Professor J's Place

20 May, 2018

Pentecost, 2018

I have been furious for days.

 San Antonio has been going through its own Time's Up moment in the writing community. This is not my story. For a first hand discussion of this ugly situation, I invite your to read the blog post of my friend, Courtenay Martin. A google search of Bryce Milligan's name will give you some of the traditional news coverage. The way Milligan has been treated by some of the news sources has made me furious. This is a man who preyed on 13-16 year-old girls, and the press is giving him a platform to deny it at length. Time's up. I don't want to hear it.

Also, on Friday afternoon I learned of yet another school shooting. This one in Sante Fe, Texas. Eight students and two teachers were killed by a seventeen year old boy with a shotgun and a handgun. My first tweets and posts were profanity laden, I can assure you. The only positive thing I've done is donate money to some organizations who work for sane gun restrictions and to Beto O'Rourke, who is running against Ted Cruz. But truly, I have been consumed by anger.

But this morning I went to church. It's Pentecost Sunday. And in our church, 15 young people were confirmed in the faith today.

In his sermon, our pastor mentioned the precious lives that were lost in Sante Fe. And it hit me. I am angry so that I will not be consumed by the gaping loss of those precious young people. How can I face that sorrow?

I watched our beautiful teenagers read portions of their faith statements, and I was struck by gratitude that they are now fully a part of us. They can lead now. But I was also struck by how beautiful and unique and alive they are. And the unfathomable loss of eight lives just like these. Such joy. Such loss.

Today, on Pentecost, we ask God to send his spirit on, in, and among us. Oh, we need that. God help us grieve; help us love.

I leave you with the Charge and Benediction from today's service:

The kin-dom of God is coming because:
     somewhere, someone is kind when others are unkind,
     somewhere, someone shares with another in need,
     somewhere, someone refuses to hate while others hate,
     somewhere, someone is patient--and waits in love,
     somewhere, someone serves another, in love,
     somewhere, someone is calm in a storm,
     somewhere, someone is loving everybody.
Is that someone you?
(Our pastor read: "That someone is you!")

22 January, 2018

Eight Years and Counting

Today is Jan. 22, 2018. I have been sober for eight years today, and here’s my story.

I first got sober on June 14, 1988. Flag day, for what it’s worth.

At that time I lived in Omaha Nebraska. I went to my first meeting on a Friday night—at the gay and lesbian meeting in the cafeteria of a hospital— “Live and Let Live.”  I just looked them up, and they’re still meeting at 8:15 on Friday nights—sending love to you guys! Thank you!

I became a daily AAer—sometimes more than one a day, but Live and Let Live was my home group, and there I met a group of other young lesbians who became my tribe. Men were welcome to our almost nightly coffee house meetings after the meeting, but the core group was about six women.
I was “in the middle of the program” when I was younger. Daily meetings, daily phone calls, hiking together, going out to eat together. . . It was a good time.  During that time, I ended a long-term relationship and had a brief (six month) relationship. All the things you’re not supposed to do in early sobriety, but I made it anyway because I had the program, a sponsor, and my tribe.
After a few years, we started to peel off members of our group one by one. One of us went out, one just kind of wandered away (not sure about her), two moved to San Francisco (not together, strangely enough), and I moved to Minneapolis.

I thought I’d have it made in Minneapolis. They actually had a gay club with daily meetings, and it wasn’t too far from where I lived. But, I had a hard time making friends. In fact, I was scheduled to meet a guy from the club for lunch (my first real connection there) the day I slipped on ice while hiking and shattered my humerus.

After surgery, I moved back home to San Antonio. I couldn’t dress myself. I certainly couldn’t work as a home health care aid anymore.  So, I moved back in with my mother.
I started going to meetings at Lambda and at Club 12 when I moved to San Antonio. I also became a member of a wonderful church I still attend.

But just like Minneapolis, I had trouble finding my people. I attended random meetings, and I stayed sober, but I didn’t even have a sponsor. And, of course, as many people experience when they move, these people just didn’t do AA right.

