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.

Get Off My Lawn

I am terribly cranky today.

Yesterday’s pardoning of Scooter Libby was the last straw. The guy committed treason. No punishment the USG could come up with would be good enough. When he outed Valerie Plame, it was damn lucky he didn’t get her killed. Do all intelligence employees under cover have to be afraid of their own employer now? If I was in their position, it would incense me that even people who commit crimes against national security can almost assuredly get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. Not only was Libby’s personal case a red flag, the precedent it sets is even more scary.

It’s probably against the Geneva Convention so this is absolutely a hypothetical situation, but say there was a black op to take out Assad so that citizens wouldn’t be harmed. You could absolutely argue that the ends justify the means, but someone leaks that information to the New York Times or the Washington Post while Special Ops is in country…. not only the op, but the names of the soldiers involved. How long would it take before their heads were on a spike in Damascus? If you said “10 minutes,” I would answer, just like James Comey, that it was nine minutes longer than I expected.

The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is that no one asked me what I thought (that was a joke).

No one asked me what I thought about confirming Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, either. If the confirmation goes through, we’ll have someone in charge of foreign relations that believes in the Bible more than the Constitution. His view of homosexuality is that it is a perversion, and that his belief is not wrong-headed, but a persecution of all Christians. This is not something I want broadcast all over the world, because the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatry Association disagree with that, and have since the 1980s. It is terrifying that only some people’s beliefs have progressed since then because a book that was meant to be a living document, changing over time as we understand more about medicine and science, in their view must remain literal and stagnant. It is generally believed by progressive theologians that the real abomination in the Bible concerning homosexuality was an ancient Canaanite practice of temple prostitution [by both adults and minors], tarnishing a place meant to be holy ground.

As theologian Jim Rigby once said, Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, so it cannot be essential to his teaching. Ancient desert people would never have known same sex orientation as an identity. The word homosexual was not even coined until the 1900s. It is an identity because even queer celibate people still consider themselves as such [using queer as a catch-all for the entire community and not as a derogatory term. I’m gay, so I can use it. Straight people can’t get away with it. Sorry.]. It is absolutely the last thing a follower of the Christ should embrace, because Jesus was constantly widening the net of acceptance, something that has been twisted since the New Testament, where Paul condemned homosexuality.

Paul had other beliefs that were equally toxic, like the prohibition of women speaking in church… something mainline Christians have moved past, so why is being gay different? Additionally, if you believe in one Talmudic law, you should believe all of them, so advocate for shutting down the NFL because players are consistently touching pigskin. You have to ask yourself whether someone who has an international platform should be able to hold these untranslated views, because even if you don’t support our community, do you really think it’s wise to bolster countries who still execute people for these “crimes?” Do you believe in ending lives and devastating families? The stakes are higher than you think.

In the United States, it means a disbelief of the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. If I am truly equal to everyone else, I am a citizen who should be protected by the law, not persecuted by it.

Everything gets messy when the law goes from national to personal, because people can wrap their heads around discrimination of a group, but not their own relatives…. where, often, they fall short in making the connection.

There are still some extremists in this country that are every bit as violent toward the queer community as Sharia law, validated by people who don’t believe in internment camps and execution but aren’t vocal in speaking out about it……….

This leads me to believe that were those things to happen, it would be swift. Ten minutes at most, nine minutes longer than I expect. World issues are literally making me ill.

I am terribly cranky today.

The Snowman Cometh (with Apologies to Eugene O’Neill)

I know it’s hard to tell with a still picture, but it’s really coming down out there… and forecasted to continue. We may actually get some accumulation. I am excited about this, because there is nothing I love more than newfallen snow (when I’m dressed for it). Walking around in the pristine white brings me so much joy. I only hate snow after it’s been on the ground for a few days and ranges from grey to black with tire tracks and dripping oil. Although, if I had to choose, I believe the dogs love it more than me… which reminds me of an old Sam story………….20171209_110711

My roommate, Samantha, has parents where one is Methodist and one is Druze, but does not claim any religion for herself. So, a couple of years ago when the snow was very deep, Sam shouted at her dog, “come on, Daisy. Time to part it like Jesus.” I started laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes and said, “ummm, that was Moses.” She just laughed and said, “whatever.” Of course, this is the same person that when, years ago, I got a “Share a Coke with Mark” bottle and joked that all I needed now were Matthew, Luke, and John, has been calling me Mark ever since. In fact, I think that since then she’s forgotten my actual name. I dig it. Fits in with the theme….. Auna calls me “Hipster Jesus.” Being nicknamed after a Gospel writer doesn’t seem like much of a demotion. After all, he was a writer. 😛

I am caught between two ideas right now. One is that I am still in my jammies- cute ones, so that I at least look marginally dressed- and I have two shows to catch up on. The first is Doc Martin, and the second is The Crown. I was going to start with The Crown, but Doc Martin is just so damn funny, and I could use some funny in my life.

