Friday, February 17, 2006
We checked into the Holiday Inn in Brentwood. We had chosen that over the conference hotel largely because it has a Jacuzzi and the other one did not. We spent some time in the room, then headed down to Lafitte's, in the hotel, for a pre-conference bite to eat. J had a cup of scrumptious crab bisque while I indulged in a side order of jambalaya. We also shared a gorgeous salad featuring blue cheese and walnuts. Then, we headed over to Vanderbilt Divinity School for the conference. The main function Friday night was a worship service in the chapel. The sermon was given by a Vanderbilt professor of homiletics & ethics. He took the unusual step of preaching on Revelation, something I have never heard done in a Presbyterian Church before. I really liked what he did with it, though. I wish I could remember the pericope. He talked about how Empire today means the Organized Church. It was very powerful.
After the service, we walked back to the car in the sprinkly, chilly streets & indulged in a hot tub soak back at the hotel. Being in that hot tub was the only time I was warm all weekend. I spent the rest of the time absolutely chilled. It was so nice to be in the large, clean hot tub. We were the only ones in there. We had our books along & did manage to do some reading, but a decent chunk of our time there was spent enjoying the fat snowflakes falling outside the greenhouse-style windows. They just looked so lush.
In the morning, we went out to the car & got ready to hit the road. However, we didn't get far before we heard a dreadful noise. I was familiar with the noise, the sound of a flat, flat tire. I had just had the tires checked, so I figured it wasn't a leak. Since we both suck at anything like changing tires, we ended up having to get help. We couldn't even get the jack free from its holder, it was wedged in so tightly. Some dykes we are! And I was so proud of the new hole punched in my butch card for changing my own air filter two days before. Sigh. The hotel staff at the front desk were completely useless and unhelpful in assisting us. At best, they could have had one of their maintenance guys get our spare on for us. Failing that, they could at least have recommended someone to come rescue us. But, no, they handed us a Yellow Pages and were done with us. The desk staff had been very rude when we checked in as well. The same fella, name of Chris, had also been rude to me when I called for a wake-up call Friday night. In fact, he was so over-the-top in his rudeness (an odd thing to find in Nashville, usually) that we suspect him of having been the culprit in our tire slashing. The manager will be getting a letter about the rudeness of the front desk folks. The young man who did come to our rescue, all decked out in baseball cap and holey boots, was so kind and undercharged us by $30.
When we finally got to the conference, we had missed Naomi Tutu's keynote speech. We spoke to her for a few minutes, then headed on to the first workshop. It was on why homosexuality is not a sin. At least, that was the idea, but it ended up being much more about the church's stance. I have read enough books on why it's not a sin that I was very happy with the info we did get. However, both J & I were amazed at how ugly the language in the 1978 Policy Statement regarding the matter is. The presenter was pastor emeritus of Mount Auburn Church in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Presbytery is sending an overture to the GA this summer to delete these passages. Wow, do I hope the GA does that.
After lunch, we attended a workshop led by the national field organizer for MLP. He is from Santa Fe & looks it! He looks like he'd hang out with Natalie Goldberg. It was interesting to me to meet openly gay ordained Presbyterian elders. This workshop was on how to make our churches more accepting. I have concluded that it is a must to get a Turning Points DVD & see if I can get our Sunday shool class to watch & discuss it. If not, we'll invite people over for a coffee & viewing. The national field organizer had chosen J & me to lead the closing worship service, so we did that & then ducked out to buy a new tire. The thing to me that was the most interesting about the whole conference was that a good chunk of the folks there were not gay, but were straight allies. That is great!
