Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tragedy in the United States

Life Changing Events

John F. Kennedy was killed when I was in fifth grade. That experience of national grief changed my childhood. Five years later Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered, followed shortly by Robert Kennedy.  The Kennedy brothers were practicing Roman Catholics. Dr King was an American Baptist minister.

On November 9, 2016 many Americans experienced another day of national grief. One of my friends stayed in bed and cried all day. Another moved forward with plans to relocate to Canada. Some lashed out in anger at white feminists who did not do enough to get out the vote and elect the candidate that would have protected women of color and women's rights in general. Others expressed fear that their right to marriage and family would be taken away from them.  The list of fears and anger could be much longer. Many of us are experiencing the grief that often accompanies the death of a loved one.

I am a progressive, liberal, left of center, feminist Christian. The national mourning for John, Martin, Robert and my Christian faith have shaped my concern for human rights and dignity. O am also a patriot who abhors the horrible division that grips our country. 

Commandments from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy tell us to love God, love our neighbor and love ourselves. When Jesus was asked whom to consider a neighbor he chose as an example, a man from a despised group of people, a Samaritan. What made the Samaritans abhorrent? They worshipped God in a different place than the Hebrews. Leviticus also commands. "When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land..." That's a commandment no-one is fighting to put in the court house rotunda. It is easy, for me at least, to draw a comparison between undocumented people in the United States and the aliens we are commanded to love. It is easy, for me at least, to draw a comparison between the Samaritan neighbor and the Muslim neighbor. 

As always, in times like this, I look to faith leaders and feminist friends, who are ofter one-in-the same, for their words of wisdom, peace and healing. A pastoral letter from the United Church of Christ states, "We were built to heal bodies broken and divide. This is our calling. Our core values of love, hospitality, and justice for all must be fully embraced in the days to come. It could be that we were called into being for just such a time and this."

And finally the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may never seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is dying that we are born again to eternal life." 

I must confess I feel the need to be consoled and we are better together.

Monday, June 20, 2016

More Thoughts on Mother's Day

Single Mother on Mother's Day

Poet, Donna Fitzgerald, shared her memories of a Mother's Day past.  She said, "This Mother's Day I was reminded of going to church when Jen was little and how all the women earned praise except for the single mothers."

Mother's Day Poem by Donna Fitzgerald

The minister delivered his sermon 
to the overflowing congregation.
He mentions several biblical mothers:
Mary, the most honored.
Naomi, Rachel, Sarah.
He touts just how magnificent the
great pain and suffering needed 
to bring life into the world
and how
women so joyfully, 
bear the punishment for eating
that deadly apple.

He then asks the men 
to stand and bestow 
their praise on their wives of
whom they proudly boast
"The mother of my children"
as if they owned them,
their wives their private vessel.
These puffed-up men
who stand and honor their wives
on this one day of the year,
dressed in their very best,
waiting for the service to end 
and brunch to begin.

In the very last pew
sits a single woman and her child.
No praise is heaped 
upon her.

The service finished she returns home 
waiting for hypocrisy to end.

Why Do We Believe What We Believe About Biblical Women?

 So often the stories of biblical women are reduced to the lowest common denominator.  It wasn't a, "deadly apple." It was the fruit from The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Eve wanted to be more like God knowing good from evil. She couldn't have known it was wrong because she didn't know the difference between good and evil.  

Mary must have been the most incredible person! The Gospel of Luke calls her the favored one. She raised a young man on whose teaching a world religion is based and we have been taught to focus on her virginity.  What did Jesus learn from his mother?

Sarah, a mother well after menopause, was the only women through home the promise could be fulfilled. It was her only son Abraham considered sacrificing.

Bitter and cunning Naomi, who was saved by the love of her daughter-in-law.

Rachel, who took the family idols and hid them from her angry father by pretending she was having her period.

All mothers, yes, and so much more. Donna, like so many women, have been hurt by simplistic interpretations of biblical women.  I am thankful for Donna's creativity and how she has used her pain to share her talent with the rest of us.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Faith of Our Mothers Revisited

Conversations with my cousin.

Last week I posted a memory about Mother's Day in the church I grew up attending.  My cousin, June Davis Fish, regularly messages me about my posts.  Last week she did not, so I got worried. I messaged her to make sure she is okay and our conversation went something like this.  

June:  "Yes, I  am OK. Thanks for checking. I did see the blog about your mother.  I remember now why I didn't comment.  Lately,  I have been having an inner struggle with any post or comment about the Father God even though they are talking about 'his' love and grace as opposed to the 'fundamental God' of law and punishment."

Me:    "I better go back and read my blog.  I rarely refer to God as Father unless it is in the context of somebody else's speech."

