Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Am Not My Mother's Mother

My mother has lived with our family since 2000 when we moved to our current home in Colorado. I thank God everyday for my husband’s tolerance that has allowed this to be our family’s reality. I pray regularly for patience and tolerance with regard to living with my 84-year old mother.

There are days when I wish I hadn’t invited Mom to live with us, because our lives would be very different in many ways that are more suited to our likes and dislikes. For one, I’d have control of my kitchen, which is a source of constant irritation to me when I’m being totally honest. Most of the time, I sublimate, and I’ve gotten good at it. It is the dutiful thing to do. I had chosen the words “Duty and Sacrifice Beyond Reproach” for my father’s columbarium marker, and I suspect his example holds me in thrall.

Mom had been living in San Diego, California, from whence she complained for several years at me by phone. I dreaded picking up the phone and hearing Mom’s complaints of being lonely and not having an appetite. Whether the complaints were true or not, they served the purpose of making me feel guilty and manipulating me into actions that Mom wanted. As the eldest child growing up with two younger brothers, Mom used guilt as the preferred means to control my rebellious nature. Other threats, including physical ones, didn’t seem to work on me.

Mom had originally moved to San Diego to spend time with my nephew, then 5 years old, because my youngest brother had died after a swift decline from cancer. It was a significant sacrifice for Mom, selling her restaurant, giving up her house, and leaving the place where she had lived for 43 years, but she did it without looking back. I’ve always admired that about her. But by age 12, my nephew had his own life after school and didn’t need a doting grandmother to oversee his everyday activities. She had become superfluous.

Mom has survived Dad by almost 25 years and been a wily and steely-spined eldest sister to three sisters and three brothers while also self-employed as a restaurateur. She and Dad sponsored eleven people from Hong Kong, who, in turn, sponsored the rest of the clan to immigrate to the U.S. In accordance with Chinese tradition, Mom has gloried in her role as matriarch. She and Dad sacrificed a lot for the family. Mom has earned respect and demanded obeisance. Not every sibling has been duly cowed. Several siblings have been major disappointments, lacking character.

My surviving brother and I have resisted the cultural memes that would have placed cataracts on our psyches with regard to viewing Mom for who she is and who she isn’t. We mean no disrespect, but we also cannot acquiesce to carrying collective grievances of which we have no part and deem wrong on so many levels. We've worked hard in our adulthoods to become self-differentiated people. 

Over the years, Mom has attempted, unsuccessfully, to drag my brother and me into family feuds that are often centered on the daughters-in-law of the multiple generations in our large extended family. A daughter can be loved for who she is as an individual even while her gender casts her into a secondary family role. But a daughter-in-law is not so easily accepted or loved, because she isn’t “real” family and is, after all, only a female. (Pause for a big sigh as I’m writing this.)

I’ve said it before over the years, and I’m finding myself having to say it again to my mother that I’m not getting in the middle of these petty grievances which get expressed in long-suffering and self-denying behaviors. My brother, who moved in with us a year-and-a-half ago, isn’t getting in the middle either. We know that calls for reason have no traction in conversations that are about being right and feeling wronged.

It’s not easy living with someone who’s entered into the final years of life, where life is full of fears once again, and remembrances of losses. Some of the losses are of physical faculties that I am still young enough at age 63 to take for granted, like stamina and night vision.

I understand the very human need to make a stand and hang onto one’s gradually slipping sense of self. If you don’t stand up for yourself, even when you’re wrong, then how will people know that you’re still here, that you still matter. How will you recognize yourself?

I understand the selfishness that arises out of ego-needs that aren’t being met in other ways like gainful employment or useful contributions to the ones you love. It’s a lot like the grasping of little children who haven’t yet learned how to wait their turn and who fear that their turn will never come. For elders, the fear is that they won’t be here when their turn finally arrives.

So, this is what I know. I know that I am not my mother’s mother. I cannot intercede and make things right for Mom. That’s not my role or responsibility. I cannot explain her motivations to others. She must do that for herself and deal with her own emotions while interacting with others. I cannot make excuses for my mother. She must be accountable for her own words and actions. And all of this is hard for both Mom and for me. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Smack Talk - Just Don't Do It!

I often find it difficult to participate in social media in terms of making comments on posts when it's clear that the whole story hasn't been told and told without code words that are meant to disparage another side of the argument.

I, too, have political positions that lean a particular way, but I am unpersuaded by shoddy arguments and by appeals to name-calling and demonization of the people who own other points of view. When my friends and acquaintances resort to name-calling and demonization, I admit that it does lower my estimation of them.

In this season of Advent, which for Christians is a period of practicing waiting patiently, I especially find it difficult to stomach the shrillness of the hate language that gets bandied about by otherwise good people. Shrillness is an anxiety-ridden behavior that directly opposes the tranquility of patient waiting.

Hate language doesn’t have to include four letter words and other expletives to be hate language. It just has to connote the kind of sneering at another that verges on the edge of wanting something bad to happen to the other. Some of my friends and acquaintances even go over the edge to verbalize the bad things that they want to happen to other people. I find that very regrettable and saddening. I find it dehumanizing of those of us who read or hear it and definitely dehumanizing of those who resort to verbalizing such evil sentiments.

