Slinging and Hash

My coworkers are so young that I was sitting at the bar after my shift a few months ago, having a beer. The man next to me told me his name and that he was a sound editor at NPR. He asked me what I did, and I told him that I “sling hash here.” The bartender, young enough to be my son, said, “I thought you were a cook. You’re a drug dealer?” The sound editor nearly fell off his bar stool laughing and said, “I think that’s old diner slang.”

But today’s entry is about a different kind of sling. My left shoulder has been bothering me for a few weeks, but the pain has been fully manageable with Aleve and Tylenol… that is, until yesterday morning. I woke up in so much pain that I couldn’t stop crying, and didn’t until I got to Urgent Care.

I couldn’t possibly see how I was going to cook and wash dishes, so I gave Chef a heads up as to what was going on, and could he possibly find someone to work for me? To his absolute credit, for which I will thank him publicly, he told me to get to Urgent Care and let him know what they said. He’d find a way to work it out, even though there was no one to take my place. It created a tiger mom loyalty in me, and by the time I got to Urgent Care, as the tears flowed, I said, “there is no possible way that I can miss work tonight. If there’s any way you could treat this as a sports injury and just shoot it up with something, let’s do it.” If chef was willing to work a man down that night just so I was taken care of, the least I could do was try my hardest, exhausting all possible options, before staying home. I knew that I was going to either be miserable at work or miserable at home, so why not at least try to be miserable and make money at the same time?

The Urgent Care that I went to is incredibly risk-averse, the doctor told me, so he wasn’t allowed to put steroids directly into my shoulder, even though he thought it was the best course of treatment for what I needed in the moment (doesn’t work long-term). Instead, he did a long and thorough physical examination, determining that I had strained my rotator cuff, and that I should get it imaged with an Ortho to confirm it was just a strain and not an actual tear. If it’s just a strain, his recommendation is physical therapy. A tear requires surgery that, from what I hear, is relatively quick and easy, but the recovery is hell on wheels. One of my mom friends said that her son tore his, and just like the friends my age, had a difficult time with it. So I am definitely praying for a positive outcome, and if you’ll pray with me, send good vibes, use black magic, whatever, I’m game. Anything that taps into the power of the universe is fine with me. I know all of my readers can’t possibly believe in God, but even if you’re an atheist, believing in doctors is my first choice as well. Faith doesn’t come without shoe leather, and their work is as close to God’s as I’ve seen on this earth (there’s a reason I donate to MSF every chance I get).

As for the treatment I got yesterday, I chose a clinic that was close enough to walk to work from there, so after an IM injection of Toradol and oral Vicodin 5/325, I actually made it to my shift 30 minutes early, where I briefed Chef on all that had happened, and he thanked me profusely for coming in anyway, especially since my arm was in a sling to take pressure off my shoulder. I don’t wear it while working or typing, but other than that, I don’t take it off. I also realized that 325mg of Tylenol was probably not adequate, so I took an additional one. The doctor said that by the time I got home from work, the Toradol will have worn off, so I took two Aleve as well. Anything to relieve the inflammation, especially since I probably added to it last night. Even with Vicodin on board, everything still hurt like hell, especially after cleaning the kitchen, particularly sweeping & mopping. It was at that moment I thought, “maybe a desk job is for me,” and then I remembered that I was in just as much pain there, because the repetitive strain injuries never stopped, as well as more often than not, having a bad chair that always, always caused sciatica, as well as agitating the arthritis in my back. I absolutely understand that not all offices can afford Aerons, but so far, those have been the only chairs that don’t cause me pain. Even the knock-offs work, as long as they’re good ones and not the cheapest available.

I promise, I’m not snobby about it. Just worried for my own health. Even though osteoarthritis isn’t nearly as bad as rheumatoid, it’s no joke. It makes you feel like a very old person, no matter how young you are. Going from the kitchen to a desk job is just trading one type of pain for the other, equally severe in their own ways.

I definitely need to follow up with physical therapy, because with my level of activity, I’m likely to tear the rotator cuff up real good (if you’e going to do something, do it right).