June:  "I don't think you did say Father God.  Some have said Papa and Daddy as if that makes 'him' less patriarchal and more loving. I just want to scream at them, Papa, Daddy, Father, ... where the hell is Mother God?  Anyway, that is the foundation for why I didn't comment on your Mother's Day Blog.  I guess I was pissed that only on one day of the year the women/Mothers get any recognition and are allowed to preform certain duties and even then they had to clean up.  Understand me, it was not your blog but how 'gracious' for the men of the church to condescend to 'honor' the women on their one day of the year, Mother's Day.  Without women how would men become fathers?  Without a Sacred Feminine Mother could Father God be a father? I didn't want to comment because it would only have sounded like I was ranting against you and your blog, which certainly wasn't what I felt."

Me:  "I think you got the point.  One day of the year the women serve communion.  An honor the men of the church usually reserved for themselves and the women still prepared and cleaned up.  As a child I was indignant.  P!@#$% off did't happen until I was older and saw how systemic this marginalization is.  Before my book was published a man was asked to write an endorsement.  He said he could not because he detected, 'An echo of frustration.' I thought, 'Wow, I am a pretty good writer if all he detected was and echo of frustration because I am, 'F@#$%^& P!@#$% Off.'" 

June:  "I am getting new perspectives on a lot of old fundamental teachings. It has been difficult to throw off old religious programming, but once I get going on it, it has been freeing and peaceful."

Me:    "One of the things I am hoping the book will accomplish is to get people to question all of these old fundamental teachings.  That is why the subtitle is, Questioning Teachings About Biblical Women.   

Gratitude to my cousin!

When I first started writing last weeks blog I purposefully took my anger out of my writing.  I edited myself as so many women do.  I wanted the post to be more about my wonderful mother than about my anger.  Thanks to June, what I feel about that experience came to the surface. My nephew once asked me, "If women cook every day, why are the best chefs men?" This was when Julia Child was the only woman chef on television.  My answer, "What men do is considered more valuable than what women do. 
On those Mother's Days, it was an honor for the deaconesses to do the deacons job of serving communion.  The deacons would not condescend to doing the job of the deaconesses.  

Women's Work

I think about the value ascribed to "women's work" by patriarchy and I am disheartened. The healing of Peter's mother-in-law is recorded in the canonical Gospels.  She is said to get up and serve after being healed.  The word, diakonei translated as serve, in reference to Peter's nameless mother-in-law is translated as minister in reference to the angels serving Jesus in the wilderness.  Same word, different value and the subject of another blog. 

I ask the same question as June. "Where is Mother God?" Imagine a faith in which female is valued in the same way as male.  

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mother's Day

"Faith of our Fathers! Holy faith! We will be true to thee till death." That was the song we sang in church.  Except on Mother's Day. Then fathers was changed to mothers and the church secretary put an insert in the church bulletin in case we forgot to substitute mothers for fathers. 

On all the other Sundays the deaconesses prepared the communion trays and set them out. When the service was over the deaconesses sent the children scurrying around the church collecting the tiny communion cups. The women washed the cups and polished the trays for next week.  

On all the other Sundays the deacons served the communion. They walked up the aisle during the communion hymn, stood with heads bowed at the front of the church, prayed aloud at the end of the hymn, distributed communion and replaced the trays on the table for the deaconesses to clean after the service.

But on Mother's Day the deaconesses got to do it all. Prepare the communion, say the prayers, serve the communion and clean up after communion. As one of those children who scurried around picking up the communion cups, I was surprised to discover that the deacons were not in the little kitchen cleaning up.

I was confused. Why weren't the deacons helping? The deaconesses always helped them. So, I asked my mom. "Oh" she said, "We're just better at it." 

Faith of our Mothers

My wonderful mother had faith and she passed it on to me and my sisters.  We were in church every Sunday. No sleepovers on Saturday because we couldn't miss church. I didn't want to miss church. I am a confirmed religion nerd. I have often heard it said, "You can't teach faith." I think that is probably true but you can look at the life of someone who has faith and learn from that faith. 

I cry at the sappy commercials on television as we get closer to Mother's Day. They remind me of how much I love her and how much she loved me, us. I cry because I treasure the faith I learned from her. I cry because, unlike my feminist self, who wants to be upset by the unfairness of the deaconesses cleaning up on the one day of the year they serve communion, my mom knew she and the other women did it because they were better at it.

Faith of my Mother! Holy faith! I will be true to thee till death.

Happy Mother's Day

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Eight Lessons Learned From Pain

My sister said, "Well, if the doctor had just found out what was wrong in 2012 you could have avoided all this pain.  I didn't say it but my first thought was. "But then I would have missed the lessons."I knew there were lessons to be learned from this experience and I didn't want to miss them. I even said little prayers from time to time when the pain was particularly bad or the lack of mobility extremely frustrating.  "Please don't let me miss the lesson in this." This is what I learned.

