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30 December 2011

Painting with Words

I'm not the poet that I want to be
not even the poet that I can be
I want to paint with words
so that the poetry and prose

27 December 2011

Heartbreaking Loneliness

Loneliness is the terror that haunts her days.
And nights.
She had never been alone before.
Born into a family with older and younger siblings.
Aunts and uncles and cousins.
From home to college.
From college to marriage.
More than thirty years of family and companionship.
And then a wasting illness.
The family came and stayed.
And stayed.
Then the night came.
She was alone.
For the first time in her life.
At the age of 67.
Loneliness is a living thing.
Chasing her from dark to dawn.
Her lonely heart found another. 
The gift and grace of love again.
Years of love and companionship.
But the terror has returned. 
Another wasting illness.
Another dying husband.
The loneliness waits in the corner.
Her widowhood is immanent.
And she is afraid.
And hurting.
Our words are dust.
The promise of Emmanu-el rings hollow.
She will be alone again.
It is not the love of God for which she longs.
She is confident in that.
She aches for the companion of her heart.
And she prays that when it is her time to die, 
she won't have to die alone.

20 December 2011

The Womb of God

Birthing eternity

12 December 2011

No Place Like Home

But where is my home?
One of the joys of this sabbatical has been visiting other churches. There is one preacher in particular who really speaks to me, although she regularly challenges me - we share neither theology (in some cases) nor denomination. And that is good. For me. I don't want to belong to or even visit a church of me.
Yet I find I'm reluctant to return to my home church. I have been back once every couple of months or so. And the people are so wonderful. I miss them and they miss me. I love them and know they love me. And I still love our liturgy and traditions. But there are some things about our hierarchy and preaching (preacher) that I do not miss. At all.
I'm clear that I cannot stay in any of my host congregations. Nor would I want to. I don't belong there. Or there. Or even there.
Do I belong in my congregation? I am committed to them. It feels like a job even though I volunteer and regularly serve in other congregations. I long to return to my teaching vocation, even with the administrative work and meetings that I loathe. It's more than worth it.
But I don't want to return to my church.
I really don't want to.
But I will.
There's no place else for me here.
I guess it is home.
For now.

05 December 2011

I Don't Want to Wait in Vain

A ritual reenactment
waiting, hoping, longing
for a change
Twelve Days,
Family and friends,
celebration and song,
gifts and (of) grace,
light and love,
promise of (and) peace.
A girl-child and her boy-child,
an ambivalent surrogate father,
whispers and conspiracies,
journeys and visitations.
Waiting for that day.
But I don't want to wait in vain.
What will the next days bring?
I want the world to be different.
I want to be different.
It's been a long time coming,
but I know my change is going to come.
Come soon Lord Jesus.

01 December 2011

The sea is wider than my eyes

The sea is wider than my eyes
I love to see the sea reach far beyond my vision
Circling the world that rises from the depths
To see the sea as far as I can see
Curving into space
The edge of earth
A bowl of water
In the hand of god
The sea is alive
Breathing pulsing contracting expanding
Creating life
Giving birth
Taking life

29 November 2011

White Lies

No. It's not nice to see you. I know you.
But I can't say that. I can't even smile and nod. The smile is a lie too.

28 November 2011

Advent's Advent

It's coming! It's here! So soon! Already!
I don't think I'm ready for Advent. But I don't get a vote. Ironically, I envy my Jewish kin for the calendrical nature of their observances. Of course we have a liturgical calendar in Christianity. But it is far from universal. Yet even in our great diversity there seems to be more unity around Advent (Good Friday and Easter) than any other time. And now it's here and I'm not ready.  I don't even have the Christmas music on my iPod yet!
Many of the sacred stories are about being ready and the consequences for being unprepared - belong left out, left behind, missing the celebration. Yet that is not my concern. I want to leisurely roll out my decorations to accompany my prayers week by week and luxuriate in the season. And I will. Starting today. Tonight. It has come so quickly.
Should this Advent season coincide with the Advent of the Messianic Age, I like to think I'd be better prepared than my home suggests.
The two to-do lists seem to be completely unrelated:
Decorate my home.
Repair the world.
Poinsettias and candles, the creche and nativity-themed art.
Cultivate peace, advocate for justice, mend broken relationships, provide for the poor and disenfranchised.
I'm not ready for the Messiah's return either.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.

24 November 2011


Simply grateful.


They have buried the earth under an ocean of concrete.
I cannot see her face.
I cannot hear her voice. I cannot touch her. 
These mammoth constructions of steel, glass and concrete crowd and overwhelm me.
None of these buildings is made of the stone of earth.
They cast their shadows over me and chill me to the bone.
I cannot see the sun.
I am lost in this place.
And I want to go home.

22 November 2011


I'm trying to find my place in this new-old world. I have been away for a while. I am not entirely sure I fit here in this way-station between where I have been and where I am going. It is good that this place is not my home. But how shall I experience my home? I have commitments there. I need to be there. I want to be there, I think. Sometimes. How will I find it? How will it find me? Will it still be home?

17 November 2011

Songs of the Sea

God gathers the waters of the sea as in a bottle and puts the deeps in storehouses.

Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

You rule the raging sea; when its waves rise, you still them. 
There is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there; living things, both great and small.

