Posts Tagged ‘loss

18
Dec
13

A Most Magical Christmas

A Most Magical Christmas is an adaptation of the original story written for me long ago by Korin Heinz. As with all Armenian stories, this one was…
and was not…

karenswhimsy.comOnce upon a time, there was a little girl named Melineh, who lived with her parents, her sister and her brother in a big house. Melineh liked to pretend and play imaginary, magical games, especially at Christmastime. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, and right up to Christmas, she listened to The Cinnamon Bear on the radio and imagined herself right inside the story.

She was happy except for one thing: she dearly wanted a pet—not just any pet—a warm, furry kitten all her own to love and hug. She asked her mom and dad for a kitten many times, but the answer was always no, because they thought animals should always be outside—not inside the house. Then one day, after thinking it over carefully, Melineh’s father came home with a small, tabby kitten that he found near where he worked.

“Look what I found, Melineh,’ he said, ‘He begged me to bring him home, so I did.”

Melineh, filled with joy, held out her arms and begged her mom,  “Can I keep him… please?”

“Well… if you will promise to take care of him and not let him scratch the furniture, then we will try it for a little while,” Mom said, rather reluctantly.

Melineh named her new kitty, Buttons. She fed him every morning before school and in the afternoons when she came home. She brushed and played with Buttons and sometimes even put doll clothes on him. At night, Buttons slept on her bed in a tight curl of fur. Melineh was happier than she’d ever been in her whole life!

A few weeks later, just before Christmas, Melineh came home from school to play with Buttons, but couldn’t find him. She called and called and looked in every nook and cranny, but could not find him. “Mom,” she asked plaintively, “Where’s Buttons? Have you seen him?”

Mom looked away and said quickly, “Oh, he must have run away.”

Melineh wailed helplessly, “No, that’s not possible! You know where he is!” Inconsolable, she cried for days. There was nothing she could do but wait, hope and dream.

Then, on Christmas Eve, while Melineh was making make paper chain garlands for the tree with her sister, she heard a faint scratching noise at the back door: scritch, scratch. “I wonder what that is,” she thought, and got up to look outside in the fading afternoon light. At first she saw nothing and was about to close the door when she heard a tiny mew from under the porch. Melineh bent down and saw something dark and furry; “No, it couldn’t be,” she thought, but there, rubbing against her hand was Buttons, back from wherever he had been!kitten_in_holly 2

Melineh brought her precious tabby kitty inside and gave him some food. Buttons, once again in Melineh’s loving arms, purred happily. This was the very best gift ever—for sure!

Buttons lived with Melineh and her family for many years, bringing warmth and fun into the big old house in the city. When Melineh grew up she had lots more cats, but she never forgot that wonderful Christmas when Buttons found his way back home.

And, of course…they lived happily ever after…

Visual images in public domain from:
karenswhimey.com and clipartpal.com

25
May
13

doodling like a rolling stone

Bob Dylan, the poet-singer-songwriter of the Baby Boom generation, in his 1965 hit, Like a Rolling Stone, asks plaintively:

How does it feel how does it feelto be without a home… like a complete unknown… like a rolling stone?

Between each of the song’s four verses, comes this haunting refrain—pointed, probing and challenging. The song references societal expectations of the 1950s and 60s, which may no longer carry quite the sting it did then; nonetheless, the refrain lives on timelessly in the Boomer Generation—invincible in 1960—not so much in 2013.

We are aging…sometimes gracefully, sometimes awkwardly. How does it feel and what does it all mean as we roll along toward the once, unthinkable senior citizen horizon? I am not a true Boomer, just an honorary one due to some life events that put me back a few years, but I have a good Boomer friend who wrote an essay for this blog about her experience of aging and transitioning. It comes complete with a graphic she calls a doodle.

April 15, 2013 • How it feels and what it means…

There’s a little ditty we used to sing as kids: Head and shoulder, knees and toes, knees and toes (repeat) while touching each of these body parts as a form of exercise. Now, in my senior years, it seems that there is a problem with each of these (maybe not my toes, but my feet). Memory is fading, can’t hook my bra in back due to bursitis and tendonitis in my shoulder, old knee injuries have been flaring up, and plantar fasciitis causes pain when I walk.  I was feeling old. As a former dancer, these physical losses take on a lot of significance.

