Archive for the 'suffering' Category



24
Feb
10

forgiveness 70 x 7

Last Sunday, we all went back to our former church to support adopted daughter in her desire to address the congregation on the importance of maintaining loving relationships above disagreement. We brought her in a wheel chair with portable oxygen and still the effort was physically considerable for her. I don’t completely  know where this desire has its genesis in her own 48 years. I don’t completely know because AD is a very private person. She does not talk extensively about her feelings in connection with her life growing up in an extended family of wealthy immigrants. I have heard stories, and I know the recent past, but there is not a lot of connection along the emotional road from there to here. And curiously enough…I am a confidante.

So I don’t know all that went in to this effort to speak to the congregation and I don’t understand her request for forgiveness, but it seemed to resonate with some of the people there. The pastor responded by asking forgiveness in behalf of the congregation. I have no way of knowing how the congregation felt about that, but it was an important step for the pastor to take. It was a very dramatic and meaningful time. Ad is now quite exhausted by the effort and I am wandering along the path, not quite with it and not quite without. While 99% were glad to see and receive AD, not everyone was glad to see Big Dawg and me—probably most, but certainly not everyone.

We knew that would be the case going in, and were especially aware when sitting directly across from us was person X,  whose dark and grim demeanor was much the same as it had been a year ago, on Pentecost Sunday, 2009. That was the day the congregation exploded, giving us a clear and painful message that we were not to be included into membership. Not only was X’s demeanor the same, but  X was sitting in just about the same proximity to us as last year! It was eerie and unsettling, but we persevered. Just before AD was wheeled up to the front of the church to speak, person X got up and left the sanctuary. I found this action abruptly rude, careless, egoistic at best and a slap in the face of the Body of Christ at worst.

I did not think about this incident until late in the day when I could put aside my public persona and be at home. The incident began to haunt me as memories of the past year flooded my heart and mind, giving free rise to my autonomic nervous system’s response to remembered pain and agony. We had become scapegoats at that church for nine months. Although I’d come closer to God through that suffering, it was at times extremely painful, bringing up childhood experiences of rejection as well as a string of adult experiences. The forgiveness I’d come to in the past several months was being tested and I was teetering on the brink of despair and self-loathing for about  36 hours—teetering and nearly falling from acceptance of God’s love. I could only breathe YHWH and let the Spirit intercede (Romans 8). By Tuesday, I was climbing back up the ladder and leaving goats behind. Today I find this passage in Richard Rohr’s meditation  (February 24) and it helps me put persons like X, as well as goats, in perspective:

We have always needed to find a way to deal with human anxiety and evil by some means—and it was invariably some practice other than forgiveness or healing. We usually dealt with human anxiety and evil by sacrificial systems of some sort, and that has largely continued to this day. (Exclusion, torture, war, segregation, class division, prejudice, and racism would be its common forms.)

Historically, we moved from human sacrifice, to animal sacrifice, to various modes of seeming self-sacrifice. But even in self-sacrifice, it was not usually the ego self that we sacrificed, but most often the material self as its vicarious substitute. The physical body became our usual scapegoat instead of the real problem which was the ego—a rather clever game of smoke and mirrors. Meanwhile the ego has remained “scot free” and off the hook for most of Christian history, even at the highest levels of church.

Whether you agree with Rohr’s analysis wholly, in part, or not at all is not my concern. What is important to me today is that …the rivers did not overwhelm me and I was not burned.

21
Jan
10

dreams

My heart is heavy and I cannot get to sleep. Adopted Daughter has begun her descent. The cancer has metastasized to her lungs. It will be all over in a matter of months…4…6? We don’t know, but I’ve been here before and I know what awaits. I feel as though something is being ripped right out of my body. I am not afraid of death and neither is she. We’ve been cancer buddies since 2006. I am in remission. She is host to her 4th and final recurrence. Her body is unable to accommodate the toxicity of additional treatment. We are reluctant sufferers—she of physical pain, I of the emotional pain of loss. Grief is what my work will be about now…letting go, a very fitting task for the Lenten season ahead. Timing is everything, they say.

