Monday, July 27, 2009

Recent Sunset

What to be when I grow up?

Perhaps that title should read "What to be when I grow old?" I've been a lot of things. Baby, daughter, niece, sister, smart kid, storyteller (not liar), journalist, draftsperson, staple remover, truck driver, waitress, adulteress, married to a man, lesbian, co-owner of advertising studio, graphic designer, printer, social services program manager, bean picker, bean counter (bookkeeper), public relations guru, photographer, hoarder, collector, thrift store manager, ecumenical ministries director, newspaper headline writer, moocher, independent, smart, pastoral counselor, teacher, retreat leader, closet cleaner, listener, fund raiser, television ad writer, rodeo barrel rider, poet, screen printer, computer guru, theologian, student....

Each person has many titles and many "beings", but I hope most of you have not held as many jobs as I have. Still, it's good to be a Renaissance woman. I can bake biscuits as well as repair lamps and lift heavy things. I have some artistic talent and I love learning.

I know and believe that each person has intrinsic worth simply because he/she is. But, that seems to be about other people, not about me. When I'm meditating (and distracted), I muse on what I am and am not doing with my gifts and talents. I have lots of great ideas, and I frequently start many of them. I have so many unfinished projects in so many different areas that I would not know where to begin to finish any of them. And, the ideas keep abounding, growing, multiplying like rabbits and mice.

The strange part is that I feel I need to have a passion - something that I love to do to the exclusion of the multitude of others. I like to knit, crochet, design, paint, draw, build things, organize, be pastorally caring, listen, work with computers. And, the tools with which to do these things are all here and multiplying almost as quickly as my ideas. I work part-time in a yarn shop, and I love meeting the people, arranging the yarns, working on the website, making good displays. And, some days that's a passion. Some days I really dread going to work, and I feel drained when I get home.

Some days I want to go out and change the world so that the people for whom I've provided pastoral care and survive in this world - most never make it out of their poverty or illness or situations. Some days I have images in my mind so strongly that the colors I see influence my moods (both for the good and the bad). I envision a crochet/knit replica of a reef, which I began some time ago - and quit. No project or occupation seems to last. My interest wanes, hope disappears, and I just quit.

I have a book from my therapist, "If the Buddha got stuck", and I suspect that I need to read more of it. Propping it at the edge of my computer screen does not help me. But, my life has always been such a mish-mash of projects and passions that I cannot concentrate on one thing long enough to finish it or to become truly an "artist". I get just good enough and I quit.

So, what use am I? Now that I'm growing older, what do I want to be/do? Why isn't who/what I am enough? Why do I feel that I should be/do more? And, why don't I do/be it?

Okay, so now I have the questions. Feel free to add your own questions and/or answers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Being Lesbian in a Straight World

In the July/August 2009 issue of Yale Alumni Magazine, Mitchell Reich said, "My epiphany (coming out as gay) was always supposed to expand my world, never to limit it, and I'm disappointed in the contraction of my social panorama." (p47) His coming out was about 4 years ago, not nearly long enough to have accustomed himself to living gay in a very diverse world - not just straight (heterosexual) but also one that includes people who want to kill you for who you are. Terrorists want to kill us because we are American. Some Muslims want to kills us because we are sinners. Mothers and fathers fear us because we are not what they want their children to become...or for other reasons. Churches ban us because they interpret scripture differently than we do.

So we do cocoon (to use Mitch's word). We tend to gather in groups of people who are very like us, people who look askance at heterosexuals in their midst. At least that's what we do in the beginning of our "coming out". Some of us never make it past that acclimatization. I retreated into heterosexual marriage after those first four years. Of course, the world was very different then. Police could arrest you for being in a gay bar - the dreaded vice squad. Landlords could refuse to rent to you, and employers could fire you.

