Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When joy causes pain

I am pondering what it looks like to be charitable to those with whom I disagree on very serious matters of theology when an event finally occurs that is cause for celebration for me but is cause for mourning for others who disagree with me. Specifically, I am thinking about how happy I am that an out partnered priest in a same-sex relationship has been called as rector in a diocese that has up until now been in a state of suspended animation. Every LGBT person in the Holy Orders process has been on hold, and no new LGBT clergy have been welcomed into the diocese during those years of stasis. But that stasis is now breaking up like static breaks up a radio broadcast. Certain things cannot be held in check no matter how tightly you squeeze. You can’t control the static, and you can only do so much to block it out.

I am reminded of the words from Amos 5:24, uttered by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., which were memorialized at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Maya Lin installation: “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” The stasis that is ending is being washed away, stone by stone from the stack where each stone was meant to add to a defense against change. There has been a diminution wrought by the inexorable passage of time, the changing of the guard in some places, and the movement of other ecclesiastical bodies that parallel the subject diocese. My children and other twenty-somethings tell me the LGBT topic is a non-issue for them. Surely they are the voice of the future.

There was always an inevitability to the stasis breaking up even as there was much gnashing of teeth, anger, disappointment and despair on all sides of the arguments. Very real human stories of tragic proportions litter the landscape everywhere. Careers have been truncated, hopes dashed and faith abandoned. Combatants on each side have described events leading to these changes in the language of war: fight for, battle of, competing churches, stand firm against, evil forces, etc. Extreme behavior has arisen that called forth extreme responses: church trials and civil lawsuits (an oxymoron if there ever was one).

Now a voice of compassion, which I respect deeply, has spoken out about exercising restraint in our rejoicing, because the cause of our joy is the cause of others’ pain. At first blush, I can see the wisdom in what appears to be an act of compassion for those with whom I disagree theologically. But it doesn’t feel right as I let the admonition to dampen down my rejoicing settle inside me. I think about the miners trapped as a group in a mine, and as the rescue effort drags on through long, heart-wrenching hours, eventually there is a rescue. Only one survives. The others have all perished. Should the survivor and his family not rejoice, since he was found, because the others were lost? How should the survivor and his family respond compassionately to the families of those who were lost? Conversely, how should the families of those who were lost respond to the survivor and his family? Who should show charity to whom? What is authentic behavior, authentic love for the other? Should my experience of loss offset your experience of joy?

Well, I’m told, the analogy doesn’t work, because everyone was praying not only for the survivor, but for all the miners, that they would be found alive. In the theological scenario that is being lived out in dioceses across the country, not everyone is praying for the LGBT clergy, that they would be found worthy to serve Christ’s Church, that they would all have a call to serve at the end of the day. Indeed, some are dismayed that there even exist LGBT clergy, because from their perspective the LGBT individuals shouldn’t have been ordained at all. As I read and listen to those who find my approval of LGBT partnered clergy as being wholesome and holy, wrong, I am aware that for them, it does feel like they’ve experienced a loss, that they’ve lost the contest to have their church hold onto a deeply held religious tenet.

I think it’s appropriate to suggest that there should be no crowing about the washing away of the stasis and the advent of a new order of things, because that would indicate an adversarial perspective when it’s not a matter of winning and losing, despite the reality that there are people who feel like winners and losers. I agree that it’s not helpful to anyone or the community to call the other side wrong or evil, because judgment is reserved to the one who created us all and is not our purview however much we might try to appropriate the right to judge.

I also think about the newly called priest in the same-sex relationship and wonder what would be a proper pastoral response to her and to her new parish. If your mother dies around the birthday of your child, what is your parental/pastoral response to your child? How should your spouse or other adult relative or friend show charity to you and to your child? Just thinking about that raises the specter of all the psychologically damaged people who have suffered because someone important in their childhoods couldn’t shower them with love and joy at their causes for celebration at the same time that those adults also suffered from their own feelings of grief and pain at their losses that happened in the same timeframe.

I have no doubt that I will chew on this subject for a long while. But right now, I have to say that I’m uncomfortable with the admonition not to celebrate the joy felt by many who share my convictions regarding LGBT partnered clergy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Our Animal Companions

It's time to share space with our four-legged companions. They've been constant in their affection and have given us many hours of sheer delight and a small measure of grief.

