Thursday, July 28, 2011

Taking a Chance

Here is my August newsletter article for the All Souls newsletter.
(with a special shout-out to Rev. Meg Riley, senior minister of Church of the Larger Fellowship, whose recent video on turning fear into love inspired this. You can view it at:

Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe
my soul needs.

And if I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
with unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails,
will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass –Mary Oliver

Is it just me or do you some days feel as if the world is spinning out of control? We are on the brink of economic disaster on a national level that many of us already feel in our personal lives. A gunman hunts down and kills scores of young people on an island in Norway after setting off a car bomb in Oslo. And many of us feel as if we, too, face frightening things out of our control: a looming divorce, or the long wait for biopsy results; a significant loss. The temperature seems to rise as folks dismiss global warming, our level of anxiety and stress keeping pace with this precipitous climb.

In times like these it seems as if our default is to isolate. To burrow into our cocoon of fear and anxiety as if we expect transformation can happen in such an environment. Or else we posture and eye the opposing sides to see which one can give us the illusion of safety, creating an “us” and “them” mentality which also, conveniently, gives us someone to blame. Someone whose fault it is. It’s the Democrats! It’s the Republicans! It’s the undocumented citizens! It’s the border patrol.”

All of this and more has been eddying in my own mind for weeks, months. Who is right? Where will this all end? And into these questions comes Mary Oliver’s tender words. What if I came to the door of your comfortable home, with the filth of poverty and despair, of uncertainty and need like a halo around me, begging bowl in hand asking you to see me, to see me and not turn away? Would you put something in it?

What if we each did this with one another, open and vulnerable in our need. What if we broke through the isolation of our pain and fear and showed up in one another’s lives.

Now, in this time of uncertainty, is not the time for pointing fingers or placing blame. Now is not the time to isolate or draw up the moat to our souls.

Now, more than ever, is the time to take a chance in our humanity, to knock on one another’s doors, bowl in hand; begging, not for pity, but for compassion; for the opportunity to be seen rather than catalogued.  So I invite you this month, to take that chance, to knock on someone’s door.

And if someone knocks on your door, begging bowl in hand, bow to the gift and take a chance by opening up and letting them in. That is, I believe, the only way we ultimately can survive this adventure called life, in good times and bad.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Somehow We Get There

Tonight I joined a couple of friends to see the Springs Ensemble Theatre production of Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter. It was an intense, incredibly well-cast play about the struggle of Marine Jenny Sutter to come to terms with where she’s been (Iraq) and try to find a way back home. A story about wondering if home is where it was when she left, if anyone could see the scars seared into her soul and her body, if people could look at her and ever see her as beautiful again.

It was a poignant, honest portrayal of what it’s like for some soldiers coming home from hot zones, trying to make sense of their lives, trying to interpret what they’ve been through in that surreal war zone that sometimes seems more real than the wonder bread context of "home."

And though Jenny is the main character– and the only one who has been to war- the other characters are dealing with their own trauma, they each have their own scars–external and internal that they intermittently try to control or deny, with only sweet moments of vulnerability in which the frightened, scarred person within them makes a desperate bid for connection with another.

It was a really well done performance and, laudably, there was information available for vets of wars from Iraq and Afghanistan to Vietnam and a list of resources to help veterans of any war come to terms with a reality that includes a past most of us can’t even begin to comprehend.

After sharing a few post-show comments with my friends and hugging them goodbye, I got into my car and drove out of the parking lot and turned right. Being directionally impaired, I quickly realized that I was probably going a longer route home than I needed to. So I opened up the nav screen of my car’s GPS, selected destination and punched on the tab that said, simply, home. Quickly the GPS consulted some satellite flying thousands of miles above and showed me the quickest way home.

I was thinking, as I drove, how cool it would be if there were some kind of soul GPS, some kind of heart guidance, into which we could simply push the tab that said home and it would navigate the easiest route for us, the route that would get us there the quickest. How amazing it would be if for veterans and those scarred by abuse or incest or other trauma; those who got seemingly irretrievably lost on a road we thought led to love, fulfillment, security, only to find ourselves instead blind-sided by pain and betrayal; orphaned by loss.

