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, February 26, 2015

Hospice Lesson #8: Miracles.

Note: I've completed four units of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). In every single unit, the thing I hated most was the "verbatim" - a word for word written report of a pastoral encounter with a patient or client. While writing them I thought it was a tedious waste of time. Working with the verbatim in group, however, with just the script in front of you - cold, lifeless words on the page, open to everyone's individual interpretation and projections - enabled deeper learning. Even though I am no longer in a CPE group, I often come home and write down conversations to deepen my own reflection and learning. I share them with you here because I learn from your feedback in your comments.

Here's my "verbatim" of a phone conversation with the 65 year old husband of a 63 year old woman, dying of metastatic breast cancer. They are chicken farmers and live in a small trailer in one of the poorest towns in the county. He had initially agreed to a visit at 2 PM the next day, then called again, 15 minutes later to cancel that appointment.  That conversation - on my cell phone, pulled over to the side of a long, lonely country road near a wind blown, barren, snow covered corn field - went something like this: 

He: So, I forgot to ask you something, because, you know, I'm thinking we shouldn't have you come.

Me: Oh, I see. Well, okay, then. Ask your question and we'll see if I have an answer for you. 

He: So, my question is this: Can you prophesy a miracle? 

Me: Um, I'm sorry. I'm not sure I understand your question. 

He: (Unmistakably frustrated deep sigh) Can. You. Prophesy. A. Miracle?

Me: Um. . . . yes . . . well . . . Thank you for your patience with me. I'm sure it must be frustrating to have to deal with all the different Hospice people asking you all sorts of questions. I'm going to beg your patience just a little bit longer so I can be sure to answer you correctly. Is that alright with you?

He: Well, it's a pretty straightforward question, ma'am. You know. It don't get much easier that this. Yes or no?  Can.You.Prophesy.A.Miracle?

Me: I'm truly sorry if I'm causing you to be any more frustrated than you already are. If you're asking if I can tell that a miracle is about to happen, I would have to say that I see miracles happening all the time. 

I'm sitting here in my car on the side of the road, watching the wind blow snow across a cold, hard, barren corn field and it doesn't look like any life was ever here or will ever be here. But, I know, come spring - in just a few short weeks - this place is going to be green and full of life. 

That's a miracle I can prophesy.

But, I have a sneaking suspicion that's not what you're asking me, is it?

He: (Sniffling. Clears throat.) No, ma'am. No it is not. I'm asking for a miracle here. If I'm gong to get through this, I need to know that a miracle can happen.  We need a miracle here. Right here. Right now. And, if you are comin' to fix us to get ready for heaven, well, we don't need none of that talk right now.  You Hospice people don't have no faith. All you can talk about is pain management and dying and death and DNR and no 911. I can excuse the nurses, you know. They are tryin to help. And the social workers, God love 'em, they mean well. And, I know you're all good people and tryin' to help and all, but . . .  . . .

(Raises voice in anger): But, I don't want no pastor, no woman of God, comin' in here and talkin' that talk to me and my wife. We need people of God in here. Ain't you got no Christian nurses and social workers? You got 'compassion' but you got 'Jesus'? Look, we done stuff in our lives that wasn't good. Wasn't always right.  Everybody does. That don't mean we deserve to die. That don't mean we don't deserve a miracle. (Begins to cry)

Me: (Silent for awhile. Praying up a silent storm.). Sir, are you still with me?

He: (Voice is soft, croaking) Yeah, I'm here, ma'am. I didn't mean to raise my voice. That was disrespectful and I'm sorry. We ain't gettin' much sleep around here these days, you know?

Me: Yes, I sure. These are difficult days. The early days of Hospice often are.

He: And, nights. Nights is worse. So dark. So long.

Me: I'm sure. 

He: So, listen. I'm going to have the pastors and the fellars from The Prophecy of God Church come and prophecy a miracle. Cuz that's what we need right now. You understand, right? I'm not being mean or disrespectful of you, ma'am. We just need to have strong men of God who can prophecy a miracle.  That's what we need right now.

Me: Then, if that's what you need, that's what you should have. 

He: I mean, I know you mean well, and you sound nice and all, but well, this is what we need. My baby and me. We got enough with the nurse and social worker talkin' all DNR and such. We need some men of God who know how to prophecy a miracle. 

