Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jenner and Sawyer: Painfully awkward and honest

Apparently, I was one of 16.5 million viewers who watched Diane Sawyer interview Bruce Jenner on ABC last night.  Sawyer's usual viewing audience is around 5 or 6 million. Give or take a few.

So, if you missed the program, you can catch some of the highlights of that interview here at "The 12 Big Moments". 

I don't know if there were so many "12 Big Moments" as much as the whole thing was a pretty big moment. Well, for me, and I suspect, millions of other people - including some transgender folk.

I admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. Indeed, it was my skepticism that compelled me to watch in the first place. I was ready to turn it off at the first hint of a "publicity stunt." The association with anything Kardashian legitimately raises that question, I think.

Then there was this article by a transgender person who said, simply, that the interview wasn't all that important to The Work that needs to be done.

Okay, I'm thinking. On one level, I get it. But, you know, I watched Ellen 'come out' on national television even though, at the time, I didn't think it would be important, ultimately, to The Work.

Turns out, in the larger scheme of things, it was an important milestone in The Work of Queer activism.

Yes, television and other medias exist to make money, but they can be an important tool. You just never know which step along the journey will be one of the decisive ones until you get down the road a piece and look back over your shoulder. 

So, before we go any further, I feel compelled to note here that Jenner prefers, at this stage in his transition, to be referred to using male pronouns. I am going to honor and respect that.

At this stage in his transition, he refers to his female self as "Her". I think that's pretty telling about where he is in terms of the full integration of his identity and how he is handling this for himself.

I can't imagine the difficulty but I can honor and respect the courage it takes to manage all the various aspects of his life at this point in his transition.

If you leave a comment on this post, I trust you will, too. 

And, if you are unkind in your comments about trans people - even if you leave your "name" (I'm looking at you xoxoMichael) - I assure you your comment will be sent directly to spam. There are lots of places in cyberspace where one can spew one's toxicity.  This is not one of those places. 

Just so we're clear.

So, here's my experience of the program. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

Oddly enough, what kept me tuned in to the program was the obvious painfully awkward honesty of both Jenner and Sawyer. She struggled to ask honest questions and he struggled to provide honest answers.

I loved the expression on Sawyer's face when she asked about his sexual orientation. As I recall, she said, "So, you understand yourself to be a woman - "essentially" - but you are still attracted to women, so . . . doesn't that . . . um . . . after you become 'Her'... won't that... um... make you . .. . a . ..a . . .a . . . a lesbian?"

"No," said Jenner, with a calmness that revealed the interior work he's been doing. "Gender identity and expression are separate and different and distinct from sexual orientation."

Pan camera to Sawyer's puzzled face. Hold for a few seconds so others in the audience can recognize what they were feeling in that exact moment. Listen as millions of minds 'pop' to expand in order to hold these concepts as separate and different and in tension with each other.

As a parent and grandparent, I marveled at the self-sacrificial love Jenner has for his family - his three wives and many children and step children and grandchildren -  keeping the fullness of his identity hidden so they wouldn't be "embarrassed" by him.

I loved that his kids and step kids are also struggling but they've mostly come down on the side of love. They love Jenner. That's obvious. He's obviously been a terrific parent. And, he's assured them all that he'll always be "Dad" to them.

Again, I can't imagine that, once he has fully transitioned, it will make him happy to be called "Dad" but if it's okay with his kids, it makes him happy and that makes it okay. For him.

How can anyone not find that absolutely endearing, even if they might be thoroughly confused?

What is clear to me after last night's interview is that the conversation shared by Bruce Jenner and Diane Sawyer, with all of its painfully awkward and honest moments, is that this is something more and more people will be engaging in over the next few months and years.

It's going to take lots and lots of painfully awkward and honest conversations before we can get to a place of greater acceptance. We're going to have to face painful facts like:
The rate of unemployment for transgender people is twice that of the general public.

15% of transgender people live on incomes under $10,000 per year.

Coming out for transgender people exposes them to an increased risk of violence - there have been 7 reported murders so far this year.

An estimated 41% of transgender adults have attempted suicide.

