Thursday, May 29, 2008

Flowers and rice

On Tuesday night, a friend told me about her friend who was breaking up with her boyfriend of 10 years. My heart hurts a little for the woman because she has to tell people that she broke up with her boyfriend. Like any other 16-year-old girl who casually broke the heart of some pimply boy and called a new one in a week. The reality is that this woman is divorcing her partner. 10 years? That's a common-law marriage. But we don't use the language of "common-law" anymore so unless this woman wants to dredge up details to every schmoe off the street, she is doomed to miscommunicate her situation and won't get the appropriate response from misinformed people in response.

She has no heuristic that communicates rightly the spectrum of emotions she might be feeling at any given moment. If she could say that she was going through a divorce, people would say they were sorry and what could they do and would adjust their interpretations of her behavior accordingly. Probably in a more generous and forgiving way. But since she has to say that she is in the middle of a bad break-up, people say they're sorry, might ask what they can do and adjust their interpretations of her behavior in a way that expects her to pretty much function the way she always has since it's just a boyfriend, right?

Divorce is crazy-making. I remember looking up at the girl who was ringing up my purchase and realizing that she was staring at me oddly. Though I tried as hard as I could, I could not remember what I had said or done to elicit such a look, but I also couldn't remember what else I was doing in the previous two minutes so I have no doubt I said something really weird. For the two years after my divorce, I overreacted to small conflicts, cried very easily, talked endlessly about the very minute details of the proceedings and personal injustices and yelled at far too many people who didn't deserve it.

But they forgave me, often before I knew that I needed forgiving, because I was recovering from a divorce.

Would they have let me streamroll them quite as often if I were just breaking up with my boyfriend?

At a BBQ this past weekend, someone asked me what was the strangest ritual in my brother's Hindu wedding ceremony. Honestly, none of them were. Human nature is apparently so universal that everything made sense. Their hands were tied together. They walked around a fire. They fed each other something sweet. Vows of fidelity were exchanged. They threw grains for future prosperity. They gave each other flower garlands that symbolized their hearts. I was a little afraid before the wedding that I wouldn't feel like they were really married since the ritual wouldn't be familiar. But that never became an issue.Is there any doubt in your mind that these two people have just committed to spend their lives together, supporting each other when life is good and when life is really really hard?

Because a community of people witnessed this ceremony and agreed with it, there is no doubt that they are married, regardless of culture. Everyone that was there believes it. What's more, everyone who hears about the event from those witnesses believes that my brother and Meena are married. The people that hear about the event from the people that heard about the event from the people that were there will believe that my Daniel and his wife constitute a family. As an extension of this community, the government requires that institutions and organizations provide certain benefits to spouses.

Marriage is about communities. We create these elaborate and ultimately simple symbolic gestures so that the truth is indelibly written in our very visual memories. The truth is that these two people have a specific kind of relationship that has deeply spiritual consequences. The relationship is greater than the sum of its parts and what fills that gap between what it is and what it is made up of is a total mystery.

So, when something happens to a marriage - divorce, illness or death - because we, as a community, have witnessed its beginning, we can grieve its ending. We have a frame of reference for what the survivors of the tragedy might possibly be feeling. Armed with this social knowledge, we are more inclined to forgive and be generous. Our government recognizes this loss by requiring the enforcement of the original contract in the form of survivor's benefits and kin rights. If someone has just broken up with a boyfriend, we do not feel such a great loss because we do not quite believe that the relationship ever had a spiritual element to begin with. No one in the community has witnessed it.

I believe in marriage. I believe in marriage for all people, whether they love people of the opposite sex or people of the same sex. I think that when we encourage long-term committed relationships to exist without a community/governmental blessing, we are actually threatening the institution of marriage because as a society we begin to believe that there is no difference between being married and living together.

