Friday, October 31, 2014

Quotes that Have Me Thinking - revisited

So in an effort to get back on track with posting, here is a post from 2010 that has been getting a great deal of traffic lately:  Quotes that Have Me Thinking

I have been doing a fair amount of reading so today I will share some quotes that have me thinking. 

So I just fell in love with this wonderful quote in Parker J. Palmer's book, The Courage to Teach.  This is the second Florida Scott-Maxwell quote in one of his books that I have just fallen in love with.  I am thinking I may have to see what she has written.

Here is the quote and it is about learning to hold paradox:
"Some uncomprehended law holds us at a point of contradiction where we have no choice, where do not like that which we love, here good and bad are inseparable partners impossible to tell apart, and where we--heart-broken and ecstatic--can only resolve the conflict by blindly taking it into our hearts.  This used to be called being in the hands of God.  Has anyone any better words to describe it?" (Palmer, The Courage to Teach, 90)

Here is the other quote from her that I love:
"You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly posses all you have been and are fierce with reality." (Palmer, Let Your Life Speak)

I am now on a quest to become "fierce with reality."

Finally a quote shared with me by a friend about vocation:
"Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about---quite apart from what I would like it to be about---or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.... Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear." Herbert Alphonso, SJ

Here are a couple of more to add:

"...Leadership is about individuals. In fact, leadership is a distributed or collective capacity in a system, not just something that individuals do. Leadership is about the capacity of the whole system to sense and actualize the future that wants to emerge." 
— C. Otto Scharmer (Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies)- note I will be taking an edX course with Otto Scharmer on this book and this book is high on my "to read" list.

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof." 
— Richard Bach (Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah) - one of my favorite books of all time.

What are some of your favorite quotes?  Share them in the comments!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Our Children Are Not Our Children

This blog post took much longer than usual to craft and to form hence why there have been no posts last week.  Hopefully after this I can get back on track.

I have never understood the parents that have thrown their children out of their lives for being gay. An Early Frost" had aired the night before, I was not yet out (even to myself), and I sat there listening to two women talk about how they would disown their child if they were gay. They were proud of it.  I sat there unable to speak and yet appalled.  How do you bring a child into this world, love them, comfort them, care for them and then throw them away because they are who they are?
When I was a freshman in college, I remember sitting in the faculty room of a Milwaukee public school where I was observing two classes of a child I was tutoring.  "

So it is with that context in mind that crafts my response to the article "If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises From A Christian Pastor/Parent" in which he vows to love and cherish his children if they are gay and a similar piece from a Rabbi.  It appeared numerous times in my news feed generally with comments about what a great dad he is and how they were moved to tears.  The article actually really bothers me because it assumes that a religious leader or a religious family should be expected to reject their LGBTQ child.  I also know that I am not actually the one being addressed in either article; their audience is their religious colleagues where it might not be so obvious that they should continue to love their LGBTQ children and by extension other LGBTQ people. Regardless of whether some religious leaders from surprising places are beginning to move toward acceptance, it is still true that too many religious families reject and throw out their children when they come out. My own spouse's family rejected her early on and some continue to do so; I have first hand experience of the pain this causes even years after some relationships become better. This article on the prevalence of LGBTQ youth becoming homeless after their families rejected them or required that they undergo reparative therapy points out the danger LGBTQ children face from their families if they come out.

I do however want to thank Rabbi Orlow for pointing out the harm done in religious community when hatred and bigotry are practiced. I appreciate his emphasizing that this bigotry is not just bad for LGBTQ people, but bad for his community and that it violates Jewish teaching.   In the end it is not good faith or good religion to practice hatred and discrimination against anyone no matter how "sinful" we may think them to be.

Yet to assume that a religious parent would reject their child flies in the face of everything I know as a person of faith and a religious person.  It shows that we still let the religious right hold the moral high ground in LGBTQ matters.

So that led me to thinking about Kahil Gibran's piece On Children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

As a parent, I think the most important advice any of us can follow about our children is that they are not our possession, they are not ours to shape into particular forms or careers. Our job as parents is to love, nurture and support them into becoming the best people they can be in the best ways we know how and then letting go.  It is not to turn them into "successful" people although we certainly hope our children will be successful in ways that they define.  It is not to shape them into fulfilling our lost dreams, they have their own dreams.  It is not to make them fulfill our expectations of them, and in fact the hardest thing we will do is to lay our expectations aside for who they are and what they will become so they can become the people they are and who they are meant to be.  This is hard work because it means we as parents need to get our ego and our issues out of the way.

Our job as parents is to love our children as they are and not how we expect them to be.  To all of us in the LGBTQ community, we need to stop telling young people that it will get better and start making it better.  We need to be there as a community with shelter, food, housing, education for all those families who will stop loving their children and throw them out onto the street.  We need to fight for safe schools, non-discrimination in employment.  We need to realize that marriage equality is not the be all and end all.  We need to make sure that these children have a safe place to go and a community that means it when we say "it gets better" because we are in fact making it better for ourselves and for all of us!