We took the car to Firestone & walked up to Union Station to take a look at the lobby. J had never been there. They are doing restoration work, but we were able to see the stained glass, ironwork, and other architectural details around the scaffolding. We visited with a little dog back at the tire place while we waited for our car to be ready. We left $100 poorer, but with good spirits, anyway. We drove around & looked at The District while we tried to decide where to eat. So many wonderful choices! I love Nashville! J wouldn't give me input, so I decided just to head out West End & drive until either she made up her mind or we reached the Loveless Cafe. She spotted Tin Angel, where I always wanted to eat when I lived there. We decided on that, handed the car over to the valet, and put our name in. While we waited, we sat by the fireplace and people-watched. Dinner turned out to be fantastic. We split a delicious goat cheese soufflé for our appetizer. Then, J had a wonderful stuffed salmon entrée with a smoked gouda gratin on the side while I enjoyed filet mignon with a wine reduction and blue cheese. For dessert, I chose the caramel bread pudding to split, knowing that J would love it. I am not much of a bread pudding fan, but she did love it & I was fine with it, too. What I am really hungry for these days is bananas Foster.
After dinner, we went to Tribe, a gay bar on Church Street. We met some of the guys from the conference there & had fun talking to them and people-watching. The youngsters cruising each other & the videos shown on the many screens made us realize how out of touch with pop culture we are! But, it was fun.
In the morning, we went to the 10:30 service at Woodland Presbyterian. It's a beautiful old church, built in 1917 or 1918, with a very small congregation. It was a nice service. Afterward, we stayed to chat with some folks at fellowship time...and to eat some very good King Cake one of the conference attendees had brought up from New Orleans. The Presbyterians share the building with an African-American congregation who started their service with some amazing African drumming. The energy level in the building was raised through the roof & we wished we didn't have to hit the road. We definitely would have stayed for that service, as well. Before we left, we got many hugs from fellow conferences attendees, kisses from the MLP field organizer, and a ton of encouragement & good wishes for my time in seminary from the pastors.
On the way home, we stopped at a little gas station restaurant in Kentucky called Country Fixens. My bet was that they'd have good, bad-for-you Southern food & I was right. I had some fantastic fried chicken, with mashed potatoes & long-cooked green beans while J ate yummy roast beast with mashed potatoes & corn (she, of course, mashed them all up together). The pie was tempting, but we were full. Would that I could get sweet tea around here. I was so happy to be able to order sweet tea in the restaurants during our weekend down south. Even when places up here have it, it doesn't taste the same.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
The student body is very upset that a beloved professor has been booted out of her position, no matter if it was strictly a matter of following hiring rules or not. Frankly, I think most students assumed that Laura was a shoo-in for the position. I, myself, did not realize that the stakes were as high as they turned out to be, but I had a fear that she would not get the tenure-track position as soon as I realized that there was an Ivy-league educated African-American woman interviewing for the position. My mistake was in thinking that even if she did not get the tenure-track position that there would still be a job for her at the school. Apparently, that was a very naive thing for me to think. This whole situation has soured me a smidge on the school & has decided me for certain that I will not be pursuing any kind of academic career. While the administration is vehemently denying it, I have the ugly feeling that a lot of the decision had to do with the fact that the school is currently under a great deal of pressure to add African-American faculty. While I think that's imperative, this is not the way it should have happened. I am also fairly certain that the other candidate's Ivy League degree blew Laura's degree from my seminary out of the water. So, it all seems to come down to how each of them look on paper and by demograph. I am feeling pretty bitter about it all. I feel badly, too, for the new professor, who will most likely be facing some hostility even though it's not at all her fault that she got the job. That will be tough on her.
I spent Monday night reading more for Reformed Theology, going back over the book we would discuss Tuesday. The discussion was interesting. I really like the group I am studying this with, two of whom are also struggling through Hebrew with me. Laura (a different one) gave me a stack of articles on queer theology to consider for my paper. She gave me a little informational talk on how gay people are reclaiming the word "queer" & that most of the theologians use that term. The funny thing is that she acted like I would think the whole concept is really weird...the reclaiming, I mean. However, I have been aware of it for years...just didn't imagine theologians would be using it as a primary adjective. I have no problem with the reclaiming of terms like that & happily refer to myself as a dyke, so it was funny for my straight friend to be giving me a history of why they might use that term.
I came home from that meeting and immediately began work on a case study and reflection paper. We had dinner at Los Mariachis & went swimming at the Y. I am so conflicted on giving them money when they won't recognize us as a family. I would rather go to a nicer, less expensive facility that doesn't discriminate, but J can't abide the idea of being in the car long enough to get there. Sigh. Swimming was fun. Boot chose to play basketball and walk on the track instead, but we had fun splashing around with Pie. I paid for the fun by having to stay up until 2 doing Hebrew, but it was worth it.
