Sunday, January 02, 2011

Divorce is a strange critter

I have been divorced twice and left a committed relationship once, and I can tell you that divorce is a strange critter. My first husband became drug dealer and addict and quit coming home. Mississippi has no-fault divorce, and in 30 days or 90 days or something like that, we were free to go. That was after I told him to come and get all his stuff. He didn't come when he was supposed to; so I put all his clothes and other belongings in paper bags outside the door of my (formerly our) apartment. Eventually, he showed up, after the apartment manager contacted his boss, in his semi and stuffed all the sacks into the side compartment. Later he claimed that the side compartment came open, and his stuff left a popcorn trail along the highway somewhere in Oklahoma. At least, he thought that was what happened.

My second husband and I went through some rigorous pre-marital counseling sessions wherein he agreed that someday we would make the decision about whether or not my mother would live with us, and we examined the likelihood that I would continue to gain weight. After six months he threatened to leave me. I asked him where he was going - no good answer; so he stayed. This happened on a regular basis: he would decide to leave, I'd ask where he was going, he'd decide to stay. In between we had lots of fun together and went lots of places that neither of us would have gone alone. Finally, he stated firmly that he was leaving. I told him he couldn't leave without me (we were living with my mother and that was not good). So, we took off together to find a place where we could get jobs. We settled in North Carolina, and things went well for six months.

Mother was seriously ill, and I'm an only child with a severe guilt complex. So, I galloped down to Mississippi to stay with her. She didn't get better, and the decision about her living with us was a reality. He said okay. I found a house. We all moved in. I had part-time work; he was a teacher in high school. Then, I wrecked the car; he bought a clunker. He began spending late afternoons and Saturdays doing school things. He fell in love with the teacher across the hall. Finally, he said he wanted a divorce. I cried on his shoulder; I had no one else. Shortly, thereafter, I was fixing a problem with his computer and found his love letters to this teacher. We divorced. He paid no alimony, none of his tiny pension fund, but we divided the debts evenly. And, I paid for the lawyer in the settlement. I refused to pay for the divorce, and he finally filed a year or so later. So, we were divorced.

Then, he told me that he had married me because he thought he couldn't find anything better. That's a real confidence builder! No wonder his family hated me.

Okay, so far, everyone relationship I've had ended with the person leaving me. I've never left anyone. Over the years of relationships, I've lost two cars, many friends, a lot of money, and been left hanging out to dry. So, then I'm in a relationship with a wonderful woman. I love her, but living together becomes more and more hazardous to our health. Feelings of aloneness and desperation at not being able to enjoy similar things make us feel as if we are walking on eggs all the time. Something precious was underfoot - those wonderful blown eggs that have been decorated in intricate designs - that's what we walking on - and they're being destroyed. We have counseling for two years. Improvement - regression. Both of us got tired.

Someone came along who loved me long ago and who claimed to still love me. I seized the feeling to give me impetus to leave. Here was the love, the caring, the white knight who would save me. And, I felt swept up in the feelings of long ago mixed with the need to love and be loved in the now. So, I called it quits, packed up and left. The haggling over property began, and, with each step I took in the new relationship, the haggling became worse. I hastened the process. I came with nothing to the old relationship, and I took away a small sum of money, in relative terms to possessions held jointly. I had been supported and indulged for 11 years.

Being the one to leave was not easy. Love dies a hard death, even when new love is springing forth. My desire for a natural death (one of the legal papers to change) wavered towards self-destruction several times. A sense of meaninglessness overwhelmed me. Separating and packing took much longer than I had thought possible - how intertwined and interdependent we had become. I left a lot of "stuff"; I tried to leave the  house without much obvious change except my presence and my empty studio. My energy failed and someone was hired to haul my stuff to storage.

Holidays came. My best friend and my former partner were now big buddies and spent Thanksgiving together. My best friend no longer answers my phone calls or emails. Online buddies "defriended" me as they heard how awful I had been and misconstrued some comments. Why I even took my partner's old Christmas stockings! NOT. What on earth would I do with them?

I have come to the conclusion that being left by a partner and leaving a partner bring the same pain, grieving and loss. I'm looking forward to some sunshine, and I pray, if this relationship ends, that I die first.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Looking at the world in 2011

My very learned friend the Very Reverend Nicholas Knisely, Dean of the Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ, wrote a great blog today: Entangled States  - he was making New Year's Resolutions about his study and preaching for 2011. He used words I haven't heard since we were in seminary together almost 20 years ago. Hermeneutics and others.

However, he proposed to look at traditional ways of approaching scripture in preparation for preaching and delve into other ways than we learned. He mentioned allegory - I like that since I do a lot of story-telling in the modern vernacular - a kind of allegory that helps people relate to scripture in a different way.

Our classmate, David Keill, posted a picture of himself getting ready for General Ordination Exams (GOEs) and mentioned that he had used a reference to the Simpsons in one of his answers. Unlike yours truly, David aced the exams, and I suspect that Nick did, too. People today seem to respond to the myth of a story - the essence that is true to life regardless of whether the story is factual or not.  Helping people find the myth, the idea that will bring them closer to God is what we are supposed to be doing when we preach - at least I think so.