Whether we justify ourselves by saying that we’re only venting or being cleverly ironic, or that the other side started the name-calling, or by any other excuse, it’s still evil. Being tainted by the evil of acting unconsciously, when we fall into the rage of anger and become some other creature, that is a kind of evil that we sometimes are able to step back from. We sometimes are able to come back to the sense of who we really are, and we can recant, repent, and ask for forgiveness.

But being tainted by the evil of our intentional name-calling and demonization is a form of hate-mongering that is much more difficult to step back from. Recognizing that we are not that person who purposely perpetrates evil requires a deep humility that many of us cannot bring ourselves to embrace. Recanting that which we said or did on purpose is very difficult. It often involves having to humble ourselves in front of others in a public forum, and that is very hard, indeed.

I don’t think you can ask for forgiveness and mean it, if you haven’t already also recanted what you’ve said and repented what you’ve done, and yes, humbled yourself before those you’ve afflicted with that bad behavior.

It’s best if we don’t go there. It’s best if we don’t say the mean words, the hate-filled words. It’s best if we don’t voice curses that call great harm to befall those we ridicule, are opposed to, and hate.

And for me and my soul’s peace, it’s best if I skip over your posts that are hateful, if I hide your posts that have evil invectives against others. It’s best if I don’t offer any remote hint of support for the momentary evil you’re engaged in.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Affirm Self, Affirm Other

            A few months ago, I led workshops at a weekend conference. One was titled “Affirm Self, Affirm Other: Reminders for the Journey.” It was designed on the bones of workshops I’ve been in and led that were based on the notion to “Lead Self, Lead Other.” Both workshops are about the need for caring human beings to be self-aware and to act upon that self-awareness in such a way that we are empowered to then act on that self-awareness for the benefit of others. I incorporated both a call to share our stories and a call to self-reflection.

            The first thing that struck me in the workshop was how hungry all the participants were to share their stories. These were people like me, generally older adults, who had raised families, enjoyed careers, and done volunteer work. I invited them to engage in storytelling in small groups of two and three and to reach back into their childhoods to recall and share the messages from adults, like parents, aunts, uncles, and teachers, that they had heard.

            The quality and content of the participants’ stories have haunted me since that workshop. I can still hear the emotion in the voices that told of strong fathers who never spoke a word of approval and meek wives and mothers who didn’t either, because those husband-fathers wouldn’t have approved. It was like the participants had stepped back into those childhoods, or maybe never really left those childhoods even after the passage of decades of adulthood. There were also stories of loving marriages that were simultaneously troubled, and how the spouse did not flower and bloom into all her fullness until the death of the other spouse.

            My workshop design included discussion of affirmations and self-talk, and practicing voicing affirmations to ourselves and to each other. I used images of flowers as metaphors for leading the participants into a practice of affirmations that many had somehow not learned or forgotten how to do for themselves and for others. The flowers were images of beauty that spoke to the hearts of the participants that knew, recognized, and rejoiced in beauty, goodness, and wholeness.

            I felt sad when it was time to end the workshop, because there was so much more to share and to tell, to learn from each other and to practice.

            I cherish the Buddhist concept that we do violence to ourselves when we engage in negative self-talk and self-criticism. The Buddhists do not say that we are to forego self-reflection nor do they eschew the journey to self-awareness of our failings. They just espouse a gentler path that suggests we empty ourselves of the negative, self-critical emotions and look towards the light that shines forth from the unity of all of creation.

            I want to suggest that as we approach a new year, we might try some simple everyday affirmations of self and other that could become habits through daily practice. I want to suggest that our habits could become contagious, if we practice them daily, consistently, with others.

            What if you say something nice to yourself each time you look into a mirror or when you think of yourself?  “I’m looking nice today.” “I feel strong today.” “I am going to have a good day.” “I love my life.” “I’m going to enjoy doing my chores today.” “I liked trying that new job at work yesterday.”

            What if you say something nice to everyone you encounter?  “I hope you’re having a good day.” “Thank you for asking me how I am today.” “I appreciate your service.” “Thank you for having such a great smile.” “You’ve helped make my day a good day.” “I’m so glad to spend time with you.” “I love what you’ve said.”

            As you practice this habit of affirmations of self and other, you will find yourself moving into an even more specific practice of this habit. You will find yourself noticing and remarking on specific things that people have said or done that are things you can affirm. “You always have something cheerful to say.” “I like how you support the team.” “You always seem to know when to lend a helping hand.” “You share the cutest photos.” “I like how you notice a beautiful sky.”

            Won’t you join me in affirming self and affirming others? I guarantee it will make you feel better about yourself and others!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Our Way

            I like that we have a national holiday named Thanksgiving that celebrates thanksgiving in all its various understandings.

            I don’t like that the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is built upon a historical fiction that portrays American history from a racist, dominant culture viewpoint.

            I don’t like that the Thanksgiving holiday brings up so much pain for my Native American relations.

            I don’t like that the Thanksgiving holiday brings up the wretchedness of assimilation as a dominant culture value and the pain that has been wrought on so many of my immigrant relations.

            When I was a child, my father told us the story of his little sister.

