Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' ...

As the year rolls to a close, that Steve Miller song is what keeps playing in my head.

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I'm free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution

Feed the babies
Who don't have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin' in the street
Oh, oh, there's a solution

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I'm free
Fly through the revolution

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future

Time has been slipping away from me for months now. And tonight, another year will turn, and time will continue to slip into the future. I know I am not the only one who wishes I could slow it down or stop it on occasion.

For the most part, 2009 was a stellar year for me. It was the year that I married the love of my life, and the year that I was handed the most important project of my career. It was the year that I met Mimi, Fran, Paul, and PJ!

It was the year I flew like an eagle.

I also know that 2009 was awful for many people. My friend Terri-Lynn died, as did Roseann, and my friends Sharon and Joe from church. I continue to grieve with and for Kathy in the loss of her husband and for the families of my friends who had to face the holidays without those they loved. I know a lot of people who are out of work, battling illnesses, or dealing with difficult family issues. My prayer list is longer than it's ever been.

So, in the midst of my overly busy life, I try to remember to be grateful for all the blessings I have. A loving husband. Healthy, happy kids. Bouncy dog. Work I really enjoy (even if there has been too much of it lately!). Wonderful friends. Two faith communities to sustain me.

New Year's Eve is a great time to reflect on all those blessings. And, despite the cliche attached to New Year's resolutions, it is also a time to think about things done and left undone, and to consider the call to amendment of life.

I am wary of New Year's resolutions. I do not like to fail, and they seem like invitations to failure. It's not as if I need another thing for which I will feel the need to beat myself up. (Believe me, that list is already long enough...)

So, for over 20 years, I have made only one resolution, and it's always the same: I resolve not to feed marshmallows to alligators.

I am pleased to report that I have been very successful in keeping this resolution. In a life where I have too often disappointed myself and those who love me, I needed to be able to say that there is ONE resolution I have observed to the letter.

This year, however, I'm thinking about making some changes to my life. I don't want to make resolutions here--I have learned the hard way that trying to force myself to do hard things by making public commitments is not the way to go.

But I am thinking about how I want to live. And praying. Mostly for a little quiet and stillness. For more time with those I love. For the grace to appreciate what I have, while I have it. For the courage and discipline to live my convictions.

As the curtains fall on 2009, here is my prayer for you: May you and yours truly enjoy the precious gift of time this year. May you recognize that the future--like the Kingdom of God-- is already-but-not-yet here.

Grab it and fly.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina--Boneheads

When I got up this morning, I had a text message from a friend who had seen yesterday's blog post about the scumsucking Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina. She wrote:

Read bcbsnc article front pg n&o 2day. U r not the only 1 pissed!

So off I went to the website of the News and Observer:

BCBS plea to customers on reform hits a nerve - Local/State - News & Observer

I loved that one wag taped the postcard to Senator Kay Hagan to a brick! Since my mail from yesterday hadn't gone out yet, I went in search of something similar.

I couldn't find a brick---but I DID find a large and very heavy dog bone...which I thought was perfectly appropriate under the circumstances.

Jasper is not too thrilled with this, as you can see in the photo below. He thinks it's a waste of a perfectly good bone.

But I'll buy him another one, I promise.

(In case you can't read the "Writing on the Bone," it says "BCBSNC--A Boneheaded Company")

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina--My Open Letter to My Scumsucking Insurance Company

When I collected my mail today, I had this piece from my friendly health insurance company, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina:

Here is my response:

Dear Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina:

Who wants Federal government intervention in the private health insurance market? I do!

I want a public option. In fact, I want more than a public option--I want single-payer healthcare. Want it more than a kid wants candy at Halloween and presents at Christmas. Want it even more than I wanted a pony when I was 8.

Why? Because I think healthcare is a human right, and I don't think it should be a profit-making venture. Because I think insurance is nothing more than legalized extortion-and I'm tired of having my pockets picked, only to be told that you won't cover X,Y, or Z. Oh, and by the're raising my premiums by nearly 30%.

You bill yourself as "nonprofit," which may make some gullible people think you are looking out for their best interests. But I know better. I've done my homework, and I've found the numbers:
I've got to hand it to you, BCBSNC. You've got chutzpah. You can corner the state health insurance market, make millions in "nonprofits," pay your executives whopping salaries, raise my premiums while cutting my benefits--and still find a way to spend my hard-earned money trying to get me to lobby against my own best interests!

But you forgot one thing...I'm not a mindless FOX News drone and I'm not easily manipulated. I had been feeling tired and worn out with the whole healthcare debate--but your little mailing gave me an energy boost!

You see, I have my Senator's and Representative's phone numbers programmed into my phone. They both got calls today about the mailing you sent me. I doubt you'll be happy about what I said.

And that postage-paid postcard you wanted me to send to Senator Kay Hagan? The one that asked her to "please oppose government-run health insurance" because it would allow the government to compete "unfairly" with the private sector? I crossed out your message and wrote her asking her to support a true public option.

It gave me great satisfaction to know that you'll be paying a few cents of the money you have extorted from me over the years to lobby against YOUR best interests. It also gave me great pleasure to discover that I'm not alone, and that others are taking action too.

We take our victories where we find them.


UPDATE: The story made the front page of our local newspaper today (October 28), and I"m not the only one who's pissed! You can read about it here. One wag taped the card to a brick! Since the mail hasn't gone out yet, I'm going to see if I can do something similar. ;-)

UPDATE #2: Check out my follow-up post.

Friday, September 25, 2009

O Magnum Mysterium

Much time has passed since I started this discussion, but the subject never leaves my mind for long. I suppose that’s because the subject of “mystery” keeps flowing in and out of my life and my conversations. Coincidence? Or just chaos theory in action?

And today is the fifth anniversary of my blog--I guess that deserves some sort of effort on my part.


Mystical Seeker (MS) asked some wonderful questions in the comments to my previous post on this topic, and I have spent a lot of time pondering them.

I’ve questioned the best way to engage in dialogue here. To do point/counter-point has the advantage of forcing me to confront the questions MS and others raised, and I think it’s important to do that. I don’t want to look as if I’m ducking the hard issues.

The downside to my responding in that way, however, is that it can look as if I am trying to argue people into agreeing with me (or at least to “prove” that I am somehow correct in my approach or interpretations). I assure you that is not my project. Like anyone else, I prefer to be “right,” but I long ago accepted that—if we are honest—in matters of faith, there ARE no right answers.

For me, the whole point of this exercise is that I am still trying to figure out for myself what *I* believe---why I feel this need to hold “truth” and “mystery” in tension with one another and let the baby splash in the bathwater without throwing either of them out.

As I have noted, in some parts of my life, being a confessing Christian seems very...exotic. It’s like saying you believe in fairies or the boogeyman. In those parts of my life, people cut me some slack because they know I’m not one of “those” Christians. I don’t proselytize and I don’t speak about my faith unless invited to do so.

But the question is always there, though usually unspoken: How can you believe “that stuff?!”

