Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Magical Mystery Tour

While I probably can tell you the exact order of both the A and B sides of the Beatles' album that serves as the title for this post, fans of the Fab Four will be bitterly disappointed to know I am not going to say anything that remotely relates to the lads from Liverpool.

Bloody hell!

What I am talking about instead is the inherit magic that lives inside the labyrinth on the grounds of Florida School of Massage in Gainesville. Often times when I’m back at the campus I make a point of taking a meditative walk along this curvy pathway cut into the grass. My journey starts with an intention garnered as I stand at the opening and “consult” with the statutes that mark the entrance. Then I make my way toward the center, feeling each step under my feet, while keeping whatever was the message for my journey forefront in my mind. Inevitably, additional phrases will come to me…sometimes in the form of questions…and always as a way of either honing the original intention, or making me take whatever phrase I was starting with and broaden it out some. By the time I get to the center, I’m ready to sit, and listen to what answers might be coming to me. It is a time of quiet mindful solitude. And I can’t tell you how many tears I’ve shed sitting in the center of that labyrinth as the sounds of peacocks peal in the distance from Paynes Prairie and I stare up into the tree tops looming overhead, paying attention to the answers I get to my questions, and the instructions I’m given as I journey forward and retrace my steps out from the center.

A sampling of some thoughts I’ve had on trips through this magical place:

Give and take love and light

Go inside the heart and discover the truth that
God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell within you

Discover what’s within and keep the laughter alive

Each walk is different. Each one has its own language. But never have I stepped along the path of that labyrinth and experienced nothing!

The Florida School of Massage is on 441 (S.W. 13th Street) in Gainesville, and the labyrinth is behind the school building past the meditation garden and the hammock.

As the old Dunkin Donuts commercial jingle used to say, “It’s worth the trip!”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto

A little over a week ago, my partner and I were on to discussing the differences between Jews and Christians. She converted almost two years ago to Judaism after having been raised in… and then rejecting…the Roman Catholic Church. I have been reconnecting with my Christianity, specifically through my Episcopal tradition. For the record: our daughter, a cat named Valkyrie, could care less about her parents’ religious tendencies. Typical of a “child”!

In the course of this discussion about whether or not Jesus is just another prophet or is the Messiah, Isabelle remarked that for Jews, there’s a simple saying, “If somebody tells you the Messiah has come, look out the window and if nothing’s changed, then the Messiah hasn't come yet.”

I got to thinking about that comment. She has a point. If I look out a window…or if I look at the world…not a lot has changed. We are still in an endless stupid war in Iraq, we still have politicians who spout empty phrases to thunderous applause, we still have gas prices that are going up, and a consumer confidence index that is shrinking due to escalating debt. From this vantage point, it would seem the world is still the same mess it has always been.

But from where I sit, things have changed. Not that the physical world and the actions of the human race have changed, but rather how I respond and react and live in this world has greatly changed in the past few months. It has had to change. Beyond the death of my father, I have had this awakening that is leading me to greater exploration of what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. And that journey has turned me upside down and inside out, so much so that I just feel different than I did before. I don’t have the same level of anxiety and fear that I used to feel. And when I do have fear, I can recognize it, name it, and know that it does not have to be all consuming and defining of who I am. This is not to say that I’m a Pollyanna about the world: far from it! But by having faith and trust in God, I can see my way through my fears…even when it is uncomfortable. And sometimes I’ll be reminded not to make mountains out of mole hills!

So, in sharing this idea with Isabelle that I do see things differently and I do attribute that to seeing the world with my new spiritual eyes, she gave me a sideways glance, and wanted to know if I thought one had to believe in Jesus in order to see the world as a spiritual person.

“No, absolutely not!” And I reiterated for her my steadfast belief that God is infinitely smarter, wiser and more resourceful than we can begin to comprehend, and would never have been so narrow-minded as to present only one path to eternal life. I believe we’re all going to be amazed in the end to discover that each of us who has accepted the invite to the ultimate peace, love and happiness party will be arriving in the same dance hall only through different doorways! It’s only in this realm where we will continue to draw distinctions and divisions between ourselves and decide who is more worthy of the invitation.