The other idea is that there’s just so much to do and see in the snow, and I have the clothes to be very, very, very warm while I’m out. I could go to downtown Silver Spring and ice skate, or I could go to Zoo Lights, or I could just walk around my neighborhood and see who’s already on the ball with the Christmas decorations. The one drawback to this is that it is actively snowing, and when snow gets on my glasses, I can’t see anything, anyway. You would think that an umbrella would help. Not so much. Snow generally blows sideways. Before I make my decision, I will check and see if Zoo Lights is a recurring thing, or if it is only today. The best time to do all this stuff is after the snow has stopped, there’s a satisfying crunch under your feet, and the weather is cold & clear…. perhaps not clear, because it’s usually overcast even when it’s not snowing, but you get my drift (see what I did there?). I am waiting with baited breath to see what happens this winter, because sometimes we get a few inches a couple of times, and sometimes the heavens open up and dump everything they’ve got. Winter before last, it was over a foot and a half deep. Everyone had a different name for it:

  • Snowpocalypse Now
  • Snowtorious B.I.G.
  • Thanks, Snowbama
  • Enforced Captivity
  • Working Without Pants -or- Working Under the Covers (IT doesn’t DO snow days.)

If we do get The Big One,™ I will work out more than I have all year, because it’s more strenuous to lift your knees that high while walking…. because you can either walk on the unplowed sidewalks, or take your chances on the street. I choose knee/ass deep snow rather than getting hit by a driver who thinks they have this snow driving thing down (they don’t). Everyone thinks they’re a friggin’ expert until they spin out, because thinking you’re an expert generally leads to driving way too fast for the condition at hand…. and I have yet to see anyone chain up on a back road. My general rule is “go around me, moron.” I’ll either see them further down the road fishtailed into a snowdrift or being told by the police that maybe they should control their speed. Of course you can get a speeding ticket while going the speed limit when snow is blowing sideways…. or worse, the snow has melted and it’s still cold AF, so there’s black ice everywhere.

The safest way to get around in all this mess is public transportation, because generally, if you’re going to be in an accident, the city bus is going to “win….” and a good bit of the Metro is inside, which is even safer. Plus, with everyone wanting to run their own heaters in their own cars on their way at every possible opportunity, parking is even harder than normal.

Speaking of driving, though, I had a funny Uber moment yesterday. The Uber driver always checks to make sure he/she has the right destination, and I told him I was going to the mall. He said, “in DC? With all the monuments?” I laughed and said, “no… I’m not going to The Mall, I’m going to a mall.” I was in an Uber pool, and the teens in the back laughed and said, “No! In Silver Spring!” I bought all my clothes, got my bag of coffee (finally) and managed to get out of Whole Foods for less than $50. Beat that with a stick.

I even remembered to get more eggnog….. because I’m in my jammies.

Cute ones.

Flights of Fancy

The life of a writer generally means that we look lazy on the outside, but our minds are running a thousand miles a minute. I have great contempt for people who think writers aren’t doing anything when they’re staring into space. For bloggers, how do you think we dig deep enough to remember stories from our past? For fiction writers, how do you think those exotic worlds we create form themselves? For non-fiction writers, how do you think all that information synthesizes from something only a niche market would read into a consumable for the general public?

We just sit there.

Additionally, there are only certain personality types that think writing is a real job to begin with, because they don’t think about what it takes to write and market something that might be successful… especially the books they’ve already bought and loved. Books that are already on the bestseller list mean that the writer is respected. Writers who haven’t published anything there are dreamers with blind ambition, head in the clouds, with no respect for the real world.

When are you going to get a real job? and it must be nice to have a partner that supports you so that you can just do your little writing hobby are constant issues brought up in my writers’ group on Facebook. It makes me angry on their behalf, because as primarily a blogger, I have to have a real job, because it gets me out of the house enough to have experiences about which to write…. and I don’t mean writing about work (Dooced…. look into it). It’s just that once I leave the house, I am more likely to do outside activities after work than I am when I am homebound, stuck in my own head. It leads to being relegated to writing about the past, rather than the “character” changes that come over time as I do.

Sometimes, though…. just sometimes…. I stop thinking about the past and start imagining the future. Most often, it’s about actually following through on finishing my Bachelor of Arts and going on for my M.Div. Thinking about my own dreams is infinitely more satisfying than the other fantasies that run through my head. My Bachelor’s is a political science major and a psychology minor, because even when I started college, I was thinking about what it would take to pastor a modern church. It is not up to me to encourage my congregation as to how to vote- that crosses all sorts of lines- but regardless of party affiliation, there is plenty of legislation that is right or wrong in a black and white sort of way… like minority treatment in America, immigration, the constant battle between giving the queer community rights and threatening to take them away, ridiculous ideas like killing gays or putting them in concentration camps that thankfully don’t come up that often and yet, are ideas in the current marketplace. There are all sorts of ideas that the legal definition of a reasonable person should not support, and I could care less whether any of them identify as Democrat or Republican. These are not party issues, they are human ones. I have said that my dream is to go to historically black Howard University. This is because I have gone to majority white schools my entire life, and if I am to understand anything at all about the minority experience, I have to observe it.

There is nothing within me that says I will ever fully understand, because I will never have black skin. I will never wear those problems. My aim is just to listen and soak up everything there is to learn.

But that’s not all there is to the dream. A lot of my career has been spent in academic technology, so I have applied to every college within a 50 mile radius in the hopes of working there, because generally a university staff position comes with tuition waivers. If I get a job at Howard, for which I have an application pending right now, that would be my ideal dream. But if American, Georgetown, or University of DC get back to me first, I’ll have to consider them.

But that is only where my mind goes when I’m thinking about myself. I also live in the clouds at times over where my life would have gone had I not reached a boiling point and exploded “crazy spatter” all over people I love dearly.

