Thursday, May 30, 2013

2013.05.30 Fuck Off ?!

Well, I guess if the inimitable and great British artist Helen Mirren can tell a bunch of gay drummers on parade in London to “fuck off” then the lid’s off, no?

Mirren, earlier this month, was playing Her Majesty the Queen in a delicate play called The Audience.

Her F-outburst had merit, considering that London theaters are right on the street and the furious enthusiasm of a parade of drummers was interfering with both the actors’ concentration and the theater-goers’ ability to hear their lines. So Mirren swept out into the street at Intermission and in full regalia told the blighters,“Shut the fuck up. People have paid fucking a hundred pounds for their theater tickets.”

How politically incorrect can it get? But it was a parade-stopper. Mirren said she felt badly. AND:  “Something had to be done.”  Good on! commented a gay friend and Mirren fan.

Helen Mirren, according to my beloved spouse, somewhat of an amateur actor himself, is sort of a “fishwife”—not a woman who sells fish. But is there such a characterization for a man who might tell his female wife, his female nurse, his female secretary, et al. to fuck off several times a day?  Who’s ever heard of a fishhusband?

The humorous twist in the F-story is that she did this while in costume and make-up for the role she was engaged in as QEII.

The gracious twist to Mirren’s fishwifery is that Helen Mirren, not on stage but in real life, recently stood in for the Queen to answer the dying wish of a 10 year old Downs Syndrome boy beset with spine cancer. He wanted to go to Buckingham Palace and have tea with the Queen. Mirren took the boy and his family to the Gielgud Theater, a fine substitute for the palace, and afterwards took them back stage for tea and cakes and a visit with the corgis (see below) who had played their parts in the play.The boy was transported. Mirren played both herself and her royal role with grace.  Even the family admitted it was hard to tell the difference between Mirren and Her Majesty; the boy never knew—and, to that family, it did not matter. How fucking royal of Mirren!

What is most real is most spiritually correct, if not politically so.   

To tell you the truth, I love the explosive expressiveness of the F word and use it myself. I’ve never used it from the pulpit but there are times I’ve thought it might fit, even, or especially, from the lips of Jesus or Moses.

Some times political correctness or the rules of civil decorum, especially around the parameters of being a “lady,” might be chucked—or fucked.

HOWEVER, Helen Mirren isn't Dame Helen Mirren for naught. She attended a concert of the drummers a few days after she'd insulted them on the streets. She went to support them and their performance and to make amends  for her own "performance."


Monday, May 27, 2013

2013.05.26 What Is the Trinity?

I don’t know what exactly the Trinity is, but yesterday was Trinity Sunday so it’s on my mind.

Oh okay, it’s a Christian doctrine that tells us that the nature of Divinity is relational: three self-expressions in one being: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. or Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Not very revolutionary unless you need God to be absolutely singular in nature—a monolith. 

Here’s the idea: Creator/Mother/Father ignites life energy; Christ is Jesus, who catches the energy and lives it so well he could be related, as a Son; the Holy Spirit is the Great Connector, She plants seeds of love and healing all over the cosmos. The three dance together as one ball of divine energy, and I am invited to join in just as I am, vulnerable, human, and resurrectable,  as Jesus was.

The Trinity evolved out of the faith of the early Jesus followers who experienced Jesus of Nazareth as the most divinized human being ever alive.  

Who really cares? I do. Why? Because the Trinitarian idea of God is more feminine—relatable and intimate by nature, not just because feminists change the spelling of the divine name or give the Holy Spirit a feminine gender.  The Trinity is re-creating every second, like a book you can read, re-read, and read again and it's always new.  

So here is my imperfect analogy—derived in part from my own efforts as a religio- spiritual writer.

God Creator is like the author who has a fabulous bright idea in mind.
Christ is like the book (first in a series) the Creator writes to give form to the idea.
Holy Spirit is like readers who read the book.

The original bright idea is the unifier, present in author, book, and readers. It’s my favorite book.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013.05.22 Endangered Values/Endangered Patriarchal Religion

I remember thinking when we—my first husband and three children—lived in Alabama (imagine!) and Jimmy Carter was running for Governor of Georgia in 1969 that he had something different going for him. I didn’t know what it was but I trusted my intuition over my shamelessly northern distrust of those who drawled and said “bless your heart” too much.

We’d moved to Annniston, a “northern”city about midway between Birmingham and Atlanta for a job offer too good to refuse. The job had promise, but the company boss was an all-day alcoholic who drank Pepsi Cola laced with bourbon, which more than once landed him in Birmingham Hospital with unstoppable hiccups. Guess who got a call in the middle of the night to go rescue him? 