However, after living in a world that included lots of straights and gays for many years while I was married, I can return to being openly lesbian without the cocooning. In fact, I would miss my hetero/married friends and their children. I cannot let being lesbian dominate my life - how boring! Nor can I deny my marital status - civil unioned in a far-off state, holy unioned in a conservative town, but openly partnered with a woman.

We are part of a group that is striving for acceptance within a church - a small piece of giving back for the comfort that we feel and the financial ability to say, "I'm not sure what you think of me matters very much." Our parents are dead; her son lives a rather bohemian lifestyle in a large city. We don't have consider the consequences for our families.

But most people around here really like us: the older ladies where we go to church, the men who work on our home and our yard, the people we meet where I work, church people that we come to know, twelve-step people, and other groups who might be more traditionally unwelcoming. We've met very little bias, anger, fear or repression. We are truly blessed.

Our parties include some gays but many others - singles, heterosexual marrieds, partners of various kinds, children. I would miss the richness of this blend of people. We even have conversations - some in person, some on the internet - with those who think that our sexuality choice is an abomination. One of my dearest "children" from a time when I worked at a college has very different opinions about what the Bible says about our lifestyle - and some other things also. We occasionally talk about that, but mostly I want to hear about her children, her move, her running accomplishments, what kind of French meal she is preparing for celebration of the Tour de France. I follow her notes closely on Facebook.

Yes, Mitch, I understand your cocooning during the first four years after coming out, but now you have to come out again. In order to expand, you need friends from all sorts of lives and all ages. If you continue to cocoon, you will not be "becoming more fundamentally honest, learning to share myself more deeply with other people." You will become what you were called when you first ventured away from the cocoon: a faggot. You must not let being gay become constitutive of your identity to the exclusion of other parts of you.

I offer you my blessings and my prayers for the man you wish to be. May others find that same diversity within themselves.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Old spam, new perspective

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.

One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation..

Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band - he could see it in his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.

It faced a blank wall.

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, "Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you."

This story makes me wonder what "seeing" has to do with perspective/attitude and happiness. Perhaps that's why gratitude lists are so important. Gratitude lists are enumerations of the things we can "see" in our lives that are good. What if we made gratitude lists for the things we can only imagine? When I am depressed and hurting, what if I made a detailed list of a trip that I want to take but have not taken yet? What if I described in detail the people I would meet and the sights I would see?

In such a gratitude list, I could even include the impossible events as well - hugging a clean polar bear, rolling around in the snow with a cub in safety. I could describe how the snow feels in that part of the world - slightly dry and raising puffs of white as we tumbled along and I butted heads with the cub. Rubbing my head with snow covered gloves and having the cub imitate my action. I could imagine my eyes tearing and the tears freezing as they stuck to my face. As I turn to leave, the mama bear gathers the cubs near her and they watch as I get on the tundra buggy, staying still in that position until we are out of sight so that my final image is of "my" polar bear family.

In other lists, I could describe the serenity of places I have been and people I have known - things for which I am truly grateful - not just single words or phrases on paper but recalling the joys of being present to beauty, to love and to goodness.

I'm good with descriptions, but the plot would simply be gratitude that I was there or that I am there in spirit.

I missed the Independence Day fireworks again for the umpteenth year, but no fireworks could be as beautiful as those I see in my mind. I close my eyes and the swirling sprinkles of minute light bursts imprint themselves on my mind. The colors are varied, ranging from multi-hued magentas to bright yellows and mind boggling blues against a dark blue sky. And, the greens that umbrella over the crowd. The one red sparkler shot that seems to fall directly over me, and I can feel the bits of ash that haven't blown away above the trees as they fall to the ground around my feet, evidence of the specialness that I am. The red one was for me.