Our church made plans to offer a grief recovery workshop starting late March by a specialist in that field and I was considering if I should participate to process my grief around aging. However, it was a ten-week commitment with homework assignments and I questioned whether I had the where-with-all to do the work.

I learned of Sybil MacBeth’s book, Praying in Color, from a friend and presented a short segment on February 23 during a weekend Lenten retreat at my church, where we all tried our hand at this form of prayer. I decided to use this method of spontaneous doodling with words and color as a process of discernment, but it became clear that I wouldn’t get my answer in 20 minutes.

Basically it sat there in my journal until a women’s retreat I attended in Santa Fe the following month. During a movement ritual I needed to sit down because my knee was complaining and I began feeling sorry for myself again because I could no longer move as freely as I once did. As we went around the circle sharing why we were there, a huge realization dawned on me. Seven years ago on March 1, 2006 I had a hysterectomy because various tests and scans pointed to probable ovarian cancer. As it turned out I did not have cancer, but if I had, I would not even be at this retreat because I would no longer be alive, as life expectancy with ovarian cancer usually does not exceed five years.

The next two nights I continued with the doodle, noting that I could be dead, but I wasn’t and asking why. The second night brought it to a near completion, but only after participating in a craft project with the group. In the afternoon we had walked out on the high-desert land to each collect sticks or a piece of weathered wood to create a “Spirit Doll.” There was an array of beads, feathers, ribbon, fabric, glue, wire…you name it…available to dress our wood into something that resembled…well, some sort of doll, I guess. I immediately went into a familiar insecurity, comparing myself to everyone else who would create something profound, more meaningful, and just plain better than anything I could do. So, with a slightly rebellious attitude, I decided I would create an alter ego. Using part of a pink boa around her torso, pink feathers in her hair, which was actually sagebrush, and sparkly netting for a skirt I called her “my lady of the night” who stayed awake nights for reasons different than my insomnia-ridden ones. With a few added doo-dads she was sufficiently garish and I felt satisfied.

Anne's Doodle Design

Back in my room the doodle grew. Of course there was much more happening in my thoughts and emotions than appear on the page but it is a good summary. And what I also realized was that I had created something meaningful in the doll; that in her flamboyant attire she represented not what I had set out to create but rather a celebration of life! I finally had a clear answer to the question I had posed several weeks earlier. My conclusion: Rather than grieve my losses, I need to celebrate the life that is still before me.

01
Apr
13

looking backward / going forward

Every now and again an old friend or acquaintance will come to mind and I wonder what they are doing now…where they are. Sometimes I Google to find out. Maybe it’s a way of measuring the length of my days in years? Some time ago I found an artist friend through Facebook that I’d known a dozen years ago and wrote about the encounter in my June 13, 2012 post, art then / art now. A few weeks ago I reconnected with another friend through Facebook that I’d known in the glorious, early 1970s (when some of us were still young and others, not yet born). That was great fun.

Last week…in a more serious mood…I looked for a person I’d known six years ago in a cancer support group. I’d been thinking about him for a while. I wanted to thank him for all the invaluable help he’d given me—help that changed the course of my recovery for the better. We both have a form of incurable lymphoma that can capriciously become active or lie inactive at will. I’ve been in remission for five years and wanted to know how he was. I Googled him, and found his name in connection with a cancer support group’s phone listing. I called and was delighted to find that he is a survivor and continuing with his cancer support mission. It felt good to send a message of thanks and affirmation. Many cancer survivors like to pay it forward, including me.

A few days ago, I thought about two persons I’d known from my days in the art world.  Despite that association ending badly, I Googled them hoping to find an avenue for constructive reconnection. To my dismay, I found pages and pages of articles linking them and the gallery to fraudulent misappropriation of federal grant funds from 2004-10. I was shocked and wanted to know what had happened. I began reading the articles. When I got to the FBI Press Release dated December 14, 2011 what I considered the most reliable—I stopped to take stock. My partner and I had known these women for many years. Until my last show in their gallery in 2002, we had considered them close friends. The exhibition—Inheritance: art and images beyond a silenced genocide—was a production showcasing Armenian-American artists and the Armenian people. It was nearly a year’s work and a major undertaking for me as artist, curator and producer.

