A Sewing Story

“In my end is my beginning.”  – T.S. Eliot

On Friday I received the news: my sewing machine was irreparable.  It was a simple machine and old, but it represents so much of who I am that as I listened to the pronouncement, tears sprung to my eyes.  Old faithful will stitch no more.  But before she is sent to the landfill, she has at least one more story to tell, that of her coming into my life.

The story begins in an 8th grade Home Economics classroom with my beloved teacher, Mrs. Sargent. Mrs. Sargent was artsy and impractical and what she lacked in classroom discipline (read: prone to chaos) she made up for with genuine kindness. When I needed a safe adult from whom to seek advice, she was my first pick.  So when Mrs. Sargent recruited me to enter a sewing contest, I was in.  This was a statewide Bicentennial sewing contest sponsored by the McCall pattern company and the winner would receive a brand new White sewing machine.oldfaithful

My mother was supportive but cautiously so.  With four kids and one income, disposable income was tight and entering the contest meant purchasing a pattern, fabric and trims to create an outfit that would in all likelihood have no useful value.  While I was already an adept seamstress, making many of my own clothes, the carrot of a sewing machine for the first place winner seemed far-fetched in a statewide contest. To save money, my mother taught me to make pin-tucks in the outfit so that I could use the cheaper edging lace.  We’ve always shared a laugh that the pin-tucks, born of austerity, were likely what drew the judges to my outfit.

Several months after the dress had been made and sent, Mrs. Sargent came beaming down the hall waving the award letter.  In probably the most competitive contest of my life, I had won first place.  My mother and I would now go to Detroit’s downtown Hudson store where I would model my dress and receive my prize.  For the momentous trip, we took the train and I was treated like a queen.  And I came home with my very own brand new sewing machine.

The machine has stitched many miles.  Throughout high school and college and even my early 20’s, I made clothes and curtains and even quilts.  For a brief time old faithful was dormant when I was given my grandmother’s more high brow Viking.  But after a few years of intense sewing, the Viking bit the dust and old faithful came out of the closet and was back in service.  Except for a few tune ups, she has sewn faithfully for more than three and a half decades.

sewingboxAdmittedly she’s been pretty dormant for at least a decade, this season of my life bringing less opportunity for textile creativity.  About a year ago, I tried to coax her into action for a few hems and she did a half-hearted job.  I realized that the tension was off, the stitch regulator was stuck, even the zig wouldn’t zag.  But I left her alone with her problems.  Sewing was a part of somebody that I used to be.

While creative sewing may be a dormant part of my life, survival sewing (read: hemming) is becoming increasingly insistant.  Finally last week I located a service center and took old faithful in. At the repair shop which is also a showroom I looked at all the fancy light weight and computerized machines with intrigue and a bit of skepticism, grateful for the heft of old faithful which made her worth the trip for repair.  But as I heard the sad news of her broken parts which are no longer manufactured, I realized that all good stories come to an end.

An end is, of course, a place of new beginning and so it is that I am the proud owner of one of those new lightweight computerized models.  The journey of letting go touched so many sweet memories that I found myself rediscovering an old love.  newsewingmachineFor a couple of days now I’ve been happily measuring, figuring, stitching, and creating.  The new machine is wondrous, but far more significant is the rediscovery of a part of me that loves the geometry of patterns and the creativity of sewing. Herein lies the timeless truth that winter must come before spring, closing a chapter allows a new one to open, letting go of a non-functioning tool allows us to grasp one that will empower.

As I sit with the combination of sweet memories with old faithful and excitement about a day of sewing before now me, I am mindful that in our parting we are wise to take time to tell the stories.  Pausing to sit with the stories before I rush headlong into the newness of the day, I find beautiful memories that deserve to be cherished and that inspire much gratitude.  Old faithful may have sewn her last stitch more than a year ago, but her last act was most surely that of sharing story.   And stories, well, they never die.

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a letter from one white mother to another…

I am a mother. To be more specific, I am a white woman mother of a son. And I am writing to other white mothers with an earnest appeal to begin a long overdue conversation.