Even in church, I get that feeling sometimes. Last Sunday morning I attended a discussion on Jesus for the Nonreligious in my home parish. The class was well-attended and quite lively and interesting. Several people made comments about how they had reached a point in their journeys of faith where they could no longer have remained in the Christian fold if they had to believe that “nonsense” about virgin births and miracles.

And I thought to myself, “Am I the ONLY one who thinks I can believe in quantum physics and miracles at the same time?”

And so, I type to MS and the others who commented—but I am really talking to myself...


The fact that we exist at all--that's a mystery. The fact that there is love--that's a mystery. I don't have to believe in the literal truth of fantastical tales in order to believe in a mystery.

But what IS “mystery?” Is it simply a word that means “what I/we cannot (yet) know or understand?” Or is it more than that?

And, in the immortal words of Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” It seems to me that this is the unasked question in +Spong’s work—he assumes he knows exactly what “truth” is, and that you will agree with him about the definition.

I suppose I am too postmodern in my approach to truth. While I believe that there *is* Absolute Truth, I’m also pretty sure we can’t know it in this life. So, in that sense, all truth is relative. “Truth” changes because our understanding about the world expands and changes over time.

Having said that, I wonder sometimes if that is why we have lost the capacity to appreciate miracles—and why so many people no longer believe in them. We put our faith in science, as our modern version of “truth,” and think that we are so much more advanced than our first-century cousins in Palestine.

But are we really so different than they were? Many people--me, among them—accept the “truth” of the Big Bang theory. (Please note the quotation marks—I am well aware that scientists do not use the word “truth” about theories, but, in practice, we all do it.) But it seems to me that the notion of a singularity that is infinitely dense and hot and then—BAM!—expands to create the universe in less than a picosecond is at least as fantastical as the stories of miracles in the Bible!

What constitutes a mystery in your world? Tell me that and I will know something about your version of the truth.


The universe is for me such an amazing source of awe, I don't have to revert to a five-year-old mentality and believe in Santa Clause in order to feel this awe.

I, too, am awed by the universe. But I guess I’m with Mary Sue on this. What’s wrong with being a 5-year-old when it comes to stories? Who enjoys Christmas more? The grown-ups who “know” there is no Santa Claus, or the little kids who can hardly sleep for quivering with excitement?

I know the objection to this, of course--Santa Claus isn’t “real.” But, for me, that’s where the mystery comes in. As crazy as it sounds, I DO believe in Santa Claus. Because the “reality” of Santa Claus is that there is love and generosity in the universe, and, when I “play” Santa Claus for my children, I am acting on behalf of that for them. From my perspective, I am merely channeling what already exists--and giving them some fun and lovely memories while I’m doing it.

This is why I think Jesus made such a point of talking about having faith like a child. They haven’t lost their capacity for wonder. They aren’t bound by “rationality” and science. They still know how to thrill to something. They aren’t cynical and jaded like the adults in their lives.

I really do aspire to be more child-like in that sense. It’s not about accepting falsehoods. It’s about being open to things that are not always rational. And if that doesn’t define God and faith, I don’t know what does...


One of the problems that I see in religious credulity is that it often boils down to "my fairy tale is true; your fairy tale is false." So Christians can believe that Jesus literally walked around after being resuscitated, but they will refuse to believe the fantastical claims of Muhammad or Joseph Smith. Incredulity with other religions, credulity with my own.

Fair point. But I don’t believe that. I’m fully aware of just how crazy the Christian story is, and willing to grant that Muslims or Mormons ALSO have the “right” story—or at least another facet of it.

My “problem” is that I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe that Christianity is the only way to God--but I’m lumped in with all the fundagelicals.

I started this conversation by asking why people who can’t accept the idea that Jesus was anything other than a good teacher would want to hold on to him--but I guess I should ask myself why I want to hold on to him when I don’t think I “have to” in order to be saved (whatever that means) and it puts me in the same group with people whose theology and worldview I find repugnant?

That conversation, I suspect, will be a lifelong one...


The difference between Cinderella and Jesus' resurrection is that adults don't take Cinderella literally, but lots of adults do take the fanciful tales in Matthew, Luke and John about his resurrection literally.

I will beg to differ with you on this. They may not take it “literally” in the way that you mean it, but women in our culture have internalized the story of Cinderella and I think the damage is incalculable. From the time they are infants, girls hear almost nothing but stories about beautiful princesses who are rescued by handsome princes—and then go on to live “happily ever after.” Those stories shape the way girls feel about themselves and the way they look at their relationships with men. I’m trying hard to figure out how believing that Jesus turned water into wine can have that same type of negative cultural impact...


I discovered a lot of churches where people read Borg or Spong in reading groups, but when push comes to shove, as this discussion bears out, most Christians, even progressive or non-fundamentalist ones, seem to prefer to treat these stories as if they are true.

That’s because they MEAN something to us.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it difficult to live in a completely “rational” world all the time. That’s where poetry and music and stories come in for me. If you read those biblical stories as “poems,” what’s wrong with accepting that miraculous things happen? You can’t “prove” that they didn’t, anymore than I can prove that they did--but my life would be much poorer without those stories.

For instance, I think many people fail to see the beauty and power of the story of the virgin birth. Think about it for a moment--God comes to earth in human form, and there is no man involved! Do you grasp how radical and life-affirming that could be from a feminist standpoint?

I’m not willing to stake my faith on that story being “true” in a literal sense, because I know all about the history of virgin birth stories--and I don’t demand that anyone else believe it. But I love it, and I’m not willing to give it up because some people declare it to be impossible. If I can believe in a God that created the universe (and I do, however that has worked itself out over the last 14 billion years), believing in the virgin birth is really not much of a stretch. For the God who could create this:

a virgin birth—or turning water into wine—would be little more than a parlor trick.


There is more--much more--but this is already too long and I want to post something tonight. So I will close with this...

When I was in high school, I sang in the school choir (known as the A Cappella). Our choir director was a man of great talent who held high expectations of us, and, one year, he entered us in a regional choral contest. Here is what we performed:

It was ambitious for a bunch of fundamentalist kids who had never seen Latin before the day he handed us the music. I don’t remember that we did particularly well at the contest, but I have never forgotten the beauty of that piece. In some sense, it is the story of my faith:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Grief, Pragmatism, and Warnings: My letter to the President

Although I've been promising to do a follow-up post to my post on Spong (and I will!), my dear friend Jane at Acts of Hope has challenged us all to DO SOMETHING about healthcare reform. Today she challenged us to write to President Obama.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am still grieving the death of my friend, Terri-Lynn. Her death has turned me into a stark, raving maniac on the subject of healthcare reform. I always supported a single-payer system, as far back as President Clinton's push for healthcare reform. I have said many times that I thought Clinton made a major mistake by not starting out demanding a single-payer plan---by starting in the mushy middle, he gave away the store before the debate even got started. And that meant he--and more important, WE--got nothing.

President Obama, it seems, did not learn from that debacle. He keeps telling everyone he is a pragmatist---and I believe he thinks he is. But a REAL pragmatist would know that you start out asking for pie-in-the-sky, with the hope of getting something in the middle. A REAL pragmatist would have figured out by now that Republicans are not interested in creating a bigger safety net---and that the raving lunatics at these "town-hall meetings" will never be won over by a centrist Black man who they believe is not even an American.