But the difference is that one couple's marriage is integrated in community and the other's isn't. Other people in the community will be able to love the individual members of the couple more fully and appropriately if they are accurately aware of the actual status of the relationship and the best way to do this is a marriage ceremony and contract, whether officiated at City Hall with two friends, a judge and a clerk for witnesses or whether in a temple with 200 people throwing flower petals.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Sometimes a lifetime of preparation is necessary for just one sentence.

I started singing in choirs when I was 3 and was in at least 1 and sometimes as many as 3 until I was 20. I was a lead in the school play in the 3rd grade. In junior high, I played in the handbell choir and performed in The Orb of Khaladar, which was the 8th grade play, the same year that I won Chorister of Year Award. In high school, I joined the forensic speech team, practiced multiple times every week and competed every Saturday for 6 months of the year. Over the course of four years, I won over 20 tournaments in my events and advanced to compete at the State level in Dramatic Duet Acting both my junior and senior year. Also during high school, I began taking voice lessons and sang several solos in all of my choirs. I played Hodel in the production of Fiddler on the Roof my sophomore year and played one of only two female leads in Camelot my senior year. In college, I tried my hand at an improv in a Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind style production and took my first formal Speech class. I also participated in my one and only experiment in community theatre as part of the cast of Godspell. As an adult, I began to coach forensic speech with a fair amount of success for my students. I continue to sing in choirs when I get the time and I'm often picked to present group work at conferences and classes.

As a writer, I also started young, reading and writing short stories and poetry throughout school and majoring in English in college. I taught high school English for five years, which taught me the mechanics of good writing by having to analyse and guide editing of horrendous adolescent hack and slash emotive chicken scratch. I've written this blog for four years to a fair amount of positive feedback for my ability to communicate poignant emotions and experiences using words.
All of this is to say that I'm fairly poised, comfortable and articulate when I get up in front of a group of people.
When I was asked to stand up and give a toast for my baby brother's wedding, I thought about the years that we have spent together as partners against the world. I have no memory of life without him and countless memories of the comfort he has offered as the person who knows me better than even my parents do since he has spent a life kicking me when we used to have to share a hotel bed, fighting with me because there were no other kids on the block, complaining with me when my dad insisted that we should all play tennis at noon in August because, "the courts will be empty!", defending me to other kids in high school behind my back when my insecurity made me a bitch, helping me move from place to place as an adult, offering to rough up my ex-husband, driving me to my adventure on Orcas Island and every other possible experience two siblings can have with one another.
But, his bride is beautiful and a good friend and she makes him this happy:

So I raised my glass and said simply, "I am 20 months older than my brother and he has been my best friend for my entire life but I am so pleased to be able to give him to Meena so that he can be her best friend for the rest of her life."

Sometimes a lifetime of preparation is necessary for just one sentence.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Now I've seen everything

OK, this is weird and delightful and just a little bit gross. I'm totally fascinated. Isabella Rosselini has done a series of short films called Green Porno and you can watch it here. She acts outs the actual mating rituals of various bugs dressed in strange costumes and narrating. I particularly like the "bee" one. As an example, she says with a very straight face, "I have many sisters and I communicate with the by dancing: I tell them where the flowers are." Then, acting out the male bee, she deadpans in her sultry Italian accent, "I would fly after her. I would mate her in flight. It is our nuptial flight. But pulling out from her, my penis would break off!"

It is totally worth seeing for yourself.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

And He never said a mumblin' word

My church prays in Spanish even when none of our Spanish-speaking members are there. Sometimes we sing one of the Taize vespers in Spanish. Often, that doesn’t work very well. People start mumbling. They are confused by having to use the line of text further away from the notes than the English words and they are uncomfortable with having to form their mouths around syllables that don’t mean anything to them. Our Spanish-speakers members aren’t our strongest singers so the mumbling drowns out the people that are pleading with God - for once corporately - in the language of their hearts and childhoods and families.

But we keep doing it as part of our liturgy. We do it even when no one is there who benefits from a familiar language other than English. We do it because we benefit as a community. We benefit as a community because it makes us into a welcoming community and a welcoming community is a community that is more aligned with the plan God has for us than a community that stays within its comfort zone, which is really just water that is rapidly becoming stagnant.