To be fair, this is not an invitation that I want to share, it is a conversation that I have studiously avoided for decades. There are few, if any, conversations that I would like less. Yet our silence has become tragic complicity and the results catastrophic. Every mother in America held her young ones more tightly on Friday evening. But in the deepest night it is we, white mothers, who held the other child in our arms, the one who would carry the weapon and unleash the killing field.

Named or not, there are unmistakable demographic markers that are hidden in plain sight and talked about only by the most daring of pundits. White men are about a third of the population but nearly 75% of the perpetrators of these crimes. Most frightening for us, these are not our husbands, these are typically young men irreparably wounded in the transition into adulthood; these are not somebody else’s children, the unnamed demographics taunt us that these are our sons. And we need to talk, together, about this terrifying open secret that in disproportionate numbers our offspring are turning to weaponry to find power and place.

We will be tempted to avoid this conversation by demonizing one mother’s love, to try proving that either she or her offspring were unworthy. But as I sit quiet in the chill of the night, I know that this fearful trend is not about a mother’s failing but rather a culture that co-opts young foot soldiers in a silent (if deadly) war to maintain the myth of privilege. Undoubtedly there are improvements any one mother might make in relationships with her child, but the exponential growth of this kind of violent outburst cannot be laid wholey at the feet of parenting. In a chilling but insightful novel, “Nineteen Minutes”, Jodi Picoult addressed the topic of such killing sprees and placed the perpetrator in a normally dysfunctional setting such that few mothers could wiggle out of identification. The work was purely fiction, but the message terrifying truth: no one is immune.

Too we will engage with sisters and brothers across the aisles in conversations about mental health care and gun control. Undoubtedly we can do better with both and must. But neither would have prevented the catastrophe that we witnessed this past week nor the shocking trend in such horrific crimes. And neither conversation even begins to address the demographics that we can no longer afford to sweep under the rug. As we attempt to focus on important conversations about mental health care and gun control, there is a conversation that only we, white mothers, can have and we must.

We, the women who must bury not only the slaughtered but worse, the slaughterer. We, the women who know the tender inside souls of our young boys turned men in a world that turns their tenderness against both themselves and us. We, the women who raise the sons who become fodder in a war that we cannot see but nonetheless feel in our bones.

We, the women who volunteered in the elementary classrooms and watched the innocence recede. We, the women who were speechless when racism and classism benefited our sons disproportionately. We, the women who tried to find words to justify privilege when we knew in our hearts there were none.

We, the women who watched as our sons became trapped in the web of privilege which isolates and suffocates and leaves all but a few wanting for more. We, the women who looked on uneasily as our young sons absorbed the message that the world belonged to them and we, the women who grieved when our sons’ hearts later closed in the face of the cruel mirage, for despite the enormity of the privilege meted out, the world in fact belongs only to an even smaller subset. We, the women who watched our happy sons become first sullen and then angry.

We who are white mothers in a world of privilege gone wrong need to talk honestly. But even before we find our voice we must find the truth buried deep in our hearts, the truth that either all children are special or no children are. A social order which presumes to privilege some at the expense of others destroys us all. We who want every privilege possible for our offspring must recognize that such privilege unshared is a trap.

By whatever names we know it, the race and class schisms in our cultures, the privileges subtle and not so in our schools, the patriarchy in all of its forms needs to be laid bare. We cannot afford to feign ignorance, we cannot pretend that we do not see, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by conversations that circumvent this matter central to the hearts of our sons. The silent but deadly patriarchal assumptions of white male privilege are making carnage of the sweet boys that we once held in our arms. We, the white mothers of sons, must find our voice.

This is the least we can do as we stand in the precious few days between when our hearts were shattered by gunfire and when our homes will be filled for Christmas. This is the least we can do as we hold the innocence of the Christmas cradle in the shadow of Easter’s cross. This, an honest conversation, is the least we can do. And we must.

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a christmas prayer… for being, awareness and love

Timidly I wade into the Christmas machine and wonder if this might be the year that I find balance.

