Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fill Me with Love

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we
do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our
hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace
and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted
dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son
Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The words of the collect from this past Sunday caught my attention, especially as I continue to move through this morass called, "Grief" and the loss of my mother.  Love, as I have noted before on this blog, is a synonym for "God" and is the active, and the only language that I believe God speaks.  This love is something different than the excitement one feels with a kiss and that electric energy between lovers.  This love, as I have experienced it, is the sensation of feeling at ease, even in the middle of chaos, confusion, anger, and rage.  It's the centering of peace in the deeper places of my being, often achieved by using my sacred word which is my simple short-hand prayer.  These are the moments that I am "in Love," capitalization intended.  And, as the collect notes, the more that my actions can be coming from a place of being "in Love," the better those actions will be.

Couple this with the portion of this past Sunday's Gospel lesson, one of the many moments of Jesus speaking in counter-intuitive ways:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may 
be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, 
and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? 
Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 
And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? 
Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.--Matt 5: 43-48

This statement must have baffled Jesus' Jewish audience, a people who were under the thumb of Roman occupation, as much as it tests our intellect today.  How can I love someone who wants to do me harm, or goes out of their way to make my life a living hell?

"Loving the enemy" has been an intentional practice that I have been doing for awhile now.  I use the words found on page 816 in the Book of Common Prayer, a Prayer for Our Enemies, which has allowed me to navigate and channel my feelings of wanting to exact some kind of punishment on the one who is doing me wrong or the entity that wants to oppress me.  "Loving" my enemy does not mean that I accept their ways, or how they are attacking me or not respecting me.  And the prayer in the BCP works its wonder by acknowledging that the conflict is not one-sided:  there is "the enemy" who I pray is led "from prejudice to truth" and is delivered from "cruelty, hatred, and revenge."  BUT the prayer also says the same thing about me, or "us," in its effort to pour Love back into my heart and wash away the fears that arise when faced with an "enemy."  "Enemies" gain the upper hand when their actions generate fear and loathing in my heart.  If I meet them "in Love," I'm in a better place to face whatever it is that comes my way.

And so all of this brings me to the news of the past few days with regard to Arizona and now Uganda.  Like many people who are LGBT, it is horrifying to think that states and countries are passing laws that target us for discrimination, criminalization, and basically create an "open season" on us for those bent on bigotry and hatred.  Worse is that in Arizona, the legislature passed this proposed law, called "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act," because they fear that LGBT couples are going to insist that small business people, such as wedding photographers, take pictures of the loving couple at a wedding ceremony that is currently outlawed in Arizona, and this might violate the "religious freedom" of a photographer to discriminate against LGBT people.

Please note: they passed SB 1062 and sent it Governor Jan Brewer because they feared what might happen.  Marriage equality hasn't reached Arizona. Yet.  Clearly, it will face a massive challenge when that day comes.  But already, the lion of fear is on the prowl and infecting the hearts of the people there.  Much as it has in the African nation of Uganda.  

It is no secret that right-wing evangelicals such as Scott Lively and Rick Warren have been making trips to Africa to export homophobia.  There are documentaries, and testimonials from the brave LGBT people and their allies in Uganda about the kind of efforts these men have made to feed the fear of people like me.  Now, the President of Uganda has signed the bill into law which calls for seven-year prison sentences for LGBT people, as well as persecution of anyone who is associated with LGBT people.  Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have already announced that they are freezing assets with Uganda.  And there are calls for the United States to also sanction the country in response to this anti-gay legislation.  Personally, I would like to see Scott Lively, Rick Warren, John Ashcroft, and any number of others who have stirred up this poisoned pot in Africa to be put on the "No Fly" list.  

It would seem if there were ever a time for me to step up my prayers for my enemies, now would be it!  And I certainly have.  My faith, my hope, my confidence is in the knowledge that for every time someone or something chooses to attack the LGBT community, we, like so many other minority people, have overcome.  Because our love, especially when grounded in Love, is stronger than those whose hearts are filled with fear.  Do I love that Uganda wants to jail LGBT people?  Of course, not!  I would encourage those countries that value the freedom and dignity of every human being to bring pressure on the Ugandan government to rethink this decision, and to allow those who must escape this tyranny a safe harbor.  Do I love that Arizonans opposed to LGBT equal rights cloak themselves in the mantle of Christ to pass discriminatory bills?  No, I don't love that either.  But it isn't in my hands to do anything to them except to see them as followers of fear and not faith, and meet that fear with the Love that pours into my heart.  

