Wednesday, December 26, 2018
A few weeks ago, a woman I respect and don’t know well got hot under the collar about churches and hypocrisy. She stopped herself before I could hear enough of what was on her mind to understand her fury, but I notice enough hypocrisy, particularly in the news, to get hot under the collar myself. After all, Trump calls himself a Christian, and so do some people who support him. I think every president and his followers have.
Which brings to mind a question for a later blog entry: Will a non-Christian or a woman be first to assume the US Presidency? (Decades ago, female friends and I wondered aloud if a black man or a woman of any race would become President first. We all thought a Black man would.) If the question were, Will a bully or a woman be first to assume the US Presidency, we now know that answer, too.
Back to the topic at hand: I understand peoples’ anger about church hypocrisy. Lots of folks, some of whom are LGBTQ+, some divorced, some I know and many I don’t, have been hurt by churches. I even experienced a mild version of this hypocrisy when I lived in Dallas and visited 17 churches in search of a good fit. I didn’t find one. First Methodist seemed to me like a social club and the Unitarian church seemed like a college class. The others fell somewhere along that continuum. (Decades later I met a group of people in El Salvador from a small Dallas church that was a few blocks from where I’d lived. If I’d known the term “social justice” at the time, I might have found them.)
Most of my experience in churches, however, has been at Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh, NC, and at Wallingford United Methodist in Seattle, WA. In both of those churches I’ve loved genuine people who recognize all creation (all people, all animals, the trees, the earth…) as from God and of God. These folks ache and celebrate. They have more questions than answers. Some have a lot of money, and some don’t. They seek, and they wonder. Or I should say “we”, not “they”, because these people are my people, and I am theirs.
Monday night, our church had a lovely Christmas Eve service, with the telling of Jesus’s birth story, and an angel always telling folks not to be afraid. Interspersed throughout the story were Christmas carols. When we got to our fourth carol, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” I started noticing the same words kept appearing throughout the hymns. Some I would have predicted because they’re the happy words I hear so often: angels, singing, joy, peace, love, and gold (that last one’s complicated for me).
The word in “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” that got me noticing the patterns, however, is not such a happy word and resonates with me. Weary. I am so often weary and always have been, even before brain radiation. One of my first formal baby photos, perhaps the first, catches me yawning. One nickname in my twenties was “Weary Mary.” I have always loved Tennyson’s lines in his poem “Marianna,”: “’I am a-weary a-weary,’ she said.” (I’ve never continued with the next line, “I would that I were dead.”)
Lately, I am most weary of the daily news about Trump. News of a government shutdown. News of abusive treatment towards immigrants. News about tweets and bigotry. Unkind news about health care and everything else. I find myself beat down by this. And terrified.
The Hitler parallels strike me—all those people in death camps: Jewish, disabled, queer…the list goes on, and it includes me and my ilk. What will we do about this man? What will we do to take back our country? What am I doing?
I’m writing. I’m asking you to notice with me. I do not believe this man and his followers represent us. I do believe we are mostly good people. I hope we will stay good and become aware.
Whatever that means.
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Today as Ann turned left near the intersection where a speeding SUV sent my little Honda to the junkyard and me to the regional trauma center seven years ago, I felt my breath catch. I squeezed my hands together in my lap, and my fingers turned white with the blood pressed out of them. My feet tingled, and I felt slightly nauseated.
I have felt afraid at this intersection—indeed afraid at any possibility of auto-danger (and possibilities abound)—for the past seven years. Truthfully, though, fear is not new to me. I have long feared walking in dark places, being alone in a house, crossing the street, and spiders, among so many other things.
In my twenties, I told a hiking friend that I clenched my teeth because I always feared falling when I went up and down rocks, and I didn’t want to bite off my tongue.
“That’s psychotic,” he said to me.
Actually, though I didn’t know it at the time, I probably had a brain tumor that made falling more likely for me than for others, so my fear was likely justified.
In the Christmas story, which I keep hearing in this season, fear abounds. An angel keeps telling people—Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men—not to be afraid, and it seems to me every time the angel says, “Be not afraid,” there’s reason for fear. (Mary’s going to be pregnant even though she and her fiancée haven’t had sex; Joseph’s going to marry a woman pregnant with someone else’s child; the shepherds are being called from their solitary work into a revolution; their king wants to kill the wise men). Including this story, “fear not” is used 80 times in the Bible! Call me chicken, but the call not to be afraid makes me afraid.
