Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

The Molotov Cocktail

I don’t believe that people don’t listen when someone throws a Molotov cocktail at their own preconceived notions of how wonderful they are.

This quote is from an e-mail reply sent to me when I was explaining a particular problem with which I am internally wrestling to the ground… like I do, in a “hold on, I have to overthink about it” sort of way. It was so astounding in its clarity, such a succinct rocket propelled truth grenade, that I felt it deserved top billing. This is because yes, I can apply it to this situation, but moreover, I can apply it to myself and the journey I’ve taken over the years to become a better version of myself.

I’ve mentioned before that being panicked all the time allowed things to come out of my mouth that never would’ve otherwise, and when someone threw that Molotov cocktail at me, at first I was angry and popped off even more, because in the moment, that’s all I could think to do. But once the cortisol wore off, I did indeed take those words away and think about them, making them a part of my heartbeat and using them as fuel, onwards and upwards.

Things calmed down somewhat naturally, but when I started taking Klonopin,™ the adrenaline I felt during conflict all but went away. It allowed me to shoot water at the (very, very tall) flames. I could sit back and remember the day I wrote that the fire inside me could not be contained with water. I had to bring in a much bigger fire, and then rest and relax in the ash-enriched earth. Before that, anxiety kept my own fire burning, and those words got lost in the middle of the mess. It was a wonderful day when they came back.

In case you’re wondering, I do read my own blog like a stalker ex-girlfriend at 2:00 AM. Mostly because after time has passed, I am so divorced from my own words that they seem as if someone else wrote them. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s about learning to rely on myself and, God forbid, take my own advice. There are some entries where I legitimately say, “that’s so wise. I wish I had written it.” It’s a shock to my system to realize that it was me, just a different iteration.

The truth bomb for me was learning that my anger at the world was rubbing off on people in ways that I both didn’t intend and indeed wanted to inflict the pain I was experiencing. This is because sometimes there were innocent bystanders, and sometimes my yard felt threatened and I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex (at 5’4 and barely 125, the description is apt). I still occasionally say things that have consequences I don’t understand, but so does everyone else. There is no way to predict or be responsible for someone else’s perception of reality. The difference now is that I don’t feel threatened, because most of the threat was my own perception of reality and not external stimuli. It’s my medication, though, that I credit with allowing the anger within me to dissipate, because without the suppression of anxiety’s physical symptoms, I didn’t have time to coolly and calmly calculate my next move. There was no, “I could say this, or I could say that.” It was just the “think it, say it” plan. Sometimes it worked well for me, because for all its faults, it was definitely authentic. I didn’t have time to put on the mask of “everything’s fine.” What really forced me to examine my thought processes was the old axiom that hurt people hurt people… something I knew logically, but hadn’t instituted emotionally. Making the connection between heart and mind had previously eluded me. And while I am still intensely cerebral, I feel that now I am using more parts of my heart than I used to be capable.

This is because once I “relaxed in the ash-enriched earth,” some of the dead spots left by years of emotional abuse as a teenager started to grow back… and I won’t lie, those neurons were at first part of the problem, raising my threat level to DEFCON “OH MY FUCK!.” Though I take full responsibility for my thoughts and actions, I also can’t ignore the context… because as I say often, I won’t make excuses, but I hope I can provide understanding of why something happened, because nothing happens in a vacuum. And that is where writing really helps me, because I don’t generally lay out that context for the people themselves, but on my own. It is not their responsibility to understand. It’s mine.

It is amazing, though, how much pleasure and happiness have come back into my life via self-reflection. People have seen me heal and have drawn their own conclusions, just from trying to explain me to me. I am no longer a tight knot of fear ALL THE TIME, which was my modus operandi for a number of years. Seeing how it was failing me allowed my life to expand, taking a detour when my mother died, but not stopping progress altogether. I just had to find different sources of unconditional love, because it’s the one thing my mother was capable of doing that no one else did (though they do now, because with my friends, there’s a recognition that it needed to be replaced somewhere). My mother was the only person in my life that was constantly on my side, never ever saying “what did you do?,” but “what have they done to my baby?” And this was even after I reassured her I was being a right tool and I deserved every bit of the karma coming around. It just never mattered to her. She was always on my side, no matter how I behaved, and I think that’s a mother’s love in a nutshell.