The British voice on my GPS confidently told me when to turn left and when to turn right– even gave me warnings as to how far before the next change would be. "In a quarter of a mile, turn right." I could get into the right lane, check the street name also helpfully shown on the display.

As I pulled up to my house the voice in the GPS said in a soothing voice, as if singing a lullaby, "You have arrived at your destination. Your route guidance is complete."

And yes, there was my house, with the lights blazing and the always smiling lawn gnome to welcome me home.

And as the voice stopped speaking the next song on my iPod queued up: Somehow We Get There by Melissa Ferrick. Stunned at the synchronicity of the moment, I turned off the engine and listened in the silence to the words of this home–sick song. The chorus reminded me that

But you know
Somehow we get there
Through the blind night
We got the white lines flashing past the tip of our headlights
Somehow we get there
From wherever we are

Somehow we get there
No matter how far

The reality of it is, there is no GPS for the soul, no heart guidance to get us to home, to tell us when we’ve arrived so we don’t pass by, thinking it only a rest area. There is no simple way for us to navigate our realities, to traverse the wide and rocky terrain that waits before us when we get lost. Still, I took comfort from the words of this song. That if we just keep traveling, if we just keep stumbling along. If we feel the pain of the moment and live fully into that without trying to deny or repress it, if we can welcome with open arms the joy that shows up, the unexpected graces that bless us on the journey, somehow we will get there, we will find our home. We will, if we pay attention, know when we’ve arrived without some artificial voice telling us.

Maybe, we don’t have GPS, but we do have a compass. The compass of love and compassion, the compass of hope and faith– faith in ourselves, in the road, in the reality of a home we have not yet seen or can only distantly remember. And, if we can just follow the true north of our beating heart, I really do believe that somehow we will get there. Blessings on your journey.

Somehow We Get There

by Melissa Ferrick from CD Willing to Wait, 1995

Well I'm searching for somethin'
That I can't reach
So I whisper your name
In my sleep

N' time it isn't giving me
The space that I need
But you know at this pace
I don't think
I can
Pull into the lead

Forgiving myself is too simple too hard
There's got to be another way
To stop this car

But you know
Somehow we get there
Through the blind night
We got the white lines flashing past the tip of our headlights
Somehow we get there
From wherever we are
Somehow we get there
No matter how far

'Cause I can't Carry this around anymore
It's getting heavier with age
It is the boulder in my stomach
It's the avalanche in my veins

So let's leave it behind
I want to bury it beside the road
I will sit there until it comes out of me
I'll be freezing in the summer desert cold

But you know
Somehow we get there
Through the blind night
We got the white lines flashing past the tips of our head lights
Somehow we get there
From wherever we are
Somehow we get there
No matter how far

So hold my head
While I rock
Myself back to sleep
And I tell you that I am not easy
And you tell me that I am

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Liberty and Justice for All

Today I joined a group of maybe 30 individuals at a rally on the steps of City Hall here in Colorado Springs. This weekend we will celebrate our 21st Pride Celebration for the queer community. For the past several years a very conservative mayor had refused to sign a mayoral proclamation honoring Pride Day and recognizing the gifts the queer community brings to Colorado Springs. So at the rally, a new resolution was put forth– introduced to the city council meeting today that asks that the Mayor and City Council sign a resolution condemning hate crimes– more specifically the alleged hate crime perpetuated against two gay soldiers here in the Springs who were jumped and assaulted while getting a late night snack. Homophobic epithets were hurled at them with the same force as fists that were thrown.

All of the usual suspects showed up to speak in support. Rev. Wes Mullins, minister of MCC, Chuck Bader, local union activist, and Carolyn Cathey– whose passion and instinct for activism have made her an honorary minister in my book (I call her Rev.– she does minister to the queer community in Colorado Springs, faithfully and without denominational prejudice). Others involved in politics, Nancy-Jo Morris, one of the more outspoken transwomen. It was inspiring, powerful. I felt the reassuring blanket of community–of queer folks and our allies– covering us, protecting us, swaddling us in love.