11 November 2011

I Wanted To Be Rescued

When I was raped as a child, held down and forcibly penetrated from the rear, I wanted to be rescued. For years I had difficult relationships with my parents because they didn't save me. Of course they didn't know.
So when I read the reports of the allegations of child rape and other offenses against former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky one image tormented and haunted me: This image of the little boy, 10, whose rape was interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Mike McQueary a six-foot-four 213 pound graduate assistant who could have overpowered that old man but did not even try. He did nothing. He left that brutalized child to be further brutalized.
I can hear his rapist saying, I told you no one cares about you. I can do anything I want to you. See? He's letting me do this. Even if you tell, no one will believe you.
I don't know what if anything Sandusky said to that child but I can hear those words non-the-less. And McQeary spoke to that child with his actions as well: You're not worth saving. No one will help you. You deserve this.
Ronnie Polaneczky poignantly gave voice to my horror and fury on behalf of that child in her editorial, touching specifically on his opportunity for rescue that walked out of the door. Now we know that McQueary did not even call the police. He called his father, and at 28 years of age allowed his father to talk him into waiting until the next morning to tell his boss, Penn State's legendary coach, Joe Paterno - leaving that child to endure no one knows how many more assaults that night and successive nights. Apparently that fulfilled his legal obligation, but certainly not his moral one.
JoPa, as his fans call him, reported a milder version of events to his bosses - he didn't say rape, or intercourse or sexual penetration. And that was enough to fulfill his legal obligation - although questions are being asked about that as well they should, but he certainly did not fulfill his moral obligation. His bosses have been fired and charged with failure to report and perjury among other things. He planned on retiring at the end of the season and was instead summarily fired.
And Mike McQueary, he is still employed by Penn State and scheduled to coach this Saturday.
Football has been long lionized in our culture for building the character of young men and teaching them leadership and other skills our society values. Penn State has upheld those values by firing the University President, Coach Paterno, and the other officials. Jerry Sandusky was allowed to retire long before these allegations became public, and some are wondering about that...
The failure to intervene is unimaginable. Yet comprehensible for McQueary and his defenders. The failure to report is widespread, particularly among some churches and clergy, sadly that is more imaginable.
We do a pretty good job in our society demonizing child predators. It is way past time to deal with those who permit and enable their crimes. Like the mother of the seventeen year old boy who raped me when I was six or seven. She was in that apartment...

07 November 2011

A Christian's Longing for Hajj

It is the season of Hajj. It is the solemn responsibility of every Muslim to go on Hajj if they are able ~ but without accruing debt to do so. I have always been envious of the Hajj. Islam is not unique in maintaining a pilgrim tradition, but its pilgrimage is unique.
There are many shrines in Islam, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Rumi's Tomb in Turkey and myriad local sites in countries all over the world, unknown by far-flung Muslims. There are two holy cities in Saudi Arabia, Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, but only one Hajj.
There is no singular call or requirement for pilgrimage in Christianity or Judaism. The Kotel (Western Wall), remaining from Herod's expansion of Solomon's temple is arguably the holiest site in Judaism. But there is no requirement to journey there. Many Christians want to see where Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead, walk where he walked and where he taught. There are so many Christian holy sites: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem. So many sites with questionable historicity ~ there are at least two options for the site of Jesus' resurrection. Even dispensing with the one disdained by scholars and locals, there is no single site in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for veneration. There are many shrines and altars, and I have my favorite.
I would almost prefer it if the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were veiled  and visited as a whole like the Kaaba. (Although I would still want to enter, unlike most pilgrims who are barred from the Kaaba.)
I love the unity that Hajj evokes. There is great diversity in Islam, but Hajj and the other pillars seem to be uniformly embraced without the doctrinal divisions evident in Christianity. There are certainly differences in practice and level (fervor?) of practice in all religions.
I appreciate and respect that part of the sanctity of Hajj is its restriction to Muslims. (In order get a visa one must prove one's Muslim identity, which can be challenging for people who were not born in Muslim countries.) But I would like to experience Hajj, as a Christian.
I have had the privilege of being welcomed into sacred spaces which were not my own in which I was able to experience the richness of another tradition and sometimes find a space where my tradition unexpectedly intersected another. But Hajj is closed to me.
I know that there are many thoughtful critiques of the culture and particularly the economy of Hajj, including gender and other issues. And even if I am romanticizing Hajj, it is a compelling practice, inviting me to think back on my own tradition.
Walking the Way of Suffering, the Via Delorosa in Jerusalem is perhaps the closest I have or will ever come to Hajj in my own faith. Yet the differences are stark: There are not nearly so many pilgrims gathered at one time, even on Good Friday. Pilgrims can come any day in any month. There are no pilgrim clothes. And all around us, life in the shops, restaurants and hostels of the Old City went on. (Which I also appreciate, because I could see Jesus being paraded through the market, full of people.)
I am grateful to sister, scholar and imam Amina Wadud for opening up her Hajj journey in a series of blogs. They have been grouped together here. (At the bottom of the page on that site there are links for the rest.)

Morning Meditation: Smile

It's really just that simple. Intentionally radiate joy. Smile.

02 November 2011

Feeling Betrayed

It's always a shock. I'm always surprised when someone hurts me.
I think that's a good thing. It means that I don't expect to be hurt. I still trust people. I'm stunned when someone does something that they know will hurt me, when they figure into to their calculus and decide it's worth it anyway.
Exhaling. Inhaling. Exhaling again.
I'm surprised by the pain, buried deep beneath waves of rage. I know my anger well. It coats, soothes, protects my vulnerable insides from the hurt like the layers of a pearl.
This is an old pain, a familiar pain, a healing pain, a lingering pain. 
I realized that the same event inflamed two pains, a pair of pains, a conjoined pain.