And that gets back to my mother, and my father.  While they never made much ado about their faith, they lived lives that exemplified their Christian beliefs.  Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National, shared with me a story of how my mother, in her subtle yet firm way, made it clear that she wanted to meet Jody's partner and their dog, Buddy, right now, while they were in Washington, D.C., at a national board meeting.

"She and I walked outside and in no time Stephen and Buddy were walking up the sidewalk.  The look on her face was priceless.   Buddy ran up to her and around her leg and nuzzled his head between her legs with his head facing Stephen--Buddy's way of saying that he knew she was someone special to me/Stephen.  Peg gave Stephen one her her big hugs and she told Stephen, "You don't know me but you must be special if you are Jody's partner."  She then pointed her finger at him and said, "You had better be good to him!"  
Although I had enjoyed getting to know your Mom in my first year at PFLAG in the context of her work as a Board member, it was in that moment with her that I saw how much love she has, and that it was her love that made her fearless in telling anyone her opinion." 

Perfect love casts out fear.  May I be filled with love so that it perfects my heart.  Amen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I wrote in an email to my spiritual director that all I really wanted to do was sit in a dark room.  This is how my profound sadness at the loss of my mother has been playing out.  I have no desire to have contact with people and yet my work as a massage therapist necessitates that I make contact with people.  Not even superficial contact, but true, physical contact of my hands working out the kinks in their muscles.  And so, for those hours in which I must work (because bill collectors don't give a damn about grief), I take moments to pray for the strength and courage to meet my clients wherever they are, and do my best to focus on them.  Weirdly, it is helpful to have those times.  For a short while, I can think about and concentrate on something else.  And it's exhausting because I have to fight to concentrate on something else.  Grief is just that strong an emotion.

As I walked to the 12:10 Eucharist at St. John's, one of the supply priests caught up to me on the sidewalk.  He asked how I was doing and I told him that, at that moment, I was OK.  He called me a liar.  He could see in my eyes, and probably in my countenance, that I was not "OK."  He laid his hand on my back as we walked and offered a prayer for God to be with me.  

I have no doubt that God is with me.  I figure that God's way of manifesting for me is the periodic introduction of "I sing a song of the saints of God" in my head, a tune that we used at my mother's funeral.   It was a moment of recognition that my mom loved that hymn, and it also provided a break with some much-needed levity for me and my siblings, each of us having our own private experience of the appropriateness of having that song juxtaposed with the much heavier "The strife is o'er."  There is no doubt the last eleven months of my mom's life reflected the heftiness of the words, "The strife is o'er, the battle done."   She endured a massive stroke that took out 40-percent of her brain, followed by the multiple failures of our country's version of elder "care" to work with her when she was wanting to work.  Her lack of language and the pathological resistance of all of us to the reality of death were the markers of the strife and the battle that was the end of her life on earth.  At the same time, there is little doubt in my mind that the next leg of her journey of life beyond this realm is more akin to that jaunty tune about the saints.  And on this particular Friday Eucharist, God gifted me with my own favorite tune from All Saints' Day, to play in my head as I processed the short way out of the chapel:

"For all the saints who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.  Alleluia! Alleluia!"

But once the music in my head stops, the grief seeps back in.  There hasn't been a day that I haven't had to cry.  I know this is all part of the process.  I have had friends encourage me to give myself the grace to just break down as I need to and let the grief move through me.  Really, I don't need the grace to do that because it is just happening, and there's not a whole lot I can do to stop it.  Normally at this time of mid-February, I would have birthday cards.  Instead, I have been opening sympathy cards, and the numbing effects of grief overtake me again.  The cards are all lovely and they have beautiful sentiments and wise words.  But Hallmark doesn't make a card that states the truth of my grief: This sucks!