This year, numerous anti-transgender bills have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide - most around fears about use of public restrooms.
And, we're going to have to do something about each and every one of those injustices.

The work is not easy. God knows. Those of us who were on the front lines of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual movement know only too well about painfully awkward and honest conversations.

We've done it before. We can do it again. Indeed, some of us have been and, in fact, are doing it.

Some of those painfully awkward and honest conversations are going to be within the LGBT community itself. As feminist theologian, Mary Hunt, said in 2001,  "The movement for LGBT inclusion cannot simply add 't" and stir, but must confront the changes that taking new people seriously on their own terms demands. No cheap grace here."

That was when Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote her ground breaking book: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach.  Lots of fine books on the subject have been written since, but this one is not only a sentimental favorite but, I think, lays an important groundwork for all the work that has been done since. If you need to start somewhere to begin to work on your theology, this is as good a primer as you're apt to find anywhere in Christian texts.

You might also like to know that The Episcopal Church, in resolutions D019 and D002 at General Convention 2012, formally added gender expression and identity to two canons that prevent discrimination.

But, books and resolutions will only take you so far. At some point, you're going to have to have a few "crucial conversations" with some transgender folk.  Some of those conversations will not be easy. Many will be quite difficult for a variety of reasons.

It's a pretty awkward dance, in my experience. Both sides step on each other's toes. A lot. And, it hurts. Pronouns are used incorrectly. It will be embarrassing and annoying. Anger and frustration boil over in ways that seem inappropriate and misdirected. And, some of it will be.

Sometimes, it's two steps forward and one steps back. It's important to remember that one step forward is still progress.

And yet, I am convinced that conversion - not just change but authentic transformation - comes out of such painfully awkward and honest conversations.

Thank you, Bruce Jenner and Diane Sawyer, for getting us started as a country. In a two hour period of time, you prompted 16.5 million people to think in different ways about gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation and how they are different.

That feels pretty monumental to me. But, I guess we'll only really know after we've been down the road together and look back over our shoulders at where we've been.

After a lot of painfully awkward and honest conversations.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Generation to Generation

Ms. Willow Elizabeth at 9 days old.
Well, if you happen to share with me the same networks of Social Media, you can't help but know that we have a new addition to our family.

Ms. Willow Elizabeth was born at 1 PM on April 10, 2015.

She joins her five cousins - Maxx Allen, MacKenna Jane, Melina Marie, Abigayle Sophie, and Mason James - who are all excited to meet her.

She was delivered safely at home, in her parents bed, by a nurse midwife, after 11 hours of pretty intense posterior ("back") labor. Her mother was able to walk around her own home, lean on her Pilate ball, take a few showers, and ease the pain in a warm labor pool set up in their dining room.

We are convinced that, had she been in the hospital, Willow probably would have been delivered via a C-section.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, you understand, and we are deeply grateful that such surgical interventions are available for true obstetrical and/or neonatal emergencies. It's just that our family is part of a growing number of people who are deeply concerned about the rising number of C-sections performed and what constitutes a "true" obstetrical and/or neonatal emergency.

Anyway, Ms. Willow is, as you can see, just as bright and shiny as a newly minted penny.

video
This video was taken when she was just three hours old.  Notice the wee tear in her right eye.

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, about the sound of a newborn baby's cry that does something deep in one's soul. There's something primal about it. Something instantly recognizable. It's the sound of an anxiety we all understand and want to hold and soothe and comfort and console.

"It's okay," we hear ourselves say. "Shhhhh . . . .," we coo. "I'm right here."

And, mostly it will be okay. Except, life happens. Which means that sometimes, it won't be "alright".  And, sometimes, we can't be "right here" - physically or emotionally.

Our daughter and son-in-law, like all first parents, have done their homework. They have read and researched and studied everything from best methods of birthing and breastfeeding, care of the umbilical cord after birth, eating the placenta vs. having it encapsulated as a nutritional supplement ("We're the only mammal that doesn't eat the placenta," we were told with great assurance.), cloth vs. disposable diaper (and, the best way to fold the diaper on the baby, depending on gender. Oh, and absolutely NO diaper pins.), the best way to hold the baby - every minute detail, right down to how many times a day breastfed babies should poop and pee and what it should look and smell like. 