For instance, I think she’d hate that I don’t go to church anymore, because it’s not a comforting experience. However, I think she would understand, because it’s me. My belief that God is the source of every story ever told, that we are all subtractions of the divine, has never faltered. But when I walk into a church, all I see is her. She’s at the organ. She’s in the choir. She’s sitting in the congregation. She’s pinching my hand hard enough to draw blood when I’m laughing so hard I just cannot keep it together… and if she’s in the alto section and I’m far enough away with the sopranos, she’s giving me the death stare instead. If you’ve never seen my mother’s death stare, you just won’t even know the half of how…… effective it could be. Therefore, every single church service I attend doesn’t feel uplifting. It feels like a knife in my front.

I am sure that as time passes, so this will, also. But I’m not there yet, and if there is indeed a heaven and she is watching, I hope she realizes this… that life is always in forward motion, and belonging to a faith community (or starting one) will happen in its own time.

My theology dictates that there is no heaven or hell, just which one we’re bringing to the life we’re living right now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine it. I can also imagine, as I do in all things, that I could be wrong. It has been known to happen…..

…which often leads to the examination of how wonderful I think I am, and adjusting as necessary, because I listen.

Throwing it Together

My kitchen manager could not have been more supportive of me. When I walked in last evening, he said, “I know your work ethic. What happened?” I said, “I would have stayed until everything was put away, but I got kicked out of the kitchen because it was so late.” He said, “I knew it must have been something like that, because it never would have happened under your watch.” And then he hugged me. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t exactly remember the words, but that’s the gist. So, everything worked out despite my stomach being in knots and practically tearing up all the way to work. There was just one slight problem.

I couldn’t explain it in Spanish. So, the person who had to come in at 9:00 AM and see all my mistakes couldn’t possibly fathom why I’d “fucked everything up.” I was completely speechless because I was all up in my head trying to pick a phrase I actually knew that would help. I had nothin,’ and no one to translate for me. My kitchen manager speaks better Spanish than me, but not enough to express everything I wanted to say. So he made up for it by letting her off early. I hope it was enough.

I would have been home pretty early last night if the dishwasher hadn’t decided to dump water all over the floor. Though technically, it wasn’t my fault, I am still taking one for the team on this one. I emptied all the traps as I’d been shown, but what I didn’t know is that you had to use a shop vac to get out all the water, too. That part of the training had been left out, through no fault of anyone’s, just an oversight. So, the kitchen manager and I stayed a little later with dry (at first) mops and got up everything we could, then turned on big fans. By now, it’s dry… or here’s hoping, anyway. 😛

By the time I left the kitchen last night, my mood had lifted, because I got fired up listening to Eminem and got it handled, as if Olivia Pope (Scandal) worked in a brewpub. My shift drink was a Mexican-style cola, one of the few things I attribute as a gift from God directly. Beer is one thing. Sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and a heavy syrup to soda water ratio that brings one right back to the drug store (that reference ages me) is quite another. As I have said before, it is on my “chef’s game” last meal list.

This morning, because it was after Eid, I made real Irish imported steel-cut oatmeal for my roommate, Abdel, and me… along with homemade coffee. And by this, I do not mean that I brewed it myself. I mean that one of my friends buys green beans and roasts them herself. It is insane.

I asked Abdel about something I’d always wanted to know. During Ramadan, do children fast? He said that unofficially, fasting begins at seven, but officially, it begins after puberty…. but that most of the time, children compete to fast so they can be just like Mommy and Daddy.