No truer words can be spoken of grief.  It sucks.  It hurts.  It's no fun.  I believe these are the words that Jesus himself understands.  The evangelist John tells us that he wept when he learned of Lazarus' death.  But I believe he didn't just weep; I think, if Jesus loved Lazarus, he wailed.  Deep, physical wailing in which the entire body cries out in the wilderness of feelings at such a loss.  Grief is felt not only in the head and the heart; it permeates the body.  It's the aches in the elbows, the throbbing in the feet, the knot in the stomach.  The heaving sobs of sorrow incorporate so many parts of the body that I think it's the body's way of letting it all hang out, so the grief doesn't get trapped and become a chronic pain.  

Yes, the memories of my mother are a blessing.  Yes, the knowledge that my mom has "gone to a better place" is good.  But those words don't touch the place of my grief.  No words can fully reach me right now.  This is where I turn myself to God the Christ and say, "You get it, don't you?"   If I can call myself fortunate in any way in this time of profound sadness, it is that I know that when the world cannot grasp the idea that "This sucks!" I can always count on the source of Love to not only fully "get it" but to sit with me in the dark room for as long as I need to do that with no demand that I put on a happy face or attempt to engage in any way that violates my own inner sense of when I'm ready to move on.  Jesus knows how to sit shiva with the one who is grieving.  This is my solace in my grief.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Fitting Good-Bye

There were probably about 100 people in attendance at my mother's funeral from some of her oldest and dearest friends in the Seacoast of New Hampshire to the Governor of the state.  Mom is one of the Republicans who actively and vocally endorsed Governor Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, in her state Senate and Gubernatorial elections.  So, attending her funeral was a very nice gesture.

Mom had put me in charge of planning her service, and thankfully, she had taken the time to write out her wishes back in October, 2008, a year after my father had died.  Dad did not pre-plan, which left us with the task of not only mourning his death, but attempting to discern what would make for a fitting remembrance of his life.  Mom, at my urging, put some thought into what she would want, and as her planner, I am grateful.   

Oddly, she didn't select a psalm or even a Gospel lesson.   And after some thinking, praying, and discerning, I suggested to my brothers that since mom's major wish for the service was lots of music, we should have the psalm sung.  My niece, Charlotte, is thinking of majoring in choral music, so it was only natural that she would be the soloist and that we should have her sing Psalm 23, "The Lord is My Shepherd."  And, what better tribute to my funny mother than to use the version that has come to be known as "The Vicar of Dibley" theme song.  Both my brother Carl, and her best friend, Cathy, who is also a singer, had arrived at that same conclusion about the psalm.  And so that was one thing decided.  Mom had desired Cathy to sing a solo, and so I asked her what she wanted to sing, and she chose a spiritual called, "Deep River."  And it was unbelievably beautiful, and served as the prelude to the service.

With the Gospel, I looked at the various John lessons and thought, "None of these work for the type of woman my mother was!"  And so, I started with looking at the passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the prisoners.  As I read it aloud to my partner, and as I felt myself becoming emotional contemplating the message of the reading, we both were drawn to go to the Matthew version of the Beatitudes:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, 

his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the 

kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter 

all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, 

for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way 

they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, 

how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, 

but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  

No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, 

but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, 

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works 

and give glory to your Father in heaven.

My mom had named four hymns specifically that she wanted to include in her celebration of her life.  I realized we could use some cover time for the Eucharist, and so I picked two more, "The strife is o'er" and "I sing a song of the saints of God" two very different hymns in their tone.  Both very reflective of not only how my mother's last eleven months of earthly life had been, but the joyous nature of her spirit as well.  Put together, they captured the heaviness of grief while delighting in her life among the saints.

My three brothers and I were given an opportunity to speak.  I gathered with them yesterday to lay out an order and get a sense of what they were going to say.  The priest was concerned that we not repeat the same stories over and over.  Of course, each of us has had our own experience of our mother, and the Anonymous Peggins, Hurricane Peg, Margaret Bailey Clark Gage was a large life-force, so there was plenty for us to talk about without too much overlap.  Tom, our family historian, noted that my mom was a latch-key kid in the 1930s, long before that became a "norm" of American families.  Her parents divorced when she was only eight years old, and her mother had to work.  And mom would spend her childhood riding trains back and forth between New York City and Bay City, Michigan, to be with her parents.  My brother Carl noted that she was in a better place than where she'd been at the end of her life.  And my brother Edward talked about her fearlessness when it came to speaking truth to power.