Our creek is wide where we live, but miles up, the branches overhang the shallow water. A deer drinks quietly from the bank as I round the corner (actually happened) on my propelled watercraft. I quieten the motor and drift for a few minutes. Today I'm dressed in the colors of the creek - a bit of green, dark pants that match my craft and the water, even a few sparkles to reflect light as the water does. The great blue heron continues to stalk a fish as I watch and moves into the edges of the cypress knees as I pass. White lilies that I've seen at a distance brush the edges of my craft as I ease by. And, there - just a few yards away on the bank - the white alligator that people claim to have seen. I am frightened, but I take a deep breath and gently turn around - moving the water so little as not to be noticed. The alligator is very large and the sun is warm on its back as it appears to doze in the afternoon. Easily, easily, I move back down the creek toward home. The alligator continues to doze. Nearer home, the turtles still slide off the fallen trees into the water as I approach. And, then, home appears around the curve of the creek. A boat slows and waves as I approach my docking spot.

I can encourage myself with descriptive sightings - those of the outside world, those of my inner world of peace and delight, those of memory and those of hope.

God, let my fingers do the talking when I am sad or hurting.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Episcopal Church Resolutions

(Please note that the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not of the Episcopal Church or any part of the Episcopal Church. The logo is used to indicate the subject of this opinion.)

Even in their watered down versions, the General Convention has passed two resolutions that will extend the full sacraments of the church to all baptized members. First, both houses (bishops and deputies) passed a resolution that will allow gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people full access to the ordination process and, if ordained, to all positions including bishop. Second, the House of Bishops just passed 104/30 a resolution for creating theological and liturgical basis for blessings of same sex unions as well as allowing a generous pastoral response, especially in those states where they are legalized. This resolution now goes to the House of Deputies.

The rector of the main Episcopal Church in our town has called a parish meeting between services on Sunday to explain the first (and, I suppose, the second) resolution to what he believes is a strongly conservative congregation. He is a man walking in fear of schism in his parish. He also walks in fear of losing pledge dollars and, possibly, has not dealt with his own feelings.

Truth: Such changes do cause people to leave the church, but they also cause people to join the church. While I have no evidence for this belief, I believe that more people will be led to the Episcopal Church than will leave it.

Over five years ago, the dialogue about GLBT folk began here. Subsequently, a support group was formed. They held a short retreat to decide what they wished to be, to do, and to be called. An article was published in the church newsletter about this new group with its name, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) Ministry. This newsletter was published while the rector was away. When he returned, he pulled the article from the on-line version of the newsletter, but several hundred printed versions could not be recalled.

At the following meeting of the group, he made clear that he did not want the ministry to be so named nor did he want the words Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered to be mentioned in connection with Christ Church. At the diocesan convention in February, he had the poster for the display changed to the LGBT Ministry of the Diocese meeting at X Church. He said that he had gotten much negative feedback about this ministry. He wants the group to form a five year plan - that's five more years than have already passed.

About 20 people are active in the LGBT Ministry, and I personally feel that we are welcome at this church only if we keep a part of our lives secret. My partner and I had our picture made together for the church directory. We cannot deny this part of our life - which is only a minor part as regards the fact, I don't recall inviting the church into our bedroom or into the working relationship of our household.

I am grateful to the bishops and deputies for the emerging understanding of differing lifestyles and the spirit of inclusivity they have exhibited at this General Convention. I pray that the same understanding and spirit may engage the hearts and minds of those at our church who would exclude me and others like me.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

I agree with the Pope

"While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human." Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas Veritate, his new encyclical on the world economic system. (Guardian)

While I disagree with the Pope on many things, most things, this statement has a ring of truth, particularly if you change the word human to humane. This makes the statement more understandable to the rest of the world. The Pope and I already know that to be human is to be and act humanely.

Now, we have to convince the very rich that sponsoring children in Africa, adopting orphans, building fairy-tale ranches and such are not the full way of treating the rest of the world as humans. Do my beliefs mean that I'm going to give up my pleasures? NIMBY (not in my backyard).

We have more than enough, but we're not rich like Trump or Jobs or some movie stars or entertainers or jocks. Or Madoff. In fact, rich today seems to mean someone with nine figure assets or income. Wow!

