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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In Our Hands

"Take a picture of me in his hands," Flat Jesus whispered to me.

"Wait! What?" I asked, a little startled. We were visiting patients in a Skilled Nursing Facility and I had taken him out of my bag and was showing him to a patient.

"Take a picture of me in his hands," he whispered again, insistently. "Go ahead. Get out that iPhone thing you love so much. I've got some things to say about that and a picture would be really helpful."

"But, I can't do that," I whispered back. "Not without permission. Somebody's permission."

Just then, a nurse came in the room. I found myself engaging him in conversation which came round to Flat Jesus. I mean, I was holding him in my hand and the nurse was curious. I asked if I could take a few pictures of a few patients holding Flat Jesus. Just their hands, I emphasized. I promised I would not reveal anything else about them.

Okay, so it wasn't exactly a miracle, but much to my surprise and delight, permission was granted from the Director and I began snapping away, showing each of them to the staff so they would be certain I was not reveling anything about the patient's identity.

After I visited with my patients - many of whom suffer from Alzheimer's Disease or Senile Dementia - Flat Jesus and I had a little ... um... sit down, come to Jesus kinda talk.

"You know what?" I asked.

"No, what?" said Jesus.

"I'm always so deeply moved by the fact that, while so many of these people don't know where they are much less who they are anymore, they still recognize you."

"Really? What's so remarkable about that?"

"Well," I said, "they don't often recognize their spouses or children - or, if they do, they can't remember their names or who they are, exactly - but they recognize you. Well, not you, exactly, because you have looked so different to so many people around the world, depending on the era and the culture. Still," I continued, "there's something about Flat Jesus that is so recognizable."

"Know what I think?" Flat Jesus mused. "I think I'm a sort of modern icon. The basics are there - the long hair, the beard, the sandals, the message of peace. Everything everyone has been carefully taught about what I looked like, even though there's no picture or description of me in the Bible. The rest is either intuitive or a memory from a long ago childhood in Church School."

"Ah, yes," I said, "Which is why they also remember the hymns which tell the 'old, old story of Jesus and his love', right? They not only know the tune, they remember the words."

"Exactly!" Flat Jesus said as he smiled broadly. He's got such a great smile! 

"Did you see how they sang along to 'He's got the whole world in his hands'?" he asked. "I gotta say, I do love that song." I thought I detected a slight blush on his cheeks.

"I should also say that I'm pretty tired of that Little Drummer Boy song. Pa-rump-pa-pum bleech!"

I had to agree with him. It's my least favorite thing about his birthday celebration.

"But, here's the thing," he said, "It's not just that I got the whole world in my hands. What's equally important for more people know is that they have ME in their hands."

"See?", he asked excitedly (I love to see Flat Jesus get excited), "It's about doing this together - God, me, the Spirit and all of God's people. Together, we've got the whole world in OUR hands."

"That's why I asked you to take these pictures," he said, passionately. "Yes, it's comforting to think that God is holding you, right in the very palm of Her hand. And, so am I. And, so is Spirit. Hospice patients need to know that but so does everyone."

"I'm just getting a little concerned," Flat Jesus continued, a note of sadness in his voice, "that people stop there. With being comforted. The point is that, you are being held SO THAT you can be God's hands in the world and hold others. We've got your back so you can have other people's backs."

"Of course," I said. "I mean, that's one of the reasons I do this work."

Flat Jesus giggled (I love it when Flat Jesus giggles), threw his hands up in the air (he does that a lot) and said, "Here I am, preaching to the choir. Or, as some of you like to say when people ask for prayers about the weather, you're 'in sales, not management'."

He's so funny, that one.

"So," he continued, "here's what I want you to do. The next time you sing that song, add a verse that goes, 'We've got the whole world, in our hands..... We've got the whole world in our hands."

"Will do," I said.

"And, tell them Flat Jesus told you to add that verse," he said. "Wait, never mind. Better not," he added. "You know, I do some of my best work anonymously. I prefer to work by inspiration rather than identification. Some of your leaders could learn that lesson."

"Right," I said, "Humility is always more persuasive than arrogance."

"Absolutely," he beamed. "It has ever been thus."

It's pretty amazing what you can learn when you hold Flat Jesus in your hand.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jesus Cracks Corn

I was driving from my office in Millsboro through Dagsboro, on my way to Fenwick Island to see a few Hospice patients when I heard Flat Jesus say, "Wait. Stop. Pull over. I want to see this."

We were on a back road. Well, in this part of Sussex County, they're all back roads. You can drive for miles and miles and miles with nothing but corn growing on either side of you.  It can feel like a scene out of "Grapes of Wrath".