A dominant aspect of the Evangelical movement that swept through our country for the last 30 years was something called a “homogenous church growth strategy.” Basically, pastors recognized that if they wanted their churches to grow (for whatever reason), like attracts like. No pastor would say that different people didn’t need Jesus, just that all people would be happier with Jesus if they worshipped alongside people who were similar to them in culture, language and socio-economic status. In our country, those three characteristics added together equate to race. So, the white Evangelical movement grew by making itself attractive to other white people. The music sounded like Top 40 pop songs. The liturgy was a familiar blend of 30ish-minute sermon, music and corporate prayers. The food served at Fellowship hour and at events was comfortably suburban. The energy was calm, reserved, and professional. The dress was casual but not too casual. Since these were all trappings of a lifestyle that white people were already comfortable with, churches gained new members who almost always happened to be white.

The emergent movement is about identifying church traditions that were formed during the Modern era and replacing them with practices that are more appropriate to the Post-modern era that we are currently living in.

I think we’ve done a good job as a movement. We’re re-examining doctrine. We’re reframing the requirements to be part of the club. We’re flattening our hierarchies.

But, as a movement, we have not yet replaced the homogenous church growth strategy with a new paradigm.

On Thursday, I met with Professor Soong-Chan Rah at North Park University. He’s been fairly critical of the emergent movement on this issue and I think he’s right. We had a good and somewhat casual introductory conversation and then he said something that made me reach into my bag and take out my notebook. He said:
The emergent church feels like a perpetuation of white privilege and that has to be the first thing to go.
He cited that overwhelmingly white pastors and writers get media attention and book contracts when churches that are doing the exact same work but that are led by non-white pastors get ignored. He didn’t need to tell me that my own church is an exception in the movement for being willing to be messy, uncomfortable and awkward by moving out of our comfort zone to make worship something that appeals to more than just white people: to mumble in our attempts to be a welcoming community. Any study done of churches that claim to be emergent are going to show that they’re over 90% white. My own experience of trying to start a conversation with over 80 cohort leaders and over 300 local folks by sending out an email, asking them to read and comment on my first post regarding race and the emergent movement got no response. Not one comment. I put the less effort soliciting comments on the quilt I made and got 8 responses. No response?

I know what people say in response: we’re a movement that grows through attraction, not prosyletization. But who is it we’re trying to attract when we make decisions about our practices? Usually, it’s people who already like what we like. For instance, the ancient futures movement goes back into history to find relevant practices today. But whose history? Are we plumbing the depths of Coptic traditions, a definitively African form of Christianity? Professor Rah has found evidence to support the opposite.

Other people will say that they can’t control who the publishers give contracts to. But that’s the white privilege talking; thinking inside the box. Why not say to publishers, “I’m flattered that you want me to write this book. Do you mind if I co-author it with my non-white colleague who knows just as much about the topic?” or “I will write this book for you if you also give a contract to my non-white colleague,” or “You know what? I’m flattered but my non-white colleague knows more about this than I do.” Foot-washing is not just something that is done with a hand-towel and a basin.

My church hasn’t gotten it right yet. When we focus a discussion on immigration issues, attendance goes down and, I’ll admit it, I’m part of that problem. But, as a movement, we cannot be afraid that our attendance will decrease. The Kingdom of God is multi-cultural. The Post-modern world is multi-cultural.

If our churches are not multi-cultural, then they are neither reflective of the Kingdom of God nor Post-modern.

We cannot simply wait for non-white folks to come to us. They would only be tokens if we did. We must go out and get them, welcome them, and let them change the agenda so that it more accurately reflects the concerns of the entire Post-modern Kingdom of God, not just the white post-Evangelical, post-Christendom, post-colonial folks. Alternately, we should consider going to them, submitting to their leadership and learning about emergence from folks that have arguably been in the midst of it longer than the white folks have.