Argo

The most consistent message I get from my friends about this relationship is to just let it lie. Stop thinking about it, stop wishing it were different, just… stop. I followed through on stopping contact, but there is a part of me that cannot help going back over it in my mind, thinking about dialogues it would have been nice to have. Susan fills this hole in my heart quite nicely, but as I know for sure and have read from others, no one is her. It took me a long time to realize that the teenage blushing butterflies were love for an idea, not a person, and once that connection was made, it was over… meaning that for me, I could look at her as a ride-or-die without seeing stars, and for her, it was a little too little too late. I understand this more than she knows, so there is no residual anger. I behaved poorly; I do not deserve her. But we often go for coffee in my dreams. Those conversations are hilarious and heartwarming. It is and has to be enough.

Dana

God (literally), where do I begin? When I think of everything I’ve lost over the last three years, the only reason Argo comes up first is that our relationship was the shortest. She got under my skin in the only way someone else besides Dana could… her words. Therefore, I have never had a shortage of them regarding her, because the connection was so cerebral. It may not be fair to start a paragraph about Dana talking about Argo, but I do it to illustrate the inversely proportionate nature of the grief. Dana is not just under my skin, so close I can access those emotions at a moment’s notice. She is the river that runs through me, emotions so deep that they stay buried most of the time so I do not drown. Having been married to each other for so long is akin to having phantom limb pain. As time goes on, it gets less and less intense….. sometimes. But then I’ll remember something touching and time erases itself instantly. We just broke up yesterday. Additionally, there were so many years where we weren’t married, just very close friends, and that weighs on me, too. I initially thought that we’d be able to put our relationship back together to the point where it wouldn’t be weird to talk and laugh. I can say for sure that was the case when my mother died, and Dana kept me company as I was waiting for my flight out of BWI. But we hadn’t talked for months before, and I haven’t heard from her since…. and yet, that’s ok. Again, there is no anger. In a lot of ways, I got exactly what I deserved. Behavior always has consequences.

One of the behaviors I sincerely regret, even though there were a lot of reasons for it (context, never excuses) is that I stopped being a true partner. I was there, but I wasn’t present. I was in the midst of discovering just how bad emotional abuse as a teenager had rewired my actions/reactions as an adult, and all the unhealthy patterns played out with the people I love most. I couldn’t give much, because I was reduced to survival mode. I was trying to let her in, and at the same time, not realizing how repetitive it sounded, especially since it probably didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of room for me to listen to her (because I cannot and will not speak for her). The truth is that I did care, deeply, about her thoughts and feelings…. especially the ones I was engendering in her. I didn’t want to be a bad partner. I just was. When it got to the point where it was clear Dana didn’t want to listen to me regarding my constant rumination, I went looking for dopamine wherever I could find it…. yet another series of terrible decisions (see above).

In my dreams, she knows me now. She knows who I’ve become, and not who I was. Recovery takes time and backbreaking effort, and she has not been along for the ride unless I’ve been asleep. I often don’t want to live in a world where I cannot hear her laugh, so I close my eyes and it becomes clear as a bell. My regrets fall by the wayside because we have moved on. They cannot torture me because they cannot touch me. I am only getting the conversations I want when I am playing both sides.

When I am awake, the thing I think about the most is that in February, we’ll have been married ten years, virtually estranged for a little over two, but the paperwork is no less valid. It’s been a long time since Dana told me that she would take care of the dissolution, and I waffle every day between wanting her to come through on a promise and getting tired of waiting and taking care of it myself. The rumination is endless… does she just forget, or is getting divorced too painful and she’s waiting for something to happen for it to be less so? I know that feeling. Anxiety makes me wait for a day when I feel stronger on some things; it was not until I put it together that I had to change my own mood that I realized waiting until I felt stronger was pointless.

Another thing I know for sure is that if and when I have a partner again, they’re just going to have to accept that I have a past (like we all do), and I do not want them to be a jealous ball of spazzbasket if stories about her come up. I don’t want to tell the painful ones. I want it to be okay to laugh about the funny things that could only have happened to us. I want it to be okay that I will love her for the rest of my life without being in love with her, because there is too much shared friend history to just forget.

I refuse to be bitter. I refuse to think that there will never be another love for me. I refuse to think that the mistakes of the past will haunt my future unless I let them. To me, the whole point of life is that you cannot avoid making mistakes, but you can certainly avoid making old ones.

You just keep making new ones until eventually, you die…. which brings us forward….

My Mother (Carolyn)

I have five old voice mails saved from her that are so painful to listen to that I want to erase them, but I can’t, because then I’d never hear her voice again. The most recent was three or four days before she died, because I wanted her advice on whether I should drive to Houston to spend time with both her and my dad, because she had broken her foot and he was going through multiple facial reconstruction surgeries after a tumor the size of a quarter was found in his nose. I sent my mom a text message in the morning that said get back to me ASAP, because I wanted to know if I should get going soon. Well, she didn’t have her phone on her and didn’t return the call until about 2:00 PM, and in classic tiger mom fashion, the voice mail was full of anxiety saying that I had scared her, not my intent but her perception was that I was in danger…. and then, of course, I didn’t hear my phone go off so I couldn’t relieve that anxiety immediately.

