Saturday, November 19, 2011

Poetry - really?

As a straight ally and the pastor of an Open and Affirming congregation I was invited to participate in the 13th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in Riverside, California. Of course I said yes, and foolishly told the organizer, "I'll do whatever you want me to in the program." Today I got an email which said, "Attached are three poems for you to read in the program."

Poetry - Really? When I read that email to my husband he started chuckling. He knows the struggles I have had with Poetry.

I didn't always have trouble with poetry. Apparently I liked poems, even wrote some when I was very young. My mother was fond of showing family members a love poem I wrote about a classmate in 2nd grade. That was embarrassing, but it's not the reason I had trouble with poetry. That started in 4th grade.

The 4th grade teacher, Mrs. McClintock, was known for the wonderful poetry recitations her class presented every year at the annual spring program. Every month all through the school year she would assign long, boring poems by dead white guys to be memorized and recited in front of the class. I hated it. I could memorize alright but the standing up in front of the class to recite was horrible. I was always terrified. I developed a real dislike for poetry. As much as I loved reading, if I saw anything even shaped like a poem in whatever I was reading, I would skip over it. It might be song lyrics that gave the clue that would solve the mystery or help the hero save the day, but I wouldn't care. I wouldn't read poetry. I wouldn't even read the psalms because they are obviously poetry.

This state of affairs lasted about 35 years. When I finally got to college in my 40s I had an English professor who insisted that we read poetry. She didn't care how much I hated it, I was going to read it. Then she assigned poets like Maya Angelou and a Vietnam vet and some Native American writers. I had no idea there were people like these writing poetry. Not a dead white guy in the bunch! No poems about chestnut trees or owls and pussycats or the village smithy. No iambic pentameter. And I liked it. I started reading poetry voluntarily.

Mind you, I still don't read much poetry. But I do read it when I run across it in a book or magazine. I've even purchased a couple of books of poetry. I now enjoy the psalms and proverbs and Song of Solomon. Life opened up whole new vistas of understanding when I lost my hatred of poetry.

So on Sunday I will be reading three powerful, pain-filled poems written from the perspective of a transgendered woman. While reading I will be giving thanks for Dixie Durham at Chapman University and her insistence that I would find good things about poetry if I would just open my mind and give it a chance. And I will be praying for open-mindedness to come to all people, everywhere.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Radioactive blessings

At the beginning of my first appointment in the radiation oncology department I was surprised to be introduced to two physicists who would be working on my case. Somehow it had never occurred to me that there would be anyone besides medical personnel involved in my treatment but on reflection I thought, "Radiation. . . physicists ... duh. "

They explained to me that the bulk of the time I spent in the treatment room would be taken up by them checking and rechecking and sometimes triple-checking the math in order to make sure I got exactly the right dosage for exactly the right amount of time. I assured them that I greatly appreciated their attention to detail and they could check their math as many times as they liked.

I went home that day thinking how exciting it was that math people would choose to study and work with ways radiation in order to help heal specific individuals. I think of physicists as professors and rocket scientist, folks working in laboratories and universities. On my second visit I felt compelled to ask one of them what drew a physicist toward medical uses of radiation.

His story wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I thought I was going to hear why a physicist would leave the lab or university for the field of medical radiation. What I heard instead was a story of vocation discovered.

The physicist's story began shortly after graduating from college when he discovered that his degree in Spanish Literature was not going to help him earn a living. After trying a few other things he began working as an Xray Technician. During the course of his duties he was exposed to the physicists working in radiation oncology. [pun intended] What these men and women were doing really excited him! Here were people who were not doctors and yet who spent every day working to heal people from what is possibly the most frightening diagnosis anyone can be given. He wanted to be part of that. He went back to school (where he discovered he actually does like math) and became one of them, a physicist working in radiation oncology. He said, "It took me a while to get here but now I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing."

He thanked me for asking and I thanked him back for telling me about his journey. When I showed up for my appointment I absolutely did not expect to hear a story of calling and vocation. What a blessing I received along with the radiation.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I've been Lurking

Yesterday one of the ladies at church said, "I've been worried about you. You haven't been on Facebook all week!" I replied, "I've been there, but I've been lurking." Then I had to explain what lurking is. I've signed on to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ every day. I've read other people's posts and even added some folks to my lists and circles of friends and followers. But I haven't said very much at all.

It could be that I'm suffering from social network overload. Even when I have had something I really wanted to share I have to decide how I wanted to share it. Did I want to limit myself to 140 characters, posting to Twitter and Facebook simultaneously? Or did I want to write something longer as a blog post or a note and then post a TinyURL on Twitter so it would appear on both Twitter and Facebook? Or should I just post it on Facebook?