It reminded me so much of both Christianity and Judaism. In the Catholic church, seven is “the age of reason,” when you are accountable to God for your sins and start confession. In Judaism, puberty is also the sign that you are an adult. Dear God, we have so much in common, all children of Abraham. I just wish more people could see it.

Don’t get me started on Israel and Palestine, and the unwavering USG support of Israel. It just makes my blood boil, especially with one word- settlements. Never mind that Israel has a fully-functioning army (possibly a nuclear weapon, definitely chemical assault capability) AND a world-famous intelligence agency, Mossad…. Palestine has homemade bombs and rocks. They can barely sit up to Israel, much less stand. I realize that atrocities have been committed on both sides. I am not immune to the news. But the whole thing is ridiculous. Not our circus, not our monkeys…. mostly because the United States is such a young country that we legitimately have no concept of tribal wars that have been going on for centuries, and yet, we have unilaterally decided that Israel can do no wrong. And yes, I realize that the state of Israel is young, but the concept of an Israeli is not, and neither is the concept of a Palestinian.

I told you not to get me started.

All I can say now is “thank God for Ireland,” because without them, I would not have had the good breakfast I need to be happy enough to let go of this and move on to something else.

Lindsay is coming to town tonight, and this is my Friday, so we’ll have two evenings together before she goes back to Houston. I got her an amazing birthday present- I hope it scores big. Lindsay’s birthday is on June 17th, which often lines up with Father’s Day… so she still gets him a present, even though she is the ultimate gift.

I got my dad Eric Ripert’s autobiography, 32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line, and a multi-tool he’d forgotten he’d put on his Amazon Wish List. I was going to get him Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook for home cooks, Appetite, but unsurprisingly, it is out of stock…. or at least it was before Father’s Day. Thanks, Obama.

The Kindle version was available, but a Kindle cookbook seems somewhat useless. I mean, what is a cookbook without notes in the margins and stains that make some of the pages stick together? How ELSE would you make a ground beef trifle (that reference ages me)? It might have been okay, I guess. A few Christmases ago I got my dad a cutting board that has a slot for a tablet in case you’re cooking with a YouTube video. Still, though, not as good.

I am not a fan of cookbooks, because I won’t use them. First of all, I have no place to store them except my Kindle, and secondly, I trust my own palate and can throw together pretty much anything. The only time I ever need a recipe is when I’m baking, because cooking is an art and baking is a science; it’s a totally different skill set.

In cooking, though, I know innately what something needs to make it pop, and how to correct mistakes (acid balances salt, etc.). I remember fondly the days when Dana would make soup, taste it, then look at me and say, “fix this.” It is not that either of us is a better cook than the other, we just have different strengths. For her, it’s technique (unsurprisingly- Cordon Bleu trained). For me, it’s palate. One is not more important than the other.

For instance, I could beat the pants off Karen’s potato salad.

The Invisible Hand

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

We are in a moral morass thanks to the SCOTUS ruling that a baker does indeed have the right not to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple due to religious beliefs. It would have been a totally different case had the baker just posted a sign that said, “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” and kept his mouth shut. But, he didn’t. He brought in the phrase through counsel that “decorating cakes is a form of art through which he can honor God and that it would displease God to create cakes for same-sex marriages.” Here’s where that gets tricky. It was masterful to bring in artistic expression…. probably the only reason that this became a SCOTUS case in the first place.

Let me be clear- these are the ramblings of my legal brain, after completing a course in Constitutional Law (in which I did very well) and becoming a paralegal in the state of Texas, which does not give me license to either claim understanding of Colorado law or dispense legal advice, but does prove that I understand rules of civil procedure. It has nothing to do with how I feel morally about being treated like a second class citizen. I am talking about jurisprudence, which often departs from morality.

The truth is that the ruling was sound. I’m sorry, it’s terrible, and it’s the truth. One paragraph in a news article regarding Kennedy’s opinion stands out to me, and apart from anything else, it is the question at issue on which the entire case rests:

Kennedy, the author of some of the court’s most important gay-rights rulings, began by explaining that the case involved a conflict between two important principles: on the one hand, the state’s power “to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services”; and, on the other, the “First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.”