I suppose the angels didn’t cause scary events, they just appeared for comfort. Seven years ago an angel appeared beside my wrecked car after an SUV had t-boned it, with me in it. My angel, a woman in a pink raincoat with images of giant flowers on it, told me not to worry, emergency vehicles were on the way. Once the emergency responders got there, she disappeared. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her again.
I don’t know where she came from or where she went, and I don’t know her name or her story, but she kept me calm in a chaotic time, and I’ll always be grateful to her. I think of her when I am afraid.
I have been fretting a lot lately about a book I’ve been writing since my first tumor’s diagnosis in 2007. I fear I won’t be able to publish it. If not, I wonder if all these years I’ve invested in it will have been wasted. It is a story of hope and perspective when life doesn’t go as planned (and I’m realizing most of our lives don’t). I believe it’s a story that would give its readers solace, but it won’t if I never publish it.
“Don’t worry,” I hear again my angel saying to me.
“Be not afraid,” I read again and again.
But I insist on worrying and being afraid. There’s so much grief in my world now that my heart can hardly contain it. Personally, friends living with losses from aging, deaths and disease; in the wider world some people living in tents while I sit comfortably at my computer. A quotation from a WWI memorial in Melbourne remains written on the inside of my eyelids, haunting me when I sleep and when I blink: “Fascism is failed democracy.”
Perhaps serendipitously, Ann and I received a card from our friends Stef and Lin today, with this Talmudic quotation: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Maybe in these words I find a call to act and to be at peace. That word “humbly” seems important.
Maybe, I think as I have thought so many times, I need to be okay with the fact that I’m not in control. Again, I wonder at Rumi’s words:
Perhaps the glass cover on my heart is breaking again, and perhaps I need not be afraid.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
If you’ve ever been to Skagit Valley’s Tulip Festival, you might have seen me.
You’ll remember the acres of tulips, ribbons of reds, pinks, yellow, purples, and oranges (Can you sing a rainbow, too?) You’ll remember the snowy mountain backdrop and old barns. Do you remember that yellow tulip by itself in the wide swath of red tulips? That was me.
As a child, I never really fit in. When I was growing up, people often told me, a girl born and raised in Raleigh, NC, I didn’t seem like I was from the South. When I asked where I seemed from, I was always told I seemed like a Yankee. Though being called a Yankee in the South is nearly always an insult, they didn’t intend to insult me, and I never took offense. They were merely sharing what they’d observed, and I was glad to hear there might be some place I did belong. In the South, surrounded by a loving family and a clutch of friends, I felt alone.
I don’t know why I was always different. Perhaps that feeling of difference started because I was a red head in a blond world.
Also, I was a young feminist in a culture where “feminist” was the f-word. I loved to play sports in a culture where girls ached to be cheerleaders. I found barbies boring, preferring to ride my Big Wheel. As a teenager, I loved to read and write and never skipped school or smoked a cigarette (or anything else.) Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody, Who are you?" was my favorite poem. I loved to go to church, too, so much that my dad once said, “You’re getting awful churchy.”
Maybe it was that church that made me so different. Though Pullen Memorial Baptist Church was a large church, otherwise it wasn’t like other churches I knew. I wore blue jeans with peach patches to church while other girls wore fluffy dresses with patent leather shoes. My cousins in a different city learned the names of all the books of the Bible in order. We didn’t commit the Bible to memory, and read broadly from other spiritual texts. For example, I remember one youth retreat where we read The Velveteen Rabbit.
As a teenager I attended a Wednesday night youth group that sometimes went to Burger King for dinner. Often, people asked us what we thought of our minister. “He’s boring,” I remember saying. Though I had tried to listen to his sermons for a long time, I never understood them and only focused on the minister’scombover when he got excited and the combover fell into his face. (I finally gave up on his sermons and started sneaking to a nearby park to swing on the swings with a friend before he spoke, returning for the closing hymn.)
