Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, May 22, 2015

Infinity and Beyond

 NB: This was a meditation I recently gave at the beginning of our IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) Meeting a few weeks ago.

I want to talk a little bit this morning about something I believe.

I believe that what we believe informs what we do.

I want to begin to do that by telling you a story of a patient I admitted long, long ago in another galaxy far, far away. I'll call her "Martha" a 71 year old woman with End Stage COPD. Her husband - I'll call him "Joe" - was, at the time, 81 years old.

When I heard that “Martha” and “Joe” had just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary, I congratulated them and then asked, “Tell me a love story. Tell me how you met.”

A lovely man with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes, “Joe” looked at his wife and they exchanged a lovely, knowing smile. Suddenly, they were both teenagers.

She looked down at her lap, shyly and he giggled a bit before he said, “You know that cartoon character? What's his name? The guy in the space suit? Oh, yeah, Buzz Lightyear. Remember him? Remember how he always says, 'To infinity and beyond'? Well, he got that from us!”

He laughed and slapped his knee and said, “That's what we said to each other after I asked her to marry me and she said yes."

"'I love you to the moon and back. To infinity and beyond!'”

And then, he looked at his wife, and she looked at him, and for a moment, they had a moment. There was electricity in the air. I heard it softly crackle. So did their two daughters who were sitting by me.

They both smiled broadly as one leaned into me and said, softly, “Ain't they somethin'?”

We had a wonderful visit and, after I said a prayer, “Joe” said he would walk me to the door. It was all of ten feet from the bed but I've learned that there's nothing to be done with a man of that generation than to let him be the gentleman he was brought up to be.

We got out on the porch and “Joe” took hold of my elbow and said, “So, do you believe in 'infinity and beyond'?”

I'm a good Hospice Chaplain. I know Medicare regulations state that I am not to 'proselytize'. Unless pressed, I'm not to state what I believe. Rather, I am to support the patient and family's belief system.

So, I smiled gently and said, “I think 'infinity and beyond' is a wonderful concept that must bring you great comfort and hope.”

I was just mentally patting myself on the back for such a good, innocuous response when he pressed again on my elbow, looked me square in the eye and said, “No, I asked you if YOU believe in 'infinity and beyond.”

I considered myself pressed into an answer.

“If you are asking if I believe in eternal life, my answer would be 'yes'. I do. And, personally, if I didn't, I don't think I could do this work.”

“Joe” sighed deeply and you could see the weight drop from his shoulders. “You know, I've always said I believed that. For 51 years, I've said I believe that. But now . . . you know . . . now that the end (cough). . . now that . ..  the end . . . is near . . . . "

He cleared his throat and wiped the tears from his eyes. "Now . . . I'm not sure. I mean, I need to believe that . . . she needs to believe that . . .  WE need to believe that, if we're going to get through the next few days and weeks, and . . . Oh, God, might it be possible? . . . the next few months."

I held his hands in my hand, looked him square in the eye and said, "I believe anything is possible. And, everything is possible. Things I couldn't even ask for or imagine. My faith teaches me that 'life is changed, not ended'. Science teaches that, too. 'Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.' I learned that in the 6th grade, I think."

Joe looked up at me, his eyes brightened and he said, excitement in his voice, "That's the first law of Thermodynamics! Huh!" he said as he looked away and then looked back at me, his face beaming broadly, "I just never heard it connected to faith."

He giggled a bit and said, "That's quite a sucker punch to atheists."

"Well," I smiled at him, "I can't prove anything, you know? I mean, if I were to make this argument in a court of law, I'd probably lose. Badly. Perry Mason would be shaking his head."

"But, that's not faith!" Joe said. "Faith is not just based on facts. It's what you choose to believe!"

"Yes, of course," I said. "And, I hope you continue to chose to believe in 'infinity and beyond'. Because you're right. It will help you get through this last part of your earthly journey together. Before one of you goes on ahead. Until you meet again."

"Beyond infinity," he said.

"Where love lives," I said.

"To the moon and back," he said.

"Right, because life is changed, not ended."

"And, matter can neither be created nor destroyed."

