Meet a Linden, tour a friend’s SL home

Friday, April 25, 2008

Nostrum Forder and Sylectra Darwin attend Torley Lindens office hours in which he amplifies our awesome.

Nostrum Forder and Sylectra Darwin attend Torley Linden's office hours in which he "amplifies our awesome."

I met Torley Linden (above, in pink hood with green eyes) yesterday during his office hours! This is the guy who works for Linden Labs and does instructional videos for residents. He was very considerate and answered all my questions. Torley is famous so I am quite honored he had time for one of the little people. It’s only because few people are in Second Life as yet.

Also, Willy introduced me to one of his younger friends, Jeffrey, who lives in his (RL) neighborhood and sometimes borrows one of his computers. This nice fellow is 18 years old and owns a couple of new ventures in Second Life, including a Motley Crue tribute band which performs in SL. He’s a newlywed and lucky for him, his wife is also a Second Lifer. He gave us a tour of his condo that they are renting. He’s got it decorated with lots of red and pink and romantic themes – sounds like his marriage is a success! I unfortunately didn’t get to meet her – next time I hope. His activities in SL give him enough income to afford the weekly rent! I think it’s a laudable goal.

A one-prim creation made from a rectangle shape with a handmade texture slapped on it.

A one-prim creation made from a rectangle shape with a handmade texture slapped on it.

On the building front, I made a Japanese shoji divider screen (at left, red birch with rice paper and brass hinges) from scratch using Adobe Photoshop Elements and uploaded the resulting texture to my inventory, where I slapped it on a single prim shape. It’s beautiful, and low-lag. I am proud. Looking at it again though, I would rather have a 3-prim screen so you have realistic zigzag positioning. To make it economically attractive, I have some other ideas about the patterns.

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Ask questions because they open your mind

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My latest experiences in Second Life have been about the social structure and how people relate and stay in touch in the environment. I know few people in RL who are also on Second Life (a sad fact, and one which makes me lonely).

Remember to visit my Flickr photo page for current snapshots from my SL experiences.
So when I finally had enough of shopping and trying on clothes, and when I needed a break in my building lessons, I decided to delve into the social pool and find some new SL friends. And a whole new world opened up to me. If you are still lurking on the edges wondering how to “fit in,” believe me, it’s worth it! And it’s easier than I thought it would be. To sum it up, I am reminded of the words of performer Bob Miner (Harmonica Bob), a dear friend of mine and someone who taught me a great deal, in a song he wrote for gradeschool kids.

“To have a friend, be a friend.”

That simple concept is what does it, in RL or SL. Reach out. Open your heart and let others change you. Connect.

Some initial impressions of interacting socially in SL:

  • People pop on and off in completely unpredictable ways, so you can’t reliably know where they will be or even if they will be on when you are.

  • It’s hard to get to know someone on a crowded dance floor.

  • Everyone has a different purpose for the current day’s session in SL, and it might not match yours. It’s worthwhile to find out.

  • Just because they look 22 and buff doesn’t mean they actually are. The decent ones will tell you a little more about themselves as you move into a more committed phase of your friendship. But you can’t count on that. There are a lot more 16-year olds on SL than you think.

  • “Profile surfing,” as I like to call it, is a great way to see if you have common interests with someone who is chatting in the same room with you (right-click on the person and choose Profile). It’s a little creepy to peek at the profile of someone who you haven’t chatted with before though, so if I do it and find an interesting profile, when I bring it up with them I apologize for the intrusion and try to be brief.

  • After a gentle prompting from a new friend, I put interesting stuff in my profile so that like-minded people will be drawn to me, and they have been. It’s genuine – and also general enough to respect my privacy – but also clear about my intentions on SL.