For me, some of what brought this on was the story in the Gospel of John where the Pharisee, Nicodemus, tells Jesus that it’s clear he’s a teacher and is of God (Ha—little does he know…) and that leads into a discussion that eventually gets to the oft-quoted, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” passage. And it got me to wondering more about this whole “born-again” idea. That term, as one who has seen the worst face of Christianity too often, gives me the creeps. Not for the same way Nicodemus was puzzled by it (asking how one could literally climb back into the womb and be born again), but because the term has been co-opted by hateful fundamentalists and used like a baton to beat on those who “don’t believe”. But, and this is a huge but, if I understand the exchange that Jesus is having in that section of John’s gospel (which is much more than John 3:16!) what Jesus is saying is that until you see the world anew, you won’t see the kingdom of God. And that renewed outlook comes in the change in your spirit and your willingness to live in lightness rather than darkness. Your willingness not to let all that is “out there” invade the core of your own being and define you and make you miserable.

Again, John’s gospel message is being delivered to those of us who have become followers of Christ, but that idea of how “to be” is not just for Christians and has been imparted by others (e.g. the Buddha) who, I believe, are all escorts to the same party house.

OK, so where did this conversation with my Jewish partner end? Interestingly, we got onto the “second coming” and what that meant. She talks of returning to Jerusalem…in a spiritual sense as much as a physical all-the-Messianic-people-crammed-into-one-city sense. And I feel much the same way. It would seem to me that rather than us looking for great balls of fire, and horsemen galloping, and all that, I think the second coming will be when we all recognize there is a power of unconditioned good and unconditional love. It is there for everyone, and there is a collective move in the direction of the light rather than always staying in the dark. And that ain't easy! And, without putting words in her mouth, I think my partner and I agree it probably won’t happen in our lifetime.

So, she says tomato, I say tomahto, and we're both talking about the same fruit!

And our cat child walks in the room, still finds us “way too talky” and goes to bed. Typical!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Big Hearts Bring in Big Bucks

What a great night!!
The Big Heart Party was a well-attended affair with good food, lots of red wine, a few technical glitches (sorry about the overheating on the receiver!), laughter at Faust videos, and most importantly: the big heart was fed full of cash and checks!
The grand total take on the evening was $2,010. The upcoming "Queer As Faust" festival in June drew the largest deposit in the heart, followed closely by "Fairness for All Families" (aka Equality Florida). The monies for Fairness will help stop the onward march of marital bigotry in the Sunshine State. The donations to "Queer As Faust" are greatly appreciated as we try to minimize our outlay of cash at a time of transition in Faust. It was amazing how close those two came in the final tally. In fact, the dollar amounts were almost even. Adding it up, it was kind of like the Hillary vs. Obama delegate count!
The final two causes, PFLAG and This Way Out, also received abundant support from the attendees at the party, and folks took literature home to learn more about the Straight for Equality campaign and a radio magazine show that keeps going and spreading news of interest to the gay and lesbian community despite financial hardship. My heart is full knowing that my friends would donate to two lesser-known entities: PFLAG has had a sporadic presence in Tallahassee, and This Way Out has never graced the airwaves of any station within ear shot of Florida's capital city.

A few special thank yous: to Matt and Diana for supplying the chocolate fondue, and for your immeasurable help prepping and painting our living room and dining room. To Beatrice for prepping, painting, tiling, cleaning and otherwise making things nicer in our house. To Isabelle for allowing change to occur and getting into the spirit of it. To Terry for wanting to make more changes...and being thwarted.

And to Dana, the creator of my big pride heart. What an amazing job at making a four-chambered collection center, and crafting it in a way that captured the money into their pre-destined slots.

My love and appreciation to all of you who came to the party and gave of yourselves to my special causes. It really was what I wanted as I start my next decade of who-knows-what.