A few weeks before the exhibition opened, our tax preparer urged us to ask the two women for an accounting of the money contributions that had been donated toward funding the show. Asking for an accounting touched off a firestorm of angry accusations toward us, and threats to cancel the show, which put me in a state of ongoing anxiety for the two months of the show’s run in the gallery. Naively, we assumed the contributions that came in from our contacts were earmarked and set aside. We had virtually no understanding of non-profit gallery operations at that time, and no idea of the potential threat this request to the gallery directors would be.

Historically, the gallery had been an important outreach to the community and an alternative for rising artists to the traditional, market-based gallery system. I do not know how the current situation happened, when, or why it happened. I only know my own experience in what would be my last show there. It had been my labor of love. We were fortunate to receive in-kind donations that included a four-color catalog, marketing/advertising help and a marvelous array of catered, Armenian food and drink for the opening reception.

Everything was in order, but the enmity that ensued—the demands and constant threats to close the show at a moment’s notice made a basket case of me for most of that time. Trust was broken on all sides. What had been friendship for many years became a battleground and a living hell. I didn’t understand it then and mourn the emptiness of it all now. I am sorry to have lost the friendship we had with these two very interesting women, but in light of this new information I am thankful to be on this side of current events…thankful…but still sad to have all that collateral damage sitting in the roadway of my past. I cannot think of it without great regret for relational carelessness and wasted time.

Looking back, I remember the government shutdowns of arts funding hitting the small enterprises hardest. I am not excusing anyone or anything, merely seeing two sides of what has become the vanishing coin of the power-Study in time–3x2.5elite. I have compassion for these two people, regardless of circumstances, because I knew them at their sincere best…maybe not as deeply as I’d thought, but well enough. We are all looking for our way…our path in life. I am sorry about detours and sink holes and broken pavement. I do not know where these women are today, or how they are coping. There is nothing online past December 2011, so I assume the allegations are still pending. I am a bit of an idealist. I love resolution and reconciliation. I would like that with these two, but I dare not dream of it. I don’t really know how to swim with the bigger fish and my skin has not yet hardened. ~¿

Waiting

24
Jan
13

something on my mind

Last week, in an Oprah Winfrey interview we heard Lance Armstrong, the world-class Olympic cyclist confess to having used several performance enhancing drugs to achieve his string of seven Tour de France medals during the period 1999 to 2005. These medals were stripped from him late last year, and recently the Olympic bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney games as well. Lance is a proud man, a fighter—a winner at all costs sort of person. Oprah did a magnificent job of drawing him out from shadow to full light truth. She did this by offering him kind, compassionate support all the way home. He needed that and she, out of her storehouse of experiences, could give it. I don’t think she skipped a beat.

For two hours I watched and listened to two amazing persons reveal themselves to the world: one a fallen celebrity newly discovering his feet of clay, the other a celebrity interviewer/entrepreneur who has never hidden hers, even from herself. This is a distinction of importance as I look through the pages of my own book of life. I find identity in both areas and I am not at ease.

I am annoyed with Lance Armstrong, not for the doping, arrogant lying and power-driven will to win, win, win, but for the cancer mythology he helped to perpetuate through the LIVESTRONG theme of the foundation bearing his name. The foundation has done good work and raised millions of dollars for research, but it did that based on Armstrong’s own cancer experience turned into the thematic slogan: LIVESTRONG. Many thousands of people carried this message to heart—persons unlucky enough to have contracted the disease, were caretakers for them, or otherwise touched by the disease.

In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with late-stage, metastatic, testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. He ignored the warning signs at the early, easily treatable stage of this cancer, common in men aged 15-35. Had his body not been as fit as it was, he may very well have been a statistic instead of a survivor of heroic proportions. LIVESTRONG worked for him because it was his personal modus operandi. People want and need heroes. He was a winner, so the slogan became a word to live by for many, but not for me. I survived cancer and didn’t have the strength to live strong for a very long time. I simply survived. It took many years to overcome the side effects of the treatment, some of them permanent.  I am still surviving. There is a 50/50 chance that my cancer will return at some point. I live with that daily. Is that living strong or living true?