And on that note, it’s time for a nap, provided I can find a comfortable position.

Shoes

I screamed at God for the starving child until I saw the starving child was God screaming at me.

-Unknown

I am getting more and more angry that responding my thoughts & prayers are with you is becoming a sarcastic joke. I live by two axioms. The first is Anne Lamott’s saying that there are really only three prayers:

  • Help
  • Thanks
  • Wow

The second is what I call “the Donna Schuurman corollary.” Now, Donna is a personal friend and I doubt you’ll find this in any of her published books…. but she says that there is one perfect, end-of-the-rope and it’s fraying prayer…. Shit, God.

I suppose that it would fall under “help,” but just doesn’t have the same impact…. but it helps. It’s the prayer I prayed when Dana and I got a divorce. It’s the prayer I prayed when Argo said, no more. It’s the prayer I prayed minute by minute, hour by hour to get through those first few days of my mother’s death…. although I will say that I found “thanks” and “wow” when I bothered to look.

I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea what happens when I pray on the other end of that connection. In the words of C.S. “Jack” Lewis, I don’t pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me. You, and only you, have to decide if it really matters whether some celestial being is listening, or whether the function of prayer is to find your own still, small voice, uninterrupted by the noise of the world. In that space, something happens. Does it matter whether it comes from an internal or an external source? I believe it does, but not enough to be rigid about it.

My philosophy 101 class was very interesting. We spent the first half proving that God exists, and the second proving that God doesn’t. Of course, I use “proof” in the geometric sense, not that there is any real evidence one way or the other. Pete Rollins, in an interview with Rob Bell, said something that’s stuck with me for over a year. He said that atheists and theists are one of the great love stories, that each needs the other…. that there is God/Not God, and the truth is in the slash…. but before I ever heard of Pete Rollins, I discovered that religion was not unlike sexuality… a spectrum in which some people stay at the poles their entire lives, and some move freely back and forth.

This is because too much happens in the world for most people to eschew doubt…. and still others in their piety are too ashamed to admit that when the shit hits the fan, they wonder where in the hell God has been, is, will be………………..

I have said it before, and I will say it again. I choose to believe that God is not the Actor. God is the Responder. Where is God as people are being gunned down in the streets, at concert venues, movie theaters, schools… or worse, in a place that has long been identified as sanctuary…. literally and figuratively. When you claim sanctuary, that is the moment that violence is supposed to stop. Because it didn’t happen to me, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have that feeling ripped away. We of the Religious Left chose to move away from Jonathan Edwards’ now famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, long ago. We do not believe in the hand of God that would drop us, but catch. So if you ask where God is, know that God is weeping with the families of the dead, and supporting the injured in their hour of need. Not only that, if you need to feel angry with God and rail at all the injustices, go right ahead. God is big enough to handle it.

I am tired of seeing “thoughts and prayers” as some people’s choice shitty retort. This is because thoughts and prayers mean two things to me:

  1. We live in a dangerous world with many injustices that will not get fixed overnight without our help. I hold space not only for my own responses, but for the worry and care of first responders. I am not fire, police, military, or diplomat. Prayer is a way to get in touch with the part of me that bleeds for the people in front of and behind the news. As an empath, I feel pain all across the world, and it needs somewhere to go. Every single person I’ve known in those dangerous fields has said not to worry- if something terrible happens, we will have died doing something we trained for because we love what we do. I have found over time that those words bring me little comfort, but my worry is not their problem. Whether or not there is a God, it brings me peace to pray for the lives of the victims and the people in charge of rescuing them and getting them to safety, or getting their bodies back to their families so that they may say a proper goodbye.
  2. Prayer is not always solitary. Once you find the center of your being, your True North, it is time to act. One of the greatest prayers I’ve ever prayed was walking downtown with thousands and thousands of women as we fought for our rights whether anyone was listening or not. I was one of the first “crazy liberals” to march like hell against the Iraq war, before the rest of the country caught up to what we were screaming. I’ve talked to homeless people in my own city, asking them what they need, rather than trying to guess. Prayer is almost nothing without shoe leather, but one has to beget the other. It is the first line of defense against pouring from an empty cup.