I eventually started going to daily NA meetings—At first because they were in walking distance from my house. Here I met my sponsor and some people I became fairly close to. I became active in service work for a while, and I started attending the Sunday evening women’s meeting at Lambda, where I also met some good people to spend time with.

After my sponsor moved to Illinois (see, it’s your fault, Gini!) I became less regular in AA, the daily NA meeting moved, I didn’t work with anyone on the steps, and I thought I was okay. After all, I had more than a decade of sobriety, I had worked the steps (most of them anyway), and I had a close group of people at the church. We met every Tuesday night to discuss the scripture for the next Sunday (God Talk), and I felt that I had a tribe there.

In the meantime, I went back to school and got my master’s degree in English, and I cared for my mother through several bouts with cancer, broken bones, and emphysema.  

After I got my masters, I started teaching. That first December, I went to a faculty member’s home for a Christmas party. I didn’t know anyone but her, and she was busy. I hate parties, and I really hate them when I’m alone. But I liked this woman, and her friends seemed cool (all professionals and lesbians), so I stayed. At some point in the evening, the bottle of this year’s dandelion wine came out. We were all given tiny glasses of it. I drank mine.

This is not your typical story, as I didn’t immediately run out and start heavy using. But I thought about it. Daily. “See, you had a drink and you didn’t get drunk, or even drink again. You are not an alcoholic.”

About six months later, I had wine with dinner. And then beer at lunch. And then I was drinking daily. In the meantime, my mother was dying of cancer. Is that why I drank again? I don’t think so. I think I drank again because I’m an alcoholic and I have a disease that will talk me into using again. Even if I have many years sober, even if I have a relationship with God, even if I go to a meeting a week or so.

The next year my mother died, I got a full-time teaching job, I got a girlfriend (this was stretched out over some time, mind you). My girlfriend hated the church, so I convinced myself that I did too—to keep her. I left the church where I had my little tribe, and I settled in with her for a year. My drinking got progressively worse. I was hiding it. I was lying about it. I was counting the hours until I could drink again. I lost that first full-time job, but got another right away. It was the first time I was ever fired, but I didn’t really connect it to the drinking.

I left the girlfriend. She was emotionally abusive, and I was a lying drunk who was also a professional victim.  It wasn’t pretty.

I tried to get sober several times. I’d get a month, two months. . . But I’d always end up out again. I didn’t go back to church out of embarrassment, which I excused with saying I didn’t believe. And church is a Patriarchal institution anyway, right?

My health was getting progressively worse, and my job progressively precarious. One day I went to a doctor who said she was concerned about my liver count. I don’t know why I told her the truth, but I said, “That’s because I drink a lot, daily, and I cannot stop.”  She told me that I had to go to a psychiatrist and to AA. I protested that AA wasn’t doing it for me. She said, “Studies show that AA with a sponsor is the only effective treatment.”

I called a shrink who wanted to put me in detox, which I resisted. After all, I’m a college teacher. The nurse said, “Okay, we’ll wait for Spring Break.” It was January. I didn’t think I’d get sober if I waited until spring. Indeed, I wasn’t sure I’d be alive.

I tried easing off. That night I had one drink and stopped. Of course, the next night I drank until I passed out. So, I called my old sponsor, who is also a nurse, and asked her if I could get sober without detox. She gave me a list of symptoms to watch out for, and she told me to give them to my roommate with the instructions that he was to call an ambulance if I went into DTs. I didn’t, thank God.  

Somehow, through grace, I got sober this time.

I stayed sober, I sort of worked the program, I did service work, I had some disappointments with people in the program, and I kept my distance emotionally.  I’m not blaming the people who disappointed me. We’re alcoholics, and human, we’re bound to mess up. Keeping my distance emotionally is something I do to protect myself.

A few years ago, I almost lost my house. I got a new sponsor (I had been working with a lovely woman in San Diego—what is it with me and long-distance sponsors? And she advised that I get someone local).  This was another moment of complete desperation. Like the day I got sober, I knew that my life needed drastic change.