I don't have their spiels, but the following is the text of what I said:

"My brother Tom told me that the last thing my mom heard before she died was the Hospice chaplain saying The Lord's Prayer.  And I reflected on these lines, 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'   This was my mom's mission: to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven.  And she did that by being a loving, persistent, and passionate voice for justice.

When I came out, I had no idea how my mom would react.  Nothing she'd said or done up to that point indicated that she'd be OK with having a gay kid.  In fact, her letter to me which forced the issue--a  letter in which she hoped my friendships with women were 'healthy, wholesome, and appreciative'--felt judgmental and made me angry.  In our stilted conversation on the phone, I told her I was gay.  I waited for the wrath of mom.  Afterall, that's all I had ever seen from culture and the church and the Republican Party.  Instead, she went quiet (Yes, my mom WAS quiet) and she said, "OK."  She had been worried that I was sick.  Now, she knew I was not.

After many more conversations, and many more questions, I encouraged her to get in touch with Nora Tuthill and the local PFLAG chapter.

That's when the creation of the PFLAG "momster" came into being.  One meeting of hearing about the disparity of treatment and how my rights and dignity were systematically denied was all that it would take.  This was unacceptable, and Peggy Gage, the Hurricane, was going to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven, and you better not try to stop her!

Everyone, including the cashiers and baggers at Shaw's Supermarket, was going to hear why we needed to be concerned about equality for all. (Aside: seriously, I can't tell you the number of times I'd be standing with her at the cash register and she'd be introducing me as her 'lesbian daughter' and I kept thinking, 'Really?  Do we have to do this now, mom?')

Mom was a big reason why this congregation became a more inclusive and welcoming place.  And one of her greatest thrills was to be part of the choir that sang at Bishop Gene Robinson's consecration service.  Incidentally, she also was the Nellie Bly of that event for an international gay and lesbian radio magazine.

When my parents moved to Florida, and my mom wanted to attend an Episcopal Church, I had to tell her a sad truth: the Episcoapl Churches in Tallahassee in 2005 were not anything like Christ Church Exeter.  

Fortunately, about a month after her arrival, the biggest (and frankly the best) Episcopal Church in Tallahassee had a split, and all the clergy, almost everyone on the vestry, and 2/3 of the congregation marched out on a Sunday to start a new "Angican" church down the street.

It was a painful event for St. John's, but it meant my mom could attend an Episcopal Church in Tallahassee... in her rainbow beads and PFLAG buttons. And woe to anyone who grumbled about Gene Robinson in her presence... including the Bishop of Florida!  She made many friends in that congregation, and I know she was very happy when I had my own renewal of faith and would sit with her on Sunday mornings.

Even in Tallahassee, mom could not stop talking about Christ Church and all the people she loved here.  So she left sunshine for snow...because she loved New Hampshire.

Mom did us a great favor by leaving behind clear directives about what she wanted in this service.  I want to read just this one portion to you because it is vintage Peggy Gage (I wasn't going to imitate my mother's voice, but my brothers egged me on, so I read this paragraph in "her voice"):

"As I said in the beginning of this, I want my ashes mixed with my husband's in our resting place at St. Andrew's by the Sea, and if I pass when the weather will allow it, as soon as possible for all concerned.  But, I leave all of this up to the planners.  I have mentioned Susan planning a lot of this, but I hope she includes her brothers in any of her ideas on how things should be run.  All of my children are cradle Episcopalians, so they should know the drill, so they had better do it right.  I have spoken....I love them all so much and am very proud of all of them, and I hope they continue on with their lives with love, passion, and dignity."

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven....

It is now up to us to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven."

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Melancholy Valentine

Today is my 46th birthday.  And I will be spending it with the body of the one who brought me into this world, my mother, Margaret Bailey Clark Gage.   

I say, "with the body" because, having gone through death with my dad, I'm aware that the body that I will see in a casket at Brewitt Funeral Home will be the body that held the soul of my mother.  But "mom," as I know "mom" will not be there.  Or, at least, I hope she isn't.  That would actually be more troublesome because it will mean that her soul hasn't ascended to become one with the saints, a place where I think she deserves to sit, stand, dance, and above all, organize!

