"I am playing with myself,
I am playing with the world's soul,
I am the dialogue between myself and el espiritu del mundo.
I change myself, I change the world."

Gloria AnzaldĂșa

12 January, 2017

My Faith Journey or: Yay! More Oversharing!

I wrote this to share with the deacons, and of course, that means you.

I began with my favorite psalm, Psalm 42

I have always longed for some kind of relationship with the source, with God.  But I am inconsistent.  
I believe.
I don’t believe.
I search for something else.
I walk away.

Paul Simon writes about my experience when he says “We are born and born again like waves of the sea.”  

As a child, I attended Catholic church. I am old enough to remember attending Latin mass and covering my head with a veil in worship. I loved the music, I loved the scripture readings, and I loved the homilies. I’d come home and explain them to my mom (not that she needed my exegesis, but I guess that was a precursor to my later career as a teacher).

I left the church in my teens. Literature, nature, and music became how I connected with God.  Some odd combination of CS Lewis and Godspell got me through my teens. I read and talked about God a lot, but I had no place to call home.

I even flirted a bit with the Guru Majaraji, but to be honest, that was probably more about the crush I had on a woman who followed him than an honest search for spirituality, and both flirtations were short lived.

In my twenties, I became a member of the Metropolitan Community Church in Omaha. I was a deacon there for several years, and my partner and I played guitar and sang to lead music for the evening services.  During those years, I sincerely sought a more intense relationship with God. I attended charismatic services, and several of my friends worshiped in that way. I couldn’t make the connection, though. I remember going to the altar to be anointed, and feeling the minister push me. I wanted to feel the spirit push me. I wanted to speak and sing in tongues, and I felt it was a great failure on my part that I could not give up my resistance.  If I could only really believe, I’d think . . .
Again, as I had felt in the Catholic church, there was something about me that blocked God in my life.

I got sober in my late twenties, and moved away from the church again. Unfortunately, I did not pursue a spirituality in the program, so I had a long period of experiencing that God-sized hunger Jackson Browne writes about.

I started coming to University Presbyterian in the 1990s. At first, I came to church to make my mother happy. But I soon felt at home there, and I felt that need for a relationship with God reawaken. In those years, I became active with the church, and even sat on the pastor nominating committee that called Lib Simmons to serve at the church. I also worked with the middle schoolers for a bit, and was a deacon.

About a year before my mother died, I started drinking again. I suppose some of it was my anticipatory grief. I think a lot of it was complacency. As I said before, I didn’t really work the spiritual part of the program before. It’s funny to me now, as I think the whole program is spiritual, but I managed to stay sober 14 years without working the steps (much).  There came a time when what I was doing wasn’t enough to keep me sober.

 About a year after Mama’s death, I got romantically involved with a woman who had a huge resentment against the church. I am ashamed to admit that, to keep my relationship with her, I dropped out of the deacons and left UPC.

The story of my life when I was drinking is similar to that of a lot of alcoholics. In the Big Book they call it “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” I tried to get sober several times during that time, but it took me 8 ½ years to finally get sober again. I know it’s weird to talk about alcoholism when talking of my spiritual journey, but the truth is that I have always felt a lack. In AA, we call it a “God shaped hole in the soul.” I tried to fill that hole with liquor, with food, with relationships, and sometimes with church, but nothing worked.

I got sober Jan 22, 2010. And I started trying to work the steps on a spiritual level.

In April of 2012, I was on Facebook, and I learned that a member of our congregation had killed herself. Those words still strike me with shock and disbelief. I had served on the pastor nominating committee with her husband, and I always felt a connection with him—well with both of them. I had to talk to someone about it, so I called Bob O. Not sure why Bob, but I called him. He told me he was on his way to the church to pray and I should come. I felt like a fool. After I’d been walked away so blithely, I felt like I was imposing. But Bob said, “you’re family,” so I came. It was so sweet to be with kind and loving people that sad day.

Shortly after that day, Kelly invited me to coffee and told me that I needed to return to church.  She really didn’t ask me to return or say I should come if I wanted to. She said I should come. “These people love you. You love them.” She also told me in no uncertain terms that I would regret not spending time with people like the N’s (an adorable and adored couple in their nineties), whose time was limited. I felt chastised. I came back. It is ironic that it was Kelly whose time was limited, but I am grateful I came back and got to know her a little.

