Dream/Reality

A-dreaming-person-008Last night I had a weird dream.  It wasn’t a nightmare, but it wasn’t a good dream either.  I dreamt that all the oxygen was running out, and soon everyone in the world would die.  Neither my husband nor my child was in the dream (thank goodness) but our dog was.  I remember wanting him to be near me when I died.  In the dream I was a little frantic and very, very sad, not only because I was going to die but because everyone was going to die.  And soon.

I woke up from the dream around 4am and was able to fall asleep again.  In that time between waking and falling back asleep, I started thinking about what I would do if the oxygen really was running out of the world.  Would I panic?  Would I break into a hospital or doctor’s office or scuba shop and steal oxygen?  Would I try to get on the good side of some conspiracy theorist who had a bunker stocked with oxygen just in case this scenario played out?  I went back to sleep and this time dreamt about being in NYC with college friends, so evidently my subconscious wasn’t too scarred by the oxygen deprivation.

But the dream has stuck with me today.  Where did it come from?  We recently were watching some procedural crime show in which the victim died from asphyxiation, but that was over a week ago.  The dog was curled up at my feet, which is probably why he made it.  But someone once advised me to pay attention to the emotions that stay with me after a strong dream, so I’ve been thinking about low-level frantic-ness and deep sadness.  My best guess is that this dream was about the world running out of something.

Unless you’ve been off the grid with your head in the sand lately, it’s hard not to notice that there is a lot of bad stuff going on right now.  Those Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing, and since they’ve been gone, eleven of their parents have died.  Seven were killed in a Boko Haram attack; four died from health-related issues.  We lament the disappearance of these girls half way across the globe while we wring out hands over what to do with the refugee children flooding into Texas from Central America.  An airliner was shot down, killing hundreds of people, many of whom were involved in the vital work of AIDS research.  More planes have crashed.  ISIS is now requiring that all women and girls in Mosul undergo genital mutilation.

And I have no words about the violence in Israel and Palestine.

Maybe my dream was about the world’s loss of capacity to breathe in something – peace, maybe, or patience, or reason.  Or maybe I’m a little frantic and very, very sad because it feels right now, at both the conscious and subconscious level, as though we are running out of hope.  And we will all die without hope.

May we catch our breath soon.hopeless

A piece of paper, a piece of cloth

While on our summer vacation, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a place I commend to your visiting.

The first thing I went to see was the Magna Carta (or, apparently, just Magna Carta without the ‘the’. This copy, only one of four, was on loan from some place in England where it had never before left. I’m a little fuzzy on the why/how of its being at the MFA, but there it was and there I was in Boston so I went.

It’s a small thing, really, for something of such monumental importance. A little more than a foot square, an 800 year-old piece of paper inscribed in Medieval Latin, the stuff that would undo a king, inspire patriots, and generally bend the arc of history ever so slightly more toward justice. It is the work of men, of landowners and taxpayers, of citizens.

I confess to getting choked up while looking at it, this little old piece of paper, getting choked up the way I get choked up singing “America the Beautiful ” or “For All the Saints.” I could blame end-of-vacation tiredness, or gratitude for the privilege of being able to see it, but I think the tears were about something else. I think they were about our dreams, our dreams for something better not just for us but for everyone.

I found a Kleenex and moved on to an exhibition of quilts. Large, colorful, no words but tens of thousands of stitches; the work of women. The work of women who were not dreaming but who were eking out life and comfort, gathering the scraps and the leftovers and the rags to make something new out of the old.

None of the quilts, beautiful as they were, made me cry, but a few took my breath away and a few I wanted to wrap around me while sitting in my favorite chairs and reading. Not the stuff of dreams, these quilts, but very much the stuff of reality. The reality of “women’s work”; the reality of cold winters and scraps of clothing; the reality of women coming together to provide and create.

All this on the day when my vacationing friends and I were lamenting the SCOTUS decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Not a lot of dreaming in that one but a whole lot of reality; clearly the work of men and not of women.

I know there are plenty of men out there who find the Hobby Lobby ruling outrageous, just as there must be plenty of women who take comfort in knowing that their religious preferences have been uphold. (Just writing that sentence makes me foam at the mouth a little.)

It is not my desire to restart any battle of the sexes. I think we’ve had enough of those. But I do wonder how things might be different if more men collected little pieces of fabric and made quilts. And I do wonder how things might be different if women had been allowed to write those little scraps of paper so long ago.

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And now we are women

We were so young then. Our parents would laugh at that, of course, from their vantage point; to them, we are still young, will always be young, or at least younger than they are.