We had just turned off Daisy Road onto Gum Rd in Dagsboro, about 5 miles from Zion Church Rd, right near Roxana - and my favorite little country church, "The Sanctified Church of Christ" - about 7 miles from our destination in a skilled nursing facility on Fenwick Island and Selbyville.

Jesus wanted a closer look at the corn.

"It's beautiful," he exclaimed on closer examination. "And, brilliant! You know how I supposedly once said, 'In my father's house there are many rooms'?" he asked. "Well, I should have added, "... and a whole lot of different kinds of vegetables.'

"This," he said,  "is clearly one is one of God's best efforts."

"Consider," said Flat Jesus, "it feeds people and animals. I don't eat meat (which surprised me), but I understand 'corn fed beef' is absolutely the best. And, it is used to make cornmeal, corn starch, corn syrup, corn oil, grits, and even corn cob pipes.  You can also make corn bread, corn pudding and corn pone - or, as they call it in some places, "Johnnycake"."

"Originally," he noted, in a surprisingly scholarly tone, "corn was cultivated in Mexico 7,000 years ago - long before I was born - and corn is now America's biggest crop and a staple of the global food supply. Corn feeds millions and millions of people around the world."

The guy maybe flat, but he's a veritable font of information.

"And, of course," he continued, "steep corn liquor is the perfect medium in which to grow large quantities of penicillin. Did you know that corn starch is the main ingredient in biodegradable plastic? Corn is a renewable resource, and is seen as a replacement for fossil fuels. But, wait," he said, "There's more!"

"Tea brewed from corn silk is used as a remedy for urinary tract infections, as it has diuretic properties. And, you should know this" he noted with a sober tone but a distinct twinkle in his eye, "whiskey is distilled from corn."

"Why would I know that?" I asked.

"Because you're Episcopalian, right?"

"Well, yes," I said. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Because," he said, choking on a giggle, "Wherever three or four Episcopalians are gathered, there's always a fifth."

I rolled my eyes. He cleared his throat. We continued.

"I absolutely love tortillas and tacos and fajita. You can also steam it or grill it and just eat corn right on the cob, with butter and salt and pepper. Or, you can cook it and shave the corn off and add it to salads and soups and salsa and casserole dishes."

"And, " he added, "how can anyone watch a movie without pop corn?"

"So, with all those uses of corn," I asked, "Why aren't these farmers millionaires?"

And, Jesus wept.

"You know," he said, wiping his eyes and starting to giggle just a little, "Some of the BEST jokes in the world are described as 'corny'. I mean, they are really the only ones that make me laugh."

"Like what?" I asked.

That was a mistake.

Flat Jesus asked, "Why shouldn't you tell a secret on a farm?"

"I'm, I dunno," I said.

"Because the potatoes have eyes and the corn has ears. "
Jesus was holding his sides and snorting though his nose.
I turned my head so he wouldn't see me roll my eyes.
"Oh, wait. Wait. I got another one. Listen to this one," he said, "What does moldy corn flakes have in common with Charles Manson?"
"I'm afraid to ask," I said, but, "since you're Flat Jesus ..... "
"They are both Cereal Killers!"
And suddenly he was laughing so hard he fell off the corn cob he was sitting on.
I tried not to look sick, but he was on a roll - as it were - and could not stop himself.
"Okay, okay, so check this one out," he said.
"One day two corn cobs, who were best friends, were walking together down the street. They stepped off the curb and a speeding car came around the corner and ran one of them over. The uninjured corn cob called 911 and helped his injured friend as best he was able. The injured corn cob was taken to emergency at the hospital and rushed into surgery. After a long and agonizing wait, the doctor finally appeared. He told the uninjured corn cob, "I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that your friend is going to pull through." "The bad news is that he's going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life".

Flat Jesus was laughing so hard, I thought he was going to pop right out of his laminate casing.

"You know," I said, "we really have to go. We're going to be late for our next patient." 

"Listen," Flat Jesus said, "If you're going to do this job, you have to lighten up. Actually, "he said, "if you want to get through all the injustice and suffering and pain in the world, you HAVE to lighten up. Take some time to smell the flowers. Look at the corn. Laugh at corny jokes."

"Haven't you ever heard that laughter is the best medicine?" he asked.
"If one of the guys didn't write that down in one of the Gospels, they really slipped up."

"Actually," I said, "that's not in one of the Gospels, but I think one of your disciples said it, years later, somewhere along the line. Or, you know, come to think of it, I think somebody said it centuries before you were born."

"Good," said Flat Jesus, "The whole world could learn a lesson from corn." 

