Tuesday, May 19, 2009
So, here is the poem entitled "Losses" that I wrote soon after the loss of Jeanne, my dear friend and guardian angel who held my hand and my heart during the rough days of divorce, heartbreak and despair nearly forty years ago. Jeanne had the gift of being present in spirit and in praxis, often coming by my apartment to scoop me up and take me home with her to feed me a meal and watch over my sleep.
I am so grateful to have climbed my way out of the bleakness of depression, despair and suicidal Butoh dances and to have turned my face to the sun. It was as if God found me one day -- that I experienced the presence of God in the peripheries of my life, without being able to name God as God. I knew then that it was my task to find God, or in the terms I would have used thirty years ago, to seek the divine in the world.
(to my sisters)
We must choose, we must choose
to stroke before the swelling tide
to expand our lungs and breathe
to exhort our hearts to feel the power
held in deepest reserves till now
to beat down the denizens bare-souled
to claim our weary,
to live them as best we can
for no better reason
because we can
There have been too many losses
in too many states
of being loved and unloved
(but never unlovable, one hopes)
at war and at peace
but never at rest
If I don't care, does the hurt abate?
If I hadn't cared, is your absence erased?
Too many questions, yin without yang
Unfinished business, it's getting so late
You have heard the knocking at the gate
You have heard the calling of your name
You have heard the ringing of the bells
As one who's struggled through the reasons
jumped in the sea and been forgiven
for less than a perfect showing
Spared the pain for many seasons
I'm at a loss to accept losses now
There are lessons in the turbulent waters
there are angels here on earthly land
their hands stretched out to guide you
home to my heart and my reasons for loving you
home to your safeplace, safe from it all
[August 4, 1995]
Monday, May 18, 2009
My training partner, JoKatherine Holliman Page, MSW, LCSW, and I just completed a two-day anti-racism training for the Diocese of Colorado of The Episcopal Church this past weekend. Whew! What an intense and focused 14-hours spent together with a group of church lay leaders, clergy and persons in the Holy Orders process. It took me a full day and a half to chill and recover from the physical, emotional and sprititual energy expended in getting ready for and conducting the training.
We were pleased to include two members of the Standing Committee, a member of the General Convention deputation, and a Commission on Ministry member among the participants, as well as two members from the Sudanese Community Church.
JoKatherine and I have structured the training so that anti-racism is the entry point and the goal is the development in the participants of cultural competency and the willingness, vulnerability and conversation skills to engage in deep dialogue about tough subjects. We utilize videos, group exercises, a dramatic reading, theological reflection, photographs, news articles, prayers and PowerPoint presentations to develop the subject.
In a church-based anti-racism training as opposed to a secular anti-racism training, we believe that it is imperative to incorporate messages from Scripture and church tradition to illustrate how we are called as Members of the Body of Christ to live lives that are alert to racism and other “isms” to which we fall prey. The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church has twice issued Pastoral Letters, in March 1994 and in March 2006, stating that racism is a sin and that we as a church and as individuals must repent of the sin of racism.
As trainers, we know that we have touched the hearts of the participants when we receive E-mails, after the first day of training, of an individual’s reflections and hunger for guidance on next steps, as well as when participants on the second morning name their moods as “pensive.” Our design and delivery of the training very much puts it into the realm of a spiritual development workshop rather than into the category of a diversity training workshop.
JoKatherine and I view our anti-racism work as one of the ways in which we support the mission of the Church, as stated in the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, which is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
We would welcome the opportunity to provide our anti-racism training in other churches and dioceses. You have only to invite us!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
In honor of mothers everywhere on this Mother's Day, here is a poem I wrote many years ago about my mother.