People are wishing me "Happy Birthday" on Facebook, or in email messages.  Unfortunately, as much as I can acknowledge that today is my birthday, I can't bring myself to be all that "happy" about it.  Don't get me wrong: I'm not regretting that I came into this world on time.  February 14th was my due date.  My mother laughed at the doctor when he told her I'd be born on Valentine's Day.  She was about to turn 40 years old, and she was pregnant with a Valentine's baby.  I'm sure that was hilarious to her; of course, Sarah also laughed at the thought of having a child late in life, too.

As the legend goes, my father and brothers had failed to note that June 19, 1967 was her 40th birthday.  She cooked dinner, served it, listened to their banter around the table, and at the end of the meal, in her best Peggy-style, said, "Well, now that you've all forgotten my birthday, I have a little surprise for you: I'm pregnant!"  The legend continued with my mom getting active in organizing Governor George Romney's presidential campaign in New Hampshire.  She had just gotten off the phone with some of his workers when her water broke.  My dad took her to Exeter Hospital, dropped her off (yes, just dropped her off) with the instructions, "Do the same good job you always do," and four-plus-hours later, at about 2:47am, I was brought feet first into the world.  This is apparently a hazard as there is a risk that I could have been strangled by the umbilical cord.  I was not, and my mom now had her first, and only, girl after three sons.  When she called my father to let him know, she began by apologizing for my gender.  I guess there was some kind of expectation that I was to be Richard Sheldon Gage.  Instead, I was Susan Chase Gage.  The doctor remarked that he'd never, in all his years, heard a mother apologize for having had a baby.  

Happily, both my parents not only got over whatever hangs up they might have been having about becoming parents again in their forties, and I'd like to think that I brought a new energy into their lives.  My mom and I had many adventures.  One of the most memorable was a trip by train across Canada, starting in Vancouver with a stop over in Banff and rumbling along through the Canadian Rockies and the plains and the northern side of Lake Superior until we reached our final destination of Montreal.  Mom engaged with other passengers, and I think, for her, this recalled her childhood spent traveling between her divorced parents in Michigan and New York.  She used to tell the porters that she was a runaway princess, and she imagined herself to be like the childhood movie star, Shirley Temple, who also died in the past week.  That trip was magical and special not just because of seeing the amazing scenery and talking with mom about it, or the fact that I became the whiz kid of the Via Rail Bingo games (seriously, I collected many little prizes because I kept getting Bingo).  But it was one of the rare mother-daughter times in our lives.  It seemed as though my mom could relax, and so could I.   

At the end of both of their lives, my parents looked at me in ways that communicated two messages: one was the immediate of their own circumstances of being ready to get out of the body; the other was to look at me for the permission to move on.  I will never forget the hand-holding and hand-squeezing exchange with my dad where the phrase that came to me was, "No fear and no regrets."  The other was two weeks ago with my mom.  The same thing: holding hands and having the phrase, "It's going to be OK," becoming the statement of the day.  That was the message I left her with when I said good-bye: it's going to be OK.

I hope today that I will carry that same message with me.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

I Got To Hold Her Hand: Margaret C. Gage, the Anonymous Peggins

Standing by for a video shoot for the Faust Film, "The Weimar House"

The news this week has been dotted with nostalgic moments of the night when the Beatles made their first appearance on American television on the Ed Sullivan Show.  One of the songs they played was their classic early signature tune, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." 

That would have made a good theme song for me at the end of January as my partner and I were attempting, in the face of unfriendly skies and constant flight cancellations, to get me home to New Hampshire.  All I wanted to do was hold the hand of my mother as she lay in Elliot Hospital with a ventilator in her throat.  I was lucky.  I got there in time.  I held her hand. I stroked her arm. I hummed the Episcopal hymnal to her.  I said good-bye.

My mother, known on her official documents as Margaret Bailey Clark Gage, but best known as "Hurricane Peg," passed away peacefully Friday morning at the Hyder Family Hospice House in Dover, NH.  She was 86, and more than ready to make her way home to God.  Heaven needs some organizing, and they've got the supreme force there to straighten them out.