Prayer is holding space for the safety and security of the people you love, as well as being able to go deep and figure out what you really think. Some people call that meditation. Some people enter that space while exercising. I am not worried about the semantics, only the function.

I will never be worried about the semantics, unless you (plural) are using it as a euphemism for lazy. Like Jesus, I go into my room to pray and close the door…. but I emerge with my shoes on.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

 

Your Right and Responsibility

I don’t know how I got so lucky that when session ended in Annapolis, Lindsay’s job moved her to working on federal legislation. She still comes to DC on a regular basis, though not quite as often when she was trying to get a bill passed in Maryland state congress. The bill made it through the House and on to the Senate, but was defeated. I don’t want to write about the bill itself, or the company where my sister works, but what I will say is that the legislation in question made perfect sense and there is no sane reason why it shouldn’t have passed, especially since in 49 other states, it’s already law. The only comfort in this is that perhaps the bill will come up next year, as some form of it has for the last nine years, and she’ll come back just as frequently as she did this year.

I know it’s hard for her being so far away from home all the time, but selfishly, it is exactly what I need. Watching her work activates my “go button,” the part of me that’s interested in government and how it works…. or not.

Voting in local and state elections is abysmally low, and turnout is key. I don’t understand why others don’t understand that local and state laws directly affect their lives so much more than the president ever will. My county (Montgomery) is important to me, as well as my state. There are lobbyists pushing legislation through that would raise ire if there wasn’t so much apathy toward it. Outrageous things get passed because no one notices… and on the flip side of the coin, really good legislation gets passed over because no one is calling their state representatives to tell them what they want, because they have no idea what the issues even are, much less care.

National laws are important, but not nearly as crucial as “small things,” like the school board, how/when the trash gets picked up, and the way the local police treat people. The local issue that really cramps my style (being the tender-heart bear that I am) is that in Montgomery County, homeless shelters are closed from April to November. Obviously, it’s sometimes very cold in October, but April is no picnic, either. Plus, it gets every bit as hot in Maryland as it is in Houston during the summer, and to me, being outside all the time is local legislators not caring whether people suffer horrendous sunburns with blisters.

Thanks to Maryland state-run health insurance, homeless people have access to free medical and psychological care, and medications that are only one dollar a bottle. But for homeless people who do not have jobs, one dollar can seem like a hundred. It’s a misconception that homeless people do not work. When you’re poor, the idea of first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit, especially in this area, is unobtainable. If people manage to only stay on the streets for a few months, it is less likely that they will suffer permanent mental health damage, but the longer people go without basic necessities, it is a chicken and egg situation. Did they become homeless because they were mentally ill and unable to hold down a job, or did being on the streets do them in?

I would say that it’s different in every case, but I can see how being reduced to absolute survival mode can do so much damage in so little time…. especially if said homeless person is arrested and thrown in jail. Jail is not a happy place, especially when you’re put there due to circumstances beyond your control. People get arrested for all kinds of inanity, such as loitering, because where are you supposed to go when you don’t have an address?

Add that to the inequality in both hiring and sentencing leads minorities down a pipeline of enormous proportions. The first is that a resumé with the name Michael Smith is so much more likely to get an interview than one with the name Tyrone Washington. The second is that minorities are more likely to get harsher sentences than whites, so something that should have been a misdemeanor is adjudicated as a felony, and that always looks good to hiring managers.

Nothing makes my blood boil faster, because even if the minority is guilty, that does not mean that he/she deserves to be treated more harshly than anyone else. It’s white privilege at its finest.

My pastor, Matt, said something interesting regarding this very thing. Minorities are allowed to be prejudiced against whites, but there is no such thing as “reverse racism.” That is because prejudice in minority communities is relatively harmless, a way of dealing with earned scorn toward whites for the systematic oppression of minorities that they’ve endured for centuries now. There is no comparison whatsoever, and to do so is to willfully ignore the difference. Prejudice is personal bias. Racism is institutionalized from the top down, with no end in sight. No matter how much we march and protest against it, President Trump isn’t going anywhere, and neither are his goons satisfied with the status quo.