The rest of them are pleas to call her, because my mental health was not good and I wasn’t in a place to talk to anyone. It was not personal in any way, shape, or form. It is the most guilt-inducing feeling I’ve ever had in my life…. how many more conversations we would have had if I’d just picked up the damn phone? Because here’s the thing. I couldn’t always take off the mask and just be small-l leslie with her. Picking up her phone calls, for me, required a certain amount of being “on.” It’s sad and terrible and no less true. At the time, it felt like altruism. I didn’t want her to feel my pain, because she had shown me over and over that she couldn’t take it. She would bleed out for me, and I was unable to take it in because I didn’t want someone who was only on my side. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right in knowing I was wrong. Her empathetic nature was to feel sorry for me, when I didn’t feel sorry for me at all. It was hard to listen to, hard to accept as valid when I’d made so many errors in judgment. Therefore, just about every conversation was between my mom and Leslie Lanagan.™ I suited up so I could act happier than I really was- the conversations were light and fun. But in my worst moments, I couldn’t even muster that.

I just have to remember that before she died, we had a two and a half hour conversation in which there was nothing left unsaid, no unfinished business. Those voicemails are just an echo of the past, and not representative of what really happened before she died. The conundrum is wanting to hear her voice in any way I can, and knowing that if I listen to it, all I will take away from it is what crappy moments I made in our timeline.

In my dreams, none of that ever happened. We’re at Starbucks, we’re in her classroom, we’re at the teacher’s center laminating ALL THE THINGS. I’m helping her with bulletin boards and fixing her computer and trying to teach her how to use Netflix on a smart TV. We’re waiting in line for the new iPhone. We’re literally next in the queue, and my alarm goes off…. and any flight of fancy in which I’ve been enmeshed touches down at DCA.

Sermon for Proper 28, Year A: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

In 1983, a developmental psychologist named Howard Gardener published a scholarly article posing that there are nine different types of identifiable intelligence:

  • Naturalist
  • Musical
  • Logical/Mathematical
  • Existential
  • Interpersonal
  • Body/Kinesthetic
  • Linguistic
  • Intrapersonal
  • Spatial

Therefore, it would be inadvisable to hire someone who is linguistically brilliant as an accountant if they do not also possess that talent.

Talent. Where have we heard that word in the Gospel before?

If you are a churchgoing person, you’ll probably already know that Jesus told a parable about a master who entrusted his slaves with different amounts of talents. To one he gave one, to the second he gave two, and to the third he gave five.

Let us first clear up the idea of slavery before we go any further. In those days, even doctors were considered servants while citizens of Rome lived lives of opulent indolence. In order to talk about this parable, I do not want you to relate the use of the word slavery as equivalent to how black people are treated in the United States from 1776 to the present. That is another sermon entirely, and one that I will preach, just not today.

It says in the Gospel that the master entrusted this property to them, the message being to go and multiply. Two of them did. The third, the one that was only given one talent, buried it in the ground so that it would not change… and in his mind, this represented safety- it was better to hide the money than to risk losing it all.

Indeed, a talent was a representation of money, although a weight more than a value. For instance, the weight of the silver is what revealed it. The value of even one talent was more money than a servant would see in his or her lifetime.

However, this parable is only about money when taken at face value. You can argue that the pericope is all about investment, and how that investment can be directly correlated to believing in yourself or not… whether you are willing to take the risk of showing your light to the world, or hiding it under a bushel………. and if that’s all you take away from this sermon, it’s a good place to start. It is no less valid than other interpretations.

I just don’t think that’s what Jesus was getting at- as always, his message was much more subversive than that. His story was not about money, but the powers that be.

The servant who was given one talent represents the Pharisees and other orthodox Jews who wanted nothing to change about the law. Bury it in the ground, leave it alone, don’t touch it. It will stagnate, but it will not disappear, either. It is the epitome of the saying, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

If there is no risk, there is no reward, either. For this servant, risk was too scary to contemplate, a feeling that I believe is universal. How many of us are afraid to change our lives, even when the lives we lead no longer serve us? How much greater would we be as individuals, and thus, a community, if we reached out for more?

For the servants that were given two and five talents, they were richly rewarded when they dared to invest. This is a direct tie-in to the start of the new church, one without focus on the law and emphasis on grace, mercy, forgiveness, and most of all, becoming a servant yourself. Humility is the hallmark of the new church, because Jesus was always dedicated to the idea of soft power, that you can more effectively lead from the back. In writer’s language, show, don’t tell.

It would take more courage than a lot of people had to create civil disobedience to the Sanhedrin, or for members of it, to try and change from within. The battle would be arduous and…….. unpleasant. It would take all types of intelligence to overthrow years of history in which the law was more important, in a lot of ways, than God.

This is why I believe there are three servants in the parable to begin with. Not all of us are given the same types of intelligence, and we all use them in different ways.

If you are a person who thinks, I’m not smart enough to take risks, remember that there is no such thing. You just haven’t identified the types of intelligence that you possess.

If there is anything that this parable tells us above all else, it is that you are only punishing yourself with your inability to try. Action begets inertia, so the more you invest, the more work you are capable of doing.

For the early Christians, it was leaving behind the people in their lives who adhered to the letter of the law and would not take the risk of trying something new.

What will it be for you?

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

 

 

The Resurrection Has Begun

Yesterday was red-letter for me, albeit a bit scary in multiple ways.