The yellow LIVESTRONG wristband always turned me off. I didn’t know what it meant and still don’t. In the absence of broader knowledge of this disease, responsibility for outcome tends to shift to the sufferer. How does one live strong when the drugs that flow intravenously through the body every three weeks (or less) leave you chemically depressed, thin as a bone, bald as a bat, sick and wobbly as a toddler learning to walk? Does that mean soldiering on through, fighting on through, or what? Cancer is still incurable. Oncology speaks of remission these days, not cure. So, is remission the goal of living strong? Is that what is meant by “beating it?” I don’t know. We see the happy faces of cancer survivors in commercials and advertising. We don’t see the thousands of people permanently disfigured and/or impaired by the side effects of these chemical cocktails, nor do we understand that each recurrence of the disease further weakens the body’s ability to counter. We don’t see the epitaphs of those who apparently didn’t live strong enough to survive. We aren’t ready yet to admit that the war on cancer, started 40+ years ago by President Nixon, has not produced cure. Treatments are better and drugs are becoming smarter, but it is still treatment that will be deemed barbaric some hundred years or so in the future.

I would like to hear another interview where Armstrong takes responsibility for misleading the public into thinking a catchy jingle could make us all strong survivors. We aren’t. If he does this he will be a true leader and a strong advocate. Cancer is still a dark thief riding a dark horse in the darkest of nights for most of us.  Both my niece and my sister lived their cancer as best they could…some might say strong, but the endings were not pretty. After Adopted Daughter died of cancer, I found the yellow bracelet among her things. I recoiled at the sight of it and tossed it out. My loss was too great to even look at the talisman she thought would help her. If I had it today, I’d take a scissor and sever the LIVE from the STRONG. I’d throw out the STRONG and pin-up the LIVE in my studio to remind me of what surviving is all about, at least for me: living authentically, gracefully and joyously.Type Embellishments_H 36pt_white.

Postscript:

1) My personal cancer story, Dying to Live: My Cancer Odyssey, was written in 2007 and can be seen on my website: www.inheritanceproject-2.com – project 5.  2) Reports on Lance Armstrong, the foundation, the interview, other cancer survivor’s opinions can easily be found online. Your comments to this posting are welcome.

31
Jan
12

moving on

There are times in life when our wheels stop turning and we seem to be parked in neutral. This is one of those times for me. When I started this blog I had a mission, something to say personally about human rights, the church, social justice and a host of other timely issues. I’m not sure what happened, but I seem to be in some sort of transition state and that is why I have written so little for the past many months.

In our society, we over 65 are not expected to be transitioning to anything beyond retirement, traveling and grandparent-hood. This is a popular misconception that isolates and insulates this strata of society. It brings to mind the baby-boom mistrust of anyone over 30, popularized (I think) by that  iconic figure of the 60s and early 70s, Bob Dylan. Of course we all crossed that line of demarcation (including Bobby Dylan)  and are living to tell the tale. The slogan, popularized by John Lennon was: Make Love Not War. It was not an original concept, but certainly a controversial one, just as it was long ago in the messianic teachings of the preacher from Galilee. He (probably) wasn’t talking about sex  as we were, but the concept is still significantly similar. We had a dream of a just society. Some retain the  dream and work toward that goal—others internalized it in private ways and seek personal wholeness in a cracked and broken world.

I am both of those, but having shed about as much blood over  issues concerning LGBTQ inclusion in our churches as I can manage to lose, I feel like I need a transfusion. The past several months, since achieving my own legalized civil union, have been a time of painful waiting, watching and listening. I find myself walking the bridge that leads to what used to be termed, the golden years. I do not find them all that golden, except for the wisdom that experience brings. Dylan Thomas, in his poem, Do not go gentle into that good night, urges us to “…rage against the dying of the light.” I am raging about something, yet it eludes me. It is not about getting old or dying. It is about wisdom having its voice; it’s about aging as evolution, not devolution. The longer we live, the more we know—the more we can share. The more we share—the healthier, inter-generationally, our society can be…but this is not the world I live in.

There are many things that separate me from others. I am not building my life. I am bringing it to a close. I didn’t say end…I said close, as in the final act of a play, which can go on for quite a while depending on the play-write. I am transitioning from survival mode to sacred. And I know this because when I dance I am all at once whole in body and soul. My spirit rejoices and God is alive within me…there are no barriers of creed or doctrine to stumble over. It is all elation. I am a bird flying the current, just knowing and being. I waited all my life for this. It is a gift from the great giver of life. I have no idea how to put this together with the artist and writer hats I wear and don’t know what comes next. I am waiting…in the best of times floating in the current…in the worst of times doing battle with the fear and anxiety of failure and loss.