1. Be Grateful. Pain gives faith a whole new meaning and it is gratitude. In the hospital I practiced gratitude for all the things I take for granted. Simple things like being able to get out of bed by myself, or walk unassisted, even going to the bathroom became an activity for which to be grateful. 

2. I am not alone. Pain and the isolation of rehabilitation can be depressing. But friends showed up at my bedside, or sent cards that made me laugh, and called to check on me. Friends sending prayers and positive thoughts helped. When I saw my name on the church prayer list or on a FB post I knew prayers and positive energy were coming my way.  

3. It is okay to rest. Psalms 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God." In that stillness, that rest there is a space for the divine that would not have existed without the pain. Rest is also essential for healing.

4. Self care is vital. Mark 12:31 says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." We sometimes miss the, "love yourself" part of that verse.  I cannot take care of anyone else if I do not take care of myself.  Part of taking care of myself is deciding that I am stronger than the pain.

5. Listen when others want to share their pain.  I think this might be the hardest lesson.  We all carry our own pain or the pain of someone we love.  My experience is that people just want to be heard or want you to know that they understand what you are going through.  Listen.

6. Be kind. Matthew 7:12 records what we often call the Golden Rule, "In everything do to others as you would have others do to you."  There are good Samaritans and angels everywhere.  They are sometimes disguised as doctors, nurses, physical therapists or food service workers. Even my neighbor, who works at the hospital, showed up every morning, before work with Starbucks. If I am grumpy and impatient or unkind I will miss the good they are trying to do for me.

7. My attitude is the most important factor I bring to my healing.  I confess was scared.  Scared of the surgery, the pain and the recovery. So I had my sister, Hilary make me a pink tutu.  When physical therapy got me on my feet I wore that tutu with my pink boa, pink polkadot socks and a tiara. Not only did I cheer myself up but I cheered up everyone who saw me. 

8. See other perspectives.  Being "disabled" even for the short time I was, has given me more empathy for the people walking slowly or being pushed in a wheelchair. 

I take faith for granted when I feel good, but lying in a hospital bed in pain and dependent on others for my most basic bodily functions required faith. Faith in myself, faith in my care givers and faith in my creator.  It is blessing that God gives our magnificent brains the ability to forget the pain, but I hope I never forget the lessons learned from the pain.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Not All Surprises Are Good!

Surprise, there is something wrong with you!

5/4/15 Riding down in the elevator from my hip replacement pre-op apportionment, I got a call.  The conversation went something like this:

ME: "Hello."
HER: "Paula, this is Dr. D*****."
ME: "Oh hi." (but in my mind, Oh S#^*) I mean getting a phone call directly from you doctor is never a good thing.  
HER: "Based on the results of your last pap, I have made an appointment for you with a surgeon on Friday.  Can you make it?"
ME: (Not in my head) "Oh S#^*!!!"

Surprise, we messed up!

Back up from the story above to June 1, 2014. My first book Prostitutes, Virgins and Mothers: Questioning Teachings About Biblical Women was published. It was and is a dream come true.  Five months after publication I went to the American Academy of Religion / Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting, in San Diego.  It was another dream come true.  My book was to be at the IPG booth in the exhibit hall.  When I got to the booth I had another "Oh S#^*" conversation,

HER: "I have been dreading this moment."
ME: "Why, you don't even know me?"
HER: "I recognize you from the picture on your book. Your book is not here."
ME: (Head hanging) "This is the most anti-climatic moment of my life. Why?"
HER: "The woman who was charged with sending the books quit and didn't tell anyone she hadn't sent them."
ME: "I have books in my car."
HER: "Well, if you want to go get them we can sell them and send you replacements."

So, in my cute, new, black wedgies I walked back to my hotel, got a heavy bag of books out of my car and walked back to the booth. Have you ever been to the San Diego Convention Center? It is miles long. Something went seriously wrong with my hips.  I had been having a bit of discomfort but now I was in serious pain. I left the meeting early because I could not walk.  The good news is IPG sold out of my book.

Surprise, do you want the good news or the bad news?

Fast forward to January 2015 and my book wins a gold medal from Illuminations Book Awards. I go for a long walk with God and say, "Thanks God for this award! This confirms for me more than anything that I am on the path to which you have called me." I wrote a thank you note to the awards director and related this story. He said, " I agree, you're on a divine path with their book."

I may be on a divine path but I could not walk the day after my walk with God. What ever happened at the AAR / SBL meeting happened again and I wasn't even wearing my cute, black wedgies.   That brings me to the elevator story above and the reason I have not posted a blog in about a year. Pain is a great distractor but if you pay intention there are lessons to be learned. More about the lessons learned from pain,  next week.