Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Interlocking Infinity of Iota

I've just returned from a four-day Thanksgiving holiday with my husband, Herb, in a place of sunshine and adult fantasy - Las Vegas. I looked forward to the trip for months and fantasized an out-of-mind experience while in Vegas, leaving duties and responsibilities behind. Now, back in Reality (with a capital "R"): I've spent the last several hours catching up on emails and online news. I'm fretting about calendaring dates in 2009 that have come in via email and wondering how I will choose which activities to follow up on and which to drop, because next year is already becoming overbooked, and I’m just not that important.

As I sort through the 2009 opportunities, it is clear that not every invitation is one worth accepting. In many ways I am grateful for the so-called recession, even though it has hit our retirement funds hard - down over 40%, because it has caused a reassessment and reprioritization of everything. That is a hidden gift for those of us who find it difficult to discipline ourselves to do the reassessment and reprioritization on our own impetus. Part of God's profundity and mystery is the use of unlikely scenarios for teaching us dense humans. Not only does God have a sense of humor, but it's a wry one with sharp ironies folded in.

The Episcopal Church's triennial governing body, General Convention, meets for eleven days in July in Anaheim, and I'm scheduled to attend in its entirety as the first alternate lay deputy for the Diocese of Colorado. There are also a Province VI synod meeting in June, a Deputies of Color Orientation weekend in April, and an Episcopal AsiAmerican Chinese Convocation leadership meeting in January. I ponder the idea of meetings and their purpose, effectiveness and costs. Choosing to participate in the leadership of my church is beginning to feel like signing on to the Department of Repetition, Redundancy and Self-Importance, and I'm not liking it very much. The costs tend to get expressed as dollar amounts and time expended, and many have decried the misdirection of attention to self-redefinition and maintenance and away from mission to the poor, the sick, and the lonely. I’m feeling the costs in terms of loss of core identity from knowledge of self as steward in God’s creation to self as meeting minion. I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Meanwhile, Reality has included readings on a cacophony of the world's seemingly irreducible, interlocking problems. I say seemingly irreducible, because I sure hope that the world's problems are not unsolvable - if we can just chunk them down into manageable pieces. Mother Teresa, when asked her advice on addressing the overwhelming problems of the world, said that you start with the ones in front of you.

Many of the articles arrive through news services, and a handful are sent by friends. I was surprised to read how the rise of agrifuels is aggravating world hunger in third world countries, where agricultural lands once used to grow corn for food is now being transferred to growing corn for fuel, reducing the amount of food corn and raising its price. A film clip and review of the Sundance award-winning film, "Frozen River," is depressing in its storytelling of racism against Native Americans, smuggling illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants across the Canadian border, and broken families with absent fathers. Malaysia, which is my uncle's country of origin, is considering enacting a fatwa against "masculine" women whose appearance and image are like a man's, which causes me to consider the importance of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and their emphasis on improving the educational and poverty levels of women in the poorest parts of the world, thus improving the status of women across the planet.

The Butterfly Effect, otherwise known as the interdependence of all things in Creation, is the essence of chaos theory, or might I suggest, of God who holds all of Creation in God’s perfect knowledge of the interlocking infinity of iota. My humble contribution of an act of conservation or kindness ripples through Creation in untold ways. Not knowing the consequences of one’s acts is part of the interlocking humility required to live together as one world. As the Beatitudes teach us, it’s easier for the woman living on the banks of the Ganges or the African walking to a displaced persons camp to know that grace-filled humility than for us first-worlders who have been inculcated with a sense of our “right” to knowledge. Not knowing the consequences of one’s acts of kindness is the essence of charitable giving – giving motivated by love of others with no expectation for even the reward of knowing that I made a difference in anyone’s life, giving not connected to any expectations at all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving Thanks

Some time ago, I decided to make my daily devotional practice take the form of giving thanks. It seemed to be a natural for me, because I had found myself saying quietly the words, "Thanks be to God" after many actions done and observed during the day. Now that I have consciously adopted this practice, I find myself not only saying the words "Thanks be to God" more often, but also stopping to consider more closely the things that have caused me to give thanks.

I now notice that the objects of beauty, like the mums my mother planted by the front walk two years ago, which bloomed especially gloriously this fall, have the power to make me weep. I weep for their ephemeral beauty as I walk by each day. The flowers unfold and turn their heads to the sun, then wrinkle and brown, their petals gently falling away when I'm not looking. Even the early almost-frost of late autumn days spares the mums for a brief spell to reign by the walk and shelter the cottontails.

I weep also for the winter of my mother's life, observing closely as she is surprised by a new awareness of her body's changes. The mums and my mother are intertwined in my experience of home, part of the daily landscape of the place that I wake in. When I read the worldwide news that comes from the legion of newsletters popping up on my computer screen, I am intensely thankful that I live under such a bright blue sky, saying "Thank you" to my mother who cooks for me. I am profoundly conscious of how blessed I am to have enough to eat, more than merely a roof over my head, and my loved ones, equally blessed, living safely nearby.

A natural consequence of regularly saying "Thanks be to God" is that one begins to notice all the people in everyday encounters who are to be thanked for what they do. Saying "Thank you" to the checkout clerk at the store becomes specific, thanking her for the care she has taken to wrap my breakable items carefully. I find myself adding, "I hope you're having a good day, too," in response to her parting "Have a good day."