For many years I did my best to create the Martha Stewart Christmas with spiritual depth on a minister’s budget. Let’s just say that I have memories of beautiful dinners, happy children, and Santa magic, but rarely did they come at the same time. In the afterglow with nostalgia’s patina, some of my efforts look pretty cool. But if I’m making an honest account, the idea was always loftier than the reality and the stress I generated for myself and others weighed heavy on the magic.

I have incredible sympathy for John Grisham’s fictional family, the Kranks (“Skipping Christmas”). They are a couple whose children are grown and whose affection for the drama of the holidays has abated. They’ve decided to “skip Christmas” this year and head for warmer climes. As the story unfolds, Christmas finds them, ready or not, and of course they all live happily ever after.  My parents (perhaps having read the Kranks story?) bought tickets last February for a Caribbean Christmas for two and though I will miss them terribly (this is my first holiday season that won’t include at least a brief visit with my parents!), I admit to a serious amount of envy.

My empathy is not really Grinchy so much as skeptical. All of the money and energy and hours that we spend leave us, year after year, feeling depleted rather than fed. The myth of Christmas, American-style, is that our doing can bring the peace that passes understanding. And the elusive truth is that our doing can’t. Only our being and our awareness can foster the sacred dance of peace.  More tragically, our being can only provide the conduit for this experience when our doing settles down. As we chase our tails through this or any season of life, we miss that which we most crave.

Conversations with friends at the time revealed at least a part of the problem for a young minister mom. Despite all of our efforts at egalitarian family structures, there remains a serious gender-divide when it comes to the creating of Christmas magic. Totally devoted to the making of the magic, I was simultaneously pastoring churches where, lest we would forget, this is ‘high holy’ time and pastors are working late into the night. Daring to look beneath the patina, I am keenly aware not only of the magic of the season but too the exhaustion and worse, the inevitable bottom that finds us each January.

A key piece of my journey in recent years has been letting go of the stuff, the nouns, the trappings of life and this spiritual shift certainly challenges how I have traditionally navigated the holidays. Once upon a time, by this second week of December cookie dough would be mixing after the children were tucked into bed, shopping lists filled my mind and desk, and packages were already filling my closet. Today is December 13th and just this week I bought a couple of Christmas presents. We have some decorations out, lights up, and music on but I’ve spent more energy avoiding the commercial enterprises than partaking.

Even as I have very intentionally slowed my pace and checked my expectations, I feel an unbidden push to do. The once decorated kitty tree is undone (but the paper ornaments did not shatter!) and the rest of the decorations are still awaiting attention. The kids will be coming home next week and there are meals to consider, presents to buy, cookies to make. As I moved through Schnuck’s (grocery) today, I found myself pulsating between two disparate impulses. The one impulse was to plan the perfect dinner party and the other to cover my head. I recognize this as a fight-flight dualism that no longer works for me, but I wonder wherein lies the balance.  Noticing all the accouterments for the perfect dinner, I find myself wondering if Christmas would come without a festive meal. Perhaps what I wonder is if festive meal necessitates a fatted calf and fine wine? Will Santa’s magic dance if the children are now adults and the festive meal is breakfast instead of dinner? Will the birth of love be as real if I sleep in late and sit at the table in my pajamas? What is it that makes the celebration holy?

The truth is that the answers to the questions will be different for each of us. The real challenge of the holiday, if the goal is to dance with sacred, is to set my priorities and expectations based on my own internal rhythm and not yours.  Too often we judge our insides by others’ outsides, measuring ourselves against a perception of our neighbor, trying to keep up and always feeling behind. If our intention is to experience the indwelling of the sacred this month, the spiritual heart of our Christmas story, we must be attuned to our own inner spirit and not our neighbor’s.

All week I have carried a Deepak Chopra quote:  “The universe contains three things that cannot be destroyed: being, awareness and love.”  When I reimagine that first mythical Christmas night before any of the pageantry began, I realize that these three were defining and still today they represent the heart of the season.  And herein lies the secret to balance.

Note: The first and third picture, and much peace this season, come from a Facebook page called “Eleventh Step Meditation“.