At 1:00 PM, I met with a recruiter in downtown Silver Spring face-to-face, something about which I was incredibly anxious. I felt the fear and did it, anyway. My comfort zone is Zip Recruiter, LinkedIn, and the hundreds of e-mails that come to me from recruiters in the area because my job profiles are listed as “actively looking.” I’ve gotten lots of bites this way, but as my father reminded me, my personality is usually what gets me jobs- impossible to show off over e-mail… well, not impossible, because I’m generally funny and engaging in cover letters to stand out, but the whole package is somewhat hidden.

I got lucky because the recruiter had literally gotten a call not an hour before about a job, therefore I was the first and so far, only candidate. He looked at my resume and thought I might be perfect for it, given my wide range of past experiences. He said to call him back on Monday at 11:00 AM and he’d tell me what the employer said…. but he didn’t think it would be a problem. My only issue is that it’s a contract that only lasts until August, so there are two things I need to do in response. The first is to continue my job search starting in June, and the second is to try my best to make myself invaluable so that there’s no reason for the contract to end…. possibly getting hired as a full-time employee.

The job itself is part customer service, part marketing analyst. It is responding to surveys in the Office of Government Affairs given to it by the Library of Congress, and creating new surveys after the response part is complete. Basically, the Library of Congress wants to know how it’s doing when people visit. I’m a voracious reader and writer. The Library of Congress is my jam. If I get this job, I will be over the moon. It will be a chance to showcase what I do best- talking to people and writing content for both web & print. You’d think I’d be awful at talking to people, but I am engaging and funny and not anxious at all when the conversation is for work. Anxiety about cold-calling is not an issue, because I don’t have to come up with things to say on the spot. Writing? Amazing. Off the cuff? Hit or miss (in the moment, it is often “I’m sorry, what are words again?”). Plus, working for the government I’d get more days off than everyone else. 😛

The hourly wage is more than I’ve ever made in my life, but there’s a reason for it. Because I’m not a full-time employee, I have to cover my own insurance. At that rate, I cannot continue to be on state-run programs. Now THAT irritates my anxiety. No private insurance is as good as the one I’ve got now. All my doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions are free (no-copay at all), and my medications are a dollar a bottle. Plus, Vesta does not take private insurance, so I’d have to leave both Leighton (my psychiatric nurse practitioner) and Sarah (my therapist).

I hate the thought of starting over with a new therapist, especially if I do not get a job right away after August and am back with Sarah again, having missed over eight months with her. Perhaps that will not happen, though, because this recruiting agency seems solid, and even if I have to go a couple of weeks to a month without a contract, that’s ok. I can save up enough to float me if necessary, thanks to that insane hourly wage. I have no doubt that my hourly would go down as a permanent employee, more than made up by a government benefits package. It’s exciting to think about embarking on this new path, because for over a year, I have felt dead inside.

One of the hallmarks of a parent dying is that a part of you dies, as well. The will to live life to the fullest is wrested away from you in favor of “what’s the point? They’re not there to see it.” Looking for a job is the one area of my life in which I have no problem, because applications are rote. Trying to fund my own dreams is another thing entirely. I’d like to work for myself by starting a homeless ministry, but that is the point at which I’ve felt the most ennui. My mother will not be there when I graduate from college and grad school, will not be there for my ordination ceremony, and will definitely not be there to play the piano and direct the choir while I find my own “Ed McMahon.”

Things looking up has provided me a way to start believing in myself again. This has been a garbage dump of a year, being so close to getting several jobs and then not, fighting the worthlessness of having nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Well, that’s not entirely honest. I’ve enjoyed working on myself and several different writing projects that may or may not earn money in the future. Time will tell once they are finished. I decided early on not to do NaNoWriMo this year, because it requires an entirely new idea and not a work in progress, as well as a time commitment I planned not to have. My works in progress are more important to me than trying to come up with something new. I dropped working on -frog.-, however, because the original idea was to explain the trilogy of Dana, Argo, and me in fiction…. and I just don’t have it in me to spend that much time thinking about them anymore. However, my memory is long, and maybe I’ll go back to it in five or ten years, once the grief has faded and I can look at the situation without exploding the land mines therein.

My main work in progress is a child/young adult novel called Fish Ralph, of which you can read an unedited and entirely off-the-cuff first chapter. I sent it to several middle school kids and teachers. The feedback I got encouraged me to not ask the teachers anymore. They thought it was too wordy, and something kids wouldn’t like. The kids ate it up.

Restarting that work was just one more step in raising my self esteem, especially when my sister said she was dying to hear what happened to Sarah and David Michael. One note- when you get to the part about geez, is the bike ok?,” I stole that from a story my first boyfriend, Ryan, told me about his dad. Now, his dad was just being funny. Sarah’s dad is just that clueless. Credit where credit is due.

On to the rest of my yesterday.