Now, I told you all that story to say this: You have heard me say that, of the three Hospice agencies I've worked for over the years, you all are the best Hospice professionals I've ever had the privilege to work with. You are all smart and dedicated and compassionate. I'm so proud to say I work with you. And, you know me well enough by now to know that I don't blow smoke."

"So, here's what I've come to know. Here's what you all have taught me:

I have come to know that you can not do this work of Hospice - this labor of love - without a belief system."

"Most of you are Christians, but there is a great variety of expressions of that belief in Christianity, right in this room. That includes those of you who were baptized but are really not yet sure what to make of that, how to live into or  out of what that means for you."

"Some of you are Buddhist. Others are secular humanists. Still others may be atheists."

"Some of you are combinations of all of that variety of belief."

"Others may belief only one thing: That this life is good. That there is nothing after this life. And, because of that, you fight like hell for the living. You honor that belief by making damn sure that every minute of your patients' lives are without pain or distress."

My point is not what you believe. My point is that you believe.

And, what you believe informs how you behave. More importantly, your belief informs how you do your job. How you behave as a Hospice professional, in whatever capacity.

Otherwise, without that belief system, I believe you could not do this job. At least, not to the standard of excellence with which I see you carry it out, day in and day out.

So, whatever you believe, be clear about it.

Embrace it.

Know that your belief will carry you over the difficult days, the challenging days, the days when you're out in the middle of Nowhere, Sussex County, Delaware, and you're scratching your head and saying to yourself,

"And, just why is it that I'm doing this work? Aren't there at least five other things I could be doing? And earning way more money doing it?"

Just remind yourself of what you believe, what you treasure, what you hold dear.

And, if you like, you can sum that all up by picking up your chin, holding your arm straight out, opening your mouth and saying,

"To infinity and beyond!"

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Suffer The Little Children

 Honest to Ethel!

I can't imagine you haven't heard about the brouhaha coming out of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida concerning the "postponement" of the baptism of Jack, the adopted son of two fathers.

You can find the perspective of Eric and Rich McCaffery, Jack's parents, here in The Blade.

You can find the perspective of Greg Brewer, the bishop, here in the Orlando Sentinel.

And, the story from the Dean? Anthony Clark? The one who canceled postponed equivocated needed more time , said "It's not never, just not now"?

He's been away all week at a conference.

The story has struck such a deep cord in Christians in general and Episcopalians in particular that Faithful America ("Love thy neighbor. No exceptions.") has started a petition which began late Monday afternoon with a goal of 15,000 signatures and will, I have no doubt, surpass its new goal of 25,000 before the end of Friday.

The issue has stirred up debate on every conceivable tangential issue, from the age old controversy of infant vs adult baptism, to the relatively new controversy of whether or not LGBT people should be able to adopt children.

Everyone is pretty clear that baptism ought never be denied anyone. Well, everyone except those Uber-Calvinists who think the efficacy of the sacrament is dependent upon the state of grace - or lack there of - of the parents.

The real problem, you see, is that The Episcopal Church has gotten "soft" (as opposed to, ahem, "standing firm") on "membership requirements."

Note: If you do click on the above link and have the stomach to watch and listen to the entire video, you will notice that, while his logic is absolutely pristine, it is completely devoid of any compassion. It's as narrow a legalistic interpretation of scripture as you are apt to find. If you look closely, you will also notice not a drop of the milk of human kindness on the man's lips. 

According to the Uber-Calvinist position, if the Dean had been doing his job, he would never have admitted the boys fathers as "members in good standing" of The Cathedral.

Problem solved.

Unless, of course, they repented of their "sin" and lived separately.

I suspect they'd also have to walk ten miles backward, barefoot, covered in sackcloth and ashes, calling out every ten feet, "I am a worm and no man."

But, I digress.

Well, maybe just a little.

As often happens in church, the 'shame and blame' game is in high gear. It's the Dean's fault. It's the Bishop's fault. No, it's the fault of the "deep pocket" members of the Cathedral congregation who think they can buy whatever they want - or get rid of what they don't want.

No, this never would have happened without the "militant progressive LGBT community" who, like the immature, adolescent brats they are, always "want more".