It is not pragmatic to argue with crazy people. It is not pragmatic to give those who are deeply in the pockets of the insurance companies and Big Pharma the ability to control the debate or veto your proposals.

It is not pragmatic to abandon your base.

So I used this link to write to the President, and here is what I said:

Dear Mr. President:

On May 25, 2009, my friend, Terri-Lynn, died of cancer. TL was 50--a self-employed, single mother of a 10-year-old son with a chronic health condition. When TL started having symptoms 5 years ago, she didn't go to the doctor because she didn't have health insurance and didn't think she could afford to see a physician. By the time they found her colon cancer, it was too far gone. She spent the last couple of years of her life not only dealing with cancer but worried about how to pay the rent and feed her son. It was sickening, and totally unacceptable in a country that bills itself as the "leader of the free world."

TL died because we privilege profits over people's lives. If we had had a REAL public option for healthcare 5 years ago, I have no doubt she would still be alive. Her son would not be motherless and those of us who loved her would not be grieving.

But we are grieving not only her death---but your failure to lead on this issue. I knocked on doors for your campaign--as did my 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. We believed you when you said you would support a single-payer healthcare system. We believed you when you said you would be a leader for change.

But now every time I read the news, I hear that you have dropped even a public option---never mind a single-payer plan. Every time I read that, it's like hearing the news that TL died all over again.

Your desire for bipartisanship is admirable--but it should be clear to you by now that it will never happen. It is time you listened to those of us who are begging you for help and LEAD. How many more Terri-Lynns have to die before you find the courage to do what you promised us you would do when we worked to get you elected?

I want a single-payer system like the one my mother, who married a British citizen 6 years ago, has under the National Health Service in the UK. But barring that, I want a REAL public option for healthcare in this country. Anything less will be no reform at all. Anything less will continue to leave the power in the hands of insurance companies and Big Pharma---and that will mean more Terri-Lynns. That is not acceptable, Mr. President. We believed you. Please don't let us down.


Maybe you don't support a single-payer plan, or even a public option. You think the government can't do anything right, and--anyway--you don't want your "hard-earned dollars" going to pay for healthcare for "deadbeats" who can't afford health insurance.

You go right ahead believing that you are somehow different from the Terri-Lynns of the world. You go right on believing that your hard work and your job-related insurance will protect you from what happened to her. You go right on believing that she just didn't work as hard as you, or "live right" the way you have. You go right on believing that your insurance company will take better care of you than "government bureaucrats," even though the former has a financial incentive to deny you coverage while the latter doesn't.

But please, when it all comes crashing down---when your little girl gets a brain tumor or your spouse has kidney failure or you develop a life-threatening illness and your insurance company refuses to pay for the treatment you or your loved one needs--please don't tell me "But I didn't KNOW!!!!!"

When your health insurance premiums rise 50% next year after the defeat of healthcare reform, because the health insurance companies know they own Congress--or all of a sudden you lose your job because your spouse has cancer and your company can't afford to carry you anymore because the insurance company has slapped a $1M premium on them because of that---please don't tell me "But I didn't know they could do that!!!"

Because you have been told. You have been warned. Terri-Lynn, and those like her, are simply the canaries in the coal mine. If you can't be moved to support healthcare reform from simple human decency, you should be moved to support it from pragmatism.

Because you're next--and the President, "pragmatist" that he is, needs to know it and be a leader.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Murder(ing) Mystery

Last night, Dear Friend and I attended a discussion of John Shelby Spong's book, Jesus for the Nonreligious. The discussion was sponsored by a group which bills itself as a cross-denominational, ecumenical gathering of "progressive Christians." There were about 25 people there, and the discussion was lively and interesting.

It was also something of a watershed moment for me. I can't even tell you the last time I was the most theologically conservative person in a room--but I'm pretty sure I was last night!

(I know, I know--you can pick your jaw up off the floor now... ;-)

Before I go on, I need to say a word about +Spong. As some of you know, it was +Spong's books Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and Living in Sin? that brought the Episcopal Church to my attention. For better or worse, Jack Spong is responsible for my being an Episcopalian.

But these days, I tend to find +Spong annoying. It's as if he can never stop reacting to the fundamentalism in which he was reared. He's like a reformed smoker/drinker/gambler, who now has to lecture everyone on the evils of whatever it was he used to do. Everything is black or white--no grey allowed. It gets tiring after a while.

I grew up as a fundamentalist, too---and, to a certain degree, my current approach to the Christian faith will always be a reaction to the bad things about that experience. But, after well over a decade of wrestling with very serious theological questions, I have somehow gotten past the need to define myself in opposition to the literalists.

+Spong hasn't. In his own way, he is as dogmatic as any biblical literalist. He states categorically "This could not have happened," and we are expected to exchange our unthinking obedience to one set of fundamentalist beliefs for another, arguably more "progressive," one.

Worse, he blithely states that, if you don't agree with him, you are child-like and refuse to live in the modern world.

Alrighty then....

The discussion last night moved along those lines. My first uncomfortable moment came when the discussion leader used the word "brainwash." He was talking about telling children stories about the miracles of Jesus, and asked the group how we could tell those stories without brainwashing our kids into believing things that clearly were not true.

I asked him if he was uncomfortable telling children fairy tales? After all, those aren't true either---but most of us don't have a debrief with our kids after their nightly story time to explain that frogs really can't talk and they won't turn into princes if you kiss them!

In addition, I dare say that stories like "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" are at least as deeply embedded in our culture as any biblical story---and as the mother of a daughter, I would contend that they do infinitely more psychological damage to our children than stories of Jesus turning water into wine or healing lepers.

(On second thought...maybe we SHOULD debrief our kids after those stories! I know that the myth of the Prince and "happily ever after" harmed me in ways that have been much more painful and long-lasting than anything I learned in church...)

My next uncomfortable moment came when the discussion leader and a couple of others started putting clergy "in the dock." There were numerous assertions that clergy don't preach what they really know to be the truth because they fear offending parishioners--and a call for them to "tell the truth" to those people who still believe in things like the virgin birth and the miracle stories.

All eyes whipped immediately to Dear Friend...who had chosen to attend "in collar," and was, I suppose, "fair game." ;-)

At that point, I had to comment. I told them I was struck by the irony of a group of people who are unhappy because ministers tell people what to think....demanding that ministers tell people what NOT to think!

After 35 years in the ministry, Dear Friend has a much tougher skin than I do. I was really proud of him for the way he responded. He said that he didn't see sermons in the same way they did. He is a great lover of poetry, and he asked them:

"Do you 'believe' a poem?"

In his view, the Bible is a poem--not a scientific or historical treatise. The stories about Jesus are "poems" about God's love for us and God's way of interacting with us on a human level. To illustrate, Dear Friend recited this poem from Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
The Eagle
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

As he pointed out, if you read that poem "literally," you would have to say "An eagle is really a member of the Accipitridae family. It doesn't have 'hands,' it has CLAWS. And it is not close to the sun, which is between 91-94.5 million miles (depending on where we are in the orbit). And the sea is not 'wrinkled,' nor does it 'crawl."'