Our house was elegant red brick and had a spacious front entryway of large square black and white tiles— fit for Scarlett O’Hara, not for three children, ages 6, 5 and 2, who ran in the red clay soil and tracked it into the house.  I slaved to keep the floor clean with my newly purchased electric floor cleaner. Still, the black tiles bled onto the white ones besmirching them with black flecks. What a ghastly metaphor for racism. I was as angry at the tiles as I was at the segregated uptown Episcopal church I could not, by any twist of conscience,  make my spiritual home

Alabama was a foreign land and I was a bored housewife who missed New England and had not much else to do but clean the freakin floor!—also drink scotch, nurse my depressed rage, write sloppy laments, read crap, correct the kids’ blossoming southern accents,  get pregnant with a fourth child— and watch TV.  

On TV, however,  I became acquainted with Jimmy Carter.  Later, back north, I voted for him for President.  He was a one-term president, some have labeled “weak.” He was hardly the traditional American macho president-of-choice. But neither is Barack Obama, yet both of these men won Pulitzers for peace efforts, Carter’s, uniquely, awarded 20 years after he left the presidency.

I still think Jimmy Carter represents something our American culture needs very much, perhaps a return to our basic values and faith in a power greater than ourselves.  We are a country that needs more than ever to be "under God" not above or without God. “Under” to me means overseen, not as a spy or a tyrant but as Love that is intimately, providentially co-creative. Dare we return to Genesis and the all-inclusive image of deity?

Recently  I read about Jimmy Carter’s “high profile defection” (NY Times’ assessment) from the Southern Baptist Convention, of which he’d been a member for 60 years. Carter could not support the Convention’s selective biblical literalism used to justify the subjugation of women and prohibit them from serving as pastors. At last I knew why I’d thought Jimmy Carter had something different going for him. 

Carter published a book in 2005 called Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis.  In it he wrote: “The truth is that male religious leaders have had—and still have—an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women.  They have for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”

He rightly connects patriarchal theology and abuses of power with abuses of women throughout the world—with God as their justification.  Carter knows that such gender discrimination is a “clear violation” of the core teachings of all major religions.

Please note: Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention. He did NOT defect from Christianity, nor the Church, nor the Gospel of Jesus Christ—nor, I add, from his integrity as a human being and a son of the living God.

I don’t regret our southern sojourn in Alabama. There I got gifts: a dear fourth child, second son, born almost immediately after we came “home”; the memory of my friend, a lovely black woman who took care of the neighbors’ children while I took care of mine—we were domestics together; the surety that I would never have a black and white tiled foyer; and pride in an American politician who did have something different  going for him.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

2013.05.19 Pentecostal Message

Okay, its time to give the  Holy Spirit, Shekinah, Hokmah, Sophia and other names I do not yet know, her due as the Great Connector.  The nature, Spirit and image of Holiness by any name is far too big for our silly denominationalisms with their accompanying doctrinal theologies. Godde will not fit in boxes and Divinity can not be harnessed—or brokered in any way. 

A friend and professor at Boston College sent the below Rumi poem to his students in the Religion Quest class.  I wrote him back in thanks.

You are a blessing!  And this encouragement for students is so crucial (right word) in the face of Cardinal O'Malley's boycott of the BC commencement because of the speaker,  Irish Prime Minister,  Enda Kenny, whose government agreed to allow abortion to save a woman’s life.

And crucial too in the face of, sadly for now, Pope Francis I's ongoing rigidity about the Vatican party line politik against the openness and gentility Rumi’s poem reflects.  

Who is not all Rumi’s categories in her own one precious soul, so why not live it out, come on out with it?  Well, you know my theory: it's all about the death throes of patriarchy—an organizational system that depends on structured domination.  It’s collapsing. We see many signs, and we see the backlash of fear.

Luckily, doctrine follows practice, so it might just follow practices like the poem advocates. Look East young people, go East for your own soul’s health and grace—and bring the West with you.


Whoever you are.
Religious, infidel, heretic or pagan.
Even if you promised a hundred times
And a hundred times broke your promise,
This door is not the door
Of hopelessness and frustration.
This door is open for everybody.
Come, come as you are.
Come again, please come again.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

2013.05.15 Field Trip Into Easter

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat who blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi (don’t you love that blog name?) wrote recently of a time some years ago when she took a friend to a Christian church on Easter Sunday because he needed to go. And because compassion trumps religious difference. (My words)

Rabbi Rachel felt uncomfortable, worrying that she might stand out as an outsider AND worrying that she might blend in. Was she being spiritually dishonest? She remembered once in college singing with an ensemble group that sang frequently in churches and hearing a sermon that identified the Holy Cross as meant to be “a stumbling block to the Jews.”  She ran out in tears. Ardent Christians in the a capella group followed and comforted her, “bless them.”

