Sunday, August 1, 2010

Eeyore was Right -- Optimism is Highly Overated

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. 
"So it is." 
"And freezing." 
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."
As much as I want to possess the exuberance of Tigger, the innocence of Pooh or the wisdom of Christopher Robin, I am Eeyore. Utterly.
Before my 30th birthday I was Rabbit, always optimistic I could handle any obstacle but secretly I expected the worst, making me jumpy and unsure.  When life roughed me up in my thirties, I became Eeyore and I'm okay with it.
Eeyore is not an optimist.  He doesn't wake up believing today will be magical because he "thinks" it, nor will proclaiming his deepest desires make them happen even if The Secret says so.  Eeyore knows chaos rules and all the optimism in the universe can't make good things happen.

With Eeyore I can toss optimism out the window, but hope is another matter.

Before dawn on the day before Thanksgiving 1994, I sat on the edge of my 3 year-old's hospital bed.  In her darkened room, I ran the possibility of her death through my mind for the millionth time.  She'd been sick with cancer for almost two years and the month before she had relapsed with her disease reducing her chances for long term survival to about 30 percent.   

Blythe’s nurse, Madelyn, opened the door and light sliced through the darkness until she shut it behind her.  Using a pin light, she checked the latest I.V. bag dripping into Blythe’s veins.

“Mom,” said Madelyn. “You look down. Is there anything I can do?”

“No,” I said and toyed with ending the conversation there but after weeks of never stating the obvious, I needed to say my deepest fear out loud, even if it was in a whisper. “I’m afraid Blythe is going to die.”

Madelyn motioned for me to stand by the door in front of the window covered by a curtain.  A faint light shown behind her face.  She had two children. Her youngest was born the year before with vital organs transposed. During her pregnancy, no one knew if the baby would survive. She pulled back the curtain and the nurse's station beamed into view.

“Never give up on hope,” she said. “See all those people out there,” and she pointed to the nurses, a ward clerk, a lab tech and Blythe's doctor.  “They are here this morning because they believe Blythe will survive. They have hope. It’s not right that we have it and you don’t. And we know more about her illness and its treatment than you do.”

I saw them, heads bent toward computer screens, charts, and tests results. Another physician peered at an x-ray film on a light box.

“You’ve got to have hope, Mom. It’s the only way you’re going to survive this. And besides, Blythe needs your hope too.”

She walked out of the room and it seemed to me that I did have a choice to make. I could continue on my helplessness harangue making my life miserable or I could choose to have hope.  Having hope wouldn't change the outcome and wouldn't make Blythe well, but having hope would change me and allow me to cope and function amidst all the despair.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Giving with an Open Heart: On Charity and Street People

by Doug Hyden

On the subject of giving money to beggars, I often hear expressions such as, "Why doesn’t this person get a job? He’s just lazy. The bum wants to live on charity. I have to work for a living; why not him? I would be glad to give if I could just be sure that he’d use it wisely, but he’ll probably just buy beer. He doesn’t deserve it." The pretexts for denying the people on the street are endless, and with a will we use them to avoid feeling guilty as we avert our faces and pass them by.

Recently, I was touched by a letter in the Tallahassee Democrat, in which a woman named Angie spoke of a "homeless" man to whom she gave money. She subsequently observed him using the money to buy beer, and she saw him disappear into a trailer park where, she presumed, he did, indeed, have a roof over his head. She was upset. She felt that she had been cheated. She felt that her gift had been worthless. She vowed not to give money in this way again and warned us against doing so as well.

I empathize and sympathize with Angie’s perfectly human and natural feelings of anger, betrayal, and frustration. I have been there. So have you, probably. How many among us can say that she has never been victimized by some kind of charity swindle? There exists a class of people who routinely take advantage of "the angels of our better nature" and play us for suckers. When it happens, we feel foolish. We hate to feel foolish.

Many people who are caught in charity scams are not Christian, because the urge to help is a universal. All of the world’s major religions stress the importance of almsgiving by those who are in a position to do so. I contacted her by email, so I know that Angie is a committed Christian, striving to live her life by Jesus' teachings. Jesus, in particular, stressed our obligation to do acts of charity. He definitely did not, however, impose on us a requirement that we take social histories or conduct interrogations of our beneficiaries in order to determine their worthiness. He commanded us to give; he did not command the recipients of our charity to be worthy of receiving gifts. To Jesus, the emphasis was always upon giving with an open heart, not the gift’s recipient. He loved the fact of the gift but not the gift in and of itself. He believed that no matter what material object one gives, so long as one gives with an open and loving heart, the real gift is the gift of one's spirit. You will find similar ethical pronouncements in the Hebrew scriptures, the Koran, the teachings of the Buddha, and the rest of the world’s holy books.

What Angie did was a good thing, a pure act of what the Jews call tikkun, that is, a contribution to the world’s desperately needed healing. Out of the charity of her heart, she gave succor to the poor. The man may not have really been homeless, but we all know that he (and others like him) was poor—in spirit, if nothing else. Some kind of deficit, after all, reduced him to beggary. Whether he was really homeless or in need, though, is finally irrelevant; the fact that this particular act of charity went to a person who may have abused the gift does not change the fact that the very next homeless person she encounters might be veryworthy; might, indeed, contain the essence of Christ himself. Thomas Merton, the great Catholic theologian and peacemaker, reminded us that if we truly believe in the Incarnation, we must be prepared to find the image of Christ in every single person on earth, no exceptions. 

To all of us: do not worry that a "homeless" person might not be truly homeless or worthy of our charity. Give anyway. It is not for us to judge one’s worthiness. It is enough that we see suffering and seek to alleviate it. If we are swindled, what does it matter? The swindlers will have to answer for themselves in due course. The swindle does not diminish the gift. Remember that each of us has been given gifts of incalculable value—God’s love and God’s own son—and surely none of us have proven that we deserve them. Can you honestly say that you have never "swindled" God out of God’s great gifts? Remember that the gift of unearned love is grace. Keep kind hearts, friends, and do not stop giving to the poor gladly. We are all equally unworthy, and we are all equally worthy. End of sermon.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Plaid by Forrest Hyden


Plaid us home. Plaid is protection in a flannel lumberjack’s jacket. It is warmth in a pair of red and black pajamas. Plaid is dad’s Saturday work-in-the-garage shirt and mom’s spaghetti sauce stained cooking apron.

On the physicist’s shirt, its metric lines reflect the inner core of organization—the mind’s linear thoughts visible on the body’s curved outer shell. The intersecting lines of color—some broad and some narrow—converge like beams of information, forming a grid of interlocking knowledge.

The strong red, black, and gray bars on a logger’s jacket provide fortification against the elements. A modern day knight, the lumberjack rides into battle on his ATV with his axe as a sword and his flannel for a shield. The simplicity of the pattern lends strength to the wearer (and, indeed, bearer) of the crosses.

Plaid is sensible. Plaid is stronger and more dignified than his brother, Stripe (who could always be found hanging around baseball teams and prisoners), yet he retains the quiet, austere humbleness his cousin Polka Dot so noticeably lacks.

Plaid is not noble. He will never be President, a CEO, nor a lawyer. However, plaid will be the silent strength behind these people. He will be the one to make sure that the job gets done—correctly and on time. He will be the crossing support beams on your shirt, your jacket, and your skyscrapers. Plaid is the silent hero

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Empty Nests

Since last fall, I've been haunted by some words my sister said.  We were talking about our respective teenagers and grousing how they pay rare attention to us anymore.  Gone are the spontaneous hugs, handmade Mother's Day cards, tickle fights, hand prints in hardened plaster, Santa Claus and unconditional love.   We are definitely entering the phase where we want them but they don't need us.  Then my sister made the comment I can't get out of my mind -- "Are the best times in life really over?"

I wanted to scream "No!"   Of course it can't be true.  We live in a culture that celebrates tomorrow even when today screams "Uncle."  But after seven months of pondering the existential question of "Are my best days behind me," I had to come to a reluctant and almost whispered "yes."

Don't get me wrong.  I'm hopeful for some good times ahead.  Maybe even lots of good times like becoming a well-paid, full-time writer.  Or seeing more of the world and traveling to many new places.  And if I'm really lucky, a grandmother.  I love to spoil babies rotten.  Just ask my dog.

Still, the truth remains.  The best times are over and that's okay.  So what does that mean for the time I have left?

My friend Nancy, a sixty-five year old social worker who serves people on hospice lifted up the epiphany I sought.  I overheard her describing her job to someone else.

"I visit patients and their families.  I help them get financial support if they need it or I help them put their final wishes in order.  I listen to their concerns.  Sometimes I just hold a patient's hand and we sit in silence. Every day I know I've made a difference in someone's life."

For me there has been no greater joy than having and raising my kids, but making a difference in the lives of others is a near second.  I'll focus on the later as the nest empties.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I'm Breaking In

Last night I had a familiar dream.  I'm back at the UT Austin campus and I'm making different choices than the ones of thirty years ago.  I decide to live in a dorm instead of an apartment.  I sign up for classes I want to take instead of ones I believe will mean I'm talented, smart and confident.  My parents worry about me and call me all the time even when I'm snotty about all the attention.. The registrar's office is up a steep hill and I never climb it before I wake up, but unlike previous dreams, I don't lack one Spanish credit to graduate.   I expect to fail instead of succeed, and I'm old -- every bit of 48 years.

For the past five years or ten, I awaken sad and angry from this recurring dream because I cannot hit the reset button of my youth.  I can no longer be the medical doctor my 'C' in Freshman Chemistry prevented long ago.  I can't go to another college, one smaller and better suited to my learning needs than the Titanic that was U.T.  I can't go back and say no to all those distractions -- one of whom became my husband.  And these are just the university years.  Thankfully, I don't dream too often about my daughter -- the one before she got sick.  How does the subconscious reveal a broken heart?  Even my inner guru doesn't want to go there.

But today I didn't wake cranky but hopeful; I can push the reset button -- not as the young woman (I'd like to go back and tell her a thing or two and give her some good mothering, God knows she needed it), but as the old woman I'm becoming.  Slowly, mind you, but I'm creaking along.  It is just a matter of time.

I hope figuring out the dream means I won't have it again.  While so many dreams for my life are now closed, I'd really like to slam shut youthful regrets.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Mother Tongue

During the recent reopening of the illegal immigrant wound, I've seen many blog posts and Facebook comments calling for English as the "official language" for the U.S.  The blatant racism is disheartening and I wonder why good people are so terrified of others not like them.  The debate has reminded me of an incident when only the mother tongue could comfort.
A few years ago, I was paged to the pediatric ICU of the children's hospital for which I worked as a chaplain.  A teenage boy had been attacked during an episode of gang violence.  Unwilling to join the group, gang members beat the boy until he fell to the ground where they began to kick him repeatedly.  By the time the ambulance brought him to us, his brain was swelling and he could no longer breathe on his own.  Within a few hours, medical staff determined he was brain dead and his mother would have to make an unbearable choice: discontinue life support or harvest his organs first.
The physician, a social worker, the boy's nurse, the organ bank representative and I gathered around this woman along with a few members of her family.  In English, the physician explained his condition.  The organ bank representative gave her information about her organization.  The boy's nurse held the mother's hand.
The mother stared at all of us, frightened and unsure.  Her earth had cracked open in a cataclysmic and heartbreaking fissure.  In a last attempt to penetrate the mother's despair, the social worker talked about how her son could be "the gift of life" to others.
I stood back and remembered when my husband and I were told by my daughter's oncologist she might not live through the next few days.  He spoke to us in our native tongue, English.  Even though his lips moved I could not understand him. I forced him to repeat himself several times before his news could make sense to me.  My daughter might die.
The boy's mother was from Mexico but had immigrated to the United States many years before.  She spoke perfect English, but somehow, I knew, she needed to hear such horrible news in her mother tongue.
I stepped forward and knelt before her and in one of those moments that can only be characterized as a "God-thing" I spoke to her in Spanish, a language I had never mastered before -- or since.  I told her I honored her son and that while I would never know him, I would always remember his sacrifice.  Finally, she broke down and cursed death.   Her plaintive wail of "muerte" still rings in my ears, but before we all left the room, she had agreed to organ donation.
For a few hours, she stayed by her son's bedside until just before his body began to break down and the medical staff took him away.
Why do people wish to diminish and suppress the identity of others?  They dismiss anyone who isn't Christian.  They deny sexual orientation is God given or at even genetic despite the overwhelming science.  They want to erase any culture and language of those not like them.
We cannot let narrow minded people succeed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus and the Emperor

My friend Doug Hyden provides today's post.

Well, April invited me to blog, so here goes. In Mark's gospel (my personal favorite), Jesus says, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." A very famous saying and one that the Church has used to admonish us to be good children and pay our taxes, obey unjust laws, etc. ever since the church went corporate. With this response to the loaded question of whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Rome, Jesus neatly avoids falling into the trap the Pharisees set for him. Instead of using outwardly treasonous language, he uses language that no Roman could object to. To Rome, everything belonged to the emperor. Yet, how subversive this statement really was! Jesus would have seen Rome as the brutal occupying power that it was, whose very presence in Judea was illegitimate. To Jesus, everything belonged to God, and nothing belonged to the emperor. So when Jesus advised the Pharisees to give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor, what he was really saying was, "Hell, no! It's not right to give him a dime." This episode does not provide a good lesson in high school civics; it is a clarion call to revolution and opposition to what Walter Wink called "the Powers." Jesus was far more than a Liberal. End of today's Bible lesson, chillun'.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Christianity is Dead; Long Live Some Other Word

Maybe it's time to crucify "Christian" on the lexicon-cross.  Or at the very least let the religious right have the word.  They already own the term having managed to associate it with anti-social justice, creationism, protectors of pedophile priests, anti-woman rights, homophobia, among others.  And it already had the baggage of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Holocaust.  I don't even know how to defend it anymore and I'm tired of trying.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a follower of Jesus but too often I'm having to explain what I mean by that association because of the negative connotation of the word "Christian."

"No, I'm not one of those Christians.  I believe God blesses everyone.  It doesn't matter what religion you  practice or if you practice one at all.  If I insisted you had to belong to my religion in order to be saved, why that would make Christianity a cult."

It's happened to you too, right.  Meeting a person at a party who says, "Well," intake of breath, "I'm a Christian" as if the term makes them the most superior being on the planet or the sentence in and of itself explains, EVERYTHING.  Someday when I have real courage I'm going to say, "Well," intake of breath, "I'm Quantumlly Entangled."

I would be in good company abandoning the word, 'Christian'.  Jesus probably never intended an institution anyway, he seemed so against them in life.  I could call myself a "Progressive Christian," or a "Liberal Christian," I suppose, but aren't two words always less than one. (Yes, a paradox but a truth nonetheless.)

In my office, I have crosses, crucifixes and Jesus pictures on my wall.  I have images of a God who is woman and mother.  I have a cup for the wine and a plate for the bread but after the latest assault by Glenn Beck, the "You Betcha, Queen," Michelle Bachman, and Pat 'when is he ever going to die' Robertson, none of these symbols are Christian to me anymore.

They speak of a deep, all encompassing and abiding love.  To call the symbols 'Christian" would sully the love they attempt to portray.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gay Marriage and the Order of Birth

If you haven't seen Carol Howard Merritt's excellent essay regarding why clergy members risk their careers in order to support gay marriage make a beeline for it now.  You can find it on Huffington Post.  She makes a solid and moving case for the equal rights of GLBT people.

In addition to Carol's moving portrayal of a gay man's funeral, the need for blessing same sex unions involves another fundamental right  but this one involves the children of GLBT people -- to have state recognized married parents.  We are already seeing cases move through the courts of children denied the right of visitation for both same sex parents.  In one instance, a lesbian couple had a child through insemination.  The birth mother later joined a Christian cult and repented of her lesbian "sin."  She took the child and moved to a conservative state where a homophobic judge has denied visitation rights to the other parent.

A few years ago while working in a children's hospital, a nurse named Sam adopted with his partner a baby born with multiple health problems including cancer.  A year later, the baby died at eighteen months old and I officiated at a bereavement service to honor him and other children who had died in the previous year.  When we called the baby's name, Sam and his partner proceeded to the altar and lit a candle in the boy's name.  After the warm light illuminated even the darkest sadness, Sam and his partner broke down and wept for their lost son.  They grieved as human beings, a couple, a sanctified union -- they grieved as parents.

The following year, Sam and his partner adopted another little boy.  They met me in a hallway and asked me to bless their child.  

"I want to do more," I said.  "I want to bless you as a family."  We gathered in a circle, two gay men and a pastor and we held the baby.  "Gracious God, Bless this family.  May their union always know your love and support."  We each shed our own tears of joy.

The homophobic fundamentalists preach that there is sin in the very act of lovemaking among gays and lesbians, and yet look what love made in Sam's family -- a baby boy carried to heaven and another baby boy with the potential for long life.  Sin cannot exist where there is so much love and Sam's family embodies love in abundance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pizza and Pugs!

Since traveling to visit my sister in NYC last year and re-aqauiting myself with Italian cooking, I've been making pizza from scratch.  I've finally perfected THE METHOD.  I cook it out on my gas grill with a pizza stone on the grate.  It's just like what you'd pay too much money for from a greasy pizzeria.  But so much better.

Inside the grill, I get the temperature at a constant 550 degrees and then put the pizza  topped with whatever I want, on the stone.  I watch it pretty carefully, making sure the crust turns a bubbly, crispy brown and then I slide it onto my pizza paddle.  (Yeah, I own one of those.  Deal with it.) It tastes just like a wood fired pizza.  Yum.

But it wasn't all good pizza all the time.  I managed to drop a bunch of flour and cheese onto the kitchen floor which meant I had to get out the vacuumn cleaner or as I like to call it, Lord Watson Wellfleet, my adorable Pug.  Here's his photo and admire PugMan.  The beauty with him is my lovely daughter, Blythe.

Just so Ya'll know, Watson lost a few pounds since this photo was taken.  I took a pretty good tongue-lashing from the vet last year because of Watson's girth.  His kibble portion's been cut in half and he's been whining ever since.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Jutting Chin Meets Big Ass

  I'm listening to hypnosis tapes these days, hoping and praying I'll lose some weight.  I could just eat less but why deprive myself of handing out bucks to the diet industry.  Someone has to help with the economic recovery and I'm doing my part.
  Hypnosis lady sounds just like Lucy from the Charlie Brown specials.  Even with her droll voice she managed to get my attention.  Fat people are not emotionally weak but very strong, she said.  Despite a very public and personal plumpness, they've managed to soldier on in our thin-obsessed society.
  I am a person of a "certain weight" and eventually I would've forgotten hypnosis lady's point except within minutes of turning off the recording, I saw heft take charge.
  I walked into a community center in a small town to deliver some information about hospice and I was greeted by a woman, even larger than me, in western style vest and shirt.  She smiled big as the moon.
  "Come on this way, honey.  The booths are waitin' for you to cast your vote."
  "Right," I said catching on.  "Today's the primary, but I'm not here to vote.  I'd like to leave information about hospice."
  "Isn't that nice.  What a fine program.  You put it up here," and she showed me a bulletin board.  I looked for a way to hang the information.
"I wished I'd brought some pins."
"Don't worry," and she took the pin of another organization's bill and pinned up my fliers.  "Your message is more important."  She smiled some more -- a genuine, "I'm happy and I hope you are too," smile.  Not grumpy, frumpy or dumpy only confident.
  I will never be happy about my weight but I can be happy about me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Scraping Asphalt

If it's spring, it must be time for a new exercise program.  In the last hour, I've just made a complete fool of myself.  My son won't claim me as his mother and my husband averted his eyes when I waved, pretending not to see me - a real dig considering today is our wedding anniversary.  Even my dog Watson, Pug-Extraordinaire, attempted to stop me leaving the house in my latest outfit.

With a hat on my head, loose shorts and a Sunkist Orange shirt, ski poles, weighlifting gloves and a pair of in-line skates, I am now the ridiculous looking woman gliding up and down her street.  I've donned this outfit before a few years ago before a ski trip to get into shape and I got pretty good at avoiding rocks and falls.  But today, I started too high up the hill and nearly face-planted into asphalt -- not fluffy, powdery snow.  I recovered from my error and much more slowly made my way back and forth down the way for almost an hour.  We live across from a family who raise llamas and even those docile creatures followed the adventures of my big ass between bites of cedar leaves and winter grass.

No cell phone photos or digital pics.  This time anyway.  My family does not want a visual record while the fresh memory of my workout-fit still burns their neurons.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Least of These

John Feehery, Republican Strategist proudly admitted on Hardball with Chris Matthews that Republicans don't care about the 45 million people without healthcare in the U.S.  Congressman Ryan, another Republican and head of the Ways and Means committee wants to abolish Medicare.  These are some of the same people who throw Jesus in our faces to convert, to throw gays under the bus and to ignore the working poor.

A few years ago, I provided spiritual support to "Margaret" a woman in her sixties who had lived on the margins of society her whole life.  Her parents were dirt farmers and as a child, she knew hunger and an empty pantry.  As an adult, she raised her three children working two and sometimes three minimum wage jobs. She had never had health insurance and with the exception of giving birth to her kids, she had never gone to a doctor.  She couldn't afford it.

Getting a yearly pap smear and a well-woman exam in her early sixties was out of the question, but when her belly swelled, unexplained fatigue knocked her back, and excruciating pain and pressure in her pelvic region forced her to visit her local emergency room, medical personnel were not surprised when they discovered cervical cancer that had spread to her spine.  She endured a round of chemotherapy and lost all of her hair.  The treatment was too little and too late.  Catching cervical cancer is easy if a woman gets her yearly exams, but nearly impossible to cure once it has spread.   Margaret went home to die.  The irony was she turned sixty-five the following week and went on Medicare making it possible for her to have health insurance for the first time in her life.

She should have been angry, but instead she was grateful: she loved her children and her grandchildren; all of her family lived nearby; she had a place to live; and she loved to crochet.

"I want to do something for others," she said.
"What did you have in mind?" I asked.
"I'd like to crochet hats for kids with cancer.  When I lost my hair, I was cold all the time, and I don't want kids to be cold like me.  If I made some hats, would you take them to sick kids?"
"Sure," I said.
The next week, she gave me sixteen hats of many different colors and all in a beret shape.  I was stunned.  How did she make so many in such a short period of time.
"I worked on 'em when I could," she said.
"All the time, it looks like to me."
Margaret smiled.  I delivered the hats to a local children's hospital.  Two weeks later, I visited again.  This time she had two plastic shopping bags full of crocheted hats.
"I crocheted some more."
"I can see that."
"Are there more kids?" she asked.
"There are two other children's hospitals in the area," I said.  "I'll take them there."  On my next visit, another bag of hats waited for me.
"I made these bigger," Margaret said.  "For old people.  Do you know any old people?"
"Lots," I said.  "I go to nursing homes all the time."
"Will they like my hats?"
"Yes," but Margaret looked troubled.  "I don't have any more money for yarn.  I went to Wal-Marts to buy some, but I couldn't get much."
"We'll get you some yarn."  The next week, a local church group provided her with all the yarn she could ever need.  For the next few months, she crocheted hats until a week before she died.  She made hundreds of them.

Jesus spoke about the "least of these."  He worried if humanity would take care of them and more importantly, he identified himself as one of them.  No doubt Margaret belonged to these people, the ones our society wastes.  She deserved more than the John Freehery-types of the world.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Belly Button Theology

If you didn't read a copy of Nicholas Kristof's op-ed a couple of Sunday's ago in the NYT, make a bee-line for it now:  He should be required reading for everyone since he almost, single-handedly, brought to light the oppression and genocide occurring in Darfur.  His latest essay concerns the problem of religion and women.  Any faith system that doesn't give equal rights to women inevitably abuses them.

The statement applies to all faith systems and to all oppressed groups.  For years, conservative Christians have successfully excluded gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgendered people from church leadership and have justified their actions by quoting selected passages from the Old and New Testament to buttress their intolerant views.  'If God doesn't love or tolerate GLBT folks, then why should we,' the thinking goes.  It's easy to dismiss the rights of some if God doesn't want them either.  GLBT folks are just the latest group in the U.S. rejected by conservative Christians but never forget previously targeted groups: women, African-Americans, Jews and Atheists. At one time or another, conservatives in the name of Christ have worked to limit the human rights of these people.

All of us who participate in a system to reach the divine become the God we adore.  If our God is self-righteous, intolerant, and selective in love, then we will be that way too.  Christians especially play the innie-outie game of who's in and and who's out or what I like to call Belly Button Theology.  You're in if you profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, but you're out if you're gay.  You're out if your Jewish, but back in (maybe), if you support a strong Israel because Jesus will be stopping off in Jerusalem first when he finally gets around to returning.  Everyone who is Muslim is completely out.  Atheists too.  And even though we haven't confirmed their existence yet, aliens and I mean the outer space kind, are out too, 'cause they don't know about Jesus.  I suppose if we ever meet any, we could tell them.

But a God who loves and accepts everyone demands no less of us.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Profits Above People

It's Thursday and I'm still trying to process the meaning of Tuesday's election in Massachusetts and its ramifications for health care reform.  As I write the words healthcare and election in the same sentence, I'm saddened that a human rights issue remains a political one.  The US cannot be the best nation in the world when it justifies as morally acceptable 44 million people without access to health insurance or paid healthcare.

Tonight my husband and I ate dinner in a local restaurant and there by the cash register, attached to a jar as big as a basketball, was the picture of a toddler in need of a kidney transplant.  Please give for my surgery implored the text.  There was just a few dollars in the bottom.  I guess the jar is so big because the need is so great.  Welcome to healthcare funding for the poor in America.

For those of you who wonder if it's a scam, you'd be wrong most of the time.  When I worked as a chaplain in pediatric oncology at a charity hospital, parents routinely held car washes and sold bbq plates in the hope of raising funds for bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, or chemotherapy.  For those whose children died, I watched the same parents hold the same style fundraisers to pay for funeral costs.

If we don't provide affordable healthcare for all, then as a nation we have proclaimed our highest value: profits above people.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pray for Pat Robertson to DIE!

And now for a bit of satire -

Christians don't deserve any respect as long as tools like Pat Robertson are allowed to open their mouths.  Ol' PattyCake is clapping with glee over the latest God-fearing disaster.  This time according to the Oracle of Pat, God's shaken the be-Jesus out of the island of Haiti because the Devil went down to Haiti way back in the 1700's to free them from the God-loving French. Apparently God's had it out for the Haitians ever since 'cause without them, we would still have slavery and we all know how positive an institution that was "for the Bible tells" us so.

Besides praying for Haiti and opening your wallets to alleviate their suffering, let's pray for Pat Robertson to DIE.  He turns eighty this year and haven't we had enough of him already?  Friends, I know what your thinking -- "April, God must really love Pat for lettin' him live so long" -- but there's where you're wrong.