As I listened to these new parents, I wondered how I must have sounded to my thoroughly modern American mother and old school, old country Portuguese grandmother, who were, for example, absolutely stunned and slack-jawed that I wasn't putting a silver dollar on the umbilical stump.  How else was I to be sure that it wouldn't bleed? Or, develop an unsightly hernia?

They let the "silver dollar rule" pass but put their collective and individual foot down and insisted that I use a "belly band" around the baby's abdomen as long as the umbilical stump was still attached to prevent bleeding and hernias.

So, I did. You pick your battles.

Years later, I discovered that the salve we used in the nursery at the time contained a sliver extract, to prevent bleeding from the umbilical stump. Now? Some nurseries use alcohol but mostly, they just leave it alone.

Leave it alone? My grandmother would have been scandalized.

I also had a hard time explaining to my grandmother that maybe I wouldn't have that glass of red wine while I nursed because my pediatrician was saying that recent studies showed that babies actually got some of that alcohol in the breast milk.


I'll never forget the look on my grandmother's face when I told her that. She caught herself, smiled, and said, unable to hide her sarcasm, "Yes. Of course. That's why you drink red wine when you nurse. A relaxed mother and a relaxed baby is a beautiful thing," she would say.

"Besides," she would add with great authority, "you need it to build up the blood you lost when you gave birth. Red wine builds up the blood. But, of course, your smart doctor should know that."

So, I occasionally drank a glass of wine when I nursed my babies.

As I say, you pick your battles.

I think I can say with certainty that, based on abundant anecdotal and subjective evidence, no brain cells were injured in the course of their parenting.  Not any more than any parent is liable for.

Of course, when I was a kid, things were very different than they were for our children and, especially, for our grandchildren.

My mother was discouraged from breastfeeding. Indeed, she was encouraged to "enter the modern age" and fed me a "formula" of evaporated milk, water and Karo syrup. At age two weeks, I was started on a few mouthfuls of Zwieback cookies (yes, with sugar and cinnamon), soaked in warm water, fed to me by my Grandmother's hand. At three weeks, a bit of rice cereal was added to my diet, so I would sleep better at night.  At a month, applesauce was added.

Imagine!

Now kids are breast or formula fed for up to a year before anything else is added to their diet.

I didn't wear a helmet or knee pads when I rode my bike. Neither did I wear a seat belt when I rode in the car. Indeed, I remember going for long rides on Sunday afternoon, and my baby sister was in a "car bed" on the front "bench" seat of the car between my parents. My sister and brother sat in the back seat, one by each window. I, being the oldest, got to stretch out on the back "shelf" and look at the people behind us and watch the sky above us as we drove. 

Imagine!

Now, parents are reported as negligent if they allow their kids to ride in the car without a proper, age/weight appropriate car seat, ride their bikes without a helmet, or walk home alone from school.

And yet, somehow, I'm alive to tell the story today. 

As each one of our grandchildren have made their way into our lives and our hearts, the particulars of their parenting styles becomes less and less important.

What is important is to do everything you can to live up to the promise that you whisper and coo to them when they are first in your arms, "Shhh . . . it's okay . . .I'm right here."

There's a wonderful song sung by children's superstar Raffi, the refrain of which is: All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly and love in my family."

I know. I know. That's pretty simplistic. Life is more complicated that that.

Of course it is. Bottom line? That's really the essential goal of good parenting. To have a child grow to be happy, secure, confident adult who knows how to love because they know that they are loved.

Indeed, it's what it's really always been about. From generation to generation.

The rest?  Just details.

Each one of which I plan to overlook, as my mother and grandmother did. Well, mostly. I plan to spend my energy enjoying every single delicious moment of being a Nana.

Which, oh by the way, is the best job in the whole world.

I suspect it has ever been thus, from generation to generation.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Maundy Thursday Mani-Pedi Party

Today is Maundy Thursday and, in certain segments of Western Christendom, women - lay and ordained - have been getting together in small groups to observe the contemporary ritual of the Mani-Pedi, preceded or followed by lunch.

Let us not be disparaging of the modern intersection of the sacred and the profane.

