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Jesus' Death

I quite enjoyed the first few pages of this.  But then it gets problematic.

If I am walking with Jesus -- and I think it's questionable -- then how vulnerable am I supposed to be?  Because I would like more security in my life.  I am aware that this life is short, but I would like it to be somewhat worry-free, and I feel that by making myself a little more secure it can be.

Jesus was vulnerable and he died.  Of course we all do, but I was hoping to postpone it awhile.

My Rohyngia friends in Myanma are vulnerable.  They are unarmed, unprotected, undocumented, and they are facing near certain death. To what extent do I have to walk among them?  (Only until December.)  I won't have to actually face that question of whether or not I would die with them.  But the question is definitely there. You know, this puts it there.

And what is this thing where Jesus gives up hope for a different outcome?  I don't know.  I'm a person of hope.  I'm always saying that.  "We live in hope," I always say.  I hoed I would catch my rat, and I did.  Hope... it's not all bad.

So I found this troubling.  I have not worked all that through.  I am not sure I want to be friends with Jesus if he's going to be like that. 

I remember when I was baptized.  I was just a little thing.  Someone told me that when I was baptized I'd get a new life.  This, of course, is a lie and it is bad theology too.  But that often does not stop people who think it's alright to take that kind of liberty with a child. 

Well, I was a very, very serious little Christian and I believed them.  You can imagine, then, how disappointing it was to go home to the same house, the same parents, and the same life.  What about my new life?  I cried myself to sleep that night and Jesus did not do anything to help me. 

That's kind of how I feel about this.  I got lured in with the Kingdom of God, justice rolling down, and all that...  and now I find out that I have to build the damn thing and God may not even help.  Jesus is helpless.  There's just me and a few other hopers and prayers... Honestly, it does seem like a raw deal.

We Go With Him

I think just about everyone knows this one by heart, but I thought I'd put it up anyway.  No reason for me to be the only one with an earworm this morning
Dorothee Soelle says "If I esteem him (Christ) then I lift him ever higher and have nothing to do with him, I use my admiration to keep myself free of Christ."    

Another place I see this, and I may be drawing on my years in Texas for this, but there is the phenomenon of the Food Uv The Crows.  You may know it better as the Foot Of The Cross, but in Texas we just say Food Uv The Crows.  This is heard most often when there has been some conflict which people are keen to sweep under the rug.  "Whale,"  they say, "We need ta jus all gather together at the food uv the crows..." 
Of course they never suggest exactly what will be accomplished by this, who will accomplish it, or what possible good it might do. But it sounds almost as good as lift high the cross.  Regrettably, it has the same result which is to keep us from traveling along with Jesus, to isolate us (either above or below) and to distract us from the journey with images of false glory or false humility, neither of which are helping us along the path.
At one time my solution to this was that what we needed to do instead was gather around the eucharistic table.  That way, I reasoned, we were at least looking at one another.  A lot of religious people used to like it when I talked about that.  But that was really very similar to lifting up, and gathering 'round.  It separates.  Jesus is over there in the bread.  Now he is somewhere in me. Oh, look, he's over there in you too maybe.  Where the hell IS Jesus?  

 Since then I have come to see all so-called sacraments as mere tools that the clergy use to manipulate the laity and to keep themselves separate and holy... not like us pew warmers, the sheeple.  If all us lambs behave properly --  which is never spelled out -- then can come to church and eat Jesus.  Otherwise you will be ostracized out, made to feel unwelcome, or, like me, just kicked out.  I used to worry about that because I was a big fan of the sacrament, and it was hard on me not having ready access.  I do not believe, though,  that Jesus would want me going around kow-towing to a god-damned priest for what has already been given freely and lovingly.   If all I get is clerical scraps, begged from a lilly-white table then I'll find God somewhere else.

And, of course, what with God being everywhere and all, that has not been difficult.  

When I was a young adult I was not what you would call a real proponent of the poor.  I thought it was nice that they came to church, and we had a shelter, and a food pantry.  Oh, I thought all that was fine, but I didn't really want anything to do with it.  Yet for the last decade or so I have found that every time I look up I am surrounded by the most vulnerable and despised people of any community. I am working out what that means for me.  Where Jesus is.  How to go along with him.  

There are lots of ways I've separated myself from him over the years.  More recently I thought it was good to go around telling people about him, telling them that they were accepted and loved.  I even got a little gig preaching at a church in Wuxi and I told people how God loved them all.  Oh, that was great.  Then I realized that nobody wants to hear about love and acceptance.  They want to be loved and accepted.  And I thought, "Dang, God... I was doing good with that."  But it was still a way for me to do something for others, something for God, something for myself too because I quite enjoyed that.  But it wasn't walking along with Jesus, his poor, his vulnerable, unarmed, undocumented, shamed ones.  

And in other ways I've done better.  

Sometimes it is hard for me to tell what I'm doing. 


Obedience and Disobedience: The Nation, Religion, Gender

I was most interested in the material on obedience and disobedience since obedience has never had a good result for me, and disobedience generally gets me in trouble.  It is one more reason to avoid the other humans entirely and go one's own way. 

I am glad that Soelle breaks it down into three areas (the nation, religion and gender) because I think that they really are three different things, especially religion where I have a much more Benedictine take on it.

First she talks about obedience from her perspective as a German, and I think that many of us in the United States should share such a shame as we are complicit in even more atrocities than the Germans ever were. 
As a United Stater I am ashamed of my country, and I am ashamed of its lack of shame.  
It is true that as nation/states go, the USA is one of the better places to live.   It's at least in the top twenty.  But it is also one of the biggest purveyors of destruction too.  We pay for our ease with the blood of others.

I can see that from the earliest beginnings of my life I was made to give my allegiance to this terror state called America.  We place our hands on our hearts, we sing the nationalistic theme song, we fly the flag because we have been brainwashed into believing that America is the greatest nation that has ever existed.  And that sort indoctrination is still going on today!