"Really?" I said, getting back into the car, happy for the air conditioning.
"Know that you are enough to feed the world - in many different ways and, in all of your many and wonderful variates. You won't ever get the proper credit for that, and it probably won't make you rich, but you can also make them laugh. Which, in the end, is the best medicine."

You know, it's hard to argue with Flat Jesus.

Especially since he's gotten famous

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ella's song for Trayvon

Trayvon Martin
I went to bed last night and got up this morning hearing this song in my head.

Sometimes, the only thing to soothe a troubled mind and calm a heavy, broken heart is inspiring words set to simple music.

Sometimes - in times like these - it's the only way I can really pray.

So, this blog post is a prayer for Trayvon whose senseless death must not - can not - be in vain.

It is a lament for the injustices which disrupts the false harmony of the world, calls us to the dissonance which is the Divine harmony of freedom and justice and thus disturbs the sleep of the righteous, calling us to God's mission.

It is a prayer of hope that we who believe in freedom can not - will not - rest until freedom and justice for all - all, all, ALL - is a realized dream in this country.

Thank you, Bernice Johnson Reagon. Your words of truth continue to shine light on the Path.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons

And that which touches we most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can shed some light as they carry us through the gale

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hand of the young who dare to run against the storm

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be just one in the number as we stand against tyranny

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot I come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survive

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At time I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

-- Bernice Johnson Reagon

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Tyranny of Liberalism

I have no doubt that I just might piss off a lot of people with this post.

Liberals, mostly.

So be it. It needs to be said. By a liberal. Who has been alternately so embarrassed or annoyed by liberals that I've stopped calling myself a liberal and started to call myself a progressive.

And, I'm pissed about that. So, if you're pissed after reading this, it will all even out in the end.

Yes, this is a bit of a rant. Consider yourself duly warned.

This is not going to be about that old canard about liberals being "too broadminded to take their own side in an argument".  Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt to prove my credentials.

In 12-Step Programs, they call that "Paralysis by analysis."

And, I'm not a "liberal who has been mugged" - the definition (intended in humor) to describe someone who is conservative.

I'd like to think I'm still a liberal, but for the love of Mike, these days, "liberal tyrants" send me running out of the room, screaming in frustration and anger.

 "Liberal Tyrant" sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Words such as liberal and liberty, all trace their root to the Latin liber, which means "free". Indeed, Wikipedia reports that, "One of the first recorded instances of the word liberal occurs in 1375, when it was used to describe "liberal arts" in the context of an education desirable for a free-born man".

Further, Wiki defines the term in this way:
Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis)is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property.
Liberalism first became a distinct political movement during the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the notions, common at the time, of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The 17th century philosopher John Locke is often credited with founding liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property and according to the social contract, governments must not violate these rights. Liberals opposed traditional conservatism and sought to replace absolutism in government with democracy and/or republicanism and the rule of law.

The revolutionaries of the American Revolution, segments of the French Revolution, and other liberal revolutionaries from that time used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of what they saw as tyrannical rule. The nineteenth century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, Spanish America, and North America. In this period, the dominant ideological opponent of liberalism was classical conservatism.
I mean, how can you call yourself an American and NOT be liberal, right?

Makes me feel proud to call myself a liberal. Well, it did. Once. That was before the soft underbelly of liberalism began to be exposed in what I believe to be a reaction (vs. a response) to the fundamentalist (AKA "Tea Party" and neo-cons), rapidly growing and surprisingly resilient segment of conservatism. 

The 'tyranny' to which I refer is very different from the pundits on Fox News describe, which is more the "tyranny of lawlessness". That is due, I think (at least in part) to the mistaken perception that liberals have no ideology or belief system.

Aristotle defined a tyrant as, "one who rules without law". A "liberal tyrant," for them, is not an oxymoron but, rather, an example of redundancy. To be a liberal is, for them, someone who rules without law.  To be a liberal - especially one in power - IS to be a tyrant.

Which is a particularly frightening thing to Evangelical and Roman Catholic segments of conservatism, many of whom are neo-cons or part of the "Tea Party". The combination of the Calvinist notion of the inherent "wretchedness" of the human condition along with the Roman Catholic rigid understanding of "natural law" are two ingredients which lead to a significantly less than positive regard for the human condition, much less the ability to trust the human enterprise with such things as "justice and freedom" much less "the pursuit of happiness".

An example: It drove some of the conservatives in The Episcopal Church absolutely 'round the bend when, in 1994,  Jack Spong and 90 bishops and 144 deputies signed the Koinonia Statement which declared sexual orientation "morally neutral". That made perfect sense to many liberals but for conservatives, nothing about morality is neutral - especially sexual orientation. 

Also notice, please, that critics of Mr. Obama do not call him a "liberal". He's beyond being liberal. Indeed, it's much, much worse than that - because those lawless liberal tyrants voted him into power.