            One Monday after Thanksgiving in the 1930’s in Chinatown, New York City, my teenaged father’s little sister came home from public school, devastated.

            The very nice teacher had innocently asked the children in her classroom, “Did you enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey dinner? Did you have pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce?”

            Dad’s little sister didn’t know how to answer the teacher’s question, but it seemed obvious to her that the teacher and the other students had an expectation that everyone would have had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. After all, that was the American way, and there was even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to promote that American way.

            How could Dad’s little sister answer, “No”? How could she explain to a whole classroom of other impressionable children that her Chinese immigrant family, living in the ghetto known as Chinatown, didn’t observe the mainstream holiday of Thanksgiving with all the fixings? How could she explain that turkey is not a traditional Chinese poultry choice and that goose or duck is preferable?

            My father learned a lesson from that long ago Thanksgiving. He vowed that when he had children, they would have turkey and all the fixings every Thanksgiving . . . whether they preferred it or not. He was determined not to allow his own children ever to be singled-out and humiliated like his little sister. Dad had internalized the lesson.

            And so, growing up in our family home, with our mother who grew up in China, we had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie every year on Thanksgiving day. We also watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or went to downtown Detroit for the Hudson’s Department Store’s Thanksgiving Day parade. All the while, my brothers and I secretly yearned for the roast goose or roast duck that Mom might have cooked with roasted yams or taro.

            My father had internalized a meme from the dominant culture, the meme of Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, and up until the last several years, my generation, too, had internalized that meme and labored to provide a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings every year. This is an example of internalized oppression, when people outside the dominant culture internalize cultural memes that they then pass on to future generations that continue to impose values such as assimilation that devalue one’s own culture and cultural preferences.

            This Thanksgiving, we celebrated a day early, by gathering over a restaurant meal of Chinese dim sum, and then brought enough leftovers home to continue to celebrate our household family of my husband, my mother, my brother, and me, being together at home for this entire weekend. We celebrated Thanksgiving without the assimilation.

            Happy Thanksgiving, my friends and relations, however you choose to make it a meaningful day of giving thanks. And while we’re at it, let’s also offer up a prayer and a thought for all those who don’t have loving families around them and who are suffering from loneliness, sickness, war and conflict, or any kind of trouble. 
Peace, Shalom, La Paz

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What can we expect? How can we prepare?

I had the privilege of being in Knoxville, Tennessee, last week to conduct an Anti-Racism Training, a Train the Trainers workshop, and a conversation with the Diocese of East Tennessee's Anti-Racism Commission. Fellow trainer Pamela Kandt from Casper, Wyoming, joined me. We were blessed by wonderful Southern hospitality from the people of East Tennessee and glorious fall weather. Below is the sermon that I preached on Sunday morning at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan. Of special note was the Alternative Gift Market presented by many volunteers of Good Sam to encourage their fellow church members to give Christmas gifts that also bless numerous charitable and relief organizations throughout the world. If you're interested in learning more about the highly interactive and very current Anti-Racism workshops that we conduct, email me at lelandalee@gmail.com. 

* * * * * * * * *

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."


            Thank you for welcoming me to Good Sam this morning, to share with you a message of difficult times, new beginnings, and hope. I have been here since Wednesday night and had the opportunity to spend Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday with a group of diocesan leaders who are working on addressing racism, racial justice, and transforming unjust structures in society. We were blessed to be hosted here at Good Sam for our Anti-Racism Training and Train the Trainer workshops. Thank you for sharing your wonderful facility with us.

            Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord, redeemer and light of the world. Amen.

            Once again, in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew have a private conversation with Jesus, and in their typical, anxious way, they want to know, “What can we expect? What will happen? Tell us.” Jesus is foretelling the destruction of the temple, but not just the physical building of the temple where not one stone will remain upon another stone, where all will be thrown down. He is also foretelling, again, the soon-to-come testing and persecution of his followers and his own impending Passion.

            I imagine, if I were a follower of Jesus, who knew him personally like the disciples did, that I would be anxious, too, to learn of the good news that Jesus is promising. What is the silver lining among the brooding storm clouds, if all I’m hearing are stories of the impending disaster and destruction of the things that are beloved of many, like the temple in Jerusalem, or closer to home, like the shoreline communities in Staten Island, Long Island, and Atlantic City, being wiped away and the familiar neighborhood landscape being changed forever.

            In the verses that follow where we leave off in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says to the disciples even more alarming and frightening things:  “‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, . . .’” That’s sort of like the news of a week and a half ago, when the East Coast learned that another storm, this time, a snowstorm, was on its way, and through the national media, we saw photographs of already decimated, not yet cleaned up shore areas covered in white snow, and we knew that most of those areas still were without power, which meant no heat, no hot water and no hot food, and in some cases, no clean, potable water.

            Jesus warns his disciples that they must beware of the promises of false messiahs and false prophets. Don’t fall for messages from those who will lead you astray, that will make you think there is an easy or cheap answer to the hard work and suffering that must follow. It is in this chapter of the Gospel of Mark that Jesus admonishes his disciples to “Keep alert” to the traps of shortcuts and false hopes, because only God the Father knows when and how things will turn out.