My mom was definitely a force of nature, and that's been coming through as I receive messages from all the many people who were touched by her.  Jean-Marie Navetta, the Director of Diversity and Equality Partnerships with PFLAG National, recalled the impact "Hurricane Peg" had on the Republicans on Capitol Hill:

Nothing was like going to Lobby Day with (or without) Peg. On my first-ever PFLAG lobby day, she was not able to attend. There was not a single GOP office that I visited where at least one legislative aide or congressperson themselves looked around and said, "Well you're PFLAG. But where's Peg?" As a vet of more lobby days than I can count, I can say I'd never seen anything like that before.

A Republican, and a lobbyist for equal rights for the LGBT community.  Especially the "T" community. When my mom got involved in PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), she found many friends in the transgender community.  Every time anyone wanted to jettison including "transgender" in an effort to get "something" passed in the way of equal rights for the rest of us, my mom would bristle.  PFLAG moms and dads are not inflexible people, unless you want them to bend away from justice for their LGBT children.  Then, you better hope the branch does not come back to smack you in the face, or split your head in two! 

Mom's journey into PFLAG began when I finally got tired of fielding her questions.  She had many because, well, she had had no reason to pay attention to anything related to the LGBT community until I came out.  Luckily, I remembered seeing an article in our hometown newspaper, The Exeter News-Letter, advertising that Nora Tuthill, the wife of the doctor who delivered me, had started a PFLAG chapter.  They met in the Stratham Community Church.  I told mom about it and suggested that maybe these folks could answer her questions.

"You know Nora, mom, so these folks won't be strangers."

She went.  She saw all the most liberal women and men from our area in the room.  She listened to their stories.  And she got angry. 

What do you mean my daughter could be fired or denied housing for loving women?
What do you mean she can't adopt children because she's gay?
Are you telling me that my daughter is worth less to this society than my sons?

As I've told people, directing my mom to that meeting was the beginning of the creation I call "The PFLAG Momster."  She would call her state and federal representatives, write to them, knock on their doors, point her finger at them, and give them what-for if they didn't start righting these egregious wrongs in the name of justice and equality.  Her stated belief about politicians is that "they put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us," and so she was never afraid to tell them what she thought.

One time, when Sen. Bob Dole was running for President, she and my dad were visiting us in Tallahassee.  Dole was having a campaign event at the Moon, an entertainment venue only a mile from our house. 

"I want to go talk to him.  He wasn't in Washington when I was there, and I want to know where he stands on equal rights for LGBT people." 

I was not that thrilled with this idea because I really didn't want to have to go spend time around the Florida Republican Party.  So I agreed I would drop her off and pick her up.  She apparently stayed in the area close to the entry way.  When Sen. Dole came in, he saw her and looked pleased and surprised.  Mom had worked on the Ford/Dole campaign in 1976 and was an alternate to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City.  Sen. Dole and his wife Libby had spent time on our front porch, in our living room, and mom used to joke that Bob Dole was once in her bedroom... making a phone call.  So, the Kansas Republican knew very well who my mom was.

"Well, look at that!" he exclaimed, amazed to see my mother in Florida. "It's Peggy Gage! One of my long-time supporters!"

Mom wasted no time.  She smiled warmly and then went straight to her point.

"Hi Bob! I was in Washington, D.C. lobbying on behalf of my lesbian daughter.  You weren't in your office and I want to know where you stand on equal rights for gays and lesbians."

The way mom told this story, and I have no doubt about her reporting of it, it was as if all the blood was draining out of Bob Dole's face as he stammered to answer her direct question.

"Well, um, y'know, Peggy, I, um, I don't have anything personally against gays and lesbians..."

"Well, that's reassuring!" she says.

He fumbled his way toward saying something about not being against the LGBT people of the country, recognizing that this was becoming an issue.

"And I hope you'll vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act," she said, no doubt smiling the whole time.

For her, that felt like a fun and successful evening.  For me, it felt like my mom was my shield.

When my mom and dad moved to Florida to get my dad into an assisted living facility here, my mother's biggest concern was where was she going to go to church.  She was a cradle Episcopalian, and she raised her family in the Episcopal Church.  But sadly, 2006 was a time of great bitterness and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Episcopal churches around here because of the bishop of New Hampshire, Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson being an openly-gay man.  I had to tell mom that there was no way she could attend the Episcopal church in Tallahassee.  I drove her past St. John's and showed her how their signage didn't include the trademark Episcopal phrase about welcome, and the shield was obscured by an enormous Third Reich-looking eagle.  She was crushed.  I told her to go to one of the Lutheran churches.  She did.  It bored her. 