In public schools all across the United States students are taught to get up and stand in a line when the bell rings.  They raise one finger to go to the toilet, two if they want to say something. (I can teach my dog more complex tricks than that.)  The public school system does not prepare children to become thinking members of society, it prepares them for one of two things: obedience or prison.  (Or leave, of course.) 
Yet, curiously, many of these indoctrinated children grow up to love and identify with their country.  Regular flag-wavers they are!  America the Great, and all that jazz.  Soelle says it better than I can when she says that identification with the aggressor, the ruler, and the violator is the worst thing that can happen to... really to anyone.  I do not identify with America.  It's just a name on my passport.

Next we talk about obedience and disobedience in religion.  I was glad that Soelle drew a distinction between authoritarian and humanitarian religions.  I was first exposed to the authoritarian kind (Southern Baptist), but spent my adult life, until recently, in a humanitarian one (The Episcopal Church in USA). 
I have always been thankful for being somewhat raised by the Baptists (and the vast majority of Baptists in the USA are Southern Baptists so I am going to use those terms interchangeably.)  The Baptists made me memorize the books of the Bible, who wrote them, and when.  They also made me memorize long passages which have stayed with me.  And, most significantly, some very good Baptists provided much needed stability in my childhood.  Later, my Southern Baptist affiliated university gave me a very broad liberal arts education which has served me well.  So, yea for the Baptists.

But I see how they also set me up for a type of thinking that I would later have to abandon.
I was a good and obedient Baptist.  And what that means is that I was "saved."  I had "asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my personal savior."  I prayed a "special prayer" for that to happen.  It's almost amusing in its absurdity.  In my own defense I was only five, and while I do not believe that that prayer saved me, I do believe that it was the start of my being saved.  And when I'm all the way saved I'll let you know because it is a process that has continued long past the amen of my "special prayer."
What that did, though, is that it placed me in a special category:  the saved.  And if there are some who are saved, then if follows quite naturally that there are some who are not saved.  If some are obedient, then some are disobedient, Some are good, some bad,  Some are going to Heaven -- that's where I was going!. And some are going to Hell.  This sort of dualism stayed with me right through my first year in college when I finally had to jettison it all.  I didn't not know what I was jettisoning it for, only that it didn't comport with the God I had known even before I knew the Baptists.  So it's true that obedience presupposes dualism.  It did that for me by putting me in a special category, thus creating an opposite category too. 

I eventually found the Episcopalians and that was a happy home for me for many years.  As Soelle describes, it was less authoritarian and more humanistic. Episcopalians are not known for their obedience.  Of course, not many of them disobey either.  They are a tepid lot, and that suited me just fine.  Obedience and disobedience aren't real issues in TEC.  You work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  The church may or may not provide some guidance on that, and they offer the liturgy as a structure for you.  But you're pretty much on your own.  As it should be.

On the rare occasions where I found obedience an issue it only involved clergy, never laity, and there was capitulation, no real question about whether or not to obey. Mostly I've seen it used as a reason:  "Well, I am under orders..."  And later it will be used as an excuse, "Well, I was under orders..."  Of course the ordination process weeds out any candidate who is not desperate for the approval of others and willing to do anything to get it.  So they "obey" quite nicely.  That is one of the ways that authoritarianism has been a hold-over even in the more progressive or humanitarian churches.  
Episcopalians are even worse at disobedience.  Witness the proliferation of the various "Anglican" missions, churches, and clubs of the self-disenfranchised.  It's all so middle-ages.
So I am not sure that my years in TEC really prepared me to speak on obedience or disobedience in a religious context.

But there is another way to think about obedience, and that is to think of it as obedience to Christ. This sort of obedience, of course, can't be entered into blindly and it can not be used as an excuse.  In fact, it makes the obedient one accountable.  Benedict talked about this sort of obedience and he said that it can never be coerced and is based on listening for the voice of God.  So I would say that this type of obedience, based on holy listening and entered into freely is something that we can consider along with the more traditional/authoritarian model.  (Just Google "Benedict on obedience" and I'll bet you get some good hits on that.  My internet clock is ticking or I'd do it for you.  They are limiting us even at the internet cafes now!  But I think that's worth looking into.)
Finally, we talk about obedience and disobedience to the expectations of society, especially as it relates to sex and gender expectations. 

I was conditioned to be a compliant heterosexual woman.  My mother even gave me tips on complementing  a man.  I was dressed in the finest petticoats and pinafores money could buy.  Oh, and the patent leather shoes and socks with the lace.  I had pretty little girl handbags and I knew the proper way for a lady to get in and out of a car.  I waited for the gentleman to pull out my chair for me at dinner, and I smiled at all the right moments.  By age six I was programmed for success as a Stepford wife.

Of course, we see how that worked out. For those of you who don't know, I didn't turn out that way.
In some ways it was easy for me because I made a clean break of it.  But even now I know that some things are expected.  Heterosexuality is so expected that no one in Burma even suspects that I am gay.  It simply doesn't enter into their consciousness.  It's not a possibility.  (Oh, the hairdresser who lives across from another friend of mine knows.  He looked at me one day and I knew he knew.  But we keep one anther's secrets.)  People say to me, "You only one?"  and some are even more blatant, "Where you husband?"  or "Why you no husband?"  and I want to say, "Because I'm a big lez, you moron."  But I don't.  I just smile.  And I hide it.  And then I feel a little bit less like myself.
Closer to home we've had DOMA overturned and Prop 8 is no longer a threat.  And there are expectations that go along with that too.  Of course, we'll all have to be oh so much more acceptable now, to go along with our new acceptable status.  And I wonder what will happen to the flaming queans, and the queer girl/boys, and the kids who used to get minimum-wage jobs just off Christopher Street because they had left home without a high school diploma... because they had to.  And maybe they made a little extra dough working at a club or something but at long last they were free to be gay, gay, gay... and now the world tells them again, to put away the glitter eye shadow and be a man and look acceptable for all the straight people.  And, for God's sake, don't wear a skirt.  What about them?
For me?  I know that the really fun days of being queer are over.  From now on we will have to keep our fabulousness under wraps a little tighter.  We don't want to mess it up for the good (conforming) gays, after all.
No matter how much progress a society makes there will always be the rules.  Greatness, genius, and glitter will always be squelched and the dominant culture will assimilate the blandness while the rest of us queers go on... underground... with our glitter and flannel shirts.
I will say one more thing about it.  I am all for the great feminizaton of God, and Christ, and all that.  But, like liturgical dance, it sometimes goes too far. Really people, we can't arrive at a new concept of God just by changing pronouns.  I am so weary of that that even though Saint Benedict would disapprove (he had a lot to say about "murmuring" too) I am going to say it anyway.  You can't just change the pronouns.  Desirable as that sometimes is.
Just one quick example. -- I have six minutes -- The two most radical words in the world are "Our Father..."  and often I hear it changed to "Our Mother..."  (I'm talking about in THE Our Father, the Pater Noster for you Latin geeks).  And God is mothering.  I can justify that statement with as many verses as you can.  But in emphasizing that aspect of God, we loose the radical nature of those words which give everybody the same father.  And that great equalizing pronouncement, that we all have the same father, actually gives power to the powerless.  So it's not enough to change the pronouns.  We have to come to a radically different concept of God which includes all genders and which goes way past the pronouns.  --  That one with the Pater Noster is just one of my personal pet peeves.
I wanted to say something about belonging to Christ on account of his powerlessness, because he only has love to offer, but I sense myself rambling more than usual and I am out of time.
As usual, your mileage may vary.  Probably will.