And if you did that, you would have ruined it. A poem and a scientific paper on eagles are two totally different things. Both have their uses, but it is a mistake to confuse the two.

Dear Friend observed that most people seem to yearn for transcendence, and that a sermon should speak to that yearning, rather than be an academic lecture on textual or historical biblical criticism. He does talk about scholarship in Christian Education classes, small groups, or one-on-one discussions with people--but he believes that to do so in a sermon is to exercise an abusive form of clerical power by telling people what to believe. And he talked about transcendence being largely a "right-brain" thing--one of elusive experience, rather than left-brained, factual knowledge.

(As an aside, I have never, in all the years I've known him, heard Dear Friend tell anyone what to believe. In fact, his sermons are almost always a series of questions, without any answers. This unnerves some people, but it appeals mightily to people who are seriously engaged in theological reflection.)

I don't know what the other participants made of that. My reaction was to spend the rest of the evening wondering why people want to murder mystery.


I run with a pretty well-educated group of people. I was trained in the social sciences, so I have a nose for methodology and I can read statistics and ask the right questions to see if they represent any shade of reality. I work with lots of people who have M.D.s or PhD.s in the hard sciences, and--even though I don't have a degree in science--I'm something of a science geek. I've got no problem with the prevailing paradigm for scientific research, which demands testable hypotheses and replicable results.

And I've also got no problem believing that Jesus actually turned water into wine or literally healed people. I can say the Nicene Creed without crossing my fingers. I absolutely believe in the Real Presence in the bread and wine during Eucharist.

I suspect the people in the group last night would be flummoxed by my ability to reconcile all these things in my head. And a few years ago, I probably would have been too. I used to struggle, HARD, with the insane things that Christianity asks you to accept--a fully divine/fully human, sinless incarnation of God who was put to death, rose again, and ascended into heaven.

What kind of crazy stuff is THAT?!?!?

But for a variety of reasons (some of which I have shared here and some of which I haven't), I have come to feel the "truth" of those things. I have learned to open my hands, shrug, and say "It's a mystery."

For many people, that's a cop-out. I can understand that. But I have found that there is a role for mystery in my faith. I have discovered that mystery and Truth are not strangers, or enemies, but are engaged in an intimate--even erotic--dance. I have learned that leaving room for that mystery brings me much closer to that transcendence for which I long.

Every Sunday, I drink from the cup of Mystery, and am transformed.


The more I think about +Spong's title, Jesus for the Nonreligious, the more puzzled I become. Why would the "nonreligious" even be interested in Jesus? With only one or two exceptions last night, everyone in the group gave a religious affiliation. They weren't nonreligious--just not happy with traditional Christianity. THAT, I understand!

But if you take +Spong's view of Jesus and you remain in the Christian fold, I'd really be interested to know why. I confess that I am mystified by the lengths to which people will go to hang on to a Jesus who is really just another "good teacher." What is it about that Jesus that makes you want to hold on to him?

If you choose to look at Jesus in a way that strips away all of the mystery, you won't get any argument from me. I won't tell you that you are going to a Hell I don't believe in. I won't think you are evil or disobedient to God if you don't accept that Jesus was divine in some way (whatever that means).

But I will wonder why you bother. I'd really love to know.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I want to remember...

I want to remember
the birthday when
the cake needed no candles
because there was nothing left
to wish for...
Except to freeze the joy
of this day
And this life
Forever in time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Purple Haze of Theodicy--A Response to John Marks

If you don’t know who John Marks is, I hope you will check out his blog, The Purple State of John. John and his old college roommate, Craig Detwiler, made a wonderful film called A Purple State of Mind. In that film, John, who is an avowed atheist, and Craig, who is an evangelical Christian (although a fairly progressive one), have a series of open, honest--and occasionally painful--conversations about faith and its implications for public life and individual action. They call the film "an 80-minute effort to bridge the cultural gap, to push past politics, and wade into the middle ground where most people live."

The "purple," of course, refers to a blending of the so-called "red state"/"blue state" divide promulgated so heavily by television news. I highly recommend the film to you.

When Dear Friend and I went to the premiere of A Purple State of Mind at Davidson College (where Marks and Detwiler met), we both felt more affinity for John, with his doubts and questions, than we did with Craig. Since that time, I have read John’s blog regularly (he does some really interesting posts on film and other cultural issues) and I comment semi-regularly on his faith-related posts. The following is my response to his post entitled The Perfect Christian Daughter Murders Her Perfect Christian Family: A Case Study In The Problem Of Evil. I got started writing, and couldn’t stop, so rather than clog up his comment box, I decided to respond here.


John--I ask in advance for your forgiveness if this sounds snarky. If we were discussing it over coffee or a beer, I assure you, I would sound more questioning than snide. (I also apologize for the length, but it’s hard to discuss this without laying out some important context.)

I have no easy answers for theodicy--and no thinking person of faith does. Stories like the one you highlight are quite effective for your purpose. You dare Christians to answer the unanswerable and show us to be ignorant fools when we try. It’s an easy “victory” for you---like shooting fish in a barrel.

But here is my question for you: What do YOU have to say about Erin Caffey and the evil she has done? Can you address the problem of evil without God and find any satisfactory answers?

I am a person of faith (in part) because, without "God," (however you define that), there can be no redemption for the evil or suffering in the world. All that pain just *is*. It will never be rectified. There will never be justice for the oppressed. There will never be any recompense for suffering. Life, to borrow from Thomas Hobbes, is "nasty, brutish, and short"--and we should probably all just kill ourselves and save ourselves the trouble. What's the point, anyway?

Maybe you can live in that nihilistic world, but I can't. Maybe you are made of stronger stuff than I--and most of the rest of humanity. I would venture to say that most people who claim a faith do so because we need to believe that the pain and suffering we DO experience (regardless of its cause) will ultimately be redeemed. That even if what we suffer is pointless, something good will come from it and our pain will not have been completely in vain.

If that makes me foolish or gullible in your eyes, I readily plead “Guilty as charged.”

I will not be glib about theodicy--but I will also state, as strongly as I am able, that I do not believe God causes or allows suffering for our "good." IMO, that God would be a monster and not worthy of worship.

I believe that God is with us *in* our suffering and works with us and others to bring good out of bad situations. I have experienced that presence myself in my own times of trouble. (Of course, it could just be some autonomic, evolution-inspired response in my brain—but that’s why we call it “faith.” ;-) I have also sensed the presence of the “holy” (for lack of a better term) in the faces and actions of those who have loved me.

I should probably note at this point that I am a process theologian. (I claim the title of "theologian" by virtue of my baptism, not because I went to seminary.) I don't believe that God is "omnipotent" (at least, in the sense most people mean it). I agree with Charles Hartshorne's view about that--he wrote a book titled Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes. My theology differs from most of those whom you profiled in your book Reasons to Believe--but I still count myself as a “Nicene Creed” Christian, and there are probably a lot more like me in Christian circles than you might think.