The truth is that the Diocese of Central Florida has been highly toxic to LGBT people for years. The previous bishop, John Howe, was a particularly virulent homophobic influence in that diocese.

Which was not a real stretch for him in that particular geographical area.

With the exceptions of a few pockets of tolerance and acceptance - especially the Diocese of Southeast Florida where Bishop Leo Frade has created a climate of acceptance - the State of Florida has been noted for being home to almost as many intolerant knuckleheads and right wingnuts as in any of the other states which Louie (Crew) Clay describes as being "Behind the Cotton Curtain".

It's bad enough to deny (or, postpone "not never, just not now") baptism to a child, and even to deny the baptism because the parents are two gay men, but to do so in the Diocese of Central Florida which is known, at best, to be "intolerant" of LGBT people, is to create a theological hurricane in the church which thought it was heading into an endless summer of justice.

If people had gotten complacent about the Supreme Court making Marriage Equality the law of the land just before The Episcopal Church changed the pronouns of the marriage canons, well, this was a pretty cold slap in the face. 

My best hope which I share with many, many other LGBT people and our allies, is that this 'El Nino' of hot baptismal water will provide the opportunity for a real 'climate change' in the church.

It's going to take a great deal of work, getting rid of the toxins of intolerance and pollutants of prejudice, but this baptism could not only provide a means of grace and hope for this child and his parents and family, but it just might transform hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

Here's my suggestion for that climate change in the Diocese of Central Florida - indeed, in The Episcopal Church: Before on more baptism is allowed in any church by any priest or bishop anywhere, everyone has to wash each other's feet.

You know, just the way Jesus did with his disciples, saying:  
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:14-17)
Nothing like a little dose of humility to bring an end to the Climate of Arrogance.

That same night, after he washed their feet, Jesus said to his disciples:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)
I think a good way to understand what that means is on your knees, washing someone's feet.

Then, we also might understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14. Luke 18:16)

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Where are the women?

The nominees for Presiding Bishop were announced yesterday.

 The nominees are:
Le sigh.

Okay, so yes. There are some good, strong candidates in that list. And, yes, okay, the point is not the gender of the person but the qualifications.

As Susan Russell wrote on the FaceBook page of The Episcopal Women's Caucus: 
The nominee pool is bishops diocesan with at least 5 years of tenure and the only woman with that standing -- Mary Gray-Reeves -- didn't stand for election. The list is not an indictment of the search process -- it's an indictment of a churchwide process of undervaluing and under-deploying the gifts of women in senior leadership and an indication of how deeply systemic sexism continues to challenge us.
the Rt. Rev'd Thomas Breidenthal
Which is why I'm sighing.  There has been a real dearth of women elected bishops anywhere. We are seeing the result of that in the nominations for Presiding Bishop. 

We have not only not made progress, we have not kept up with the progress we once made. 

As women bishops retire, we are not reelecting them. 

Indeed, make no mistake: We are going backward.

With the exception of the one African American male, this list of older, straight, established men is a glaring reminder of that fact.

So, where are the women?

I have - as have many in The Episcopal Women's Caucus membership - spoken to several women about putting their names forward for election to the episcopacy. The responses have been overwhelmingly negative based on a variety of negative issues. 

Here's a brief summary:

(1) When we say "bishop"we really don't know what the word means, much less what we want.

The position of bishop as currently defined is more CEO than spiritual leader. Indeed, with the exception of a notable few, there are not many dioceses willing to live into the tension of what it means to be a "Spiritual" person who is a "Leader." 

the Rt. Rev'd Michael Curry
Admittedly, that's not an easy combination to attain or maintain. 

Try this:  Entertain an exercise of "free association" and put those two words, "Spiritual" and "Leader" in two columns on a sheet of paper. In each column, write down the first words that come to mind, first "Spiritual" and then "Leader". 

I'm betting that by the fourth or fifth round, you will see such a conflicting set of definitions as to wonder whether or not the term "Spiritual Leader" is an oxymoron. 

You know. Like, "jumbo shrimp". 

What does it mean to be bishop in a post modern world which is still doing battle with ancient evils like sexism, racism, slavery, government and political corruption, greed, and poverty? 

