Posts Tagged ‘Belonging

13
Jun
12

art then / art now

I need to reorganize the house I’ve been living in for the past four years!

In 2008, we moved from a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house to a small, unassuming, 1960s tri-level with joyous expectations of becoming part of a particular church community in the neighborhood. Shortly after moving the housing market fell, leaving our FLW house without a great many qualified buyers. At the same time, we entered into what became a long, painfully drawn out series of backwards and forwards efforts to become part of this church. Toward the end of that first year my sister died and I was heartbroken. Then partway into the second year our dear friend Bettina discovered her cancer was on the rise and she moved in with us. We were a chosen family of three working for inclusivity until the end of May, when the church body proclaimed that it could not, would not make the leap to inclusiveness. We were stuck with two mortgages, taxes, and much deep bruising around the heart and brain. By January of 2010, when it was clear that her cancer was unstoppable, we turned our home into a hospice dwelling encompassing all of us. Then, when she died on March 6, 2010, my world fell apart for a very long time.

We lived here in this little house for four years with shattered dreams and could not make it a home. Now we are on the brink of finally selling our FLW house, albeit at an enormously reduced price. It is time to move into this unassuming tri-level and make room for the next chapter of our lives. Making room means re-organizing and that requires cleaning out and thinning down my files…all those things I’ve carried around thinking that they will be needed at some future time. As I am in my seventh decade and climbing, I think the future is now.

The process of reducing files requires opening and looking through them. I could only manage four drawers without mental/emotional exhaustion overtaking me as I walked back into my life, folder after folder, making decisions that sometimes brought unwanted memories to the surface. In one of those folders I found correspondence with a friend from the past—an artist from Armenia whom I’d met a decade earlier when Judy and I were visiting friends on the east coast. It was a period of my life when I was doing a lot of genealogy in an effort to understand my heritage as a building block for knowing myself. This period culminated in an exhibition I produced involving nine Armenian/American artists.

Inheritance: art and images beyond a silenced genocide. (The electronic version is hosted by the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota.)

Curious about this old friend and somewhat lonely for people of my own ethnic temperament, I looked him up online and found he was here in this country, with a partner of six years and still a practicing artist. I sent out a Facebook friend request, Twittered and emailed him at the art center address where he teaches ceramics. About a week later I received an email from him that made me happy; he is a person like myself in so many ways, and one of the few remaining links to my own heritage. When he asked so plaintively why I got out of the art world, I had to give a brief history of the past decade since I’d last spoken with him. Haven’t had a response to this yet…must be busy…

His question brings me front and center, having been asked by others from time to time: Why did you get out of the art world…why would you? Revulsion is one answer. Cancer’s clearer vision is another. I am a professional artist gone AWOL. There is an article in the New York Times—How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality—that simply renews my sense of revulsion. I recommend reading this for all art lovers. It’s educational.

I will always be an artist. That is my temperament and training and it filters into everything I do. Some have questioned why I pour so much of that artfulness into the church I attend when they see so little reason for doing so. My answer is: Why not? The Church having separated itself—to its own detriment—from visual art at the time of the Reformation, is in desperate need of beauty for soul’s nourishment. I can do it and it gives me pleasure rather than pain. When I hear that someone’s experience of the sacred has been enhanced by a bit of beauty I’ve had a hand in providing, I am blessed, because I’m acting in accordance with having been Called by Name back in those gloomy days of cancer treatment and recovery. Clearer vision, that’s the reason.

Art created for one’s own pleasure is personal and edifying, but in a broader, societal sense, it is one hand clapping. Art created out of one’s own spirit and shared freely with others is two hands clapping—communication, pleasure and edification all around. As many of my friends and acquaintances know, I’m big on movement, hands, feet, whatever. Clapping counts.

Now I go to my weekly dance class where I can be art as well as make it…where I can be beauty as well as behold it.

This is the street where I live now…

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19
Dec
11

christmas letter – 2011

Christmas Greetings from me to you!

(Text:  Last year we celebrated our daughter’s marriage to JM, a widower with two little girls. We became instant grannies. This year, while learning the ins and outs of granny-hood, we took advantage of Illinois’ new civil union law, and after 34 years together, got civilly united, i.e., wed, in our own church, by our own pastor, Gentle Spirit. We wove the ceremony into the morning worship as a sign of relational commitment to the congregation that voted yes to moving forward in love. The service was historic in terms of the Mennonite Church in Illinois, and amazingly beautiful as well.  We are experiencing a newness to our relationship we could not have anticipated. Having legal status does make a positive difference.)