To the Fox News folks and the Tea Party and neo-cons who feed on their rubbish, Mr. Obama is the natural, nightmare result of liberalism.

He's a socialist.  Someone who believes in reform and revolution.  Someone who will develop a system of production and distribution organized to directly satisfy economic demands and human needs, so that goods and services are produced directly for use instead of for private profit driven by the accumulation of capital.

They see in him the potential for the destruction of the democracy as defined by "our founding fathers" (to the exclusion of women and people of color) and their understanding of capitalism (which keeps "The Benjamins" lining the pockets of the rich and "trickling down" to the poor at a rate determined by those who know best about such things).

It's not difficult to see a reflection in those who claim "biblical orthodoxy" with those who have a very narrow "orthodox" view of the "history of the Republic" and interpretation of the Constitution. 

That's a very simple (but I trust not 'simplistic') explanation of my perspective of things on the other side of the fence from my neighborhood and world view.

I think liberals have been reacting (vs. responding) - and, I might add, badly - to the rise of this new, fundamental, rigid conservatism.

That is due, at least in part, to the fact that there is, for liberals,  a wide interpretation of the pragmatics and practical application of the principles of liberalism.  It's not that we don't have a set of guiding principles. We do. It's that we allow for freedom of expression in their application.

That, at least, has been what I love about being liberal.

I think - across the board and in many aspects of life - we're going through an incredibly challenging time of "identity crisis". Everything is being redefined - "big ticket" items such as what it means to be an American. Or, "Religious". Or, Middle Class.  Or "Poor" vs. "Working Poor".

It includes things like Marriage. Gender. Sexuality. Minimum wage vs. Living wage.

Even my beloved Episcopal Church has been swept up by the winds of change. What does it mean - if anything - to be an Episcopalian who is part of the Anglican Communion? A Protestant who embraces parts of catholic liturgy and theology or vise versa? (Some would say this is an Anglican.)

Further, what does it mean to be a religious person who supports contraception and reproductive rights but is conflicted by - and inherently, personally, opposed to - abortion?  Or, is a bit uneasy with abortion but draws the line firmly at late term abortion?

Can you be pro-life and pro-choice at the same time?

Can you be a liberal with conservative leanings or is that better described as a moderate conservative?

What are we to make of those who refuse to identify as 'religious' and insist, rather, on 'spiritual' - as if the two are mutually exclusive?

Mind you, none of these questions keep me up late at night. I rarely, if ever, consider such questions.

That was until the entire Paula Deen media debacle.

My, my, my.

At first, I was as distressed as everyone else about her remarks. However, as the controversy dragged on and on and on and as more and more companies were dropping their endorsements of her, I said "Enough!"

I called for a boycott of all those who had dropped their endorsement of Paula Deen, and posted it on my FaceBook page.

Like I've got the power or influence for that to be effective! It just felt right to say it. Blowing off steam, is all. I never thought anything would come of it. And, in fact, nothing has. No surprise here.

Look, I'm all for holding people - especially public celebrities - accountable for their actions. They - and the media they have at their command - are a powerful force to shape and form our culture.  That's an amazing currency, the worth of which is inestimable.

"To whom much is given, much is expected". 

But, Walmart? Really? Are they a bastion of concerns for social justice? Or Smithfield Foods - which is now in hot water for wanting to sell their company to China. And, Target and Little Cesar's Pizza?  Really? Last time I checked, their employees were barely making minimum wage, much less a living wage. Their CEO's however, are multimillionaires.

Regular giants of justice.

Oh, Home Depot dropped her, too, but because they also were early supporters of domestic benefits for LGBT people and Marriage Equality, I apparently angered some folks.

Have you ever been to Home Depot on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon? It's "church" for many in the LGBT community. You can pretty much find the lesbians in the 'power tool aisle' and the gay men in the 'home and garden aisle', literally kneeling before saws and seed spreaders.

Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! It's a BUSINESS deal, people!

Yes, of course, I'm glad when companies do things to shed a positive light on LGBT people, but you have to know that the major competitor of Home Depot is Lowe's and you have to know that the CEO of Lowe's is a stanch, conservative Republican whose annual salary and compensation is more than $11 million. He would never EVER endorse "marriage equality". 

Ka-ching! (For Home Depot) I know I must sound cynical and jaded, but really, folks! It's pretty clear that this has become all about money. Not social justice. Not race.

That's what I was objecting to. This issue was no longer about racism and more about corporate greed.  Yes, let's hold Ms. Deen accountable for her words and actions, especially since it seemed pretty clear that while she reported, under oath, that she had said the words 30 years ago and had ceased from using it, racism continued to infect her business, which was being run by her brother.