Indeed, what does it mean to be a Christian in the Third Millennium in a wildly diverse global village which holds pluriform religious beliefs and truths? 

What kind of Christian leadership is required in our current reality and desired future at the local, diocesan, national and international level?

(2) The election process reveals our ambivalence about women in leadership.

The election process - intentionally or unintentionally - often sets up two women nominees who split the "woman" vote and the white, straight guy gets elected. Meanwhile, search committees pat themselves on the back saying, "But, we nominated TWO women!!" 

I should note that, in those places where women have been elected, it's because the women who are of the laity and ordained have caucused and developed a strategy for election.

The other part of the election process - intentionally or unintentionally - sometimes sets up a woman and a person of color who also split the vote and the white, straight guy gets elected.

the Rt. Rev'd Ian Douglas
Don't believe me? Go look over the last few episcopal elections.

(3) When women are nominated, it's often the most conservative women who get the nod. 

Here's the truth: The church is, basically, a not-for-prophet organization. We don't elect prophets to be our leaders. Not any more. Gone are the days of John Hines and Jack Spong. 

But, a woman who is a truth-teller? With a real vision for the church that does not involve "speaking eloquently" while keeping things pretty much the same? As a bishop? 

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Someone once said, "Prophets don't get paychecks." That was nevermore true these days.

Or, as they say in the South, "Heavens! You don't want to scare the horses!" Especially when the horses are already nervous about whether or not they are going to get their next bale of hay. You definitely want to keep the "nags" out of this. Unless, of course, they are suffragans.

(4) Truth be told, many women I've spoken with are not at all interested in being bishop. 

I know many, many women who are priests who act like bishops and talk like bishops and have all the "gifts and graces" to be bishop and seem genuinely called to be bishops but they are unwilling to put on a purple shirt and deal with all the non-relational crap that the office seems to call for these days. 

One woman said to me, "I know it's said that when all the bishops lay hands on the head of someone who is being ordained, they are really removing the spine. That may be true, but, I think they are actually removing the soul."

the Rt. Rev'd Dabney Smith
Another example: I was consulting with two congregations recently - one white, one Hispanic - talking about merger. 

The white congregation thought their bishop was "a real leader, really helped to organize this diocese, has helped the diocese to make a real financial turn around." 

The Hispanic congregation made polite noises about the bishop until one woman said, almost above a whisper, "I don't know. I mean. Well. I just wonder. Do the man pray? I mean, do he know Jesus?"

Le sigh. 

Anyway, that's what I've heard from women around the church. This is what I've learned.

Unless and until we - and, I'm talking 'us' here, you and me, the baptized, laity and ordained - can re-imagine what it means to be bishop . . . . .

. . . . . as long as we call bishops to "talk" mission but allow them to maintain the status quo . . .

. . . . . who talk about being "nimble" but don't do anything to "nimblize" their own diocesan staff . . . 

. . . . . who talk about "sacrificial giving" but show no shred of evidence of that in their own lives - professional or personal . . . . .

. . . . . whose travel budget is more than the total budget of half the congregations in their diocese - or, who allow the building and maintenance costs of the diocesan offices to be more than the salaries of half their diocesan clergy . . . .

. . . . . who are deeply spiritual but not leaders;  or who are leaders but not spiritual. . . . 

. . . . . who know the joy the apostles once knew and are not afraid to express it and share it. . .

. . . . . who do not feed the hunger and thirst for justice with the Bread of Anxiety and the Wine of Complacency . . . . .

. . . . . who strive daily to model the unconditional love and acceptance of God in Christ Jesus for all - yes, ALL - of God's children of whatever color or gender or sort and manner of condition - and, oh yes, even Creed . . . . .

. . . . . as long as we continue to treat Bishops like ecclesiastical royalty and not as ways to see God more clearly and love God more dearly and follow Jesus more nearly . . . . .

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . we're not going to get women - or too many Christian spiritual leaders - in the episcopacy. 

Le sigh. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grief and Half Time.

The following is the meditation I gave at our last Hospice IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) meeting

The past week or so has been like "old home week" at Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

The Hooded Mergansers have left but the Wood Ducks and Mallards have arrived. So have the Turtles. The Canada Geese have been here for a few days. I thought I saw a Copperhead Snake slither past the dock the other morning. Probably looking for a few tiny field mice for breakfast.