Professor Rah pointed out that the emergent movement still has hope that it will not be left behind in a stagnant pool of its own homogeneity because our conversations and writings pay lip service to pluralism. We have the foundational support to change our paradigm if we’re willing to mumble a little.

But are we?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

the swell and push of beginning again

Over the last two days during my commute, I have been listening to Rob Bell's sermon from 4/16/08 entitled "Others." This is one of the things he says:
Notice what he says at the end of verse 7 [of Philippians 2]: "all of you share in God’s grace with me." Paul’s god is generous. Paul’s god gives grace. Paul’s god gives peace. His god gives this grace and peace in such a way that others can share in it. This god provides a spirit to give you wisdom, strength and courage and perseverance to actually make sense of your suffering. Paul’s god is generous.

Have you ever had something great happen to a friend of yours and they were celebrating and it was an amazing thing that happened and you were supposed to jump up and down and cheer and send them a card and email: “Thinking of you! Wonderful!” . . . and yet the truth is, deep in your bones you didn’t really want to celebrate. You actually had a little bit of a “erngh” towards this things that had happened to them. Anybody ever have this feeling? And you feel terrible about it. (The rest of you are liars.) :-) And you feel, for a split second, you feel terrible . . . I would argue that sometimes what we struggle with is “Is God generous?” or “Is there scarcity in the universe?” . . . It all stems from a deeply held suspicion we have that the universe is not generous. That because they have gotten good, that somehow means that I am going to be deprived. But Paul’s god is generous.
He goes on to describe trinitarian theology (the idea that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are different and the same at the same time) as an active, fluid, never static interaction between three forms of the Divine in which they give and receive to and from each other in an intricate dance of community. They have always been like this, even before humans were created, actually before time itself. He then says that we were created to join in the dance. To both serve and receive from God. To take things that are offered to us by other people and to offer what other people need to them. To be in community.

During my morning devotional today (i.e. while I took a shit and read The Spirituality of Imperfection), I read this passage:
Thus, when we join groups, we usually do so on the basis of shared strengths. Those who enjoy competing in sports seek out other sports enthusiasts, professors are most comfortable with other academics, coin and stamp collectors, automobile buffs, art appreciators . . . all look for and socialize with those whose interests and skills make possible shared enthusiasms.

But Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve-Step groups are founded on a different truth: Human beings connect with each other most healingly, most healthily, not on the basis of common strengths, but in the very reality of their shared weaknesses. Among those who accept their imperfection there seems to be a special sense of likeness or oneness in the very mutual flawedness - in "torn-to-pieces-hood" somehow shared.

. . .

This sense of shared weakness creates what is truly community. Participants in such a setting learn to appreciate rather than resent the strengths in others because they know that, at bottom, they are the same - flawed and imperfect. Those who do not share weakness find in others' strengths a threat. But those who recognize shared weakness see in others' strengths a hope: the hope that your strengths might also support me. With shared weakness as our common bond, we can rejoice in another persons' strengths rather than be threatened by them.
Do you sense a theme here? The state we are supposed to be in is a state of community. Rob Bell explains that this is why 13-year-old girls talk on the telephone. Even the alcoholics admit this and many of them don't believe in Jesus or the Holy Spirit and think that it's highly possible that God is that doorknob over there. And everyone agrees that real community - satisfying community - is only formed through being vulnerable to one another.

I mean, it makes sense, doesn't it? If all we ever showed one another was our shinysmooth face, nothing could stick to us. Have you ever tried to glue two shinysmooth things together? The glue just peels right off. You have to rough them up a little so the glue has something to hold on to.

But Tabitha pointed out to me today that it could be possible that the reason why I feel like I have a history of people pulling away from me when they get too close is because this idea of vulnerability is a church thing. That most people of my generation haven't experienced that kind of vulnerability, that kind of community of shared weaknesses. Instead of being taught that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and so all receive God's love equally, they are taught to always put their best face forward. So, when I feel crestfallen or competitive or conflicted and it shows on my face because I really have no control over that after a lifetime of transparency, they don't know what to do with me and it might just be easier to back away than to figure out what's going on.