  • Whether I am going dancing or hanging out in a coffee shop, I’ve learned that everybody will try to greet me when I walk in and say goodnight when I leave, and that I should do likewise when others enter or leave. I’ve learned that popping in and out has rules of etiquette attached to it. If I can, and I’ve been conversing with a group, it’s a good idea to announce I have to go and allow them a few rounds of good-byes and well wishes. It communicates that I see them as people, and that I am interested in being a stable member of the online community and contributing to the social fabric. It’s about integrity. To the extent that we are able, we should treat others as though they are real people in real life, because they are, and acting in this way allows the online community’s reputation to be elevated in everyone’s eyes.

  • Conversation starters are a must! Showing up in a new hangout with an interesting hat on, for instance, can prompt conversation. I experimented with this by showing up at the Open Latte coffee shop wearing a stainless steel top hat that had moving gears in its side. It sparked a hat party and we were all laughing at the dorky hats we had stashed in our inventories and had never worn. My new friend Finn had some hair difficulty after trying on a hat that made her hair disappear; I helped her find and fit it back on her head, and we struck up a conversation after that.

  • Finding funny ways to connect and keep the group energy up is a great idea. I noticed that some more experienced SL residents were donning sophisticated and cute avatars to keep the conversation going. Rocket, for instance, has an adorable little short dragon avatar, and he gets into all kinds of mischief when he puts it on. This is much preferable to the worn out gag of attaching the freebie penis on top of one’s clothes and issuing come-on lines.

  • One great trick I discovered by accident, while looking at someone’s profile. There is a Notes page on their profiles which they don’t see – you can add your notes and impressions about that person, and only you can see it. Later, if you think you remember someone and you look in their profile, you will find your note! If they tell you something important about themselves, you can make a note in this page so you remember to ask them about it later.

On facial expressions in SL:
I think SL should put some more thought into the use of facial expressions. I don’t really want to sort through my inventory and find that smile gesture and activate it. Once it’s loaded, it’s still too hard to “play” it during the convo. I am envisioning a special mouse that is multi-point sensitive and can transmit positive and negative facial expressions instantly. Ex – Push down = bad expression; push up = good expression; push hard = strong expression; push lightly = mild expression.

Looking at another person in SL:
Also, Alt-Click is a really fun tool for making my avatar look at someone or something, but it’s too hard also. Maybe eyetracking technology can help here. A little camera hooked to the top of the screen can watch where my eyes look and make my Av look there too.

Other types of gestures:
Thirdly, hand gestures should be easier. Maybe picking up the mouse and waving should cause the Av to wave.

Improving the dance scripts:
Second Life has a finite number of dance scripts and these are reproduced as part of dance balls and dance floors, usually. After going to a dozen or so dance places, I’ve learned that there are only a few basic dances – maybe thirty or so. They are fun and engaging, and some really impressed me, but they are still somewhat crude in execution. I’d like to see a flashier tango with more of that wonderful rigid passion that is classic tango. Waltzes should be dreamier looking. the Saturday Night Fever dance loops too quickly and doesn’t show some of the great steps my limited knowledge includes. The names of the dances are not adequate for dancers who must make a snap decision in a dance club. Club Dance 4 just doesn’t tell me what I need to know. Does anyone know where I can find and purchase some more sophisticated dance moves, hopefully including those I can share with a partner?

Thank you Willy Heartsdale for the stimulating conversation which caused these ideas to surface. Willy is an ideas guy, and you should seek him out for his view of the future if you have not already done so.

Going somewhere with a friend or several friends:
When touring some amazing treehouses on SL, I had two companions with me – my hubby Randy and new SL friend Willy. I was struck by the awkwardness of our efforts to move from treehouse to treehouse. I had a notecard with landmark links on it, so I would get the notecard out, alert them that we were moving, click the link and teleport to the spot, then find each of them in my contact list and offer each a teleport to me one at a time. Too many steps!! Do any of you have any ideas for making this work better? Wouldn’t it be great if we could “link” as a group and pass the driving controls to the one who has the landmark, so that we could seamlessly move throughout SL? Even more fun would be a free for all mode that gives everyone control of the group’s teleporting movements, so that the TP commands would be executed on a first-in, first out basis. Random fun!!