I am also a universalist, so I do not believe that God is going to send all but the chosen few to Hell. I don’t even believe in heaven or hell, in the sense that so many people mean them (as physical places where “good” or “bad” people go). But I do believe that, somehow, what is broken will be repaired and love will reign.

At the end of the day, my belief in God gives me "a very present help in times of trouble." That belief may be a delusion on my part, but it gives my life meaning and purpose.

My "brand" of Christianity is not the one against which you contend, of course. I will never try to impose my faith on you or anyone else--and I do my fair share of fighting my co-religionists in the political/legal sphere.

But I get tired of otherwise intelligent people acting as if the existence of evil is THE argument that disproves my belief in a loving God. (Bart Ehrman is another one who comes to mind...) I can make a case for agnosticism (though not for atheism) from a scientific point of view, but to use theodicy to dismiss the existence of God still leaves atheists with the problem of evil. Only in that case, as I see it, *you* have no answer at all--and no comfort to offer to those who suffer. I would love to know how you see it.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A word about "Dear Friend"...

A number of people have asked me why I haven't changed Dear Friend's name to "Dear Husband"?

Mainly, it's because he *is* my dear friend--the dearest of them all. I have learned that heart friends nearly always treat each other in ways that honor relationship--and that spouses can frequently treat each other in ways that they would never think of treating their best friends. I aim to treat him always like the dear friend that he is.

There is another reason too. When I first joined an Internet community 10 years ago, everyone there referred to their male spouses as "DH," which could stand for "Dear Husband" or "Damned Husband," depending on the circumstances. Since I used to refer to the Hydra in that forum as "DH," I just can't bring myself to change Dear Friend's name to that. In all the important ways, they are as different as chalk and cheese, for which I daily thank the good Lord.

I would have called him "Beloved," since that is what he is and it is actually what his name means in the original language from which it comes--but Cecilia already had that one covered by the time he became a fixture in my life.

So I think I'll just leave his moniker as-is. It suits him and it makes me happy.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Boston, here we come!!!

Dear Friend did it! He finished his 19th marathon in 3 hours and 53 minutes. He has now qualified for the Boston Marathon in April 2010.

Not a bad week for my beloved. Turn 60 on Friday. Get married on Saturday. Realize a long-held personal dream on the following Saturday...

I think we are both liking this marriage thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


She was beautiful. Big brown eyes and a veritable mane of dark brown, unruly hair. A crooked tooth gave her a interesting smile.

She was sarcastic and wry. I was always glad that I wasn’t the subject of her witheringly funny scrutiny. She could cut through bullshit in about two seconds flat. You never wondered what she thought about anything--she was always happy to tell you.

She grew up in a beach town and she was in love with the ocean. Her blog carried a quote from Isak Dinesen: “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” She knew something about tears--and she knew how to laugh, too.

She was fiercely loyal to her friends, including me. And she was loving--to her son, to her family and friends, and even to a few people who didn’t deserve it.

She exemplified Jesus about as well as anyone I’ve ever known. She gave up on organized religion after her young son was diagnosed with a chronic illness and the faith community in which he was baptized at sunrise on an Easter morning never called to see how he was or visited him in the hospital. I can’t say I blame her for that--in fact, it grieves me in a special way, because those apathetic folks were “my people”--Episcopalians. But she walked the walk a hell of a lot better than most people who just like to tell you about their love for Jesus.

She never caught a break. She never went to college. Never really had much in the way of a career--certainly not something with benefits. Her one great love broke her heart when he left their marriage. Late in life, she had the son she loved above all with a man who didn’t deserve either of them.

She was a loving, good woman, friend, and mother, and she never caught a break.


She died of cancer yesterday. She died at age 50, leaving that 10-year-old boy with the chronic illness without her fierce love and protection. God only knows what his life will be like now.

She died because she was poor, and because she didn’t have health insurance.

She died because, when she started having pain and other symptoms almost five years ago, she didn’t go to the doctor because she couldn’t afford it. What might have been easily curable had it been caught early was a death sentence by the time she was no longer able to bear the pain and dragged herself to the emergency room.

She died because the people in this country are so fucking selfish that they have fought healthcare reform tooth and nail.

She died because she didn’t have the good fortune to be born in a country that doesn’t CLAIM to be “Christian”--like any developed nation in Europe or the United Kingdom. (Where my mother, who suffers from chronic health problems, has received the best healthcare she’s ever spare me your ignorant diatribes about the National Health Service in the U.K.)

My friend spent her last years suffering not only the pain of cancer but the indignity of having to worry about how she was going to pay her rent and feed her child. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer 2½ years ago, and was able to get Social Security disability payments only nine weeks ago.

It sickens me to type that.

If you are one of those people who believes that universal healthcare is a socialist plot and has fought reform that would enable every American to have decent healthcare, I hold you personally responsible for her death. You are complicit in murder, and you should fall to your knees and beg God’s forgiveness for your selfishness and your hardness of heart.

If it were in my power, I would force you to look that 10-year-old boy in the face and explain to him why it is okay that his mother is dead so that you could have a few more dollars in your pocket for your Starbucks lattes or your cable television service. Or why it it was okay for you to keep your “Cadillac healthcare plan” while his mother had none.

If you could do that, you are beyond help and may God have mercy on your soul--for you will get none from me.

If you could do that, I hope that you at least have the grace not to call yourself a Christian.

And if you couldn’t--if you couldn’t look that sweet boy in the face and say something so hardened and callous that it would make the angels weep--you need to be on the phone to your elected representatives, telling them to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Demanding that they make changes--no matter what the cost--so that no person on this earth will die in agony, and no child will be left motherless, because we don’t have the will to do the most basic thing that Jesus asked of us: “Love one another.”


This is what my friend, Terri-Lynn—funny, loyal, loving woman that she was—wrote about herself:

Where I'm From

I am from sand dollars and Sea and Ski
and the whole world contained in a tidal pool.
I am from overdue library books and Oreos
and tea parties after school.

I am from a tiny Riverside kitchen, abundant in love
and children
and molasses-filled biscuits.
I am from squeaky screen doors and sun-dried linens
and the golden promise of forsythia.

I am from the wild tangle of honeysuckle
the salt-cured planks of the pier
the cool green sanctuary under the willow tree.

I am from walks by the ocean and foolish pride,
from Lilla and Thelma
and Carolyn-now-Lynn.

I am from mule-headed stubborn and talking too much,
from singing along and dancing fools.
I am from Murphy was an optimist and bless your heart.
I am from the best part of the day.

I am from Jesus loves me
just as I am.
I am from dinner on the grounds and I'll fly away oh glory
and Jesus Christ Superstar.

I am from Edgecombe County and the muddy Tar,
from forbidden dunes and the endless Atlantic.
I am from ham biscuits,
butterbeans shelled this morning
and Pop's peach ice cream.

I am from the girl who sang with the band
and won the heart of the soldier,
from the milkman's daughter and the man with no voice
(he loved to fish).

I am from pirates and poets and painters
All of the gifts; none of the glory.
I am from Mason's shrine and Granny's cedar chest,
from Daddy's photographs and Tracy's poems.