I thought we had some very good material this week and I have lots more thinking to do.  Thanks for your comments.  I always find a way to read them all even if I don't respond.

With time to spare,



Children And Their Wonder

April 2013 - Rangoon, Burma - Outside The Strand Hotel.


This is almost three days late, and surely a dollar short, but we do what we can do...

For one thing, I am glad to know what a spirituality of creation is. I was afraid I was going to have to go out and hug a tree or something. I have hugged trees, so I guess I am a tree-hugger. But I can't hug just any tree, only those I genuinely love. But wonder, renewal, beauty, joy... I can do that.

I do that quite a lot, actually. It does amaze me each morning that I have been brought in safety to the new day AGAIN. It is amazing enough to me that I can lay down, loose consciousness, and then reawaken refreshed even one time, but to do it every twenty-four hours (more or less) really is remarkable. I mean, where do we go when we sleep? What brings us back? We begin each day with this miracle, so I don't think it's any wonder that we continue with a sense of appreciation and awe throughout the rest of the day.

But, here's the thing for me, I am all about the wonder and awe, and I give thanks and praise to God, and I feel so blessed because I've lived longer and better than I ever thought I would, and those thoughts and feelings are very clear here in my house where I sleep, and pray, chant, and read. They are even clear to me as I leave home and greet the little birds, and closer to work where I see brother dog and sister dog. My heart is so light and giggly by the time I get to the 108 Shoppe to buy a soda that the clerks have dubbed me the Happy American. Sometimes they even ask, "Why you so happy?" And, really, I have come to believe that being happy is probably the most effective Christian witness I've ever done. Everybody wants a piece of whatever you've got.

But at some point during the day I notice that I am not really that happy anymore. I feel tired and generally just aghast at the world. It's so noisy and demanding. Culturally and socially, I am constantly lost and screwing up. And, whatever else I might be, I am not joyful, renewed, or appreciative of any damn beauty. Know what I mean? This was especially acute yesterday. I woke up with my usual rose-colored glasses on, but as soon as I got to the airport I noticed that... well, never mind all that, suffice it to say that I became grumpy right away. And I asked myself and sort-of generally directed it to God as well, "What's up with that?" Just a couple hours ago I was in awe over the sound of raindrops on my umbrella, but now I feel like an ogre-bitch. How is such a wild swing even possible?

And that brings us to the two things that I disagree with in Sister Dorothee's writing.

1. I don't think feelings matter that much, and

2. We were not "born for joy." I wasn't anyway.

Let's take the first one first.  Soelle says that only the broken person has been socialized in a culture that prevents people from loving creation and experiencing it in wonder and awe. But, I think we are all broken, and we are all products of that culture. It's no good dividing us up into the broken and the unbroken. If my brother is broken, then I'm broken too. We're not all so separate as to be easily divided.

When I look at the world I see that it really does suck. This is a very bad world: it is limiting, violent, and hard. There are only three dimensions, we all live in prison of time, survival is hard, there are ghosts of violence around every corner, and the smell of death just down the street -- sometimes I hate this world. It is most certainly not conducive to joy.  I would say that joy is one of our best defenses and weapons against this place. I would say that joy is a tool, not a reason for being.

The reason I was born is to help get this place ready for the Kingdom Of God. And I've frankly got quite a lot of work to do because... just look at this place. Bur mere brokenness will not hold me back. Joy is a gift, a shield, a sharp and swift sword. I'm all for it. I won't leave my house without it. But it's not the reason I am here. It is a tool I use.

And the other thing I disagree about is the emphasis on feelings and words. Oh, sure, I was irritated yesterday morning at the airport when my joy seemed to vanish and the grumpy seemed to come. But those feelings are just feelings. The brave little birds fluttering in the rain did not go away, the juicy droplets did not stop their melodic pounding. None of that went away. There was still a magnificent sunrise, even though I barely noticed it. So I really don't put a lot of stock in feelings.

From time to time someone will lament to me that they are going through a dry spell. "I just don't feel close to God," they will say. Or, "I don't feel like God is listening to me..." The thing is that those are just feelings. If you don't feel close to God, that doesn't mean that you aren't. If you don't think God is listening, it doesn't mean she's not. It just means that something in your perceiving isn't perceiving it that way. Don't pay so much attention to how you feel about it. Good feelings feel good, bad feelings feel bad.  Generally, though, they're just feelings.

When we chant the Shma we sing the first part heartily and loudly. "BARUCH ATA ADONAI, ELO..." like that. We sing it like we really feel it. But the second part is almost a whisper "baru shem kvod malkutho, lay o'lam..." like that. Very softly.  And this reminds us that sometimes we can hear God, and sometimes we can't. But God is always singing to us. -- Sometimes we appreciate the beauty of the world, the noble dog, the scampering gecko, and sometimes we don't appreciate it so much. But the dog is still noble and the gecko still scampers. God is still singing.