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.

26
Oct
11

what’s age got to do with it?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written…haven’t had anything audience-worthy to say. Our civil union in August was a culmination of several years of personal struggle. What could possibly follow it? Write about what you know, is a famous creative writing 101 admonition. But everything I come up with seems trivial and of little interest to the general reader. Among the themes considered and discarded is one—apparently shaped like a boomerang because it keeps coming back, sometimes hitting me in the backside when I least expect it. I’m talking about aging…not aging in America…I leave that to journalists and documentarians. I want to write about aging as I am experiencing it in this world, here and now.

In a short time I will be 73 years of age. For the first time in my life I find I am clinging to my current age for as long as I can. What’s up with that, I wonder from time to time? Of the many possible answers that cross my mind, loneliness seems to be the most enduring. I am a survivor, but surviving for what? I have lived a reasonably long time and have an impressive list of experiences, both lovely and painful, but except for my spouse, there is no tribe…no community…no familia to hear my stories. Worse, I know precious few persons of comparable age with whom I can share my interests, experiences and outlook. I am approximately 10-12 years older in body than I am in mind and spirit.  I will not be boarding a tour bus of 20 senior citizens out for a day in the city. I will not be moving to a senior citizens’ condominium paradise any time soon. I will frequently be in conversation with people 10, 20 or even 30 years younger than I (not surprisingly, my spouse is 9 years younger). Conversation can be interesting, fun, rewarding, but when it gets to the nitty-gritty, they do not understand the thoughts and concerns of those growing closer to the end of life than the middle. They do not—cannot—resonate with what they yet do not know. Eventually the space between reappears by default. I am the late blooming elder in the crowd.

The brain ages and produces annoying senior moments of forgetfulness—even momentary confusion—but that same brain is packed with layers of experience and knowledge that cannot be obtained by reading or study. It is learned through doing and being. The result can be, and often is, a dimensional deepening into an authenticity of character.  I have never been one to sentimentalize the lines and grooves of the aged countenance. I rarely look at my own, but because of my current cataract surgery I am in a position to heartily consider how things look, including myself. I shall be doing that in the next several postings.

30
Aug
11

streams in the desert

On August 21, 2011…33 years, 10 months and 47 days from when we first met…Judy and I were legally wed in the presence of our congregation, friends and family…in the little church at the edge of the city. We are pretty sure this marriage will last…

Last spring, knowing that civil unions would become law in our state on June 1, our little church voted unanimously to support and officiate at same gender weddings and unions. Despite denominational hedging, this decision was a natural progression for us—a long-standing, open and affirming church body. Nevertheless, Judy and I, along with several others, were catapulted into a level of happiness we hadn’t known was missing. Initially we were only planning on applying for legal status, but upon learning that the license required a ceremony for completion, we knew a church setting was what we wanted. (See previous posting, getting from here to there for an account of this.) We began talking with our pastor. Slowly, ideas dreamed themselves into plans and the plans shaped themselves into a celebration of life, bigger than anything we’d known previously.  We walked, talked, skipped, ran, stumbled and sometimes flew through the weeks leading up to the ceremony and day of celebration.

The ceremony, lovingly performed by our pastor, Graceful Spirit, was woven seamlessly into the morning worship hour. It was an incredible time…a very thin space indeed…full of music, dance, *spoken word, prayer, Communion and friends…lots of friends from near and far. It was a celebration for everyone, but especially for our congregation, without whose vision and courage, it could not have happened. We welcomed them into our lives in a way that is different and distinct from baptism or church membership. We are asked if we feel different now. Yes, we do! We are accepted and acceptable, no longer just individually, but together, as the journeying twosome we have always been. Affirmation, Acceptance, Appreciation. These are the A’s that all of us need to live healthy and productive lives as members of the human family.

The promises God made to us way back at the beginning have been kept…streams did indeed flow in the desert…we are thankful. With the blessing of visionary and courageous leadership, we are moving forward. Praise God!

*You can read the pastor, Megan Ramer’s Homily and the antiphonal Reading from the ceremony on the church website – Chicago Community Mennonite Church • Recent Sermons: Homily (21 August 2011).

