Friday, August 24, 2012


My sister and brother-in-law live in the country and have enjoyed a succession of dogs through the years. Old age took a few and the busy county road took more. Their property is separated from this road and its traffic by a deep stand of pine trees with a few deciduous supplying autumn color.

One of our first trips to visit them coincided with a Doberman occupant who smiled fearsomely and pranced up to our car with a cheerful welcome that felt decidedly threatening. We lived with a 200 pound St. Bernard but took no chances with the Doberman at our first meeting. (There are those of you who will suggest this post is going to the dogs.)

My brother-in-law would have been happier if Sandy had a mean tooth in her mouth. We witnessed her docile personality at dusk. Viewed through the family room window, the dog peacefully lay under a tree watching a doe and two fawns meander through my sister’s garden. The deer and dog raised their heads, recognized each other’s presence. Confident of no challenge the deer lowered her mouth and enjoyed her meal.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, Chapter Seven The Bean-Field, about his garden. “What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this dry soil…. My enemies are worms, cool days, and most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean. But what right had I to oust Johnswort, blackberries, cinquefoil and the like, and break up their ancient herb garden?” 

A few pages later he writes tongue firmly in cheek, “Why concern ourselves so much about our beans for seed, and not be concerned at all about a new generation of men?  Here comes such a subtile and ineffable quality, for instance, as truth or justice, though the slightest amount or new variety of it, along the road. Our ambassadors should be instructed to send home such seeds as these, and Congress help to distribute them over all the land. We should never cheat and insult and banish one another by our meanness, if there were present the kernel of worth and friendliness.”

Thoreau’s preferred philosophy seems to be plant a larger garden and be prepared for honest work and to share both the bounty and ourselves. Sandy had it right. Hospitality first and then we eat.

At Adagio we don’t grow beans or even green tomatoes. Our garden is privileged to grow people who have grown me by demanding patience, thought and grace.

Internet articles on Henry David Thoreau brought me the delightful poetry of Amy Belding Brown, specifically More Thoughts on Beans. She gives me permission to share it with you.

When he mentioned that he was resolved to know beans,
Henry knew it would get a good laugh,
for one thing New Englanders do with their speech
is to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
And so, as he tended bean plants by the pond,
and studied their habits and style,
it never occurred to his dexterous mind
that folks might not notice his smile.
If, when reading Thoreau, you encounter a phrase
that tempts you to find hairs to split,
just remember what Henry himself knew so well:
great philosophy favors great wit.

You can read more at her website and blog, Sifted Light.
Her book, Emerson’s Wife, is available at

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


There is an email being circulated quoting the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. I have friends from all over the political map so if you didn’t get this one, you won’t get it from me. But there is a story here for organizations and families. It’s called the Problem-Saturated Story.

Part of her supposed speech as reported on email and Snopes: “This is our country, our land, and our lifestyle, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about our flag, our pledge, our Christian beliefs, or our way of life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, the right to leave.”

I have read editorials that had too much fun by half declaiming the many faults of our country. We were leaving the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City and met a protester on the sidewalk. His placard encouraged us to do unmentionable things to then-President George Bush. We cheerfully disagreed but encouraged him to express his opinions. A couple were strolling past and heard our exchange. When I exclaimed, “Isn’t this a wonderful country where we can disagree,” the woman hissed and although walking away from us, continued to turn back to hiss more. (Until then I had never heard a human hiss-s-s.) What upset her I’m not sure and I wasn’t interested in asking. I suspect she was one with the editors who enjoy telling horror stories about “the Tea Party.” And there are those who enjoy telling similar tales about “the Left.”  If I join any of them, I will be participating in a Problem-Saturated Story.

We occasionally get a health care worker who takes our report of a resident and tries to turn it into a story about what a problem the resident is. Such commiseration is unprofessional and unappreciated. We cut them off. Dementia is what it is.

When you overhear someone in your congregation, book club, or family launch into a diatribe about how awful something is or how difficult, or how they just can’t understand, you are being invited to a Problem-Saturated whine fest. You might for a brief moment join them by thinking, “If you think your husband  is bad let me tell you about mine.” All of us have multiple substitutions for husbands. Mothers-in-law have been fair game since Cain and Abel (The Bible. Genesis 4).

Organizations and families may blunder into an atmosphere of problem-saturation. Emotional discharges will turn the air blue once permission is given. Transforming the tune of P-S tales becomes almost impossible short of a traumatic, public censure of the story tellers. The stories are addictive and close the book on the subject having any possible redemptive value.

I was visiting a couple and the wife informed me that she could barely sit in her pew and listen to that man. Just watching him walk you could see that he was blahblahblah.  For her, attending church had become an exciting opportunity to invent more nasty tales.

I had several choices: silence which could be seen as consent, join the party and tell a problem-saturated story of my own, or argue with her. I chose to follow Matthew 18 which instructs us to go to the sister who has ticked us off and “show her fault.” If you get no satisfaction, find a third party who can provide accountability and attempt reconciliation. I asked the wife if she had spoken to the minister about her feelings.  I was soon ushered out of their home and the wife never spoke to me again.

The difficulty with Problem-Saturated Stories is that the teller rarely desires truth or accountability. He wants to diminish and whine. P-S stories put forward as fact what is simply a narrative of oft-repeated testimony by a biased witness.  Someone needs to step outside the circle, snap their fingers, and disrupt the trance of the P-S storyteller.  Someone needs to ask accountability questions and offer to accompany the tale bearer to a meeting with her subject.

Especially if the scandal has substance. So what? Do we keep piling on stones, or stand next to the scoundrel offering a hand and the energy to pull him out of the pit? If he hisses at us he has written the final chapter of the story, and our mouths are sealed. We are free to walk to the coffee shop and share celebrative stories of humor and warmth and love with our friends.

P.S. If you are a leader and want to learn more, read Margaret Wheatley’s book Turning to One Another.  “There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. Ask, ‘What’s possible?’ not ‘What’s wrong?’ Keep asking. . . . Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


“God made man because he loves stories.”  Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlev (as quoted by Steve Sanfield)

One summer in the ‘50s our family was traveling in Canada and touring Toronto building sites. Okay maybe it was Niagara Falls in the early 60’s. Does it matter? We were stopped at a cross street with the windows open because in those days cars had air conditioning called “can you please crank open the window.”  Especially when four children are arranged on a bench seat designed for three small adults. A pedestrian crossed in front of us and stumbled, barely catching his balance. My younger sister burst out a braying laugh that of course carried to the luckless man. We then began to laugh at her and compounded our sin toward the innocent pedestrian. (Posted with permission.)

A minister had counseled a young couple and was now walking up the side aisle of the church with the groom. The bridesmaids processed in fancy dresses. The bride’s father escorted her up the center aisle and stood on her right side while the beginning of the marriage form was read.

“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” From the way her dress fit the giving had been accomplished months before. As he turned to sit in the pew next to his wife, the father caught his foot in the bride’s train and a ripping sound suspended all breathing for a second.

Calmly, the minister encouraged the couple to step up to the altar. He commenced reading the marriage form until he heard himself producing a spoonerism of the words lawfully joined. “If there is anyone here who knows of a reason why this man and this woman may not be joyfully…..”  With barely a pause he skipped the second word and finished, “let them speak up now or forever hold their peace.”

The minister visited his parishioner in the hospital and was astounded to find the man in bed, his leg trussed up in a full cast.

“Whatever happened, man? I thought you came in for hemorrhoids?”

“Well, Reverend, I did. But I climbed up on the dresser there so I could see my stitches.”

Tell me a story....