Just to say that is to acknowledge that we know each other’s parents, a luxury not found among friends made in later adulthood, when we don’t have friends to the house for the weekend, when the parents aren’t there for graduations and weddings because those have all past and are now the things that belong to our children and not to us. It is lovely to reconnect with old friends, the friends who knew you when. It’s not so much a feast of nostalgia as much as it is an unexpected delight to discover an old friend in her adult years, to see her shaped by career and marriage and parenthood and aging parents and disappointment and hardship, knowing that the laughs we once shared have been sustaining, at least a little, even as the reconnection hints at laughs yet to come.

My friends are amazing women. They have grown into their beauty: the natural gray highlights, the eye creases that make smiles more real, the knowledge now of what to do with eyebrows and moustaches and lipstick. Our bodies that grew babies are different, but we’re still the types we were: the amazon; the chubby one who has such a pretty face; the long-legged beauty; the chesty one who fretted over their size but secretly loved them.

Personalities are being distilled; we’re not as concentrated as our parents are becoming, but still we are more us than we were in our late teens and early twenties. We looked forward to conquering the world, or at least our little corner of it. One would become a Broadway star, another, a PR tycoon, another, a world-traveling lawyer.

And we did some of that but never as much as we dreamed of. Instead, we discovered the elegance of compromise, and learned for ourselves, with regret and relief, that we can’t have it all, and maybe we never really did want it all. We gave up a little here so that we could have a little there; our choices became more nuanced and sometimes we let go of who we were in order to reach out to who we would be. But that moment between the letting go and the new holding was terrifying, so we had our moments of lostness, too.

We were girls of such privilege and potential. We were beloved and lightly scarred, scarred by the mere rejections and the slightly broken hearts and the friendships that were (we realized in retrospect) a bit forced. Some of the friendships survived and deepened and some faded into a shrugged memory. Some will get picked up where they left off only to dive into the deep end where new things are treasured. A laconic attitude is now appreciated as gentleness and deliberateness. A desire to please has morphed into a sharp perception and unflagging honesty. But a good laugh is still a good laugh, and a delight in each other is still just that: delight.

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Family Reunion

Family Reunion

ranch oneMy extended family – parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, first cousins once removed, first cousins twice removed – owns property together.  It’s land that my grandparents bought over seventy years ago, land that they have passed down to their children which they, in turn, are passing down to their children.  It’s home to me, in a way; it’s the place we went to every summer, whether my address was in California or New Jersey or Texas.

Because we own this property together, we have an annual meeting to talk about the management of the place.  Some years the annual meeting goes well, and some years there is contention, as happens when more than one person is involved in making a decision.  But always after the meeting, we gather for a potluck lunch.  Some of the family stays around for a few days afterwards; others go back home, promising to see us the next year.  Because we own this property together, we know each other. We’re spread out from New Jersey to Wisconsin to West Virgiania to Washington but I know my cousins; I know the names of their spouses and kids.  My kid will know her second cousins and her great aunts and uncles.

My grandparents left us a treasure.  Sure, the land would be worth something if we ever sold it, but it’s a different kind of treasure. I know my family; I know their joys and quirks.  I have shared their heartaches, and so often they make me laugh out loud.  That’s priceless.

This last week I’ve been at a different kind of family reunion.  The General Assembly (national gathering) of the denomination in which I minister (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) has met, as we do ever other year.  We are not bound because of a piece of property.  Rather, we are bound by faith.  We are each other’s beloved because we are all God’s beloved and we know this because of Jesus.  We get together to talk about our mission and ministry and our rules.  Sometimes the meeting goes well; usually there is contention.  Actually, always there is contention.  But that’s okay, because we talk about things that we feel passionate about, things we believe deeply about, things that have called us together and things that threaten to tear us apart.

I’ve had such a sense of reunion this week, seeing old friends from so many times of my life.  My internship buddy.  A guy I dated in seminary.  A woman who moderated the presbytery when I was examined for ordination.  Seminary mentors and classmates.  Former members of my pastor’s group (all of whom absolutely shone this week.)  Friends who challenge me to act beyond the role society has proscribed for me.  Friends who inspire me to love Jesus more.  Friends who irk me into speaking up.  Friends who took a taxi with me because my hip hurt too much.  Friends who laughed at my bad jokes.  Friends who walk the walk of faith and ministry and Presbyteriana with me.