            I think that keeping alert and staying awake are about being prepared, not just physically prepared with all your disaster supplies wrapped in plastic and stored in high places against the possibility of flooding and lack of power, but also prepared by being spiritually grounded in Jesus and being relationally grounded in his Body. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples abandoned one another and Jesus, falling asleep and leaving the few who remained in the garden alone to face the soldiers who came to question them and to take Jesus away.

            I think that we, generations after the disciples’ time, are called to be relationally grounded in our portion of the Body of Christ, to be present and alert to one another within our contexts, both local and global, to help one another weather the war and conflict, the natural disasters, and the human-created ones, that are our life on earth together, until we are brought to the realization of the reign of God. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was followed by his resurrection, which we celebrate each Sunday with Holy Communion. Jesus’ promise is that he will come again in glory, which we remember in the words of the Creeds.

            Jesus is the silver lining in the clouds, the hope that we seek, and we, through our baptisms, are His proxies to one another. The Anti-Racism curriculum, which I have designed and keep continuously updated, is grounded in our baptismal vow “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” In our Anti-Racism Trainings, our goal is to help open the doors and windows of our souls so that we can learn some practical tools for living into “respecting the dignity of every human being.” That is our preparation to respond to the Gospel call that is Mission Mark 4 of the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission, which were adopted by our General Convention in 2009 and which form the basis for how we approached our budgeting for the churchwide organization at this past July’s General Convention, and which calls us “to seek to transform unjust structures of society.”

            As a member of the church’s Executive Council, which is the governing body between the triennial General Conventions, I have the privilege of chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission. Our standing committee has been charged with the responsibility for overseeing the work that the church will engage to seek to transform unjust structures of society as they relate to the alleviation of domestic poverty, relying upon the strong network of Jubilee Ministries and other peace and justice initiatives throughout the church.

            One of the key truths we know about unjust structures in society is that many of them are premised on the false notion that some people deserve privilege and power over other people because of the color of their skin or the country of their families’ origin or the myriad of other “isms” like homophobism, sexism, ageism, ableism, classism, etc. Through our baptisms, as members of the Body of Christ, we promise to be Jesus’ hands and feet to interrupt and to dismantle unjust structures in society. We are called to pray, study, and act together wherever we encounter injustice. Our preparation for the work of racial justice comes from doing the study, having the difficult, awkward, and sometimes pain-filled conversations, and doing the soul-baring self-reflection, that are found in Anti-Racism workshops, in community with our fellow church members.

            A critical issue in the unjust structures of the U.S.A. is what is called the “New Jim Crow.” Author Michelle Alexander, a civil rights attorney, wrote a book bringing light and attention to this critical topic in early 2011, called The New Jim Cross: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

            Did you know:
·      That there are more African Americans under correction control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began?
·      That the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid?
·      That in Washington, D.C., three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison?

            The causes of this are structural, institutionalized into the legal system and rules and regulations of daily life – into the structures that organize how we live together as a society. Here is a brief list of the leading causes of the structural, institutionalized racism in our U.S. criminal justice system:
·      Zero tolerance policies in schools that rely on policing authorities to handle student discipline where we used to have in-school authority and intervention;
·      Minimum mandatory sentences and three strike rules versus judicial sentences;
·      The fact that 90% of criminal cases are plea-bargained, which leads many innocent people who are the poorest to plead guilty when they’re not, because they can’t afford adequate legal representation and they can’t afford the risk of threatened long-term incarceration versus plea-bargained shorter sentences;
·      Unfairness in sentencing, with the sentencing for pure cocaine versus crack cocaine exemplifying the disparate sentencing for those in higher economic circumstances than those in lower economic circumstances;
·      Private prisons run by for-profit corporations that negotiate occupancy quotas into their contracts with states;
·      Employment barriers that involve check-box discrimination for those convicted of non-violent misdemeanor offenses;
·      And high parole fees, fines and non-dischargeable restitution judgments.

            Jesus warned his disciples to beware of false messiahs and false prophets. He told his disciples to “Keep alert.” I think those two admonitions of Jesus to his disciples in the Gospel of Mark have particular resonance for us, as I reflect on what the Anti-Racism workshop participants learned and reflected upon this weekend here at Good Sam. I invite you as followers of our merciful and forgiving Lord, Jesus Christ, to beware of the false promises of safe communities wrought out of the institutionalized, structural racism of a broken criminal justice system that is badly in need of reform and that is built upon the crushed hopes and dreams of everyone associated with that system, both the perpetrators and the victims of crime.

            Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Jesus in today’s Gospel, “What can we expect?” and “How do we prepare?” I think we must follow the advice that Jesus gives in His New Commandment in John 13:34-35, which tells us to love one another as Jesus loves us, because by this, we will be known as Jesus’ disciples. That is the standard to which we must aspire and attempt to live into. In the Old Testament, in Micah 6:8, the instruction is to “Love Justice, Do Mercy, and Walk Humbly with Our Lord,” and surely, no one has ever lived up to that instruction as fully and completely as Jesus in his compassion for sinners, his healing of the sick and the sick-at-heart, and in his obedience to God the Father even unto death. If we profess to follow Jesus, we can do no less than to also “Love Justice, Do Mercy, and Walk Humbly with Our Lord.” Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reflections on the Local versus the Churchwide - Where is Our Ground?