Oh, and if you read the deposition, so did sexism. In fact, there were more incidences of sexism than racism in the deposition. Not that that makes one better or worse than the other or excuses any of it. 

And, apparently, racism continues to infect her dreams of a fantasy "Traditional Southern" wedding. Yes, let's hold her accountable for that. Absolutely.

All that having been said, in my estimation - and that of a lot of others - the media had taken it too far. It was now a media "goat rodeo," roundin' up the pretty little lady as their scapegoat.

No matter how often I said that, I was not to be excused or forgiven by some of my "liberal" friends for their sense that I was, somehow, "supporting Paula Deen." Or, confusing them because I was "taking it so personally" (An updated version of the sexist, "Don't worry your pretty little head.")

Here's where the 'liberal tyranny' comes in. It goes a little something like this:
Paula Deen said and thought some racist things.
Paula Deen is a racist.
If you support anything about her, you are racist.
At least, that was the inference. And, if not a racist, then clearly you have a problem with racism. And, oh, by the way, your liberal credentials are called into serious question and are in danger of being revoked. Apparently, calling for a boycott of those who dropped their endorsements of her was seen, even in a small way, as supporting Paula Deen.

Let me be just a tad vulgar in order to make myself perfectly clear: Bullshit!

I don't know if Paula Deen is a racist. I think she clearly struggles with racism - so unlike the rest of us. But, is she a racist? As a good liberal, I'm not willing to make that statement.

Not that I don't know what a racist looks like.

Are the KKK racist? Absolutely.

Aryan Nation?  Nationalist Movement? Phineas Priesthood?

Check, check and check!

Does having said the 'n-word' or having a fantasy about a 'traditional Southern wedding' complete with African American servants make you a racist? I think it makes you a person who has not done the deep anti-racism work required of a person in the public spotlight with a responsibility to do that difficult, often painful work.

Call me a liberal but I think there is a middle ground between being a racist and not having completely recovered from a bad case of racism. (Insert your own 'ist' / "ism" for other applications)

One person said that she considered herself a racist and that, as far as she was concerned, "we should all be wearing a scarlet letter" of racism.

I appreciate the sentiment. I do. The only way for racism to end in this country is for people of privilege to do the deep anti-racism, anti-oppression, multicultural work required to live in the present realities of "the land of the free and the home of the brave".

Accordingly, I do believe we ought to call out racism - or any prejudice, bigotry and/or oppression - whenever we see it. And, hold people accountable for it. Especially celebrities.

As I have been carefully taught in feminist liberation theology, it's important to first do a power analysis. You begin with voice: Who is talking? What are they saying? Who is not talking? Whose voice is not being heard? Why? Who is speaking for them?

And: Context. Context. Context.

Because I am a liberal and a feminist, I saw in Paula Deen a woman who struggles with her own racism - just like the rest of us - who admitted to having once said and thought some really stupid, inappropriate stuff which revealed that she - just like the rest of us - has been infected with racism.

I saw the media beating up on her as they did, in another context and on another issue, to Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton.

Was Martha Stewart found guilty of financial misdoing? Yup. Did her time, too. Did she do anything different than hundreds of men are doing every day? Nope. Does that make her less guilty? Nope.

Is Hillary Clinton a strong woman? Yup. Does she stand up to men? Yup. Does that make her a "nut cracker" or a "ball buster"? As a liberal and a feminist, I think you know my answer.

My point is about how the media treat women who have erred or who are "strong". It's very, very different from how men are treated. Unless, of course, they are men of color.

And, if it's a slow news day.

Because it is also about the media as an industry.  People actually make this their life's work. And, they get paid for it.

Somebody has to feed the machine.

That's why I responded with, "Enough!"

It wasn't about supporting racism or a "racist"


It was about supporting a sister - not her racism - who was clearly being excoriated in public  - because she is a woman  - by male-dominated corporations with track records that provide clear evidence that they have no concern for any social justice issues.

I was saying enough to the hypocrisy. Enough to the duplicity. Enough to the scapegoating.

And, here's what I'm saying enough to right now, with this post: I'm saying enough to the kind of liberal tyranny that pretends to embrace diversity of opinion but, if you disagree, devalues, demeans and, if they're feeling particularly generous, simply dismisses what you say.

I'm saying enough to all the - you should excuse the language - "black-and-white" thinking. Last I heard, liberalism is not about absolutes. It's not about either/or. We strive, when it is possible, for both/and. That kind of thinking is typically found in the Tea Party and neo-con segments of conservatism, not among liberal.