AD is dying just a bit more quickly than we’d hoped, but it’s all relative you know. The physical body doesn’t give up as easily as the spirit. That’s why the descent is so arduous. Suffering Servant. At our last, if we are mindful and understand the meaning of life, we get to live our own Pasch and on to that final trip home. I was there once and I know how comforting that homecoming can feel. Medical science kept me from going home, but it can’t do the same for AD. We ask for healing, but there are many aspects to healing. It isn’t always on the physical plane. I wanted just a couple more years for her…for our adopted family. There were things we wanted to do. We wanted to play. I will have to learn how to walk back and forth through the veil the way she will soon be doing. Walking with one who is dying is a great privilege, one I want to have and feel blessed to have…but I hoped it would be just a bit later…after we lived our dreams, played our games and turned down the lamp.

We had prayed for 2-1/2 more years…to her retirement. We all were going to take time off, get ourselves a big RV, paint it beautiful and roam the country for a couple of months. We had plans to drop in on some of those churches that are having a little problem with understanding that Jesus included everyone in the kingdom, most especially the lowliest ones. We had dreams. I’m not sure I can manage dreams without Ms. AD hanging around with her effervescent optimism. Who will say, “Come on, we’re the wild ones!”

My heart is heavy and I cannot stay asleep. Jesus help me live in peace…

10
Sep
09

reconciliation road home

My partner, Big Dawg and I experienced the pain and agony of being the center of our (former) church’s effort to accept us as a same gender, covenanted couple into membership. In parallel time, a frightened minority formed to block this effort, and in the end we were rejected.  It was a rocky, and finally brutalizing, experience that had required mature/experienced leadership. It was earnest, but not mature or experienced. And it too, became fearful as the months wore on.

We are now in a different congregation and conference—very Open and very Welcoming. Despite our growing affinity for this little church that could,  the pain of our past trials have not disappeared from memory. Repeated rejection is not an easy pill to swallow for most people. For those on the margins rather than in the mainstream, it is a familiar experience. By the time one reaches a certain age, those rejections have piled up, although not normally visible in the forefront of  daily life. This past year was different for us: forefront was the order of the day. I, for one, cried through most of the winter and spring of 2009. Having lost my sister from a cancer similar to mine did not help matters. Not a very auspicious beginning to my 3rd year of cancer remission.

Fifty weeks ago we moved house and home to be close to this church body we loved, and with whom we expected to live in covenant into older, old age. Two nights ago, BD (my partner), AD (adopted daughter) and I participated in an exit meeting with two conference level  pastors  of our denomination. They were not directly part of the devastating events at our former church, and we barely knew them. The meeting had not been at our initiation, but turned out to be the beginning of what we hope will be eventual healing for us and those loveed ones we left behind.

The word reconciliation took center stage that evening and I became aware that the word itself has many meanings. My understanding had been along the lines of the restoration of harmony—as in agreement, cordiality,  friendliness, friendship, harmonization, reconcilement, reunion, softening ( i.e.,  “kiss and make up”).  But the concept proffered was more about agreement, concurrence and balance. In fact the illustration used to explain this use of the word was balancing one’s checkbook! There were five of us gathered in this meeting. All but I found the checkbook analogy quite serviceable. It was too mechanical for where I was. So the next day I researched the term reconciliation, and found many nuanced uses. Of course, the most obvious use is in the current field of conflict resolution. I hadn’t even thought of that. I was drowning in painful memories of having been dragged along the rocky path of LGBT inclusion/exclusion prevalent in all the denominations to one degree or another. I was unprepared.

During this meeting it became clear that the public apology that I yearned to hear from the apex of that church’s leadership for having invited us to membership, could not come without (leadership’s) acceptance of culpability/accountability. There are many ways in which any of us can be blind to our own shadows, but this blindness was truly hurting so many of us. One of the pastors present in this impromptu meeting spoke eloquently of her own experience of abuse and pain in the church. Although the memory remained,  accepting an apology from someone significantly standing in the perpetrator’s stead gave her much emotional/spiritual freedom. She asked if we could accept such an apology from her in this same way…for the whole denomination as well as for the culpable leadership person. This was a challenging add-on (for me) to the new understanding of reconciliation, still reverberating in my heart’s brain. I knew the theological wholeness of it…that it would bring freedom, but I wasn’t ready to commit. I slept very little and woke with acute sleep deprivation. The day was a visceral faith walk and I wanted to throw up from time to time (I didn’t). I thought a lot about reconciliation and came upon this passage from the New Testament book of John. In terms of my personal faith and formation, it  seemed to be a doorway, a threshold:

Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”  Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them? John 20:19-23 (The Message)

Indeed…what am I going to do with another’s transgression if I don’t let go of it? It will keep me captive and closer to that person than I wish to be. More importantly, it will block my way home to peace and loving new relationships. I am not a young woman with my life ahead of me. In addition I have asked many times to be strengthened in faith.  So now I embark on another difficult journey knowing that difficult climbing brings spiritual transformation, which in turn, more and more fully allows the light of Christ to flow through us. And that is my desire.