At 3:00, I went to donate platelets. I was pleased when I found out that my iron level had gone from 11.7 to 13.9. I passed with flying colors and they hooked me up to the machine. I wore all the winter clothes I could find, because when you’re giving platelets, your body temperature drops significantly and you cannot stop shivering. About 30 minutes before I was done, my body temperature spiked and I was so warm I had a vaso vagel reaction and almost fainted and vomited at the same time. They gave me some ice cold paper towels and orange juice, but it did not help, so they brought me a trash bag in order to try and keep me going. It didn’t help, either, so they stopped the treatment early. Because I was only 30 minutes from finishing, I don’t know if they had enough platelets to be useful, but the important thing is that I did it. It was excruciating to get ready, because you cannot take any NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug- basically anything in the aspirin category) for two days before you give, so my arthritis was extraordinarily painful despite Tylenol. Plus, it was pouring down rain, so I took an Uber pool both because I did not want to wait for 30 minutes for the bus in the rain, and because I was running a little short on time. This backfired, because two other people joined my pool and I was dropped off last, making me 45 minutes late for my appointment. You only have a 15-minute grace period, so I was lucky they took me at all. Sometimes a couple of dollars cheaper is not better.

Even though I felt like death warmed over, I pushed through to make it home on public transportation, because Uber was spiked at that hour. Even a carpool was $20. I was so out of it, though, that I added time on my commute because I completely walked past Farragut North and ended up at Farragut West. However, that’s not important. I wasn’t trying to make it to another appointment, just home. My biggest concern was not throwing up on another passenger, which I thankfully did not. By the time I reached Silver Spring station, the Uber spike had ended, so I gratefully paid the four bucks to get home. My Uber driver was new to the area and despite navigation, missed every turn. But that was okay- we were having a wonderful time talking. I wish I had gotten her number, because we could have talked for another four hours…. and what person new to the area doesn’t need friends?

We were in the same boat- she’s two years older than me and still has a year and a half left on her Bachelor’s thanks to having two kids very, very young. Now, her kids are both in college and I told her that was somewhat lucky, because as a young empty nester, she actually has the energy to work and go to school. She laughed and said, “truth.” She said her youngest just started at Howard, and I became animated- “that’s where I want to go!!!” I started talking about my dreams to finish my degree and go on to their UCC-affiliated seminary, and for the first time in a year, I felt passion about it.

It’s funny how things change. When I first got to Maryland, I wanted to go to seminary in Virginia to become an Episcopal priest, jokingly joining what they call “the Virginia Mafia.” What changed my outlook is that I did not want to use the Book of Common Prayer at every service, because I am talented at writing my own liturgy. In the Episcopal church, this is just not done. My ultimate goal is to create an Anglican-inspired service, because there are elements I love. For instance, the choir will have to be in cassocks and surplices. There are just no other options. For starters, they are WAY more comfortable than those polyester piece of crap robes. Plus, most cassocks have slits where you can reach your pockets. Invaluable to me as a singer for Kleenex and cough drops, as well as being able to pull out my phone for pictures, video, and recording the sermon…. although I don’t know how I feel about recording everything I have to say. Sometimes my sermons are brilliant and engaging. Sometimes I feel as if I am a danger to this profession…. there is no in between.

It is weird how the sermons you think are total pieces of crap you phoned in are sometimes the ones people like, and the ones you think are brilliant and engaging just don’t connect. Every Sunday is just a complete crapshoot, and pretty much every preacher alive would agree with me. I remember a story from long ago about a bishop who was asked the best thing about retirement. He said, stopping the interminable march of Sundays. It’s funny ’cause it’s true. Coming up with sermons and liturgy is not unlike the writing schedule at Saturday Night Live. Sometimes your best ideas come to you at 2:00 Sunday morning. Even better ones come to you the moment you step down from the pulpit. 😛

All I have to say in conclusion is that it’s nice to feel something again…. regaining the piece of me I thought was lost to history, feeling the resurrection coming in the middle of the mess.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

The Yahrtzeit

Don’t call me. I know you’ll all want to when you hear what I have to say. I am leaving tomorrow to go to Houston for the first time since my mother’s death. But stop yourselves from reaching out to give Lindsay and me room to grieve on our own. If we end up getting together with friends at any point, I’ll make sure you’re included. But we haven’t gotten that far. We’ve only planned what we’re going to do on the actual anniversary of my mother’s death on the second, besides attending my cousin Hunter’s wedding the day before.

Because I thought I’d be in DC during the wedding, I did not RSVP, so I hope they can haul ass to the kitchen, rearrange the food, and squish in a place setting to welcome a “Haiti-an. It actually is important to me to go to this wedding. It’s my mother’s brother’s second child, so I will get to see everyone on that side of the family at a time when we really need each other. Of course it is Hunter’s day, but seeing each other is an excellent added bonus. Plus, the wedding is in Tyler, Texas… the perfect amount of road trip. I haven’t done a real road trip in ages, so even that in and of itself is perfection.

When we get back, we’ve planned to go to the cemetery and just sit with Mom. We enjoy it because the cemetery we chose is so tranquil and peaceful it is an escape from the rest of the city. It’s also been a year since I’ve seen “Fred,” the infant-sized tree planted last year that will one day surround my mother’s grave in its majesty. I’m only sort of glad I waited this long, because I don’t think I would notice as much of a difference in “him” if I’d seen him every week.

Lindsay has said that she’s not crazy about the name “Fred.” I can’t wait to see what name she’s come up for “him.” For me, “Fred” was an easy choice because every plant I’ve ever had has been named “Fred….” and this Fred has people to take care of “him” that actually know what they’re doing. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally going to poison “him.” Plus, this time of year the weather should be pretty good… no pictures of the headstones with a “light dusting of snow.” We’ll eat and drink it what is hopefully sunshine and not threatening grey weather. But rest assured that I would carry six golf umbrellas before I missed going to see my mother’s grave.