Last night, right after dinner, a huge Great Blue Heron appeared on our deck. He seemed to be inspecting the work we've recently had done and, it appears, he approved. 

I thought I had heard his ancient, primordial "Gaaak!"calling over the tops of the marsh grass, but I hadn't actually seen him. I rejoiced to know he had returned.

No, literally, my heart rejoiced at the mere sight of his long, skinny legs, huge beak and piercing eyes.

I've been thinking that I've been hearing the Red-winged Blackbird but I hadn't seen any evidence of their arrival. Yesterday afternoon, I finally saw him. I was instantly overcome with an inexplicable feeling of awe and excitement. There was nothing to be done but to stop in my tracks and gasp quietly like a teenager who just spotted a Rock Star.

This morning I awoke to hear the Canada Geese swimming by my house. It was not their usual sound. Something was wrong. I could sense it immediately. I got up out of bed and went directly to my window. There they were - a pair bond - swimming back and forth and forth and back around the marshes, honking in distress.

I wondered if they had, perhaps, misplaced their eggs. Maybe the tide moved them. Maybe the turtles ate them. Maybe "garbage gulls" plucked them from the safety of their nest.

Those were the questions I heard in the distressing honks from the Canada Geese. Their grief was unmistakable. And, it was inconsolable.

Grief has its own sound. Its language is universal among all God's creatures. When you hear it, you recognize it immediately.

Maybe Hospice makes you more sensitized to the sound of it, but I don't think so.

I heard it again just yesterday when I called to talk with "Mrs. A" whose husband had just passed. As some of you know, she's a pretty emotionally buttoned down lady and his death was certainly not unexpected, but there it was, clear as a bell. Truth be told, I was relieved to hear it.

I heard it in the voice of a woman I listened to on NPR. A single mother of three, she had been working in a Sporting Goods store in Baltimore that had been completely and utterly destroyed by looters and rioters. She said, "I've had this job for five years. The owners invested in this neighborhood. Now, they lost their store. I lost my job. But mostly, I lost hope. I lost hope that I can give my sons the education they need so we can take this city we all love and turn it around."

Her grief was unmistakable. And, it was inconsolable.

I was thinking this morning as I was praying for you all, as I do every morning, that the sound of grief has a way of making its way into our bodies. We bathe in it. We are drenched in it. It gets soaked it into the muscles and sinews and connective tissues of our bodies.

Which is why it's so important for us to also immerse ourselves in the sounds of joy. Yes, Hospice professionals are pretty (in)famous for our laughter, usually prompted by "gallows humor". Some of us counter death and grief with what is sometimes called "raunchy humor". (Yes, I hear you in the kitchen,)

My work in Hospice has led me to believe that the opposite of death is sex.

When I got home from work last night and listened to the news I heard another sound of grief coming from Baltimore, but it was the sound of grief that was literally being beaten down.

A few local high school marching bands combined with a few marching bands from local colleges, and they held a very large impromptu parade in the midst of the very places of destruction and grief.

The drums were drumming and the dancers were dancing and the pom poms were waving and the horns and tubas were playing.

It all sounded like a football team at half time.

And, maybe that's exactly what it was.

It was halftime in a contest between overcoming grief and getting on with getting on with life. It was a statement by these young people that the fight for justice is not over.

Far from it. You could see it in their faces. Determination was written all over them.

The young have not died. They are not dead forever. Neither are their hopes and dreams.

They are just grieving.  It's half time in the game of Good vs. Evil. They will work through their grief - beat it out on the drums, dance it out on the streets, play it out through their horns - and then get up and live to fight another day.

To build on what their parents and grandparents and great grandparents have built.

To restore hope. To create a safe place to dream. To channel anger into action. To change rage into results. To transform grief into justice.

Just like the sound of the Red Winged Blackbird which I heard before I saw that he had returned.

Or, the ancient, primordial "Gaaak!" of the Blue Heron which calls me to consider the deep mystery of God's creation.

Hope returns. If we dance through it. And, beat our drums and blow our horns and shake our pom poms through it.