I was furious. I was angry with my friend - she's still my friend - and angrier with the situation, her decision.
Don't tell me you prayed about it knowing it would hurt and did it anyway. I do not know that god, nor do I wish to. I have enough trouble with my own...
I knew, even as I raged at her that the heat of my rage was not directed towards her.
I think she knows that.
Even in my fury I was not blind to the hurt that fueled my rage. And I knew that it was less about her than her decision, and less about her decision than the old, healing, lingering conjoined wounds it reopened.
Clarity and self-awareness are gifts and evidence of healing.
It still hurts.
I still feel betrayed.

For All the Saints, I Call Your Name

"Ancestors never die until there is no one to call their names." ~ An African Proverb
"Some people are your relatives, others are your ancestors and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors." ~ Ralph Ellison
Dr. Yolanda Pierce posted these two quotes in her wonderful blog on Día de los Muertos ~ All Saints Day. I have been singing "For All the Saints" and "I Sing A Song of the Saints of God" since Sunday when I began this year's celebration in the company of an All Saints Church. Dr. Pierce's post of Ellison's quote affirms my practice of calling on a wide circle of names as my ancestors. I call the name of my ancestors who are the saints of God today and whenever I remember them.
I call the names of my grandmothers, Louvenia and Virlee.
I call the names of biblical foremothers, Hagar and Miryam and D'vorah and Miryam of Nazareth and Miryam of Migdala and Junia and Priscilla.

I call the names of the ancestors I have chosen, I start with the artist Robert Moore whose art gave me a vision of all the saints, past and present. (His "Sanctuaries of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas" is above.)
I call the names of Harriet Tubman, Susanna Wesley, Mary McCloud Bethune, Billie Holliday, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde, Coretta Scott King, Lesbia Scott.
Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malik El-Hajj El-Shabazz, Howard Thurman, Uncle Melvin, I call your names.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest, 
 who thee by faith before the world confessed, 
 thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. 
 Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, 
 through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, 
 singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: 
 Alleluia, Alleluia!

I sing a song of the saints of God, 
 patient and brave and true, 
 who toiled and fought and lived and died 
 for the Lord they loved and knew. 
 And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, 
 and one was a shepherdess on the green; 
 they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, 
 God helping, to be one too. 
They lived not only in ages past; 
 there are hundreds of thousands still. 
 The world is bright with the joyous saints 
 who love to do Jesus' will. 
 You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, 
 in church, by the sea, in the house next door; 
 they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, 
 and I mean to be one too.

01 November 2011


    Max Ehrmann's (1952) poem:
      Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
      and remember what peace there may be in silence.
      As far as possible without surrender
      be on good terms with all persons.
      Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
      and listen to others,
      even the dull and the ignorant;
      they too have their story. 

      Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
      they are vexations to the spirit.
      If you compare yourself with others,
      you may become vain and bitter;
      for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
      Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 

      Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
      it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
      Exercise caution in your business affairs;
      for the world is full of trickery.
      But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
      many persons strive for high ideals;
      and everywhere life is full of heroism. 

      Be yourself.
      Especially, do not feign affection.
      Neither be cynical about love;
      for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
      it is as perennial as the grass. 

      Take kindly the counsel of the years,
      gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
      Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
      But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
      Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
      Beyond a wholesome discipline,
      be gentle with yourself. 

      You are a child of the universe,
      no less than the trees and the stars;
      you have a right to be here.
      And whether or not it is clear to you,
      no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

      Therefore be at peace with God,
      whatever you conceive Him to be,
      and whatever your labors and aspirations,
      in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 

      With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
      it is still a beautiful world.
      Be cheerful.
      Strive to be happy.

28 October 2011

This Is My Prayer

This is my prayer...
to look with wonder at the ocean filling the horizon
to see the waves crashing on the rocks
to watch the foam scrub the sand.

This is my prayer...
to hear the song of the sea
to see the windblown palms
to smell the rain on the wind
to feel the wind and sun on my skin.

This is my prayer...
watching the scented smoke curl up to heaven
breathing in the ancient sacred fragrances, frankincense and myrrh
blowing on the coals
watching the sparks fly
feeling the heat from the glowing coals.

This is my prayer...
tasting the sea
touching the sand
smelling the flowers
savoring the fruit.

This is my prayer...
speaking the ancient words of scripture
praying the words
hearing the words
sharing the words
wrestling and being wrestled by the words
and the Word in the words.

This is my prayer...


26 October 2011

Free to Feel

I am so grateful 
for the freedom 
to feel
what I feel
I am not alone.

22 October 2011

The Other side of Anxiety

The word of the Lord through the poet-prophet Rumi to me:

You've been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had,
but it's still water
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It's a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry at once, quickly,
for God's sake!

20 October 2011

Only Breath


Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

I am only breath
breath in skin
yet when the storm comes
my skin breaks open
and my heart-breath blows
finds my skin
and breathes again

18 October 2011


Hydra-headed cartoon monster
with more tentacles than an octopus
dwarfing Leviathan
whisper thin and sharp
passing through walls and windows
heart, mind and soul
on tendrils of smoke.

Grasping, seizing, choking, strangling
with manacles of iron
resisting resistance
overwhelming courage and determination
overshadowing and overpowering.