In that vein, I find for the baker as well. Again, artistic expression is key in this First Amendment ruling. It is also important to note that this case began before Kennedy’s landmark gay rights rulings occurred, so some of the ruling reflects being “grandfathered.” On the other hand, the state of Colorado did itself no favors:

The Court concluded that the [Colorado Civil Rights] Commission’s actions violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to use hostility toward religion or a religious viewpoint as a basis for laws or regulations. Under the facts of this case, the Court determined that Phillips’ religious justification for his refusal to serve Craig and Mullins was not afforded the neutral treatment mandated by the Free Exercise Clause.

This conversation is not over, but it does not begin and end with this SCOTUS ruling. It begins with the American population. An overwhelming majority of Americans support gay marriage, and, in fact, its sanctity. It is time for the hand of the market to reflect it. More powerful than any court decision is not giving money to businesses who discriminate against anyone, and to fight like hell for sexual orientation to become a state and federally protected class.

I understand both sides of the issue- wanting to correct a wrong, and also being skeptical of wanting to give a raging homophobe your money in the first place.

And if you are a liberally religious person, it is time to stand up and reclaim Jesus as your own. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so as theologian Jim Rigby proclaims, it cannot be essential to his teachings. I personally believe that because Jesus was all about widening the net of acceptance, he would be horrified at current Biblical literalism. As in all things, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. If we are to have true religious freedom in this country, the Religious Left needs to do more to make itself known- not that they are not fighting the good fight, but they do not have the clout, basically controlling an entire political party, of the Religious Right. It is not my goal for the Religious Left to control the Democratic Party, because I believe that separation of church and state should remain intact.

I do believe, however, in protesting all of the freedoms that the Religious Right says we should not enjoy, because they are trying to create a theocracy…. As in, you can have religious freedom as long as it’s the one we believe, too.

Never forget that we also have the right to fight like hell for freedom from religion, as well. Even as a liberal Christian, I am on board with this, because again, separation of church and state should remain intact. Religion can and should influence how we vote, but as a result of going into our closets to pray and meditate, not trying to subvert the entire political process.

We were warned a long time ago, and we didn’t listen:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

-Barry Goldwater

It has become so prevalent that the word “Christian” is associated with bigotry and literalism that it sometimes makes me sick to my stomach to admit I am one, because I don’t want to be lumped in with the uncompromising Word of God™ that needs no translation after thousands of years, becoming stagnant and not the ever-living document it was meant to be. For instance, I think that we are constantly adding to the Gospel, that our words are no less important than the ones set forth for us by the writers of the Old and New Testaments. They were just regular people, like us, who felt divine inspiration…. and not only that, it was a regional council in 1546 which resulted in the Canon of Trent.

Furthermore, the King James edition was specifically made to reflect the views of the Church of England, the basis for the Protestant church today. So think about all of those regular people we left out…. all of whom had something to say and weren’t deemed worthy of inclusion.

We all need to keep writing the Gospel of our lives, whether or not it is deemed officially worthy of inclusion, because even if we are not included in “canon,” it is already well-documented that it doesn’t matter. Someone else long ago threw out regular people’s truths because it didn’t line up with their beliefs…. but that doesn’t render them invalid.

Because if we’re going to talk about religious freedom and the government, it has to reflect the changes in our own lives, as well. My favorite stories are the ones in which Biblical literalists step into the light of inclusion, leaving behind the comfort zone that is only “thisbig,” due to the threat of hellfire and damnation…. or simply reaching out to someone unlike themselves after un-thinking that it is unpleasing to God.

The reality is that reaching out to people unlike yourselves is the entire point of the Gospel. For that part, there is no translation needed.