Me: Sounds to me like you are trying to take care of yourself and you are doing your absolute best and all that you know how to do to take care of your wife. Here's what I know for sure: God will bless that abundantly. 

He: (Breaks down sobbing) Oh gawd, O gawd, O gawd.  . . . .  . . .

Me: (Silent for awhile. Praying up a storm.) Sir, would you like me to pray on the phone with you? I could say the Lord's Prayer, if you like.

He: (Crying). Please do, pastor. I need to hear that prayer.

Me: I'll say it and you can jump in any time you feel like it. Or, not. Whatever feels right for you. Okay, so . . . . Our father, who art in heaven . . . . .

He:  . . . . THY will be done . . . . EARTH .. .. Forgive . . . Sinners . . . Temptation . . . AMEN.

Me: (Silent for awhile) You have my cell phone number. Call me if I can be of some help . . .

He: Thank you, pastor. 

Me: God bless you. 

He: Yup. God bless you. And, pray for a miracle, okay?

Me: Just know that God is always with you. Always. Even when we don't think God is there. Even so, God is always with us. That's the greatest miracle of all. It's the empty tomb, you know?

He: The empty tomb?

Me: Yes, you know. The Roman soldiers thought the tomb was empty but the women - Mary and Mary Magdalene and a few others - knew that it was filled with God and the Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus.

He: Huh! That's right. Huh! The empty tomb!?! What does that mean, pastor?

Me: Well, one of the things it means to me is that miracles are not always what we see with our eyes but what we know in our hearts. 

He: Huh! Okay. Alright. Thank you, pastor.

Me: You have my cell phone number. Call if you need anything. Even just to talk. Okay?

He: Okay. Yes. Thank you.

Me: God bless you, sir. You and your wife are in my prayers.

He: Thank you. God bless you. God bless you. God bless you. . . . ..

NB: And, on my "Activity Sheet" I will simply report: "TC (Telephone call) to PCG (Primary Care Giver). Visit declined at this time. Assurances given. Prayers said."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hospice Lesson #7: Legacy

Note: These are basic remarks of a homily I gave recently for a Hospice patient of mine who died. I'll call her "Ann". I met her once - only once - before she died. It's really difficult to preach a meaningful sermon for someone you don't know. Couple that with a family that hasn't been to church in years, and well . . . let's just say that it's a challenge. I have found that, in these situations, it's really important to ask 2 family members or friends to give a eulogy - it's more honest that way - and get others to read the lessons. It's also Really Important to keep the homily Very Brief. Hit the main theological points without being obviously theological and say 'Amen.'. Truth be told, I really only have four or five sermons for adult Hospice patients. This, in it's Very Basic form, is one of them. 

 25  . . . . But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)

Grieving the loss of someone we love is some of the most difficult work we’ll ever do. That is true for a lot of reasons, none the least of which is that each one of us grieves differently for different people. 

Additionally, we all have romantic - often unrealistic - expectations of ourselves and others about how to grieve.

We grieve differently when the loss is sudden or unexpected than we do when death comes as a long, slow blessing.

We grieve the loss of a father differently than a son or brother. We grieve differently for the loss of a mother than a daughter or sister – or grandmother or aunt or cousin or mother-in -law or friend. 

Grieving the loss of someone like Ann is made more complex because the perception you have of her is so different for each one of you. Even though many of your memories will be of the same event – holiday meals, vacation trips, “that time when . . .”  she said something particularly funny or decidedly profound – you will remember the event - and her - differently. 

Adding to that grief is that now, with her gone, your place in the family constellation will change. A generation has passed. Everyone moves up a row. Everyone moves closer to the top of the family tree. Some family and friends may move to the outer branches of that family tree. Oddly enough, everyone will begin a silent, often unrecognized but nonetheless powerful grief for the place they've just loss on the family tree.

In that movement many of us begin to think of our own mortality. We begin to ask: What stories will people tell about me after I'm gone? What will people remember about me?  

What will be my legacy?

Over the years, I’ve learned that the things we’ve left behind really mean very little. The jewelry. The house. The car. The clothes. All "things". 

And, it's not necessarily our education or our employment or our accomplishments. Those, are important to note in our obituary, but they are not our legacy. 

No, “things” will never be our legacy. It's the things that can't be seen that become our greatest legacy. 

The truth is that it is the love we shared, the people we loved and loved us in return that combine to make our greatest legacy. 