Or, simply listen for it in the sounds of creation.

Nature teaches us that it has to get dark and night has to fall before you can see the stars.

Grief may well be the body's way of calling Half Time on the playing fields of life. We stop. We mourn. We wail.

We make noise to counter the silence of death. Our bodies dance to defy the stillness of death.

And then, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, blow our noses, wipe the tears from our eyes, pull up our socks and get on with it.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jenner and Sawyer: Painfully awkward and honest

Apparently, I was one of 16.5 million viewers who watched Diane Sawyer interview Bruce Jenner on ABC last night.  Sawyer's usual viewing audience is around 5 or 6 million. Give or take a few.

So, if you missed the program, you can catch some of the highlights of that interview here at "The 12 Big Moments". 

I don't know if there were so many "12 Big Moments" as much as the whole thing was a pretty big moment. Well, for me, and I suspect, millions of other people - including some transgender folk.

I admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. Indeed, it was my skepticism that compelled me to watch in the first place. I was ready to turn it off at the first hint of a "publicity stunt." The association with anything Kardashian legitimately raises that question, I think.

Then there was this article by a transgender person who said, simply, that the interview wasn't all that important to The Work that needs to be done.

Okay, I'm thinking. On one level, I get it. But, you know, I watched Ellen 'come out' on national television even though, at the time, I didn't think it would be important, ultimately, to The Work.

Turns out, in the larger scheme of things, it was an important milestone in The Work of Queer activism.

Yes, television and other medias exist to make money, but they can be an important tool. You just never know which step along the journey will be one of the decisive ones until you get down the road a piece and look back over your shoulder. 

So, before we go any further, I feel compelled to note here that Jenner prefers, at this stage in his transition, to be referred to using male pronouns. I am going to honor and respect that.

At this stage in his transition, he refers to his female self as "Her". I think that's pretty telling about where he is in terms of the full integration of his identity and how he is handling this for himself.

I can't imagine the difficulty but I can honor and respect the courage it takes to manage all the various aspects of his life at this point in his transition.

If you leave a comment on this post, I trust you will, too. 

And, if you are unkind in your comments about trans people - even if you leave your "name" (I'm looking at you xoxoMichael) - I assure you your comment will be sent directly to spam. There are lots of places in cyberspace where one can spew one's toxicity.  This is not one of those places. 

Just so we're clear.

So, here's my experience of the program. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

Oddly enough, what kept me tuned in to the program was the obvious painfully awkward honesty of both Jenner and Sawyer. She struggled to ask honest questions and he struggled to provide honest answers.

I loved the expression on Sawyer's face when she asked about his sexual orientation. As I recall, she said, "So, you understand yourself to be a woman - "essentially" - but you are still attracted to women, so . . . doesn't that . . . um . . . after you become 'Her'... won't that... um... make you . .. . a . ..a . . .a . . . a lesbian?"

"No," said Jenner, with a calmness that revealed the interior work he's been doing. "Gender identity and expression are separate and different and distinct from sexual orientation."

Pan camera to Sawyer's puzzled face. Hold for a few seconds so others in the audience can recognize what they were feeling in that exact moment. Listen as millions of minds 'pop' to expand in order to hold these concepts as separate and different and in tension with each other.

As a parent and grandparent, I marveled at the self-sacrificial love Jenner has for his family - his three wives and many children and step children and grandchildren -  keeping the fullness of his identity hidden so they wouldn't be "embarrassed" by him.

I loved that his kids and step kids are also struggling but they've mostly come down on the side of love. They love Jenner. That's obvious. He's obviously been a terrific parent. And, he's assured them all that he'll always be "Dad" to them.

Again, I can't imagine that, once he has fully transitioned, it will make him happy to be called "Dad" but if it's okay with his kids, it makes him happy and that makes it okay. For him.

How can anyone not find that absolutely endearing, even if they might be thoroughly confused?

What is clear to me after last night's interview is that the conversation shared by Bruce Jenner and Diane Sawyer, with all of its painfully awkward and honest moments, is that this is something more and more people will be engaging in over the next few months and years.