For when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put childish ways behind me. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13: 11-13

Recently a friend shared this prayer for difficult times with me:  “I seem unable to find grace in my heart….. Lord, please be the forgiveness in me so that I may be healed and in healing find compassion…” That is the walking stick for the journey one needs at these times. It is the one I will use. In the end I want to know as fully as my sister did in her dying days: God is beneath me, in front of me, behind me, within me.                        (Prayer of St. Patrick)

It is the, within me, that I work on.    Poppy .5x.536-72


11
Aug
09

green shoots sequel: testing

Two days ago I received news that threw me painfully back to the green shoots post of Aug 8th. Wounds that had been healing were open once again and I was back to wrestling with hurt, and the anger that wants to cover it over and seal me in a tomb.

Although I have moved on to another congregation, this new and definitive bit of information concerning the membership debacle at my former church hit me right between the eyes and my heart was broken once again. I am basically an idealist in all of life—both sacred and secular. Despite my efforts to face life as it comes to me, I remain at the core, an idealist. This is especially so in my view of the Body of Christ as a covenanted community of believers. It was a difficult road…staying open to the smarting of a scab ripped off.

I can’t say that angels hovered over me or that I received a divine revelation from God, but I can say that I struggled with my demons for 24 hours wanting to be angry. I chose to feel the heartbreak instead and had lots of tears and palpable pain. My partner (Big Dawg), adopted daughter, and darling daughter were around and willing to listen and comfort. That was a great blessing.

Before I went to sleep, I read through the history of the church in the city where we are now happy to attend. When I woke this morning, I felt relieved and refreshed. Was it an angel in the night? I doubt it. I think recovery had something to do with having read about this little congregation and its struggle to be open to God’s life within it no matter what.

I saw God Spirit nestled right inside Community Spirit all along the rocky path of a good portion of this congregation’s history. Big Dawg and I had come from intentional Christian community 30 years ago. We’d become Christians in Discipleship there and although there was much about it that was wonderful, there was also much about it that was hurtful. We left there because we could not fit as a couple. In all those 30 years that followed, we never found a spiritual home and soon stopped even looking. We wandered in the desert for a very long time. The congregation that we left in June of this year could not fit us in as a couple either. It was not much of a community, but we didn’t know there was such a thing outside of the communal setting, so we accepted it as it was. They, however did not accept us as we were and now it was quite clear that the person who could start the engine going in the compassion and forgiveness direction claimed difference of opinion as to what happened and how, was not going to come through. Yes, it threw me because I had left the door wide open for this to happen. Confession and forgiveness: two of the big ones that underlie repentance—turning around.

So what happened? Did God take pity on me and lift my burden quickly or was it just luck? I don’t know the mind of God, but I do know when I am being lifted onto my feet by mother/father God. Feet of clay is what I had seen at the trusted level of leadership, which I thought would eventually come through to do the right thing. Now I see that self interest comes in many shapes and sizes and I must see it in myself as well.

Please, God, let me never be so self protected that I inflict serious harm to those I claim to honor. And when I do, may I come around quickly enough to keep myself from causing undo harm and heartache. Amen.

YHWH 1x3.5

05
Aug
09

green shoots

I have several dear friends. This was not always the case. I have become lucky in this way and I intend to hang on to them. One particular friend has gone through the whole same-gender-covenanted-couple-seeking-membership debacle of 2008/09 with me in a very deliberate way. We talked every day and walked together, whether here or there. Our friendship had always been centered around a sense of spirituality that we carried in common. We had many dreams and plans for doing things at the church we both attended. After the roof fell in there on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, and the dust settled (as slowly and alarmingly as it did after the World Trade Center collapsed), we tried to pick up and dust off whatever pieces remained. We hope to still be able to work together even though we are now at very different congregations, very different settings, and in very different places.