"OK, I'll see if I can find you an Episcopal Church."

I called Holy Comforter and asked, I think three times, for the woman to tell me if they were part of ECUSA.  "Seriously, are you an Episcopal Church affiliated with the headquarters in New York?"

The woman repeated again, "Yes."  So, I took mom by there to see the church.  She was OK with that one, but it still wasn't her cup of tea.  And she scared the rector when she met with him and started her conversation with, "I'm a Republican.  I'm from New Hampshire. Gene Robinson is my bishop and I love him!"  The poor man didn't know what had hit him.  Let's start with the fact that this is the South.  And in the South, you don't speak in such direct ways, especially if you're a lady with gray hair who uses a cane.  But my mom is a Yankee.  And Yankees don't drink sweet tea, and they don't sugar coat their opinions.

On Rosh Hashanah, I had taken my mother with me to my partner's temple.  After the almost-three hour service, we went to Lucy Ho's Chinese Restaurant to have lunch.  That's when we saw the newspaper above-the-fold headline that the rector of St. John's, in a moment of high drama in the church service, announced he was leaving and taking most of the monied people and vestry with him to start a "No Gays and No Girls" Anglican church down the street. He'd been sowing the seeds of hatred and homophobia for years in the place, but when he realized he wasn't going to be able to steal the building, he just stole about 2/3rds of the congregation, labeling the left-behinds "unorthodox."

I let out a shriek of joy.  "Mom!! Look!!! He's gone!! You can go back to that church!!"

She was so thrilled and excited.  I had told her it was the closest to what she'd know as an Episcopal Church in Tallahassee.  I got her settled in to attending services, and she found many new friends that she loved, including my eventual mentor, Mtr. Lee Shafer, and others including Fr. Lee Graham, and Fr. Harry and Lianne Douglas.  And while she was there, she continued her advocacy for LGBT rights in the Christian setting.  Given the amount of homophobia that had been infused into that church, curing them of this cancer took persistence on my mom's part.  But this wasn't anything new to her.  It just made her shake her head that she was having to go back over much of the same ground she had already tilled to make her own church in New Hampshire more gay-friendly.  But she did it while she lived here.  And I know she was very happy when I had my awakening and returned to the church to sit with her in the pew at services.

My mom was the first person I told that I had started this blog.  I was very cautious and shy about it because I really was wondering, "Why the heck am I going to start writing about being a queer Christian?  Am I mad?"  But she encouraged me with her comments.  She started out identifying herself as "MCG."  Then, for some reason, she found the comment section frustrating and insisted that she was going to post using the anonymous setting. 

"OK, but please sign your name," was my compromise.

And so, she'd post under "Anonymous," and then sign with her childhood nickname, Peggins.  This is how I came to identify her as "The Anonymous Peggins."  I gave her a gift one year of my blog as a book.  She loved it.  She told me that she kept it on her bedside table and read it over and over for a couple of weeks.  She encouraged me to take what I've posted here and turn it into a book of spiritual writings especially for those who have felt betrayed and abandoned by the church because of their sexual orientation.  I have known that pain, and I have come to realize that the many misdeeds done in the name of Christ over the decades do not negate the true message of Christ: that I am loved, I always have been loved, and I always will be loved.

I found it quite fitting that the day my mother died was Friday, February 7th, the day the Episcopal Church commemorates Cornelius the Centurion, one of the many early Gentiles that the original apostles encounter and discover--much to their surprise--that even these supposedly "unclean" people are destined to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  The reading from the Book of Acts is of the time when Peter, starving, dreams he sees a sheet come down with all kinds of "unclean" livestock.  He's instructed to kill and eat.  Peter protests, noting that these are not clean.  And God rebukes him, reminding him that "What God has made clean, you must not call 'profane.'"  He's then led to find Cornelius and baptize him.  That's when the eyes of Peter's heart open and he realizes that there is no distinction to be made between Jew and Gentile.  And we all say, "Thanks be to God," that he figured that one out!