Wednesday, I presented my case study in ministry formation. That went well. The dean made the announcement about Laura's job at lunch. I couldn't help crying. I cried all through Hebrew on Monday, too. They are really pushing for us to just accept this & not be angry or bitter, but I'm not there yet. I just pray that Laura gets a wonderful, perfect new job...maybe even in this area. That's probably too much to ask for. She had referred to this job as her dream job. How devastating this must be. It was done by a faculty vote, too, which has to hurt.
After lunch, one of my friends, who is a PT & had noticed me limping from plantar fascitis (spelling is probably way off), worked on my feet, showing me what J needs to do to help me get my arches back and get rid of the pain. Then, it was on to more Hebrew.
Last night, Boot was out cold when we got ready to go to dinner, so we just took Pie. He had requested dinner at Ban Thai. Boot hates the restaurant anyway, so we took him some Burger King. Pie had seafood salad & was ecstatic with it. He also really adored talking to the staff and owners there. The whole way home, he rhapsodized about how much he loves Ban Thai. He said it's his favorite restaurant & that it's even more fun than Dave & Buster's, a giant arcade & restaurant the kids love. I'm sure his brother would disagree, but I'm glad Pie loves it so much. How many 11 year old boys would choose a Thai place over a giant arcade???
“As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” And he went throughout
I’ve been thinking about the gay agenda this week. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the lesbian agenda. Okay, I’ve been thinking about my agenda. For all that the fundamentalist Christians might wish that the gay agenda be filled with plans to take over the world, seduce children, and make everyone wear boas (and/or comfortable shoes) all the time, my own gay agenda does not reflect that particular view. Well, maybe the boas. Seriously, though, I imagine that my agenda doesn’t look all that different from, say, Laura Bush’s. Granted, I don’t attend $25,000 a plate fundraisers. But, I do a lot of the same things that fill the days of many, many people across the country.
An average day’s agenda page for me will include getting my wife & kids off to work and school, going to school myself, dropping donations off at the food pantry, attending a meeting at church, calling friends to let them know I haven’t actually dropped off the face of the earth yet, paying bills, writing out a sympathy card or a get well card for a congregation member, sending out e-mails concerning justice issues, cleaning house, doing laundry, feeding the family, struggling through Hebrew translation, working on a paper, reading Church History assignments, and falling into bed for a few hours’ rest before I get up and do it all over again. All of this is to say that I feel that my life is pretty full. Friends, however, manage to trump me quite soundly at this busy game.
If, though, you consider a page from Jesus’ daily planner, you must fully fathom that Mark tells us that the whole city gathered around Simon and Andrew’s door. The whole city. The whole city??? Imagine every man, woman, and child in
The thing about Jesus, and many of us, is that he had compassion for the people gathering around. When the crowds disrupted his solitude or kept him so busy that he didn’t even have time to grab a bite to eat, Jesus responded with kindness. Thinking on Jesus’ actions when pressed by crowds of needy people, emotionally needy, physically needy, materially needy, spiritually needy people, I was reminded of a conversation I overheard in Barnes and Noble the other day. A trio of teenage boys in grunge wear was discussing the possible merits of purchasing Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message. This was the special “remix” edition, made hip by a fancy pop art cover and an endorsement by Bono. One of the boys said, and I quote, “I don’t know if I should buy a Bible endorsed by Bono. I don’t see how people can call him a Christian. He’s a humanitarian!”
As if “humanitarian” is a dirty word. As if Christian and humanitarian are mutually exclusive terms. As if concern for humanity is not very Christ-like at all. My dictionary tells me that “humanitarian” is a noun meaning “One who is devoted to the promotion of human welfare and the advancement of social reforms; a philanthropist.” Hmm. I wanted to butt in and say, “Duh! What do you think Jesus was???”