Beaten down but not back. 
Beaten back but not down.
Ever present.

Dissipating waves of peace and light.
Dissipated by waves of peace and light?
Not today.

Where are my guardian angels
advocates and surrogates?
Who does battle for me?

13 October 2011

Why We Can't Just Do It Like the Bible Says

I have been swimming in a sea of words, words in the bible, words about the bible, my words, words I wish I'd written, spoken or thought of. I have been so overwhelmed with all of the words that I haven't been blogging, although I've been writing, preaching, teaching, thinking and talking.

In the ocean of words that is the internet, I found some words that say what I've been trying to find the words to say - words which I'm sure others have spoken - explaining to the fervent faithful that biblical literalism is not a faithful response to God or the scriptures; the issue is broader than slavery and stoning people or abducting girls in war and killing baby boys and yes, same gender-sexual contact.

The words I found were a blog post from God explaining to some orthodox Jews why they couldn't observe the festival of Sukkot exactly as the bible or the tradition says. Along the way God explains how every noun, word and concept, in the biblical and exegetical tradition has changed so much that they all mean completely different things (sometimes along with some of the old things) that they are for all intents and purposes new and different words. [Christian readers may think of old wine in new wineskins here.]

Everyone wants to imagine that Moses himself could amble into their Shteeble or sit down and their Shabbos table, and blend in without missing a beat. There’s something romantic about that, I guess.

But what you fail to appreciate is just how much the Halachic ground shifts irrespective of your efforts to preserve it. The bottom line is that the experience of observing Shabbos 3,000 years ago is dramatically different than that of observing Shabbos 300 years ago, or even 30. This is not due to changes in any Halacha per se, but rather due to revolutions in technology, society, and culture. Someone adhering to a particular set of rules a long, long time ago is simply not doing the same thing as someone adhering to the same set of rules today. Trying to latch onto a particular ancient interpretation of a particular rule is like holding your coffee mug in place on your desk during a major earthquake (which are not the gays’ fault, by the way), and trying to pretend that your office looks just like it used to. 

For example, while I leave it to you to sort this particular issue out, I hope you understand that forbidding a woman from serving on a Shul board in 2011 is not the same thing as doing so in the year 1011. Sure, the prohibition is technically the same, but so much has changed with respect to women (and Shul boards) that every relevant noun in the prohibition no longer means what it used to, and the sense that you are clinging to the past is illusory.

This is also what bothers me about all of those "year of living biblically" projects. It's simply not possible without rickets and malnutrition and blood infections and unacceptably high infant and maternal mortality and illiteracy and...and...and...

We have also relinquished the God-given responsibility and authority to wrestle with the scriptures and tradition. We have settled on and for one set of interpretations, whether New Testament or Halacha, and instead of learning from how and why our ancestors interpreted the text in the ways they did we have settled for trying to mimic them out of context. Both Christian and Jewish traditions have amazingly complex systems of biblical interpretation that their adherents are forcefully ossifying, burying alive.

Yet God's word is alive, calling us to the torah-tussling, word-wrestling, God-grappling dance.

01 October 2011

(Jewish) New Year's Resolutions

I've been living into 5772 for a couple of days. Before RoshHaShanah, I was feeling rather pessimistic about the state of the world.

But in the past couple days, perhaps beginning with services, I have found myself becoming more hopeful.

This is the gift of prayer. The old adages: Prayer changes things. Prayer changes people. Prayer changes me.

This year, I resolve to believe the best about the world, no matter what I see, hear or read.
This year, I resolve to breathe more. And if that is not physiologically possible, I resolve to breathe more consciously and purposefully.
This year, I resolve to love, especially when it's hard and when I don't want to.
This year, I resolve to live in the love of God for me and for the world.

27 September 2011

The Golden Rule (A-Z)

Food for thought as I sermonize:

Aboriginal Spirituality
We are as much alive 
as we keep the Earth alive.

- Chief Dan George
Baha'i Faith
Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, 

and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.
- Baha'u'llah, Gleanings

Treat not others in ways 
that you yourself would find hurtful.
- The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18
In everything, do to others 
as you would have them do to you; 
for this is the law and the prophets.
- Jesus, Matthew 7:12

One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct
. . .loving kindness. 
Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.
- Confucius, Analects 15.23
This is the sum of duty: 
do not do to others what wouldcause pain if done to you.
- Mahabharata 5:1517
Not one of you truly believes 
until you wish for others whatyou wish for yourself.
- The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
One should treat all creatures in the world as
one would like to be treated.
- Mahavira, Sutrakritanga
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. 
This is the whole Torah; 
all the rest is commentary.
- Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a
I am a stranger to no one; 
and no one is a stranger to me.
Indeed, I am a friend to all.
- Guru Granth Sahib, pg. 1299
Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain 
and yourneighbor's loss as your own loss.
- T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien, 213-218
We affirm and promote respect 
for the interdependent web of all existence, 
of which we are a part.
- Unitarian principle
Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.
- Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

23 September 2011

Holy Smoke

When Words Are Not Enough
I kindle my fire

ignite my coals 
and watch the sparks fly heavenwards

I pile the pebbles of frankincense
overlaid with grains of myrrh

The first puff
spirals up and out
I inhale

My prayer sits before me
praying with me
praying for me
praying through me

The smoke has its own vocabulary
the scent its own grammar

Together we pray

22 September 2011

Powerless and Prayerful

The world is spinning maddeningly, dizzyingly off-kilter. Georgia is preparing to execute Troy Davis, a man widely believed to be innocent. Georgia has the legal right to do so because all of the legal formalities have been observed so far and the Supreme Court has never ruled that it is a violation of human or civil rights to execute an innocent person - as long as they have had due process that meets the legal definition. The gulf between legal and moral has never been wider or seemingly more impassable. The state has the legal right, power and authority to kill and seems hell bent on doing so. People are protesting and preying, writing letters, faxes and emails and making phone calls. It remains to be seen whether this will make a difference in Troy's life or in our own.