And what about Google+? I'd have to write something separate for Google+ because Twitter and Facebook don't talk to Google+. Then I'd have to decide which of my circles to share it with. Do I want everyone in my circles to see it, or just other church folk, or just recovery folk, or just women, or do I want to share with the whole entire world of Google+?

Maybe I should just write a blog post. That would work. Then I could post it everywhere and not worry about how many characters it has or who gets to read it. Of course, that means I have to decide whether to post it to Jubilee or Everyday Thinking, or Tuesday's Child on the Disciples of Christ site, the Intersection: Where Faith Meets Life. I don't really like to cross-post so I kind of have to pick just one. Then I get to decide where to post the link so people can read it. . .

You see the problem I've been having? When I was only involved with one social networking site and only wrote one blog it was simple. ;-)

However . . . today I've ended my lurking break. I imagine I will take other breaks in the future when it starts seeming like way too much again. I've returned to all those places with comments and posts and likes and RTs and +s. See you there.

Friday, April 22, 2011

At the foot of the cross

For an hour today I watched from the foot of the cross, from the bottom of the hill, with the other women.

Every year from forever ago our congregation has held a prayer vigil on Good Friday. Once upon a time they would all come to the church at the time they had committed to pray and sit in the sanctuary for 30 or 60 minutes, depending. We would set out candles and meditation books on the communion table for those who liked to use those things in their prayer practice. Over time, as some members of the congregation got older and other members got busier, more and more people signed up to pray at home instead of in the sanctuary. This year only one person besides me signed up to spend her prayer time in the sanctuary. *sigh*

My hour was from noon to 1 pm. I read the lectionary readings for the day while sitting in the first pew. In front of me was the wooden communion table with the words "In Remembrance of Me" carved on the front. Above me in the center of the wall is the stained glass cross. As I sat there, awash in the silence, the phrase "at the foot of the cross" from John's gospel reading kept coming back to me. The cross stretched so high above me, as it must have stretched high above the women at the foot of the hill, at the foot of the cross. I wondered what it must have been like to be in that place, to watch your nephew, your teacher, your son, die such an agonizing death. I've sat with my own family and with members of my congregation watching loved ones die, wondering which would be the last breath, holding our own breath as we waited for that last agonizing wheeze to be expelled, for that last moment when you can see the life seep out of the body. But our experiences are in hospital and hospice and home. We could touch the hand of the one we loved. We could lay our cheek on theirs, and whisper our last loving words. From the foot of the cross, from the bottom of that hill, the women watched a man die tortured and tormented, bleeding, unreachable and alone. And today I was there with them.

I wondered why that had never really come to my mind on all those other Good Fridays. I have walked and prayed the Stations of the Cross I don't know how many times. I've prayed in front of life sized Stations outdoors and 5x7 reproductions on the wall of a Catholic school cafeteria and everything in between. I've walked the Stations because my parents required it when I was a child and because I desired to as an adult. But somehow it never occurred to me before that my place on Good Friday was with the women at the foot of the cross. But today . . .

. . . today for an hour I stood with the other women. With the other women I watched from the bottom of hill, at the foot of the cross.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Preparing for Lent

It's Shrove Tuesday! It's Mardi Gras. It's the last day of Carnivale. Where ever you may be and however you may practice it, today is the last day before Lent begins. We'll have a pancake supper in the church hall this evening including pancake races for the kids and perhaps other pancake games. Luckily, someone else is in charge. Fascination with pancakes wasn't part of the Shrove Tuesday practices I grew up with.

Since this is the 2nd Tuesday of March we would have been having a meal together tonight anyway. We usually gather on the 2nd Tuesday of each month for a modest meal and conversation. Someone chooses a topic in advance which Linda Gardner and I present, often with handouts and flip charts to write lists on. We particularly enjoy using paper tablecloths and making crayons available so people can doodle or write their ideas while someone else is talking. Tonight, however, we're just going to have fun together. I'm even going to wear jeans!

We don't do that very often - get together as a congregation just to have fun. Oh there is the annual church picnic, but even that is a form of outreach. We invite a local women's recovery home to come sing at worship and join us for the picnic and we hold the event on our front lawn so the whole neighborhood can see and maybe want to come join in the fun. And we have our fellowship time after worship but those conversations usually revolve around church business and outreach and the planning of upcoming events. We are, in fact, usually so busy being church folks that we maybe forget to be just plain folks.

So it's really appropriate on this night before the beginning of Lent that we should give ourselves up to fun and laughter and pancake races. It is in the spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnivale even though a bit more restrained. Because tomorrow begins the season of fasting and preparation. Not fasting in the sense of giving up chocolate and other luxuries, but fasting in the sense of personal transformation. Fasting in the sense that we heard it from the prophet Isaiah

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

crossposted as Tuesday's Child on The Intersection: Where Faith Meets Life