Following the rally, most of the folks there headed inside to participate in the City Council meeting. At the beginning of each City Council meeting –after an invocation by a local minister (I always love getting asked to do this) and the Pledge of Allegiance (for which I stand respectfully, but can never say, and will never say, until it’s true) there is a time for citizens to speak on subjects not listed on the agenda. Many of the supporters outside the rally had filled the halls and several had signed on to speak.

Queers of all ages and from all walks of life spoke about the importance of acknowledging the diversity of our community. Straight allies also stood up to urge support of our Pride celebration. Others urged the council to seriously consider the resolution against hate crimes that they will probably vote on next week, to not let silence be permission for other hate crimes to occur.

I spoke as did my colleague, Rev. Roger Butts from High Plains Church. Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of the local queer youth service provide, Inside/Out Youth Services, spoke movingly and, at times, tearfully, about the abuse she hears about from queer kids all the time; the sense the youth have that nothing will change and no one will care.

The council members and the mayor had a chance to respond. Most of the remarks were short-sighted, even scolding us. One council member suggested we were the ones causing division by not letting this issue go away. She said it was just an event and that’s not where the City Council needed to be focused. Another said that every crime was a hate crime (oh, how I weary of that retort– always given by someone who has never been in a marginalized group). Another insisted that as a Council that wasn’t their job but individuals could certainly support Pride. It’s interesting to note if that were their only recourse, to sign a statement of support as individuals, that only two councils members have actually done so: Scott Hente, President of Council, and Jan Martin, President Pro-tem.

Then the mayor spoke. (Was I the only one there who noted the irony of him saying in one breath he would never sign a proclamation celebrating/honoring Pride and in the next breath talking about the “Spirit of Colorado Springs” initiatives?? Did anyone else see the disconnect???).

Our newly elected (and first “strong mayor”) Steve Bach had run for office on a platform that said he wouldn’t sign any proclamations with “political connotations” (as was confirmed in John Hazelhurst’s article in the Colorado Springs Independent this week). Yes we knew this, and still there is something so heart-wrenchingly infuriating about the smugness behind that comment.

“Political connotations??” I guess celebrating the time when queer folk– namely drag queens and bull dykes– decided enough is enough! And boldly, fearlessly fought back against the police brutality and injustice of laws targeting queer folk had political connotations. Kind of like Juneteenth when Africans in Texas who had been kept as slaves 18 months after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and put into effect by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, had political connotations– certainly economic connotations for their “owners” who were, shall we say, reluctant to let them know of their liberation. I guess Pride has political connotations in the same way in which Labor Day has political connotations– spotlighting the need for better, fairer labor laws. Or while we’re at it, let’s talk about the political connotations of Mothers’ Day which was started as an anti-war movement by Julia Ward Howe and other women alarmed at having sons of mothers kill other sons of mothers in war.

Frankly, I’m at a loss. I can’t think of a single secular holiday we celebrate that doesn’t have political connotations. Memorial Day? A day to remember the great loss of both sides in the Civil War– to decorate the graves of soldiers from both sides killed in the conflict, to look at our incredible shadow square in the face and recognize that, at the end of the day, we are all Americans– North and South, Yankee and Rebel.

Veterans Day–which honors the cessation of fighting in World War I, aka the Great War on November 11, 1918– even though the war was not officially over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed seven months later on June 28, 1919. What a twist of fate that 50 years to the day after official end of that war, on June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion occurred and the LGBTQI, etc. movement was begun.

A day, which had started so well, so joyously and determinedly with a rally and with citizens speaking out in City Council ended with the queer folks and our straight allies feeling, once again, misunderstood– actually not heard at all, invisible, demoralized, the lines of demarcation drawn more clearly than ever between those with power and status and standing and those without.

We walked out of that meeting in pain, in anger, in despair, for some of us. When I spoke to City Council this afternoon I started by saying at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church we don’t just celebrate diversity– we flaunt it! And I told the story, from the Jewish tradition, of a person who had heard that a particular city was evil, corrupt, greedy, not caring for the outcast or marginalized. So this man had traveled to this city and stood with a sign by the city gates that said “Repent!” And day after day he would stand there and implore the city to repent of its selfish ways, to stop being corrupt, to care for those in need. And the people passing by would laugh or jeer at him, or spit on him, or– maybe worse– just ignore him.