The “Velveteen Rabbi” however survived her Christian Easter field trip. She remembers acolytes with bright yellow streamers, Easter Sunday best outfits, and a sermon that quoted the poet Rumi. At the end of his sermon the rector said, “Will you rise?” Everyone was so moved they all sat there, thinking his question was rhetorical/spiritual.  But he meant it literally.

It’s a good question to consider spiritually as official 50 days of Easter draws to an end. Easter never ends. Will you rise? Will you get up from your habits, your lethargy, your imitations of piety, your fear, and whatever attitudes you might have about Christian superiority?

And will you rise up again, as we women did in the 60s-80s, to promote and encourage the use of inclusive language for Divinity? And will you rise with courage to say: “I would rather lose votes and lose my job than see more lives lost to gun violence”?  The Hartford CT. chapter of the UAW had the courage NOT to take a position on Obama’s gun control proposal, even though it would have been expected and congruent  for a Union that represented workers at a local gun manufacturing company to go strongly against gun control legislation.  That’s brave. 

And will you rise up and begin to preach about the history and context of the Second Amendment, constituted not out of concern for sacred individual rights and liberty but for the sake of permitting the establishment of local militias in cases where the need for defense was urgent? And will you politicians scrap fear and rise up against the intimidation of the NRA? 

Rabbi Rachel’s wariness about the passion of Christ and her worry about the history of Christians who labelled Jews as “Christ killers” are well founded.  The gospel of John references “the Jews” repeatedly in accusatory terms at Jesus’ trial and execution. Most sensitive Christian clergy recognize this rhetoric as part of the semi-hysterical polemic of early Christians who feared for their lives and that of their faith. So many Christians change “the Jews”  to “the Temple authorities” to be accurate historically and to make sure it is clear that not ALL Jews aligned with Rome to eliminate Jesus. After all, Jesus’ followers were all Jewish, like him.   

Rachel concludes: “Whatever was dormant in me years ago, was washed away this Easter when she took a field trip to an Easter service, 8 a.m. at a local Episcopal Church service. She wrote that wariness was replaced with a renewed awareness of how sweet it can be to be (in Reb Zalman’s terms) a “spiritual peeping Tom,” looking to see how other people “get it on with God.”

Thank you Velveteen Rabbi!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

2013.05.12 Mother, Mom, Mama, Amma—and So On

This poor “holy” day often gets so sentimentalized that it has lost its clout and its roots, always in mothers making political statements about rights, war, booze, et. al. Hard-edged voices, those moms.

But seriously, can you imagine anyone more important in your life, for better and for worse, than your mother? (I’d add father but it is, after all, mothers’ day.)

All my four children remember to call on this day each year, even if the last call trails in breathlessly at 9 p.m.  It matters a lot, a lot.

This year I received an unexpected gift. My oldest daughter wrote a blog post called “Every Day Is a Mom Day.”  It is brilliantly honest, humorous without being sarcastic, as she writes about her own hard feelings, her own difficult mothering experience with two daughters of her own, and her love. 

Here is a bit of her post:
      I’d like to say I’m doing young motherhood better than my mom – I think she would agree.  Generationally alone, I have a leg up on her.  I’m not as alone as she was.  I’ve benefitted from the equality fights she and others before me have won.  I had a ton of therapy before I had children whereas she had to do it all when we were growing up.  So, all said and done my odds at having a successful career while raising children without screwing up one, the other or both are far better than hers ever were.
      I know my mom did the best she could. And over the years her honesty, willingness to hear my pain and that of my siblings, and her absolute commitment to me at every step of my adult life have served to heal and grow our relationship.
       Do I still wish I could have sewn curtains, learned to iron or baked cookies with her growing up?  Yup but it’s okay.  And if I’m honest with myself, I’d admit that baking cookies with my kids is over-rated and sewing with them interesting but generally sort of boring for all of us.

I cried of course, and said thank you and I love you, using just the right amount of a few too many words, as I do. There is no honor much greater.

The best way to honor her and me and all my children, the mothering presence of Godde, and the mother-heart in all people and animals, bio-mothers or not, is to write a letter to my own mother.

Dear Mom,

I know this is too late. I know I could have, or should have, said more of what I say now before you died.  It’s always wondrous to receive a tribute while one is alive and not when one is strewn in ash somewhere or bones enclosed in a coffin with large gold handles so the angels can hoist it up when the time comes. 