We have to prove it with our money. Few things speak louder than fear of losing money or going completely bankrupt because of discrimination. We may have to drag bigotry out of society kicking and screaming, but it is what needs to happen. We cannot rely on the courts to do it for us. Some things have to start with realizing what is true for us, and acting on it.

Sometimes, the invisible hand of God working in our lives coincides with the invisible hand of the free market. It can either be life-stifling or life giving.

You get to choose.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Love, Love, Love

I have decided that Michael Curry is now my favorite preacher. No offense to Nadia Bolz-Weber and Thomas Long. You’re close seconds. But Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding was a barnstormer. I hope to God, literally, that everyone was paying attention.

…[Pierre Teilhard] de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

If only we could take the power of transforming love and apply it to ourselves right now, the world would be a different place. Love envelopes a grace and mercy not available anywhere else. It contains forgiveness that passes all understanding. It is the energy that drives compassion. If we could take the rose-colored glasses of love and apply them to every relationship, romantic and platonic, it would indeed set the world on fire.

It begs the question, if love is that powerful, why don’t we use it?

The simplest answer is that in all of our fallible “humanness,” we get stuck. It’s easy to love the people that love you, especially the ones that believe in your dreams and try to help you reach them. It’s so much harder to love people who have treated you badly, have stomped on your feelings, and though they may have done nothing wrong, the people you don’t know. We tend to be conservative with love when it comes to those people, even though people who have acted badly and the stranger need love the most.

For people who have behaved badly, it is the much needed peace of feeling secure in the fact that their sins against you aren’t held against them. No one should be trapped in the worst moments of their lives, unable to move forward. It is soul-crushing to lose important relationships because you were in an emotional place that carried no light, and aren’t anymore… but people still treat you as if the darkness is your only narrative. What would it be like to live in a world where we automatically assume that eventually, one’s internal candle will once again burn? What if we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that people recover more quickly when they see that they haven’t lost love while their flames were deprived of oxygen?

For strangers, it is the extravagant welcome that makes them strangers no more. There is a reason that the parable of The Good Samaritan is incredibly powerful. We recognize how badly the people who just walked by look to us, but often we are unwilling to apply the parable’s lesson, because we are frightened. It is hard to overcome fear of the unknown, especially when society perpetuates it by demonizing strangers so that the extravagant welcome they deserve is lost. What would the world look like if no one merely walked by? What would happen with recognition that we are all citizens of the world, not just the community in which we live?

Both philia and agape are the tools we need the most right now. Philia is defined as “brotherly love,” and agape is defined as “the highest form of love and charity, loving one’s neighbor as they love themselves.” We are often capable of philia, because loving each other is so much easier than loving ourselves. Relationships with others become a reflection of how we see ourselves, and if we look in the mirror and see ugliness, that is how we move in the world. We may not treat everyone that way, but often those closest to us. It is easier for us all to treat people we don’t know well with kindness, because we haven’t let them into our inner circle. They don’t know us well enough to know our flaws and failures. It takes loving ourselves to be capable of both kinds of love, the higher power for which we reach, but often fall short in the process.

We can’t help it, because again, we are human. It takes reaching into the divine to see perfection…. and it doesn’t matter what you call divinity. For some people, it is the love of God. For others, it is the power of secular humanism. It is a spectrum that encourages divine love no matter what, because whether you believe there’s a God, or that we are all connected to each other through human bonds, that is the power of the universe. All we need to do is tap in.

If we are capable of finding fire a second time, this is the form it will take. We will have a collective recognition of chords run between us whether we are partners, friends, or neighbors across the world. Each of the candles that burn inside us will set the world ablaze……………….

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

It Still Hurts

This morning was rough. The first thing I do when I open my eyes is check my phone, like most people, because I fall asleep early and I want to catch up with everything that happened from the night before. A large, large amount of my friends are on the West Coast, so hearing about their lives doesn’t even begin until after 9:00 PM my time. I also got a Facebook direct message that dinged last evening, and I was so completely dead to the world that I didn’t even hear my phone go off.