Questions to better focus my explorations:
Is it possible to be good friends with someone you only know on SL?
Is there a place to hear recorded poetry on SL?
Who are the people that know lots of interesting SL people? How do I find them?
How can I find the consistently best places to go dancing in SL?
And, an extension of this question would be how can I find consistently best hangouts in SL?
Is anyone working on better dance scripts and where can I buy them?
Humor on SL – how do we engage others more by making them laugh, considering that we do not have the facial expression range usually needed to convey that a joke is being delivered?

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Participate in a St. Patrick’s Day parade

Monday, March 17, 2008

I attended a St. Paddy’s Day parade in an SL version of Dublin (see pic) because I am dipping my toe into socializing now that I am not a complete dweeb who runs into everything and can’t dress.

Of course in honor of St. Paddy’s Day I had to come up with a whole new outfit, complete with a huge ponytail of green hair, a black mini, green and white striped tights, and a tight green shirt, finished with green mary janes. Then, 5 minutes before the parade was to start, I had misgivings and changed into a green ball gown.

The parade was well attended by SL standards. I’ll explain. Any time you get more than 40 people in a region, you have something known as lag, especially if people are dressed to the nines and have their bagpipes out. We would struggle to walk through the air which had become as thick as molasses, on our way to the bleachers on the side of the road, and then suddenly break free and pass our destination, only to find ourselves suddenly back where we started and walking in place. It’s totally disorienting and really irritating, but there isn’t much that can be done at the moment. It’s a function of the love of bling.

They had created many spots to stop and watch, so I flew overhead and selected the spot at the bend of the road with the bleachers. I took a seat near the top. The parade itself was…unimpressive. Lots of green. Bagpipes playing. Someone handed out jig bracelets which caused us to dance little jigs to the parade music. It was more fun than a normal parade because we didn’t have to go outside.

Afterwards, there was a dance in the park and most of us were flying 20 feet in the air. Why? Because it’s Second Life and we can, of course.

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Try these five things if you are new to Second Life

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I finally got a friend to sign on to Second Life so I wouldn’t be so lonely, and now I feel obligated to speed her initiation by pointing her to some really good sources for how to live in Second Life. I share them with you all as well, in case they are helpful.

1. Check out this article on Second Life from BusinessWeek. This was written in early 2006, but it’s still relevant. The author got an avatar for the purpose of seeing what the big deal is. He learned that SL is so complex that there’s no way to actually know everything that you can do in SL. I agree!

2. Look for Flickr’s slide shows on Second Life. These SL residents have created whole photo albums and uploaded their pictures to them. You can get a really good idea of what people do in Second Life by flipping through these slide shows.

3. Create a photo album on Flickr for your adventures on Second Life. Learning to take pictures has been really fun. If you do this, be sure to read up on “pose balls” – they help you arrange yourself for a photo.

4. Try out the online commerce system. I found out that you can buy land, hair, clothes, complete avatars, furniture, animations, jewelry, toys, dogs, cars, and even sex parts. You can do this “in-world” in thousands of shops, or you can go to eBay or OnRez or another of the regular Internet commerce sites. I went to OnRez and succeeded in figuring out how to buy new hair. My hair is a cool basic cut and it comes in 40 colors, which I can change anytime! Right now it’s plum. Goes great with my green eyes.

5. Learn about SL fashion. Fashion is really important on SL because you can make and buy an infinite variety of clothing. You can also make some silly mistakes while learning the ropes on fashion. I ran across this Second Life fashion blog and laughed a lot. I had already made several of the errors! They’ve photographed the offending avatars and put black bars over their eyes to protect their identites! LOL.

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So what’s the big deal about Second Life, anyway?

I got into Second Life in 2007, out of curiosity about what might be in there. I don’t think I had any idea what it would be like, and every few months, I must again reevaluate my assessment of the environment.

The point of this blog is to talk about the learning opportunities open to you in this 3D virtual world. You can meet and learn from other people in here. It’s really all about the people, which is a nice way to use the Internet, if you think about it.