It's going to take lots and lots of painfully awkward and honest conversations before we can get to a place of greater acceptance. We're going to have to face painful facts like:
The rate of unemployment for transgender people is twice that of the general public.

15% of transgender people live on incomes under $10,000 per year.

Coming out for transgender people exposes them to an increased risk of violence - there have been 7 reported murders so far this year.

An estimated 41% of transgender adults have attempted suicide.

This year, numerous anti-transgender bills have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide - most around fears about use of public restrooms.
And, we're going to have to do something about each and every one of those injustices.

The work is not easy. God knows. Those of us who were on the front lines of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual movement know only too well about painfully awkward and honest conversations.

We've done it before. We can do it again. Indeed, some of us have been and, in fact, are doing it.

Some of those painfully awkward and honest conversations are going to be within the LGBT community itself. As feminist theologian, Mary Hunt, said in 2001,  "The movement for LGBT inclusion cannot simply add 't" and stir, but must confront the changes that taking new people seriously on their own terms demands. No cheap grace here."

That was when Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote her ground breaking book: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach.  Lots of fine books on the subject have been written since, but this one is not only a sentimental favorite but, I think, lays an important groundwork for all the work that has been done since. If you need to start somewhere to begin to work on your theology, this is as good a primer as you're apt to find anywhere in Christian texts.

You might also like to know that The Episcopal Church, in resolutions D019 and D002 at General Convention 2012, formally added gender expression and identity to two canons that prevent discrimination.

But, books and resolutions will only take you so far. At some point, you're going to have to have a few "crucial conversations" with some transgender folk.  Some of those conversations will not be easy. Many will be quite difficult for a variety of reasons.

It's a pretty awkward dance, in my experience. Both sides step on each other's toes. A lot. And, it hurts. Pronouns are used incorrectly. It will be embarrassing and annoying. Anger and frustration boil over in ways that seem inappropriate and misdirected. And, some of it will be.

Sometimes, it's two steps forward and one steps back. It's important to remember that one step forward is still progress.

And yet, I am convinced that conversion - not just change but authentic transformation - comes out of such painfully awkward and honest conversations.

Thank you, Bruce Jenner and Diane Sawyer, for getting us started as a country. In a two hour period of time, you prompted 16.5 million people to think in different ways about gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation and how they are different.

That feels pretty monumental to me. But, I guess we'll only really know after we've been down the road together and look back over our shoulders at where we've been.

After a lot of painfully awkward and honest conversations.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Generation to Generation

Ms. Willow Elizabeth at 9 days old.
Well, if you happen to share with me the same networks of Social Media, you can't help but know that we have a new addition to our family.

Ms. Willow Elizabeth was born at 1 PM on April 10, 2015.

She joins her five cousins - Maxx Allen, MacKenna Jane, Melina Marie, Abigayle Sophie, and Mason James - who are all excited to meet her.

She was delivered safely at home, in her parents bed, by a nurse midwife, after 11 hours of pretty intense posterior ("back") labor. Her mother was able to walk around her own home, lean on her Pilate ball, take a few showers, and ease the pain in a warm labor pool set up in their dining room.

We are convinced that, had she been in the hospital, Willow probably would have been delivered via a C-section.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, you understand, and we are deeply grateful that such surgical interventions are available for true obstetrical and/or neonatal emergencies. It's just that our family is part of a growing number of people who are deeply concerned about the rising number of C-sections performed and what constitutes a "true" obstetrical and/or neonatal emergency.

Anyway, Ms. Willow is, as you can see, just as bright and shiny as a newly minted penny.

This video was taken when she was just three hours old.  Notice the wee tear in her right eye.

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, about the sound of a newborn baby's cry that does something deep in one's soul. There's something primal about it. Something instantly recognizable. It's the sound of an anxiety we all understand and want to hold and soothe and comfort and console.

"It's okay," we hear ourselves say. "Shhhhh . . . .," we coo. "I'm right here."

And, mostly it will be okay. Except, life happens. Which means that sometimes, it won't be "alright".  And, sometimes, we can't be "right here" - physically or emotionally.