Speaking of which, if you’re trying to reach me in the evening, your best shot is to call, because the ringer plays longer. It’s set to Unsquare Dance by Dave Brubeck, which I hadn’t heard until I saw the movie Baby Driver (big fan of Brubeck, but I tend to listen to Time Out repeatedly….). Speaking of Baby Driver, the link is to the first six minutes of the movie, which I have watched, and this is a conservative estimate, 25 times.

WORTH IT. STOP EVERYTHING. GO NOW. I’LL WAIT.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

This morning was rough, because the first notification was not from a friend in Oregon or California, but a birthday announcement. Carolyn Baker’s birthday is June 11th. If you’re bringing friends together, invite them by making an event. For the love of God. I have done everything I can, both on my own profile and on hers, to mark her as deceased.

This picture is the last one of all of us together on Mother’s Day, me FaceTiming in from DC. It’s the last one, and I’m blurry. I would give anything, including all future earnings, limbs, whatever, to be able to go back in time. 13138797_10153554247046596_1204332628069398810_n (1)But in order for me to know exactly how important this photo is, I would have had to know it was the last one, and you never get to know that in advance. What I do like about this picture is how happy and beautiful both my mother and sister look. It was originally in color, but given the situation, I think it looks better without it…. because losing my mother so instantaneously plunged me into a world of greyscale, anyway.

Perhaps Facebook still brings these things to my attention because an event marking her birthday’s importance even though she’s dead can be healing, but I don’t think they’re that observant. She also didn’t have a legacy contact, so there’s no way to go into her account and either close it or make it a memorial, etc. Because of this, I chose Caitlin as my own legacy contact, because I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, and she’s my youngest sibling by ten years.

Actually, I just thought of an idea. I wonder if I could find a way to e-mail or direct message Sheryl Sandberg, because if anyone would understand the situation, it would be her. I’m assuming that a lot of people already know this story because it was so public, but she and David, her husband, were on vacation when he was working out and had a heart attack while running on a treadmill, which caused him to fall and hit his head, dying instantly. Not only did he die young, but they were on a parents’ only trip, and Sheryl had to come back alone and tell her children, probably the most heartbreaking aspect of a sprawling mess. It reminds me of a quote from Harry Truman when Franklin Roosevelt died… Well, gentlemen, if you’ve ever had a bale of hay dumped on you, you know how I feel.

I think that’s the hardest part of my own grief now. Because my mother and I lived so far apart for most of my adult life, there are moments when the fact that she’s dead slips into the back of my mind, because we were not used to talking every day, anyway. I feel most of the time like she is still on the other end of the line, and pick up the phone to call her, the bale of hay dropping over and over again.

I am truly not that forgetful. I believe it has become a coping mechanism. Grief gets locked away so that I can still function, because living in the smallest emotional place of missing my mommy is intolerable in terms of still moving amongst the living. My inner child just cries out, unable to imagine a world in which my mother is not here.

Cooking, because of its fast pace and utter relentlessness, is the one area of my life in which I am too busy to dwell on my feelings. Even when orders aren’t coming in like gangbusters, there’s still prep and cleaning that has to be done fast, because you never know when a pop is coming. If I am knee-deep in grief, my mind wanders too much to be quick.

I come out of the kitchen, sore and exhausted, and grief still doesn’t bubble up because I am too tired to think about anything, much less emote. Most of my energy goes toward complaining about how much I hurt physically…. breaking a cardinal family rule about complaining before I’ve taken anything for it. I will rarely have a beer to take the edge off, because what I find is that my tolerance is so incredibly low that one beer, even at 3.2% alcohol, will knock me on my ass, and I feel like I can’t think clearly, the death of creativity for a blogger. I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said to write drunk and edit sober, but he wrote fiction. Diarists are a different breed, because they have to remember things accurately. I hate doing anything that makes reality malleable. But sometimes I give in, because that fuzzy feeling makes my back hurt less… or maybe it just makes me care less that my back hurts.