First, the basics. Second Life (SL) is a 3D virtual world that allows chatting, animations, creation of objects, and use of vast amounts of virtual space. All in your one “real life (RL)” computer on a smallish desk in the corner. It’s a compact and non-messy way to learn stuff and interact with others. No glue, no project tables, no display shelves as with model airplanes, jigsaw puzzles, or scrapbooking. It’s a social venue, a free commerce zone for virtual goods and services, a meeting place, and a zone for unstructured play time.

Second Life is NOT a game or a dating service, although you may occasionally find both of those items within the world. In general, there is no winning and losing, and you get out of it what you make of it. It is also not the only 3D virtual world out there. In fact, more than 100 of them exist. Do check out as many as you have the patience to investigate, as I am certain there are wonderful things happening at each.

If you are new to Second Life, perhaps you should ask yourself,  “What do I want to get out of this experience?” Because once you get past the irritatingly long learning curve on how to move and customize your avatar, you are going to be dumped into a world with about 50,000 other avatars at any one time.

Common Second Life residents include:

  • Casual visitors to SL, just checking out the climate or coming on to hang with friends or family
  • Artists who make 3D art and find ways to display it to the public (and hopefully sell it)
  • Architects who make 3D buildings and other types of objects, often with scripts added which give them extra functionality (and hopefully sell them)
  • Entrepreneurs who find hot-selling content and arrange to resell it
  • Venue owners, hosts and hostesses, DJs and live musicians in dance clubs which operate on tips and related merchandise
  • Existing brincks-and-mortar businesses using the space as a new way to reach the public, such as the journal Science, which has an island and does live scholarly paper presentations.
  • Organizations (for-profit or nonprofit) which see the value of 3D space for meetings between participants that are physically far apart.
  • The general public in SL which consists of dancers, meeting participants, lecture attendees, shoppers, daters, socializers, learners and more.
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Moved to New Jersey

Here is an update on my new intention to open my heart and learn to live life fully and with gratitude for the dear people in it. Having seized the day (Nov. 1, to be exact), Jim and I drive the moving van, with Subaru in tow and animals loaded, across eight states and more than 1300 miles in 2 days to arrive in New Providence, NJ in the wee hours of Nov. 3.

I had decided to quit my job and say goodbye to my dear friends to move to New Jersey, where I had seen great jobs advertised (for my field of Web Content/Online Editor) and where I had several new friends whom I met on Second Life. I also was volunteering for a discussion group in Second Life about meditation, and they were based in Princeton, NJ, and they had flown me up twice to work with the group on projects. All signs pointed to this area, as if I was sliding down a funnel and would inevitably end up going down the center hole into a bottle.

I am staying with roommates Jennifer and Rel in North Brunswick because Jim’s landlord doesn’t allow pets, but we are looking for a rental house in New Providence and expect to be moving in together in December. He has four kids (2 of which live with him all the time) and they all like me and I like them. I’m glad I am here and I am looking for a job. I’m meeting with a recruiter about doing some contract/consulting work in the Web Content area.

Jim and I both have talked about move to Portland someday. But for now I will enjoy seeing NJ and hanging out with my friends in the area. The NYC area is a 1-hour train ride away! Fun fun!

Jim took me to the New Jersey shore today (Island Beach State Park) and it was wonderful. My dog Sophy was so excited. She did the puppy bark thing for about an hour. After returning home, she crashed hard and has been sleeping it off.

I’ve changed almost everything about my life and I am excited about my future, which is great because it’s been a hard couple of years with Mom’s illness and then Randy’s dad’s illness. I could use some smooth sailing for a bit! Not that it’s going to necessarily happen starting this instant (LOL) but maybe gradually, bit by bit.

Here is a wonderful song by Blues Traveler, called “Fledgling” about a young bird who is being counseled to spread his wings and simply fall. That’s me.