Answers to poll questions: Ah, yes! I asked five questions of my guests on my Evite, and it gave me a very interesting profile of the attendees. As many as 55 people answered the survey, but not everyone chose to give their thoughts on each of the questions (chickens!)
Question 1: Infamous homophobe Jerry Falwell passed away last year. Where is Jerry now?
Answers: 41 believed Rev. Falwell is now Caught up in a Perpetual Pride Parade; 7 didn't know where he was....and 6 believe he has gone straight to hell. No one thinks he's in heaven.
Question 2: What popular song makes for the best Gay Pride anthem?
Answers: 21 said "We Are Family"; 4 said "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now"; 4 "I Will Survive"; 4 "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves"....and 17 hate all those songs.
Question 3: What was Dade County Commissioner Ruth Shack's connection to Anita Bryant?
Answers: Four people got it. I accepted Tim and Darwin's responses that Ruth Shack sponsored the ordinance amendment in 1977 that Anita Bryant repealed with her "Save Our Children" homophobic campaign. But Phil and Randal actually knew that Dick Shack, Ruth Shack's husband, was Anita Bryant's booking agent!!
Question 4: What is your favorite genre of music?
Answers: 27 of y'all are rockers, 7 prefer folk/country, 7 like jazz, 4 are into funk, 1 person wanted reggae....and one person thought I would actually play opera/classical at my party!
Question 5: Complete the phrase: Life in your 40s is...
Answers: 39 said "Fabulous"; 8 said "Fattening"; 7 said "I don't trust anyone over 39" and one person says the 40s are frustrating!
Many have said that this event is an inspiration for them as they contemplate their own future birthday parties. Cool! Invite me, and I will contribute my cash to your cause!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Finding Value in Vulnerability

When I think of an image of “strength” what comes to mind is a mountain. And if I want to get a sense of “strength in numbers” I conjure up a vision of a mountain range, like my beloved White Mountains: granite, rugged, reaching up into the blue sky with peaks that can pierce the clouds that drift by. When I stand in this place I can feel how small I am in comparison. And I am in awe of the power that surrounds me.

And yet, even for all the strength and brawn and beauty and majesty that these mountains display, they too can crumble. I mean, c’mon: the Old Man of the Mountain, a landmark for New Hampshire, lost his face! Even the strongest have some vulnerable spots.

But is vulnerability really a sign of weakness?

Too often I’ve found that those who admit to not having all the answers are criticized and belittled, but people who spout off half-baked answers and ideas are somehow “brilliant”. It happens in politics all the time. If one of our politicians were to actually admit that they don’t know what’s coming around the corner in the economy, the war, the (fill-in-the-blank), we’d vilify them, and call them “weak”. We feel better if they lie to us, and feed us with manure so we mushrooms can continue to grow in the damp, dark places that we live in.

As a reporter, I know that when I finally gave in to the “I don’t know”, I felt liberated. Before, I was carrying this weight around of having to be “in the know” and “know everything”. And if I didn’t know an answer, I’d make one up based upon absolutely nothing in particular except that need to save face in the moment. I probably would have been better off like the Old Man of the Mountain if I'd allowed my face to fall down and given in to the “I don’t know”!

I’ve been having a lot of experience lately of living in a place of vulnerability. The definition in Webster’s dictionary says that to be vulnerable means one is “susceptible to being wounded, assaulted or conquered”. It can also mean that one is “incapable of resisting evil”. That’s pretty harsh language. And it’s a true definition.

But in my whacky world, I see being vulnerable as a giving way to realizing that I am not Queen of the Universe. And by sitting with that notion that I’m not in charge, I don’t know everything, I am dust and to dust I shall return, again I feel a sense of freedom from the bondage of having to be “in the know”. Life can still contain mysteries and surprises. And I have the liberty of life as a learner. So being vulnerable, to me, can lead to strength anew. I don’t feel wounded in a way that is fatal, or conquered in a way that crushes me under an iron fist of judgment. It’s the same notion I have expressed about tears as not necessarily being a sign of “weakness” in a person. It’s a sign of emotion, one that washes away our sorrows or waters our joys depending on why someone is crying. I find it’s the people who don’t cry or who don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable who are the weak ones. How can you ever know you are strong if you don’t know the flip side of that perceived strength?

There is value in vulnerability. It reminds us that we are human

Monday, February 11, 2008

Holding a space...

....until I finish my current short essay! While I continue to formulate my thoughts on my next topic that has been burning a hole in my brain...I want to direct you to the website for St. John's in Tallahassee. Posted is a tract called, "Rules for Lent". It's worth a look, and a deep consideration. And I would say for more than just Lent, but life.