Jesus knew that. That’s why he said to his mother from the cross. “Woman, behold your son.” And then he said to his disciple, “Behold your mother.” 

He could have said those words in that Upper Room when everyone was gathered for what would be The Last Supper. Maybe he did. 

But it is significant that Jesus said those words from the cross. With those words he was telling us something about what it means to be human – what it means to love – what it means to be family. 

It’s the love we share, the family we are and the family we become when people who are not related to us love us and we love them back and we can't imagine our lives without them. 

That is our greatest legacy.  

That’s the great legacy of Ann. 

That’s the gift you all share, the lasting gift Ann gave everyone in this room who are family. 

Some of you are related by blood. Others are related by marriage. Everyone of you are family because she loved you and you loved her and, because of that love, you love one another.

Use that legacy of love as a balm to soothe the pain of your grief. 

It would be even better if you also use that legacy of love to guide your own life. Use it to inspire your own legacy. 

So, here's a nickle's worth of unsolicited advice: Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve. 

It will be different for each one of you. Take your time. Do it your way, based on your relationship with Ann and whoever she was for you. 

You may cry, you may be unable to cry. You may laugh, you maybe unable to laugh. You may feel sad. You may not feel sad but rather feel an overwhelmingly relief that her suffering is over and she is at peace. 

You may even feel guilty and astonished that you feel relief and not sadness, which leaves you confused. The truth is that your relief IS a form of sadness. It's the way your spirit is honoring the spirit of her life which is now ended and at peace.

All of that is perfectly normal. Feel the feelings. But, feel the love even more. 

Share the stories about her you carry in your heart. Call each other on the phone and take five minutes to share a memory. 

Raise a glass to her on a holiday or birthday.

Jesus also said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

If you love one another, that will be your greatest tribute to Ann's legacy. 


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hospice Lesson #6: "I'm lovin' it"

So, I'm visiting my Hospice patient and her daughter yesterday afternoon when a neighbor stops by.

After checking in on the snow shoveling job another neighbor had done, the conversation went a little something like this:

He: So, I really came by to tell you some Really Great News.

Patient's Daughter (PD): Yeah, what?

He: So, there's a McDonald's going up behind the Harris Teeter.

Patient and Daughter: Squealing, squealing, squealing. NO WAY!

He: Yesssss way! I knew that would make you happy!

PD - Oh, my GAWWWWD. That's such GOOD NEWS. I got like a thousand coupons I been saving for Ma and me.

Patient - Ain't no body does buns better than McDonald's. So soft. And warm. But soft, the way buns should be. So, so, so good.

PD - I got at least two coupons for buy one get one free Fish Sandwiches. You love those, dontcha, Ma?

Patient - Yeah, because the buns are so soft and warm.

He - Have you had them lately? They put Old Bay in the Tartar Sauce.

Patient and Daughter: Squealing, squealing, squealing. NO WAY!

He: Yesssss way!

PD - Okay, now I really can't wait for that McDonald's to be finished. When do you think it will open?

He - Someone said it would be ready by Easter.

Patient - And, today's Ash Wednesday. Our chaplain just brought us our Ashes and said prayers with us. So, that's 40 Days and 40 Nights. Guess I know what my Lenten Discipline will be this year: Waiting for the McDonald's to open.

PD - Right, Ma. So now I know you'll live at least another 40 days and 40 nights. Right, Ma?
Patient - Yup, and then a McDonald's Fish Sandwich on that warm, soft bun and those French fries and a strawberry milk shake and then I can die and go to heaven.

PD: This is going to be the Best Lent EVER!! Don't you think, Pastor?

Me: It's all good, ladies. It's all good.

(Ba da ba ba BA. I'm lovin' it.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty Shades of Feminism

Just the other day, a friend posted this brilliant article on her FaceBook page by the equally brilliant Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, entitled #50ShadesIsAbuse: The Erotic Normalization of Violence Against Women.

There is a boycott movement against the film with the hashtags #50ShadesIsAbuse and #50dollarsNot50Shades, promoting donations ($50) to domestic violence shelters instead of paying to see the film.