I am amazed that some women will stay away in droves at the Maundy Thursday Foot Washing Service. Or, if they go to church, demure from going forward to have their feet washed. But, they will pay between $35 to $65 for a manicure and pedicure - plus tip.

I was rector of one church where some of the women said to me that their previous rector allowed them to come forward to have their hands washed instead of their feet.

Hands? I asked. Why yes, they said. Peter said, "Not just my feet but my hands and head as well."

After I closed my mouth and found my voice, I jokingly suggested that I wouldn't be doing shampoo and blow dry at the altar.

They didn't laugh. Oh, no. These women with meticulously pedicured feet were deadly serious about not having their feet washed in church.

Which was fine. I simply said, quietly but firmly, that the service in the Book of Common Prayer was about foot washing and that I wouldn't be doing anyone's hands - or head, for that matter.

I don't understand the Episcopal tendency to have a "foot phobia".  Then again, maybe it's not Episcopal. Maybe it's human. Maybe that's precisely why Jesus chose foot washing as a symbol of the posture of humility and service, intimacy and vulnerability that is required of His disciples.

To overcome or desensitize this foot phobia, many of us who are clergy women have started a relatively unknown but increasingly popular ritual of going out with our posse and having a mani-pedi.  It's especially fun if you can make it the Wednesday night before or sometime during the day of Maunday Thursday.

I've been asked, mostly by men - about the "theology" of this "contemporary secular ritual."

Well, for me, it's like this:

I'm celebrating Mary of Bethany (Or, was it Magdala?) who was "wasteful" in pouring expensive oil on the head and feet of Jesus and wiping his feet with her hair. It inspires me to use the unction of the love of Jesus "lavishly and wastefully" as He did for me. 

You won't find that theology written in any impressive book anywhere. You will find it written on the walls of my heart. You know, where theology really matters. 


So, if getting folks to participate in the Maundy Thursday foot washing ritual is a struggle for you, consider starting a ritual of the mani-pedi.  

Some women I know don't spend lots of money at a Nail Salon. Some get together and have a Maundy Thursday Mani-Pedi Party at home and do their own or each other's feet. 

You're a guy? No problem. Trust me, there are more and more men these days in Nail Salons getting manicures AND pedicures.

It's a brave new world.  

Personally, I much prefer it when people come to church straight from work, having worn their shoes and socks all day. Something feels very right to me about the real smell of real feet after a long day's work. Of pouring warm water over tired, achy feet. Of gently patting them dry with a soft fluffy towel. Of gently kissing them as a sign of the agape and servant ministry to which Jesus calls us. 

It's especially powerful watching people wash each other's feet. 

But, if it takes a mani-pedi to get there, well then that's what we do.  It works.

Something tells me that Jesus would have loved a mani-pedi. 


He certainly didn't stop Mary of Bethany (or was it Magdala?) when she poured expensive perfumed nard on him.  Or, when she wiped his feet with her hair and kissed them.

All four gospels tell the story of foot washing, although a few of the details vary from story to story. 

I love the way Luke (7:36-50) ends his gospel story:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
For me, that's the essence of the message of Maundy Thursday. 

It's the essence of the message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Lavish, wasteful, incarnate, smelly, vulnerable, intimate unconditional love.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hospice: Quality of Life

If you don't think this is a picture of a Hospice patient, there's a lot you probably don't know about Hospice.

The patient in this picture - we'll just call her "Jenny" - has ESCOPD (End Stage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). That means there isn't anything more doctors can do to help her. Her health status is not going to get any better. Indeed, it will only get worse.

The goal of her Hospice care is to manage her symptoms - hopefully keeping her out of hospital and doctor's office - and provide her with an optimum level of quality of life.

We do that by providing holistic care - tending to her body, her mind and her spirit. As a team. 

In the past nine months or so, we've watched "Jenny" get around the assistant living facility with her walker. We were able to add an attachment to her walker that allowed her to bring her oxygen tank and tubing with her wherever she went - and she needs to have oxygen running 24/7.

Several months ago walking became increasingly difficult for her, so she moved to a wheelchair with an attached oxygen tank and tubing as her primary mode of transportation. It wasn't easy to wheel herself, but at first, she insisted.

