Archive for the 'Stories' Category



01
Feb
13

hornet’s nest of good intentions

Imagine a situation that is simple enough if kept to the surface and dealt with as is, but it has legs, roots that go deep into the ground of your being. It could be work oriented, family oriented, school or church oriented…something that is private. You’ve inadvertently lost control of that privacy and now there are people trying to help who don’t know the whole story. You don’t want those roots made public, but with each attempt from loved ones to help, comfort, aid…the roots become more and more exposed, igniting fire-stories in your memory bank that cause more distress, not less. You try to keep it simple…to say more will be overwhelming for everyone…you try to graciously say just enough, but not so much that the exposed roots cause you, or anyone else pain. Finally the effort becomes muddled and confusing between yourself and those with loving intentions. You begin to think that maybe you are speaking a foreign language, but you know you aren’t, so what is the problem? Why are you causing pain in others? That is not your intent. You go over your letters and your conversations. They seem clear to you. What is going on?

Type Embellishments_H 36pt_white.

Maybe you identify with this scenario and have your own hornet’s nest of good intentions, maybe not. This is my story today. This is what is happening. My effort to draw personal boundaries has alienated some loving friends. I feel quite sad about this. I’ve done all I know to fix it and don’t blame anyone but myself. Time will lay it’s mossy blanket in a while.

The sun is shining cold on white today. It is a bright, crisp day that hurts my tired eyes. The gray of yesterday was a better fit. “Too bad, take what you get,” the Oracle of Life says to me. I don’t answer back. I just keep breathing.

I’m thinking about an island somewhere in the south pacific where this drama is not happening and my eyes are not burning from lack of sleep. “It will all work out,’ says the Oracle, ‘this is only one page in the Book of Life and it happens to lots of people. You are not unique.

“Good,’ I say, ‘that’s good to remember.”

31
Oct
11

aging, not old

I hear people, mostly women in their 50s, say they are old. I am astounded by this. We live in a youth culture. I want to tell them about the stages of life…that they are not old, but merely transitioning from the first half of life to the second, which if done mind fully is so much richer than the first. Ages 40-60 are sociologically classified as mid-life; 60 and beyond as elder life. I certainly don’t want to denigrate anyone’s experience, but the truth is that aging is a process we are engaged in from birth onward. It is not the same as old. Further, the term old has been replaced with elder, which can have a nice ring to it. (So much nicer than senior citizen!)

We grow older, not old—older. I am pleased to say that very often the process includes a bit of wisdom—the older we get the more experience we have. If applied thoughtfully, experience can produce at least a modicum of wisdom. Each decade has its own hallmarks—highs and lows—but the trajectory for all living things is conception, birth, bloom, fade, demise. I propose that the latter 50s and 60s of a person’s life is a fading, not into demise, but into new bloom—or second bloom, if you will. (Sociologically, we may have the baby-boomers to thank for this.)

Now in my early 70’s and feeling more rather than less, I propose the 70s may very well be the doorstep of maturity or the beginning of insight. Whether it is or isn’t, my experience is an awakening to the precariousness of time. I see endings now rather than distance and time becomes precious. I think back to my mother at this age…her joys, sorrows and pervading loneliness. I did not understand any of it. I was 40…building my life and blithely ministering to my own needs. I could not understand her because I was not developmentally able to do so, yet I could have tried. I could have listened. I did not. I regret, and am shamed by this egocentrism.

I could babble on, but I’d be late for my InterPlay session, so here’s what an elder in training has to say to all the 50 year olds out there who fear 60: Each decade will be a bridge to the next station of life; and every now and then you will be really glad to have experience and wisdom in your back pocket. Practice a healthy life-style. Wrinkles are not important. Only babies are wrinkle-free.

28
Apr
11

on unholy ground

Another costly decision to exclude has created unholy ground for my dear Mennonite denomination—a church whose focus includes peace, justice, non-violence, and walking in the Way of Jesus. Mine is not the only denomination struggling to makes its way in the 21st century. The Christian Church is struggling—with greater and lesser success—at achieving relevance in the current age; however, my immediate concern is with the leadership of Mennonite Church USA who has recently cut off its nose to spite its face.

