs to me that the ability to hold paradox is an essential spiritual aptitude for our time (perhaps for all times.) What do you think?

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Well, the last few days have been full, so let me fill you in on some of it…

You know that ancient Chinese curse, “May you have an interesting life.”? Well, I’m not saying anyone has put a curse on me, but I have had a few interesting things to deal with the last few days.

  • Lesson from last Friday – not a good idea to use bike to go and give blood – getting there was one thing, but getting home afterwards in 90-degree weather was quite another.
  • My dad and I went for a ride around the block Saturday, and then I took off for about a half hour ride on my own. I hope he sticks with it and builds up his endurance bit by bit.
  • As we were getting supper on the table Saturday, Mom fell with a glass lid in her hand – lots of blood, we talked her into going to ER to get it checked out – a little Derma-Bond did the trick – Dad wanted any leftover to put on her mouth…just kidding of course. Afterwards, she was raring to go out with Dad to the American Legion hall for their normal routine. I do worry that she seems to be falling a lot lately, but she’s too stubborn to use a walker.
  • Today was full, going right from 10:30 liturgy to an extended CLC meeting, then dinner with some friends while some pretty strong storms rolled through the area. So glad for the rain to keep everything nice and green, and to keep the pollen from flying around.

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World Champs!

Well, this was the year for our students to win the Grand Award in the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition. I was very happy for them, as they have been working so hard for many months, and they couldn’t be a nicer group of young people – good for them!

There are many great stories of good sportsmanship I witnessed, but one stands out for me. On Saturday, the team’s laser scanner failed, and we didn’t have a spare (it costs several thousand dollars, and we have a fairly low budget). Fortunately, the team from École de technologie supérieure in Montréal, Québec had a spare that they graciously allowed us to use throughout the remainder of the competition. And we were able to help them out with a spare GPS unit because theirs didn’t seem to be compatible with the U.S. system. Basically, if it were not for the generosity of the Canadians, we would not have been in the running at all.

Another great story was the team from Bluefield State Univ. in West Virginia. They had many problems throughout the day today, but on their last run through the autonomous challenge course, had a flawless run that knocked us out of first place in that particular event. It gave me chills to see all of the teams, ours included, give them a hearty cheer as they came to the end of that run.

Yeah…I kind of like this Millennial Generation…can you tell?

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