I've also seen this black-and-white, rigid, fundamentalist thinking shape and form the changes to The Episcopal Church's Title IV canons which deals with clergy misconduct. It is clearly a liberal over-compensation for the wrongs of the past which now presumes the clergy guilty until proven innocent. It dangerously places even more power in a Very Powerful episcopacy and has ruined innocent people's careers and, oh by the way, is patently un-Christian.


I'm saying enough to the inference that there are degrees of "goodness" to being a liberal and that I or anyone else is a "lesser liberal" if they don't meet your standards or expectations. Liberalism is about casting our philosophical net wide and including - and honoring - differing views.

I'm saying enough to the "white liberal guilt" that masquerades as concern and care for the oppressed and those who experience prejudice and bigotry.  White liberal guilt, in the final analysis, is about white people who are more concerned with how they are being perceived than the plight of people of color. It is insulting to the intelligence of people of color who can tell the difference.

Feeling guilt about your past racism? Good. Do something about it to promote justice for the oppressed - locally, systemically, politically, legally, globally. Wearing a hair shirt and publicly thumping your breast in contrition is not convincing anyone that this is really about justice.  It's all about you and your guilt.

In the final analysis, it's a power trip.  As a co-worker in the city of Boston, MA once said to me at a soup kitchen, "Don't be surprised when the people you serve here do not appear gracious and appreciative of your 'generosity'. Whenever you place a poor person in the position of feeling that they need to say 'thank you', that's not about your generosity, it's about your power."

Rachel Jeantel
I'm saying enough to the outrage over Paula Deen especially when I have not heard one shred of outrage from those who criticized me over how the media - including private citizens using social media like FaceBook and Twitter - have been reporting on Rachel Jeantel, the 18 year old friend of Travon Martin

She  has been described as "inarticulate", "hostile" and "thuggish". That was when they were feeling generous.

If liberals don't stop wasting precious energy and time beating each other up, we'll never get on with the work of repairing the damage done by SCOTUS to the Voting Rights Act.

We'll never make any progress on eradicating racism in our society.

We'll never get on with the hard work of anti-oppression work.

We'll never be able to organize effectively to set forth the organizing principles of what it means to be a liberal:

     Respect for and trust in the human enterprise in all of its diversity.

     Liberty and justice and equality for all. And, all means all.  Even those with whom we disagree.

As a dear liberal friend once said to me, "You have the absolute right to wave your hands as wildly as you want. That right, however, stops at the end of my nose."

That, for me is a great definition of the philosophy of liberalism.

And, and, and ..... we've got to work to stay in conversation with people "across the aisle" but especially with people like Paula Deen who have fallen from grace. Repentant sinners who experience forgiveness are so filled with gratitude, they often become the best allies in the struggle for justice and equality.

Let's take off our hair shirts, get our heads out of our butts and get on with the work of justice.


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Robert Haydon DeWolfe

The first time Rob made a pastoral call to my home was late June of 1981.

He was coming to convince Ms. Conroy and me to become members of his church in Saco, ME where he would baptize our newborn child.

The Cathedral where we were members was in transition and things were not going well at the time. We didn't know what the interim - or some of the more conservative members of the congregation - might do about baptizing the child of these two women who always sat off to the side with all these kids and no man in sight.  One of the women we had asked to be a godparent was a member of Rob's congregation and had convinced us that we should at least meet each other.

Moi, Rob and Ms. Conroy. Rob's 40th b'day
It was 10 o'clock in the morning. All the children - except the baby, of course - were off at Summer Camp. Ms. Conroy was on the sofa, having just been released from hospital after having fallen down a flight of stairs at work and broken her back in three places.

My ex-husband was furious that the children had announced that they did not want to go back with him and his new wife and her children at the end of the summer. The children wanted to stay with us. We were Really Afraid he might do something stupid.  We had more than a few phone calls with him that peaked our suspicions.

I thought I had recognized his car, parked down the street. We were nervously watching the car from the window.

Rob came into the house, decked out in a black clergy shirt and crisp blue pinstriped seersucker suit, looking for all the world like a proper Episcopal priest in the heat of a Maine summer. Oh, and he was very handsome, too.

Ever observant, Rob immediately noticed the tension in the air. "What's going on here?" he asked.

Ms. Conroy reached under the sofa, pulled out a baseball bat, handed it to him and said, "We think Elizabeth's ex-husband may be watching us. If he comes to the door, you answer it, and if he makes any false moves, hit him with this."

"JESUS CHRIST!" Rob yelled.

He took the bat, sat down on the chair next to the wood stove, patted his brow with his handkerchief and said, "Well, I knew this would be an interesting pastoral call, but, you know, I have a strange feeling that this may just be the start of a long relationship."

He was absolutely right.