I am from crocheted blankets, delicate as lace,
from cut-glass dishes and perfectly seasoned cast-iron skillets.
I am from familiar melodies and forgotten secrets
and a million grains of sand.


Rest in peace, Terri-Lynn Sykes. It was my great privilege to know you and to be your friend. And it is my great shame and sorrow that we failed you and your son.

Father of all, we pray to you for Terri-Lynn., and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest.Let light perpetual shine upon them. May her soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Terri-Lynn and Doxy with boys
at the North Carolina State Fair
Fall 2004

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Going to Ground

The wedding is less than a month away. I have been given the largest project of my career--one that I have wanted for 3 years--and it has to be completed by the end of June. I have another huge project in the works. As the school year winds to a close, my children need some additional parental attention to their homework (spring fever has bitten the Doxy household in a bad way...). Jasper needs more exercise.

All of that to say...I'm going to focus on what needs attention the most at the moment. I won't be blogging--but that's not the hard part. (It's not as if I blog all that often anyway...) The big challenge for me now is to try to stay off the Net so that I can get the humongous project in good shape and not have to take my computer on my honeymoon. Well, that...and get married and be a good mom to all three of my children and a good partner for Dear Friend.

It won't be easy to quit for a spell---I count on many of you to keep me informed about the things that matter most to me. Faith, politics (ecclesial and otherwise), and your own madcap adventures. I pray daily for many of you, as I know that some of you do for me. I'll keep praying--and I'll be bold enough to ask for yours. It's going to be a bumpy, wonderful ride!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Guest Blogging by Jasper

Hi! My name is Jasper. I live with my Mom, Doxy, and the Emperor and Empress. I love them with all the big, wet, sloppy dog love I can muster. Especially my Mom. I try to be with her every minute of the day, so that I can protect her from squirrels and guys on motorcycles. (There ought to be a law against those things!)

I also spend half my time at Dear Friend's house. He's pretty cool too. He lets me watch "Animal Planet" on his big TV, and he plays tug-of-war with me when Mom isn't looking. (Don't tell her, or we'll both be in trouble!)

Some people think I'm a poodle, but that's only because they don't look very closely. I'm a Portuguese Water Dog. A lot of people call us "Porties" for short. I think that sounds stupid.

(Mom says "stupid" is not a nice word, but they aren't shortening her name to something that sounds like "potty!")

Being a Portuguese Water Dog means I'm kind of famous, because Mom says that there is a new Portuguese Water Dog living with President Obama at the Big White House...the one with the even bigger Green Lawn. I would looooove to play on that big green thing!

I've seen that new dog, Bo, on the news, because Mom made me watch the video. He's cute, but I feel a little bit sorry for him. He can't even do his business without people taking pictures of him. Yuck.

(I love having my picture made, as you can see, but I have my limits.)

My friend Jane at Acts of Hope wanted to know what I thought about having one of My Kind in the Big White House. I think it's pretty cool, but Mom thinks I should point you to this article about dogs like me:

Water Dogs Should Come With Warnings

Hey, I can't help it if I have LOTS of energy! And I confess I have a "thing" for sofa cushions:

See what a good job I am doing of checking this one for squirrels hiding inside it? Mom isn't very happy about this. She keeps saying "I haven't even finished paying for those yet!" I don't know what she's so upset about. It's my job to protect her from those evil hordes of satanic squirrels!

Know what I love to do for fun? Eat kleenex and paper towels. Boy, howdy! That is some kind of entertaining! And it provides lots of roughage...not to mention the exercise I get from Mom and the Royals chasing me around the house to try and stop me. (They can't usually do it. We Portuguese Water Dogs are FAST!)

My most favorite thing in the whole, wide world is going for walks. And now it's time for Mom to take me on one. Hope you have a great Sunday!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Prenuptial Agreements

Dear Friend and I have been working on finalizing our prenuptial agreements.*

I think a spouse should have to promise to put the toilet seat AND the lid down. I think a male spouse should wipe the floor when he misses the target. And I think said spouse should towel off in the bathtub, rather than dripping all over the bath mat and the floor.

(I have bathroom issues. Sue me.)

Dear Friend is having his best friend, Harold, help him devise his own prenuptial agreement list. Knowing Harold, I'm sure it will contain acrobatic sexual performances on demand, keeping the fridge stocked with designer beer, and no complaining about time spent on the golf course.

Knowing what you know now, what would you require of a spouse before tying the knot?

*For the humor-impaired among you, this is all in good fun. Work with me here....

Monday, April 06, 2009

It's the end of the world as we know it....

Recently, I was reading MattyBoy's grim blog post on the economy (specifically, the impending tidal wave of credit default swaps), and I was feeling all worried and afraid. I've noted before that I'm a worrier by nature, and stuff like this can just send me right over the edge. It's huge and scary and totally out of my control--an issue tailor-made to keep me awake in the middle of the night.

But let's be realistic--nothing lasts forever. Certainly not governments or economic systems. The human belief that we can go on and on eternally, "just the way we are now," is silly.

This may not sound like a very optimistic approach to you, but it helps me to consider this.....

Every two or three hundred million years, there appears to be a mass extinction of life on this planet. We are probably about due for another one. At some point, there will be another asteroid hit, or a massive nuclear accident/attack, or a virus we can't stop. At some point, we will run out of resources, luck, or both.

It comforts me to know this because it actually gives added urgency to the need to live NOW. We have no control over the markets or the possibility of cataclysmic events--but we do have control over what we focus on in the moment.

The thought that there might be no more tomorrows reminds me that, just for today, there is love and beauty and music and dark chocolate/red wine. There is poetry and Jasper's unearned adoration and the way Dear Friend's eyes sparkle when he laughs. There are lilies and sunsets and whatever else makes you happy.

No matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, the only moment we know we have is the very one in which we are breathing.

This is much on my mind right now because of the situation with Dear Friend's brother-in-law, who was rushed to surgery last night to try and stop bleeding in his brain. As of this afternoon, he was relatively alert and communicative. For now, every word, every glance, every squeeze of the hand is a blessing to him and to his family.

And they should be to the rest of us, if only we could pay attention...

I am not good at paying attention, and I know I'm not alone in that. Some part of us knows that we should revel in the time we have, but we rarely do. It usually takes tragedy to remind us of the importance of this moment--and we quickly forget again when the tragedy recedes into the distance. We are a remarkably stupid species, in that regard.

None of us is going to live forever. I believe we have a responsibility to be good stewards of what we have, so I strongly support efforts to change the way we live in the world. But we were ALWAYS going to die. Individually and as a species. The only really important question is: "How are we going to"

That is my question for myself during Holy Week. The world is coming to an end: What am I going to do before it happens?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Call for Prayers

It appears that Dear Friend's brother-in-law, Jim, has a brain tumor. We are still awaiting word on how serious the doctors believe it is, and what the next steps should be--but Jim commented that he felt better knowing that people were praying for him.

In light of that, I will ask your prayers for Jim, his wife Ruthie, and their teen-aged sons, Taylor and Daniel. They are a lovely family and I suspect they can use all the help they can get right now. I know how much your prayers can accomplish, having felt them on more than one occasion myself. Thanks so much...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Words of Wisdom?