In a related vein, it seems to me that this chapter places too much importance on language. It begins with an assertion by Soelle that she is looking for a new language. But, I gotta say, I am not clear on what was wrong with the old one. We have a saying down in Texas, that's where I'm from, we say, "If it 'aint broke, don't fix it." (Of course what we MEAN is, "If it's not broken, don't repair it." But, I digress.) I am fine with the language I've got. Sometimes another language might have a word I like but when I try to teach my friends about such things it just irritates them so I am not sure how useful that is either.

If there is one thing I've learned from living in places where I don't know the language it's that words really aren't that important. People like to say "words matter..." and it's usually someone who is way to prissy for their own good who is saying it. The truth is that unless you are entering into a contract or other legal agreement, they do not. Meaning matters. Words come and go. In their native language, most people say exactly what they mean anyway. I used to know a woman who would say something hurtful and then she'd say, "Oh, no, I didn't mean that, that didn't come out right... let me say it again," She was so earnest and appeared to really be struggling with finding just the right word.  And then the person she said it to would want to help her, and even feel sorry for her. But the truth is that she had said exactly what she meant the first time. I observed this many times and I called her on it once. She admitted to me that she did it because, "It's so hard for a priest to say some things." Of course, not everything needs to be said.

Again Soelle says, "We rush to discover a language" to talk about the object of our love. "We have to articulate it," she says. And to that I say, "No, actually, we do not." We may, but we do not have to. When I was in my "articulate it" phase it was because articulating was the only way I had of understanding, and understanding was the only way I had of being. Oh, how limiting that was! We most certainly do not "have" to articulate anything, and most things that are worth being -- joy, love, light -- are things that aren't really understandable or articulatable anyway. (I know some people who think they understand them, and God knows I am not going to do anything to try and dissuade them from that opinion, but... I'm kind of like "whatever, dude" on that.)

Articulating is a poor person's spirituality. Becoming and being are where the gold is. Just be the joy, be the love. That is how you change the world. That's how we get it ready for the Kingdom of God. Understanding it is really laughably insufficient.

So, for me, as I prepare to leave this little bubble of that is my flat and enter into a world where I really don't understand the rules or mores, I want to remember that I am a child of God, I am loved by God, I am close to her, and she is still singing to me, even when all I can hear is traffic and all I feel is disoriented and stupid. Because I am loved by God I can be love. And because God is joyful, and God is in me, I can be joy too. And none of that is dependent on how I feel, what I understand, or how I articulate it. It's my job. THAT's why I'm here. I say NO to this world and it's insanity. The way I do that is by being its opposite. When I sing, or if I even dance, the evil forces of this universe tremble. When I become joy to the extent that it makes others think I'm up to something, the very foundations of evil quake. Understanding, articulating, even working real hard... none of that is as effective as just singing.

I have only read this twice so after I do the more thoughtful final reading I may change my mind entirely.

As usual, your mileage may vary.

Oh, God... am I blogging again?


Just so everyone knows, I am now blogging here. I still have my private blog, and I'll update Rowan's blog from time to time. But, mainly I'm here. Thanks for reading.


Outta Here...

It's time to let everyone know that my plans to get out of Texas have been finalized. Most of you know that I have been working towards this for about two years, deciding what to do, and where to go.

As it turns out there is a good opportunity for me in Wuxi, China. Very flat and verdant, much like the Texas Gulf Coast. I think it's a pretty town, and an exciting place to be. I'll be working at the Wuxi South Ocean College in the School of International Cooperation. We serve about 400 students who are preparing to continue their studies in English-speaking countries and we have relationships with schools in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK.

Of course you are naturally more concerned for little Rowan than you are for me, and that is totally understandable. He will stay right where he is, at his Mama Rita's house. He has a dog door which exits onto a large back yard. He digs holes, runs, and barks more than the neighbors would like. But, I'll tell you what, there are no squirrels in Rowan's area. I have been acclimating Rowan to his new home for over a year now and I have every confidence that he will be happy and continue to receive the level of care that you know I demand for him. This was never something I was willing to compromise on, and I assure you that if I hadn't been able to make adequate arrangements for Rowan, I wouldn't be leaving.

I am probably leaving someone off this email, I'm sorry for that. I will, however post to the blog and you may feel free to share this information should you find anyone who is interested.

Here's some photos of Wuxi I snagged off Google Images.

wuxi, city of wuxi, jiangsu provinceTLake-wuxi.jpg.jpg

You can see that there's lots of water. Wuxi is on Lake Tai Hu which is gigantic. Lots to see there.
Buddha seems fairly popular. A temple on every corner...

Cable Bridge over the Yangtsee River

Apartments overlooking the Grand Canal in Wuxi, China

The city is crossed by ancient canals, still in use. Very cool, I think.

Downtown area of Wuxi China

Wuxi Skyline

You can see that it's a city of contrasts: New and old, Modern and traditional, a small village of five million!

I leave on Saturday. Wish me luck.

Many kids Buddha in Wuxi.


Not yet...

So, I went to the salon yesterday to get myself made even more beautiful. I know, I know, it's hard to imagine. Anyway, my manicurist was watching some sporting event on television. It was the one where men run across a field with an oblong shaped ball and pretty girls dance at half-time. And, for no other reason than to be nice, I asked whether or not her team was winning. "Not yet," she said. And I thought that was a wonderfully optimistic way to look at it. So, from now on, instead of viewing things in terms of winning and loosing, one way or the other, maybe we could look at in terms of not having happened yet. Has justice rolled down like water? Not yet. Do we have a church with no outcasts? Not yet. Is the game over? Not yet...


I know that most of you have been wondering what you can do to help make sure that the Ryan White CARE Act is re-authorized. God love you, all of you.

The best thing you can do is let your elected representatives know that this is something that you care about. A handwritten note, a very short note, is best. But, you know what? If you don't have time for that, just call them up. Here's all you need to know...

Here's the address and phone number for your president:

President Barak Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

The telephone number for the comment line is 202 456 1111. If you know who you want to talk to, and do not use this line to try to talk to the president, but if you need someone specific, call the switchboard at 202 456 1414. Either memorize these numbers or put them in your speed dial.

Or, you can even just use this special form, right here on the computer, couldn't be easier.

