Posts Tagged ‘suffering

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.

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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?

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

26
Aug
10

spiritual healing…art not science

I had lunch with a dear friend of mine the other day and we talked a great deal about pain, suffering, and the art of healing. She talked about providing an environment of peace and beauty that encourages one’s own body to do the job of healing. The next day’s Richard Rohr meditation seemed to fit quite nicely with the thread of our conversation and presented me with a launching pad for expressing more clearly my view of the spiritual dimension of suffering.

Center for Action and Contemplation • Richard Rohr • Meditation • August 25, 2010

Paradox

When Christianity aligns itself with power (and the mindset of power) there’s simply very little room for the darkness of faith; that spacious place where God is actually able to form us.

So when we speak of paradox, I’m trying to open up that space where you can fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31), because YOU are not in control. That is always the space of powerlessness, vulnerability, and letting go. Faith happens in that wonderful place, and hardly ever when we have all the power and can hold no paradoxes. Thus you see why faith will invariably be a minority and suspect position.

Adapted from Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox

This is what I wrote to her:

Dear Healing One,

It’s not that I enjoy these dark times, but I have received so much spiritual growth as a result of wading through them organically. I seem to go to the end of faith repeatedly and then, a huge white bird comes along, picks me up and sets me on terra firma once again. Each time I am stronger and happier. This is one reason why I resist external fixing. I absolutely love the idea of healing friends standing back with arms outstretched in prayer and love..so honoring to me. And every once in a while, when we speak face to face in my own language, my aching heart gets heard and I know I do not walk through the valley without friends. This standing back…listening…hearing…being…is the ministry of healing a bit higher up on the scale than doctoring. I believe that healers are assistants to The One Who Heals. And in addition…that healing is a many layered phenomenon. Healing is wholeness.

God in me and me in God…and in that way, one can say that the wounded one heals herself. Your faith has made you whole, says Mark 10:53 and Mark 5:34.

21
Jul
10

going forward while standing still

Last night baby kitty, Bella woke me up  after  only 1.5 hours of sleep by jumping up to nestle down upon my sleeping body. Normally I would manage this but last night and for the past several nights I have been flushed with concerns and anxieties. I am currently overwhelmed with life in general and mine in particular. I would like to know when the golden years begin. I’m thinking this whole golden years idea might have been one of those advertising gimmicks to sell retirement homes or insurance policies. There is nothing golden going on in my life at present. Definitely nickel-plated.

Big Dawg and I still have 2 houses: the big beautiful one we put up for sale 2 years ago when we answered the call to come follow Jesus with the congregation we were attending at the time, and the charming little cottage in which we now reside. There had been ample time for leadership persons to explain to us that the invitation couldn’t include the two of us, but nothing was said until 3 days after we moved and there we were, sort of like your best friend died without leaving you a handkerchief. Two years later, we still have 2 houses and the strain of floating them, along with all the other vicissitudes of 21st century life is killing us. The strain of having lost Adopted Daughter along with what we’d thought would be a church family, comes home to roost quite frequently. I won’t go on. It will sound like a soap opera.

Two and a half days ago I had what we used to call a nervous breakdown—uncontrollable crying, despair, hopelessness, deep depression. I pulled myself up to a level closer to normal with the help of homeopathic medication, but  I am truly tired, inside and out. The prairie style FLW house we rescued from ignominy and poured so much love and money into has slipped from $479K to $300K and still no real buyers. We are reluctantly preparing to seek renters. This is a band-aid and not a good one, but it might lessen the financial leak. The wound remains until such time as the church that invited us, and then uninvited us, publicly accepts and confesses its culpability to us. Although we have extended forgiveness to them, such a statement would be a very healing balm to our battered selves. In the meantime, we practice the rule of 70 x 7.

Tomorrow BD and I will head out to Minnesota to attend the annual conference of Mennonites and Roman Catholics, called Bridgefolk, to be held at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville. We are looking for something more, but don’t know what it is. I have moments of wishing we’d not signed up for this because I feel so out of the Circle of Light, but we will go and God will bless and life will go on…one day at a time.

13
Jul
10

beginning and ending

The day started with what I thought would be an early visit to the doctor for a cholesterol blood draw, followed by a pleasant, sweet-treat breakfast and chat with one of my dearest friends.

I drove up to the medical building somewhere between 8 and 8:30 this morning, parked my car in the nearly empty lot (lucky me), phoned my friend to say that I’d be at the cafe shortly and smartly proceeded to gather my belongings from the front seat of the car. Oh, oh, no purse…everything else, but no purse! That meant no driver’s license, no insurance cards, no money and no credit cards. Bummer! I (not so smartly) phoned my friend again to say that I would have to drive back home and start again. She was gracious as usual. I was feeling the result of having been too pre-occupied with a challenging email I’d read before leaving the house to think straight. Multi-tasking had eluded me once again.