When Daddy took his
12-yr old only daughter
to the racetrack
soothed the creases
of the white dress shirts
she was pressing with a 10-lb
American Beauty iron
Daddy played the horses
moving dollar bills
from his left pocket
to his right pocket
to pari-mutuel window
Master of a System
guaranteed to be slow
a few more half-hours
from the humid hot kitchen where
he cooked pork fried rice
egg foo young
9,390 days of his life
Daddy's winnings were like
the really good fortunes
found in the cookies that came with the bill
You could count on the bill to arrive
but you never counted on the good fortune
that would change your life
As we children grew up into away
and our refugee relations cut the umbilicals
so grew Daddy and Momma's good fortune
Dollars flowing from their 14-hr workdays
to their own account
Daddy bought Momma a big diamond ring
When she waited tables
diners would grab her hand
"You're no waitress"
and Momma would say
"I am owner of American dream"
Saturday, May 9, 2009
It’s been almost a month since I last posted to this blog, and it’s not because I haven’t been writing. However, most of the writing recently has been emails to individuals – sometimes answering a question, sometimes commenting on a current event, and sometimes offering, I hope, helpful advice.
Although I write quickly, I am a deliberate, careful sharer of my writing. I care deeply that what I say will convey the true import of my thoughts and feelings. It matters to me that I am supportive vs. dismissive or unredemptively critical of the person(s) I’m writing to or about. As my friend, Zoe, says, I hope that I am adding to the silence when I speak.
Bishop Nedi Rivera said to me a year ago as we traveled on a bus to Sunday Mass in the high country of Taiwan, “You’re an elder.” Those words have stuck with me, and I’ve pondered them often. Those words resonate with the transition I’ve been experiencing for the past nine years that my mother has lived with us and since my first grandchild was born.
In the past decade I’ve transitioned to being the matriarch of my generation, the one who is acknowledged as the keeper of the family’s metaphorical gates. The defining moment was nine years ago when I learned that my mother and the women of her generation were categorizing my widowed sister-in-law, whose husband, my youngest brother, had died six years earlier, as not an equal member of the Lee family.
The triggering event was a one-year birthday party that Herb and I hosted in California for the entire family to meet and celebrate our grandson. While the live-in paramours of my cousins were welcomed by my mother’s generation, the same courtesy was not extended to my sister-in-law because she was a daughter-in-law and not a daughter. In a traditional Chinese family, those distinctions matter in word and in deed. There are words to name each of the in-law relationships including distinguishing “on the mother’s/father’s side” and “married to the child of such-and-such birth order.”
That was the first time I spoke with the authority of a newly minted matriarch, standng up for justice and equal treatment for the mother of my mother’s youngest grandson and of my only nephew. There was push-back from the grandmothers, who objected vociferously with rationales that didn’t make any sense to me or to my brother, Jon, to whom I turned for advice and support. I finally said to the grandmothers that I would be very sad if they chose not to attend the one-year birthday party, because my sister-in-law and her partner would be attending.
The confirmation of my new matriarch role came when everyone in the family showed up for the party. The passing of the baton from one generation to the next happens not with trumpets blaring and tympanis clashing, but with the quiet acquiescence of old ladies who murmur approval upon tasting the family’s favorite dish cooked by a daughter from her own new recipe.
I cannot say that I aspired to be an elder, and I certainly thought that elderhood came to those much older than I, who just turned 60. The nuances of being an elder are subtle. People pay attention to what you say, even quoting you, and you become keenly aware of the responsibility to speak with integrity. You notice that your praise and acknowledgment seem to be meaningful to others, and you become more alert to opportunities to offer thanks and specific compliments. People want you to carry their hurts and needs to the halls of decision-making, and you become more intentional in your listening, inquiring more widely. You cannot be an elder without living into these responsibilities.
One of the most profound nuances for me is my need to be grounded constantly in the loving arms of God and my community. People often comment that they don’t know how I do as much as I do. While I do a lot, I also spend enormous amounts of time in contemplation and prayer, which are the fuel that give me the energy and stamina to attend to the work to which I am called. Another source of succour and renewal is the time spent with friends and colleagues in deep conversation where I try to be open and vulnerable about what is happening in my life and what I am thinking.
I pray for the grace to continue to add to the silence and to be worthy of the respect and trust given to me in my elder’s role.