Whatever.

It also loosens my inhibitions so that I laugh a little easier, because I’m not all up in my head, working in the same way that cooking does. Using my hands takes me away from thinking, and sometimes I just need a damn break from the interminable march of Sundays away from October 2nd, 2016. At first, I counted them like a Lectionary, but let that go when I realized that no Sunday would ever be in Ordinary Time ever again. For the first year, every week was a terrible Good Friday on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning. For the first time in my life, I feel that I have lost my way with Christianity, and not the part that’s spiritual. The part that is community-based, because I don’t believe religion happens in a vacuum.

The difference between spirituality and religion is going into your closet to pray, as opposed to praying through shoe leather, working to foster the theology of liberation and inclusion. It will come again in time, but right now, every time I enter a church, I am enveloped in sadness that I cannot put away and just enjoy being in my community… even though getting through rough times is often why you need it.

I have severe problems with losing it in public, and sermons often pierce my heart with a knife so that I can’t keep it together. I feel like I need time to grieve in my own way, and for now, my process is making food that brings people together… even though in my grief I often reflect on the fact that I might be making The Last Supper. It’s a dark thought, but losing someone suddenly tends to kick you in the back of the face. That being said, my thoughts aren’t always that bereft.

Getting this job as a cook is the first time I’ve truly felt Easter…. resurrection happening in the middle of the mess (Dr. Susan Leo). I am learning new things, because every kitchen is different, and it is opening my mind to have to think in both Spanish and English.

Dios te bendiga.

Amen
#prayingonthespaces

Donate! Donate!

Thanks to all you wonderful people, Stories is allowed to continue for another year without annoying ads. You can keep reading me at work, in those moments when there’s nothing but cleaning products in the bathroom. I paid the fee up front, and have now been reimbursed…. and let me tell you, it saved my ass.

I thought it was a good idea to get my groceries delivered because I don’t have a car. I usually take public transportation to the store, and Uber back so that I at least have access to a trunk. FreshDirect offered me $50 off a purchase of $100 or more. The coupon code did not go through, and I was charged the full amount plus delivery fee. I canceled the order, but there’s still a hold on my funds. They told me it would take 24-48 hours for the hold to be released, and if that doesn’t work, I need an extensive set of documents… and, of course, the vendor says it’s the bank’s fault and the bank says it’s the vendor’s fault. I have been around and around with them on the phone. PayPal was able to transfer funds within two minutes.

I am so glad I have a bit of breathing room, because I went into full-on panic mode. I can’t say I won’t use FreshDirect again, but I can say that we are not off to a good start. This is because they’re the only ones that deliver in my area. It’s probably for the best. I’m not sure I have enough room to store $100 worth of groceries, anyway, but the smallest amount they’ll deliver is $30, and only $7.00 delivery fee…. Less than an Uber, for sure. Perfect when I am out of coffee and creamer…. maybe a box of cereal.

It seems to be feast or famine around here. I got a call back on a position at University of Maryland, and a full-time cook’s job at Denizen’s Brewing Company. They have a brewpub, and they asked whether I’d prefer front of house or back of house. I told them to put me where they needed me. Servers make more money, but cooks don’t have to deal with the public. Pluses in all directions. Besides, my cost of living here is so incredibly low that I don’t need a fancy pants job. You’d think that DC would be so much more expensive, but the room I rent is all bills paid and I don’t have monthly bills like car payments and insurance. It’s just too much when you add in maintenance and parking fees. Plus, one of the reasons I wanted to move to DC so badly is that I have monocular vision, which means that driving is harder for me than most people. With the exception of running into a guardrail because a 25 mph curve was not marked, I haven’t had an accident in years… mostly due to my complete dependence on Waze… although that has bitten me in the ass, as well, because I was lost and trying to find where I was going and got caught on a red light camera while looking at my phone- in the middle of my windshield so I couldn’t exactly see the light. For the most part, as long as I drive slowly, I’m fine. For this very reason, I am in love with cruise control. I try as hard as I can not to be a stereotypical woman driver. Now, I’m pretty good at it. When I was younger, not so much.