So, if we are meant to be followers of Christ and Christ was a humanitarian, we should follow Christ in tirelessly doing for others, right? It would seem so. Except for one important part of the text that you may not have caught the first time around. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Who among us hasn’t felt the urge to sneak off and be by ourselves for a short time of quiet and reflection? I know I regularly get the urge to sneak off to a deserted place and just be still so that I can hear God among the jangling chorus that runs all day around me. The chorus of “I need help with (insert kid project)”, “How’s your research for (insert class) going?”, “(insert name) is struggling with (insert problem)…someone should visit”, “Congress is about to pass a law about (insert bad idea) & we need to e-mail our representatives today”, “(insert valuable charity) is struggling financially and we need your donation to do our work”, “You’re one of my best friends and I really need to talk about (insert life crisis)”…I could go on for the rest of the sermon, but you get the idea.
While all of these things are important components of my part in making this place more like the
I imagine that many of you are thinking to yourselves right now that I must be crazy. How can I possibly think that you have time to be quiet and alone? Don’t I know how busy you are? I must have more time on my hands than you do, eh? Jesus would take off in the middle of activity, as he did, without even telling people where he was going or putting someone else in charge until he got back. Do we think we are so important that the world can’t go on without us for a short while? Wayne Muller, in his wonderful book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, reminds us that Sabbath does not wait for us to be ready to begin. It begins, in traditional Judaism, precisely at sundown, no matter what time that comes. Sabbath, a time of rest and renewal, a time to come closer to God, is important enough that it’s listed among the big 10. Right there along with not killing, not stealing, not committing adultery. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
Unfortunately, many of us were raised to believe that Sabbath was a dull time of not being able to do anything fun. Perhaps, though, if we think of it as a time to practice mindfulness, rather than a time of stricture, it will sound more attractive. If we think of Sabbath as a time to practice being lushly engaged with God and with God’s creation, we will long for Sabbath time. And God commands it of us! God commands it. The Talmud specifically encourages joyous meals, visiting and lovemaking on the Sabbath. Wayne Muller says, “The Sabbath prohibitions restrict those things that would impede our sensuality. Walk leisurely, don’t drive; walk in the garden, don’t answer the phone, turn off the television and the radio, forget the CD and the computer. Quiet the insidious technology, and remember that we live in bodies that, through a feast of the senses, appreciate the beauty of the world. Walk under the stars and moon. Knock on the door, don’t ring. Sing at the table. Eat, drink, touch, smell, and remember who you are.”
Remembering who we are is vital. It is so easy to get caught up in the gallop of daily life, so easy to be so busy helping others that we lose ourselves. Yes, there is value in the activities we are enmeshed in. But, if we lose our souls, the value is worthless. Muller tells the story of a South American tribe that went on a long march. They marched for days, but would just stop in the middle of marching, make camp and rest before moving on. They explained that the time of rest allowed their souls to catch up with their bodies. We shouldn’t be hurtling through our lives so quickly that our souls can’t keep up with our bodies.
I know that an entire day of Sabbath is impractical for most of us. My challenge to you this week is this: find one stretch of time each week, perhaps a weekday evening or weekend morning, when you can stop and rest. Find pleasurable activities to do, ones which keep you connected with God and with the world of the senses. Write this Sabbath time in your planner. Write it in pen. If you don’t feel you can devote even a few hours a week to self-care and God-listening, try a regular mindfulness practice. Thich Nhat Hanh rings a bell every so often in his Buddhist community. When the monks hear the bell, they stop to take three mindful breaths. This is something anyone can do, anywhere and at any time. Choose an activity…stopping at a red light, washing your hands, walking through a door. Whenever you do this, stop and practice mindfulness. This can be your personal “deserted place.” In practicing even mini Sabbaths such as this, your soul will be opened to the voice of God and your spirit will be renewed to continue your good work.
After class ended at 4 on Saturday, I headed right over to the UCC to get ready for the service. I chit-chatted with my mentor & made sure everything was ready for communion. My old friend, Andy, came to hear me preach (although his attendance was conditional on my not referring to it as preaching...afterward, he said he really liked my "talking"). The sermon, on sabbath-keeping, was well-received. After the service, we were invited back to Andy & Edwin's house for dinner. Edwin had stayed home cooking & presented us with steaming bowls of delicious pasta e fagioli soup. I need to get his recipe. We had a grand time visiting with them and with their 4 kitties, but with another service to do in the morning, we made a fairly early night of it.