That does not mean that protesting is useless, however. With enough people in the crowd, it’s hard to be ignored by Congress or the media. There is also the community that comes together with a common goal, the creation of safe space…. the seeking out of like-minded people that is a lifeline when there is such a feeling of hopelessness.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that Sunday morning at 11:00 is the most segregated hour in America. In a lot of ways, this has not changed, but it has changed for me. I am blessed to have a community in which whites and minorities worship together under both a #blacklivesmatter and a rainbow flag. I am blessed to have a community that shows up for marches demanding equality for all people, despite the violence that has occurred as a result. The scariest was when our #blacklivesmatter sign was vandalized and pictures of the reporters shot in Roanoke on live TV were taped to the side doors.

It led to one of the biggest turnouts on Sunday morning that I’ve ever seen in any church anywhere, because we were there to say we were not afraid. Looking for succor, yes, but there was power in showing up. Jeffrey Thames preached that day, a sermon I’ll never forget called The Certain Samaritan. It was built to comfort us in our distress and distress us out of our comfort.

We will not back down from attending church because of this threat. We will continue to do the work of peace and justice that we always have, because it defines who we are as a congregation………………….

We will continue to let people rest and recuperate as they need. We will continue to clothe the naked. We will continue to feed the hungry. We will continue to make people of all faiths and origins our friends. We will continue to fight without a fight. It doesn’t take violence to respond. It takes certainty.

It was a beautiful illustration regarding now that this has happened, what are we to do? Applause is for a performance, not a worship service, and yet he deserved a standing ovation. He pointed the way from pain to promise in a way that people will not soon forget.

Whenever you think local politics don’t matter, remember that law & order starts in your neighborhood and branches out. When the leaves are turning brown, remember that it is your right and responsibility to turn on the sprinklers.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

The Power of the Universe

I cannot stop thinking about Jeffrey Thames and all the work we have the possibility of doing in this community. I am serious when I say that meeting was my hot coal, the thing that took the fire in my belly and refreshed it anew in a way that I haven’t felt since the senior high youth retreat at Christ United Methodist Church. I was 15 or 16 then, and Mikal Bowman was my best friend, the one I could safely say I loved more than myself. I was just as invested in her happiness as I was my own. She was the one to whom I could submit in my daily life without even realizing it was happening. This was the day that realization became reality, both in the chord between us and in my own chord with God.

They put us in groups of two, and blindfolded one… me. There was thick, thick twine called the “lifeline,” and it was a trust exercise to get us to submit to our partner’s direction. We could hold on to the “lifeline,” but we couldn’t see. It was the partner’s job to make sure we didn’t run into anything, to be our eyes in the darkness. Mikal (whom my dad affectionately called “Mikalwave”) and I had gone about 15 steps when I GOT IT. My enormous ego crumbled into the dirt and I fell against Myke, crying so hard I COULD NOT EVEN.

Maybe there’s not a God, and maybe there is. I took Logic as a math requirement at University of Houston, because apparently Logic using symbols and Algebra are the same thing (never in three lifetimes). We spent the first half of the semester proving God exists, and the second half of the semester disproving. No matter what we did, we couldn’t prove it either way.

THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT ENTIRELY.

Faith is, as Elaine Pagels so eloquently says, “beyond belief.” The question is why? My answer is that God is too big to comprehend, and will never be proven with fact. This is because we cannot know that anyone is listening when we pray, but we see its effects every day when we are willing to submit to the idea that there is something greater than ourselves; a deep chord, manhole covered in size that can only be accessed by looking inward.

You will know this feeling intimately if you are a musician or singer, because there are two factors at play. The first is that in either singing or playing, you are breathing all the way down, using your entire body to focus on every breath. The second is what happens when everyone in the room is taking those breaths together.

Let’s extrapolate.