To find the DC address of your congressional representative go to this list. But, here's a little tip for you. Let's say you're not in the mood for all that clicking around on the internets. What you can do is just write the name of your congressperson on a nice envelope, on the next line write HOB, on the next line write Washington DC 20515. It is very likely to get there. Do the same thing for your senators except you use the letters SOB, and the zip is 20510. That's just for if you are too busy to actually look it up. And no snickering about the SOB thing. It stands for Senate Office Building. Why? What did you think it stood for?

Now, supposing you are feeling very industrious, you can earn extra points by writing to your senators and congressional representatives at their district offices. Oh yeah, the district office is where the local yokels work and they'll give your letter the buzz it deserves. This is mainly because most district offices don't get that many letters and about all they do is boring case work. So, make some district manager's day and send him a letter. The addresses are at the site above.

If you don't feel like writing. You can call. You don't even have to know the phone number. The only number you need is 202 224 3121. Again, you should memorize this or, at the very least, put it in your speed dial. All you have to do is ask for your congress member and you'll get right through.

When someone in your representative or senators office answers the phone, ask to speak to the LA for ...whatever. Well, don't actually say, "whatever." In this case you want to speak to "the LA for health care," or you might ask for "the LA who would answer questions about the Ryan White CARE Act." That way the LAs who are loitering in the lobby can jockey to see which of them wants to jump on it or dodge it, depending. LA stands for Legislative Assistant. It's a title given to recent college graduates who are the children of high-dollar donors and, occasionally, people who actually know something of the subject area they are responsible for. It is likely that the LA you speak to will be most earnest but will not answer your question. That's OK. Just kindly offer to call back again in about a week, and then shock them by actually doing it. Extra points if you remember their name!

You need to know a couple things about the Ryan White CARE Act before you call, though LAs sometimes like to help educate you and some of them are good at this so let them tell all they know.

A good overview of the act is available here. Also, here. Don't be confused by all the acronyms. It's plain enough. Just read the first couple of paragraphs of the second one.

One of the things I like to do is tell people exactly how much money we are talking about. Here in Texas, in 2007, we got $147,840,421. That's a lot of dough. Texas is one of only twelve states in the highest funding category. So, no matter what you think about HIV/AIDS funding, why would anyone turn down that kind of money?

In the same year, Fran's state, New York, got $333,968,334. That's more than any other state! Surly her senators don't want to loose that kind of money.

In Diane's state, Minnesota, the amount was significantly less at only $12,808,247. But, still.

When you give your senators a specific monetary amount it does two things: One, it helps them think of the measure as something that benefits all their constituents, not just the ones with HIV/AIDS; and it also lets them know that you care enough about it to have done some homework. People who know the issues also vote.

If you want to know how much Ryan White CARE Act money went to your state, go here. Click on your state to get the exact amount.

You can also let them know exactly how many of their constituents are living with AIDS. In Texas it's nearly 35,000. In NY 75,253 people live with AIDS. In MN it's 2,439. To find out about your state go here. Just roll the mouse over your state to get the number.

And, finally, if you find yourself dealing with hard-core Republicans you can always quote George W. Bush:

"Because HIV/AIDS brings suffering and fear into so many lives, I ask you to reauthorize the Ryan White Act to encourage prevention, and provide care and treatment to the victims of that disease. And as we update this important law, we must focus our efforts on fellow citizens with the highest rates of new cases, African-American men and women."
-President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, February 2, 2005

Almost no one is opposed to Ryan White. It's a funding source of last resort. But, and this has happened before, it's about to sunset (that means expire) and nobody has thought to re-authorize it. It can get temporary funding through a CR (that means continuing resolution) but it still has to be re-authorized. Try to use the word re-authorize.

Good on you, all of you, for your great concern on this. And thanks for standing with me, glowstick in hand, (see previous post) as we continue on.


People With Glowsticks

I'm the kind of gal who just loves a glow stick. It's true. I once even lifted my shirt to get one. It was one of those big ones, the size of a baton, well worth it. Not that the girls were at all exposed, always strapped in as they are. But, still, these days I'd probably just buy one. You can get them anywhere. But, I was happy to get one at the Ryan White CARE Act demonstration in Houston last week. They were small and red, nobody had to show anything to get one. But, they glowed. I love that.

You've probably heard me say that in 2007 Texas received $147,840,421 of Ryan White CARE Act funding, one of only 12 states in the top funding category. This is important for all Texans whether HIV+ or not. This matters to us.

You may even have heard me quote George W. Bush on the subject:

"Because HIV/AIDS brings suffering and fear into so many lives, I ask you to reauthorize the Ryan White Act to encourage prevention, and provide care and treatment to the victims of that disease. And as we update this important law, we must focus our efforts on fellow citizens with the highest rates of new cases, African-American men and women." -President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, February 2, 2005

So, it won't surprise you to know that I invited nearly 40 people from my small town to accompany me to Houston for a small demonstration on behalf of reauthorizing Ryan White CARE Act funding. Forty. What will surprise you is that not one of them came with me. Not one.

I emailed with one just days before the event and asked if he was coming. "I don't really care about AIDS," he said. "And," he tried to reason with me, "you don't go to Texan's games so I'm not going to this."

Well, he wasn't going so I should have left it at that. But, I couldn't resist reminding him that no one would die because of my absence at the Texan games. As you already know, that had no effect on him.

As for me, I rustled up a buddy in Houston and we had a lovely time. For a pre-demonstration dinner we went to one of Houston/'s lovely restaurants and we both got those little pupusas with some vegetable medley. I had spinach and something in my pupusa. All very nice. And we went to the demonstration. I had long-since moved on from it until this afternoon.

I was standing in the que down at the local supermarket, you see, when I ran into one of last week's invitees. We chatted for a few minutes about something meaningless, at least to me. And then I said, "Hey, you should have come out to the thing last week, we had a good time." And, thinking she'd missed something, she wanted to know who all went and where we ate. Those are the two big questions in small towns. So, I had to tell her that it was just me and a friend from Houston, and that we'd had pupusa's which she'd never heard of. She was relieved that she hadn't missed out on a trip to Spaghetti Warehouse. Don't want to miss out on that!