I prefer to drive SUVs because I sit a little higher and have more visibility, but unless I was able to afford a hybrid, that’s just not happening. And, of course, as a Texan I love pickup trucks as well. Same idea with the sitting a little higher, much better on gas mileage…. and I hear that the price of gas is going up. The plus is also not having a back seat (people in groups are a “no thanks”). It’s nice to have someone in the passenger seat with stereo vision. Four or five people are just too much of a distraction…. plus, they don’t tend to like how slow I drive, a #biteme situation. Plus, it’s DC. During the day, the traffic is awful. During the night, construction blocks everything. I’ve been caught in traffic jams at both 1100 AND 2300. You just can’t win. Plus, in most areas of Washington proper, the speed limit is only 25mph to begin with. It helps because it keeps you from hitting tourists too hard with your car, as much as you might want to. Did I say that out loud?

I am also dedicated to not talking on the phone in the car on most days, because even with Bluetooth, it’s just distracting enough. Podcasts are my favorite, because music doesn’t keep my brain as engaged. Here’s my list:

  • ID10T (formerly The Nerdist)
  • WTF with Marc Maron
  • Risk!
  • Two Dope Queens
  • Fresh Air
  • On Being, with Krista Tippett
  • You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes
  • House for All Sinners and Saints
  • Radiolab
  • This American Life
  • Reveal
  • Criminal
  • Invisibilia
  • Wait, Wait…. Don’t Tell Me
  • Car Talk
  • The Robcast
  • Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
  • Hidden Brain
  • The TED Radio Hour
  • The Moth
  • Casefile True Crime
  • Reply All
  • Ask Me Another
  • Snap Judgment
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • Modern Love
  • Meet the Press
  • The Tim Ferris Show

There’s no way that I can listen to them all every week, so I generally download a few at a time over wi-fi so that a) I’m not using my data plan and 2) most of the Metro is underground and the sound doesn’t cut out when I’m in a no service zone. If I had to pick a true favorite, it’s a toss-up between The Moth and Modern Love. I will download those the moment they come out. Third is probably The Robcast, because Rob Bell always has incredible discussions on progressive Christian theology. The four part series with Pete Rollins absolutely blew my mind. One of the most interesting things he said was that theism and atheism are one of life’s great love stories, because in theism/atheism, the truth lives somewhere in the slash. I think I’ve listened to that series four times now. I should edit it so that all four parts are one file.

And now, a finely crafted theological joke, which means I didn’t write it. Attribution is unknown:

Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and James Cone find themselves all at the same time at Caesarea Philippi. Who should come along but Jesus, and he asks the four famous theologians the same Christological question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Karl Barth stands up and says: “You are the totaliter aliter, the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christo-monism.”

Not prepared for Barth’s brevity, Paul Tillich stumbles out: “You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.”

Reinhold Niebuhr gives a cough for effect and says, in one breath: “You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming oughtness in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”

Finally James Cone gets up, and raises his voice: “You are my Oppressed One, my soul’s shalom, the One who was, who is, and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom, and whose blackness is both literal and symbolic.”

And Jesus turns around and says, “What?”

There is nothing greater than studying theology and being able to laugh at yourself. In my own life, I rely on both Henri Nouwen and Paul Tillich. The Wounded Healer and Dynamics of Faith are my go-to in pretty much any situation. Although I will never forget hearing Marcus Borg preach at Trinity Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. Before he got up to speak, Bill Lupfer, the dean, said that any time you had a theological question, you should go and drink beer with a Lutheran. This is especially funny because the first time I ever met Dean Lupfer, we were in a pub.

Speaking of which, if I decide to start cooking again, it’s time to buy a set of bandanas. I am sure Amazon will deliver without incident.