Turns out, the car didn't belong to my ex-husband, but we did become members of Rob's church. He baptized our child along with our good friend, Brooke Alexander, the first woman ordained in the Diocese of Maine and thus began our long, rich, riotous, loving, amazingly wonderful relationship.

Over the years and the many stories we had to tell about each other, the one of our first meeting remained one of Rob's absolute favorites. Except, he told it far, far better than I.

I won't be hearing him tell that story again.

I received an email message yesterday from one of his friends in Thailand that Rob had apparently suffered a heart attack early in the day which had proven to be fatal.

I have been practically inconsolable.

I  have had telephone conversations with his daughter and son, his ex-wife, his brother, and a former mutual colleague.  It's been awful to have to break the news to them, but there is something wonderfully consoling about sharing your grief with people who loved Rob as much as I did.

Rob with Mickey-D in Pattaya
Rob was a true eccentric. Quirky, in a sometimes maddening, sometimes wonderfully humorous way.

I think his son looked at him as a creature from another planet, in another galaxy, far, far away.

Rob loved both his children with all his heart. Indeed, when he and his wife divorced, they lived at opposite ends of the same town and the kids spent part of their week with both their parents.

That limited Rob's employment possibilities and, for a time, he worked at Macy's to be able to care for his children. But, he did it.  "At Macy's," he'd say, "Special people care for special customers. When have you ever heard THAT in church?"

When his son Tom was in Iraq, Rob would write me that his prayer for his son was to sing that song from Les Miz, Bring him home. "That song and my tears are the only way I can pray," he'd say.

I went to visit him last March and spent three weeks with him in Thailand. He had retired and moved there seven years ago after serving churches almost a decade in Hawai'i. Before that, he served several churches in Maine and Vermont.

I asked him, once, while we were together in Thailand, why in the world he, a boy from Vermont, decided to move to a steamy hot tropical country with little of the "modern conveniences" of "home".  If finances were a concern, I told him that he could certainly afford to live in DE on his pension. I was sure it was as small as mine, since he had always served small, rural congregations.

He assured me that the economy was such that he could live quite well in Thailand. That was pretty clear to me after only a few days. I don't think I ever paid more than $2.50 for a full, two course meal. My one room apartment - with AC - cost $300 for the three weeks I was there.

"Cheap as chips" as Rob would say.

I pressed him on how he could live so far away from his family. Why Thailand, for goodness sake? And, why so many trips to Cambodia and Viet Nam?

Rob looked away for a long time. When he looked back, his eyes were filled with tears.

"You know I was a soldier in Nam," he said.

"Yes, of course," I said, "I love the stories you have told me about being the Chaplain's assistant."

"Well," he said, "I wasn't always assistant to the Chaplain......"

Another long pause. A tear ran down his cheek. After all these years, and all we had been through together, it was the first time I had seen him cry.

"I have a lot to atone for for Viet Nam," he said.

And then, he said no more.

I understood. And, I didn't.

Rob and his beloved Parn
I made a mental note to leave the conversation there and pick it up again on our next visit.

Somethings just get buried with us when we die.

Perhaps that's for the best.

For now, while I'm waiting for the US Embassy in Bangkok to call me about ..... "the disposition of the body".... (Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!) I'm allowing memories to cascade over the eyes of my heart, which brings me great solace and comfort.

Like: The first post-divorce Thanksgiving dinner in the rectory where Rob insisted on cooking EVERYTHING, but forgot to buy potatoes, so he opened a can of boiled potatoes and tried to mash them. "They'll be fine with butter and milk, salt and pepper," he kept assuring us.

They weren't.

Even thought the turkey was fine, we never let him forget those horrid potatoes.  Ever.

Whenever he would say, "Oh, it will be fine," I'd say, "Oh, right! Like those mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. Sure! Sure!"

Like: The camping trip we went on when, at the last minute, Rob decided to join us and had to sleep in an extra pup tent and one of the kids' sleeping bags. Rob, his feet sticking out of the end of the tent, called out, "Night, Jim Bob. Night, Sue Ellen. . . . . .". Pretty soon, the entire camp ground was chiming in. And, everyone in every last tent and pop up camper giggled hysterically in the darkness.

And then, of course, it rained, and since Rob's tent had not been treated with water repellent, he had to join us in the pop up camper. At 3 o'clock in the morning. On a mat in the floor. He barely had room to turn. We giggled and laughed and snorted until 5 AM.

And then there was the time I visited him while he was in Hawai'i. I was upset. Grieving. Weeping. Inconsolable.  Rob was holding me as we sat on his sofa. It got to be late. "I have to go to bed," said Rob. "Oh, okay. I'll be okay," I said, lying through my teeth.