Or does it mean someone with six figure assets and income? What determines richness today?

Better yet, is richness determined by monetary worth? And, if it's not, then how do we keep a conscience, enjoy our blessings (of all kinds) and remember what being human means.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Returning to Church

Some of you have read my story of non-ordination and the ensuing 20 years of ministry, and some of you know that I have not been a church-goer much less a participant in several years.

Today I attended a small church in Jacksonville, NC, and felt as if I entered a place of blessing. One Sunday, one communion, but a changed attitude. I remember singing, "Just as I am......." ad infinitum in the Baptist Church, but always being moved by the simplicity of its message. The simplicity of getting in the car and driving to this church, walking in the door, and participating in the liturgy made me feel as if I had never been away.

God and I have been getting along rather well, but I suspect a new ministry is going to present itself to me soon. I've been having dreams of being in the wrong place but having to bide my time for the right place.

So, Baptist or otherwise, I continue to sing "Just as I am...." and "here I am, Lord"
and, if I can only touch the hem of the garment....

Friday Five

Topic is our closets - whee, dogie!

1. Are you a hoarder, or are you good at sorting and clearing? I sort and clear very well when the stuff belongs to someone else, but I'm about to mail one of my great grandmother's dresses to a relative. Obviously, the females of my family have been hoarders. I have neatly marked boxes in the garage - Childhood -useless junk, Too Little, Computer parts, Files, Winter, Fleece,..... So, I hoard in an orderly fashion.

2. What is the oddest garment you possess and why?
I am not ordained, but my friend Alison was convinced that I would be someday. She gave me an antique red silk chasuble, stole that is too short for anyone over 5'2". I have it safely packed away with no anticipation of needing it soon. And, my great grandmother's dress and my brother's sailor suit when he was 2 years old, etc.

3. Do you have a favourite look/ colour?
I just like color - although red is my favorite color, I also enjoy turquoise and bright blue. And, I have hats and jewelry to match most things.

4. Thrift/ Charity shops, love them or hate them? My hats mostly come from thrift shops, and some of my clothes - few in my size where I live now. Love them, love them. Buy broken jewelry to make into other things - also belts that I deconstruct and purses and ....hmmm, you get the idea.

5. Money is no object, what one item would you buy? A swimsuit that fits and looks good.

Now the truth of my closets is that I have one closet of pants that fit my larger (now) size. I lost a few pounds a year or so ago and bought new clothes. Gained the weight back. Forgot where I put my clothes. Bought new ones. Now have twice as many clothes as I can possibly use, but I rotate them, and I wear them out and nothing goes to waste. I recycle when they cannot be worn any longer.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Empathy and Who Gets The Job

"Mr. Ricci and his fellow petitioners understandably attract the court's empathy, but they had no vested right to promotion, and no person has received a promotion in preference to them."

- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting from Monday's Supreme Court ruling that white firefighters were the victims of discrimination when the city of New Haven, Conn., discarded test results that revealed disparities in scores between black and white applicants for promotions. Her choice of the word "empathy" in her spoken statement seemed to reference conservative criticism of President Obama for saying he wants judges who can show empathy for those who are vulnerable. (Source: Los Angeles Times) (I picked this up from Sojourners Online. Emphasis is mine.)

The word "empathy" may be referencing President Obama's desires in a judge, but certainly during her lifetime, Justice Ginsburg has felt the kind of discrimination that results from discarded tests and preferences that had nothing to do with qualifications. I heartily support her use of the word. And, in most cases no one has a vested right to promotion. Most promotions are based on many things including written materials, length of duty, color of skin/eyes/hair, leadership qualities, obvious abilities/strengths, politics, political correctness, financial support and the like. While most places try to promote on the basis of concrete qualifications, that's almost impossible. Our internal biases and preferences as well as initial impressions do make a difference in who gets the job.