This went on for ten years. Finally a passer-by who had witnessed this happening day after day, took pity on the man and went over to him and said, “Buddy! It’s been 10 years. They’re clearly not going to change. Why not just give it up.”

And the man replied. “At first I stood here and made my statement in hopes that this city would change. Now I do it to make sure that this city doesn’t change me.”

And I said, after sharing that story, that maybe that’s all I was doing now. Making sure that I don’t get drawn into the cynicism of things never changing and so changing into an apathetic person who doesn’t care. I said I will keep showing up and saying "Repent!" If for no other reason, than I not be changed.

And I want to say to those activists who stood with me today. Those who have been making this same impassioned plea for justice for years and years, and those for whom this was their first act of justice-seeking, don’t give up. No matter the outcome, if we can stand united, if we can refuse to change, refuse to give in to complacency and numbing despair, if we can continue to be a bright light of justice overlooking the valley of inequity, then we are accomplishing something. We, in our subversive refusal to give in to an unjust reality can create a future of equity and peace, with liberty and justice for all. Then I will proudly stand next to you and pledge allegiance to a flag, to a nation, to a state or city that offers that. Until, then, my dear activist friends, my dear beleaguered queer community, my beloved straight allies, I place my hand on my heart, and I pledge allegiance to you, and to continuing the struggle with you. May it be so.

Monday, July 4, 2011

That's the Way Life Is

Tonight I went to an Independence Day party hosted by a friend who lives in Manitou Springs. This particular friend and I go way back, to the beginning of my time in Colorado. We have never been extremely close; rather our politics and passions draw us every now and then into the eddied currents of life– at fund-raising events or rallies or marches. Because it is such a singular friendship, her circle of friends is different than the ones I see in the course of my daily life.

At her parties (she has two or three or more a year– her house is perfect with its large, open living space and cool, enclosed patio overlooking the little village that is Manitou) I often run into friends and acquaintances that I haven’t seen in years.

And such was the case tonight. I sat for a time with three other women– none of whom I knew well but well enough to feel peaceful and at ease. We chatted about our lives, filling in the blanks of missing years. Of the four of us, three of us had dealt with cancer in varying degrees of severity (uterine, cervical, ovarian). We discussed living through that, our surgeries, how it changed us. Three of us (a different three, well one person sat this one out) were single– the other celebrating 19 years with her partner. We talked about relationship transitions, women we have known, ways in which we have grown.

Others came and went into this circle of conversation. We told raunchy jokes we remembered from our baby dyke days. We talked about softball and sports injuries, flash mobs and 5ks, pets and hoped for chickens to raise, sabbaticals and growing older.

Several times, or at least it seemed to me, we reflected on our age, our longevity, our stamina. As I looked at the faces of the women around me in the deepening dusk, I marveled at how beautiful each of us are, at how we are bearing our lives with grace and laughter.

I left the party before the fireworks began and drove through the throngs of people who had parked their cars on the narrow lane that passes for a street in Manitou, there to see the show.

As I drove home, my heart was filled with the gratitude and a sense of wonderment at our lives, and how we choose to live them and the myriad paths that lead us to this moment. Right here. Now.

"Se a Vida E (that’s the way life is) by the Petshop Boys began playing on my iPod. I listened to the lyrics :
Come outside and see a brand new day
The troubles in your mind will blow away
It's easy to believe they're here to stay
But you won't find them standing in your way

Se a vida e', I love you - Come outside and feel the morning sun
Se a vida e', I love you - Life is much more simple when you're young

Bemused I wondered, was life simpler when I was young? Maybe love seemed simpler– taken for granted even– but life seems imminently simpler now. Now when I have more birthdays behind me than before and I can look back on times I was convinced I could not survive, and yet here I am; losses whose grief was a sea so deep I feared it would swallow me whole, never to be seen again, and yet I made it to shore again and again and again.

As the song was playing and I was driving, I caught out of the corner of my eye a brilliant green-red burst of fireworks in the sky--starting small and then expanding in an ever widening arc, like the big bang, like the feeling of possibilities in my heart, growing brighter and reaching farther with every second of their glory, proclaiming Independence even as they reached out in a fervent dance of connection and hope.