Religious leaders we need to speak up for religious pluralism and not allow the guise of deeply held religious belief to justify discrimination in the public square.  This means that businesses, small, large, privately held or publicly owned have no right to discriminate or refuse to serve LGBTQ people.  If religious people want to discriminate within the walls of their community then by all means, please do so. We will never insist that you welcome, marry or otherwise give service to those you don't want whether on the basis or race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status etc. Feel free to be as bigoted as you please and then please realize that your bigotry stops at the moment you accept federal funds for a program or run a business in the public square.  That is what it means to live in a pluralistic, religiously diverse society. And, please know that the rest of us will call you out on your bigotry, hold you accountable for the harm you do in the name of religion and offer a more nurturing theology to those who you turn away.

So let's love our children and let them go. Let's help them to become who they were meant to be, who they were born to be and let us be proud that we were allowed to journey with them!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When All the Choices Are Poor - Making it Personal

For today's Throwback Thursday post, I chose "When All the Choices Are Poor."  In this election season, where those who are receiving public assistance, unemployment or otherwise struggling financially are being labeled as "lazy" and "just wanting to collect a government check" I think we need to remind ourselves over and over again the difficulty of being poor and getting out of poverty.

Today I want to make it personal. I would be what they call underemployed. I am working half-time and need and want to be working full time.  My spouse is waiting to hear from disability as her physical health will no longer allow her to work.  I am working on getting my wedding business going, doing occasional babysitting and writing.  Yet none of it is enough to make all our bills every month.

So I am learning first hand about making hard choices among limited, not so great options. I know about the stress and embarrassment of not having enough. I know about not doing things like going to lunch or coffee because I cannot pay for them.  I know about counting the change around the house to see if we can buy milk or another necessary item. We have blessed with friends who have helped us pay bills and who have bought us food.

Yesterday because we have urgent needs that we have no other way to meet I went to a local emergency relief organization and social services. Hopefully soon we will be approved for food assistance and we can get some emergency help with two urgent bills.  Today we will go to a local food pantry with the voucher I received yesterday. I spent all day doing this and today I need to finish all the paperwork and take it back to them.

It is eye-opening and truly self-revealing  what going through this  is teaching me. After all I come from an upper-middle class family where I was raised on  steady diet of welfare queens and the poor are lazy.  I have an undergraduate and graduate degree.  I embody the "this is not supposed to happen to me" and yet here I am.  Maybe it scares you to hear my story because after all if it happened to me, does that mean it could happen to you.

The first thing I have learned in all of this is to re-think who I think falls into the category of "poor."  I have deeper compassion and a deep empathy of the time, energy and money it takes to be poor.  Yes it is expensive to be poor, it takes a great deal of time and energy. Then when you add to it the stress and anxiety, it is truly amazing the human will to survive.

So today I ask you to re-think what you know about being poor.  The shame and embarrassment only add to the stress for those who are struggling - trust me I know this first hand.  So please I ask you to show an open-heart, an open-mind and deep compassion.


Monday, October 13, 2014

To Live in This World

I preached this sermon on Sunday October 12 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Text: "In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver

To Live in this World

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets and this is one of my favorite of her poems.  This poem is particularly appropriate to the fall, as she describes the trees turning their own bodies into pillars of light and giving off the fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment.  Fall is a time of harvest as the soil prepares to rest for the winter. While maybe not so much here on the Outer Banks, the trees up and down the eastern coast of the United States, turn gorgeous colors of yellow and red.  Just as the trees turn these magnificent colors, they fall off and the trees become bare pillars until the new buds of spring.  It is like a last burst of beauty and amazement before the leaves die and return to the earth.

It is one of the big questions of life of what it means to live and love knowing that death will take those we love and that we ourselves will die.  What does it mean to live knowing we will die?  We love knowing that we will lose those we love.  Yet Mary Oliver reminds that this is at the heart of living - that to live in this world we must love what is mortal.

As we celebrate marriage equality this week, it is a good time to remind ourselves of the vows of marriage.  In marriage two people pledge to live and love together until separated by death.  In the midst of love and the start of a life together, the couple and their witnesses are reminded of death.  As we celebrate the end of Amendment 1 and the coming of marriage equality to much of the United States, we have to remember those who died before this day came, those who died waiting to have their loves and lives recognized by society.  In fact, Mary Oliver lost her own partner, Molly, in 2005. As I told a group the other day, civil marriage matters most in the worst moments of our lives - when the one we love is ill, in the hospital, when the one we love dies.  When we talk about marriage equality we are talking about having our wishes followed when we are least able to speak for ourselves.

Mary Oliver tells us that "everything I have ever learned leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation."  Oliver tells us that salvation is found on the other side of loss.  In essence, loss is essential for salvation. It is only through coming through loss, through loving and then letting go that we are saved. Saved from what?  Oliver tells us that we will never know the meaning.  We will never fully understand how it is through loving and losing what we love that we come to live more fully, more authentically. We become more fully human, more fully alive.  She tells us we must love what is mortal knowing that our own life depends on it.  We love knowing that those whom we love, and that we ourselves are mortal.  We love knowing that at some point we will also have to let go.