Lately, however, she hasn't resisted when one of us started to push her to wherever she was going.

Then, she got pneumonia.

The good news is that we were able to keep her out of the hospital. The bad news is that the infection left her with a breathing capacity that was even more compromised.

Wheeling herself around in a wheelchair became far too much energy to spend to make "getting there" worth it.

But, being able to "get there," more or less at her own speed, is what makes her feel alive.

Independence is what gives her "quality of life".

So, our team got together - nurse/case manager, certified nurse's aid, social worker, and chaplain - and determined to advocate for her to get a motorized scooter, something that would allow her to save the energy she would use to "get there" and use it while she was actually "there".

Our Hospice agency has something called "The Foundation". When people make contributions in memory of their loved ones, it goes to The Foundation. That money is used to help our patients in need pay their rent or utility bills. We've also used it to build wheelchair ramps, repair leaking roofs, fumigate homes filled with bed bugs, cockroaches and bees (Yes, bees!). And, we've even purchased apartment-sized washer-dryers. However, we've never gotten a motorized scooter.

Until now.

Part of the problem was that the usual financial assistance programs were not available to "Jenny", and neither she nor her family have the funds to pay for one. We tried to get a used one, but none were available at this time. And, The Foundation was concerned about liability issues.

Another part of the problem is that Jenny didn't feel she deserved one, so she kept demurring. "No, I'm fine. I can do it. I just have to pace myself."

The team agreed that she is, without a doubt, one of the most courageous people we know.

Hands-down. No contest.

She wants so much to live, she's so not ready to die - and yet, behold, she knows she is, in fact, dying - that she will push herself to get as much out of whatever life she has left that ... well.... as we all said today at our patient team meeting with her Assisted Living staff . . . she's our hero.

So, we appealed to The Foundation and . . . with a little push here and a little shove there ... they . . . said . . . YESSSSSS!!

The scooter arrived on Friday. In a box. It needed to be assembled. So, one of our team had a friend who has a friend who called in a few favors and, voila! The scooter was assembled.

Then, it had to be plugged in and charged up. It was ready Sunday. And, Monday. But the CNA (nurse's aid) reported that she wasn't using it. Part of it was fear/anxiety, but a bigger part of it was that she was completely overwhelmed by the generosity of the gift.

So, we had a little team gathering today - even our Clinical Director came - to support her as she learned the basics of how to operate a scooter. We were even able to take the attachment to hold the oxygen tank which had originally been bought for her walker, and then her wheelchair, and use it on her scooter.

I wish you could have seen the smile on her face when she realized she could totally do this.

And then the tears in her eyes as she realized what this opened up for her.

"Jenny" wiped her tears, smiled broadly and then said, "If you'll excuse me, I gotta go. I can't be late for my exercise class."

And, off she went.

I snapped this picture as she did.

That photograph above, my friends, is the very picture of what quality of life for a Hospice patient looks like.

I can't think of a better way to have spent Tuesday in Holy Week.  It's the day when clergy in Episcopal dioceses around the country traditionally renew our ordination vows in cathedrals with their bishops.

The gospel lesson for today is from John 12:20-26.
"Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
As I looked at the faces of my team members and saw the tears of joy in their eyes, I needed no further evidence that Jesus was present in that moment.

It's moments like this when I realize that I've never felt more like a priest. 

I came home and read over my ordination vows.

I've re-uped. At least for another year.

Well, truth be told, for as long as Jesus gives me work to do. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A different kind of Hosanna

So, for the first time in - well, I can't remember when and I'm afraid to say - I'm not in "church proper" for Palm/Passion Sunday.

(Pssst: Don't tell Arizona Senator Sylvia Allen who would like to make church attendance mandatory. She also supports carrying concealed weapons in public places - including churches.) 

Rather, I'm hanging out as part of "the crowd" who are today as blissfully unaware of what's going on and being preached in the temple as there probably were when the events of this day in antiquity were unfolding.

Lemme tell ya, there's a whole lot more here than there are in church this morning. And, it's very diverse. Well, at least here in NYC. I think I heard at least six different languages spoken at breakfast.