There is a saying among church folk today that is posited as a loving stance. It goes like this: Love the sinner, but hate the sin. It’s a strange juxtaposition of terms for followers of Jesus, and I don’t recall this notion presented in any of the Gospels. I don’t know if that particular sentiment was the slogan Randall Spaulding, pastor of the Covenant Mennonite Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida, heard in his ears for the past several years of his indictment proceedings. Maybe it was softened in some way, maybe not, but I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t matter what the words are—what the rationale is—the end result is the same: betrayal that hurts to the core.

Randall Spaulding’s situation began in 2008 and burst forth in 2009 when his desire to live openly with his covenanted partner was met with the revocation of his pastoral credentials by the Southeast Conference of Mennonite Church USA.  For an account of this, read Celeste Kennel-Shank’s articles in the Mennonite Weekly Review: 10/20/08 and  10/5/09.

Promises for loving dialogue were made. We all hoped and prayed they would be kept. Then on April 12, 2011, a letter from Randall appeared on the MennoNeighbors listserve. Devastation and lamentation rippled through the supportive community. Many of us have our own experiences of betrayal, either personally or in association with loved ones. This was inconceivable, because Randy’s music has become part of our worship life in many, if not most congregations!

Dear MennoNeighbors,

Some of you have probably heard about my recent expulsion from the Binational Worship Council.  You can read a bit about it here: http://www.mennoweekly.org/2011/4/18/pastor-removed-worship-council/.  The council is a US/Canadian group of Mennonite music and worship leaders considering the possibility of a future new hymnal or collection of songs for Mennonites.

Once again, the process of “loving dialogue” has, in my opinion, been subverted. I was not invited to dialogue or conversations that were taking place between Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Publishing Network and conference leaders. I had one conversation with an executive leader on March 7 (after the decision had already been made to expel me), and the next day I received an email saying that on behalf of Ervin Stutzman and others in leadership of MCUSA my role on the council was over.

While the action isn’t surprising, it’s still disappointing and hurtful. I grow weary of always having my integrity and Christian character maligned because I’m gay and desire to live in a covenanted union blessed by God. I’m attaching my letter of response to the expulsion that I sent to Ervin Stutzman and Terry Shue. I hope it will come attached to this email.

Please pray for the Binational Worship Council as they continue their work, and pray that God will guide us all to a vision of healing and hope that embraces EVERYONE in the non-violent hospitality of Jesus.

On a brighter note, I’ve been accepted at Yale Divinity School and will be moving to Connecticut with my husband, Gary, this fall where I’ll be working on an MDiv degree. I’m sad to be leaving my wonderful and courageous congregation in Sarasota, but I’m also excited about the journey ahead.  Please keep the Covenant Mennonite Fellowship in your prayers as they prepare for this transition and discern their next steps.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at Pittsburgh this summer where I’ll be serving as Covenant’s delegate.

Peace,
Randy

Randy Spaulding, pastor
The Covenant Mennonite Fellowship
Sarasota, FL
www.covenantmennonite.com

I am confused. Is the executive board hating the sin or hating the sinner? (I use the term sinner only to make a point.) Solomon’s dilemma over whether to split the baby in two to satisfy two women both claiming to be its mother, comes to mind. We are all sons and daughters of God. Jesus showed us that. So how do we love the person in whom God’s face shines, but reject the face that shows us God? How do we separate the gift of music from those who bear it and bring it to us? I wonder if Randall Spaulding’s name will be erased from our song books and his songs torn out, or will a rationale be constructed that will allow accepting the gift while rejecting the giver?

The outcry has come from gay and straight corners of the denomination. Here’s what Martin Lehman, a wise, generous, straight elder had to say in response to Randy’s expulsion:

Dear Neighbors:

Some time ago I wrote the following unpublished paragraphs.  I think the insights relate to the expectations, mercy and grace of God in changing times:

“Once upon a time God created the first human beings and instructed them to be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth. A semen of a single male carried millions of sperm and one female produced a monthly egg or two. To fill the earth required that the sperm and egg meet for conception.