People I am grateful for:

  • Jim, who flew to Tulsa to help me drive a grueling 1300 miles to get me safely to New Jersey, and who treated me like a valued and loved person the whole time.
  • Jennifer and Rel, who trusted me sight unseen and took me in as a roommate, and who helped me lug my stuff into the apartment.
  • Sophy and Meaghan, who as pets put up with many changes in their little environments and routines with good humor and flexible spirits, never losing their basic sweet natures.
  • DeAnna, for her hours of work helping me move boxes into the storage unit.
  • Jessie, for her kind acceptance and gentle spirit.
  • Laura, for her sweetness to Sophy who needed a friend.
  • Jamie, for being adorable.
  • Lynn, for reaching out to me and taking me to a local dog park (my first ever!) by way of welcoming me to New Jersey.
  • Steven, for checking on me every step of the way and helping me feel better about the changes.
  • Valerie, for being a fun and sincere friend who shows her love without reservation.
  • Julie, for sharing her troubles and hopes as I have shared mine, and walking with me.
  • Ceci and Will, for being great friends during the trying times (Ceci: wine-tasting Thursdays and Will: concerts that make me young again) and making me sincerely miss I could “fold the world” and easily give them hugs.
  • Sarah, for writing an amazing going away card and making me proud of my time as Web Content Manager at SEG.
  • So many other people who added to my joy and eased my burdens along the way.
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An update on Sylectra’s life

I just returned from a wonderful experience at the Gathering of Circles, a camping and fellowship event held every year in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. The give away ceremony at the Gathering of CirclesMy mom attended it for years and she was well known by everyone I visited with there. I also got to meet Carol WhiteWater Dawn, a medicine woman, mystic, and all around wise and wonderful lady. Mom had said many many wonderful things about her but they didn’t hold a candle to her personal presence. She looked calmly and directly into my spirit when Dave took me to meet her; she was totally focused on what I said (which wasn’t a lot because I was hoping to listen more than talk). I looked at her Web site and I was very interested in the fact that she quotes from so many spiritual teachings of different kinds. Obviously she is a versatile and intelligent thinker.

I’m still volunteering (helping with meetings and the wiki) with a discussion group in the 3D virtual world Second Life called Play as Being. It talks about exploring the nature of reality and perception using various multidisciplinary practices like meditation, prayer, etc. It brings together the most wonderful and diverse people to discuss things in a very open minded way.

In fact, my help and involvement with the Play as Being group may grow and my life is being enriched as a result of it. I am passionate about Second Life because I think the Internet is going to become a 3D environment before too long – maybe as soon as five years. The leader of the PaB group works at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and I am flying out to meet him and some of the other volunteers this week to have a day of discussions on the group’s possible transformation into something bigger. I am so excited!

In addition, I invested in myself by booking travel and attendance at the Second Life Community Convention in Tampa the first week of September. I will meet many of the people I have been privileged to know in-world. I hope to learn a lot about education and business in Second Life. I am also in touch with another group, Metanomics, that runs discussions in Second Life about the economics of running a business based in a 3D virtual world. One member of this group, Beyers Sellers, is going to present during the educational session.

In my SEG job, I am working with the different departments (we call them ‘business owners’) to get changes made to their pages. The part of the site where we have total control is the News page. We also do an e-mail newsletter called the SEG Extra and help others edit and send out their newsletters too. We’re getting ready to change to a more versatile e-mail vendor and install some social networking tools on our site. Workflows are being built so that staff members can help enter new content and changes to content; the workflows help the review process happen seamlessly and efficiently.

So you could say I practically live online and you’d be right. But I did so enjoy the recent chance to be again in my favorite forest (Cloudcroft) with the lovely breezes and the rain and the nice firm earth. The people at GoC were so welcoming and kind, I felt right at home. I worried about being able to measure up to my mother’s legacy but decided it was impossible even to try. Luckily everyone seems to accept me on different terms than those they knew with Lou Dale. My first name means girl of the forest, by the way, which is ironic since I grew up in the deserts of El Paso, Texas.