The Sunday service went great, too. Rosemary & Brent came with darling Robert in arms. He took his first steps last week! I can't believe he's already old enough for that! I wish I had gotten to talk more to them, but it's always hard to get in any long bits of conversation after giving a sermon because there are so many people waiting to speak to me. Had we not been headed to Cincinnati right afterward, I would have asked them out to brunch.
But, we needed to go see J's folks. Her mom was sweet, as always, but her dad was in fine racist fettle. He was also ranting on & on about how awful the nurse's aides are at the home. Our experience has been that they are caring and responsible, but there's no telling him. I just bit my tongue all afternoon. Pie & I focused our attention on the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. He just adores animals & was very disappointed that we couldn't stay for the kitty half-time. Luckily, it was on when we got home, too, so he got to see it. He spent the evening enjoying that while I did some reading for my Reformed Theology study group & J & Boot entered into Stupor Bowl madness. Boot was thrilled that the Steelers won & wore his Bettis jersey to school the next day. I find it somewhat alarming that I even know who Jerome Bettis is!
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Happy New Year! Advent is over, Christmas has come, the babe has been born and the world saved! The waiting is over! Or is it? We humans aren’t good at waiting, not at all. We wait for physical healing, for a better job or better boss, for reconciliation with family, for a hoped-for pregnancy, for enough money to pay all the bills on time. Or we wait for racial harmony, justice for all, marriage equality, an end to war and poverty.
And we get so tired. We get impatient, we get worried, we get scared, so scared. Like Sarah and Abraham, we try to make the miracles happen ourselves. Like Jeremiah, we lament. Like all too many people in this world, both throughout history and in our own time, we lose faith.
We don’t like working on God’s time, waiting on God’s time. It’s too frustrating, takes too long, might never really happen at all. We may even think it might as well not happen unless it happens in our time frame. We assume that God hasn’t heard our prayers. Or, we think God heard our prayers and just isn’t answering. Perhaps we fear that the answer is a resounding NO! God may start to look like a real jerk, if we even still believe that God exists. After all, what good, loving Creator would allow such suffering in the world?
Maybe we begin to feel alone, forgotten, forsaken. Or we walk through gray days forgetting, ourselves, forgetting that God really does exist. It’s so easy to dismiss the reality of God. After all, when things look bleak and there are no more burning bushes or wheels within wheels, how do we hold onto faith?
Yet, somehow, people since the beginning of time have been doing just that! While there was a certain amount of grumbling in the desert, God’s people survived 40 years in the wilderness without just totally giving up on God or entry into the Promised Land. Sarah did eventually bear Isaac. Simeon and Anna did eventually meet the long-awaited Messiah, after waiting long, long lifetimes.
All those examples seem so long ago, though, from
Yet, even in my frustration, I have to maintain faith that God knows what the bigger plan is. If I knew, I would be God & that I am surely not! Even in my blindness, I can see some benefits of these ardent desires not yet being fulfilled, though. Had I been allowed to legally marry a spouse of either gender back in 1998, I would have had ugly legal dealings on top of an ugly break-up in 2001. If the Presbyterian Church allowed ordination of gay people, I would not have discovered this church, which both J and I find nourishing and full of Christ-like love.
Others have gone through serious struggles of faith and made it to the mountain-top, even to the Promised Land. Consider the early church, when Christianity was an offense punishable by a very nasty death. The early Christians, by stubbornly refusing to recognize the emperor as having a higher authority than their God, were a huge threat to the
Take women’s suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott really had no reason to believe that the men in power would ever be forced to capitulate on a woman’s right to vote. There had to have been moments, days, weeks of great despair. The suffragists waited and they worked. Today, I am free to vote, thanks to their faith that it would someday happen. While I would love to have a little more choice in who to vote for, being able to vote is a start.
