Monday, November 5, 2012

On Election Eve

Bombarded is not too strong of a word.  Radio spots. E-mails.  Phone calls.  Television commercials.  Facebook ads. Signs stuck in the ground every couple of inches.  Billboards.  All of them demanding we take sides, and each side listing dozens of reasons that the other side is evil, un-American, and against you personally. 

For the record, I am a registered Independent.  I have never voted a straight-party ticket, though I do tend to vote more for one side than the other.  And yes, I have voted in this current election, and did not vote straight-party this time either.  I know my friends and co-workers may find that appalling, but it’s true.

I could tell you hundreds of reasons why I voted for President Obama a second time.  I am passionate about them all.  What I am more passionate about, though, is what happens next – what happens when we wake up on Wednesday, after the votes have been counted and the victors and losers alike have stumbled home after a very long night of celebrating or not.  Because regardless of who wins what, we’ll still all be here.  Neighbors.  In-laws.  Co-workers.  Sisters.  Parents.  Citizens of a country built on a myriad of hopes and mistakes.  Human beings who continue to build lives full of all kinds of hopes and countless mistakes.

Mary Oliver said once that the world doesn’t have to be beautiful to work, yet it is anyway.  It’s easy to forget that in an election season, when too many seem intent on dividing neighbors rather than uniting us all for the common good of a world that is, indeed, in need of a change.  A world that is, without question, in need of a people that want to move forward into a future that includes less of taking sides and more of sitting at the same table.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Angels and Demons

It’s one of those Good Fridays that lends itself to solemnity. Fog. Rain. Damp chill that follows you, even indoors.  I should be getting in my car to go to Good Friday service, to follow that ancient liturgy, remember the story with others who seek to make sense of all this marked day means year after year.  But I’m not.  I am sitting here, unable to shake the words, the face, the anguish of J.P.  A man tormented, relentlessly, by demons he’s been unable to shake. A lifetime of pain that expresses itself in ugly words, aggressive and violent behavior, addiction, literally uncontrollable rage.  He prays all the time.  Carries a rosary, pleads with Jesus to save him.  Pounds walls, waves knives, talks about getting a gun to kill those he thinks are against him and what he thinks is the right way to be in the world.  Recounts his numerous sins, wonders aloud if God will forgive him, bows his head in shame.
            There’s a clinical diagnosis for him, I am sure.  Likely several.  Over the years I’ve known him, he has resisted any kind of medical treatment, certain God will save him, that Jesus is all he needs.  “Medication is its own kind of demon,” he said to me once, “and I don’t need any more demons.”  He talks about angels, too, angels living in the human bodies of those who’ve tried to love him, to be his friends, those who keep opening the door for him time and time again to help him work toward some semblance of stability and safety.
            Some versions of the story we remember today say the earth stood still the moment Jesus of Nazareth breathed his last.  An attentiveness of the highest order to hold vigil with One who would choose death to show that there is no place Love will not go.  And so the earth stood still, centered on that hill of skulls, keeping watch over the broken, battered body of Jesus.
             Angels keeping watch, standing between the demons and the lives they seek to devour.  I encounter both, every day.  It’s ugly. Messy. Heart-breaking.  We scrabble for any small sign of life, of hope, of a step forward.  It comes, often, in ways we cannot predict or anticipate.  All those years ago on a cross studded with nails, soaked in blood.  This morning, in J.P. pulling out his calendar and writing down an appointment to see a therapist.
            “…let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made…”  --Good Friday liturgy, The Book of Common Prayer

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I went to church at noon today.  Left email unread and a list of things to do mostly still to do.  I was feeling pretty out of sorts, to be honest.  Tired, in the bone-deep way that only emotional and spiritual exhaustion bring.  I have a good life.  An amazing life, even.  And – and, I have so much baggage that keeps following me around.  Some of it can’t be classified as baggage, really, more just the real-life messiness of a divorce involving a shared child.  But some of it is simply baggage.  Stuff that needs to be ground into dust, let go of, forgiven.

So I went to church, in the middle of the day.  To be embraced by the liturgy, to acknowledge with others the depth of our need for repentance, to be reminded of our mortality, to be assured of our forgiveness for all that has been done and left undone that turned away from Life.  I listened to ancient, prophetic words.  I heard the good news.  I took the torn bread and poured out cup into my own human brokenness.  And I got marked.  Marked with the sign of the cross - smeared in black, oily ashes on my forehead.  Somewhere, in the midst of the liturgy, the spoken word, the sung prayers, smeared crosses and broken bread, I became a little more whole.  Let go of a bit more baggage.

The cross on my forehead has nearly faded away now, 8 hours later.  Sweat, distracted scratching, time…the ashes are barely noticeable.  It reminds me some of what is happening with a tattoo on my back, a mark made 15 years ago now.  That mark, over time, is also fading.  It was – and is – a mark I’ve cherished, both at its most vibrant and now as it fades more and more into my body.  The ashes and that tattoo: both are symbols of the very core of who I am.  Identities that matter, yes.  And identities that simply are solid and whole and me: claiming me from the inside out as one who loves, one who is forgiven, one who is marked for Life.

“ Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” –Isaiah 58:6-7

This season, these weeks of Lent, may I remember the core of why it is I choose to seek this fast.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Other Side

         I think Rev. King was right, that the arc of history does bend toward justice.  It seems like a long time coming when we’re in the midst of it, but it does happen.  There’s been all kinds of evidence of it just in my lifetime, these short 36 years I’ve been around.  Just this week, even, significant strides towards marriage equality on the West Coast have happened in both California and Washington.  There will be wonderful celebrations of love as a result, wedding bells will ring for same-gender couples, toasts made to relationships that have been committed for decades and to brand-new ones as marriage licenses are issued with equal regard for citizens of those places.  It is no small thing to have the weight of the law’s protection for your health care, your property, your children.
            The other side of those celebrations of love is the painful reality of what happens when life doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped and dreamed it would.  I do not know anyone who gets married that plans to also get divorced.  Maybe there are couples who go into it knowing there’s always an “out.”  But I haven’t met any of those folks, nor officiated at any wedding where there was less than a lifetime commitment made with every intention of going ‘til death do us part.
            The most painful experience of my life was the realization that the promises I had made with another were not going to be lived out.  That all the therapy and hard work in the world was not going to make it possible for the two of us to continue to keep those promises.  There are no words for the depth of heartbreak incurred in that process.  The family I had helped create, the configuration that had shaped my daily life and every future I could envision, fell apart - crumbling into pieces around us all.  It is a loss greater than any I have known.  It is also no small thing to NOT have the weight of the law’s protection for health care, property, children. 
            I live in a state that does not recognize legal marriage for same-gender couples.  North Carolina completely disregards the marriage license that exists with my name on it.  I was not allowed to have my name on the birth certificate for my daughter, nor even permitted to adopt this child I have loved and cared for since before she came into the world.  No family court in our state recognizes that I am now, and have always been, her other parent.  I am fortunate that my daughter’s legal parent does see me as important, and that I do have regular contact with and care for my child.  There are many other parents and children in similar situations to mine that do not have that option.  Everyone loses – parents lose children, and children lose parents.  It is true that everyone loses in a divorce, regardless of legal rights or not.  There are also some preventable losses, protections afforded to heterosexual, legal marriages in North Carolina that were not granted to mine.
            Much more can be said about marriage, and certainly there’s more to the story of my marriage and divorce than will fit into a blog post.  What I want every U.S. citizen to understand is that legal marriage matters.  It is about justice and equality in our country, for all of us.  Do not feel sorry for me.  God’s imagination, thankfully, is far bigger than mine.  I have a blessed life, with an incredible daughter, and days full of all kinds of love and joy.  Feel sad, as I do, that divorce became the only decision to make for me.  And then get angry.  Angry at the injustice.  Angry enough to tell your co-workers to vote against the amendment in May that would write inequality into our state’s constitution.  Angry enough to rally even a handful of people to call legislators, write letters, protest at your town square.  Care enough about children losing loving and caring parents to make sure we as a state move toward equality for all families. 

Friday, January 6, 2012


Three years ago I parked my car in a gravel lot on a cold winter morning, walked a short downtown block, and knocked loudly on a battered door.  The door opened onto a narrow hallway lined with dilapidated chairs filled with men and women dressed in layers, backpacks at their feet, Styrofoam cups of steaming coffee in their hands.   Dozens of others were coming in and out of bathrooms, carrying worn towels, small pieces of soap, tiny packets of shampoo, a clean and dry pair of socks.  The phone was ringing, voices shouting out names for mail to be picked up, a ring of people at the front desk waiting to ask a question, find an answer, hands out for vitamins, cough drops, ibuprofen. 

It was not lost on me then, nor is it today, that it was Epiphany.  The day of appearing, of revealing on the church calendar that over the years has also become my internal calendar: wise people traveling in search of one they believed could change things in their world, so long ago.  For me, that day, that cold winter day in the very first days of 2009, I began a job I did not understand and was not even sure I wanted.  It would be a “good experience,” I was sure.  I believed wholly in the vision and mission of the agency, and knew it would serve me well as a stopping place, a transition place while I waited for the next pulpit to appear.

 If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by
single step… --Jan Richardson, from For Those Who Have Far to Travel: An Epiphany Blessing

Much has appeared in the last three years, even more has been revealed.  I have seen Jesus, again and again, revealed in the lost and the least, appearing in the unending compassion of my co-workers day after day.  It’s messy and hard and stunning and beautiful.  That steady pulpit has not appeared, my robes and stoles and boxes of commentaries are packed away.   Not one thing in my life looks the way I had believed and trusted it would when I first walked that downtown block and opened that battered door.  If I could have seen the breadth of the journey of these last three years, I might have run the other way.  Step by step, though, I have lived these three years in the only ways I knew how.  Some days I get it right, at work and beyond.  Other days I don’t.   I’m not waiting for that steady pulpit anymore.  I have found the sanctuary where I am supposed to be.

I am overwhelmingly grateful.  Grateful that I walked through that door three years ago, grateful that I still get to walk through that door each day, grateful for the Jesus who keeps appearing, again and again and again to me.  In that building, through so many people, in a thousand ways.

It’s Epiphany.  Light comes.