This Richard Rohr meditation—Living a Whole Life—came today from the Center for Action and Contemplation, January 31, 2012:

Bill Plotkin speaks of the first half of life as doing our “survival dance.” The second half of life can then become our “sacred dance.” Most of us never get beyond our survival dance to ask the deep concerns of the soul (we are too busy “saving” our souls, whatever that means!) to do our sacred dance. Money, status symbols, group identity, and security are of limited value, but to the soul they are a distraction, and finally they become the very problem itself.

However, don’t misunderstand me—and I say this as strongly as I can—you’ve got to go through this first half of life and its concerns. Every level of growth builds on the previous ones. The principle is this: transcendence means including the previous stages. Then you can see the limited—but real—value of the early stages. But you will no longer put too much energy into just looking good, making money, feeling secure at all costs, and making sure you are right and others are wrong. That’s what it means to grow up, and Christians need to grow up just like everybody else.

Richard Rohr

Adapted from Loving the Two Halves of Life: The Further Journey

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.

18
Jun
11

bridging boundaries

The weeks following my last entry, The Color of Hope, have left me wondering what on earth I had left to say. This blog began in the fall of 2009, as a forum for sharing my experiences since returning to the church after a serious bout of lymphoma, the joys and sorrows that return yielded, and the learning curve that has been the composite result.

I gave this blog the title, Called by Name, because that was the passage given to me toward the end of my cancer regimen. Since I changed my first name to Naomi at my Mennonite baptism in 1975, the notion of having been called by name—through cancer and to life beyond—has often been an affirming and sustaining force. Nevertheless, my partner, Judy and I, were unprepared for the painful ordeal the ultimate denial of church membership would be. We had answered the congregation’s and the pastor’s invitation to come follow Jesus with them. That decision proved to be a considerable leap of faith on our part which was not met by the congregation. During the time we were there, I lost my sister to cancer; was receiving periodic maintenance treatment for my own cancer; and my adopted daughter, Bettina, entered her third round of chemo therapy. It was an excruciatingly  difficult and painful period, wherein I became more familiar with the Job story than I’d ever thought possible. We had returned as prodigals, but it was Job and the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) we experienced in that congregation. In a wildly out of control, congregational meeting on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009, we were categorically denied membership and walked out of the meeting with hearts torn to shreds and legs turned to stilts. One family left with us, easing the humiliation that filled us like flames dancing in a campfire.

Two weeks later, we arrived at the Little Church at the Edge of the City, bruised and battered. We were welcomed into the new congregation, but the situation was challenging to them as well as to us…particularly with the death of Bettina just 9 months later. Many personal difficulties ensued, but we all pressed on as best we could. Fits and starts would be one way of describing those two years—June, 2009 to June, 2011—a roller-coaster of deep despair, longing, grief, and loneliness would be another. Despite having been easily accepted into membership, and the efforts of the Little Church to help us, the experience of exclusion and loss had become embedded like a seed planted in my heart. Little by little, anguish nourished the seed into action, and I became an advocate for the peace and justice inclusion of all persons into the Mennonite Church—one of the world’s oldest peace churches! I spoke out declaratively…but without Bettina’s support and enthusiasm, the road often felt lonely and sometimes a bit scary. Except for a few friends, I just did not feel woven into the warp and woof of congregational life.

Then, just a month short of the two-year anniversary of that miasmic denial of membership, this congregation surprised us by voting unanimously to celebrate and officiate at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) weddings and civil unions! My personal world took a decidedly positive turn and healing seemed miraculously instantaneous. Suddenly I was not a single voice speaking for inclusion and civil justice. There was a chorus behind me and with me. That was the color of hope…a rainbow of hope.

Marbling throughout the agonizing times, have also been blessings. I do not deny this at all, but the way has been hard…faith-building some will say, and in hind-sight I can agree, but the process itself left me feeling alone and lonely in a crowd much of the time.

In a few weeks Judy and I will apply for a civil union license and on August 21, we, and this brave little church on the edge of the city will come together in a civil union ceremony. Hard to believe, but true! After nearly 34 years together, Judy and I will be entitled many of the legal rights and privileges heretofore denied us. What I will enjoy the most is Judy’s relationship to me changing on the medical documents I sign each time I visit oncology: from neighbor/friend to Civil Union Partner.