Also, Nick is going to take another look at atonement. Good Baptist that I have never been, I still think of blood atonement/sacrifice when someone mentions this. Atonement for our sins (okay, so I need a good definition of sin before this sentence began, but not going to happen) is mentioned many times in the scriptures, and Jesus' death and resurrection are the traditional way of thinking of atonement. God's son had to die to atone (make right) our sins. I have never been very good at atonement - especially not the stringent atonement that 12 step programs call for. And, I've never understood the idea that God's sending Christ to earth to die and rise from the dead could possibly do anything for my sins. Christ isn't my saviour because he died and rose from the dead; Christ is my saviour because he was God incarnate in humanity. He came to reconnect me and everyone else with God.

And, he's going to look at the energy situation as it relates to churches - of course, that's not how he put it. He said, "Energy Price impact on parish and diocesan life". Christmas Eve I was in a mega-church for a candle-lighting service. The technology was amazing, and I wondered if the techies were paid or volunteer. I wondered at the cost of heating and cooling such a huge arena - well, semi-circular with a large balcony where we sat. The seats were almost all full. Children covered the stage for the reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. The buildings of this mega-church were built when energy prices were cheap. They do not have any conservation measures. Lights are standard, the HVAC system will need major repairs or replacements soon, spaces are design conscious instead of energy conscious.

Small churches are closing their doors, not only because they lack trained clergy leaders but also because the buildings have deteriorated and cannot be maintained or replaced with energy efficient new ones. Other reasons contribute to this closure also...the number of people who are unemployed or under-employed, the cost of living (falling housing prices have distorted this), and general disillusionment with organized religion.
I admire Dean Nick a lot; he's also a physicist and writes about string theory and black holes and things I don't understand. But, I think he has some good ideas, and I'll probably follow along with his study during the year. I wish David Keill would post a similar note about his study and teaching for the coming year. David plays in a band, remodels houses and sells them, and has a wonderfully different viewpoint of life than Nick or me.

One thing I may add for myself is a closer look at the energy level of people. Living in a retirement village, I see all sorts of energy levels, but I wonder if the younger people (young adults through early grandparents) have enough energy to keep up with technology, make a living, raise a family, stay connected to extended family, do good in the world and have a spiritual life. My gut tells me "No", and then I wonder what's happening to our children who probably get less attention than they need.

I also intend to keep the litter box emptied more often since it is next to my computer.


Okay, values are like opinions, everyone has them. Some of them are not helpful for living among people. Some are not helpful for preserving the earth. Some are downright destructive. But, most values have both positive and negative sides. For instance, financial values: The love of money is the root of all evil...the Bible says. Having money means having enough food, clothing, shelter, safety. Money can buy a lot of good things. If you don't have enough money, you beg for used clothing, you apply for Section 8 or government housing, you hit the food pantries regularly, and you are not even close to having personal safety. Short of a disaster (natural or created), money can produce safety, good food, new clothing, houses, recreational toys, etc.

If you work and save your money, you can provide for yourself - usually. If you have capital investments, then you need to make sound decisions about your money. We are all concerned about money. For most of us, the question is, "How much is enough?" Divorce attorneys make a lot of money helping people decide that question.

If you only have enough to provide the major needs in a bare way or even a halfway decent way, you know exactly how much is "enough". If you have made a lot of money or inherited a lot of money, you have a vaguer idea of how much is "enough". That's a value decision. Anything that comes along more than that "enough" requires a decision, and that's where values are important.

We humans tend to congregate with and marry persons who have similar values - values about money, being on time, eating meals together, respect, violence, animals, and what is "enough". When we step outside that group with similar values, we tread on dangerous ground. Racism, ageism, sexism and most of the "isms" are generated when we meet and interact with people who have different (but equally valid, good and useful) values.

Now, that's what I want to consider - who judges what is equally valid, good and useful in values. What happens when two people marry who have different values? They either learn from one another or the marriage ends quickly in divorce. Even when they learn from one another, the marriage may still end in divorce. Counseling may help or not.

Love transcends values. Sometimes love is a conscious decision. Sometimes love is a chemical reaction. Sometimes love draws opposites. But, love pays little attention to values. Sex pays even less attention to values. Mixed marriages - those of people of differing values - are harder to maintain and more frequently end in divorce. That's why we have premarital counseling. Of course, pre-love counseling would be better.

How much is "enough" changes with how much you have. How much is "enough" changes with your chosen group. How much is "enough" changes throughout our lives. The values behind that decision of how much is "enough" don't often change. We may acquiesce to another's value decision(s), but changing values is as difficult as changing our beliefs in a higher power or lack of belief. The change requires being "born again", a mountain-top experience, or being broken - a startling event that causes us to look at life differently.

I pray that we will all have those startling events to change our unhealthy values, that we will delve more deeply into the values we have that promote peace and earthly goodness. And, I pray that we will look carefully and consider with love all those people whose values differ from ours.