That's Tink, short for Tinkerbell, on the left. She's 9 years old and a Devon Rex. Tink arrived shortly after our last dog, 12-year old Dillon, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, died of cancer. Our daughter, Cecelia, had always wanted a cat of her own, but I have major allergies to cats. When we discovered the Devon Rex breed and learned that most people with allergies, including asthmatics, can live with them, we were sold. Learn more about them at Planet Devon -- The Devon Rex Home Page.

When Cece left for college 5-1/2 years ago, Tink was unconsolable, but she adapted over time. I learned to hold her for what seemed like endless hours, and Tink learned to sleep in the crook of my arm, meaning that I couldn't turn over all night. By the time Cece moved into her second apartment in her senior year, Tink had become my cat, and it didn't seem fair to uproot her from her house in Colorado to move to a tiny student apartment in Ohio. Tink's favorite hangout is anywhere near my computer, which is where I am most of the day. It used to be on top of the satellite receivers, but after her body heat and shed fur burned out the seventh one, we went to cable and now "hide" the receivers in places inaccessible to Tink's little 8 lb. cat body.

So, two new Devons appeared on the scene, sibs Q-Tip (Q-T for short), a girl, the white one on the left, and her brother, Archie, who's silver and red. Q-T and Archie are now almost three and the most delightfully entertaining kitties. Q-T is the shy one, and Archie is the jumper and affectionate one. Devons are known as "monkeys in cat suits" and for their talkative and friendly natures. You have to lock them up when service people come over, because they will get into everything and delay the work as the service people stop to pet them!

The pretty girl on the left is Sihaya, a short-haired stray that Jamie rescued on a cold rainy night near campus in Columbus, two years ago. She is Archie's rambunctious playmate, and they chase each other all over the girls' Springfield house, waking you up if they think you're sleeping too late into the day.

These canines belong to our friend, Steel. They really are as smiley as they appear. The one on the left, the golden lab, is Honey, who still visits me almost everyday with Steel. All of Steel's dogs loved to swim. Harley, the golden retriever on the right, passed on to doggie heaven earlier this year after a courageous fight with cancer, enduring a leg amputation.

This little guy is Bear, who wasn't much of a bear at all, unless you count teddy bears. He belonged to Steel and also went to doggie heaven this year as a very senior citizen. Bear always waited patiently for his doggie treats, because Harley and Honey would get served first, being both bigger and just plain more rambunctious than the very gentle Bear.

We miss you, Harley and Bear. May your doggie dreams all come true in doggie heaven!

Even my mother, Frances, who professes not to love animals, is fond of our animal companions. The provide a lot of love and companionship in small packages.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Give me fewer choices

As the holiday season advances upon us I am struck by how difficult it is to keep up with friendships near and far in these days of overly busy schedules and obligations. I hear the advice to simplify, and I am mystified as to what I can reasonably give up without failing someone in my circle of friends and responsibilities. Really, I am not that important, and I know it.

Yet, I feel surrounded by people who are waiting for me to do the next task. No doubt it's more a mindset than a reality, this phenomenon that I am describing. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way and that this feeling is a very central piece of the holiday season that coincides with the end of the year. Folks are beginning to reflect upon the past 12 months and tally up what's been done, what's been overlooked, and what's been left behind.

I suspect that a lot of the angst arises out of the old “cup half full, cup half empty” points of view. It’s much easier to count my shortfalls at year end than to count my blessings. Somehow counting my blessings seems to fall into another holiday season, not this one. I torment myself with all the things left undone, and occasionally when I remember not only the thing left undone, but the thing forgotten altogether until just this moment, then I really spiral into the darkness of inner space where self-blame reigns.

It’s a lot easier to give advice than to take advice, and as my husband, Herb, says, “From a Darwinian perspective, all the advice-takers died off, and only the advice givers remain.” I know how to counsel the ones who see the cup as half empty. Think about the people who have added to your life in 2008. Reflect on the things you’ve done and seen that have added to who you are. Focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown in the past year. Being thankful and actively giving thanks are intentional acts. They don’t happen just because you’re a person of good character. That’s why I consider my practice of giving thanks to be a spiritual discipline.