And the natural consequences grow, because one no longer stops at just noticing what people do for which one is thankful, but one begins to notice who people are. The overnight package delivery driver who comes to the door is someone I now make a point of looking in the eye and acknowledging, as I sign the receipt and say, "Thank you. What a glorious day to be out and about!" I say a silent prayer for a safe day on the road as the driver leaves my door.

Practicing gratefulness has calmed me in ways that I did not anticipate. That calmness has been expressed as purposefulness, an intentionality to do the things that are important, such as spending time with friends and family. I realized several years ago that I have many friends, but that I was not a very good friend. I lacked intentionality in nurturing my friendships. I now invite my mother to the movies, cook dinner for my husband's friends, go to the opera with new friends, and have coffee with long-term friends, activities which used to be sacrificed to work and other self-centered priorities.

These expressions of purposefulness could be viewed as instances of right relationship with others, ultimately a gesture of peacemaking in the world. From thankfulness to peacemaking, yes, it can happen, because giving thanks leads to consciousness of what others do and of who others are, which leads to creating brief as well as longer-term person-to-person interactions, which is how relationships begin, and which is where peace starts.

So, dear ones, have a Happy Thanksgiving, forget not the needy, and let not the hope of the poor be taken away. Thanks be to God, now and always, forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

what a cup of tea

This is the poem from which the title of this blog, "what a cup of tea," derives. A cup of tea is a lot like life. It can be warm and comforting, just the thing on a cold winter's morn. When offered a cup of tea as a gesture of hospitality, one is obligated as an expression of good manners to accept graciously. And yet, that cup of tea can be cause for dismay, because it's just one more thing that one didn't expect to be so disappointing. So, I've styled this blog "what a cup of tea" as a commentary on what I've encountered in life. Life gets served up, and sometimes I'm delighted and inspired, uplifted even. And other times, I am in utter dismay. I'd be interested in reading what you think. So, feel free to comment here.


Playing one game

after another

she claims to meditate

upon the tiles

which ones to move

to reveal the quadruple play

intellect rationalized

self removed

Sonambulant, she rises

Suburban episodes

strung together

like beads

on a rosary

Pray for love

live for hope

pray for second chances

hope, to live

pray for relief


from duty

and the small stuff

all the small stuff

that bind the days


like bandages


hung out to dry

twisting in the wind

into the wind

Lives the smoldering furor

’neath the tall pine trees

lives the little danger

on the forest floor

all the things

that will n’er be

disappointment at dawn

what a cup of tea

the unfolding of a letter

plain words upon plain paper

the unraveling of a lifeline

to stall means to conk out

all the things that will not be

They will not be

Amidst the forest thirsty

rising from branches fallen

smoke and ashes

invite tears

or is it her breaking heart

bending her in agony

that morphs fears to tears

It doesn’t matter

there is no going back

All the things that will not be

They will not be

Up a forest

smoking goes


her heart

her head

their homes


their dreams


too late


and hate

The toll of love

all that’s left

to relate

n’er a romance

nor morality play

Only a story

in minor key

contemporary tale

of no escape

Lelanda Lee

April 30, 2004

(inspired by the story of a ranger who burned her lover’s letter and started a catastrophic forest fire)

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Citizen, A Christian, A Mother

In Denver, over 1,000 attended the "Join the Impact - Protest Prop 8" rally for equal rights for the LGBTQ community in front of City Hall on Saturday, November 15th. Episcopalians were amongst the organizers, lining up speakers and entertainers, and a gay Episcopal priest and I were among the speakers. Below is the text of my remarks from Saturday.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
I come before you today as a citizen, a Christian, and a mother.

As a citizen, I have pledged allegiance to this one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

As a mother, I have taught my children that the single most important decision that they can make in their entire lives is choosing whom to love, from the decision to love God to the decision to love another human being as their life partner.

As a mother, I have taught my children to discern the difference between myth and reality and the importance of knowing the difference.

As the descendent of Chinese immigrants who came to this country, known in the Chinese language as mei guo or beautiful country, I am grievously saddened that this country to which I have pledged allegiance is not so beautiful after all, and that the words “with liberty and justice for all” contained in our pledge of allegiance is myth and not reality today.

As a mother, I rejoiced when my lesbian daughter chose her life partner, because my daughter had shown wisdom and judgment in choosing someone who loves her unconditionally and who will support her in sickness and in health, until death parts them.

As a mother, I grieve that this great nation, a leader among nations, currently does not live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all, because my daughter, who is in a life-long committed relationship, does not have the same civil rights that legal marriage confers, merely because the person my daughter has chosen to love is another woman.

As a thinking human being, I ask you, how just is that?

As a Christian, I am called to love God and to love my neighbor as myself. As a Christian, I am compelled to strive for justice and equal rights for ALL God’s people and to uphold the dignity of every human being . . . of every human being, no exceptions.

As a citizen, I say to you, it is our utmost duty to urge this great nation of ours to live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all. As citizens, our country demands this of us.

As a mother, I say to you, we know the difference between the current myth of “justice for all” in laws that deny the right of same-sex partners to marry and the reality yet to be realized of true justice for all when women who love women and men who love men can marry one another and live in the security that the law will protect and uphold them and their relationships, their children and their property rights.

Sisters and brothers, I stand before you and say, “Never give up. Never give in. Let us change the laws that currently divide us into those who have justice and those who do not. Together let us make justice for all a reality and retire the myth.”