Looking at the faces of the people here and the way they carry their bodies, it's clear to see that they know about triumph and tragedy, sin and sacrifice, betrayal and redemption, crucifixion and resurrection.

The metanarrative of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus continues . . . .

. . . . . . it just doesn't speak to everyone because the church doesn't always make her voice clear and relevant and compelling enough to be heard above the clamor of life and to various people in their various social locations.

I can't imagine anyone here finding meaning in marching around outside in 25 degree weather, waving palms. 

I do take great delight in listening to the squeals of joy and delight of children from a variety of countries as they frolic, carefree, in the hotel pool.

The laughter of children is a universal language all its own.

It's enough of a 'Hosanna to the Lord of Life' for me on this Sunday of Palms and Passion.

Today is for "Hosanna!" The world is already filled with too many calls to "Crucify! Crucify!"

I'll be in church for the Triduum and Easter Day. That will suffice for this year.

More people will be present, along with us, at the 3 PM matinee of WICKED than will be in church this morning in any one given location. The matinee has been sold out for weeks.

There, we'll hear another kind of story of triumph and tragedy. 

And, the crowd - another full house - will come back for the regular show at 8 PM.

Our granddaughters get it. At 7, 9, and 13 years old, they totally get it.

I wish you had been at our breakfast table conversation this morning to hear them talk about good v. evil, popular v successful, betrayal v. friendship.

And, what the 13 year old described as "the irony of the challenge of being unique v the mediocrity of being like everyone else, just thinking - and letting everyone else think - you're better."

Somebody give that Palm/Passion Day sermon an Amen.

Or, at least, a Hosanna in the highest!

In whatever way works for you.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Indiana: Newton's Third Law

In case you haven't heard, yesterday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the so-called "religious freedom" bill into law during a private ceremony in his Statehouse office.

This bill purports to protect persons and businesses from government reprisal if their decisions to treat groups of people differently (in the provision of services and goods, for example) stem from what they claim to be religious beliefs – even if those beliefs are not part of the formally professed teaching of any established religious group.

It's a hideous affront to the fundamentals of our Constitution.

Or, as Susan Russell calls it, it's a "Weapon of Mass Discrimination". 

Proponents of the bill say it is not about discrimination.

Of course not.  It's about "religious freedom". See?

So, if someone comes into your store or your bakery or whatever your business happens to be, and you figure out that they are . . . .oh, I don't know, let's say . . . you figure out that they're gay.

AND . . . your religion teaches you that being gay is . . . oh, I don't know, let's say . . .  an "objectively / inherently disordered" condition.

WELL . . . not to worry about having your religious beliefs compromised by having to serve this . . . abomination in the sight of the Lord. Your "religious freedoms" have been protected.

Some of the "Religious Leaders" at the signing of the new law
Or, say, a woman comes into your store or your bakery or whatever your business happens to be, and you can tell, just by looking at that expensive suit she's wearing and that fancy-schmancy jewelry she's sporting, and the conversations she's having on that expensive cell phone that's partially hidden under her perfectly colored and coiffed hair that she's probably not . ..  how shall we say? . . . your typical 'homemaker".

AND . .  your religion teaches you that a woman's place is in the home. With her husband. And, with as many children as our Abundant God deigns to give her.

WELL . .. not to worry about having your religious beliefs compromised by having to serve this . . . this . ..  Woman! Your "religious freedoms" have been protected.

And, let's not even talk about an interracial couple who walks into a restaurant and expects to be served.

No, let's not even talk about that.

Especially if they are wearing garments made of two different materials, or have tattoos, or collect interest on money they have in the bank, or . . . . Well, just read Leviticus.

Or, not. Actually, you don't even have to be following a formally professed belief of any established religion. If your name is Judy and you believe something about God then you are following Judy-ism. Or your name is Brian, you could be a Follower of the Life of Brian. 

As the Episcopal Bishop of Indianapolis, the Rt. Rev'd Catherine M. Waynick, wrote to her diocese:
Consider the possibility that only Christians will be served in some places, only Jews in others, while no Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, or Druids can purchase merchandise in some stores, and only Latinos will be included here, only Blacks excluded there....you see the point. This legislation gives the appearance of tolerating and protecting overt bigotry in any form so long as it is dressed up as personal religious fervor.
Oh, but wait. That's not the bad news.