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charity challenges

Although it is yesterday’s news, I was really struck by the important and untended lessons in the story of the NYC police officer buying shoes for the homeless vet that wasn’t homeless. Apparently a passing tourist took a photo of the charitable moment and the photo-story went immediately viral.

It turns out that the vet has a very modest stipend, a Section 8 apartment, and when last seen was again barefoot. The new story line is that the vet was gaming the system or at least the police officer’s charitable soul. Maybe so, but I’m skeptical of the rush to both dismiss the recipient’s genuine need and trumpet the failed largess of the officer.

For one thing, this demonstrates a failure to understand the spiritual movement of generosity. While I applaud the gift given by the officer, the recipient response is not relevant to the story of generosity. The spiritual act of generosity is judged solely in the giving.  According to Jewish wisdom teaching, there are actually eight levels of charitable giving.  Giving to the poor when asked is #6 of eight, just above giving unintentionally and giving begrudgingly.   Higher on the list are giving without expectation and giving anonymously.  At the top is giving in such a way as to enhance independence. (Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity)  The beauty of the officer’s generosity stands independent of the recipient’s response, which is important for us to remember as we “evaluate” charities this month.  The call to generosity is not an invitation to judgment.

We also have a failure to understand the complexity of challenges facing those in poverty in our nation. If you’ve not had the experience of feeding your family on foodstamps or standing alongside someone who is, I am not sure how to even begin to build a pathway for empathy. The everyday mountains faced by those who traverse poverty in America are truly mindnumbing, the “handouts” are just enough to keep a recipient desperate and needy, never enough to cover the basic expenses for food, clothing and shelter. The decision to wear shoes or not could be a function of mental or physical health, but just as likely the return to shoelessness could be function of economics, a choice between wearing the cool new shoes or keeping the heat on, or perhaps even more likely – the cool new footwear targets the wearer for theft. In this strange case of New York “shoe charity”, the timeless advice to suspend judgment until you’ve walked in the other’s shoes is literal.

Finally, this story offers an addendum that is priceless.  There is a postscript that reminds us that when we fail to respect the human agency (read: dignity) of the recipient, our expectations are upended so quickly as to leave us covered in the mud that we assumed belonged elsewhere. This is, in my opinion, the best part of the charity-gone-awry story. It turns out that the man who was photographed did not give permission for his likeness or his story to be used by anyone else. So as the story went viral and the man’s image was making the NYC police office a national hero and the tourist potentially wealthy, the ‘recipient’ of the charity demanded a fair share of the limelight’s profit.

It is this final turn of the story that gives me hope. While the naysayers called the vet’s claim greed, they’ve missed the point. Greed simply reaches for more, but in this story there is a human being who has been reduced to an object (ie: homeless vet) who refuses to comply with the dismissal. His demand for compensation may of course be fed by greed, but it comes from a place of knowing inherent human agency. And worth. “I am a man.” His story is not ours to tell, not without his permission and profit.

The everyday sacred lesson in this story is that one person’s challenge is not an object for another’s self agrandizement. Which brings us back to the timely lessons on charitable giving and the spiritual tools of generosity.

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ssm’s (silly stupid mistakes) which are neither

A project that has consumed my spare moments this fall is preparing for a big math test. It turns out that in this era of high stakes testing for kids, we do the same for teachers so in order to renew a lapsed teaching certificate, I need to pass a test. And though I would love to share commentary on the educational disaster of testing, this particular challenge has been enlightening for me on a couple of levels. Though once a strong student with a Math major in college, Math is a language that I haven’t used for decades and so to even do a first run at this test I have to start from the ground floor relearning. As I practice problems I have discovered a zen in mathematics that is new and precious. I have also rediscovered a once familiar nemesis: ssm’s (silly stupid mistakes).