I helpfully added that the rain had let up for the demonstration and that there were about 60 people there. Of course, I told her about the glow sticks too. "Oh," she said. "Well, 60 people isn't enough to make a difference. You have to have thousands of people before anyone pays any attention." Hum... Well, you all know how mild-manned I am, or am I just beaten down, it's hard to tell. Anyway, I just said, "Well, you may be right." And then we talked about the new take-out menu at the deli. No more hot items after 2 pm.

There would be no blog post, I wouldn't have given it another thought, except for this. As she turned to go she said, in that all-knowing way that small town women sometimes have, "I don't know why you go to those demonstration things. They don't do no good. ...I'm glad I didn't go. It was a waste of time." And then she kind of swished away. And, truly, this is not a woman who should be swishing anywhere.

So, I stood there and I thought about that. In some ways she is right. People don't care. It didn't get so much attention. And, in the old days that is why we did things like lay down across Pennsylvania Avenue. For the attention. That's what ACTUP was about. Attention. There was a time when I thought getting attention for HIV/AIDS was so important that I risked arrest, sometimes was arrested, spent endless evenings planning, organizing, and smoking pot with those gals from the Methodist thing. All for the attention. Because my friends were dying and, as my supermarket friend said, people didn't care.

But, you know what? People know now. If they don't care, that's their thing. But, they know. So, why keep demonstrating? Because, it's not for the attention. That's not the reason.

There are only two reasons that I came up with, there at the supermarket, and they are both good ones:

We go because it's the right thing to do. Because it's one way we have of showing solidarity with those who are affected by HIV. And, while that doesn't really help them, it's a powerful kinesthetic reminder to us! We keep going to remind ourselves that this is the kind of people we are, this is what we stand for, glow stick in hand.

And we go because others are watching. The woman I took to the demonstration with me wouldn't have gone otherwise. The pupusas and my charming personality got her there. But she has now had the experience of wearing a red ribbon, holding a glow stick, and standing up for something she is trying to believe is important. I think she wants to be a little bit radical, but she doesn't know how.

And, there are the others. Some who finally took a stand, however tentative, towards saying that they will actually work for justice. Maybe they'll call a congressman, or write a letter, or just talk to someone. Even if they only do one thing, they aren't doing it alone because we all stood there together with our glow sticks.

So, what if we didn't get any attention, if nobody noticed? That's not why we do these things. We have our reasons, all of us. We have our grand reasons, like it being the right thing to do. And we have our individual reasons, the ones we can name: Amy, John, Stephen, Kevin, Brian, Tao... do you really want to get me started? Because I can go on, Dale, Michael, Bruce Juan, Peter, Ken, Dave, Bill... I can't forget the other Michael. It seems unfair not to name them all. Part of me goes to remember, sure. I go for them. But, mainly, I go because there is still AIDS and because the work is not finished, and I need reminding.

If you think that's a waste of time, well then maybe your time would be better spent contemplating the deli menu.


A Jewel In The City

My friend, Billy.

I learned as much about the streets from one month of talking to Billy as I learned in the previous decade. This is a man who knows his way around. But, look carefully. Because Billy knows something else. Something that still baffles me. He knows how to have hope, even in hopelessness.

Billy has no family, no friends that he trusts, only one leg, and extremely poor vision. His hands are calloused and unstable. He gets health care from the VA when he can get there. He experiences hunger and thirst every single day. He told me that. Billy has no skills, though he used to be able to read and write back when he could see. He can't get up without help. He relies on the goodness of strangers for that.

It makes you want to bury your face on the table and weep, doesn't it?

Well, don't be so quick to weep because Billy does have a few things. He has hope, for one thing. I'm not talking about hope of a nice home, or even a nice meal. Billy has hope of the resurrection. He told me this in one of our first meetings and totally without prodding. Really. This man on the streets is hoping in the resurrection. He didn't see it but I just about burst in to tears when he said that. Don't know why, really. But, I felt this statement of his somewhere deep, in the core.

And there's something else. Billy has a calling. He doesn't call it that, I do. But that's what it is. Billy gives a blessing to almost everyone he encounters. "God bless you, and God bless your kin," he says. "God bless you, and God help you do good." Billy told me he offers people a blessing because it's the only thing he can do. I told him it was the most important thing I could think of, and Billy pointed down Pearl Street, toward Wall Street and said, "What about all that?" "I think you might be richer than all that," I said. Billy laughed. He knows.... Billy knows.

I am wondering how I can ever be as convinced of my own worth as Billy is convinced of his. I am wondering how, in my affluence, I can find a little hope. How does hope happen? Because I don't know. I wish I did, but I don't. I am wondering if I can ever be as rich as Billy.

It's raining here in Texas. And, all I can think to hope for my friend is that he is warm, or cool, and dry, and safe, that he has eaten. But, most of all, I hope he is still giving blessings and offering hope to a world baffled by his riches.

There a beggar goes! Heaven and Earth he's wearing for his summer clothes!

Wray, William. Sayings and Tales of Zen Buddhism, Reflections for Every Day. 1. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, 2006. Print.


"Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh,"

I believe I told you about Andrew Ramer. Well, here he is again with a post that left me speechless. This is gorgeous.

From our cool friends at Jewcy:

Twice a Heretic
from Tales from Andalusia

"Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh," we say to You in prayer, three times over. "Holy, Holy, Holy." And now I find myself before You, at thrice the age of a boy who has had his bar mitzvah. I cannot count the times over all these years that I have awakened and called out to You, still in my bed, I stand before You, God. I have thanked You for the purity of my soul, for the wonders of my body. I have praised and exalted You, over and over again, in words of my own, in synagogue, joined with my people in common prayer, Sabbath after Sabbath, festival after festival, fast day after fast day. I've read psalms and even written them to You, as all of my friends have, calling out to You, O God of Israel.

When I was twice the age of a bar mitzvah boy I remember asking the rabbi of my youth this question: "After all of these years of calling out to God, why hasn't He called back?" The rabbi's answer was simple. "To the prophet Elijah He spoke, we are told, in a still small voice." I knew nothing of still small voices. Our household was always filled with people, and our prayer halls are always jammed and noisy from men's prayers. Curious about how I would ever hear that still small voice, I asked my Christian friend Rolando about silence, for I had heard that Christian monks spend long periods of time alone, silent, in prayer. He told me what he knew, gave me a book of his to read, which invoked the same passages about the still small voice. So I found places to still myself, in the attic, the cellar, in the synagogue at times when no one else was there. Once, feeling very brave, I asked Rolando if I could go to church with him, and he took me, at a time when mass was not being offered. He led me to a tiny chapel, where candles flickered before an image of a saint. I was nervous and yet curious. He knelt and I stood in silence. But I did not hear Your voice, God, although we remained there a long time, and I have tried, in the middle of the night, when I wake, to feel my way to You in the silence, to open myself up to You, in the silence. But You never spoke back to me, God, not one single time in all of those years.

