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, 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.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Maundy Thursday Mani-Pedi Party

Today is Maundy Thursday and, in certain segments of Western Christendom, women - lay and ordained - have been getting together in small groups to observe the contemporary ritual of the Mani-Pedi, preceded or followed by lunch.

Let us not be disparaging of the modern intersection of the sacred and the profane.

I am amazed that some women will stay away in droves at the Maundy Thursday Foot Washing Service. Or, if they go to church, demure from going forward to have their feet washed. But, they will pay between $35 to $65 for a manicure and pedicure - plus tip.

I was rector of one church where some of the women said to me that their previous rector allowed them to come forward to have their hands washed instead of their feet.

Hands? I asked. Why yes, they said. Peter said, "Not just my feet but my hands and head as well."

After I closed my mouth and found my voice, I jokingly suggested that I wouldn't be doing shampoo and blow dry at the altar.

They didn't laugh. Oh, no. These women with meticulously pedicured feet were deadly serious about not having their feet washed in church.

Which was fine. I simply said, quietly but firmly, that the service in the Book of Common Prayer was about foot washing and that I wouldn't be doing anyone's hands - or head, for that matter.

I don't understand the Episcopal tendency to have a "foot phobia".  Then again, maybe it's not Episcopal. Maybe it's human. Maybe that's precisely why Jesus chose foot washing as a symbol of the posture of humility and service, intimacy and vulnerability that is required of His disciples.

To overcome or desensitize this foot phobia, many of us who are clergy women have started a relatively unknown but increasingly popular ritual of going out with our posse and having a mani-pedi.  It's especially fun if you can make it the Wednesday night before or sometime during the day of Maunday Thursday.

I've been asked, mostly by men - about the "theology" of this "contemporary secular ritual."

Well, for me, it's like this:

I'm celebrating Mary of Bethany (Or, was it Magdala?) who was "wasteful" in pouring expensive oil on the head and feet of Jesus and wiping his feet with her hair. It inspires me to use the unction of the love of Jesus "lavishly and wastefully" as He did for me. 

You won't find that theology written in any impressive book anywhere. You will find it written on the walls of my heart. You know, where theology really matters. 

So, if getting folks to participate in the Maundy Thursday foot washing ritual is a struggle for you, consider starting a ritual of the mani-pedi.  

Some women I know don't spend lots of money at a Nail Salon. Some get together and have a Maundy Thursday Mani-Pedi Party at home and do their own or each other's feet. 

You're a guy? No problem. Trust me, there are more and more men these days in Nail Salons getting manicures AND pedicures.

It's a brave new world.  

Personally, I much prefer it when people come to church straight from work, having worn their shoes and socks all day. Something feels very right to me about the real smell of real feet after a long day's work. Of pouring warm water over tired, achy feet. Of gently patting them dry with a soft fluffy towel. Of gently kissing them as a sign of the agape and servant ministry to which Jesus calls us. 

It's especially powerful watching people wash each other's feet. 

But, if it takes a mani-pedi to get there, well then that's what we do.  It works.

Something tells me that Jesus would have loved a mani-pedi. 

He certainly didn't stop Mary of Bethany (or was it Magdala?) when she poured expensive perfumed nard on him.  Or, when she wiped his feet with her hair and kissed them.

All four gospels tell the story of foot washing, although a few of the details vary from story to story. 

I love the way Luke (7:36-50) ends his gospel story:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
For me, that's the essence of the message of Maundy Thursday. 

It's the essence of the message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Lavish, wasteful, incarnate, smelly, vulnerable, intimate unconditional love.