Math teachers are notorious for taking credit from students who understand the theory but offer up mistaken solutions based on ssm’s.  While my theologian’s heart is with the students on this rant, I have a memory as a young teacher that bears witness to the relevancy of accuracy. I was sharing a problem on a giant whiteboard and was well into it, grateful that the class seemed to be engaged and watching with great interest. Minutes clicked by as I worked, nearly an hour into it I was finally winding into the homestretch for the great finale. It was a beautiful proof drawn before us, except that it didn’t work. As I reached for the final piece, it was wrong. I stared at the board in disbelief and then I heard a giggle from behind me. As I turned to the class, I discovered they were all grinning. They had noticed, way back in one of the first movements, an ssm. One insignificant ssm and the whole proof is rendered… gibberish.

No matter how much brilliance we pile on top of a faulty foundation, the fissures remain. And such fissures threaten the entire structure.

Nobody wants to return to square one and start over again. No one relishes the pain of digging down to the place of the fault to offer renewed strength. But without a solid foundation, our subsequent labors are in vain.

This simple truth has real world significance not only when designing bridges and mechanical wonders, but also in human relations and even politics. As I read this week’s news about the elections in Israel (out with the moderates, in with the extremists) and the UN’s recognition of a Palestinian state (to the dismay of the US and Israel), I couldn’t help but wonder at the myriad of fissures which lie beneath the tragedy facing the inhabitants of a tiny landlocked region half a world away. Make no mistake, the United States is a big player in this tragedy. While we decry our own budget woes and threaten to slash Social Security and Medicare, we are sending $8.5 million dollars every day to the Israeli army*. But no amount of money is making peace on a foundation of colonialism that denies the basic civil and human rights of local residents. The colonial assumptions that foreign powers should dictate the fate of local communities is no small or silly mistake, and the history which may seem ancient to our children is as real as the morning sun for those who must eat the bitter fruit.

Cleansing the wound of injustice means removing the well intentioned but foreign voices and allowing the muffled voices of those most vulnerable to be heard. Only at this depth can true peace find a firm foundation. Attempts to enforce peace on anything else will simply be new shows of force with the trampled bodies of innocents adding yet another layer to the faulty footing.

Sometimes the most loving act is the difficult one of truth telling.  As I remember the coy smiles of a class of freshman Algebra students, having caught their teacher at the end of class with a whiteboard filled with gibberish, I am mindful both of my vulnerability in having made a mistake and also my need of their candor to point it out.

Life’s important lessons find us wherever we may hide.  For today, I see the value of backing up to a place where the arithmatic is accurate and the footing is sound.  From this place, I see the value of learning to speak with gentleness and compassion, yes, but also with relevant truth and appropriate humility.  Ssm’s which are neither silly nor stupid have no place in a world where children’s lives hang in the balance.


*This is an unbelievable number but true.  In 2012, the US sends $3100 million every year to the Israeli army.  Perhaps even more surprising is that this number bears witness that total US aid to Israel has in fact *reduced* significantly from former levels. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Once upon a time, a colleague pointed out an implicit anti-semitism in our traditional carol, “O come, O come, Emmanuel”. She suggested that singing about Israel needing to be ransomed with Christ as the atoning sacrifice was disrespectful of our Jewish sisters and brothers. Over the years I have remembered her challenge. I have sung the traditional words and refused to sing them, I have printed them for the congregation and printed alternatives. My sense is that the theology underneath the traditional words is about the human struggle with attachment and that though the offensive words are not helpful, this theological expression is worthy. Here is one attempt to reframe the familiar opening verse.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And move us from this worldly spell
Our spirits cry in exile here
Until the song of love appears.
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
For love is coming now to dwell.

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thanksgiving fog

As we move somewhat blithely into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in middle America, Wal-Mart workers are planning a (first-ever?) strike, bombs are reigning with new passion in Gaza, and the weather this morning is utterly bizarre.   Despite the worldly events that would otherwise capture my attention, I am distracted.  It is the weather that captures my imagination as I try vainly to focus on seemingly more important subjects.

The sky looks like Christmas morning.  Gray yet filled with promise in the way that only Christmas morning can.  As I gazed out my window, I felt a childlike sense of wonder and anticipation.  I talked with a mom as I walked in this morning who said that her children looked at the sky and proclaimed that it must be snowing.  Which is exactly how it appears, except not.  There is no snow and no precipitation of any kind, and it is oddly warm, very warm.  In fact my light sweater was almost too much.