These are the stories that also speak to us queer Christians about how deep, broad, wide, and unceasing God's love is for all of us; hence there is no real justification to leave us standing at the gate.  Mom enjoyed how I would articulate these messages, and she'd occasionally send them off to her clergy in New Hampshire with a "Look what my daughter wrote!" I simply articulated the message of Christ, which is the message of PFLAG, which is the message of my mom: Love.  Period.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory and may light perpetual shine upon her.

Margaret C. Gage, June 19, 1927-February 7, 2014
A Celebration of Life is scheduled for Saturday, February 15, 2014 at Christ Church, Exeter, NH, at 11am...followed by a luncheon reception in Harris House (the church parish hall)  Visiting hours will be the afternoon before at Brewitt Funeral Home.  Donations in the memory of Margaret "Peg" Gage may be made to PFLAG National (www.pflag.org) or NHSPCA (nhspca.org).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Healing Hymnody

This is the entry I put up yesterday on my mom's CaringBridge site:

The picture I've put here is the view out the window of mom's room at the ICU. As Tom said in his entry, mom is the prettiest lady on a sedative. Only today, she hasn't really been on much sedation. She's resting, and was basically asleep for the first 90-minutes of my visit. As with all my trips home, I really don't have a desire to do much of anything but hang with my mom. So, for a long time today, I just sat with her, holding her hand, stroking her arm, and humming softly some of her favorite Episcopal hymns.

"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee..."
"Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! His the scepter, his the throne..."
"Ye watchers and ye holy ones! Bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones, raise the glad strain, Alleluia!"

Lots of alleluias. I had a talk with today's attending doctor, and the palliative care nurse, and the many other nurses. It's heartening to see these folks paying attention, being mindful, and treating mom with kindness while having to do some fairly unkind tasks. Ventilation is not fun, and when my mom is awake, it's very clear that she wants the tube out of her throat. And, at some point, that will have to happen. She's doing her part to breathe as much on her own as she can, and we seem to be very close to her being able to do that. Her heart rate looks good. Her blood oxygen levels are also looking good. What everyone has told me, she has more color in her cheeks today than she did even three days ago. So those are all the positive and upbeat signs.

Still, this latest event has taken a toll on her. That's very clear to me. When she was awake, her first thing was to cry when she saw me. I don't know what the tears were exactly, but I can only imagine that there is frustration, fear, and perhaps the tears that a child would shed when they are finally reunited with a parent they'd thought they'd lost at the mall. Parents, when they age and when they are in these more fragile states, really are dependent in the way we used to depend upon them. And mom hasn't seen me since the end of September. Her eyes closed. I held her hand.

"Eternal Father strong to save, whose arm hath bound the restless wave, who bidd'st the mighty oceans deep its own appointed limits keep: O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea."

I stared out the window of her room. And I squeezed her hand. The one thing I kept telling her is that she's going to be OK. This is something I do believe is true. No matter what, my mom is going to be OK. 

I won't speak on behalf of my brothers, but I think we are all hoping mom will get a chance to start breathing for herself without ventilation soon. And from there, my hope is that she can breathe in comfort. For herself.

"Breathe on me breath of God. Fill me with life anew that I may love what thou dost love and do what thou wouldst do..."

As I sit here this morning, I realize that I didn't share what these hymns and humming these hymns were doing for me.  At times, it was hard to get through the melody line because I would start weeping.  This sometimes happens to me in church, by the way, and it makes it very hard to sing through watery eyes and a runny nose.  I would take a deep breath and start again, and found that the resonation in my chest, throat and mouth were aiding me as well.  And so a prayer for mom, a way to comfort her, became a way to strengthen and comfort me.  I've been praying for strength and courage.  Now I realize that there needs to be a more trinitarian approach: strength, courage, and comfort.  Here enters the healing power of hymnody.

In massage therapy, the person giving the massage also receives.  The theory is that we all are energetic beings, and the exchange of energy between therapist and client through touch is a powerful healing tool that is made more powerful when the therapist is open to the giving and receiving exchange that occurs with a universal force.  I call the universal force, "God," and my experience of that force is through Christ with the workings of the Holy Spirit.  The more open I can be, the more the energy I am distributing through my hands is a channel for God to assist in the healing.   Why would the same not be true for humming songs from my mouth?  And did I not recently talk about how God has put a new song in my mouth?

Just some insights for the first Saturday in February.