It is such a bittersweet experience, because logically I know that I am just talking to her shell. Emotionally, she feels very real and present…. not in a viscerally physical way, just that her spirit is near.

It was that spirit which brought me to my knees. I didn’t want to spend that day alone, either, because I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but Lindsay and she’d already come and gone for this week.

She and my father both worked on this idea to let us have our time to laugh and cry, and the fact that they thought it was important enough to spend their hard-earned money and/or frequent flier miles to make sure it happened is exactly the kind of thing my mother would have wanted.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what it is she actually would have wanted, and yet I know this one hits the nail on the head. Now if Forbes, my stepdad, needs to get his internet fixed or his cable is down, that would just be the icing on the cake. My mother assumed my entire adult life that because I work in Information Technology, if it plugged into the wall, I could fix it. She once actually flew me to Houston just to fix her computer because it was exactly the same price as taking it to Best Buy,™ and she knew that I would be nicer to her than they would because I wouldn’t try to upsell her on anything. 🙂

As it turned out, I couldn’t fix the computer after all, because it was a hardware problem and not software… but I still earned my keep. I told her that for the same price as getting her old computer fixed (emphasis on old), she could buy a cheap throwdown that would do everything she wanted it to do and I could transfer all of her files for her, or just install her old hard drive as a secondary drive in the new one. I ended up just transferring her files because I didn’t know whether the hard drive was about to blow, and thanks to her excellent grasp of “the Mommy Save,” it was ridiculously easy. The term “Mommy Save” is an old IT Help Desk joke that refers to people who have no idea how directory structures work, so everything they’ve ever worked on is an icon on the desktop. Mind you, not folders created on the desktop. Individual files that cover every possible millimeter of desktop real estate so it doesn’t even matter what the wallpaper is… you can’t see it, anyway.

And, of course, my mother also had no idea how installing peripherals worked, so of course things that were simple to me, like installing the printer/scanner/copier driver, seemed like magic to her. She really thought it was magic when I discovered that her PSC had wireless and set up every computer in the house to print to it, and enabled file sharing so that she didn’t have to e-mail Forbes everything she wanted him to see.

I also locked down her router so that no one in her neighborhood could steal bandwidth from her using the router’s default username and password, the one that had been on it for, like, two years. I think I gave it the SSID “Baker’s Dozen,” because Baker was her married name…. but I TOLD her it was “Carolyn’s Tattoo Parlor and BBQ Pit.” Because she’d known me my whole life, she knew I was just kidding… and I knew exactly what she was thinking…. my Godyou are way too much like your father. I don’t think I am….. he’s WAY more funny than me. Just more practice at it, I guess…. or at least, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Perhaps one day his little grasshopper will reach satori, but I am not holding my breath.

Although this story may come close.

I love temporary tattoos, because there are lots of tattoos I like, but won’t commit to them forever. I was out shopping and found some really cool ones- tribal representations of animals, armbands, etc. My mother, however, did not like tattoos AT ALL. So, I wake up before she does and put this GIANT tiger temp tattoo on my neck. Not even an Oxford button-down will cover it. She comes into the kitchen a little while later and I can see the wheels in her head turning, trying not to explode as she thinks through all the jobs I’ve just lost. She tries so hard….. when did you get your tiger tattoo? If it’s on your neck, it must’ve really hurt. Do you think your job will care? How did you manage to hide it? I didn’t even see it last night…….. Your mom is going blind in her old age……. I let her twist in the wind for a few more minutes before I took some cotton balls and a small bottle of baby oil out of my pocket and rubbed it off. It was nice to see some blood come back into her face, and she laughed- not necessarily because she thought it was funny, but because she knew she’d been had and it was exactly the type joke her firstborn would play on her…. but not before trying to convince me that she’d known it was fake all along, that she was just trying to keep it going, etc. I didn’t buy it for a second, but it was hilarious to watch her backpedal nonetheless.

My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but because her brain worked on a very high, creative plane most of the time, jokes often went over her head. She had bigger things to think about than whether her daughter was pranking her or not, which made her an easy target, especially since she was so willing to laugh at herself.

One of the times she absolutely lost it laughing at herself was when my dad took my mom, sister, and me to our friend Hardy Roper’s vacation house in Galveston. It had a dock on the bay side of the island, and Lindsay and I were doing a half-hearted job of fishing, using cheese as bait (or as my sister said, “WE’RE GONNA CATCH FISH WITH CHEESE!!!!!). I was wearing my favorite loafers, which happened to be pretty expensive, and my mom just knew I was going to drop them in the water while my feet were dangling over the side. She rushed over to me and said, hand me your shoes. If you lose them, we won’t be able to replace them. So, I hand them to her, and for whatever reason, at exactly that moment she was thrown of balance and promptly dropped both of my precious loafers into the bay. We laughed until we cried…. which is exactly what I want to do at the cemetery.

Of course I miss my mother, and it is incredibly sad, but it is a good thing that part of grief is the uncontrollable laughter of reminiscence.

If there’s anything I hope for during this trip, it’s that nearly every sentence begins with do you remember the time when Mom……………… It is the best opening line for me since once upon a time………….. because once upon a time, I could not laugh like this. 2017-09-30 00_53_56-Mourner's Kaddish _ ReformJudaism.orgI was too engrossed in survivor’s grief, not allowing myself joy because it did not seem appropriate to have fun. I felt that the only thing I deserved was to look down in sadness, tear my clothes, and even though I’m not Jewish, say the Kaddish (also known as The Mourner’s Kaddish) in her honor. If you’ve never heard it, the graphic to the right is the prayer in Hebrew. What follows is the English:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.