One of the great things about the Gathering of Circles is their respectful use of rituals and ceremonies with Native American elements. These include sweat lodges, dances, drum circles, a womens’ bundle ceremony, feasts, and the give away ceremony. The give away ceremony allows participants to give away something that once was important to them and now they are ready to let go of. Many symbolic and emotional objects are given away in this manner. The items are placed in plain wrappers like paper bags, and laid on a blanket in the center of the circle of participants. There was a fire going near the blanket at this one. One by one, participants went to the center, talked about their Gathering of Circles experience thus far (optional), and selected an item. The person who gave the item came up and explained what it meant and why they let it go. There are a lot of really personal and wonderful sentiments shared during this ceremony and talk is formally controlled by the passing of a significant object indicating whose turn it is to talk, such as a walking stick in this case.

I talked about how Mom’s journey into the next world worked a peculiar kind of magic with me. I resolved early in 2005 to really be there when I was with Mom, and not to miss a moment of the experience, no matter how painful it was to witness such a beautiful lady suffering. I flew back and forth often to her home throughout 2005 and 2006 as we went through various stages of the process. We knew it was probably over in October 2006 but she was so brave about the whole thing. She did acts of service for others and was a warm and comforting presence at a time of great uncertainly for her. I did what I could to be her emotional support, although to tell you the truth, it was probably the other way around more of the time. When she died, we knew that she had chosen the time that was optimal for her. She gave a speech at her Christmas feast (on her birthday) and then quietly passed away in the morning two days later, after I had flown back to Tulsa. I dreamed of her several times, knowing in the dream that she was on the other side.

My husband’s father was sick with COPD and cancer in 2006 and died in Oct. 2007. He also was brave and unselfish about his journey, and I have dreamed of him, too.

Anyway, I sort of took a year off from feeling anything from about April 2007 through March 2008. Then I woke up. I suddenly realized the lesson from Mom – it’s time to LIVE and make those dreams happen NOW, not when it’s too late. I have so many things I still want to do before I die. I need to get started right this instant. And I have. I dove into making connections – personal and fulfilling friendships with others, including on Second Life. I started volunteering with Play as Being, and learning all I could about furthering the Web 2.0 stuff for my company’s web site and for other web sites. I realized I had put off plans to travel more and see the people I loved, because my husband had quit work to help care for his dad and start a business. I knew that my journey would take me out of Tulsa and to parts unknown, and that it was going to be an adventure but I would need my income to be more in the service of that. I want to go to India in less than 5 years, etc. We decided to split up amicably and are in the process of separating accounts, paying off debts, etc.

Though I have some sadness and certainly some loneliness, my life is taking off and I love the mystery of it all. I am already living part of my dream – traveling and getting to see people I care about more often, and nurturing my career path with attendance at conventions and seminars that interest me.

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On lighter burdens and connecting

This post fits within the context of becoming more connected to others.

I feel like I am living so many days packed into each one now. I had no idea when I began writing about it that the act of writing about my experiences would show me how much I am actually living my life and spur me to have more experiences. Here is an experience I had with a little church in Menard, Texas.

I went to an Orthodox church with my stepmom Lisa in Menard, Texas, a totally unexpected experience from beginning to end. We picked up Mike on the way – a friend and fellow churchgoer from Eden who had had a stroke and recently lost his wife. Nice fellow – old rancher. It was a bit of a drive to Menard, and when we got there the church turned out to be a little white building no larger than a cabin. Several people of hispanic descent wore white robes and greeted us at the door. They turned out to be mostly of one extended family, and there was a comfortable easy familiarity in scene.

A warm and bubbly lady sat behind us – her name was Lisa too. She mentioned that she’d lived in the Chama NM area and wished us a lovely time. She was very touchy and huggy and I warmed to her right away. She put her hand on my shoulder before she’d even met me. Her look was of pleasant expectation that I would be introduced to her so she could begin to know my story. I would have liked to get to know her better.

We had these plastic binders with the various prayers and observances as our guide. Nowhere was there a list of people who help officiate the service. I forgot the pastor’s name almost as soon as he was introduced to me, but not his bearing. Bear is the right word – he was big and round and still rather powerful in his energy levels. Maybe mid 40s? some gray in his beard. Black hair – hispanic like many of the others. Twinkle in his eye, informal manner, plain spoken like the people in this area but thank goodness not dogmatic and holier-than-thou.