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the minister, W.W.Finlator, was a controversial figure in Raleigh, locally famous for Progressive sermons and particularly anti-racism work. Fittingly, he’s listed in the Civil Rights Digital Library. This 1986 interview with him will give you a sense of who he was. As I read it, I notice what a strong influence he must have had on me, even though I skipped so many of his sermons. He was a good man, one of the truest Christians I ever met. (Another was his successor, the Reverend Mahan Siler, perhaps best known in Raleigh for facilitating a church discussion about gay people and then in 1992 conducting the congregation’s first gay union ceremony. A third is Rev. Siler’s successor, the Rev. Nancy Petty, an out lesbian and fighter for justice for all people, particularly LGBT, Black, and Muslim people.)
These people are heroes to me. Perhaps their influence called me to work for social justice as an adult. Perhaps they’re why I feel at home far from the place of my birth. Perhaps they’re why I attend a little Seattle church with a similar passion for justice and inclusivity.
Here in Seattle I’ve found my stream of yellow tulips, and I don’t feel alone anymore.
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
My partner Ann and I spent this Thanksgiving at Little Sister Jen’s (LSJ) home in Pound Ridge, a New York City suburb. Her six-bedroom home is beautiful, on a large plot of land with a tennis court, swimming pool, and family-sized soccer field. (They're selling if you're interested.)
LSJ has a law degree. (My favorite story of hers from law school is about her taking the part of her skull that was removed to a professor when she needed an extension. She’s funny that way.) LSJ now works in risk management (yes, that's funny, too) for an investment firm, and her husband sold his hedge fund in the 1990’s, so they’re doing all right (though they’re building their new home in South Carolina, so contact them if you want their house. If you want to shop around, Little Brother Matt is selling one across the border in Connecticut, and Mom and Dad are selling theirs in North Carolina.)
LSJ lives a suburban life with four beautiful children, a life I thought I might live, but my route through life had some surprising detours, so I’m a disabled, lesbian, Seattle feminist instead.
The day after Thanksgiving, my brother's girlfriend told me about how surprising her adult life has been. Her story resonated with me. She'd thought she'd marry in her twenties, have a few kids and a suburban home, and "
Instead, she's had several serious boyfriends and moved to Colorado for 10 years before returning to her home town in Connecticut. She's also started two successful businesses (interestingly, a candy shop in Colorado and now a health coaching business).
"Life hasn't gone as I planned," she said, "but my life makes sense to me now. Suddenly I have your brother and his kids. And there's a lot more of my life to live. I'm happy about it."
I’m happy about my life, too, so glad it isn’t going as I'd planned. How could I have foreseen such an amazing partner as Ann, our Seattle life with good friends and a delightful puppy, my writing life, and even my brain tumors’ gifts (though I’m not yet embracing my losses.)
Though I studied English literature in college, I didn’t read much poetry there. Much to my surprise, I was assigned to teach poetry my first year in teaching, and in that teaching I learned a passion for poetry, a passion that provides solace in my most difficult times.
As I listened to Jenny, this Stanley Kunitz poem occurred to me, again a gift. Though I don’t believe any part of my life is already written, this poem and Jenny’s story remind me I’m not alone. So many of us took multiple paths as we sought our own, and we have been graced with the journey.
Read it for yourself. Maybe it resonates with you, too.
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
Friday, November 16, 2018
Interestingly, most of these words are new to me, and presumably to her, but they're old words. Perhaps these times aren't new but old, and we'll survive them like folks before have done.
Pace yourself. There are a lot of them. I recommend one a day, sort of like that multivitamin for women. In case you just can't stop yourself, I'll give you the next 14 of the list in a couple of weeks. (To date, there are 449 of them!)
WHEN WORDS FAIL US TO DESCRIBE TRUMPWORLD, WE NEED NEW WORDS.
The Mouldwarp’s Strammers
n. a stupid, worthless, or good-for-nothing person; a senseless person; a dolt ...1928 Amer. dial.
often used as a symbol for Richard III.
Middle English: probably from Middle Low German moldewerp, from the Germanic bases of mould and warp; compare with Dutch muldvarp.
n. a big lie, a falsehood ...1746 Eng. dial.
vb. to lie outrageously ...1790 Eng. dial.