When I think about simplifying my life, I recall my oft-voiced lament in supermarkets and department stores, which I actually seldom frequent anymore. I find myself remarking, “Give me fewer choices.” Just exactly how many colors, sizes, shapes, and new designs of consumer objects does anyone need? This question seems especially relevant during the flurry of Christmas shopping occurring right now. I am equally overwhelmed by the choices in packaged breads. All I want is a loaf of tasty whole grain bread at a reasonable price. Much as I appreciate the splendor of a gourmet counter full of 300 different domestic and imported cheeses, I would eat and cook just fine if there were only 30 from which to choose. I can’t even begin to imagine the waste that surely ensues given so many choices and so many things left behind, unchosen.

I’m thinking that I need to focus on the ones who have suffered losses in the past year and tell them that I haven’t forgotten their loved ones either, be it a parent or a beloved animal companion. I’m reminded of the ones who have left the churches and communities where we spent time together and how much I want them to know that I miss their presence. I’m planning on letting go of the things that I didn’t get around to doing, because maybe, they weren’t meant to be done . . . by me. I’m going to sit in the warmth of the sun and call up the faces of the ones I love and send them good vibes.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Making the ordinary "ordinary"

I was commenting over dinner the other night about how much more and how much more deeply my daughter and I communicate now that there is text messaging and Instant Messaging (IM). I pointed out that it seems we can talk about more substantive and sometimes even more difficult topics without anyone's buttons being pushed, ending the conversation right then if it had been by phone.

Well, I just got off an hour plus telephone conversation with Cece, who this morning finished no. 3 of 5 law school first semester finals in her first year of law school, and I have to admit that the "real" conversation definitely had its attractions. The main one is that we were able to cover so much more ground in a brief period of time. As fast as we both type, using text and IMs just isn't fast enough to cover the amount of ground that we covered in an hour-long conversation. Admittedly, it's been a while since Cece and I have had a long phone conversation. With her law school work load - it's the reading that is mountainous, I have been careful not to inveigh upon Cece's time too often and certainly not for the purpose of nagging as we mothers are wont to do from time to time. Otherwise, my nag muscles would surely atrophy, which wouldn't be a pretty sight.

The text messages also have been handy for communications between my husband and myself. Herb now lives and works in Washington state, the Tri-Cities area, and I mostly live and work in Colorado (rural Boulder County). For almost 70- and 60-year olds, we are undoubtedly an unusual modern commuter couple. We sometimes have specific bits of information to share with the other spouse - such as "Hard freeze this wkend; sprinklers blown out," and "FYI. Bought Batman Returns DVD." Those bits of data really don't warrant a full-on phone conversation or an email, but do need to be shared to keep the other partner updated. Other times, a text message delivers a wry comment about the small things that happen during each day - such as "Ugh. Hate going to DMV. Lines circling bldg," and "Waited 35 min. on hold 4 tech supt. Yr turn next!"

Herb and I find that texting, in particular, helps us to stay connected to each other's daily lives even though we might not see each other for another four weeks. It makes the ordinary, well, ordinary. In some ways, I liken texting to those nightly debriefs we used to have when our daughter was younger, when we would catch the other person up on the notable events of the day - you know, those lists that you recite to your partner so that all the adults in the household know what the kids have been up to.

I used to kid that I wanted one of the Dick Tracy 2-way wrist communicators, only I wanted mine implanted in my wrist. The Chung Kuo series of alternative future sci-fi books written by David Wingrove feature an implant in the head (brain?) that one can use to communicate in- and out-bound. I'm not sure about a brain implant, but really, how much further afield is that than a wrist implant?

I believe that it's important as one ages, which is, of course, inevitable, to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs. To me, that means making a sincere, serious and effective effort to keep up with new technology and new methodologies of doing things. Herb is an early adopter and finds and embraces new technology before the prior version has even had a chance to become outmoded. I'm a bit slower and find myself the inheritor of Herb's discarded toys when newer ones come on the market. I was telling Cece today that I finally got around to tinkering with the iPod that my brother had handed down to me, and I was so proud of myself for figuring out how to get my music CDs loaded onto it. When I turned it on to listen to the music, it took me several minutes before I figured out that there weren't any speakers on the iPod and that the only way to listen to the music was through earphones! Cece howled, "Oh, Mom!" But I'm trying! And mostly succeeding, very much enjoying the experiences.