Tomorrow will mark 14 days since the last day of Executive Council’s first meeting of this triennium. It feels to me both more distant than a mere 14 days ago and also more recent at various times here in northern Colorado. The pass-through of Superstorm Sandy has placed another layer of unreality to this passage of time and distance from the Church Center offices in New York City.

This is a fake photo of Superstorm Sandy. Credit: @ry_hudson
The East Coast metro areas, including the New Jersey shoreline, come through our television sets and computer monitors like fictional movie sets reflecting Sandy’s horrific water, wind, and fire destruction that strain credulity. We are much more accustomed and inured to the images of destruction and human misery from places like Haiti and Cuba, where the distance is also measured in otherness, racism, and classism. We “get” the poor; we have been told that they will always be with us.

Many Episcopalians have commented on the physical, psychological, and sometimes spiritual, distance of “Church Center” from where they have their daily being and encounters with the people with whom, and for whom, they serve. Some of those experiences of distance were the impetus for the General Convention resolution that directs the move away from 815 Second Avenue, New York City.

Building bridges is hard work. It must be directed both inward into the organization to bridge hierarchy, privilege, and factionalism, as well as outward into the community to bridge class, race, and languages. The long-term, sacrificial investment necessary for successful bridge building is enormous. Bridge building is a “both-and” endeavor alongside the more easily recognizable and accepted mission and ministry endeavors like feeding the poor and housing the homeless. And, let us not forget – there have always been casualties in bridge building.

Six-year terms for Executive Council members, interrupted by mid-term elections of half of Council, aren’t particularly conducive to the long-term perspective, institutional memory, and perseverance essential to institutional transformation. Because of both the structure of the volunteer Council members’ service and the election process in both General Convention and the provinces, we also typically don’t elect the charisms and skill sets needed for effective governance. Additionally, we don’t have representation of the wide diversity of the church amongst our elected leadership. One might ask, “so, what else is new?” (Much more on structure issues of participation to come in future posts.)

I have had recent conversations with folks here in Colorado, including my husband, another General Convention deputy, and a long-time friend whose ministry is to help congregants form healthy relationships with money, about my service at the churchwide level and its relevance to folks at the local level. I will continue to share my evolving thoughts on this subject in this blog as I gain awareness and clarity. Some of the recent “a-ha” moments have been a bit of a surprise and a definite challenge to my “druthers.”

I purposely volunteered to co-chair the stewardship “campaign” in my parish this season. Most Episcopal churches engage the topic of stewardship in the fall, as we build our budgets for the next calendar year and try to influence congregants to give generously to support the work of the local and wider church through messages of gratefulness, generosity, and tithing. A large part of my motivation for volunteering for this role is an overwhelming desire to reconnect with my home parish, the community that has raised me up for church leadership and the community that grounds me in my identity as a member of The Episcopal Church.

When I am away, which has been frequently in the past three to five years, I often have an underlying feeling of being adrift, unanchored, and sometimes, unsupported. It is true that my faith keeps me strong. However, it is also true that as people of an incarnational faith, who believe in a fully human Son of God, Jesus, we also need the incarnational presence of our communities of faith to succor us and make real for us our connection to the Kindom of God.

If one were to generalize, I would say that many of us Episcopalians tend to be relatively intellectual about our faith, experiencing God more in our heads than in our bodies, finding it generally easier, and also, more pleasurable, to talk about our relationship with God than to experience our relationship with God through hands-on, in-person relationships with the other in the communities where we make our homes. I do not say this as a judgment. I am merely making an observation. It is an observation that unsettles me, because I am beginning to see and to admit that I am myself frequently not relevant to vast swaths of the church, especially to the younger generations.

For the moment, in my parish, I’ve recruited six guest preachers to deliver a variety of stewardship messages, asking them to focus on formational topics that look beyond dollars and cents. I’ve also participated by leading African Bible Study on each Sunday’s Gospel between the 8:00 and 10:00 o’clock services. The Bible Study, more so than anything else, has really connected me spiritually with my parish family. I am happy to report that there is sufficient interest in the Bible Study for us to keep this effort going after Stewardship season is over.

Although I am a so-called “churchwide leader” in my capacity as a member of Executive Council and as chair of Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission, I believe that it is my membership and participation in my local parish where I must have my ground and being as a member of the Body of Christ. This is the place from which my participation in leadership must emanate. This is foundational for every one of us.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Let Love Triumph Over All

Life is hard
We are called to lighten one another’s load
not add to it

Life is hard
Why do some feel the need to dump on others
in order to make themselves feel bigger
and more important
when what they are doing
is making others feel smaller
and less important

I have witnessed the unkindness
and it grieves my heart
to breaking

I have experienced the unkindness
and a part of me dies each time

Words of kindness
and affirmation
are easy, my friends

Words of lovingkindness
and support
are life-giving

When we commend life
to one another
we are co-creators
of life unending

When we speak words that build up
we raise the heads of all
to turn their faces to the sun
to plant flowers for their sheer beauty
to wrap our arms around the little ones
and hold them safe in Love’s embrace

Love’s embrace is
worth losing all of Ego’s selfishness
and walking in equality,
justice and peace
for all,
for all,
for every one of us

Amen. Let it be so.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Collaboration & Cooperation Will Be Key


Filled with Hope
            Now that the first Executive Council meeting of this triennium is over, I am filled with hope. I am very hopeful that Council is embarked on a new path as we approach the work we have been given. The markers of this new path are a public acknowledgement from both presiding chairs* and the COO* of the importance of collaboration and cooperation between Council and the DFMS* staff. This collaboration is absolutely essential to make a meaningful dent in that work.