And frustrated by decades of occupation and failed and floundering peace talks, the Palestinians are ready to appeal to the United Nations to recognize them as a sovereign state. If the UN does so, Israel will immediately be (more) guilty of occupying a sovereign state as opposed to a (merely) disputed territory - as they now justify their presence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza under international law. Israel has been exerting pressure on nations to oppose the bid for statehood, most of all the United States which has veto power. President Obama has said that he will veto the Palestinian appeal because the statehood issue needs to be worked out between Israel and Palestine in the peace process. This is the most disingenuous thing I have ever heard him say. The peace process is broken. Israel continues to flout it by building and protecting settlements inside of the Palestinian Territories. Israel has unilaterally rejected the internationally approved boundaries by building a wall on Palestinian land shaping new boundaries in their favor. What peace process? What other options do the Palestinians have? Politically, supporting Israel is more beneficial than sporting the Palestinians. But is is not the right thing to do. The US needs to use its influence with Israel - our money, the billions of dollars we send them every year while we are in a depression (if you're black, brown and poor) - and pressure Israel back to the table for meaningful negotiations and real compromise.

Both of these situations leave me feeling absolutely powerless. And so I pray. I hope. I believe.
I pray that even if my prayers are not answered I will still believe in the power of prayer.

16 September 2011

A Hindu-Christian

I don't exactly believe in the Trinity. I believe that God is One-and-Many. Three is a good number. So is seven. And twelve. And 1001. Perhaps there is no number. ("There is no spoon" for my sister/fellow Matrix fans.) God is:

God is infinite. And infinity itself.
I can't tell you how many times my sister and brother Hindu sojourners on this island in space have said that they believe in one God with many aspects and manifestations. Yet others, mostly Christians (but also Muslims and Jews) call them polytheists. I've also heard Christians reject the idea that the Trinity is three gods.
How can the Three be One for Christians and the Many not be One for Hindus?

One of the mindsets that has stayed with me after my trips to India is how many Hindus worship Christ. There are more Hindus for whom Jesus is their God than there are baptized, communing or confessing Christians in India.

I love the idea of God as Many and Pluriform. I love a God who is so much more than I am, than I can imagine or name. I also love icons and images. Perhaps the most enduring for me are smoke - incense wafting and curling, fire - candlelight and roaring fires, and water - waterfalls and crashing waves.
In the name of the Womb-waters of Earth, Unquenchable Fire and and the Most Fragrant Many-Named God, Amen.

13 September 2011

'Tis A Gift To Be Simple

'Tis a gift to be simple. But I'm not sure I have that gift. I do like my stuff.
This year I'm something of a happy vagabond as I travel the world for months at a time, mostly out of one suitcase. (A three month-trip from the tropics to a snow zone necessitates a second case.) I don't miss my stuff from home as much as I thought I would, although I'm aware of the ways in which my day-to-day life has changed.
Staying in furnished rooms, apartments, studios and suites is ok because I know I have a home with all of my stuff to go back to. I have found myself frustrated while trying to assemble a minimal collection of functional stuff wherever I am. When I get my living-and-working accommodations just right I'm surprised by how much less stuff there is. Then I think what stuff could I do away with at home.
I'm nearly overwhelmed by the box of unfiled files and and others of unsorted stuff from a move 8 years ago. I couple probable throw it all away but there are two letters I'd like to find...
And I love not wearing shoes in a house which has always seemed easier when it was someone else's house - and in the tropics where shoes are often simple slip ons.
What of this simplicity will I take back with me?

10 September 2011

Rejection is the Worst Pain

Rejection is the worst pain I can imagine and my fear of rejection is paralyzing. I have been frozen these last few months, unable to blog, unable to write. Even though I have survived other rejections, this one has been nearly disabling. But I am still here, blogging and soon, writing again.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert, Dune

05 September 2011

Born to Make Music

My friend who I'm calling Miles - more of his story is below - has found a way to play his guitar in spite of the brain injury that has frozen his right hand. Another friend realized that Miles could hold a small disc about the diameter of the doorknob, about an inch think. He attached a vertical piece of metal on it and Miles uses it as a slide on the strings of his guitar as he learns to finger with his left hand. Miles was born to make music and is making it happen.