I think this is similar to what my mom said when she framed it this way: "You grew up surrounded by people who . . . have values. But between our 60 and your 30 years the world shifted."

And that's true. The friends of my parents, across the board, are good people. Over 90% of them are still married. They have integrity and a sense of responsibility for one another. They don't drink too much to escape and they don't gossip. They enjoy their lives and struggle with sorrow and laugh when they can. They make mistakes. They are vulnerable to one another.

I'm starting to get a fleeting sense that some of the friends I'm making might be these people. The problem is, I never know which ones they are until after I've been vulnerable to them and I learn whether or not they're backing away. And as some back away, I reach out and try to engage new folks that emerge. I'm in the process of doing that right now, just in case. So, when my pastor, Nanette, asked me to read this poem, I cried in relief that she knew me so well.
"Eastering" by Barbara Pescan

Why this sadness toward spring?
Half smiles at the first yellow flowers,
Tears pooling for no reason with each rain and sunset?
Each year this green show
blows wide winter's covering and lets us see
the swell and push of beginning again.
Am I meant to rise too?
To push away what leans against the door of my pinched heart?
I cannot.
Compassion for myself
is a slow growing crop,
however carefully tended
it yields an unreliable harvest.
These resurrections
ask more of me than I can give
every time
this hurts more
than the pains of my body
than the old world full of sorrows
this offering of love
this unbearable gift of another chance.
Somewhere along the way my group stopped trusting each other. Because I had been vulnerable with them, I think they stopped trusting that I wouldn't overreact and then I stopped trusting that they would include me. When the friend I had dated for about two months of our 9 month friendship asked me to give him some space so he could court someone else at school, the rest of them started having to choose between us and, for the most part, they are choosing him. It breaks my heart just a little but I'm pretty used to this particular ache by now. It creaks a little every time it rains. There's still a chance we can pull out of this death spiral and I hope we do. I like these people. I was starting to love them. Regardless, I think I'll hold on to a few and I assume we'll all look back on this year of our lives with fondness. I hope we'll be able to call upon one another professionally once we get out there and start changing the world. Until this sorts itself out, though, I'll live in resignation. And hope. Trying to receive this unbearable gift of another chance that Paul's generous god keeps giving me.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


On Thursday night, I was a Woman Behaving Badly. (I determined that Banana Republic doesn't even have a maternity line.) I was exorcising some demons and, basically, made a scene. I had a great time doing it and you should ask me about it sometime if you want a great story.

My ex kind-of deserved it for having the audacity to tell me that he liked me enough to continue dating me but not enough to stop dating other women and I needed it because I actually agreed to that for awhile. Combined with some of the other indignities I'm facing right now, it was kind of inevitable that my feelings were going to sublimate. However, his other girlfriend did not deserve having to witness it.

If I were her, I'd be pretty pissed. And maybe a little hurt. And definitely I would have had moments of crazy-head-exploding, I-can't-take-this-anymore-someone-get-me-a-truck-to-drive-through-the-wall discomfort.


I didn't really think of that until the next morning.

Empathy is a bitch.

And there is really no way to apologize to her that won't seem insincere and hypocritical. Plus I don't really know her to communicate with her.

And then, to pile it on, this morning in The Spirituality of Imperfection I read:
For humility signifies, simply, the acceptance of being human, the acceptance of one's human being. It is the embrace of the both-and-ness, both saint and sinner, both beast and angel, that constitutes our very be-ing as human . . . humility involves learning how to live with and take joy in that reality.
So, now I feel bad because I did not treat someone else as I would want to be treated and I feel bad because I cannot take joy in that reality.


I'll go do my homework now.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


It's official.

I just deposited my economic stimulus rebate into my savings account.

All $300 of it.


I really know how to stick it to the man.