As Thistlethwaite writes in her article from her forthcoming book, Women's Bodies as Battlefields: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women (Palgrave Macmillan 2015),
"Eroticized violence in fiction, whether in films or novels, is treacherous because it promotes the idea that women desire to be treated violently. Violence against women then becomes part of the very construction of the nature of love and desire in societies, orchestrating the eroticizing of bodily pain itself and deadening the impulses to compassion and empathy."
Suddenly, and from out of absolutely nowhere, we were being lectured by a young transwoman not to judge BDSM (Bondage Discipline sadomasochism) because the book, in her view, denigrated "healthy, loving, deeply consensual BDSM relationships that exist out in the world". 

Out in the world . . . .

Mind you, no one had judged BDSM. No one had even mentioned BDSM. We were talking about Fifty Shades of Grey and its treachery in promoting violence to women around the world as the reason to boycott it. 

It was a bit stunning and disturbing to those of us who have endured and survived domestic, intimate partner or child abuse.

Now, the truth is that these sorts of unexpected intrusions happen all the time in Social Media. It happened to be a transwoman - which may or may not be significant - but lots of cisgender people do this, too. It's a natural bully pulpit for people with an agenda. You can rudely barge in to any conversation, be insensitive to anyone's personal history because you don't know everyone there and not take time to check it out, ignore anything that has been previously said, dominate the conversation and impose your own personal feelings onto everyone else while not-so-subtly judging people for the assumed (but not accurate) judging against that particular topic. 

Suddenly, we were being further lectured by yet another young woman "with a trans history" (That's how she described herself. I'm not sure of the nuance, either) about how "easy it is to pathologize things we don't understand or can't relate to... And further how easily we become myopic in our assessment of others while failing to see the same aspects within our own "normative" practices." She even posted a graphic which summarized the difference between BDSM and abuse.

Mind you, no one had said anything about BDSM, pro or con. No one was "pathologizing" anything or any one. And yet, many of us were beginning to feel dominated and judged by this sudden, unexpected turn in the conversation which, I'll remind you, was about Dr. Thistlethwaite's brilliant article concerning the boycotting of the film "Fifty Shades of Grey" (Please do read it). 

A few of us objected, pointing out that the graphic was disturbing and asking what was it doing there anyway.  Her post remained but the graphic was removed. It's important to trust the intelligence of women to seek out the information they need when they want it.

I must say, however, that the very odd highlight of this very odd "conversation" was a private IM from one of the "lecturers" in which I was told that I am - and I cut and paste from it exactly - 
"A pearl clutching second wave feminist with concepts that aren't all that intersectional and are rather exclusionary." 
Which made me laugh. Right out loud. From my toes.

First of all, if you know anything about second wave feminists, you know that, back then, none of us wore pearls. Gay men wore pearls.

Second wave lesbian feminists didn't wear pearls. We didn't even shave our legs.

And, we used menstrual sponges.

Don't ask.

We thought we were being politically correct. Truth is, it was a pretty harmless way to express our anger and protest the billions of dollars being made off our bodies.

We were young and evolving. Our "social media" consisted of posters displayed on the bulletin board of Womyn's Book Stores and Coffee Houses and Health Food Stores or Food Co-ops where issues were discussed around a small table and comfy sofas and chairs in the back of the store and our kids had plenty of small tables and chairs and kids books and paper and crayons.

Secondly, I think the whole first, second, and third wave constructs of feminism are convenient category descriptors of a movement but they are essentially inaccurate. It's a lot messier than that.

Further, one does not "stay put" in a first or second or third wave "box". It's a wave. We're all carried along by the tide. Stay put and you drown. That's also true for those ushered in on the third wave, which is already becoming a fourth wave.

Not to worry if this is confusing new information for you. It's not the point I"m trying to make.

Or, maybe, it is.

Apparently, this young feminist was completely oblivious to the 'rather exclusionary' position she was taking. Essentially, she was saying to me that I'm an old fart and have no right to be breathing the same air as she does and should go away. Far, far away. Where I can't be heard. Very "inclusive", eh?

Yes, I know. I know. She was baiting me. I didn't bite. 

But, it did remind me of something I and many, many women were told forty years ago by men who were opposed to the ordination of women.  We were told that we had "insufficient ontological matter to be an efficacious bearer of sacerdotal presence." 

Ridiculous, right? But, notice any similarities?

Essentially these men were saying the same thing as this young, feminist woman: 

You have no right to breathe the same air, so why do you think you have any right to your own opinion or determine the way to live your life, much less be called by God to ordination? 

And you should go away. Far, far away. Where you can't be heard. 