What would happen if everyone in a congregation saw God as individually breathing all the way down, and taking those breaths together? How would church politics change when everyone in the room is focusing on the chord that runs between them? How would church politics change when everyone in the room submits to it?

How would the American system of caring for “the least of these” change if we, as a country, were all breathing together?

Diane Syrcle has a great line about this, which she said in front of a treble choir (meaning it was all women), hands in a triangle around her uterus, that “singing is breathing all the way down into the power of the universe… because it is.” New birth, new life, new hope… the power of the universe so close we can touch it… literally. Catholics are onto something by praying to Mary, because it is praying to the power of birth… as tangible an evidence of faith as there is in this life.

If you can’t believe in a God, can you believe in a baby?

Can you submit to the power that comes with a tabula rasa, a clean slate that so many permutations of growth that it would take eons to calculate?

There is never a time when I feel more religious than Advent, because there we are, all waiting for the baby together. What kinds of growth will we do when we realize that we have the chance to be born again every single year? What kinds of ego will fall away? What kinds of sins will you release in the name of rebirth? How will you grow as that Holy Spirit touches a hot coal to your lips and burns away the old versions of you? What will you accomplish that you didn’t in the year before? How will you force yourself into a different reality? I often say that life is a series of learning to commit different sins rather than the same ones over and over. That is the very essence of acknowledging your humanness, that you cannot live life without flaws, but you can let go of them as you forgive yourself; they disappear into the ether as you grow.

The power of the universe comes into play when we’re all doing that very thing at the same time…. the way musicians breathe.

How you forgive yourself is the question with which we struggle- not once, but over and over and over. I cannot speak for you. For me, the answer is that feeling- the way my muscles stretch to accommodate so much more air. As Jeffrey would say, “when you breathe in, you take in the power of the universe.

Whether you believe it or not.

Amen

#prayingonthespaces………………………..

Sermon for Pentecost, Year B

It’s not often that a scripture hits me as hard as the Gospel did today. I actually shed a few tears as I was reading when I got to the part about “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Because he’s right. I cannot bear anything right now that means Jesus is further away. I do not want Jesus to preach from the cloud. I want him HERE. I am in the place in my life where the Mediator, Advocate and Paraclete means so much to me that there is nothing more I want to do than touch the hem of his robe and be healed. To have Jesus turn around and say, “who touched me?” To be delivered from my distress, and there is a lot of it. In the past few years, I have lost a lot of friends, most notably my precious Argo and my precious Dana. They both carried me, sometimes kicking and screaming, into a new reality, one that I knew I needed but was reticent to give hope. They are my Holy Spirit Incarnate, which is a big phrase, but apt in this case.

I don’t normally do confessional sermons; they seem self-serving instead of serving God. But at the same time, the story of this Gospel and the scriptures set forth by the Lectionary are too personal. They got under my skin, the words tattooing themselves in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. There are just so many.

Why in the world would I say that Dana and Argo are my Holy Spirit Incarnate? Hear the words of Luke in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

They were so disoriented that Peter had to stand up and tell everyone they weren’t drunk. It is in direct opposition to Jesus’ message, or at least, it is to me. Jesus is telling the Disciples that if they don’t let him go, they will never know the peace he has to offer. The peace? He is a member of the Trinity. Hearing about the Holy Spirit just does not compute.

Luke writes that the Holy Spirit is like the sound of “a violent wind.” Where could they possibly meet in th middle? They just don’t……….. unless?

Whoever said that the people didn’t NEED to be shaken out of their complacency? I once said of Jesus that he doesn’t so much comfort me in my distress, but distress me out of my comfort. Perhaps I was putting emphasis on the wrong entity? When Peter preaches, he quotes the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

I know this is old language, but there is just so much here that is relevent to progressive Christianity. The first thing is that Joel is all-inclusive. Sons, daughters, slaves. It doesn’t matter. We are all going to be taken forcibly out of our comfort zones because what is right side up will be upside down and vice versa.