My compassionate friend is working on reconciliation in her congregation and I am working on starting over in my new congregation. I don’t know if reconciliation can happen without truth-telling and transparency. I had not seen very much of that when I worshiped there, but my friend cannot help but try. I will help, I will hope, and I will pray, but I don’t see the rainbow. That’s why I have left and gone on, quite tearfully, to a congregation where I do not have to walk Job’s road anymore. I did that for a long time in the congregation where my friend remains. I did that because I felt that God had assigned me the task of being front and center for this issue. Sometime in the week between May 31 and June 7, I distinctly felt released from that assignment, but it wasn’t an easy road to walk. There were so many people I’d come to love in one way or the other, and didn’t want to leave. The sense of loss for this and my visual art ministry to the people, was a constant companion in my heart and soul. Depression and tears took over my days, most especially at night when I was alone with God.

My friend talks about green shoots. I talk about phoenix rising from the ashes because fire is how it felt—burning to nothingness. It’s been two months since that decisive last  day in May. I shed many tears for the enormous losses I was experiencing. And I was angry—angry with the specific persons who failed to lead the congregational majority in the direction it wanted to go. My partner, Big Dawg and I were charred in the fire that burned in the church that day, and the following days. But we were not the only ones damaged. Everyone, except for those whose wishes remained intact was affected—collateral damage. The congregation is wandering in the desert, desperate for leadership. I don’t know where it will come from. So much damage all around. Green shoots. How does that happen without water and rain, sunshine, humility and truth?Green Shoots

I have been blessed. I am free to walk on…to follow on in the Way without hindrance. I am grateful. And I am no longer angry at anyone. The last bit of anger I had was finally toward God many days ago and, I gave that up too. No point in it, I realized because I can’t really hear God calling my name when my head is filled with the noise of hurt and anger. So now, my friend and I will pick up whatever pieces still glisten in the sun and we will see if between us, we can encourage green shoots in the corner where we are.

28
Jul
09

job’s rocky road

Has anyone out there lived the Book of Job besides me? I never realized that this particular book of the old testament…Hebrew Bible…was about faith until I started living it last spring. Job’s road is definitely not about the American Dream. It is full of rocks and stones and slippery places—like black ice—very treacherous.

Before I found myself living Job’s story, my partner of nearly 33 years and I were invited to come follow Jesus with the church we had happily been attending. Do you know what we did? Of course you don’t, so I’ll tell you: we sold heaps of things and gave away even more, then we put our beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house on the market and moved close to the church that was inviting us in.

No sooner did we move into our downsized little cottage close to the church, than our world began it’s tilt-a-whirl character. The church didn’t seem prepared to accept us after all—two older women in covenanted partnership. That’s when the road less traveled became the rocky road detour to the Job story, starring my partner, Big Dawg and me. We walked, ran, skipped, tripped and tip-toed along that road until it became so very dark, one would think a total eclipse had occurred. Job’s song dogged our feet and caught in our throats.

Fast forward to today and where are we: church refugees wandering and wondering how our story—the one the congregation never even heard—became the Job story sandwiched in with Exodus.  We are wondering where the nearest rest stop might be, or better yet, a bed and breakfast. We are also wondering if this Job story will ever end for us, or if there are Cliff notes somewhere that we can study and shoot on through to a happy and faithful ending.

YHWH 1x3.5

15
Jul
09

whew!

LionI have been asked to present my work at the Mennonite Arts Weekend in Cincinnati Ohio next February 5-7, 2010. Most sane people will say I have loads of time to prepare and so would I if I were sane. But sanity illudes me much of the time. I am what kind people call, a highly strung individual. Hmm, how high is highly, I wonder? Isn’t there a song about how low can you go? Maybe there’s one about how high can you fly. Me? I fly high…up above the sky, as often as I can (which isn’t all that often, but I can dream). Lately…for the past many, many dreary months I have been tethered to some unfortunate hooha at the church I was attending that filled my heart with angst and debilitating sorrow. I could do no personal work at all and each month that past, I worried that I would have nothing meaningful to say to the MAW attendees grew larger and larger. Yes, that is performance anxiety.

Right now I am flying because today, I managed to plow through the tangles and write a draft of 2/3 of the presentation. Hooray! I feel great about that. I have prevailed. Now I can start selecting the art I want to present and coast for a while. I can even engage in other projects I am asked to do…or that I want to do just for me, without having this performance thing lingering in the back of my mind like a bad conscience.

And what is the topic of my presentation? Well, you are getting to know me a bit by now…it’s Suffering! Okay, not suffering for it’s own sake. Suffering as common ground and sacred space. Something I know a bit about, especially lately. But that’s another story.




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