I'll be back with more soon!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Super Shrove Tuesday

So while I, and other disenfranchised Floridian Episcopalians, ate pancakes and enjoyed the last hurrah before Lent, our neighbors to the north and west and east of us went to the polls for Super Tuesday.

Man, what a wild night! Once again, some states prove to be extremely scary places.

Tallahassee sits perilously close to Georgia where Republicans voted for Mike Huckabee and Democrats for Barack Obama. Obama is one thing. Huckabee?? Well, of course Georgia did successfully defend it's anti-sodomy law before the U.S. Supreme Court! The fact that Mike Huckabee can win anywhere is just too chilling. I get the idea of trying to up-end the slippery son of a Romney. But Huckabee is part of the Hate brigade, and the worst kind because he's the type who will sugar-coat his hate speech with a smile, and a "Jesus loves me, not you".

Are there really that many people now who want us to have a theocracy in the United States? I'm confident Huckabee won't win this thing, but his ability to win anywhere......excuse me, I think I need some whiskey with my pancakes!

O, God: help! Help! Help!

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Light Shines in Chicago!

The following news item comes from the Chicago Tribune by way of Integrity. Peace be with our PB and the new bishop of Chicago. They are taking a courageous and correct stand:

Chicago's new Episcopal bishop and the church's national leader sent a clear message Sunday about where they stand on gay clergy, a smoldering issue that threatens to tear apart the denomination.

Wrapping up a five-day tour in honor of Jeffrey Lee, the new Chicago bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori declared that the American church will not stand alone in its support of gay clergy during an international meeting in July in Lambeth, England.

"Many more [bishops] than you might expect are sympathetic," Jefferts Schori, the presiding Episcopal bishop, told parishioners at St. Nicholas Church in Elk Grove Village. "They are not, however, the loudest voices."

Later in Chicago, Lee was seated at St. James Cathedral and reminded audience members of their call to ministry by virtue of their baptism, not their liberal or conservative interpretations of Scripture.

"That's one of the tragedies afflicting the church right now," he said. "So many of us seem to think that salvation depends on our theological correctness."

Lee's election capped a race that drew worldwide attention as the latest potential flash point since the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson, the church's first openly gay bishop. Conservatives believe homosexuality violates Scripture. Liberals support gay-clergy rights.

Of the eight nominees in Chicago, one was a lesbian in a committed relationship. Lee, who is not gay but supports full inclusion, quickly emerged as the overwhelming choice.His election made him one of 10 new bishops to take over a diocese this season. All are said to represent a new generation of leadership in the church that cares less about imposing a certain brand of theology on their flocks and more about finding consensus and common ground to serve the poor, heal the sick and evangelize.

Jefferts Schori said the new bishops buck the top-down structure that has governed the Episcopal Church for nearly 500 years.But it's a shift in the right direction, she said.

"It's a sign of great health of all the members of the church," she said.

Lee said that regardless of where bishops fall on the theological spectrum, conversations during a meeting of new American bishops last month focused on building bridges rather than defending positions.

"I was struck by how much listening there was," Lee said. "That's becoming truer and truer of bishops in the Episcopal Church. In general, I hope that's a trend."

Lee will represent Chicago in England this summer. Robinson has not been invited.But Jefferts Schori's comment regarding bishops' support reassured Rev. Stephen Martz, the vicar of St. Nicholas, where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families are welcome to worship.

"It seemed to be an authentic remark," Martz said. "I hope it's true."

It also reassured Rev. Alex Seabrook, 82, who was ordained in 1954 and attended the service at St. Nicholas to watch the presiding bishop baptize twins."I've seen the church of the past," he said. "The whole service today was the church of the future."
Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

Listening vs. Hearing

I once had to engage a friend in a very tense and emotionally-charged talk. My feelings were hurt and I felt that he had betrayed our friendship. It was one of those moments in which I had that sense of the rug having been pulled out from under me, and I was going to make him pay for this.

At least, that’s how I felt an hour before we met up to talk.