            Collaboration and cooperation must also be supported by our willingness to remove our egos from the work. It should not matter to either Council or DFMS staff who gets the credit for initiating or completing the work. After all, neither Council nor staff are likewise eager to claim the blame when things go awry. From my perspective, the work is simply too urgent and too important to get bogged down in playing credit games. I somehow can’t see our Maker or St. Peter reviewing credit tally sheets at the Pearly Gates.

Overwhelmed
            I am also overwhelmed at the amount of work before us. Maybe that volume of work always existed, and I was just unaware of it as a Council member. I suspect that staff has had a better awareness, because they have had to organize and implement the work.

            In this triennium, I will be approaching this work as chair of Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission (A&N), and my field of vision seems vast. Part of my responsibility as a committee chair is to assist committee members in getting our arms around the work so that we can be both global and specific as we approach the work. I intend to articulate clearly the lenses that we will apply to view the work, the mandates and sources of the work assignments, and the time priorities that we will apply to doing the work. 

Priorities
            An aside about priorities: I think that we sometimes get confused about priorities. I often hear talk about priorities, meaning some notion about the rank ordering of the importance of subjects. However, I also hear the notion of priorities applied to the sequencing of important activities or projects, but not necessarily in the same rank ordering as to their importance. When we lack clarity as to which priorities we are talking about, we then easily fall into a morass where there are blame and accusations as to our sisters and brothers not caring about those subjects that are nearest and dearest to our hearts.

            In rank ordering tasks, considerations such as timing of budget expenditures, availability of staff time, and lead time needed for scheduled meetings must be factored into our planning, and they don’t always coincide exactly with the rank ordering of importance of these same tasks. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: my daughter’s surgery and preparing for the trip to the hospital rank high in importance as to subject. However, taking the trash to the curb ranks higher in terms of scheduled events and must be done before we pack the car and leave for the hospital, because the trash truck is coming today while we’ll be at the hospital. If we miss the trash truck today, we don’t get another chance to take the trash out again until next week.

New Class 
            The new class of Council members elected by both General Convention and the nine Provinces of The Episcopal Church is exciting. The new members arrive well equipped with numerous, relevant graduate degrees and thinking skills that indicate they got their money’s worth in their educations. They also have a plethora of for-profit, non-profit, and church leadership experience that they appear eager to tap and apply to our work. The new class’ desire to make a contribution and create new solutions to old problems reflects their deep love for our part of Christ’s Body. Their commitment is palpable.

            The average age of the new Council members also appears to be, I’m estimating, about eight years younger than the continuing class. Listening to the new Council members in one-on-one conversations and as they participate in plenary and committee discussions, I feel assured that Council’s new members will not hold back, after this first introductory, orientational meeting. I would encourage them to be bold in speaking their minds, taking the chance that they just might be right and have something important to open up the conversations and take us to additional perspectives and solutions.

Balance
            Balance between boldness and deliberateness in approaching Council’s decision-making is necessary, and I vote for erring on the side of boldness. Knowing when to be bold and when to be deliberate will always be a source of tension.

            In this Council meeting, I did, however, speak up for deliberateness in discussing the Marks of Mission block grants. I believe there had been insufficient time for those discussions in our joint standing committees and in plenary in this Council meeting. I want to have in-depth discussions that allow Council members to be apprised of the thinking that went into the Marks of Mission project teams assembled by the COO and co-convened by staff and Council members. I want Council members to share their ideas that might further shape the proposed initiatives for living into the Marks of Mission and application of the block grant funds. I welcome the opportunity for Council committee members and staff to convene through online and teleconference meetings to do this work between this and the February 2013 Council meeting.

Promise
            I promise to write often and openly about what I’m doing in Council in this triennium, and I invite your comments both here on this blog and also directly to me by email at LelandaLee@gmail.com. Please keep Council and DFMS staff in your prayers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tackling the big hairy topic

I'm on an energy high these days, because I've been invited to engage in a lot of important work that I'm passionate about with really great, smart, stimulating, caring people. A young woman I'm serving with asked me how I handle the overload of information that exists for a big topic that impacts society at every level. Here's what I wrote to her:

"What a very, very good question. Yes, of course, we all go into a sense of profound overwhelm, sometimes even frequently. 

Here's what I think and how I handle it.

I remember what Mother Teresa said when asked about all the poverty and ills in the world. She said that she just began with the person in front of her. That's comparable to adages like "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." 

I know that management workshops teach people to prioritize and then go to work, but I sometimes find that I can decrease my sense of inertia and anxiety simply by tackling a few small things that are directly in front of me. It's sort of like clearing a path or trimming the edges before doing the real work that's been assigned. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and refreshes my energy and ability to focus. Then, I can prioritize and be more strategic about the long list of things that I have to do.