Just like the leaves on the tree, who bud, bloom, dazzle us with brilliant green and then turn red, yellow, brown and then fall to the earth, we too must learn to let go.  Most of us here have lost someone we have loved - parents, grandparents, friends, spouses - we know that it is hard to let go. It is hard to move through the grief to a time of letting go.  Yet those of us who have loved and let go know that the love does not die.  While we let go of the person, the love we have for them and they for us does not die.  The love lives on in our memories, in our hearts, it lives on when we see a picture of the person and smile, when we share a story about them, when we use one their belongings.  For me, my great-grandmother lives on every time I use her yellow mixing bowl or I watch Mollie or Donna use it. It is a great mixing bowl that went with a stand mixer.  I think of her every time we use it.  While she died when I was twelve, my love for her did not die.  Yet at the time, her death left a huge hole in my heart and in my life.  I am named after her, she was the one person in my family who stood up for me.  I was her favorite and in losing her I lost the one person in my family who truly stood up for me, truly protected me.  Yet I had to let her go. She was 88 years old when she died, she spent the last months of her life in a semi-comatose state unable to care in any way for herself.  It was time for her to go.

Yet the desire to cling, to hold on is so strong.  How can we not understand the parents of the 13 year old who was declared brain dead after what should have been a routine surgery to remove her tonsils and the parents have been caring for her at their own expense, refusing to accept the declaration?  No matter how misguided we may or may not feel the family is in fighting this particular fight, as a parent, as a mother all of my sympathy and empathy are with them.  How are you supposed to let go of your 13 year old daughter?  How do you say goodbye?

It is not always easy to know when to let go. Sometimes we have to let go of someone we have loved, not because they have died, sometimes it is just time for a relationship to end.  This can happen in families, it can happen to those who are married, to friends.  Sometimes we don't really notice it happening, we move away, we stop keeping in touch and we realize that we have let go of that friendship, that relationship.  Sometimes it is very intentional such as having to separate from an unhealthy relationship or in the case of divorce.  We love and yet we also have to learn to let go.  Often people hang on or cling on to relationships long past the time to let go.  Sometimes it is only in looking back that one can see that fact.

Yet each relationship, each time we love, we learn.  We learn more about how to love, to love ourselves, to love one another, to love the planet.  We are not automatic lovers, we must learn to love, we must choose to love.  It is not necessarily a rational choice but it is a choice.  Carter Heyward says it this way " Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh."

On this weekend celebrating Coming Out and Marriage for All coming to so many places, I want to claim a personal moment and say that I am glad that I chose to embrace my queerness and to love my wife … it is important to name that today.  And to also acknowledge that sometimes that choice has meant the loss of friends, the fear that comes with not having one’s relationship honored and respected and the lack of protections for those worst moments. I am a part of a community that includes both Mary Oliver and Carter Heyward that has chosen to love in spite of the dangers … I am proud to claim my place amongst that community and those ancestors. And I am incredibly happy that for the first time, I actually live in a place that recognizes my legal marriage, my choice to love in the way I have.

Just like in choosing to love, we must also choose to let go.  Even when death has taken one we love, that does not mean we have truly let them go.  Sometimes we hold on to the grief, we refuse to accept that the person is gone.  Like the parents of the 13 year old, we just can't let go.  Yet in letting go we cross that "black river of loss whose other side is salvation."  We learn that life and love do go on.  We learn we can love again, we can learn to hold what is mortal against our bones knowing our own life depends on it.  We can once again let go when it is time.  We can choose again to love, participating in the dance of life.

So let us choose to love, to love deeply and fully and hold nothing back.  Let us hold those we love against our bones.  Let us love abundantly knowing we will have to at some time let go.  May we know when it is time to let go and to do so willingly and consciously.  May we do this knowing that it is this, this loving and letting go that is required to truly live in this world.

Blessed Be!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

National Coming Out Day

This Saturday October 11 is the 26th Annual National Coming Out Day (NCOD). It was an idea that originated with Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary and began on the first anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights to encourage LGBTQ people to come out. Since 1990, the Human Rights Campaign has continued to support NCOD and provides resources.   It is marked with celebrations at college campuses and on-line.  It is about celebrating being proud of ourselves and who we are.

Coming out is also a profoundly spiritual act. It is the act of revealing one's authentic self to another person or maybe even a whole group of people.  When someone shares the truth of who they are, that is an act of love and trust.  When we tell the truth to ourselves, when we own who we are in our totality, we come closer to the holy within us.

The deep truth of the stories of creation in Genesis is that the Creator created each of us in the image and likeness of the Divine. Each of us at our core is a manifestation of the holy. When we  discover our authentic self and share that with others, we are manifesting the Holy.

So I invite to revisit my post from April of 2013 on the importance of coming out and being out! You might also enjoy this video for the 25th anniversary of NCOD.

Even in this time of celebrating that Marriage Equality has come to so many states, it is still important to come out. In fact, because so many have come out over the years, change has come but there is still a long way to go to ensure that all members of our community no matter the status of their relationships can enjoy a full life. It is also important for our allies to come out too. Be out and be proud!