Nearer to our own time, racism in this country was institutionalized and backed by law until the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The brave souls, the famous like Medgar Evers and Malcolm X along with those the history books will never mention, who took on societal and governmental racism seemed to have bitten off more than they could chew. There must have been days when Martin Luther King Jr. felt as though his actions would never really accomplish anything. Yet the civil rights activists waited and they worked and African-Americans gained legal rights and protection. While there is, of course, a great deal of work left to be done in order to accomplish true racial equality, the end of legalized racism is a start.
I continue to live with faith and hope that legal equality for the LGBT community will be added to the list of hoped-for victories accomplished. I continue to live with faith and hope that economic injustices will be righted. I continue to live with faith and hope that one day, we will be worthy caretakers of this good earth God created for us and for the animals. I continue to live with faith and hope that war will truly cease and that we will really live together like siblings, treating everyone we meet with the love and grace that God continually shows to us.
I continue to live with an Advent mindset regarding God’s kingdom, too. The birth of Jesus wasn’t the end of the story. The death and resurrection of Jesus weren’t the end of the story. Do not be afraid. The end of the story is still coming and it will be magnificent beyond what our tiny human minds can comprehend. It will not necessarily happen in our time. It will require great patience and great faith on our parts not to give up on God when God seems pokey to us.
Friday evening, J came home all excited from her Franklin Covey seminar. We coordinated our planners, with her explaining to me all about how the FC system works. Then, we hit the bookstore, where J got a time management book for training purposes at work, a copy of The Artist's Way At Work, and several bargain books. I was virtuous & only got a copy of Migene Gonzalez-Wippler's Santería: The Religion, which I have wanted for awhile & which will be useful for my church history paper. While I was poking around, these little boys (okay, teenagers) in grunge gear were talking about Eugene Peterson's paraphrase translation of the Bible, The Message. This was the special "remix" edition, hipped up with a slick cover and an endorsement by Bono. One little boy said, "I don't know if I should get this, since Bono recommends it. How can people call Bono a Christian? He's a humanitarian." There was absolute disgust in his voice, as though being a humanitarian were the lowest thing you could be. Wow. I felt like saying, "Duh! What do you think Jesus was???"
After the bookstore, we had dinner at Olive Garden. It was good, although the fonduto needs a bit more tinkering before it's ready for the menu. I had the 3-cheese penne & J got the Tour of Italy (although she gave the fettucine alfredo to me & I had it for lunch Monday).
We spent much of Saturday morning in bed before having lunch at The Winds. J had a wine & cheese sandwich. The one time I ordered it, it was way too wine-y for me, but it was just delicious this time. I had the adult mac & cheese & we split the Slow Boat to Sicily, a fabulous salad with romaine hearts, olives, and tomatoes. They put lemon gorgonzola dressing on it & top it with frizzled onions. Man, is it great! Oh, there's fresh mint, too. The weather was glorious & we poked around town for awhile before heading to the grocery. J had a psychic reading done by my old theater buddy Minnie...it was right on & kind of freaked J out. At Dorothy Lane Market, we chose several wonderful cheeses, some Tuscan bread, fruits, and chocolate desserts (cheesecake for J & mousse with little flecks of edible gold, in a chocolate cup, for me) for our dinner.
Once home, we prepared the food, put it on gorgeous dishes, and had a picnic in front of the fire. I spread out a lovely quilt & we asked each other questions from the Loaded Questions game as we enjoyed our dinner. We had planned to make some art & give each other pedicures, but got sleepy before we got to it. It was a delightful night, though.
Sunday morning, I was the liturgist at the UCC. Before the service, we socialized with Toni & Lara, who have a new grandbaby who is having breathing problems. I sure hope she gets the hang of it soon. After the service, we talked to Beth, who said that she & Mo want to have us to dinner sometime before too long. They both have such good energy!
We grabbed lunch at O'Charley's (love their rolls and their steak Caesar salad) & got cat food & a new pillow for me, then headed home. J napped while I worked on liturgy for this weekend. In the evening, we went to see "Romero" at the Presbyterian church & stayed for the discussion afterward.