This weekend, the Emperor will participate in our parish's Rite-13 Ceremony of Manhood/Womanhood. This is the Episcopalian version of a bar mitzvah.

Part of what we do as a parish is offer the "celebrities" (I hate that term, but that is what the coordinators call them) bits of wisdom to help them on their journey to adulthood. So I thought I would pick your brains and ask:

If you could go back in time and give advice to your 13-year-old self, what would you say?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Doxy Admits Defeat

There were 324 entries in my Google Reader when I logged in tonight.

I cannot possibly read them all, so I have acquiesced to the inevitable and hit "Mark All As Read." I apologize to my regular commenters. Sigh. (Please e-mail me if there is anything you really need/want me to read, or pray about.)

Life is good---just very, VERY full at the moment. So many of you are in my prayers. I'll be back soon with book reviews from my Lenten studies.


Friday, February 27, 2009

This is for Josh....

This is the Lenten Kitty. He gave up perfectionism--but decided he could keep the Cokes and desserts. ;-)

Monday, February 23, 2009


Today is my favorite day of the liturgical year. Yes, I know I'm strange.

Once upon a time, I celebrated Lent all by myself. I wasn't part of any faith community--I just liked the idea of giving up something and using that voluntary fast as a way of focusing on my relationship with God. (I somehow kept that relationship, even when I jettisoned church.)

Every year, I gave up Cokes and dessert. In some ways, I guess that seems kind of silly--but since I ingested both on a daily basis, giving them up made me think about God a LOT. And I fasted for the entire season of Lent, because no one told me that Sundays were feast days. Since I only went to church once a year on Ash Wednesday, and I didn't grow up in a catholic tradition, I didn't know.

I regret to report that my Lenten fasts were much more effective when I did them outside the church than they have been in the 13 years I've been an Episcopalian. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe because I was fasting in isolation. I didn't have a community of people with whom I could joke and moan about my minor deprivations. Fasting was not expected of me, either. In the tradition in which I grew up, I never even heard of Lent or fasting (except what I read in the Bible)--they would have been considered Catholic (picture that being said in a whisper with lips pursed and eyebrows raised), which, of course, meant "very, very bad" and not at all Christian.

In recent years, I have had difficulty deciding what to do as a Lenten discipline--and often I have failed at my intentions. Some years I took on additional spiritual practices. Others, I gave up something that felt more "weighty" than Cokes or dessert. Rarely did I succeed in practicing my discipline all the way through Lent (even with feast days!) without throwing my hands up in defeat.


Now before I start getting lectures about the purpose of Lent, let me say this--I KNOW the purpose of Lent. I totally agree with our friend Margaret--Lent is about living a Resurrection Life. And I am still working on finding ways to support myself in doing that.

That is why I love Lent--even the penitential aspects of it. Lent supports me on my walk with God because it makes me mindful--not just of my sins, which are many...but of my longing for God. As far as I have fallen short of my intentions in the past, they mean something. Even my failures mark me as someone who loves God so much that I can't quite seem to give Her up.

So I have been thinking about what things might strengthen my love for God--and how people in my life might actually know that I love God.


My first intention was born last weekend, when I made a shocking discovery.

I hardly ever read anymore.

By that, I mean I hardly ever read BOOKS anymore. I spend a good portion of my days reading things on the intertubes, but I--who used to be a voracious reader of books--have only read a few in the last couple of months. And those have been re-reads of some of my old childhood favorites.

I made this discovery while I was rearranging my bookshelves. When I moved into this house last January, I had a rollicking case of pneumonia, and I remember very little about the move itself. The books were among the very few things I unpacked, and in my feverish state, I simply threw them up on the shelves, without rhyme or reason. And so, for the past year, I have been heard cursing loudly every time I tried to find some reference I needed for my Education for Ministry class.

Last weekend, I decided to fix that. I started categorizing books, which meant I had to pull most of them off the shelf. And I was dismayed to realize that I have a fine collection of books--especially theology books--that I've never read.

Some of my most intense moments of spiritual connection or insight have come from reading. I get a lot of really wonderful insights and inspiration from the things I read on the Web--but tearing through all the blog entries in my Google Reader doesn't really count as thoughtful spiritual practice for me.

So today is the day I take a deep breath, slow down, and start reading books again--books that I've been wanting to read because I think they will add something to my relationship with God. Today is the day that I start once again to exercise the mental muscles I need to wrestle intelligently with my faith, and to inform that faith as I pass it along to others.

To be honest, I really started on Sunday. I finished a book of essays by Alan Lightman, A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit. (If you haven't read his book, Einstein's Dreams, I highly recommend it. This one was good too.) I am a science geek, and I actually find much that is spiritual in the science reading that I do. Astronomy and physics both speak strongly of God to me--a notion I'm sure would appall some of the scientists I read!

Now I'm starting on Kathleen Norris' new book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. Norris' work has always resonated for me, and this book promises to do so as well. I have had my own experiences with acedia and I'll probably be blogging on that in the future.

Other books in the pile for Lent include our own Jane's When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life (that one I've already made a dent in, but I got sidetracked for some reason), Verna Dozier's The Dream of God, and John Spong's Jesus for the Non-Religious. If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them.


This entry is already too long as it is, so I'll talk about my other intentions later. For now, I am headed out to church, where Dear Friend will mark my forehead with ashes and we will enter this holy season together. "Dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return."

It is hard to feel penitential when I feel so much joy in my life these days--but I am reminded that the dust of which we are made is stardust. Each of us, in our best moments, reflects the dazzling brilliance of the stars from which we come--and the love of the One who made us all.

This Lent, may you discover that stardust within yourself. May you shine like the star you are. Radiant. Joyful. Beloved.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Color of Relief

Relief is blue...a shimmery, silvery blue that captures the light and makes you catch your breath in pleasure.

You'll see me wearing it on my wedding day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Running on the Knife-Edge of Fear

I got a phone call last week. It was the kind of phone call you really hope you never get...

"The radiologist has reviewed your mammogram, and there are some dense spots in your breasts that we would like to investigate further. Can you come in for further tests next Tuesday?"

I am 45 years old. I have two young children. I'm supposed to get married in 95 days.

I have held the fear at bay since the phone call--mostly because the day it came, I was up to my eyeballs in work and didn't have time to process. Since then, I have been away on a Valentine's Day holiday with Dear Friend, and being with him tends to send my serotonin levels into the stratosphere. He is with me, no matter what, he says...and I believe that.

But today, I am back at my other home without him...and the wait to have further tests and get the results seems like a marathon for which I have not trained. Today, I am running full-tilt on the knife-edge of fear.

As I run, however, I am mindful of Mark Twain's comment about worry:

I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

I am trying to keep this all in perspective, but it is difficult not to "borrow trouble." I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of what a diagnosis of cancer would do to the carefully constructed house of cards that is my life. Can I take care of my children if I am ill? Can I be with Dear Friend, when our relationship depends on my being able to travel? However will I manage? Should I continue to make wedding plans?

So many questions. So few answers, here on the knife-edge.