In my own story, Dana and Argo were my violent wind, taking me forcibly out of my comfort zone and forcing me to accept my own upside down and right side up. Dana and I were married for seven years. We got comfortable. We created our own family dysfunction and because it seemed normal, we stayed there. Lost in our own little world. The sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood when our dysfunction showed even to us when Argo came into our lives. She became a catalyst for both of us to look at ourselves and see the patterns we’d developed over time, both positive and negative. As time progressed, Dana became a mighty wind herself, because she could see the catalyst happening within me and shook me up as well. Both of them were justified in their anger at me. I said and did things that haunt me to this day, because a month ago I took their anger and let it motivate me. I took their Holy Spirit warnings and realized that their work wasn’t done. I had to believe them, I had to submit to them, I had to internally accept what I had done, and the violent wind I’d become in my own right. I also shook them up, in a way for which they did not ask.

Whether I motivated positive change or negative, I do not know. I am not entitled to their opinion unless they want to give it. However, I can accept that getting me out of their lives might have been the best thing for them. I can accept that my blood and fire was unwelcome. It is a situation we all face at different times in our lives….. whether we can own it or not.

The question now is whether we can recover from it, and if so, how in the hell do we do it?

By reaching out. By reaching up. By accepting the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Most people think of that day as The Second Coming. I do not think that in the slightest. To me, the Lord’s great and glorious day is when we reach inside ourselves, own our sins unto other people, and ask the Paraclete to make us whole……

Do you see what I did there?
Do you see it?

There’s the meeting of one and another. The violence and the promise. The internal struggle and the need for comfort as we face it head on. Moses gave us the Caduceus, now used as the symbol for doctors the world over. It is no accident that hundreds of years later, Jesus was called The Great Physician. You go to a doctor when you need a cure. The Great Physician can heal your heart, but only if you make the commitment to ask. To keep asking. To see the violent, mighty wind coming and ask for help.

After the storm comes the rainbow. What does that rainbow look like to you? In my own life, it is prayer. It is the constant joy of speaking out loud and believing that someone is listening whether they are or not. Believing in God is not a requirement for prayer. Believing in prayer is a way to channel your own distress into prosperity. The longer you pray, the more you listen to your self, your inner being, your godspace.

When I realized that I was a person even I didn’t like, submitting to the power of Jesus’ messages of hope, redemption, relief, and comfort gave me strength inside myself to take the violent, ugly changes in my life and walk away from them so that I could forgive myself and be the person I wanted to be. I did not want to participate in violence. I did not want to add to the mess I’d already created. I wanted to be whole.

When I touched the hem of Jesus’ robe metaphysically, my mental health changed. I started to feel a peace I hadn’t felt since childhood. An ever-present rage went out of me and I started to send both Dana and Argo constant prayers of safety, comfort, relief, atonement for the things I felt they’d done and wishing for their peace as well. Wishes became reality when I realized that I did not need their forgiveness, because it had come from sending the prayers themselves.

Christ gave me an invitation to peace once the violent mighty wind had passed and the raging storm became the calm he said he would give.

I ask that wherever you are in your journey, that you are given peace as well. That you are able to reach out in distress and metaphysically touch Jesus’ hem as well. Because he preaches from the cloud, he won’t have to ask who touched him.

He’ll just know.

Amen.

To This Day

Dana and I were just having the most interesting conversation about Doctor Who and the Bible, because the canons are strikingly similar. The conversation started when we remembered The Master.

I said:

I hope they show The Master as a little boy, looking into the schism for the first time. You know who it reminds me of? Moses and the story of the burning bush. God actually tells Moses not to look at him because the sight is too overwhelming. When The Master looks into the time vortex, it’s like getting an answer to the question “what would have happened?” Keep in mind that since I am not a fundamentalist, I am not talking literally. There’s just a lot of wisdom in looking at them together.

And Dana said:

The Doctor is a Christ allegory because in dying for our sins, he’s still protecting us to this day. For years, the story has been that the doctor is atoning for the sins of killing all of his people and the canon has changed to now having locked them in a slice of time so that he can rescue them one day. And he’s over 2,000 years old now.

My eyes started to bug out of my head.

I love being married.