Scientifically I know that this sky has specific names (beginning with “fog”!) and that there are particular factors that come together to make it just so.  When I get home this evening I will ask my favorite science teacher to explain and I will delight in the deeper understanding that she will share.  In this moment, though, I am left with the poetry of the sky which is at once filled with promise and also the unmistakable hint of foreboding, caution.  Together they dance in the sky making visibility difficult, a veil that lays over the world and slows us down.

There is much wisdom in respecting this veil where possibility and caution meet.  It is an uncomfortable place that we wisely avoid, delaying the start of the day and even the next decision until the fog lifts.  Without the gift of the fog, the heady stand-off of energies, we rush too quickly down one path or the other.  The weight of the fog slows our steps, deepens our breath, and invites us to more careful choices.

In a pace more gentle, I am struck that so much of the drama in my life and in our world would be quieted if we practiced the gift of the morning fog.  Pausing to respect the energies that collide, their power for both good and evil, we would use careful words and listen with new care to any manner of newsfeed.  The caution of such space slows our holiday rush, offering room for more respect for all of the players.   Yet even in the caution of the moment, there is an unmistakable promise in the air.  The children felt it, and so do I.  The promise is what some call our “still speaking God” and others call the “everyday sacred”.  The promise is Santa Claus’ surprise and the mystery of flying reindeer.  The promise is that after the longest night comes dawn and that the fog will lift.

As I feel the rhythm of the keyboard beneath my fingers, the sky is clearing and I am aware of how precious the moments we have to take notice.  Soon I will be in the car and on the run once more, but for this precious moment I am keenly aware of the holy that is as palpable as the sky itself.

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giving thanks for limbo-land (really)

Limbo is the place between here and there, the place that is the already and the not yet.  It is an uncomfortable place and often associated with all kinds of negativity, but as I write from this place I am suspicious that most of life is lived here unawares.  Despite our definitions, calendars, and certainties, we are in truth always making one step at a time in a journey whose beginning is shrouded and future unknowable.

What is different for me (and for our church) in this particular season is the awareness that change is in the offing.  This is the last pre-Thanksgiving letter that I will write as pastor of our congregation, the last time I will sing “We gather together” with our community, the last time (fill in the blank).  This mantra is maudlin and largely unhelpful, but the recognition of impermanence that lies beneath it beckons with powerful hope.  I have this one pre-Thanksgiving letter to write today.  We have one precious opportunity to sing “We gather together” with each other on Sunday.   We will have an opportunity to (fill in the blank) together.  We might hope for more, but in our reaching we miss the wonder of this one day, this one opportunity, this one moment that is ours.

An image on Facebook this week shows two children walking a path, stepping into a beam of light.  Both the past and future are shadowed, the only ray of light illumining the moment.  The image was spellbinding in the spiritual truth it conveyed.

My friend Laura works with children in a shelter situation and remarked about the context bringing their conversations into the present moment.  For the children with whom she works, the past is often frightening and the future unknown.  This moment is what they have and their conversations are therefore grounded in the present.  Importantly, this experience with the children is a highlight in Laura’s life, the children share such joy and delight in the now.

Especially in this midst of these strange weeks that are post-announcement and pre-retirement, I am often at loss for the rhythm of the known.   I used to be the one in charge, at least nominally so, and soon I will be letting go.  In this space the reins are at times lose in my hands and at times lurching.   Sometimes I doze off, other times I feel jolted into action, and sometimes I ride with contentment.  When I try to see behind or before, my frustration mounts with the teasing images just out of view.  When I rest in the moment that is now, invariably I find breath and peace.

It’s an interesting practice, this being in the moment.  Often I have innocently proffered the question, “so what are your plans?”  Now I am learning anew the value of not knowing.  Drawn to ponder “what will I be when I grow up?”, the more pertinent question is “what will I be in this day?”.  For this one day, I choose to be compassion… and so it is that limbo’s gift today is compassion.

For the gift of limbo, I give thanks.