Here's the thing: No matter where you stand on the socio-political-theological spectrum, when you have to work this hard and hide behind large words and obtuse thought, you actually reveal more about yourself than the intended object of your intended slur. 

Or, as my grandmother - one of the first "old school feminists" I ever met - used to say, "Whenever you try to make someone else look bad, you never make yourself look good." 

One of my gay male FB friends made this humorous analogy: 
"It seems to me we are playing PC Poker. I am destined to lose because all I got is a gay Queen. In order to have a full house and win the kitty you need to have a Lesbian Jack, an Ace of Color, a Female Queen, and a Alternatively Abled Joker. In order to collect you must slam down your cards and rattle off the latest academic social liberation jargon and point out that straight, white, or male players automatically lose due to their places of privilege. Fortunately this is only a game played by First World folk with too much time on their hands. Another name for the game is Your Privilege Is Bigger Than Mine but some players reject that name as being phallocentric."
It is a first world problem, isn't it? A first world problem riding the third wave of a feminist movement, the goal of which is the liberation of the human spirit all over the world.

This is not a game. This is very serious. We can't afford to play word games with each other.  Women's lives are at stake.

And, we're all forever young. We're all evolving.

Which may be why I left the experience with an incredible sense of sadness. 

My heart breaks that a basic principle of feminism has somehow been lost on some in these two representatives of a new generation of young women who call themselves feminist. 

I know, I know. They were only two. But, for me, that's two too many.

One of the early defining books of the expansion of feminism and the feminist movement was entitled, "This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color". 

Talk about your basic "intersectionality"! It was written by a group of feminists - Latina, Caucasian, African American, Asian - of various backgrounds who understood that progress for women would not be achieved unless we were willing to allow our backs to be used as bridges to the future. 

It was a serious challenge to Caucasian feminists that the movement could not - should not, would not - be defined by a White socio-politico-theological perspective.  

So, let's be clear: This movement, even as it grows and changes and adapts and evolves, is not about lecturing other people about what we think they need to know, or shaming and judging them because we perceive they are judging us. 

It's not about putting people down because we perceive they aren't "with it" - or as a defense against our own insecurities or sense of inadequacy.

It's about lifting each other up by building bridges of awareness and opportunity and progress with the shared stories and perspectives of our own lives. 

Feminism is, ultimately, about the liberation of the human spirit. It's about equality for women, yes, but this movement is not just about women. It's about being free to be fully human, which is the glory of God. 

To my mind, the real gift of Transpeople in the Queer and Feminist communities is that they help us to examine our assumptions and presumptions about gender roles and expectations. When viewed in its entirety, gender, like sexual orientation, is not binary. Rather, it is a point on a spectrum that includes both nature and nurture.

Men are as entrapped in and diminished by sexism and misogyny as women. Just as racism and slavery are as poisonous to the oppressor as they are to the victim, so do sexism and homophobia and ageism and all other forms of prejudice have damaging effects on their perpetrators and oppressors. 

Second wave feminists did not coin the term "intersectionality" - or, for that matter, hybridity - but we laid the foundation for it. With. Our. Backs. 

Not one of us is looking for a thank you.  The progress we continue to make, the bridges we continue to build, are worth more than much fine gold.

I sincerely hope that men and women everywhere are able to resist the curiosity of seeing this soft porn movie based on the book that romanticizes violence toward women. 

I also hope you will consider doing as I have done and contribute $50 to your local shelter for domestic violence rather than spending Valentine's Day at the theater, watching this treachery to the dignity of women and our bodies. 

Or, do go see the movie. My guess is that you'll leave the theater and decide to contribute $50 to your local shelter for domestic violence. I trust the intelligence of women to make the right choices for themselves and their partners. 

If you are into BDSM - where consent and respect and mutuality are, as I understand it, 'normative' - that is entirely your prerogative. I don't have to understand it and you don't need my - or anyone else's - approval to engage in that which is satisfying and fulfilling to you. 

That is not what Fifty Shades of Grey is about.  

It's about violence to women.

Which is as old as time and as current as your next breath. 

We have a chance to stop violence toward women if we stop defining ourselves by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are. 

Women and men.

Human beings. 

Children of God.

Working together across generations and human constructs of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical and intellectual ability, class and educational status for the liberation of the human spirit. 

And, call me a dreamer and a fool, but I do believe that, once we liberate the human spirit, we can liberate the whole world.