Prior to my arrival at our meeting place, I did some exercises I had learned to deal with my anger. I let my body shake and rock to release the fury and the need to exact punishment. So, by the time I saw him, my mind and my heart had been cleared for a conversation instead of a confrontation. I gave him the opportunity to begin our talk, but quickly stopped him before he could get going.

“I want you to know that I did some things to get ready for this, and so not only will I listen to you; I will hear you!”

In looking back on that conversation, I am struck by how important it was to make that distinction between “listening” and “hearing” the other person. I could have let him talk and explain himself and offer defenses, apologies, mea culpas, etc. and I could have listened to all of that. But hearing him meant that I was not putting those same words through my “judgment filter”; instead, I was coming from an empathetic place and allowing that my friend had been human and made some mistakes for which he now was sorry. The “hearing” meant that I could be forgiving. And a friendship could be saved.

Side note: I subsequently did something that hurt my friend, and he offered me the same kindness of a talk where he modeled my “hearing” approach as we cleared the air.

Being heard has always been important to me. I used to drive my parents nuts as a child when I would sit in the kitchen in the evening pestering them to “Listen! Listen! Listen!” to whatever I had to tell them about what had happened at school that day. I grew up to be a radio journalist, and often thought that this career choice was answering that need within me to have people hear what I had to say. And part of my frustration as a reporter came from the feeling that my words were falling on deaf ears because nothing ever seemed to change. I don't know; maybe people were listening…without hearing!

I don’t have a strong enough foundation in the Bible to talk in any wise and learned way about the notion of hearing and listening to God’s word. But, as a mere lay person currently getting troubled by God on a daily basis to show up and pay attention in this life, I can see that there are many passages in the “Good Book” that highlight the importance of both listening and hearing to what’s being said. My sense is that we’re being called first to listen and then in the listening, we’re commanded to “Hear, O Israel” and take what’s being said deeper into the soul. The “Hear, O Israel” is the start to one of the important Jewish prayers, and is the directive to love God, and love thy neighbor. And, if my non-theologically-informed experience with my friend is any indication, it is also through the hearing that we can achieve the goal of the Lord’s prayer to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we trust that God is hearing us when we admit to our shortcomings then we can (or should) do the same for other people.

And friendships can be saved!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

People Get Ready

Well, just when I thought there might be a fighting chance that Floridians could do the amazing and refuse to place a question before voters to constitutionally ban LGBT persons from having same-gender wedding ceremonies, Floridians 4 Marriage managed to scare enough moles out of their earthen homes to sign their petitions.

A total of 649,346 people put their John Hancock's on the petition papers...about 38,000 more than they needed to get their question of intolerance and hatred on the ballot.

What does this mean? Well, lots of things. First, it means that once again the LGBT community will be used as the great, big, scary boogie man to frighten the wits out of the witless into going to the polls in November to cast a vote *against* their neighbors. The bonus for that (and the main reason fundementalists would want this on the ballot) is that those same witless people will likely cast votes for Republican candidates, especially for the presidency of the United States.

And I would predict it will also mean an escalation in anti-gay violence...both the physical attacks on those who are gay or perceived to be gay...and the verbal attacks that don't leave scars on the outside, but rather on the inside. This is what has happened in other states with such anti-gay constitutional questions on the ballot.

So, what now? For the LGBT community, it's simple: come out!!! We can not hide ourselves at a time when our visibility can possibly change minds, or make someone really feel uncomfortable taking a position against somebody they think "is a good worker, person, friend, etc. etc."

For those of you reading who are "non-gay", please take a moment to ask yourself these questions: what do I gain from putting language in the Florida constitution that marriage, or the substantial equivalent thereof (read: civil unions), is reserved only for the heterosexual community? How does this "protect" your marriage? If you are not married, do you fear a gay or lesbian couple who have been together for years...or even weeks....will get something you can't get if they get married and you, either by choice or circumstance, are single?

If any of these questions...or others you may have thought of yourself...seem absurd, or make you angry, what are you gonna do about it? Privately tell your LGBT friends that you think this is ridiculous? (Hint: we already know it's ridiculous!) Or are you going to take the risk of taking a stand with us against this amendment? Will you speak your truth to the witless when they bear false witness against your LGBT neighbors?

As Sweet Honey in the Rock sings: Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you?