(Note:  the image comes from a wonderful FB page – https://www.facebook.com/eleventhstep)

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Friend #549 – Lost to the Celebration

Yesterday I lost a friend. As the day dawned we were friends, by nightfall we were not. Once again the comma holds the story.

This friend was a childhood neighbor. He lived across the field and we were in classes together from kindergarten to graduation. We were never particularly close, mostly I knew him as the boy who lived next door to my good friends. Which really isn’t much to know. And then came Facebook.

When I joined Facebook a few years back, I did so for professional reasons. Many of our community members were connecting online and for a pastor it seemed a natural outreach. I am intentional about following posts of church members and friends, I love the first day of school and Halloween parades of our young ones, and I find news about births and deaths for a huge swath of our community from Facebook. With intention I offer posts that attempt to publicly display one person’s navigation of faith and culture, hopefully offering words of encouragement. Admittedly politics and personal information are a part of the genre, and my goal is to be transparent and humble (that elusive stand between hubris and humiliation) as I name my place in the midst of it.

The unexpected bane and blessing of Facebook is that this medium instinctively tries to blend your worlds. Almost as soon as my account went live I started hearing from high school classmates. It turns out that in the world of Facebook the need for class reunions is totally preempted. Now we see each other in real time across the miles with all of the successes and failures and politics of our current lives in full view on the screen.

An important piece of backstory may be that I grew up in the backwoods of southern Michigan, the land that birthed the Michigan Militia; it is hardly a breeding ground for the progressive spin on religion, politics and life that are my current reality. (Read: I was an odd duck.) Inasmuch as my Facebook persona is an authentic reflection of my truth, it is often quite at odds with the values of the neighborhood in which I was reared. As Facebook brings together these disparate threads of my being, my colliding worlds do not always find harmony.

I discovered the dissonance almost immediately when a high school classmate I barely remembered began to share rants on my page that were offensive both to me and likely to members of our community. Early on I discovered that you can change the settings for individual friends and I was able to block him from posting without de-friending him. Eventually he must have discovered that he couldn’t post and he de-friended me. Admittedly it was a year or more before I discovered I had lost that friend.

The loss this week was a bit more complicated.

Through Facebook, this friend and I had actually had a couple of conversations deeper than any we’d had in our entire growing up. The faux-intimacy of electronic connection can be both fascinating and unnerving. In a few fiery conversations (gratefully in the message department rather than our mutual walls), I experienced the phenomenon known as “incite to discourse”. This is when someone with a differing view or perspective asks to dialogue with the (sometimes unconscious) intent of using your words to bolster their argument against you. When I realized the dialogue wasn’t open, I walked quietly away from the conversation and opted out of his newsfeed. Apparently he hadn’t opted out of mine.

After this week’s election, he added a public comment to one of my posts, chiding my celebratory attitude. A few spars later and I now have one less friend. What has become clear to me is that more important than a growing list of nominal friends are the precious opportunities for real discourse that begin with a set of shared values. So I will no longer debate my right to love whom my heart loves.

Similarly, I will not accept being scolded for celebrating freedom. Healthcare and economics aside, 11/6/2012 delivered a stunning message of hope for the LGBT community. Every single marriage bill (Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington) moved us closer to full equality, an openly lesbian woman (Tammy Baldwin) beat out Wisconsin darling Tommy Thompson for the Senate, the President who spoke in open support for same-gender marriage saw an electoral college landslide, and we heard it all not from a straight white man but from none other than an out lesbian, Rachel Maddow. Accused of gloating, I was unabashedly glowing in the aftermath.

And so it is that I lost friend #549. But, of course, a friend who would scold a lesbian for celebrating the victories of 11/6/2012 isn’t much of a friend.

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Post-Sandy Musing: Take your Truffula Seeds and Vote

Marrying a science teacher has amazing perks and only a couple of drawbacks. Touring a few of our National Parks on our honeymoon, I had the privilege of “seeing” the parks through the eyes of science teacher. In park after park we saw the evidence and heard the stories of how the earth has shifted and changed over time, living proof that change is constant.