Nothing could be wasted. A man who spilled his semen on the ground to avoid impregnating an egg-bearing woman was considered a wicked man. A man who was wealthy enough to support multiple wives and have many concubines and used his sperm to beget many sons and daughters could still be

considered a righteous man. A widow was given to a brother of the deceased man in the hope that she could conceive children in the name of her late husband. A barren woman was disgraced.

“Now, leap with me over the millennia to the present and acknowledge that times have changed. Now, overpopulation is feared. The pressure to have babies is off. The early customs of God’s people, the law of Moses, many of the psalms and proverbs in the Bible were written by men under pressure to multiply and fill the earth.

“The rules governing sexuality developed for the people of a long gone-by era no longer apply.”

I understand and grieve over the pressures on denominational and conference leaders. However, I grieve more deeply when big and little congregations and their conferences band together to override the witness of a small congregation that has found what seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit. The MC USA has lost, and Randall Spaulding has gained an open door.  We have not heard the last. The story is not finished.

Indeed it is not finished. Here is a letter from a Mennonite Weekly Review reader:

For five years I have greatly benefited by having Randall Spaulding as my pastor at Cov­enant Mennonite Fellowship in Sarasota. But in 2009 Southeast Conference of Mennonite Church USA took away his credentials, not because he was ineffective but because he was gay.

Randy also served MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada as project editor on the hymnal supplements Sing the Journey and Sing the Story. He was also on the Binational Worship Council until he was recently expelled, presumably because his gayness would taint Mennonite music. Does that mean all copies of Sing the Journey and Sing the Story should be recalled or destroyed? Do the decision-makers assume God is not able to work through a talented pastor and musician whom God created gay?

Randy is reliving the Anabaptist experience of the 1500s as a victim of ignorance, violence and persecution. How sad that his primary persecutors are Mennonites who claim to be descendants of independent-thinking, nonviolent Anabaptists. By committing psychic violence on Randy and Covenant, and by deliberately being blind toward the unfolding of new truth about homosexuality as a given and not a choice, these zealous Mennonite descendants have betrayed the values of their Anabaptist martyrs. Hiding their prejudice under the garments of remote biblical passages and their own view of God’s will is an affront to all truth seekers.

David A. Ryan Sarasota, Fla.

And in another corner, a person with centuries of ancestry tied to the faith, has decided he cannot remain in an organization or church that prohibits membership based on sexual orientation. You can read his views and decision to withdraw membership in the April 22 posting  of his blog.

The effort to broaden the doors of the Church in the love and by the grace of God—which Jesus lived his his life—continues. Today is Thursday, the 28th of April, just seven days following the commemoration of the death of Jesus and four days following the Resurrection.

It’s not about sex. It’s about love…the way God made each of us as persons to be loved, and to love as we are born, not made.

Respectfully submitted,
Called by Name

Postscript:

Pink Menno Campaign has written a letter to the MC USA leadership. If you would like to add your signature, pull down the About Pink Menno tab and follow the instructions.

Chicago’s, Windy City Media Group has reported on a recent talk at Elmhurst College, by Bishop John Shelby Spong that fits very well with the  subject of this posting. Hey, New York Times…are you listening?

14
Mar
11

not a piece of cake-part 2

Update:

Last week I went in for my three-week follow-up visit with the cataract doctor. I’d been having a fair bit of eye strain whenever working on the computer (which is a lot of the time), and eager to get corrective lenses for the new frames I’d ordered a week earlier. I had all of this organized and coordinated to occur as swiftly as possible. (Frames are now referred to as chassis, same as autos—I think lenses are still called lenses. That’s a comfort.)

When I heard the ophthalmologist express concern for my visual welfare because I was now near-sighted in the right eye and far-sighted in the left eye, I began to replay the scenario I’d heard at my first visit. Did I hear this lovely man tell me that the cataract in the left eye was not severe enough to be covered by Medicare…and that was why he was just going to do the right eye? I think I did, but he doesn’t remember saying that. Okay, I can’t push the point because the memory can be faulty in medical situations. He suggested that possibly one of the technicians said it. Knowing how important it is to keep the docs liking me, I assented to this having been the case. Just between you and me…it was not the case. The doc said it and I took it at face value, thinking one eye would be easier than two.