We are family, in the best and worst sense of that word.  We are bound by love, but thank God it’s not our love doing the binding but God’s love.  And we fight the way families fight.  Sometimes we fight and make up.  Sometimes we let ourselves get rent apart.  I know for some the metaphor of family describing church doesn’t work because their own families are so messed up and a source of deep pain. I know there are some in the Presbyterian family that feel that way, especially after some of the decisions made this week about marriage equality and Israel/Palestine relations.  I think about that with my own family experience, and I hope they will be willing to come back to the table after the meeting, and I’ll be as gracious as I can be if they choose to find another table.

But I’m feeling so grateful at this moment.  I am so grateful to remember the cloud of witnesses, friends who weren’t at this Assembly because they are with God, earthly witnesses with whom I broke bread and raised a glass.  I’ll be at the next reunion, too, and so the goodbyes didn’t really seem like goodbyes as much as see-you-soons.

 

Tomorrow night I get to have dinner with my family, my husband and child, for the first time in ten days.  I can’t wait for that family reunion – it’s been too long without them.  Sometimes you have to be apart to appreciate the good of being together.  May that be true for Presbyterians in the next two years.

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Deus Ex Machina

shrugSometimes things go wrong that are completely out of one’s control.  Sometimes things go right that are completely out of one’s control, and often we churchy types attribute the latter to God and the former to the human  condition – or Satan, depending on your theological outlook.

Currently I am attending our biennial national meeting of Presbyterians, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (not to be confused with any other kind of Presbyterian, of which there are many.)  I’m here in my role as a Future Volunteer when I will be part of the leadership team providing hospitality to the General Assembly when they meet in Portland in 2016.  This is what I’ve learned so far:

Sometimes things go wrong that are completely out of one’s control.  That may be a God-thing; that may be a Satan-thing; that may be a human condition-thing; or it may just be because the wifi isn’t working.

Here’s something else I’ve learned so far: when something goes wrong that is completely beyond one’s control, how one responds to that is of the utmost importance.  Freaking out is usually not helpful. Calm leadership is helpful.  Sometimes singing is good, and sometimes quiet snarkis good.  And most of the time, having someone who will offer a sympathetic ear, apologize, agree that the situation is messed up, and take a note and see if anything can be done is really the  most helpful thing of all.

Several years ago when on a theater tour in college, one person in the troupe was the designated scapegoat for the tour.  That meant that whenever something went wrong (and something went wrong at least once every day) it was that person’s fault.  Everyone had someone to yell at, to point the finger at, to blame.  And because that person knew that he or she was the scapegoat, he was able to take it.  She apologized for the error, mishap, failure.  He agreed that he should do a better job next time.  She was terribly, terribly sorry.  And then life went on until something else got messed up in some way.

I doubt anyone at this General Assembly wants to volunteer to be GA Scapegoat; in Judeo-Christian circles, being scapegoat usually gets you killed.  So for now, for the the few GA attendees who read this blog, I’ll volunteer.  Yesterday’s wifi overload?  Totally  my fault, and I do apologize.  The need to use paper ballots for the  moderator’s election?  That one’s on me, too.  I am sorry, and if you come by my booth in the Exhibition Hall and mention this blog, I will give you chocolate.  That will fix things – for now.

 

All the World’s a Stage: Thoughts on Self and Role

Human-Anatomy-Skeleton-Diagram1My new chiropractor is utterly immune to the arsenal of my disarming charms of wit and humor.  Seriously, she will not let me get away with anything.  She seems to be of the opinion that I need to feel my feelings which, if left unfelt, get somatized and locate themselves somewhere in my muscles or tissues and then I feel pain that doesn’t really end.  I’m not sure I buy all of this but I am getting relief on some pain I’ve been having for over a year so I’m willing to give it a try.

For example, during one appointment she asked me how I was feeling.  “Frustrated,” was my answer.  She freaked out. Evidently it wasn’t the fact that I was frustrated that freaked her out, but it was the way I said it that touched that particular nerve.

Now I am a trained professional.  I have had years of learning how to be a compassionate, active listener.  I know how to be a clear communicator.  I have developed the persona of being an upbeat and positive person.  So evidently when I replied that I was feeling frustrated, I communicated that in a way that, were that word not used, would have given the impression that I was happy, encouraged, good.  I have now learned that when asked how I am feeling, when responding that I feel frustrated, to indicate frustration with my voice and body.  A+ for me.

But all of this has got me to thinking about something I learned a few years ago at a conference.  We clergy are among professional who have learned something called “deep acting.”  Arlie Hochschild wrote about it in her book The Managed Heart and I commend that reading to you.  But, in a nutshell, deep acting involves changing one’s feelings (managing the heart) so that one might respond in a way that is appropriate to role.