In the midst of his Confloption, he becomes ever more Gumple-Foisted
n. a great flurry, confusion, panic, fluster ...19C Sc. & N. Eng. dial.
adj. in a bad humour, out of temper; ill-humoured ...1824 Sc.
a sullen, sulky or ill-tempered person ...1837 Eng. dial.
from purt (vb.) to sulk, to pout (dialect)
adj. shameful, disgraceful; infamous ...a900
Old English sceandfull, from Old English sceand shond (n. shame, disgrace) + -ful
A dishonest or unprincipled man, one following evil courses; a bad, wicked, or disreputable fellow; a villainous man; a rascal, a scoundrel, a rogue, ruffian or miscreant...1843
Anglo-Indian Persian and Urdū, from Persian bad evil + Arabian ma'āsh means of livelihood
n. a big, stupid person of an evil disposition ...B1900 cot.
from hum (n. a piece of humbug, an imposition) + dudgeon (n. a feeling of anger, resentment, offense)
n. a terrible or repulsive person ...1842
First the Ninny-Watch. Then we need to Skrim
n. a disturbance, a state of confusion, excitement or a longing expectation or desire; a vain hope; a quandary ...1746 Eng. dial.
vb. to get into a state of confusion or excitement ...1866 Eng. dial.
vb. to bustle about; to work with energy and success; to conduct a vigorous search for anything ...Bk1904 Sc.
to skirmish; to dart ...1375 Sc.
to strike; to beat vigorously ...1889 Sc.
adj. resting in hope or expectation; hoped for, hopeful, expected ...1629
resting in hope or expectation; hoped for, hopeful, expected ...1629 obs.
from Latin speratus hoped for, expected, pa. pple. of sperare to hope
adj. relating to or celebrating victory ...1774Speratory
from epinicion (from Greek. ἐπινίκιον song of victory, neut. of ἐπινίκιος (adj.),
from ἐπί upon + νίκη victory) + -al
v. to set nought by; to disesteem; to have a low opinion of;
to consider worthless ...1656 obs.
from Latin nauci facere, from naucum a trifling thing
Together we can catamidiate this spewsome bladderscat
vb. to imbue with steadfast courage; to inspire with greatness of mind; to render high-souled; to cheer, to inspirit ...1640
from Latin magnanimus (from magnus great + animus soul: corresponding in formation to Greek µεγαλόψυχος, and in scholastic Latin used as its translation) + -ate
vb. to put one to open shame and punishment for some notorious offense; to scorn, to defame ...1656
from Greek καταµειδιάειν (katameidiaein) to despise
adj. dreadful, awful ...1996 Aust. sl.
n. a deceiving person; one you cannot trust ...1969 Amer. dial.
The Imputable Cheesedick
adj. open to accusation or censure; blameworthy, reprehensible, culpable ...1660
CHEESEDICK / CHEESEDIX
n. a disgusting or contemptible fellow; a stupid person ...1986 US sl.
See also CHEESEHEAD n. a fool; a stupid person ...1919 Amer. dial.
n. a source or object of dread or terror, especially of needless dread; a bugbear ...1548
vb. to inspire with groundless fear ...1644
Origin Mid 16th century; earliest use found in William Patten (d. ?1598), author. From classical Latin terriculāmentum object of terror, bugbear (2nd cent. a.d. in Apuleius) from terriculum (also terricula) something that excites terror (from terrēre to frighten + -culum (or -cula)) + -mentum.
The Fascious Bangster continues to Bespatter
adj. troublesome, annoying, vexatious; difficult to please, particular; unfortunate, shameful ...1725 Sc.
n. a rough, violent fellow; a bully, a braggart, a blustering fellow; a ruffian; a thug ...c1570 obs. exc. Sc.
vb. 1. to asperse with abuse, flame, flattery, praise, etc., to hold in contempt ...1644
vb. 2. to cover with abuse; to vilify or slander, to calumniate ...1653
n. abuse ...1870
vb. to abominate; to feel extreme disgust and hatred towards; to abhor, to loathe ...1683
Attested from the early 16th century until the early 18th century.]
n. an ill-tempered, troublesome person; a tyrant ...1856 Eng. dial.
to stir up, to provoke, to irritate, to incite ...1620
from ppl. stem of Latin prōrītāre to provoke, incite, entice