The really bad news is that this is just part of the first of a wave of a something Ms. Mouthermouth Maybelle, a character from Hairspray, once called, " . ..  a whole lotta ugly comin' at you from a neverending parade of stupid." 

The truth is that Indiana is the 20th state to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

Let me say that again so it will sink in: Twenty (20!!) states now have a Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a law on their books. 

There are more on the way. Arkansas and Georgia are poised to be next.

As astounding as all of this is, there's a really simple explanation for it all: Physics.

Newton's Third Law, to be specific.

You might remember it from high school physics:
"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."
Consider: Marriage Equality will soon be the law of the land.  Thirty-seven states and counting. 

You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you? I mean, that LGBT people would win our civil rights state by state by bloody state and then, it would all be rainbows, lollipops, roses and sunshine?

Consider: In 2012, this country elected its first Black President for a second term of office.

And yet, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1965, there has been a gradual erosion of voting rights which includes redistricting, gerrymandering, redlining and requiring documented evidence of personhood (which, for these same people, simply being an embryo can prove that). 

Sometimes, the "equal and opposite reaction" isn't always as easy to follow as a straight line.

I'm told by my friends who work in shelters for victims of domestic violence that there has been a sudden increase in women and children seeking assistance over the past six months.

There are lots of factors, of course, but it turns out that when some people - mostly men who are Caucasian / Western European - feel threatened by forces out of their control - like gay people being able to get married or women making more money than they do or transgender people obtaining civil rights - they come home and kick the dog. Or, their wives. And, kids.

On one level, it's pretty pathetic.

On another level, it has ever been thus.

Man on top. Says so in the Bible. Try to change that and expect Newton's Third Law to kick in.

So, the political physics of the situation looks like this: 37 states with marriage equality + 20 states with Religious Freedom Restoration Act = Newton's Third Law. 

Here's the thing: This is such an affront to the very idea of 'liberty' - what generations of men and women in this country have fought and died for - that it is simply a matter of time before these laws are challenged and overturned.

That's also part of Newton's Third Law, sometimes stated as, "What goes around, comes around."

These laws - which are an abomination in the very sight of Jesus - will be challenged and eventually repealed. Of that, I have no doubt. In the meantime, a lot of people will be hurt. And, angry. And, outraged. And, that would be exactly right.

As my blessed grandmother used to say, "Prejudice kills brain cells."

It is important to be outraged. It is more important, as Mother Jones famously said, to "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

If you aren't convinced to get out and vote in every single bloody election - and help others to get to the polls to cast their ballot - I don't know what will persuade you. 

Maybe remembering Newton's Third Law will do it: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. "

As Sinclair Lewis rightly predicted in Babbit:  "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
 
Let this 20th state to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law be the "tipping point".

Stop the momentum of this growing movement. Push back against injustice and bigotry and fascism masquerading as "religious freedom".

VOTE! And, make sure to help others get to the voting booth, too.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thin Place: Listening for the sizzle


The Shrine to the Thin Places at Doonamoe in County Mayo, Ireland, designed and built by Travis Price, AIA, with his students at Catholic University.
There is a wonderful notion in Celtic Spirituality called "thin place".

Peter Gomes, theologian and chaplain at Harvard of blessed memory, has, I think, the best description:
“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of 'thin places' in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good — and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favored as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery."
Many think of "thin place" as an actual location, such as the mountains and rivers Gomes speaks of, or churches or monasteries and convents. And, it certainly can be that.

I have also heard expressed by some who follow Celtic Spirituality this mysterious, lovely idea that the Daily Office - said, chanted and/or sung - and the daily Eucharist celebrated in churches, monasteries and convents form a "Prayer Shield" of sorts which keeps Evil from slipping into those "thin places" and protects the suffering and "shields the joyous".

While I think of our own wee cottage, Llangollen, on the waters and marshes of Rehoboth Bay as one, I think less of "thin place" as being an actual place. Rather, it is, for me, a state of being.