Skimming is the only way to tackle the information overload that we face as educated people who utilize Web based resources. I use my judgment about which portions of a document, such as a recent lengthy report on Illiteracy and Innumeracy, to read. A wise female professor of management once said, "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well." Of course, the converse is also true: "Things really worth doing are worth doing well." The trick is for those of us who are perfectionists to know when to stop and move on. I try to project and allocate some range of time for my assignments so that I don't work open-ended, without end.

My purpose in surveying as much online material as I did for our committee, and I didn't list everything I read, was to develop a narrative frame from which to think and talk about our big hairy topic. I've done that in my capacity as co-chair, because I wanted to help our committee members grapple with our big hairy topic with some sense of coherence. One of the problems an entity like a national organization faces is the push and pull of many voices telling us that all their agendas are important. They are right; they're all important to someone. But, not all agendas are priorities when weighed against our limited resources of dollars, people, and time. Thus, a narrative frame becomes essential to help organize and prioritize all those topics. 

An analogy is a jigsaw puzzle, which is not a problem that one solves in a linear fashion. So, too, is tackling something like finding coherence and priorities in a topic as huge as our big hairy one. Am I making sense? A jigsaw puzzle is very frustrating in the beginning, but as the pieces slowly come together, our sense of possibility begins to overtake our sense of frustration, and the puzzle begins to form coherency.

Thank you for inviting me to think out loud with you."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Summer Hiatus is Over

I've had a lovely hiatus between the close of General Convention on July 12 and now. It's Fall, and it's time to gear up again for all the duties and assignments for which I've volunteered. Committee assignments, agenda setting, and planning meetings have begun, and I'm ready! Here's a brief recap of the summer since General Convention.

I've only attended a few church related gatherings. A major focus has been to re-engage in the local parish of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Longmont, Colorado, from which I've been routinely absent as I've traveled to serve the church in other dioceses and communities in Colorado. To that end, I'm co-chairing the stewardship effort for this year and enjoying the immersion into parish ministry. I had been invited earlier in the year to contribute a pew bulletin article for The Episcopal Church's Blessed to Be a Blessing stewardship reflection series, and my article can be downloaded here: Proper 24B: Mark 10:35-45.

(L to R) Husband Herb, son Corin, mother Frances,
grandson #2 Aidan (11), me, and grandson #1 Tristan (13)
Me and newborn grandson
Jameson Justin Stewart O'Connell,
born August 15th.
I've also tried to re-ground myself in my family and home, spending time with my son and his family as they welcomed a new baby into the family and with my husband and the other members of our household, my mother and brother. I've cooked some meals, done some laundry, and even picked some cherry plums from the yard. I know from past experience that such re-grounding doesn't happen without intentionality and follow-through.

Corin and Ashley with Jameson.
There was the overnight trip to North Platte, Nebraska, to celebrate the late Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano, who is revered as a saint in Nebraska and Colorado. Province VI's General Convention resolution to add Fr. Kano to Holy Women, Holy Men has been referred to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for further attention. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached a wonderful sermon about Fr. Kano's extraordinary response to his call to serve the church. Herb and I were joined by my Executive Council colleague from Seattle, Hisako Beasley, on the four hour drive to North Platte, and we saw many Coloradoans there as well as friends from the wider church. The only glitch was my lack of realization that there was a change in time zones from Colorado to North Platte, although much of Western Nebraska is in the Mountain Time Zone. We were consequently a bit late getting to the Eucharist.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori greets
the people after the festive Eucharist.
North Platte's Episcopal Church of Our Savior hosted a gala
banquet after a 4:00 PM festive Eucharist. Their members
folded Japanese origami cranes as symbols of peace and
honor to display along with proclamations from the governor
and other community dignataries.
My Episcopal Asiamerican Ministry colleagues, (L) Hisako Beasley
and (R) Irene Tanabe, both from Seattle.
Province VI colleague Bill Graham from Nebraska and me.
(L to R) Me, John Andrews from Nebraska, Herb, and Hisako.
Some of the Colorado contingent who traveled to
North Platte for the celebration, including
Adeline Kano (Center), daughter of Fr. Kano.
The assurance that the church year, in terms of church attendance which tends to coincide with the academic September to June year, is beginning again, came with the end of the August Standing Committee meeting at which we finalized a 2013 budget for the Diocese of Colorado to be presented to the Diocesan Convention the first weekend in October. There have also been several General Convention briefing meetings at local churches with a more comprehensive briefing scheduled for September 15 at Saint John's Cathedral from 9:00 to 11:00 AM, to which all are invited.

I am always grateful for Herb's consulting work, which provides our family's livelihood, and he had several assignments late this summer. My job is to handle the back office, from editing and formatting reports and bibliographies to time sheets and billings. This summer there was a job that included reviewing corporate financial reports, which definitely meant that I was more engaged and falling back on my financial spreadsheet analysis background. Depending on the job, I have more or less to do, but Herb is always immersed, traveling to sites and writing reports in our home office.