So here I am. I still ebb in and out in my belief and consistency. I still want to believe more than I experience belief as a feeling. But perhaps that’s because it is not a feeling. Perhaps, like love, it is more about being there. About “suiting up and showing up” as we say in the program. Perhaps belief is an action.  I don’t do an especially good job at suiting up and showing up, but I am grateful that this community is here. And there are times when that God-sized hole feels healed – or at least healing.

28 August, 2016

The Learner's Mind

"Learning to Walk" David Fabricius Aaby

I’m learning to walk.

As most people who know me know, I fell and broke my knee-cap this summer. When I was healed, and my doctor blessed me and said, “you may go,” I asked him for a referral to physical therapy.  I had recently learned that my knock knees, and the arthritis they created, could be improved through exercise. The doctor said yes, that although it would not take away any deformation, it would strengthen and stabilize my knees.

I walk funny. 

I’ve always thought I walk funny because my knees are deformed. Come to find out, my knees are deformed because I walk funny.

So I am learning to walk. And to stand. And to strengthen muscles that are atrophied.

When my therapist first watched me walk, he said I need to start out with my heels when I walk. And he stood me in front of a mirror. “You’re standing on your toes,” he said. “Put your feet down.” Those first days were rough.

When you first come to AA, they tell you, “It’s okay. You only need to change one thing. Everything.”

That’s what it feels like learning to stand and to walk again. I walk down the steps at my house and say, “Put your heel down. Is your whole foot on the step? Okay, step down now.” I’m slower and more deliberate. I do that with stepping up, too. And with walking.
It feels very different, and sometimes at the end of the day, I’m just sore. But it feels grounded. Safe. Stable.

I ran into a friend from church at the grocery store and she asked about my knee. I told her about changing one thing, and how I was doing it again, and she said, “Good. Keep the learner’s mind.”

This semester, I’m teaching hybrid classes for the first time. I’ve wanted to flip my classes for a long time—to put most of the lecture online and do group work and discussion in the classroom. Well, teaching a hybrid class is teaching me how to teach all over again. The only thing I have to change is everything.

So this morning I awakened at four, as I have all week, and I began working on a lecture for a class a few weeks down the road. First the Power Point, then the audio, then turn it into a video. “Put your heel down. Are you stable? Keep going.”

It’s all very Zen, folks. 

24 July, 2016

Faith, Familia, Trabajo

My last post on this blog was about the death of San Antonio's beloved Fr. Eddie. I learned of Eddie's death the day this photo was taken. I was one of the people being ordained and commissioned to serve my church as elders and deacons. On the far left, you can see my pastor, Kelly Allen.

I have put off writing about this day, and the week that followed, for some time, but as I showered and prepared for going to church this morning, these words echoed in my head: "faith, familia, trabajo." I heard them yesterday in a speech by the man I hope is our next VP. (More about that later).

Those words are embraced by people of faith everywhere, and they certainly exemplify the life of Kelly Allen.

On the Friday following my ordination, Kelly suffered a major stroke. That Sunday, her family released her body from life support, and gave her organs to save other lives. It was fitting that her last act on life was to save others. Greater love has no one.

I cannot express what a great woman Kelly was. I can say that she was a wife and mother, a foster mother, and an adoptive mother. I can say that she fought for LGBTQ rights within the church and in society. I can say that she fought for the women and children of central and south America who came here as refugees. I can say that she rekindled my faith and called me back to my family at UPC. And I know she did that for others in our community.

Here's a link to a video that tells you a bit about Kelly.

A few weeks before I was ordained, Kelly asked me (and the others) to write a statement of faith. She gave us a list of questions to serve as a writing prompt. One of the questions was, "What is your understanding of the Trinity?" The statement I wrote in response to that question surprised me. "Dang, I'm really a Christian!," I realized when I read it. I'm talking about this because one of the responses to my statement (an earlier post on this blog) is from Kelly. She said, "Can I just say I'm proud to be your pastor!" I have tears in my eyes as I type this. I am so proud that Kelly was my pastor, so blessed to have known her. And I will try to practice what she taught me: faith, familia, trabajo.

When I started my blog back in the early 2000's, it never occurred to me that I'd go through a period of posting about faith more than anything else. But here we are.

I go today to hear my friend Nancy List Pridgen preach with a text of the poems, letters, and life of Emily Dickinson--one of my first teachers of the Spirit.

These are difficult times. The world feels on edge. But we are called to love, to make the world better through love. In life and in death, we belong to God.