I suspect that is the way it always is. No one is really prepared for the possibility of disaster. We spend our lives pretending that nothing bad will ever happen to us or those we love--and then we all just react to bad news as best we can.

Today, I am praying for peace of mind, because I really believe that's all God has the ability to give in situations like this. Because I tend to rush headlong into an imagined future of pain and loss, I am praying for the gift of presence in this moment--in which I am loved and supported by many.

Just this morning, dear Fran wrote me this, in answer to my worries about whether I should continue with wedding plans:

Your beautiful future is really in the present and awaits you with such enormous grace and love, it needs you to participate without reserve.

I am fortunate to have such friends...such love...such faith in my life. May I have the ability to listen and to live a life that reflects so many blessings. May I have the grace to continue to "participate without reserve."

Monday, February 09, 2009

You cannot make this stuff up...

For some inexplicable (and probably twisted) reason, I decided to see if the bully who made my life a living hell in 5th and 6th grades was on Facebook. Sure enough, she I googled her married name to see if she showed up on the intertubes.

Not only did she show up--she has a flashy website. And get this: She makes her living as a "motivational speaker," speaking at schools and talking with kids about how to deal with...bullies.

Wonder if she ever tells them that she knows whereof she speaks?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Same as it ever was....

I keep reading all these wonderful sermons drawn from today's Gospel reading:
Mark 1:29-31
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
But I confess that my reaction to this story is largely negative. I mean...honestly! Couldn't Jesus have given the woman a day off?! She's just had a near-death experience, been healed by the Lord of Creation, and the first thing she does what women always do. Cook. Clean. Wait on people.

I guess we are supposed to believe that she was thrilled beyond belief to be made well, and was happy to return to her life of servitude. Feh, I say. Sometimes REAL service is giving a break to those who do it daily.

Apparently Jesus got that message by the time he told Martha that listening to the word of God was more important than cooking. (Luke 10:38-42) But (if my lectionary calculations are correct), we won't get that story until Sunday, July 20, 2010. In this case, the Good News is a long way off...

UPDATE: And, of course, Elizabeth Kaeton moves beyond the obvious (after I hit "Publish Post"). But I still feel grumpy about the whole thing...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Canine Capers

Jane R. from Acts of Hope frequently checks in to see how my beloved Jasper the Wonder Dog is faring. So I finally got around to taking some new photos of him. These were taken last week, during our 4-inch snow:

Just call me "Snowface!"

Doesn't he have a lovely tail? He's very proud of it.

I took these this morning:

Mr. Curly-Whirly

This is Jasper in his favorite spot, looking out the window. The sofa cushion is permanently imprinted with the shape of his body.

Keeping the world safe from Evil Hordes of Satanic Squirrels

Friday, January 23, 2009

How far will you go?

Some painful conversations with friends and neighbors this week have me asking myself some hard questions. Because you are such a smart and thoughtful group of readers, I thought I'd ask them of you and see what you have to say:
  • How far are you willing to go to support what you say you believe in?
  • How many of your advantages are you willing to give up to ensure justice for all people?
  • What would you sacrifice so that others might have a shot at a decent life? Convenience? Money? Possessions? Your life?
  • Would you be willing to enforce sacrifices on some to achieve what you thought was a greater good?
And, if you ARE willing to make some serious sacrifices (or impose them on others), what are the guidelines you use to make those hard decisions?

I don't want to give too many specifics about my personal Issue of the Week--it will only cloud my thinking about what are really important, life-defining questions. But I'd love to know what you think about those questions...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope is the thing with feathers...

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

---Emily Dickinson

I am jealous of only one woman in Dear Friend's life--and she's been dead for 123 years.

His love affair with Emily Dickinson predates our acquaintance by over three decades. When I first met him, it was the joke in the parish that she was the only woman in the universe for whom he would break his vow never to marry again--and that he was planning to waltz her down the aisle in heaven the moment he got the chance. He has an icon of her in his bedroom. Dead or not, I consider her a formidable rival for his affections.

But I have loved her too. And today, her words have been ringing in my ears. "Hope is the thing with feathers" is a poem that I probably learned from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, more than 30 years ago. I was reminded of that poem as I watched the faces of so many Americans who had gathered on the Mall in Washington to witness and celebrate Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th president of the United States.

Old and young. Rich and poor. Gay and straight. All the colors of the rainbow. I confess that it was a glorious melange that I had never see in my lifetime.

As I listened to President Obama (how I love typing that!), I also remembered another of Emily's poems:

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Today we heard important words about hope--but also about accountability and sacrifice. We heard our new President say that we will all be called upon to do our part in facing the difficult challenges that lie ahead.

The words have been said. It is time for us to make them live. Get busy, people.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My So-Called Life

I haven't been posting much. The well is been dry lately--though I've been mulling posts on the awful situation in Gaza and some more on homelessness and community. But if you don't write it when it's bugging you, then chances are, it will already have been covered by better bloggers than yourself, and then you think "Why bother?" That's me lately....

And life has been full since Christmas. Here's a partial run-down:

Bad Things:
  • Work is crazy, thanks to Transition Mania.
  • One kid missed an entire week of school for a virus last week. The other missed Wednesday through Friday.
  • I have a cold.
  • They are predicting 2-6 inches of snow tomorrow. Ugh.
  • There are well over 200 entries in my Google Reader and my head is too stuffed up to comprehend them all. I will probably hit "Mark All As Read" and hope you will forgive me.
  • I have gotten myself involved in a local controversy over school assignments. Some neighbors are mad at me, and I am a bit angry myself. Race, class, and privilege all come into play---not easy conversations to have.
  • One of my grandmother's oldest friends was found dead in her yard the other day. My grandmother is feeling this loss deeply. At 83, every death is one closer to your own. Sigh.
  • A friend at church was recently diagnosed with an extremely serious illness and ended up having to have surgery last week. The long-term prognosis is grim.
Good Things:
  • Dear Friend and I had a lovely weekend together, after a long space between visits. Our engagement seems to have deepened our relationship in some lovely ways I could not have predicted.
  • Ruth gave me a nice award, which I will post when my head is not spinning. Thank you, my friend!
  • The Empress and I are having lunch together today and going to paint pottery together. In my altered state of consciousness, I have no idea what I will produce---but she is over-the-moon happy about our "Mommy and Me date," as she calls it.
  • Tomorrow marks a Whole New Day. Thanks be to God.
That's my life. How's yours?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I just feel the need to post this...

Three years ago yesterday, my best friend took me to see a movie called The Family Stone. She had already seen it, and thought I might enjoy it.

If you haven't seen the movie, it's about a family at Christmastime--with all the misadventures you would expect. Oldest son returns to introduce his incredibly uptight fiancee to his very liberal family. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.

But there is a scene in that movie that broke my heart into a million pieces. One character, who has unexpectedly fallen in love with someone he's not supposed to, chases after her as she runs away in confusion. It is dark and he races madly through the snow, screaming her name and trying to catch her before he loses his chance at real love.

I sobbed bitterly in the dark of that theater because I knew that I would never have anyone in my life who would love me enough to race through the snow and the dark for me.

Miracles do happen.