Our daughter and son-in-law, like all first parents, have done their homework. They have read and researched and studied everything from best methods of birthing and breastfeeding, care of the umbilical cord after birth, eating the placenta vs. having it encapsulated as a nutritional supplement ("We're the only mammal that doesn't eat the placenta," we were told with great assurance.), cloth vs. disposable diaper (and, the best way to fold the diaper on the baby, depending on gender. Oh, and absolutely NO diaper pins.), the best way to hold the baby - every minute detail, right down to how many times a day breastfed babies should poop and pee and what it should look and smell like. 

As I listened to these new parents, I wondered how I must have sounded to my thoroughly modern American mother and old school, old country Portuguese grandmother, who were, for example, absolutely stunned and slack-jawed that I wasn't putting a silver dollar on the umbilical stump.  How else was I to be sure that it wouldn't bleed? Or, develop an unsightly hernia?

They let the "silver dollar rule" pass but put their collective and individual foot down and insisted that I use a "belly band" around the baby's abdomen as long as the umbilical stump was still attached to prevent bleeding and hernias.

So, I did. You pick your battles.

Years later, I discovered that the salve we used in the nursery at the time contained a sliver extract, to prevent bleeding from the umbilical stump. Now? Some nurseries use alcohol but mostly, they just leave it alone.

Leave it alone? My grandmother would have been scandalized.

I also had a hard time explaining to my grandmother that maybe I wouldn't have that glass of red wine while I nursed because my pediatrician was saying that recent studies showed that babies actually got some of that alcohol in the breast milk.

I'll never forget the look on my grandmother's face when I told her that. She caught herself, smiled, and said, unable to hide her sarcasm, "Yes. Of course. That's why you drink red wine when you nurse. A relaxed mother and a relaxed baby is a beautiful thing," she would say.

"Besides," she would add with great authority, "you need it to build up the blood you lost when you gave birth. Red wine builds up the blood. But, of course, your smart doctor should know that."

So, I occasionally drank a glass of wine when I nursed my babies.

As I say, you pick your battles.

I think I can say with certainty that, based on abundant anecdotal and subjective evidence, no brain cells were injured in the course of their parenting.  Not any more than any parent is liable for.

Of course, when I was a kid, things were very different than they were for our children and, especially, for our grandchildren.

My mother was discouraged from breastfeeding. Indeed, she was encouraged to "enter the modern age" and fed me a "formula" of evaporated milk, water and Karo syrup. At age two weeks, I was started on a few mouthfuls of Zwieback cookies (yes, with sugar and cinnamon), soaked in warm water, fed to me by my Grandmother's hand. At three weeks, a bit of rice cereal was added to my diet, so I would sleep better at night.  At a month, applesauce was added.


Now kids are breast or formula fed for up to a year before anything else is added to their diet.

I didn't wear a helmet or knee pads when I rode my bike. Neither did I wear a seat belt when I rode in the car. Indeed, I remember going for long rides on Sunday afternoon, and my baby sister was in a "car bed" on the front "bench" seat of the car between my parents. My sister and brother sat in the back seat, one by each window. I, being the oldest, got to stretch out on the back "shelf" and look at the people behind us and watch the sky above us as we drove. 


Now, parents are reported as negligent if they allow their kids to ride in the car without a proper, age/weight appropriate car seat, ride their bikes without a helmet, or walk home alone from school.

And yet, somehow, I'm alive to tell the story today. 

As each one of our grandchildren have made their way into our lives and our hearts, the particulars of their parenting styles becomes less and less important.

What is important is to do everything you can to live up to the promise that you whisper and coo to them when they are first in your arms, "Shhh . . . it's okay . . .I'm right here."

There's a wonderful song sung by children's superstar Raffi, the refrain of which is: All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly and love in my family."

I know. I know. That's pretty simplistic. Life is more complicated that that.

Of course it is. Bottom line? That's really the essential goal of good parenting. To have a child grow to be happy, secure, confident adult who knows how to love because they know that they are loved.

Indeed, it's what it's really always been about. From generation to generation.

The rest?  Just details.

Each one of which I plan to overlook, as my mother and grandmother did. Well, mostly. I plan to spend my energy enjoying every single delicious moment of being a Nana.

Which, oh by the way, is the best job in the whole world.

I suspect it has ever been thus, from generation to generation.