  Naomi is smiling. Judy was in shock, but she got over it. And now we are living happily ever after.  🙂

05
Jul
11

getting from here to there

Late Thursday evening, June 30th, I took a closer look at the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Illinois Civil Union law. Yes, yes, yes, I thought as I read quickly through, I know all this. Then saw what I should have seen before: …the civil union license and civil union ceremony must take place within the same county. Whoa! That makes a big difference. Judy and I were all set to head out to our county seat first thing the next morning. We would have procured the license and then found that it would not have been valid at our little church at the edge of the city.  Woe would have been us, to be sure. Thanksgiving to God for saving our behinds once again, then a quick online check for the nearest appropriate county office, along with Mapquest directions.

Early the next morning, my sister agrees to come along for the fun of it and we all set off for an auspicious day—one we think will mark the beginning of the end of marginalization and ignominy. It was all sort of romantic in a way, despite our 34 years together. We were ready. Excitedly, we parked the car and entered what we found to be a queue inching its way toward the approving/disapproving swash of the detection wand, judiciously held by a uniformed man.

Once through, we searched, found what we thought was the proper office and presented ourselves. Two attendants look at us quizzically and ask us if we were looking for a divorce. “No, we’re looking to apply for a civil union license,” we blurt out.

“Oh. We do divorces here. You have to go across the way to that other building. Call this number. They will tell you.”

We called the number, got directions, trudged over to the proper building, walked through the door, and found ourselves staring at a darkened office with a sign on the door informing us that the office was closed for the day due to mandated furlough policies.

This was disappointing to say the least. First thought of the marginalized—bad omens—was quickly buried in a unanimous decision to go forward for the fun parts of the day that had been planned as celebration. So we did and my world did not come to an end.

Bright and early today, July 5th, we made our second trip to the county building. Success. I was nervous with accustomed expectation of veiled judgment from the people behind the counter, which I would have to stuff somewhere, as I have for so many years. There was no judgment—veiled or otherwise. Relief was palpable for me and my witty, comedic twin came pouring out with abandon. (She doesn’t get much of an opportunity, so I couldn’t get her back inside very easily. She thanks me for the opportunity to have made this rare appearance and wishes you were there to appreciate her.)

Judy and I have signed our names to a document that will make us part of an historic movement. That, in itself, is exciting. After surviving cancer and the loss of many loved ones, I wanted my life to be meaningful. I wanted to make a difference…and so I am. Thank you all for walking this journey with me for the past several years. I am excited to see what lies ahead, especially our ceremony happening right in our church…in the presence and loving acceptance of our congregation. This is enormously important and supersedes the private commitment ceremony we had in 1995. This time it’s public and legal…and believe me…it makes a difference. I had no idea what a difference it would make. Something like coming in from the cold…into the warm of acceptable and included…being part of the human face of life.

22
Nov
10

cost of truth telling

Roberta Showalter Kreider has published compilations of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender faith stories in three editions, From Wounded Hearts, Together in Love and The Cost of Truth. I read the first two during my personal encounter with church exclusion in 2008/09. I ordered the third but couldn’t manage to read it without succumbing to memories of my own painful experience, still searingly fresh into the winter of 2009/10. When a friend expressed interest in learning more about LGBT people, I gladly sent all three off with her. She simply didn’t know much and that is not uncommon. Whew! Out of sight, out of mind…or so I thought.

Then, one evening a few weeks ago, dear friends came to dinner. They are the only friends who spoke up as boldly as we did at the church that didn’t want us. We all left that church tattered and torn—the cost of speaking one’s truth—and we’d not seen each other in many months, so there was a lot to share. During the conversation one friend mentioned that she had just finished reading The Cost of Truth, and urged me to read it. Having completely forgotten the title of the book, I said I would. Before I knew it there it was in my mail box and still I didn’t recognize it until I opened the cover and saw that this was the third in the Kreider series—the set I’d given away. I was ready to read it now and have done so. I know some of the people in this book. I may not have known them three years ago when I first ordered the it, but through time and travail, I do now. These are stories of Mennonite and Brethren, LGBT people, whose dignity and leadership gifts were not honored by their denominations. One story in particular spoke to me. The writer shared his story and then his lingering sadness in a poem that resonates for me as well:

LGBT inclusion just may be the last strong-hold of the patriarchal church. The Mennonite denomination—traditionally dedicated to peace and non-violence—has yet to understand the violence to heart and soul that punishment and exclusion produces. Such treatment of brothers and sisters in Christ stands in opposition to the core values of the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. I have written about this many times and will likely not stop any time soon. If you are interested in this issue and have little experience with LGBT people, try one of these books.

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves….
-Rainer Maria Rilke

For now we see in a mirror, dimly but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. -I Corinthians 14:12




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