Nowhere was this truth more touching than in the town of Holbrook, New Mexico, home to the nearby Petrified National Forest. The town and even the park itself were a testament to a time in our nation’s history, just a couple of decades ago, when American families piled into cars and toured the Great West. The tourist shops are old now, mostly abandoned in our new trend of weekend getaways and Disney-type action. Rural poverty creeps back into communities who saw a boom-bust cycle that crested with the middle class back in my childhood.

In Holbrook we stayed in old Route 66 motel that had been restored, owned now by recent European immigrants who’s hospitality was truly magnificent. This was the place where the owner-manager saw our honeymoon-car and left a card and Champaign in our room, congratulating us (women!) on our wedding. Holbrook holds a sweet spot in my heart.

Stunning for me in the park was not simply the tree shaped rock formations, they looked pretty much like the chunks of strewn trees that they were. In fact if you didn’t know better, you might think you were at a slightly above-average sculpture park. What was stunning was their story, how they came to be in that particular place. Hearing the story, my mind struggled to integrate two competing truths, one that we were in the high desert and the other that we were walking through what was once a wooded swampland. I am familiar with both, but cannot conceive that one place had once been the other, that one geographic location held two such dramatically different climate experiences in different eras.

Climate change isn’t new and is actually quite natural.

What is new and absolutely unnatural is the current rate of change propelled by our human footprint.

Taking into account the dramatic shifts that the earth can and naturally does make, witnessing the total juxtaposition of two eco systems, I saw a window into how dramatically our place on this earth can change. I realized in a new way that our hastening of climate change could actually lead to a climate hostile for humans and ultimately even to our extinction. While this realization was dawning in my non-science oriented brain, a new study was published regarding ocean gases (toxic for humans) that will be released as the waters warm. In the moment of dawning, I found a shard of hope in the realization that an earth that could hold both the petrified forest and the high desert will find a way to right itself, with our without our humankind.

Debating whether global warming caused Sandy is, at least for us non-science folk, probably futile and simply obfuscates the facts that are most salient at this point. The earth is changing as a matter of self-definition, fact. The earth is being changed by human choices, fact. Inasmuch as these changes contribute to our own extinction (or in truth, that of our great grandchildren) we would be wise to hold hands, face the truth, and make different choices going forward. But even before the cooperation necessary for such an endeavor comes the willingness to honestly address the facts. Tragically even the changes in our earth and atmosphere have been politicized and polarized.

Our human ability to deflect and defend is so ingrained that it will ultimately be our undoing. Throughout this election cycle we have seen countless examples of how humans have gathered around altars of fabricated concerns, bluntly denying uncomfortable truth in any number of arenas. Millions of Americans actually listen to, and presumably believe, charlatans who tell them that storms are caused by gay people (yes, you can’t make this up) and that there is no such thing as global warming or climate change. In fact a site that calls itself “Ice Cap” (http://www.icecap.us/) exists not only to debunk the science but also to fabricate connections between Obama and Osama bin Laden (nonsensical or no, this site was the first to pop up in my Google search and at first glace appeared to be legitimate). In our state (Missouri), we actually passed a law in August that allows parents to remove their children (without consequence) from science classes that might introduce the topic. Basic facts about the earth, weather, and our human interaction with them have been labeled “liberal agenda” and millions of unsuspecting children are not only denied access to education but are simultaneously filled with hateful lies. Meanwhile, the ice cap melts. (Great site for real science students: http://nsidc.org/)

“Pride goeth before a fall,” my mother often said. And this time the fall for humans will likely be catastrophic… unless.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

As we walk into our polling places this Tuesday, we are holding the last precious Truffula seeds. Use them with care.

p.s.: Inquiring minds might still be wondering about the drawbacks mentioned in the opening sentence. There are two:
1. My beloved copy of the Lorax has gone missing.
2. I can’t keep a bottle of vinegar in our home. I keep replacing bottles which disappear as quickly as they are replaced.
If you’re considering marrying a science teacher, my resounding advice? Buy extra copies of the Lorax, place a standing order for vinegar, and go for it.

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