But I couldn’t do that for you, mostly because I was still worried about my own failings as a traditional mother, and partly because I had not yet forgiven you for over-mothering me, nor myself for under-mothering my children. We both knew and know all about that so it’s not worth restating. It has taken me a long time to appreciate our differences without hating you for them. I’m sorry, Mom.

Here’s my eulogy:

My mother was a strong woman. She gave me the message that a girl or woman could do anything she wanted. She always smiled and was gay and frivolous, and she could be feisty. One of our best moments was when I, furious at her for some unremembered reason, turned to her and shouted, “Bitch!”  She  rose to her full stature and said, “Bitch!”  We were women together—proud fillies, competing and loving at the same time.

Another proud moment was after a fall when Mom was near 80.  We took her to the hospital in the wee hours. Coming home, I moved ahead to get the door open and heard her weak, almost child-like, voice call out, “I’m going.”  “Where?” I called back. “I’m going,” she repeated till I got it.  I helped her up into the house, cleaned her up, and put her to bed. It was a tender reversal, both of us hated and both of us accepted.

My mother followed the prescribed route of her generation (wife and mother), yet she gave me my feminism, even though she would not have called it that. She worked hard to start a kindergarten in NYC so I could go to school because she knew I loved books. Back then kindergarten was a progressive idea. She always encouraged me to try new things, and if I failed she was still there with more encouragement—until I thought I’d die of over-praise and too much cheer.  Still, I think that’s the way I found my own ways and way.  Thanks, Mom.

When Mom was dying I raced to make it to her bedside, for exactly what I don’t know. Maybe one more love effort, or a goodbye. I didn’t make it. I arrived just after she died. Her mouth was open and I tried to close it. It wouldn’t budge—so mom. I laughed.

She had bright red lipstick crookedly painted on her thin lips. I guess she was prettying herself to meet God. She had told me once that when she met God she would put her head in his lap and everything would be all right.  My mother gave me God.  Thanks Mom.

What I remember most about my mother is how hard she tried to make things work well for me, Dad, my sisters, and everyone in her life whom she loved, and some she didn’t love, but adopted and tried to change.  Today that behavior is called codependent caretaking. It’s become a way to pathologize, mostly women.  What bullshit. It was her way of loving. No one loves perfectly. Most of us try—and trying is divine.

Thanks Mom.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2013.05.08 Shameless At Home, a Rant

My upstairs home-newscaster and spouse, just sent me a piece from the Huffington Post of May 7, 2013, written by Seema Jilani, a physician reporting from Afhanistan, “My Racist Encounter at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”  She reported from Afghanistan.

Jilani  was not invited to attend the D.C.dinner, just the cocktail hour. I gasped, having myself  been shut out of an inner circle church search committee interview where my husband was being interviewed and I (newly ordained priest), was invited to come, but only to the social time.  “You can sit in the library,” I was told. Jilani’s dinner was for correspondents only. OK —sort of.

But she had forgotten to get the car keys from her husband who was already in the ballroom for what she calls the “hideous schmooz fest” of “wannabe-famous.” 

Jilani tried to explain her case several times to the security police and was not admitted  because she “had no ticket”. She tried to reach her husband but couldn’t.  Then to her horror she observed that several women—all Caucasian— were let through and no tickets were checked. When confronted she was told that “Well now we are checking tickets.” 

The story reels on and it made me nauseous. Attempts by Jilani to confront lying and request respect for her own credentials, as native English speaker who was born in New Orleans and a physician trained at a prestigious facility, only met with more lies and ridicule, like:  “You were here last year weren’t you? We had trouble with you last year.”

The horror set in: “White privilege was on display, palpable to passersby who consoled me. I’ve come to expect this repulsive racism in many aspects of my life, but when I find it entrenched in these smaller encounters is when salt is sprinkled into the wounds. In these crystallizing moments it is clear that while I might see myself as just another all-American gal who has great affection for this country, others see me as something less than human, more now than ever before.”

I could go on, but it’s enough to say that Seema Jilani’s rage and pain were quite justified. There was racism blunt and bold; ugly paranoia led the way; and prejudice based in revenge and hate, posing as Security, was the order of the day in the wake of bombings and acts of terrorism against our country.  Such attitude is toxic to our own souls.  I’m afraid it will spread.

Dr Jilani is an American. So was Dzhoknar Tsarnaev. I admit I was disturbed by all the local negativity about the burial the older Tsarnaev borther's body in Massachusetts. And I admire the funeral home in Worcester for its graciousness. The man’s body should go back to Russia. Not because we are mean-spirited and ethnically puristic but because it would disgrace our country if there was desecration of a grave.