As it turns out, doing both at the same time would have been easier for me in the long run. From surgery to new glasses takes about five to six weeks. Being a forward minded person, I’d set aside this time thinking that the left eye was in pretty good shape and might never need correcting. Maybe it won’t, but there is definitely a difference between the two eyes in terms of color and light…and of course now, in equilibrium as well. The good doctor says he would like to see me in six months to consider bringing the left eye up to speed. I will have to go through this whole monkey-business all over again. This means planning my projects and life so that I have nothing visually urgent during this time and nowhere to go, since weekly check-ups and an eye drop regimen are part of the program.

So this is where I am now: I will pay $700+ for the new glasses and hope my brain will compensate mightily for the split vision. If and when I can figure out when to have the other eye done, I’ll have to get another new pair of glasses. Ca-ching, ca-ching. It’s only money.

24
Feb
11

not a piece of cake

A week ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. The left eye has not deteriorated enough to qualify for Medicare coverage so just the one eye had its fuzzy lens replaced with a manufactured model (an intraocular lens). I was nervous and apprehensive with memory recall of past medical encounters and uncertainty about the visual future. Despite all of this, and because I had covered all my bases of obligation, I displayed very good vital signs. That was a welcome surprise to me. No one panicking over heart rate and blood pressure. No need for IVs and consultations. The power of prayer and supplication!

While waiting for my 5mg of Valium I had a strong sense of the presence of both my deceased, adopted daughter, Bettina and my sister Florence, there in the cubicle with me. It was a thin place experience. At first their presence was comforting, but after a few minutes I had to ask them to leave and they did. Shortly afterward the nurse popped in with the Valium and there was no turning back. Within a few minutes of swallowing the tablet, I experienced a strange two tiered effect: mellow on the top with an underside of lingering apprehension. Took a while for these two to merge into one, but once they had, I was a lovely patient—agreeable, humorous and trusting.* Even the shower cap was an occasion for joviality. (Those who know me well will know this is not my most common persona.)

*Tip from experience: you get better treatment in the medical system if your doctor/nurse likes you. But if you don’t like them, get the heck out of there.

The doctor poked his head in, greeted me and made some notes. He asked if I was ready and I countered by asking him if he had said his prayers that morning. He replied he had, and since I had as well, we were ready to roll. I believe he said something like rock and roll? To which I most likely replied in the affirmative. (You gotta love that Valium.)

Being wheeled down the corridor to the operating room is a trip in itself, but I was lively and witty and amusing. (I should have been paid minimum wage for this performance.) Once in the OR, lying there like a cadaver waiting to be explored, my apprehension returned. Within moments I felt my sister at my side saying she would stay with me and hold my hand.  Scoff if you must, but this is exactly what I experienced and it was comforting. Do I believe it actually happened? Yes. I believe it truly happened just as the disciples believed they saw Jesus on the Emmaus Road. It may or may not have been factual, but I believe it was true.

The doctor sealed something large and roundish over my right eye and draped the left. I found the whole procedure to be a very strange experience of color, light and sound. Once finished, sight is immediate, but uncomfortable because the dilated pupil lets the light flood in as it hadn’t for several years. I returned home with dark glasses, a Valium hangover, and a number of medications to be dropped into the eye every two hours.

As the Valium worked its way through my system, I felt a bit lost between the thin place experiences and the real world. I lay in an abyss of suspended awareness…neither here nor there…until evening when a good friend came by to take over the eye drop regimen for a few hours. As I talked with him, an avowed, left-brain, linear thinker, I came across to reality-land as though stepping off a boat and onto the dry land we call reality.

The next few days were devoted to recovery and rest. The procedure is essentially painless, straightforward and without serious risks—a piece of cake, people say. The same people do not mention the follow-up weeks, which if cake, definitely are without frosting. Today, 8 days past the procedure, I am counting the remaining several weeks until new glasses sit on the bridge of my aging nose, hopefully loving their new home like crazy and relieving my eyestrain.

In my freezer is some left-over chocolate, chocolate cake with raspberries, walnuts and frosting. This is what cake looks like folks. I think I’ll have a small piece right now.




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