I've been spending time with a new friend. [The photo is one I found on the 'net; it's not my friend, but he'd like it.] I'll call him Miles - I think he'd like that because he is in his own way as consummate a musician as is the eternal Miles Davis. Miles, the earthbound, was also born to make music. It is in his soul, it is his vocation. Whatever other jobs he has held, alongside his vocations as husband and father, he is a musician. His preferred medium is the guitar. I didn't know him in his guitar playing days. But I have heard of his renown.
I met Miles after he suffered a brain injury. He spends most of his days in a wheelchair, but he is not bound to it. He stands hourly to do his exercises and can take a few dozen steps at a time. His right hand, however, is curled and immobile. His guitar playing days are over.
But Miles was born to make music. It is in his soul, it is his vocation. He has had to find another medium. He has chosen the harmonica because he can play it with his mouth and left hand. On my last visit he was adjusting an old camera tripod to be a stand for his harmonica. He strapped a pillow on it, leans over and rests the harmonica and his hand on the pillow.
Last night I went over while some of his friends from his old band one some other musicians came over to play. And I heard the music in his soul.
Miles' injury did not exempt him from his vocation. He has all this music welling up in him and he had to find a way to get it out. And he did. He reminds me how hard vocations can be, even when they are joy-filled. Just because God has called you and equipped you to do something, doesn't mean it will be easy. But it will be the most fulfilling thing you have ever done. And if it seems like God has called you to an impossible vocation, don't give up because God has enabled you to do what God has called you to do, no matter how difficult the task.

27 August 2011

Calming the Storm

The miracle stories in the life of Jesus are so well known and so beloved to me and many readers that I think that it is easy to take them for granted. Whether one reads them literally or literarily, those stories come from an entirely different world. It is a world that I have trouble recognizing when hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes devastate peoples around the world. And while there are would-be interpreters who leap to blame people for experiencing or succumbing to natural disasters, I've noticed that they don't claim to be able to calm those storms. Perhaps their blame-placing should be understood as a tacit admission that they cannot do what Jesus did.
I believe in miracles and in the power of prayer. And I believe that sometimes people inexplicably survive natural disasters and violent encounters because of the grace of God and perhaps, because of the prayers of the faithful.
It strikes me that those who claim to be able to reproduce all of the miracles of Jesus don't try to walk on the water or calm the storm. (I have heard of people praying to redirect storms, and for that matter to heal the sick and raise the dead.)
But there is something about the take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools oceans that cover the earth on which our land-islands seem to be perched so precariously that illustrate the void between the biblical world and our own.
Yet these stories are scriptural and canonical for me. They live and breathe and I hear God in and through them. Some of their most powerful incarnations are in the sacred music of the black church.
I love James Cleveland's Peace Be Still:

It is a sermon which needs no preacher. I love the line that "no water can swallow the ship where lies the master of ocean and earth and skies." And when the disciples in the song are in trouble, they call out "Get up Jesus!' I love it.
And while I know that I cannot walk on the water - I'm clear - when Donald Lawrence sings in the voice of Jesus "Oh Peter, don't be afraid...I am Mary's baby...walk out on the water..." I want to walk with him. (You may want to ff through the first minute of the video which is a conversation.")

I can't explain how these sacred stories and their musical interpretation inspire me when they fly in the face of everything I know about nature, physics and even miracles. They speak to me of a reality that transcends our own.
Lastly, there is Douglas Miller's "My Soul Has Been Anchored" which proclaims that "if the storms don't cease, and if the winds keep on blowing in my life, my soul has been anchored in the Lord."

Though the storms keep on raging in my life
And sometimes it's hard to tell the night from day
Still that hope that lies within is reassured as I keep my eyes upon the distant shore
I know He'll lead me safely to that blessed place He has prepared
But if the storm don't cease and if the winds keep on blowing in my life
My soul has been anchored in the Lord.
I realize that sometimes, in this life, we're gonna be tossed be the waves and the currents that seem so fierce
But in the Word of God -- I've got an anchor, 
oh yes I have, and keeps me steadfast, unmoveable, despite the tide
But if the storm don't cease and if the winds keep on blowing in my life
My soul has been anchored in the Lord
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
The billows may roll, the breakers may dash
I will not stray because He holds me fast
Some darkless day that lies in the sky
I know it's all right 'cause Jesus is nigh
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
You crush me down but Jesus picks me up
He sticks right by me when the going gets tough
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul has been anchored in the Lord.

26 August 2011

When an Estranged Parent Becomes Ill

When an Estranged Parent Becomes Ill
My Mother's Recent Illness

I can't use the detached voice or presume to make general statements.
This is how I feel/felt.
I did my duty and was aware that I was doing my duty.
There were awkward moments.
I care and cared for her. I prayed and pray for her.
But the truth is that it was easier when she was unresponsive.
When she recovered, she was the same woman and we were in the same relationship.
I'm glad she's better.
I don't wish her ill.
I wish her well.
I wish her healing of body, mind and spirit.
But I'm not holding my breath.

24 August 2011

Will the Revolution be Feminized?

I'm watching events unfold in Libya and wondering how the emerging nation will shape itself. We are not long past the Arab spring and liberation movements in Tunisia and Egypt, and in the redevelopment of their governments basic human and civil rights for women have not been a priority.
Egypt is a case in point. Women in Egypt have been subjected to horrific harassment and assault attributed to male frustration at the lack of economic opportunity under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. In the uprisings in Tahir Square, women and men stood and rallied side by side. Yet in the aftermath of the transition, there were forceful attempts to literally and figuratively remove women from the public square. And there were sexual assaults used strategically my Mubarak supporters in addition to the rapacious violence of thugs without an articulated political purpose.
I also am looking at Afghanistan and Iraq where women and girls risk their lives for literacy. It's not just the remnants of the Taliban or Al-Qaida who decree that women should be illiterate baby machines with no access to medical care, but members of their own families who are susceptible to the dominant ideology with none to counter it.
There can be no liberation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else if half the population does not have access to literacy, higher education, employment opportunities and basic health care.