When we Americans behave this way we only shame ourselves and we are not Americans. I know it is too soon for many to feel anything else but pain and the need to close in and exclude, but I pray that will begin to happen soon, or we ourselves will be un-American.

And we won’t be Christians either— because what Dr. Jilani experienced was racism, sexism AND religious bigotry.

More now than ever Christians, and other religions who have like covenants, need to renew and remember our covenants. In the Book of Common Prayer baptismal rite, Anglicans promise to: “Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being and the whole created order [italics mine].

Thank God, we promise to strive for this “with God’s help” because we sure can’t do it otherwise.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013.05.05 Spirituality and Religion/Horse and Carriage

The last line of my post of April 28 was a bit snarky I admit. 

I wrote: “Oh, incidentally, I'm beginning to despise the word spiritual—so bleak and easy, avoidant and limp— though I understand its vogue.”

I dropped my gut feeling into the midst, and left it to hang there. A friend said: Pursue it.

I’m challenged to elaborate on what I would call the false dichotomy between religion and spirituality.  I’ve occasionally said “I’m religious not spiritual” to provoke conversation, but that sounds about as silly to me the oft-heard current comment: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

The Governor of Massachusetts at the interfaith service for young Sean Collier, the MIT policeman who was arbitrarily shot to death by the Tsarnaev brothers made reference to “our spiritual religion.”  He was referring to some comforting words from a religious tradition. I was struck by the phrase "spiritual religion" and wondered if there was another kind of religion that wasn’t spiritual, like our civil religion.

When I was in seminary I took a course in American Religious History and well remember much discussion of the American civil religion, a way in which our country’s founding dreams and identity visions could be compared to a religion.

The word religion  (from Latin re + ligare or ligio, to bind, a bond or reverence) and the word ligament (fibrous connective tissues that binds bones together and holds joints secure) come from the same root: ligare.  To me this root connection suggests that religion can be connective as well as flexible, like a ligament.  Religion is not supposed to be a tight leash but a sure support that holds me together especially  in times of trouble, and that lets me stretch and grow to become the best woman and priest I can be.

Right now I am religious about my stretching exercises so my ligaments and muscles will support my bones and joints as I age.  I am also religious because I am faithful to a power greater than myself I call God and to the community of practice I call Church.  And sometimes I feel religious about my commitment to my country.

When Spirituality avoids Religion, it feels dissociated and, for me, comes up limping.  It’s also seem to me to be quite diffuse when it is unhooked from a community of ritual practice and worship. It’s too easy to say “I'm spiritual” and therefore free of religious obligation. A bit too individualistic.

I do understand that the extremes in major religions (fundamentalist Christians, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Jihadist Muslims) cause people to shrink from ALL religion, especially when a  religion detaches from God and attaches to social agenda about which it becomes militant.  

There is a growing group currently classified as the “nones.” (Yet I notice everyone loves the nuns-on-the-bus:)  Still, extremisms do NOT represent religion in general; their spirituality is fueled by aggression, and their theology talks up God as the Divine Potentate-with-gavel who condemns to Hell. 

Religion is what we do about what we give our hearts to.
Spirituality is what we feel deep down about what we give our hearts to.
Theology is how we speak and think about what we give our hearts to.

None stands alone.

In me, the best of religion and the best of spirituality "kiss" each other, as the Psalm says, when I am at my home altar mouthing and singing traditional religious prayers, many of them ancient, feeding myself with a snippet of Christ's "wafer-body," then uttering my personal prayers silently or aloud de profundis—and giving Jesus a kiss.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013.05.01 Sounds of Spring

Today a friend sent me a beautiful animated Happy Spring card.  I listened to it twice and felt my day begin well. 

Yes, it's May Day—day of resurrection life, day of emergency, someone needs help, and the old college chant: Hey, hey it's the first of May, outdoor f.....g begins today!  Such a versatile holy day, no?

I adore Spring. I can't smell it, thanks to allergies that come with it,  but I can see it and hear it—and most of all feel deeply into its heart where I heard a poem spring up.

Sounds of Spring

Thwack of fist
swish/crack of bat
thunk of ball
smack of mitt.
I hear it coming.
Batter batter batter
Run daddy run.
It’s spring. 

A young teen sits alone shivering
in the bleachers
She cheers at full voice for her star-hitter boyfriend
but her eyes rivet to the ball:
tossed, smacked, cracked, and finally

And, in the name of the depth dimension we call soul and spirit, I know that neither joy nor sorrow are  pure, nor do they last. Yet we are human and must feel them each and all.  That is the gift and solace of what Christians call the Holy Spirit. She goes with us into the deep.