It is a "place" in one's spirit and soul where one becomes more in tune with The One.

I have a Hospice patient - I'll call her "Gertie", she'll be 95 in May - who is, for me, a 'thin place'.

She was orphaned as a very young child and was sent to live with Aunt Stella, who wasn't really an aunt but a family friend. Aunt Stella had already taken in another young girl, also orphaned, and the two girls grew up as sisters.

Aunt Stella was a librarian. One of the first things "Gertie"  learned to do - which was her daily responsibility until she was 16 and a half years old and left home to get married - was to walk Aunt Stella to the trolly stop so she could go to work at the Library.

Aunt Stella, you see, was blind.

That's really all "Gertie" ever did for Aunt Stella. Walk her to the trolly stop.

Aunt Stella could manage all by herself, thank you very much. And, she could have easily walked herself to the trolly stop but, well, this became "their time".

Walking and talking on the way to the trolly stop was their "thin place". It was really the only time of the day when they were alone together and "Gertie" learned to cherish the time as holy and the path they walked as sacred.

Aunt Stella cooked all the meals for them - and then, for Uncle Johnny whom she later married. Uncle Johnny was also blind. He played the piano and every Sunday after church the house would be filled with blind people who gathered in Aunt Stella and Uncle Johnny's parlor and sang and ate Aunt Stella's cakes and pies and drank coffee and tea.

And, laughed. "That was the best music," said Gertie, "that laughter was real medicine."

"Gertie" said that Aunt Stella was a great cook and taught her "how to cook blind".

"When you're blind," "Gertie" said, "you can't stick a knife in the cake to see if it's done. So, you listen for the sizzle."

"If you put your ear right up close to the oven," she said, "you can hear it. If you let the sound go into your body, you can feel it."

She closed her eyes and said softly, "Ssszzzzzzzz.....". Then, she opened her eyes and said, "And, sure enough, it will be done."

Then, she leaned forward, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, "Listen for the sizzle in life. Always listen, listen, listen. And feel what you hear. Your eyes may deceive you. Your heart may betray you. But, your body never lies."

These days, I feel more and more that I am living in "thin place".

I love my Hospice work. I consider it a holy privilege.

And, we are also preparing for our youngest adult child and her husband to deliver us our newest granddaughter, Willow Elizabeth.

She's due April 4, but could really come any time now. We are planning a home birth, complete with midwife and pediatric nurse practitioner who will also be present for the birth.

Living in the excitement and anticipation of life and new birth is a time of "thin place".

There's a quality in the air these days, as I prepare for this child's arrival that feels very much like when I'm around someone who is getting ready to go home to Jesus.

It's like that odd taste of steel on your tongue and in your mouth and the way the air feels still and fragile and bristles the hairs in your nose when you breathe it in just before - and then, just after - a rain storm. You know?

There's a thinness to the atmosphere and time feels like it has slowed down - with moments when it feels like it has actually stopped for a heartbeat or two - and everything is quiet and still, except for the gentle rustling of the leaves in the trees.

And, it raises the soft, small hair on the back of your neck and sends just a little tingle to your shoulders and down your arms.

Just the teeny tiniest of gentle little zaps (or sizzles).

It's something in your soul that says to your body: "Hey! Wake up! Pay attention here. Something is about to happen and you don't want to miss this."

That's what life feels like these days or me.  Like a thin place.

And, when it's really quiet, as it is right now, I can hear "Gertie's" words:

"Listen for the sizzle in life. Always listen, listen, listen. And feel what you hear. Your eyes may deceive you. Your heart may betray you. But, your body never lies."

And, I close my eyes and begin the mantra of my new prayer, ""Ssszzzzzzzz....."

Suddenly, slowly, like the rustling of leaves, I hear the prayer with my whole body and spirit and soul, and the soft hairs on the back of my neck begin to rise and send just a little teeny tiny tingle to my shoulders and down my arms.

I find myself becoming more one with The One.

I stay like that for a time until I am "done" - awash with a sense of profound gratitude.

Then I wipe the small tears that have, like surprising divine gifts of blessing, appeared in the corners of my eyes and I say, "Thank you."

And, "Amen."