The congregation consisted of maybe 20 people scattered among 50 old-fashioned theater-style wooden folding chairs. The hispanic ladies wore the most wonderful silver jewelry that gleamed on their golden tan skin, big silver hoops, bracelets, rings, silver concho belts, and their hair was long and full, cascading across their shoulders. Many wore white, which further accented their lovely coloring. They seemed happy with each other in an easygoing way. During the singing as the pastor was sitting down, he playfully batted a plastic binder out of one of the ladies’ hands, but then grinned impishly and picked it up to hand back to her. I was struck by how big this guy was as he sat in the row. This was a substantial guy!

This church is different than many I have been to – I’ve been to Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Southern Baptist (yes they are different), Buddhist, Unitarian, Unity, and Episcopalian. I guess this was a cross between Baptist, Episcopalian and Catholic in flavor. The informality of the Baptist church combined with the pageantry of the Episcopalian and the rituals of the Catholic. Of course, not having spent much time in any but the Methodist and Unity churches, I am probably not an authority on describing them. I had enough to keep up with just figuring out which way to cross myself, and I am embarrassed to note that I still couldn’t tell you. I didn’t want to be too conspicuous in watching others at first, so I lost the method after that.

They had the obligatory cheesy sentimental songs but added the twist of putting the words on an overhead projector (text was formatted badly and ran off the screen – I was itching to put that in InDesign or Quark for them) and the music was country western style devotionals. Almost no one sang, or if they did, it was in whisper. I couldn’t figure out which part to take because the loudest singer kept going from soprano to alto.

The sermon was about Jesus’ message that his yoke was easy and his burdens light, and how we can choose to set down our burdens or let God carry them for us while we walk with Christ in our lives. Okay, that’s the lingo, but what did it mean?? To tell you the truth, I didn’t get much out of the pastor’s explanation, or for that matter the deacon’s (a good looking young man who is still new to addressing the crowd). But he called on Lisa to elucidate, and there were two Lisas sitting in the same area, my stepmom and the Lisa I had met earlier, sitting behind me. My stepmom went first with a very nicely worded explanation of the wonderful lightness of heart you can experience when you let go of normal worldly concerns. I liked that her explanation was not too mushy or worshipful. She’s been to many churches and is in the Franciscan order, and she has many viewpoints including secular, and this serves her well for mixing with people of many faiths or none.

Her words flew right over the tops of the heads of some in the congregation (a shame!) but I liked them and the pastor was impressed. The deacon looked terrified that he’d met his match. Then Lisa behind us spoke, and she immediately worried that people were going to have to strain their necks to see her, so she walked up to the front and talked for a bit about the types of cares that can make us feel tired and depressed, like divorce, misfortune, the death of a child. She was near tears the whole time and I found my heart reaching out to her and my eyes welling up. My reaction to her made me feel angry at myself. But anyway, I struggled to breathe and listen. Prybar to the heart, yet again. She said that she liked to use a visualization of a forested road, and you are the weary traveler with many heavy burdens representing your worries, your disappointments, your sadnesses and regrets (maybe your guilts?). You come upon a cart and there is a double yoke at the front, with whomever you choose as your spiritual guide – Jesus, God, the holy spirit – in one of the yokes. You can put your burdens in the cart and put the other yoke on. You won’t feel the burdens at all because your guide is doing all the pulling for you, and as long as you walk with him your burdens will not trouble you – though sometimes you may forget and take them back on, or take new ones, when you remind yourself of your intentions to lay them down and walk with Christ, it will immediately free you again.

