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

Learning to Fly Solo

I have approached this church differently from the beginning, not joining as a parishioner (although I will), but telling them from the second Sunday I attended that I needed continuing education just as much as I needed their blessings as my leaders.

I am also now in the choir so that I have a sense of normalcy to my world.

Just as an aside, it was my mother that convinced me I needed to join the choir, and not necessarily internal drive. She didn’t tell me anything in terms of parenting. She just said that it’s hard for her to sit anywhere in a church but the piano bench because that’s the place that feels like home. Her words hit deeply into my smallest place, the one that says, “I feel that way, too.” I don’t play the piano, but it’s hard to sit still in the pews knowing that it’s not really my “place.” If I am not in the choir, I am wishing I was up there, just as much as I tell myself that I don’t. I can do this. I can sit in the back and make notes.

I tell myself that, because it’s true right up until it isn’t. I can maybe attend a church for three services before I realize that I have to join the choir, because singing in the congregation leads people to turn around and say, “you have such a GORGEOUS voice. You should join the choir.” I get embarrassed and I blush and I don’t know what to say. Standing with the other singers is a way to avoid that moment, really, because I don’t stand out. I’m just one of the crowd.

I want it to be the same way in terms of my theology. I want to listen to Matt (senior pastor) and Gloria (associate) until I am ready to take on the large dreams I’ve created for myself. The still, small voice of God is what called me originally. Creating a legacy is what keeps me there. I don’t want to be famous, but I do want that for my church. I want people to know St. James and All Sinners like they know Riverside Church, or Cathedral of Hope, or any one of the churches in the United States that are familiar even to people who don’t live close geographically.

I can hear you asking why.

Because I want to be a church that is capable of giving more, doing more, seeing more in the name of Christ than is currently available. There are pockets, but my mission is about STEALING BACK OUR WORDS. When you hear the word “Christian,” what kind of imagery does that bring up in your mind? Conservative, “pull yourself up from your boot straps even when you don’t have shoes ‘faith'” is fucking bullshit (there goes my Jesus God flipping tables anger again…. sorry). You don’t preach with power over. You preach with power in the middle. Shared hope. Shared faith. Shared ability, the fruits of the spirit in perpetuity. I don’t create all of this by myself. I empower you.

Now is the hour in which I begin my journey, but now is not the hour where I step out on a ledge. I have schoolwork to do, along with clinical rotations in pastoral care. I have to walk with the homeless and feel what it is like before I can step up and say I can help care for the problem. I have talked a lot about “you don’t get to see Jesus. Have some wine.”

Party on, Wayne.

When it’s time to join me, you’ll know.


I am including the text of the first e-mail I sent Matt and Gloria, because I think it is important to record here.


Hey Y’all (you can take the girl out of Texas…),

Just wanted to say how much I am looking forward to being a part of the life of this church. I asked Matt if I could send him some of the stuff I’ve written/preached over the years, so I thought I would include you, Gloria. I am interested in all the possibilities we have the ability to create now that I really feel I have found a *home.*

As a writer and preacher myself, I have no doubt that I will move on to my own church someday, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a home base right now, a church to love that will love me back in all the right ways until I am ready to fly solo. I originally wanted to be ordained an Episcopal priest, but then I realized that I wanted to be able to *write* liturgy rather than turning to page 355.

Thank you so much for your grace and kindness. Many blessings. Many, many blessings, and thanks so much for reading.

Pax,

Leslie

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These are sermons originally preached at Bridgeport United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon:

https://theantileslie.com/2013/04/10/sermon-for-lent-4b/

https://theantileslie.com/2013/05/28/my-very-first-sermon-ever-july-21-2003/

These are things I’ve written for my web site:

https://theantileslie.com/2013/06/22/my-jesus-mar-2006/

https://theantileslie.com/2014/12/13/sermon-for-advent-3b-the-messiah-jesus-really-he-eats-paste/

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………………………..