I've spent this week working on Stewardship, the General Convention briefing, and Executive Council committee work. I am delighted to have been appointed by the Presiding Officers to be chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission. Our committee's work encompasses social justice and public policy issues, and we are eager to get started. Executive Council's first meeting of the triennium will be held in Newark, New Jersey, from October 15 to 18, one of two four-day meetings, the first organizing meeting and the budget meeting in October, 2014. I'll be blogging regularly again and Tweeting Executive Council meetings @LelandaLee #ExCoun soon! See you then.

Monday, July 23, 2012

I Wish Heaven Had Skype

I came across several active Facebook accounts of deceased friends and relations in the last couple of days. I suspect I've always known that those Facebook accounts were still there and not deactivated. However, after the Aurora theater shootings here in Colorado this past weekend, I'm perhaps more attuned to loss due to death right now. 

Out of curiosity, I browsed through some of the posts since the deaths of the accountholders.

I was surprised there were recent posts and that some of them are frequent and current. Most of the posts express missing the deceased person a whole lot. Many were posted on the deceased person's birthday, probably prompted by the Facebook birthday reminder app. Similarly, some posts were written to share a life event, like a new tattoo, a new boyfriend, or a photo wearing a shirt the deceased person had made. 

Imagine that, posting photos to share with a deceased person. I guess it's not that different than we Chinese burning paper money and furniture for our dead so that they are well equipped in their death journeys. The tangible loss of a loved one due to death doesn't decrease our need for the love, support, and companionship of the deceased loved one. We still have those needs; we just no longer have the particular person who plugged some of those holes in our lives.

The writers talked about how the deceased person was someone they could share deep feelings and secrets with and that no one else had come along since their death to fill that gap. Especially poignant were the comments that said, "I dialed your phone number and then remembered that you're not here anymore," or, "I know you would understand, and you wouldn't judge me."

I also read posts that I would characterize as prayers of intercession. They said things like, 'Watch over me,' or 'I know you're watching over me.' In some ways, it's almost as if holding on to the memory of the deceased person is an amulet against feeling alone and being afraid. It definitely sounded like the posters did not have a belief in God or a faith community to which they could turn in life's tough moments. 

I don't know whether or not the posters have a family in whom they could confide or upon whom they could rely for support. Certainly the statistics and anecdotal evidence point to the loss of strong families and familial support systems for many people in our country. I hear from my mother, who lives with us, about her friends at the senior center that she visits three times a week for social activities. Mom says there are seniors in assisted living facilities, who feel essentially abandoned by their families, with little regular social contact that would affirm, 'You are an interesting person, and we like being around you.' Consider also, all those people in prisons and detention centers. Who is staying in touch with them to remind them of their humanity and that they haven't been forgotten?

One poster on a deceased person's Facebook wall said, "I wish Heaven had Skype," and another poster answered, "It does." A lot of pastoral care happens in the social media in small, daily exchanges like this one. Some of us purposefully are on the alert for opportunities on Facebook and other social media to respond with kindness and friendship when we come across these expressions of longing for hope and affirmation.

My prayer as a person of faith who belongs to a strong faith community, is that we, the faith communities, be the operators on the line who answer the Skype calls to Heaven. Those callers may not be calling our names or calling our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or prayer houses, but I am convinced that they are calling us as the members of communities of faith and purveyors of hope. 

I have been convinced for a long time that what many of the lost and the lonely in our country need is someone to be family to them. That's what Herb and I have tried to do in the way we've formed our hanai ohana, a Hawaiian expression that means an intentional, extended family of choice. That is what churches that are following an accompaniment model of ministry understand is needed for building relationships and transforming communities.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reimagine GC: Eight or Ten Days?

How about Ten or Twelve Days? Because, let’s be factual, accurate . . . and honest. The time required to be at General Convention (GC) if you’re a legislative committee chair, secretary, or aide is two days more than the number of legislative days, and it’s one day more if you’re a member of a legislative committee but not an officer or aide. And if you’re a dutiful bishop or deputy and/or new to GC, then you’re also likely to show up in time to hear the opening comments of the presiding officers and to participate in the orientation sessions for each house on the day before GC officially begins. (Reminder: at GC 2012, 44% of deputies were new.)

GC 2012 officially ran from July 5-12, a total of eight days when the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops were organized and in legislative session. However, legislative officers and aides met for three hours on the afternoon of July 3, and July 4 was even more fully scheduled with two legislative committee sessions (8:00-12:00 and 5:00-7:00), a Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) Hearing on Budget Priorities (12:30-1:30), presentations by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies to the entire GC (2:00-2:45), and orientation sessions for the bishops and deputies in their own houses (3:00-4:30). (See GC schedule here.) Seriously, did anyone associated with GC want to miss the PB&F priorities hearing even though it occurred on the day before GC officially started?

The first Program, Budget, and Finance hearing on mission
priorities on July 4 was standing room only with people seated
on the floor all around the room. [Photo by Pamela Kandt]
Being accurate about the facts of what we are actually talking about will result in better collective decision-making than having each of us starting from a different understanding of the issue. I'm not arguing in this post about whether eight legislative days are sufficient or whether ten legislative days are better, in order to accomplish what we think is the work we are called to do at GC. We have not as a church yet figured out and agreed upon what we think that work is. I would remind us that God gives us everything that we need, and it is our duty to be good stewards of God's blessings.