I personally don’t buy into the idea that a deity is going to carry my stuff as long as I subscribe to his approach. I think Jesus was really a good guy but no one needs to carry my burdens for me and I don’t need to focus on Jesus or God in order to be free of them. One can do the spiritual work of being free of one’s burdens completely without that divine help. They aren’t actually burdens, really – there is no weight or substance to them beyond what we perceive them to have. The trick is in how you see things. The work is to quiet the mind every day and learn to see things for what they are, so that your troubles get into perspective with the big picture. As your troubles melt away, your joy will bubble up. This is only my opinion, of course, and I have seen how belief in Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit can really help others. I want people to seek out whatever comfort works best for them and their families, just as I do. There is good in every gathering of people that sincerely meets to focus on becoming better humans. For that matter, there is good in every person who regularly focuses on becoming a better human!

Another part that always inexplicably chokes me up is the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “Our Father, who art in heaven….” It’s the part about forgiveness of others’ trespasses that always gets me in the heart. I don’t know why but it chokes me up, ever since I stopped going to church during my community college days. Maybe in my heart I have associated church services with being more forgiving and tolerant of people in general. This is a helpful observation for me because when you can get your judgments out of the way, you can truly connect with each person. Perhaps I have been angry with myself all these years for my slack observance of this important goal. To connect with others is everything – not merely a good idea. I am just now coming around to that and “getting” why this is so vital. When you truly work to understand someone without judgments, you see amazing things. You learn about life and love, and you get ideas for things you can try in your life, and your empathy or other emotional reactions provide you with important clues about things you may want to work on a little bit more from time to time. For me, judgments about people are burdens which I can choose to lay down, to be freer and happier. Sounds good to me.

I really liked the greeting part of the service. I can’t remember the name of the ritual but you approach someone with both your hands together in a prayer position, with fingertips facing the heart of the other person. You make eye contact and wait for them to put their hands in the same position outside yours, then slide them apart and say “grace” and then the other person puts his or her hands together and you put yours outside theirs, and you both say “and peace”. Then you hug, and look for someone else to perform the ritual with. There’s enough ritual for standoffish people like me to find something to do that doesn’t shine the light of connectedness to glaringly upon me. It’s new for me to connect with others and maybe it will always feel too intense to me. But I do like it.

Because I was baptized in the Methodist church when I was 14, I was allowed to take communion with these folks. You go to the front, put both your arms across your front like an X, as if to hug yourself or skydive, and then you say your name and open your mouth, and they put a cracker dipped in wine on your tongue, an oddly sensual experience. I honestly don’t remember what the pastor said. He has a very direct gaze and it blew out my thoughts. Sometimes you wonder if they can see in your heart, you know? Hee hee. Besides which, he was flanked by other officiants, all of which were looking lovingly at me. I love all that attention anyway. Why did they use white zinfandel for dipping? Pleh. Would prefer some nice Shiraz. What do you say when a strange man looks into your eyes and feeds you by hand?? Awkward! I shuffled off to the right and tried to observe others’ behavior for clues.

Other rituals included lighting a candle for someone, in the same way Catholics do, and the holy water by the door – wasn’t sure what to do with that since I haven’t been to many Catholic church services. I also loved the incense and the cool ringing noise the brass censor made when they waved it around, and the pastor kissed the four corners of the table while doing it. Later a helper did the same all around the congregation space. After the service we were invited to the front to take a drink of the leftover wine from the chalice (so as not to waste the blessed wine) while the cute deacon held it and looked into my eyes, then he wiped it off before the next person approached. To the right stood the pastor, waiting to give me a blessing. Amid this intimacy he saw fit to ask me where I was from. I almost couldn’t answer. I was thinking, hey, let me focus totally on this cool thing I am receiving. I got another hug and was sent to light a candle (or not).

Kudos to the officiants for not singling me out beyond simple welcomes at the appropriate times. I absolutely hate being greeted as a visitor, being asked for my address, being asked to sign up for a committee (Southern Baptists – scary), or being confronted about my personal beliefs or churchgoing habits (several of the more rigid faiths).

I got the feeling that family would have been fun to hang out with later – like there were some awesome cooks among them and they were going to have a monstrous feast with happy kids running around and people laughing and talking. Something weird about this area of the country – the land is desolate, so the people try to make up for it by being as cheerful and sweet as possible. And they succeed.

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