Doug and I started doing the work around money. Life got so much better! I didn’t lose my house. I even got better at my job and got a raise. Life got better in other ways, too. We had weekly meetings at Doug’s house, as he was sick and couldn’t go out to meetings often. That little group became my new tribe.

I went back to church after a friend died, and my new pastor guilt-tripped me. She warned me that I would be sorry if I missed out on time with one of the older members of the church. Ironically, she died a year before he did. But I found my church tribe again.  I started to open my heart to God again. I became active in the church.

After the money stuff started to ease up, I found I still had work to do with my emotions. So, I started therapy. Shortly after that, Doug died, and our little tribe became even closer through his last illness and death. It’s been less than a year since Doug died, and I’ve started doing the work with a new sponsor (a member of the tribe) and with my therapist, who’s also in AA.
Life is getting better. My last birthday I had a gathering of AA, church, and work friends—my life is becoming integrated.

Here’s what I’ve learned: I must do the work. It doesn’t end; it just changes. Sure, I’m not struggling daily with the desire to use. Sure, my finances are in much better shape.  Now I’m working on being more open to feelings and doing some more healing from childhood trauma. Who knows what I’ll work on in the future. But I know it will be something.

My sponsor’s sponsor’s sponsor had his 50th year sobriety birthday last month. He works. Daily. And he is kind and spiritual and funny. I want what he has.

And I need people to do the work with. I need a tribe or two. I need a pastor. I need a sponsor. Right now, I need a therapist. And that is the way it works for me. 

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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.

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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.

30 May, 2016

Fr. Eddie

Fr. Eddie Bernal
 photo, Lisa Krantz

Last night, after a day full of worship, fellowship, and happiness, I turned on the 10:00 news to hear that Fr. Eddie Bernal, a beloved priest here in San Antonio, has died. 

I wanted to share a story he once told at a SOL center class many years ago.

Fr. Eddie was doing some service work with the youth group from his congregation. Afterward, they all went out to IHOP for dinner.  There was a homeless man by the door of the restaurant, and one of the girls in the group engaged the man in conversation. Then, to Fr. Eddie's surprise (and, he admitted, fear), the girl invited the homeless man to eat with them.

They all had a good dinner and a good conversation with the homeless man. As they were walking out of the restaurant and the man was walking away, Fr. Eddie called out to him, "We never got your name." 

The man turned and said, "Chuy, I'm Chuy."

For those of you not from San Antonio, it might help to know that Chuy is the nickname for Jesus. 

Thank you Fr. Eddie for your work with your congregations, the poor people of San Antonio, and your advocacy for the LGBTQI community. 

"I was hungry, and you fed me."  

Rest in peace. Rest in power. Thank you.

18 May, 2016

Statement of Faith

I needed to write a statement of faith. Here's what I came up with:

I believe in God the creator
Who made the sparrow and the hawk--
Who made Enchanted Rock and Grand Canyon--
Who made Life—in its infinite variety.
I believe in God the savior
Who suffers with and for us.
Who teaches.
Who heals.
I believe in God of the still, small voice
Who speaks to me in the woods
Who says, "Look," or "Love."
I believe in my human frailty --
My sinful nature that causes me to walk away--
And in the God who walks with me and waits for me.
I believe in the God who calls us to community--
To service.
To love.
The Pharisees asked him, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus answered "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22: 36-40).
I believe my life is about learning how to walk back to God, to love him and his creation, and to love and serve my neighbor.  I believe that individualism is a false god, an idol, and the true God calls us to live and worship and serve in community. The church, His body, is that community for me.  The church is a place of refuge and a place to face that from which we seek refuge. The church is called to be an agent of change in our world. 
Through the grace of God, I am sober and alive and in this place with these people, who are also called to be in community. Through serving God and loving my neighbor to the best of my ability, I am healed and made whole.

As Anne Lamott once said, "I'm just shy of fish bumper sticker."