Suddenly, Rob got up, went out of the room and came back with a pair of brand new pajamas, still in the plastic packaging. He held them up and said, "THIS, is how much I love you!"

"Whaaat?" I said. "Is that what I think it is? You never wear pajamas!"

"Right," he said, "but it's pretty clear that nobody's going to sleep tonight unless I put these damn things on and you come into bed so I can hold you while you cry."

He was my brother, sure and true.

I'm also remembering the one time Rob got really angry with me when we were in Thailand. 

I had refused to rent a ride on a "motocy" (motorcycle) home one night after dinner. He was tired and didn't want to walk. I thought the "motocy guys" were C.R.A.Z.Y. and didn't trust them. 

He tried all manner of persuasion and then said, all in a huff, stamping his foot,"Well, that's it! I'm going to tell Barbara. RIGHT. NOW." 

I thought I would pee myself laughing. So did he.

Then, he got angry with me. He thought I was being, in his words, "such a girl". 

I wasn't angry until then.  Then, I got pissed.  I stormed off to walk the half mile to the condo.

Rob's 70th b'day celebration - Thailand 2012
He got on the bike, gave the guy his address, and called out to me something hateful. When I got back to the condo I saw him, pacing back and forth in front of the entrance. He apologized profusely and insisted I come up to his apartment so he could rub my feet. 

My feet were not sore - not in the least - but I let him. Because, well, because that's what people do who love each other.

I loved him dearly. Adored him. I have always said that if anything ever happened to Ms. Conroy, after the dust settled, you would find me living with Rob.

He always told me that he loved me "more than my luggage," but, he said, "If anything ever happens to Ms. Conroy, you can come here but you'll have to get your own apartment. After the first three days, we'd kill each other."

He was right, of course.  When I announced to him that I was coming to visit him in Thailand, the first thing he said was, "I'll get you your own apartment. Three flights down from me. It's the only way we'll survive the three weeks."

He told me that he would come fetch me for coffee every morning at 8 AM sharp - quite generous since he always arose at 5 AM. But, he would always be at my door at 7:30, just as I returned from daily prayers at the Wat (Buddhist Temple), a fresh cup of coffee in his hand.  We'd talk until about 8:30 and then I'd shower and we'd be out the door by 9 and off for the day's adventure. 

He had recently moved out of that condo and into a proper home in the "suburbs" of the city with Parn - a Thai man he had met and fallen in love with. They were so very happy together. Rob had a real kitchen with a real stove and oven. As if that weren't enough, he also had a garden which he and Parn tended to with great care.  And, a mother cat. TupTim. "The gift that keeps giving," he said.

He was supposed to come back to the States the last two weeks of July, first two weeks of August. He was planning to go to NYC to visit his brother, then to Maine to visit his daughter and son and friends, then down to DE to stay with us, then home again, home again, jiggidy jig. 

Instead, he spent his money on having some important facial surgery. (Americans have to pay cash for medical expenses in Thailand. It's far less expensive than in the US, but cash only.)

That was June 17th. It was a wonderful success. He looked marvelous. Okay, tired but marvelous.

Except, Ms. Conroy and I both suspect that, given his age and the rigors of lengthy surgery and the status of medical care outside the hospital in Thailand, he may have formed a clot. I suspect that's what we'll see on the coroner's report when it arrives from Bangkok. 

We emailed each other several times a day, several times a week. The last email I got from him was on Friday. He wrote, "I have never felt better or been more happy in my entire life."

I'm grateful for that. I only wish he had more time to enjoy his good health and happiness. Alas, it was not to be, and that simply breaks my heart. 

Oh, I'll be fine. What am I saying? No, I won't. The honest-to-God truth is that I'll be grieving his loss for a long time.  And then, I'll not be fine, but it will be alright. 

It's just the way life is.

I've had my heart broken by grief before. It hurts like hell. You cry until you think you have no more tears to cry and then you cry some more. You cry when you least expect it - in the supermarket hearing a song that reminds you of something. On a birthday or anniversary. When you smell a certain smell - aftershave or perfume or newly mowed grass or the ocean or dust. 

And you cry and cry and cry. Right there. Wherever you are. Right in front of God and everybody.

And then, you dry your eyes, blow your nose, pull up your socks and get on with it. 
Rob and me at Alcazar. March 2012

Life, that is. 

It's such a gift. We don't always appreciate it until it's gone. 

I love you, Rob. More than my luggage. And, I do love my luggage and the memories it carries. Especially my memories of our three weeks together in Thailand, but all of it.

All of it. All of it. All of it.

Rest well, my darling.

You deserve it.

When I see you in heaven, I fully expect you to be standing there with a baseball bat in your hand.

And, we'll laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.