May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

I ask all of your blessings as two Christians try to make their own theme & variation on a yahrtzeit that weaves my mother’s personality throughout. The concept of the yahrtzeit is extremely meaningful to me, because it is not the first anniversary of a loved one’s death, but all of them. I tend to steal borrow from all faith traditions as I try and navigate the largest unknown I’ve ever faced. Making things better probably won’t come out of one book, but many. I mean, not everybody can be Doug Forcett.

I would appreciate each and every one of you holding space for Lindsay and me as we survey dark wilderness…. because maybe next year, having some contour lines will help.

In the meantime, I am praying not only on the words, but the spaces in between. Often, the wisdom is in the pause.

#prayingonthespaces

Sermon for Proper 10, Year A: Seeds and Stems

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Sperm is often called “seed,” especially in the Bible. Therefore, every single one of us starts out as a seed, and when, joined with an egg, takes root in the womb and stems outward. A lot of our personality is created when seeds become stems  and stems become branches and branches become the mature tree… a new person, ready to take on the world.

But have you ever stopped to wonder how the DNA handed down to you affects the type of roots you create? What kind of seed you might be? Do you consistently seek out people who you deem “in the same garden?”

The types of seeds that Jesus is talking about directly relate to personalities in people, and he says so directly when he’s explaining what he just said. This is because often, when Jesus uses an analogy while preaching, and even in just talking to his disciples, what he receives is a series of dumb looks.

This is not unusual even today, because without repetitive explanation, people get lost in their own minds and now have no idea what you’re saying. The best preaching advice I’ve ever gotten is, “first, you tell them. Next, you tell them again. Then you tell them again.” Of course, you use different illustrations, but they’re all the same point.

When people are firmly planted in their pews, completely tracking with you, they may not get the idea of repetition. People who are not often need it. As a preacher, I am competing with the personal stories that come up for the people listening, what to have for lunch, and, especially in Portland, a sunny day.

It’s the difference between how the seeds are planted, and what kind of personalities they create.

We can even expand past the personal to the local church. Are you invested with deep roots, or did your mother make you come? It’s at this point that we have to ask ourselves “are we the 30, the 60, or the 100-fold kind of church?”

What kind of church ARE we?

Are we so shallow in our commitment that a bird could swallow us up? That it would take so little to make us disband? We have nourished the bird, but have failed ourselves in a “give a man a fish” kind of way. We’ve sustained, for a moment, one being… and walked away. The gospel competes with the world, and loses… badly.

Have we planted ourselves on rocky soil, reaching for the sun? The best analogy I can think for this kind of church are those that initially are so gung ho that they over-commit, and six or 12 months later, leave, never to return… because it’s just so much work. Few can let go and listen because the running tab of things to do is so long, particularly for “the Marthas…” who place very little importance on the phrase don’t just do something, sit there.

Initial excitement in its exuberance is a wonderful thing, but it has to be watered carefully, as not to burn or drown. There is generally little room to add new crops, because people are already so mired between committees and choirs and teaching Sunday School and laying out vestments and ALL THE THINGS that new shoots spring up, and there’s no one with enough sunlight left to tend to them. The gospel just gets in the way of the running to-do list with no respite.

Churches with deep roots are not only self-sustaining, but have the ability to minister to others… and it’s a difference you can both see and feel. Deep roots mean there’s a group of people for each single thing, so that no one group has to do everything. The same 30 or 60 people are not the entire church, but just the choir or just a couple of committees. If you’ve ever been to a really small church, you know that there are at least ten people who are on every committee and in the choir, and have to say “no more.” Not out of malice, out of exhaustion. There are churches with deep roots who have the ability to create a committee just to shake new people’s hands as they come in the door, and that is their only function. There is enough room between rows, enough nutrients for everyone, that the seeds become stems and the stems become branches and the branches become the mature tree. The gospel is not working at us, but through us. We are able to welcome the stranger, give to the poor, fight racial inequality and GLBTQI rights… we have the ability to widen the net, teaching others to fish as we go.

Which invariably leads to the question of what kind of world we want to be.

For a lot of people, it’s starting to feel like being a 100-fold seed in a 30-fold world. But here’s the catch… it’s not a 30-fold seed world. Perception is not reality. There are enough people to do everything, enough people to be able to pick which causes to support, which battles to fight… and which governments need resistance. Resistance is not futile, it’s its own kind of protest.

Hundred-fold people create hundred-fold churches which give the individual a chance to grow into a community. So many people can and will get involved, but are overwhelmed when it comes to how to “jump in.” They are the hope and the future as to how a 30-fold seed can find its way from feeding one being to all of them.

This is where you are issued an invitation, in turn to give one. In my own life, I have never once had success with inviting someone to come with me to church. I have had success with showing them who I am and to whom I belong. For instance, I’ve invited friends to march with me in the Pride parade along with my church group…. or go to a political rally. Wide-eyed, they look at me as if to say, your church does THAT?

Of course. In a church with deep roots, the plants grow toward the sky, because the deeper the support system, the easier it is to say…

Jesus Has Left the Building.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces