Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Four Options: A Cycle

I am rapidly approaching the point where I ought to know what I want to do with my life. Hell, I am well past it.

I spoke to Beloved on the phone about it this morning. I told her that I regularly cycle through about four options. These are:

~ Find a church-- perhaps even a progressive church!-- in my own denomination, and settle in and hope for the best-- i.e., remaining reasonably closeted (even though this feels already like a losing battle. Am I really fooling anyone? Away every weekend that my children are with their father, staying at Beloved's? Though no church people live in her neighborhood... I can't explain how I know this, but I do).

~ Find a church in an open and affirming denomination, transfer my credentials to that denomination and live happily and outly every after (though the churches with more congregational polity still have stickiness at the local level... 'open and affirming' makes it onto the denominationally supplied bulletin covers but not necessarily into every heart).

~ Find a church-- definitely a progressive church-- in my own denomination and come out to the search committee. Come out to my local judicatory. Become a cause celebre, and let the chips fall where they may, darlin'.

~ Find a job, not in a church. Teach. Or work for a non-profit organization. Or open a business (doing what? selling what?). Do anything that will permit me to keep a roof over my head and live out and proud.

This is my cycle, day after day, week after week. When I spoke to her about it this morning, Beloved said she thought some recent time away might have been helpful to me in discerning what I want to do. But I am no closer to zeroing in on one of these than I was six months ago.

So here is my plan. Go on an interview (one is coming up). See how it feels. See how and whether I am moved to speak out in the interview about my concerns. See if coming out now feels right and good. See if the church in question speaks to me. See, for God's sake, what I think God has to say about all this.

Well? God? What do you have to say?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mom Being Mom

After church on Sunday I helped Beloved with more gardening. She had been working since 9; I joined her at 1 and we worked until 4. Then I went home to rest and ended up falling asleep on my bed, awash in the bright afternoon sunlight.

I dreamed of my mother. I dream of her so seldom, it seems. Though I think might remember more dreams if I slept longer... the less sleep I get, the fewer dreams I remember. Is it like that for everyone?

Anyway, I dreamed of mom. She came into the room where I was napping, and in the dream I ended up on the floor next to the bed, on my knees, as if I'd tried to get up but failed. Or, alternatively, as if I were praying, as a child, next to my bed. She came around to that side of the bed and asked if I was still tired, did I need more sleep. I nodded, Yes (I remember-- I think-- actually nodding my head). Then she asked me if I'd like her to take off a necklace I was wearing when I fell asleep, and I bent my head so that she could undo the clasp beneath my hair.

Mom was a firm believer in naps. She told me that once she had read that FDR napped, and insisted on wearing pajamas to nap, because, she quoted him, "You can't fool the old bod." I have internalized this, not to the point of donning pajamas, but certainly to the point of trying to get as physically comfortable and free as possible if the opportunity to nap does present itself.

Sunday afternoon seems to me the perfect time to nap. If such a window exists.

The dream... it was so simple and real-- no dragons, castles, bad guys giving chase. Just mom being mom-- wondering if I was tired, and what she could do to make me more comfortable. She was also in my house, upstairs, a place where she could not be for about the last two or three years of her life, since she was not able to walk very well, before she was not able to walk at all.

It was a dream of comfort and care. Just mom being mom.

Monday, May 28, 2007


A recent pair of Christian Century articles talk about tattooing, its mainstreaming (is it possible that almost one in five Americans are tattooed? Really?) and the Christian response/ perspective. One article (by Tim Keel, emergent guy and pastor of Jacob's Well) is more of a "surveying the landscape" of tattooing and the kinds of tattoos Christians might get (a cross?). The other article, by Beth Felker Jones, a biblical scholar, offers some scriptural perspective and a challenge to the notion that tattoos are a "witness," suggesting there are other ways to show that we have been "marked for life" by Christ.

About ten years ago a good friend celebrated her 40th birthday by getting a tattoo-- a wolf, just over where she was guessing her ovary might be. I remember thinking that it was quite a cool way to celebrate that landmark, and wondering if I might not do something like that... kind of edgy.

A few years prior to that, I was swimming frequently at a local gym. As a result of that habit I was being confronted regularly with what I now recognize was my discomfort at being in the presence of women in various states of undress. One woman particularly intrigued me because of a tattoo she had: a thin ring of ivy around her ankle. I thought it was beautiful and quite alluring. At the same time, I couldn't quite see my way to making a plan to get one myself.

I have been thinking about these articles and memories this week, and it finally hit me that I have one memory of tattoos that goes back even further. I was 18 or 19, and I was in college in a big Northeastern city. I was, for the first time in my life, enjoying the kind of adventure and freedom that a small town girl experiences when she leaves the nest. I went to foreign films. I ate Chinese food for the first time (hilarious in retrospect... now as ubiquitous as McDonald's). I rode the subway. I saw homosexuals up close.

One night I was riding the subway, I assume with a friend, but I might have been on my own. We were going into the city-- to a concert? Play? Movie? Those specifics are lost to me now, but the following memory is vivid. Sitting across from me were two young women whom I figured out pretty quickly were lesbians . They didn't look any older than I was. They were dressed in a way my children now might describe as "goth" or "indie." They had lots of chains, and really short hair, and piercings in places I'd never seen before. And they both had the same tattoo-- a tattoo of a small chain, circling the fourth finger of their left hands.

I remember feeling a kind of stirring in myself... I was not, at that point in my life, prepared to seriously consider that I might be a lesbian, despite the fact that I'd known myself to have "those feelings" for other women at least since the age of 13. Still, I had this stirring, which I would describe as a mixture of desire and fear and longing. And the impossibility of it all. All because of seeing those tattoos.

I wonder where those young women are now, now that they are middle-aged lesbians? Are they still together (which, of course, would seem to have been the intention behind the tattoos that functioned as wedding rings)? Or, as with so many college-age relationships, are they each but a fond (or awful) memory for the other? And what do they feel now about marking themselves so dramatically for one another, for their love, in a world that was at least 25 years less willing than it is right now to acknowledge and celebrate it?

For what and whom would I be willing to so mark myself?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Haiku: Thanks to Bill

I have hurt my hand--
I did it in the garden!
(I have no regrets).

(Edited for more riveting punctuation.)

A meme...

DIRECTIONS: I was sent this meme by a woman I know through
my church work. I thought I'd share it here.

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? My parents decided my
brother and I would have the same initials as my dad; also
my middle name is the same as my mother's given name.




5. ARE THERE CHILDREN IN YOUR LIFE? Yes, 2 of my own plus
their friends, plus those from churches I have served,
plus plus plus

WITH YOU? I hope so...

7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? Not as much as I used to.

8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? I was supposed to have
them out in 5th grade, but my mother worried about my voice
being changed, so... still have 'em.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Ah, no. That would be "No."


No, only when I put them on.

12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Yes, stronger than I knew.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DRINK? Coffee, Coke, Chardonnay,

Whether they are male or female (a shout out to Katharine Hepburn in
"Desk Set")

15. RED OR PINK? Red

My selfishness.

17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My mom, my fairy godmother.

can, if they'd like to-- on their own blogs, if they
have one, or in the comments. It could be fun!

sweats and white sneakers.

20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? 1/2 cup part skim
ricotta mixed with 1/2 cup oats and 1 cup raspberries,
sweetened with sugar free caramel syrup (the kind people
put in their coffee)

refrigerator humming


23. FAVORITE SMELLS bread baking, garlic sauteeing, fresh
grass, lilacs in bloom.

PHONE? Pal to schedule lunch.

immensely AND I admire her. She is cool.

26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Baseball and tennis.

27. HAIR COLOR? Brown tinged with grey.

28. EYE COLOR? Blue

29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? No. But ask me if I wear glasses.
Yes. If I can see without my glasses? Yes, but I cannot read.
Not at all. Alarmed my children at a restaurant recently by
asking them to hold a menu far, far away from me so that I
could read it. My daughter ended up reading to me. Sad, this
middle age.

30. FAVORITE FOOD? Italian: spaghetti and meatballs;
Chinese: sesame chicken; homemade chocolate chip cookies.

the way.

32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? Lianna by John Sayles. Sort
of a happy/ sad ending


34. SUMMER OR WINTER? Summer for weather, winter for in-
door coziness.

35. HUGS OR KISSES? Both, thank you.

36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Chocolate Chip cookies, apple crisp.

37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? The one who started it.


39. WHAT BOOK(S) ARE YOU READING? "On Beauty" by
Zadie Smith, a novel inspired by E. M. Forster's "Howard's End"; and
"The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden Story of Jesus, His Royal Family
and the Birth of Christianity" by James Tabor. I recommend the first,
but don't recommend the second. The Tabor feels like a Geraldo Rivera
special-- very disappointing.

40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? Laptop-- no mousepad.

Housewives" Season Finale. EDIE!!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!!

42. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SOUND? Ocean waves crashing.

Greece, when I was 15.

44. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? All things auditory--
music, language, imitation.

45. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Philadelphia, PA.

BACK? Everyone and anyone.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I hurt my hand

I think I did it gardening.

I'm not sorry.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More Mother's Day Observances

Remember Katharine Hepburn, in "Stage Door," saying in that inimitable voice of hers, "The calla lilies are in bloom"? Well, the snapdragons are in bloom. They are popping! And the callies and the wave petunias are all settled in and happy, and the alyssum are perky and fragrant. Man, this is cool.

Last weekend, between all the gardening, other things happened which were, in retrospect, Mother's Day observances. I did something I do only occasionally: I cooked my mother's recipe for spaghetti sauce and meatballs.

You must understand, my mother was 100% "lace curtain" Irish, not an ounce of Italian blood. But for ten years, early in their marriage, she and my father owned a neighborhood grocery store, and a number of little old Italian ladies patronized it. As time went by, they shared recipes with my mother, she, herself a newlywed, and a hard worker-- anyone could see that. She drove an army surplus jeep to deliver groceries, she cleaned chickens and turkeys, she was unfailingly kind to all her customers, carrying bags home herself for the more infirm among them. Thanks to the patronage and appreciation of those ladies, my mom became a most accomplished cook of what a friend of mine used to call "red lightning" Italian cooking: sauce, various items parmegiana, bracciole, meatballs, etc.

My high school boyfriend commented once that our house had a "culture of food," a remark that got him banned for a month or so. I suppose it hit my mother in a sore spot. It was the truth: my parents were (and my dad still is) exceptionally concerned with food and eating and with providing their children exactly what they wanted to eat, with providing nourishment-- and treats-- in superabundance. For my mom, at least, this was a direct result of her experience as a child during the Depression. She knew what it was like to be hungry. She knew what it was like to be ashamed of that very hunger. She never failed to weep when she watched "Gone With the Wind," and Scarlett O'Hara held up that grimy root and proclaimed through clenched teeth, "As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again." That was my mom.

So I made my mother's recipe for spaghetti sauce and meatballs. We (my children, Beloved and I) feasted on it with angel hair pasta, sourdough bread dipped in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic, and a salad of field greens with the same for a dressing. It was only later that I realized what a fitting Mother's Day observance it was.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I ache all over. But what a wonderful ache, from nearly a week of working with my and Beloved's little patches of earth.

I suppose the impulse to garden could be read metaphorically, spiritually, in so many ways. Are those who garden trying to return to an original garden, to find Eden again? Beloved resists metaphors and poetry. "I like to play in the dirt," she says. But there is a smile in her eyes when she says it, so I think she is teasing me. (She does that a lot.) The original mandate of Ha-Adam (the Earth Creature) was to till the garden, and that was transformed after the first disobedience into the mandate to till and keep the ground from which the earth creatures were taken. But that was a later development; archaeologists tell us that humans first hunted and gathered their food, they didn't grow it for a long, long time.

But there is this impulse-- this "back to the garden" impulse. Last fall Beloved and I enjoyed the sensual delight that is Portrait of a Marriage, a film based on the memoir of Nigel Nicholson, son of Vita Sackville-West. This extraordinary woman, a fine writer who was, unfortunately, overshadowed by her contemporary (and sometime lover ) Virginia Woolf, was, among other things, a master gardener who brought out of the earth amazing and stunning beauty in the midst of war, and who saw the need to create beauty as a mandate for wartime. In her book Garden, she writes (in blank verse),

Small pleasures must correct great tragedies,
Therefore of gardens in the midst of war,
I boldly tell...

Sackville-West sees gardening as a sensual enterprise, writing of "ungloved fingers with their certain touch."

(Delicate are the tools of a gardener's craft,
Like a fine woman next a ploughboy set,
But none more delicate than gloveless hand,
That roaming lover of the potting shed,
That lover soft and tentative, that lover
Desired and seldom found, green-fingered lover
Who scorned to take a woman to his bed.)

I will admit that puts "playing in the dirt" in a whole new light.

Here is the song that has been running through my head this morning, also on the theme of getting back to the garden, also on the theme of the garden as a response to war.

I came upon a child of god
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
Im going on down to yasgurs farm
Im going to join in a rock n roll band
Im going to camp out on the land
Im going to try an get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe its the time of man
I dont know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devils bargain
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Thanks, Joni Mitchell. Peace, everyone. Peace and happy gardening.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lilacs and Other Growing Things

At the risk of disclosing how utterly gardening-challenged I am, I have some information to share:

I didn't miss the lilacs. They are blooming. Now. Oh, my, how glorious.

Today Beloved and I are going to plant her garden. She is known around these parts for her tiny, exquisite city garden, so well known, in fact, that she is on the "wedding circuit." Brides and grooms regularly come by with their photographers during the summer months to have portraits taken against the backdrop of her roses, snapdragons, sweet potato vine, ajuga, geraniums, pansies, and wave petunias. (There's more, but as I've said-- challenged).

Before my mother died she and Beloved became phone buddies. She regularly checked in with Beloved to see how I was-- was I working too hard? Were things peaceful with the ex? Was I happy? For Beloved this contact was warm and a little bittersweet. Her own mother was, shall we say, lacking in the qualities one normally hopes for in a mother (those beginning with basically giving a shit about her children). And here was this concerned, perhaps a tad over-involved mother who was suddenly a part of her life. She ate it up. She came to love her.

Just before the last Mother's Day of Mom's life she called Beloved to ask her what she should give me for Mother's Day. Beloved said, "How about flats of flowers she could plant outside?" And the day before Mother's Day a local florist delivered flats of Gerber daisies, geraniums and impatiens. And for the first time in my life I planted flowers around my house.

Each year since then I have bought flats of flowers and planted them, each time expanding the scope of the project. The first year I planted Mom's flowers in six large pots that I arranged along my driveway. The next year I added pansies which I planted in a strip of earth bordering my lawn, and added pots in front of my house. This year I have purchased snapdragons to border the lawn, plus sweet alyssum and lobelia to go all around my house, and also geraniums and wave petunias for the pots and window boxes.

There is a part of me that approaches all this with trepidation. I am not a good gardener. The attention I pay my lawn and grounds is spotty at best. But in the summer, when the flowers are blooming, I take such pride and joy in them. And this is a gift given me by Beloved and my mom. I probably would not have attempted them had these two women not conspired to give me something that would beautify my surroundings in an ongoing way.

I think in some ways I want to be more like Beloved, who is a natural and joyful gardener. Is this what love is, at least in part? Seeing something you admire and aspire to in the other, and hoping to move closer to that yourself? I don't want an award winning garden, or even brides stopping by. But I do want a home that gives me joy, and which surrounds me with beauty, and for which I can both claim credit and give thanks.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

If It Be Your Will

I was working on my yard yesterday... raking up the detritus of winter and taking a stab at making it all look decent. I had my iPod on a long playlist I created recently-- so long and so recent that I really had no idea what to expect, song-to-song. And this song came on and grabbed me by the heart and squeezed.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.

This is such classic Leonard Cohen: it is all about our profound brokenness as reflected in the light of our possible glory-- he sings this over and over, whether his subject is sex or politics or religion or (as is sometimes the case) all three.

There was a piece of me that, of course, heard this song in the light of my call to ministry. For the briefest moment I considered the possibility that it might not be God's will that I sing my song, or use my voice. Pretty quickly I thought, nah. That's bullshit. I truly don't believe God calls us only to mess with us and put roadblocks in our way. Insofar as there are roadblocks, they all seem to have unmistakably human fingerprints all over them.

This goes back to what is possibly the oldest theological conversation-- the one people had when they were looking up at the moon and sun and worshiping them as gods. Why do things happen the way they do? Good things and bad things. Why? Is it because some god is either really angry at us or really pleased with us? Someone asked me recently whether it was a bad thing that she had a general disposition that God will somehow care for her and lead her on the right path in her life. She asked this because this is a hard thing to believe and claim in the face of, oh, I don't know-- Darfur. Iraq and Afghanistan. Matthew Shepard. Virginia Tech. Poverty. Illness. Why should she have confidence that God is looking out for her when the evidence would seem to be that God lets all sorts of bad things happen to good people (and bad and indifferent)?

I think Elizabeth Edwards gives a pretty good answer to this.

Elizabeth Edwards gave an interview recently in which she explained her position on this question, the question of theodicy. Edwards said that after her young son died she came to the conclusion that God does not promise us protection. Rather, God promises us presence and faithfulness, accompaniment through the horror.

I believe it's God's will that I serve through ministry. But I also believe that, as Barbara Brown Taylor put it, God mostly wants my love, and given that, I should do what pleases me. It would please me to continue to serve as a pastor.

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

What I've Noticed

It is always such a blessing to return to my own walls, my own bed, my own coffee-maker... I never appreciate them until deprived of them for a time. While I was away my lilacs bloomed and faded. And I have been struck with a terrible thought: what if they actually bloomed before I left, but I didn't notice?

What if I didn't notice?

Now I return to many projects, including that peculiar one we refer to as "seeking a call." In my church's tradition, it is so often a heady project... there are dossiers and essays to write, strategies to create and implement. We pay lip service to "discernment" and the leading of the Holy Spirit, but in truth, it feels like striving and working and stressing more than receiving inspiration.

But here's a strange thing. Since my ordination I have not received a call to the church I *thought* was a "good match" for me. Instead, I have backed into my calls-- in a couple of instances going, eventually, to situations I initially refused to consider. And in every instance, after arriving, I have recognized that God was in the process that took me there. In every instance I have landed in the "right" place (never perhaps as dramatically as my most recent position).

There is a church of my denomination-- I have mentioned it before-- on which I have been focused, for months and months. Lately I am feeling a little ill-used by them and by the process (they came to hear me preach before interviewing me, they checked all my references before telling me they were interested in me), and yesterday I realized abruptly that I was planning what to say to them when they rejected me. When. And I realized that, if I stay true to the patterns of my life, it is highly likely that this will not be the church that calls me. And since my denomination does not typically accept lgbt pastors... maybe that is of God.

Then there is the other church, of the open and affirming denomination. They still seem interested, though they are caught up in their own process, which will probably take a while.

Am I ready not to strive but to receive? Am I ready to back into another call? What if the Holy Spirit is working like hell all the time but I don't notice?

What if I didn't notice?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

In and Out and In Again

I spent nearly a week at a conference, with a new circle of friends and colleagues. It was so rich, in so many ways. We prayed together. We learned together. We talked together about ministry and life. We drank Margaritas together. We participated in panels and discussions and seriously childlike games and activities. At the end of it all we laid hands on one another, and prayed for one another's calls and ministries.

And no, I didn't come out to anyone. Not even the woman with whom I exchanged the glances, and who I suspect might just be in the same closet with me.

It sucks. Of course. I have this deep longing to be who I am, and let the chips fall where they may, and I am constantly checking myself and telling myself, "No. Mustn't."

But I want to share this with you. I have participated in this same conference for the last several years. Each year the participants are slightly different, though some folks return. This year it feels like a new wind just might be blowing through this repressive church. This year, there was a different feeling at the conference.

To the extent we talked about "the gay and lesbian issue," agreement (among those who opened their mouths) was universal: discrimination has to end. It is a human rights issue, as well as an issue of faithfulness to Jesus' vision of the beloved community. And... heartbreakingly... I spoke with a woman who is the equivalent of my ex-husband. She is married ("though not really married," she said) to a man who has come out to himself as gay. I saw the sorrow in this woman's eyes, not for what she has lost, but for what the love of her life has faced, for the little boy he was, being told that he was, somehow, "wrong." I saw her anger on his behalf, that anyone, at any point, should have conveyed to him anything other than his complete goodness as a child of God.

I talked to Beloved on the phone each night and each morning. She fretted that I might be talking too loudly and putting myself in danger. I rested in the joy and pleasure of her voice, and the embrace I know awaits me when I return to her again.