A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Weary, Furious and Fearful

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

Be Not Afraid

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 fiancĂ©e 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.”
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 LibraryThis 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.