21 August 2011

Blessing God

One of my rabbinic colleagues mentioned the tradition that a (Jewish) person should make a hundred b'rakoth a day. A b'rukah is a blessing. In the basic form the person praying blesses God for all manner of things. The blessing is formulaic:
Blessed are you Holy One our God, sovereign of the universe who...
and here is where the hundred-fold blessings come in.
For what does one bless God? For everything.
Today I bless God -
who has given us the gift of Sabbath
who has called me to holy work
who has given me the opportunity to experience leisure
who has created plants with leaves in 1001 shades of green
who opens doors for me
who has surrounded me with friends and family and colleagues and students
who has taught me gratitude
who hears my prayers
who hears my laments
who wrestles with me in the words in the Word. 
Ninety more to go...

18 August 2011

I Am Not A Slut

It's taken me a while to think through my response to Slut Walk, the anti-rape and anti-harrassment marches in which some/many women dress as sluts to make the point that nothing a woman or girl wears (or doesn't wear) makes it acceptable for her to be raped. (While not denying the experience of male rape, the Slut Walk phenomena is a woman/girl movement in response to the comments of a Toronto police officer who said that women who didn't want to be raped should stop dressing like sluts.)
Obviously his comments are reprehensible, violent, disgusting and more.
I share the outrage of the Slut Walk organizers. But I was immediately put off by the phenomenon and it took me some time to figure out why.
Finally it came to me: slut is not a word I chose to claim for myself or other women. I am not a slut. I am not a bitch. I am not a c*nt. I realized my response to the Slut Walk phenomenon was the same as my response to one of the Vagina Monologues monologues. Some words cannot be redeemed for me. I am not a n!gger. I am not a whore. I am not a 'ho. I am not a slut.
I am a woman created in the image of God. I am beautiful and brilliant in every sense of each word. And no one has the right to touch me without my permission. Not my hair. Not my skin. Not my body. And there is nothing I could ever do - or have ever done that would justify anyone breaking into my body.
Nothing I wear (or don't wear) makes me a slut, whether or not someone else finds me attractive, desirable, or sees me as in need of domination, subjugation or feels entitled to have access to me, to violate, injure, degrade or rape me. None of that is about me. Whatever names they might call me, whatever narrative they may create for themselves to justify their conduct; I am not a slut. I won't own that label at the hands of rapists, sexists or anti-sexist anti-rape activists.
One aspect of the marches that I did appreciate was the range of attire worn by the participants. That is where I would have looked to name the response: What Raped Women Wear - not nearly as sexy catchy as Slut Walk.
I know that some speeches addressed this issue, but I would have needed this to be the headline and organizing principle in order to participate.

What Raped Women Wear...
Grandmothers in housecoats and slippers
Critically ill women in adult diapers in hospital beds
Mentally ill and developmentally disabled women and girls in jumpers and jeans
Infant girls in onesies
Little girls in their Sunday best
Muslim women in hijab
Nuns in their habits
Businesswomen in business suits
Students in jeans and skirts
Girls and women in their pajamas, nightgowns and skin in their own homes, in their own showers, in their own beds
Prostitutes and strippers in their uniforms
Police women and soldiers in their uniforms
Any woman or girl anywhere, wearing anything
this is what raped women wear.

10 August 2011

A Response to "The Help"

Beah Richards (1951)
A Black Woman Speaks…
Of White Womanhood
Of White Supremacy
Of Peace
It is right that I a woman
should speak of white womanhood.
My fathers
my brothers
my husbands
my sons
die for it; because of it.
And their blood chilled in electric chairs,
stopped by hangman’s noose,
cooked by lynch mobs’ fire,
spilled by white supremacist mad desire to kill for profit,
gives me that right.
I would that I could speak of white womanhood
as it will and should be
when it stands tall in full equality.
But then, womanhood will be womanhood
void of color and of class,
and all necessity for my speaking thus will be past.
Gladly past.
But now, since ‘tis deemed a thing apart
I must in searching honesty report
how it seems to me.
White womanhood stands in bloodied skirt
and willing slavery
reaching out adulterous hand
killing mine and crushing me.
What then is this superior thing
that in order to be sustained must needs feed upon my flesh?
How came this horror to be?
Let’s look to history.
They said, the white supremacist said
that you were better than me,
that your fair brow should never know the sweat of slavery.
They lied.
White womanhood too is enslaved,
the difference is degree.