Yeah, for the Little Church and yeah for the lovely pastor who feareth not what might befall.

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?

04
Apr
11

afterward…on the way home

Last December I introduced peace and justice activists, Mark and Sara, and their friend, death row inmate, William Glenn Boyd. (See: Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas; In the Bulb There is a Flower; State By State )

On March 31st, Glenn was executed on schedule at 6:00 pm. The following day I posted some details in Forgive As We Forgive, along with my thoughts and point of view. Today, I want to share Mark and Sara’s thoughts as they drove home from Holman Prison last Friday.

Hello to all,

The sun is shining and the morning breeze is turning warmer. Rev. Megan is driving, Mark is sitting next to our son, and Grandma is entertaining our grumpy little baby girl in the back seat. Before we head back to home, we thought we would take a quick detour to the beach and see the ocean.

Glenn’s spirit has been traveling around—making lots of stops and visits. He is now free to go see loved ones he hasn’t seen in years.

We had a wonderful visit with our brother Glenn yesterday. He was in good spirits. We talked, laughed, prayed, and had communion together around 10:00 am. We even had a last supper together, around 3:00 pm. Glenn had requested fried chicken, french fries, tomatoes, and apples for his last meal.  He knew he wanted to share the meal with all of us, so that’s why he ordered some vegetables—to appease the vegetarians amongst us. They brought it into the visiting yard. We bought a couple of sandwiches from the vending machine to supplement. There were eleven of us and not enough food, so each just had a little bit…symbolically sharing the meal together. We kept encouraging him to eat the chicken and he insisted that we all share it and eat together. so we split up all of the food, shared and communed together. It was absolutely beautiful.

Be still and know that I am God.

I want to give a shout-out to the corrections officers who were part of the ‘execution’ team. They were so kind and compassionate towards us and Glenn—so deeply respectful. I would never have expected to experience God through them, but I did.

Glenn was strong through to the end. We left the prison around 3:30 pm. Two of his spiritual advisors stayed with him in the death cell until 5:30 pm.  They then moved him to the death chamber. His pastor and another of his spiritual advisors were in the witness room. Glenn was able to focus on them until his last moments.

We were out in a pasture near the prison, praying and reading psalms 23 and 91. Shortly after 6:00 pm, a hawk flew towards us and circled over the pasture a few times and then flew on towards the creek. We stayed, prayed and sang Amazing Grace. Just as we were about to leave, his pastor, Don, came to the pasture and shared with us that Glenn was strong and at peace up until the very end. He did not have any last words, but that is normal—most guys don’t. He imagines that there are so many thoughts going through their heads.

Glenn had written a letter to the victim’s family. His plan was to read it as his last words, because nine members of the victims’ families came for the execution, but was not allowed to do that. Glenn’s lawyer now has the letter and we will be sending it to the victims’ families. It was a short, but beautifully written apology. At the prayer vigil, while sharing about what a great and wonderful person Glenn was, Mark started to say, “…and Glenn was…”

Glenn’s brother, Billy, piped in and just said one word: “Amazing.”

Glenn was amazing.

Love,
Sara and Mark

*****

This account puts a very human face on what has been reported in the news. No gorging of food, no cowardice, no lack of repentance…only compassion, generosity, truth, and God’s loving presence. Sara’s letter ended with this postscript to her church family and friends:

I had a moment where I nearly broke down before entering the prison on Thursday morning, but I felt your prayers. One of the corrections officers ministered to me, and I felt your prayers through her as well. Thanks to all of you who have sent us prayers. They were…and are felt.

*****

Yesterday, at church, I learned that a few days before the execution, a bereavement card addressed to Mark and Sara was waiting for them when they returned home. It was from Glenn, carefully sent a few days earlier. It was simple and sweet…consoling them for the loss of the friendship they had shared together over the years. As I remember the weeks and days leading up to the death of my adopted daughter Bettina, I know how important it was to Glenn to be able to make that last gesture. I remember saying tearfully to Bettina, that I would miss her. Her reply was: “I’ll miss you too, Mama.” We needed to tell each other…to assure ourselves connection over the great unknown. Death, however it comes, is a sacred mystery.

 

 

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be still

Be…

 

If you would like to contact Mark or Sara concerning Christian Peacemaker Teams, the death penalty, or other peace and justice issues, here is the contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549




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