Maybe what so bothered my chiropractor was that I responded as a pastor with deep acting when my actual role was as patient who simply needed, at that moment, to feel her feelings.  This doctor is always at me to let go of the rational thought that has dominated my emotional life, to stop thinking about things, to stop relying on the answers of “I don’t know” and “I know” and to move to another place.  Again, I’m not sure I buy all of this but I am getting relief so I’m willing to give it a try.

But her railing against rational thought also struck a nerve.

water wineI live in Oregon, a state with a high number of “nones” – those who profess no religious belief or affiliation.  On a daily basis I – a pastor, an ordained minister, a self-professed and confessed Christian – encounter people who are both apathetic and antagonistic toward religion, the religious, and Christians in particular.  When we first moved to Portland and met parents on the playground, my husband and I hoped we would get two or three conversations in before someone found out we were ministers.  As soon as we identified that role, their impressions changed.  I find myself going out of my way to present a reasonable, thoughtful, rational person to the world.  No, I’m not a Christian because I believe in the spooky magic of turning water into wine and raising the dead.  I rationally approach Jesus’ miracles as possibilities, not as cult juice to be drunk.

But maybe C. S. Lewis had it right when he wrote of the deeper magic of Christianity.  Maybe what the church needs is not rationalists who can exegete John 2 and 11 and reason away the miracles.  Maybe I am called not to the stage of the church and the role of pastor, but to the life of someone who’s thrown her hat in the ring with Jesus and said, time and time again, “I don’t get this but I believe it.”

I wonder what my chiropractor would say about that.

Why I Am a Feminist

femaleWhen I was eight, my family moved from New Jersey to Houston.  You  might say it was a bit of a culture shock.  I learned to say “Yes ma’am” instead of “Yeah” when the teacher addressed me.  I learned that the words “pin’ and “pen” were pronounced the same way.  I learned that you couldn’t buy birthday candles on Sunday because of the Blue Laws.

In fifth grade, I often went to chat with the principal, Mrs. Price.  I wasn’t in trouble, but occasionally something would bother me so I would avail myself to her.  Why were only boys allowed to be school crossing guards?  And why were girls allowed to wear pants only when it was below freezing?  (Which did not happen often in Houston.)  Somehow at that early age I realized, in 1970′s Houston, that girls were treated differently than boys, that girls did not have as many rights or opportunities as boys, and it bothered me.

Those experiences planted a seed in me that has taken full root.  I am a feminist.  I believe that women are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men.  I do not believe that women are, in any way, less-than.  I do not believe that we are tainted forever because Eve ate that damn apple.  I do not believe that just because our bodies are built to bear children that means we are incapable of other things.  I am a feminist, and I’m proud to say that.

There’s been a bit in the news lately about celebrities who fully support the female cause but don’t consider themselves feministis – Pharrell Williams and Shailene Woodley come to mind.  I can’t begin to tell you how much this ticks me off.  Is the word “feminist” so charged with whatever that these people don’t want to be sullied by the term?  Is it safer to say, “I believe women deserve the same rights and opportunities as men” than it is to say, “I am a feminist”?

But here is the real reason I’m loud and proud about being a feminist.

Last week, two girls in India, ages 14 and 15, were gang raped and hung from a tree.

Last week, a woman in Pakistan was stoned to death because she did not want to marry the man her family wanted her to marry.

Two years ago, Malala Yousafzai was gunned down on her school bus because she dared to fight for the opportunities for girls to be educated.

Recently when Chelsea Clinton revealed that she was pregnant, questions arose regarding Hillary Clinton running for president because she might choose to be a grandmother instead.

We are now in week seven of 276 Nigerian school girls being kidnapped, purportedly to be sold as brides.

In April, Senate Republicans unanimously rejected the Equal Pay bill.

Last week, a sick young man went on a shooting spree because the hot girls wouldn’t have sex with him.

Need I go on?

So yes, I am going to bother some people if they ask if I’m a feminist and I say yes.  What I wish would bother them more is the reasons why I am a feminist: because girls and women are treated atrociously and viciously simply because we are female.

I am a Presbyterian pastor.  I am a woman in a role that was, for thousands of years, available only to men.  Things are changing in the mainline Protestant church – sometimes so slowly and sometimes at a breakneck speed.  The church I serve has three pastors, two women and one man.  No one blinks an eye at that.  And maybe one of the reasons they don’t blink an eye is because they know the stories about how Jesus treated woman. He included them, and he held them up as examples not because they were the fairer, gentler sex but because they showed grace and faith and determination.

May I follow in their footsteps.  Rock on, sisters.  And rock on, brothers, too.