They brought me here in chains.
They brought you here willing slaves to man.
You, shiploads of women each filled with hope
that she might win with ruby lip and saucy curl
and bright and flashing eye
him to wife who had the largest tender.
And they sold you here even as they sold me.
My sisters, there is no room for mockery.
If they counted my teeth
they did appraise your thigh
and sold you to the highest bidder
the same as I.
And you did not fight for your right to choose
whom you would wed
but for whatever bartered price
that was the legal tender
you were sold to a stranger’s bed
in a stranger land
And you did not fight.
Mind you, I speak not mockingly
but I fought for freedom,
I’m fighting now for our unity.
We are women all,
and what wrongs you murders me
and eventually marks your grave
so we share a mutual death at the hand of tyranny.
They trapped me with the chain and gun.
They trapped you with lying tongue.
For, ‘less you see that fault-
that male villainy
that robbed you of name, voice and authority,
that murderous greed that wasted you and me,
he, the white supremacist, fixed your minds with poisonous thought:
“white skin is supreme.”
and therewith bought that monstrous change
exiling you to things.
Changed all that nature had ill you wrought of gentle usefulness,
abolishing your spring.
Tore out your heart,
set your good apart from all that you could say,
know to be right.
And you did not fight,
but set your minds fast on my slavery
the better to endure your own.
‘Tis true
my pearls were beads of sweat
wrung from weary bodies’ pain,
instead of rings upon my hands
I wore swollen, bursting veins.
My ornaments were the wip-lash’s scar
my diamond, perhaps, a tear.
Instead of paint and powder on my face
I wore a solid mask of fear to see my blood so spilled.
And you, women seeing
spoke no protest
but cuddled down in your pink slavery
and thought somehow my wasted blood
confirmed your superiority.
Because your necklace was of gold
you did not notice that it throttled speech.
Because diamond rings bedecked your hands
you did not regret their dictated idleness.
Nor could you see that the platinum bracelets
which graced your wrists were chains
binding you fast to economic slavery.
And though you claimed your husband’s name
still could not command his fidelity.
You bore him sons.
I bore him sons.
No, not willingly.
He purchased you.
He raped me,
I fought!
But you fought neither for yourselves nor me.
Sat trapped in your superiority
and spoke no reproach.
Consoled your outrage with an added diamond brooch.
Oh, God, how great is a woman’s fear
who for a stone, a cold, cold stone
would not defend honor, love or dignity!
You bore the damning mockery of your marriage
and heaped your hate on me,
a woman too,
a slave more so.
And when your husband disowned his seed
that was my son
and sold him apart from me
you felt avenged.
I was not your enemy in this,
I was not the source of your distress.
I was your friend, I fought.
But you would not help me fight
thinking you helped only me.
Your deceived eyes seeing only my slavery
aided your own decay.
Yes, they condemned me to death
and they condemned you to decay.
Your heart whisked away,
consumed in hate,
used up in idleness
playing yet the lady’s part
estranged to vanity.
It is justice to you to say your fear equalled your tyranny.
You were afraid to nurse your young
lest fallen breast offend your master’s sight
and he should flee to firmer loveliness.
And so you passed them, your children, on to me.
Flesh that was your flesh and blood that was your blood
drank the sustenance of life from me.
And as I gave suckle I knew I nursed my own child’s enemy.
I could have lied,
told you your child was fed till it was dead of hunger.
But I could not find the heart to kill orphaned innocence.
For as it fed, it smiled and burped and gurgled with content
and as for color knew no difference.
Yes, in that first while
I kept your sons and daughters alive.
But when they grew strong in blood and bone
that was of my milk
taught them to hate me.
Put your decay in their hearts and upon their lips
so that strength that was of myself
turned and spat upon me,
despoiled my daughters, and killed my sons.
You know I speak true.
Though this is not true for all of you.
When I bestirred myself for freedom
and brave Harriet led the way
some of you found heart and played a part
in aiding my escape.
And when I made my big push for freedom
your sons fought at my sons’ side,
Your husbands and brothers too fell in that battle
when Crispus Attucks died.
It’s unfortunate that you acted not in the way of justice
but to preserve the Union
and for dear sweet pity’s sake;
Else how came it to be with me as it is today?
You abhorred slavery
yet loathed equality.
I would that the poor among you could have seen
through the scheme
and joined hands with me.
Then, we being the majority, could long ago have rescued
our wasted lives.
But no.
The rich, becoming richer, could be content
while yet the poor had only the pretense of superiority
and sought through murderous brutality
to convince themselves that what was false was true.
So with KKK and fiery cross
and bloodied appetites
set about to prove that “white is right”
forgetting their poverty.
Thus the white supremacist used your skins
to perpetuate slavery.
And woe to me.
Woe to Willie McGee.
Woe to the seven men of Martinsville.
And woe to you.
It was no mistake that your naked body on an Esquire calendar
announced the date, May Eighth.
This is your fate if you do not wake to fight.
They will use your naked bodies to sell their wares
though it be hate, Coca Cola or rape.
When a white mother disdained to teach her children
this doctrine of hate,
but taught them instead of peace
and respect for all men’s dignity
the courts of law did legislate
that they be taken from her
and sent to another state.
To make a Troy Hawkins of the little girl
and a killer of the little boy!
No, it was not for the womanhood of this mother
that Willie McGee died
but for a depraved, enslaved, adulterous woman
whose lustful demands denied,
lied and killed what she could not possess.
Only three months before another such woman lied
and seven black men shuddered and gave up their lives.
These women were upheld in these bloody deeds
by the president of this nation,
thus putting the official seal on the fate
of white womanhood within these United States.
This is what they plan for you.
This is the depravity they would reduce you to.
Death for me
and worse than death for you.
What will you do?
Will you fight with me?
White supremacy is your enemy and mine.
So be careful when you talk with me.
Remind me not of my slavery, I know it well
but rather tell me of your own.
Remember, you have never known me.
You’ve been busy seeing me
as white supremacist would have me be,
and I will be myself.
My aim is full equality.
I would usurp their plan!
and plenty
for every man, woman and child
who walks the earth.
This is my fight!
If you will fight with me then take my hand
and the hand of Rosa Ingram, and Rosalee McGee,
and as we set about our plan
let our wholehearted fight be:
[Offered as a response by AfroLez to the the white woman's fantasy that is the novel and film on the experience of black women working for white families in the 1950's and '60's, called "The Help." For another response see Martha Southgate's commentary.]