Here's how I see it:  If Pat makes it to age 80 for his birthday on March 22,  then it confirms all our fears --God doesn't want him.  But an even bigger problems looms:  if Pat makes it to 90, then we'll know the Devil doesn't want him either.  So you see the dilemma.  We need to get to prayin' or we could be stuck with Pat and his stupidity for decades to come.  Use this handy and short prayer:

God, since you love Pat Robertson so much, he tells us all the time that you do, please take him home. Amen

When Pat departs from this earth, the IQ of Christianity will rise up, sure enough, so we see above the mushrooms of the forest floor.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

God Blesses Everyone - No Exceptions

The title of this post is my favorite saying and if you've read the earlier post entitled Movable Quotes, then you know I don't like sayings very much.  Even so, I couldn't come up with a more succinct statement of my own outlook on the spiritual life and theology.  As a minister in one of the fastest shrinking denominations in the country, I wonder why we Christians believe we are members of an exclusive club determined to keep out gays, bisexual  and transgendered folks or anyone who doesn't believe and think like ourselves.

Follow the traditional Christian thinking -- in order to be saved (in God's favor, go to heaven, etc...) one must "believe" in Jesus and accept him as "Lord and Savior."  Under this formula, heaven is populated with Nazis -- many of them were good Lutherans and Catholics -- but minus Gandhi, the Buddha and Einstein. And since the greatest comedians have mostly been Jewish,  what kind of heaven can I expect?  One with no laughter.  And a heaven without the pagans or the Wiccans?  I might like dancing naked under a harvest moon.

Be careful who you want to exclude from God's love, it might just be yourself.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Naked Soul

A few years ago, I attended a party with my husband, Britt. I didn’t know anyone, and so I expected the common ice-breaker question of what I did for a living would come up. At previous parties, I hated to answer because how I draw my paycheck is a conversation stopper.

“I’m a minister. . . a chaplain at a hospital. I work with kids who are chronically or terminally ill.”

“Oh,” and “I don’t know how you can do that” were the usual responses, followed by an abrupt subject change. Or the person left altogether. Either the thought of talking about death or the fear that I might be a James Dobson ditto-droid sent them screaming for an exit.

But this party would be different. I had recently decided to leave full-time hospital ministry and concentrate on writing a spiritual memoir – “my little project.” Armed with a new career comeback, I waited for an opening. While eating appetizers, an attractive, middle-aged woman sat beside me. We commented on the spiciness of the hummus and the dry crunch of the pita bread. Since neither of us got up, we continued our chat. She was a stay at home mom and I got to try out my new line.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I’m working on a spiritual memoir.”

“Oh,” she said. “Isn’t everyone?”

Shot down again.

The arrogance of my “little” project knocked me over. At later gatherings I returned to my old answer and welcomed sitting alone. Who was I to write a spiritual memoir?

As a chaplain, I helped people reframe their experience. Not to focus on something positive but to find God in their loss, tragedy, grief, suffering, recovered good health, and joy. For a memoir to be “spiritual” it shouldn’t be a recounting of my history or the events that shaped my life. A spiritual memoir needed to chronicle God’s activity in my story, and how I became a different person because of it. God is the protagonist here. Not me.

Twenty years ago if a reliable soothsayer with ruby cheeks, pointy finger nails, and emerald robes told me I would run for public office and later lead the free world, I would have bought that over what really happened in my life. Then, God was for the religious right and not for me. Up until my own wrestling with the divine, I believed that all Christians endured some kind of eager sinner/Stepford Wives/Daddy Jesus supplantation complete with religious personality overhaul.

It happened that way to my friend Jill. During our high school years, in San Angelo, Texas – a town too large to escape but too small to get noticed -- Jill wore shin-high, leather cowboy boots with her jeans tucked inside, and a cowboy hat of pale, rigid straw. But her redneck wardrobe and slow drawl hid her skillful, attentive reading of Shakespeare and her love for left-wing politics. She went off to college in an urban center and thrived.  Nearing graduation, she experienced an acute and paralyzing bout of depression.  Weeks into her suffering, I phoned her and she told me she had met a group of people who wanted to take her out to dinner.  She almost sounded upbeat.  I didn't think anything of it because every poor college student hopes for a free meal, but by the next morning, the unthinkable had happened; she had dropped out of college and joined their Christian cult. I didn’t see her again despite my repeated attempts to contact her. She was on orders from the leadership to give up her old “hell-bound” friendships.   When we did happen to meet by chance in a restaurant, she was bland and the joy she pressed lacked heart and passion. Gone was the high energy Jill I loved.

Unlike Jill, my journey with God demanded I not flee the darkness, but immerse myself in it. Recognizing the sacred in the mundane can change our lives, but it is the divine in the profane I chase after.

As a chaplain I am often an observer of sacred events. I find myself enmeshed in a drama, witnessing in others or experiencing first-hand, profound healing of the spirit. A friend of mine calls these happenings “God-things,” but my seminary professor, Lewis Donelson, described them as “moments of the Kingdom” -- time slows to a sluggish, surreal beat while we experience God’s full love in this earthly realm. Eternity touches our finiteness and like heated atoms, we are transformed by the collision. This out-of-earth time, heavenly phased, assures me of God’s saving activity in all of our lives - giving us hope, strength and the courage to love even in our bleakest encounters with life’s vagaries.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Movable Quotes

I have some niggling irritations about the modern age -- e-mail.

For starters, I get too much of it and I wish the penis enlargement folks would take me off their lists.  Why is it my filter will allow me to receive the sex enhancement e-mails but then marks as "junk" e-mails from people I've actually e-mailed!  I don't worry about a computer takeover of the world when the big brain unit in our house can't even perform that simple task.
Here's what I do hate about e-mails -- Sign-off statements.  Back in the days of snail mail, no one signed their name and then inserted some useless, uplifting quote, but with e-mail, lots of folks do this and they're always lame like "Ability is a poor man's wealth," "May you always walk with angels," or "It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit."  Barf. 
Yes, I get the irony that at the top of my blog includes a quote from Teilhard deChardin and isn't it a great one?  With a blog, you can chose not to read it, but any e-mail one receives, the person reads to the end and ingest someone else's philosophy on life.
I propose composing new sign-off statements -- quotes that should be at the end of e-mails but aren't.  Here's the beginning list and I hope you will add to it in the months ahead.

"The first step toward failure is trying." Anonymous
"Dare not to dream, or die flying." Amelia Earhart
"Let's make better mistakes tomorrow." BadPitchBlog

Monday, January 4, 2010

Naked Book Clubs

As a writer, I'm supposed to love Book Clubs.  My sister Sherry was a member of one for years but lately she's taken up knitting -- take from that any meaning you like.  I've never been a member of one, but I sure would have certain ideas for how it should go.  First, I would need some alcohol.  No not the hard stuff but a sure supply of wine and preferably chardonnay.  Second, a book I want to read.  The closest I ever came to joining a club stopped me cold with the choice of the first book -- To Kill A Mockingbird.  Don't get me wrong.  I love that book, but a book club discussion?  I want to join a club to read books I might not know of, not re-read books I can quote from.  This choice just didn't seem to bode well for a longer commitment.

I like to read and write entertaining fiction so please, go easy on the stuff that passes for literary fiction today.  No dead kids, sexual abuse of kids, suicide, etc...  As a chaplain who currently works with dying adults, who worked in a children's hospital and counseled dying children and who is the mother of child who survived cancer, I can no longer handle novels hell bent on doing the heavy lifting of life.  I prefer escapism and humor. Books have become my palate cleanser at the end of a long day.  Does anyone really get Mrs Dalloway?  I couldn't even get through it.  Where was the plot?

I'd want a balance of books from women's fiction to books by and about men.  My friend David Liss, author of the Whiskey Rebels and the Benjamin Weaver series introduced me to Mark Haskill Smith and Billy Taylor.   I also read Christopher McDonald and Carl Hiassan.

The club would need to meet during the week with an evening time and no more than an hour of discussion with more wine offered at the end.  Wine makes everything more enjoyable.

What I really want to do is join the Chelsea Lately Staff Book Club.  At the end of it, everyone ends up naked.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Eating Lobster

It's January 1st, 2010 and I'm watching the Lord of the Rings saga -- something of an annual winter holiday ritual in our household.  In the south we believe in eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the new year for good luck; I hate the pasty taste.  I'll settle for the Lord of the Rings and the lobster we eat as my good luck charms.  The Italians like to throw salt over the shoulders but that just seems like a lot of cleaning up. I'm the lady of the household, cleaning up is my job so no thank you to the salt.  

I'm forcing my family to cook the lobsters this year.  I've done about as much cooking as I'd like for one holiday season between the roast tenderloin with Yorkshire pudding and the numerous desserts I've made and then ingested, I'm pretty much spent.  Like everyone else its salads and fruits come Monday.

Back to Lord of the Rings -- Lord Aragorn has just survived a fall over the cliff.  May your New Year be as lucky.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human one.
Teilhard deChardin