Once when we were boys, and he had just come back from mass, I remember Rolando telling me about the mystery of Jesus, how he was God Himself, come to earth, come into a human body. That he was born, suffered, and died for our sins. It did not make sense to me, why the Creator of all that is would have to do that. But it makes sense to me now.

The first time I saw him, God, come into a room, I felt as if a comet had shot its way down from the heavens, down across the sky, sending its fiery tail out behind it, illuminating the night. I felt as if that comet had flared its way across the sky and then careening downward, had slammed into my chest with the force of a gigantic cannon ball, crumbling my defenses, smashing through all of my protective walls, setting me on fire. Each time that I saw him, God, walking in the city, in the market, in the bathhouse, I burned. And if I saw him with any other men, such rage flamed up in me that I feared for my actions. And I ran from him, turned my back and fled each time I saw him. I am not a boy, God, as you know, and this foolish youthful passion is unseemly.

So why did You do this to me? Why didn't You just speak, as You spoke to the prophets, directly, or spoke to the rabbis of old, in a lesser voice, which we call the daughter of a voice? God, I would fall to my knees before You if you spoke to me in the great great granddaughter of a voice, in a voice so tiny that it would make a whisper sound like waves crashing on the shore, or the crack of lightning shattering the sky, or the thunder of horses across a plain, pulling iron chariots. Instead, you have come to me this way, turning me into a Christian. For now I understand what Rolando was telling me all of those years ago. You do enter the world. You can be born. But this time it is me who suffers, me who is dying, me who yearns to sin and live for my sins. What madness, to be twice a heretic, for now I believe like a Christian and not a Jew. But I cannot join their church for I do not believe that Yesu was Your only begotten Son, but Abdul.

Abdul ibn Rachman, the son of a minister to the king. Abdul ibn Rachman, even his name sends shivers through me. I ran from him. You know that I did. I turned and ran, double heretic that I am, falling in love with a Muslim. And now yesterday, in a voice so loud that I could not deny it, You called out to me through him, and I ran to You. A cart out of control, thundering down the Street of the Tailors, just as I was passing. I heard it before I saw it, and I threw myself up against a wall as it passed. But there ahead, there was a crowd. They too did the same, all of them, press themselves flat against a wall. But the horse was wild, and the cart was rocking from side to side, and a single man with his back to me was struck as the cart shuddered by. I saw it rip into his shoulder, and I heard his scream. Being a physician I ran toward him, as he fell into the street, holding his shoulder, in agony. A woman beside him began to scream for help, as I fell to the ground beside the fallen man. "I'm a doctor," I said to him, as I lay a gentle hand upon his back. "You're going to be all right." I did not know that. It's something that we always say. You know that. So I said it, as I slipped a hand down his back and slowly lowered him to the street.

You did this to me, God. This is the way that you have answered all of my years of prayer. For when I turned him from his side to his back, it was those same dark eyes looking up at me, now in terror. I pulled my shawl off, rolled it up and quickly put it beneath his head. He smiled at me weakly, upside down. I told him I had seen what had happened, and asked him how his shoulder was. He winced as he tried to move his left arm toward his right, to feel from the outside what I knew from his grimace must be very painful. Was his shoulder dislocated, broken, torn? Blood was seeping through his clothing. I was about to say something else when two servants came running through the crowd which had gathered. They were servants of his father's. But You know that. You know how they gently lifted him and carried him back to his father's house, and how I followed them. And You know how all the way there he clenched my hand and would not let go, and how each time the servants slipped or loosened their grip on him, he would shudder, wince, cry out in pain. Later, when I had examined him and found out that nothing was broken but skin, nothing dislocated but our hearts, he told me that he was ashamed that he'd cried out. And I said to him, "Every cry is a prayer." And he said, "This is the first cry of mine that has ever been answered." Surely this is a sign from You, that two men find each other who have been looking for You without success, who find You in each other. And so I say, thank you.

Dog Friends

This is Rowan's friend. Her name is Samantha. She's old but when Rowan is around she gets a burst of energy, she clicks her little paws on the hard floor, sometimes she even runs back and forth for no apparent reason. She only does this when Rowan is around.

I have a couple friends too. I know, I know, I've been a grouchy gal since coming back to Texas. But, a few people are still willing to be my friends.

And I've noticed that, like little Samantha, my friends influence me. Some make me laugh, others help me think. Some are just good for hanging out. A few can cook. But, in their eyes I see a little of myself. I see myself the way they see me. And, you know what, they do not all have the same image I do.

I don't think I have anything to say about that. But, isn't it interesting? And, isn't Samantha a cute little dog?

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. -- I Cor. 13:12


All Our Opinions

We all have an opinion these days, don't we? I mean, I do. Go ahead, ask me anything! I've probably got something to say about it. And, it's likely that what I have to say is something you need to hear. I mean, that's how it is, isn't it? We all have something new and fresh to say about everything, all the time, and we are always right... Yeah, that sounds about right to me.

So, on that subject, here's a little something for all of us to think about:

Nan-in, a Japanese master received a
university professor, full of learning and talk, who came to inquire about Zen, Nan-in served tea. He filled the visitor's cup and then kept pouring, The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself.

"It's over-full, No more will go in."

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?

I do have thoughts about this, and speculations. But, maybe I should let my quick analysis go and see if something else shows up in my cup...

Wray, William. Sayings and Tales of Zen Buddhism, Reflections for Every Day. 1. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, 2006. Print.


A Little Parable About Getting Along

The Episcopal church asks each diocese to contribute 21% of its income to the budget of General Convention. That money goes for a wide variety of things, including GC itself. There's the Church Center and its staff, committee meetings, and many, many, mission initiatives -- foreign and domestic -- which are funded through this budget. It's really a thing of beauty, the budget of General Convention.