I drove home, picked up my purse and started out again traveling back the toll road route, which is faster but unpleasantly nerve-wracking. The parking lot had filled in a bit, but miraculously the space I’d vacated 40 minutes earlier was invitationally still there! Still more miraculously, I didn’t have to wait an hour at the lab, only about 15 minutes. What luck!

“Are you fasting” the technician asked?

“No one told me to fast; I had one cup of coffee,” I said somewhat reluctantly.

“Black? That would be fasting,” the technician’s supervisor announced.

“Cream and sugar,” I said.

“Sugar? Sugar? That’s non-fasting…write non-fasting and go ahead with the test,” the supervising lady replied, while keeping her gaze directly on her computer screen.

I was given the choice of right or left arm for the poke and so it was done. I got out of there quick without caring one whit what the test said one way or the other, and called my friend to say that I was on my way to the cafe, where we would have whatever looked good to us. Coffee with cream and with sugar, for sure! We had a fine time eating, enjoying each other’s company, and celebrating her birthday. It was a lovely couple of rejuvenating hours, then time to say goodbye and head home—richer and deeper for the shared time together. What is better than that?

I drove home along the same road I’d gone  back on the first time around. It was 3 hours later. I was mulling over some things we’d discussed, and generally feeling happy, when suddenly I saw a tiny, furry body on the road. It was a small kitten about 6 weeks old—small enough to fit in the palm of the hand—black with a triangular patch of white on its chest. The kitten was lying limply on its side with legs outstretched. How does an infant cat find its way to the highway? It wasn’t there 3 hours ago when I drove this road home the first time. How did it get there? Was it feral? If so, where was its mother or litter mates? Worse case scenario: someone dumped it out the window for whatever reason. This happens, I am sorry to say. Some people think animals can fend for themselves and are better off out there. (This, of course is never true of older animals who have had human companions, or of the young who haven’t yet learned survival skills.) I have heard all sorts of reasons for the inhumane treatment of animals. Humans do not yet realize that God is incarnate in every living thing.

I gasped as my car passed squarely over that baby kitty. In that instant I felt jointly responsible as a member of the human race, and my heart broke completely. Prayers for the kitten all the way home…prayers and tears and helplessness.

Am I an animal nut? No. I am not wed to the idea of  no-kill shelters or heroic measures for the diseased and deformed. There are millions of unwanted animals in this country. I am an advocate for spaying and neutering and responsible stewardship of God’s creatures, which would include responsible and compassionate euthanasia…not the gas chambers until they are dead that often happens in county animal facilities. I do not like to see an animal suffer, just as I do not like to see human beings suffer…do not like factory farming, just as I do not like warehousing of the elderly or mentally infirm.

As I remember that lifeless little body lying there, I feel a nagging sense of guilt mixed with shame and sadness. Although life is more manageable for us now with only 2 (perfect) cats, I am filled with an urge to add another…one not so fortunate as my Ben and Bella—the prince and princess of our towerless castle. Crazy…guilt driven and compulsive…maybe I’ll just pray some more for the kitty and for all those people out there with whom I am connected as a human being, like it or not.

P.S. There will be more postings about the wedding and grandchildren…and pictures too…eventually.

13
May
10

addenda

Seven days ago Adopted Daughter and I came to terms. She spoke to me and I to her. I felt her presence. That evening I went to a Taize prayer service and lit a candle for her, for my sister, for Darling Daughter and for some other souls dear to me. It was a spectacular experience being in that church, bathed in beauty and feeling her presence.

My freedom from acedia lasted 4 days. Sometimes all it takes is for a well meaning person to say something a bit off putting and my whole structure comes tumbling down like a child’s tower of blocks. We call this phenomenon the last straw, or the straw that broke the camel’s back, or…that was just one too many! So that is what happened after 4 acedia-free days: one too many straws and I’m back slogging through the dense underbrush.

For the past 3 days I again feel as though I am moving about in a tent of gauze—layers and layers of gauze. In this gauzy tent I have added 2 more Kathleen Norris books: Amazing Grace and The Virgin of Bennington. I am now starting on The Cloister Walk, her account of becoming a Benedictine Oblate. I am looking for something…an answer to a question I do not know and cannot ask.

I have to balance carefully so that I do not slip off into depression. Now in my 7th decade, having lost more than I care to count, I no longer see an open ended future as I once did—as the young do. I see an ending now and time becomes a gift…no longer taken for granted. One day I will pass to the other side and I think it will be grand. I do not plan to leave any secrets behind—any stones unturned—any opportunities unappreciated, even if unacceptable.




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