So, anyway, most of the diocese give about that amount. Newark gives 25%, I think. Some give less. It seems like pretty much a voluntary thing. And nobody wants to see harsh enforcement. TEC is more of a communal enterprise. When one can't pay as much, the others take up the slack. No big deal.

There are, however, some who abuse this system. Texas, one of the richest diocese around, like top one or two in income, usually pledges about 8 or 9%. Really paltry. It's miserly of them because if they changed their priorities from fancy diocesan conference centers to being part of the Christian family they could easily give 21%. I mean, Newark could probably have a nice new diocesan conference center if it only gave 8%. Lots of dioceses, dioceses which give sacrificially, could have better wages, nicer facilities, and big fancy miters for their bishops. But, they have different priorities. Their value is on belonging, contributing, being a part of something bigger.

I think this is really tacky of Texas. Besides that, I think it's spiritually dicey. And I am totally serious about that. But it's been going on for a long time and I don't give it much thought. But, I'll tell you something, I was caught up short when I read this in the diocesan newspaper:

Assessment payments have been the subject of a good deal of discussion at recent Executive Board meetings. In an effort to clarify their position and better understand the situation, the Executive Board has asked that those congregations who are more than 120 days in arrears with their assessment payments as of August 31, 2009, send their Head of Congregation and Wardens to attend the Executive Board's meeting on September 15 at Camp Allen. The leadership will be asked to explain the financial and stewardship issues that the congregation is facing.
Now, it sounds like they are going to have some kind of a "Listening Process" regarding the payments which are in arrears. But, don't bet on it. If history holds, there'll be strong-arming and humiliation. I would like to think that maybe I am wrong on that but, you know, history...

So, the richest and stingiest diocese is now putting the heat on those from whom they wish to collect. Makes you go humm, doesn't it?

There's a story recorded in the Bible which you may remember. It's about a king, a high level bureaucrat, and one of the bureaucrat's peers. Let's call them The King, Lord Lucky, and Screwed Guy.

Lord Lucky was high up in the scheme of things, responsible for all that money and everything. (You can sometimes guess at the status of people in parables by the amount of money connected with them.) But, being powerful and everything wasn't enough for our man. Lord Lucky had aspirations to the throne and he made a bid to overthrow the king by refusing to pay up on his share of the takings. The king threatened to sell Lord Lucky and his family into the worst kind of slavery, which is what kings sometimes did when they took a mind to. But, Lord Lucky showed the proper remorse and pledged to pay up, proving that he did in fact have the money all along. It was an admission of fraud and a plea for mercy. Wisely, the king not only forgives the power play but the debt as well. He has bought increased loyalty from a well-placed retainer who now owes him his life.

But, that's not the end of the story. News travels fast in court, don't you know. Lord Lucky, having been chastened and having escaped within an inch of his life is also humiliated. He must reassert himself. So he immediately pounces on one of his peers, another retainer, probably not as highly placed. His name was Screwed Guy. So, anyway, he pounces on this poor guy for, I don't know, like 100 denari. And Screwed Guy can't pay. He's screwed.

Now, at this point you might think that Lord Lucky would have mercy on his peer, a guy who might even have been his friend. I mean, I would think that. But, I know the story. It continues on like this: Lord Lucky was enraged because, you see, he was unable to reassert his preeminence among his peers, it was sort of emasculating for him, another humiliation. So he threw his fellow bureaucrat in jail until he could pay the debt. Of course, he couldn't earn money while he was in jail so it became a way to extort money from the poor guy's family. Very nasty business, I tell you. Oh, and there was torture too.

And, I'll tell you what else happened. The other retainers, Lord Lucky's peers, turned on him. After all, they reasoned, if Lord Lucky could do this to Screwed Guy, he might do it to them too. The bureaucrats let slip to the king what had happened.

The king might have turned a blind eye. After all, it was Lord Lucky's job to help keep the coffers full and Lord Lucky did have a track record of success. That's why he had the big-time job to start with. The king might even have been amused since a little bickering among the literrati distracted them from their hobby of open graft. But, surprisingly the king was mad about it.

The thing is, it was never about the money. It was never even about loyalty. It was about the community, the kingdom.

Lots of kings in those days suffered from a little messianic ideation. There was a collective myth that the king was a good and humble man raised to the heights of power by acclamation of the common folk. Totally not true, of course. But, people liked believing this sort of thing. I think it made them feel that they had something to say about who ruled over them with an iron fist. It wasn't much. But, it was more than reality afforded. So, to perpetuate this kind of thinking, real kings sometimes forgave huge debts which benefited the whole community. These were true messianic acts, and the amount, hugely enormous, could only be forgiven by a true savior. That is, a truly benevolent king.

But, Lord Lucky didn't understand that.

See, there's no such thing as a personal relationship with the king. The king's only relationship is to the kingdom. So, by assuming that he'd been granted a personal beneficence, that there were no ramifications for the rest of the community, Lord Lucky missed the point entirely. And, of course, Lord Lucky is the one who winds up in a prison of his own making. And he will stay there forever too because the amount of his debt, unlike Screwed Guy's, is unpayable.

So, I tell you all this mainly because I enjoy telling a good story. But, also because there is a way of thinking that assumes that we are not all connected, it presumes the asking of General Convention to be somehow different from the asking a diocese makes to its parishes.
I am telling you that THE King, who has forgiven all, really does intend for that to trickle down to the whole kingdom.
As we deduced from the Matthean parable, it's not about the money. It's not even about loyalty and belonging. What it's about is the kingdom, the community. And if TEC has overlooked Texas' arrogance and stinginess, then Texas should overlook it in it's parishes.


Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that it is not a very well researched enterprise. Generally, I just sit down and start typing. If you want real news there are sites for that. Other sites. But, I do try to get it right for you. So, if I have presented as fact anything that is not true I would welcome your correction. And that goes for anything, anywhere, not just this piece. I am writing only from memory, I am only offering my opinions. You'll see that I often use words like "about," and "I think." That's because I think I am right but realize that my information may be dated. Or, possibly I am just wrong. If you think I need to amend anything, please let me know. Thanks.