Category Archives: Family

Pregnant with Holy

Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID www.garrisonphoto.orgThe Christian liturgical year spins the same every year. Advent marks the beginning, so by now the Christian community has already flipped its calendar. Identical seasons as ever, but, being a species of continual re-newal, it’s a time of discovery. If we’re paying attention, wonder even.

In Advent, we hear stories of Mary and Elizabeth, and some of us are uncomfortable.

In this most “feminine” of seasons, we hear stories of pregnancy and all the natural wildness that is creation emerging into the world. If you’ve ever been pregnant– and I know I haven’t– that season was marked by transformation in mind, body and spirit. Evident to the whole wide world, something changed in your life forever.

For our family, as our son Sam was ripening, Trish experienced freak-out as well as hope. Peace as well as terror. Her somewhat snooty vegetarianism found her eating beef and chicken, and life was out of control.

She felt the summons to surrender everything.

This is not a XX chromosome thing; this is a human thing. So– heads up, pastors and worship leaders– if we’re not emphasizing the spirituality of women in Advent, we’re missing something essential.

One text I wish were part of Advent is Psalm 27. (No one asked me). It has several distinct chunks. In fact, some scholars say it was originally two or three separate songs.

The last line goes,

Wait for God; be strong and take heart.
And wait for God.

I think our midwife spoke those words years ago during our home birth.

In Hebrew, the word translated wait could just as aptly be hope. In Advent, we are invited to prepare, wait and look forward. Good practice for life in general, right?

So.

What is ripening in you right now?

How is your community swelling with new life?

Does it feel joyful? Solemn? Scary?

Any of that would be expected in a life-changing endeavor.

There’s something alive, growing in you. Ripening in its time. Welcome to Advent, the perfect season to practice this pivotal time as holy.

May we pay attention as G-d brings us to term.

Listen now to “Wait For God,” a Psalm 27 belly-softening song for Advent hope.

Pic by Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography. http://www.garrisonphoto.org


An Open Letter to my Gay Friends

Heteros please read, too. 🙂

This has been a long time coming, but I’m finally ready.

As much as you know I resist labels, I have noticed something about you, my gay, lesbian and transgendered friends. With no exceptions I can think of right now, you have a unique boldness that I love and need in my life. When I witness it, I want to be more honest with myself, take risks that matter, and not waste a moment of my love and life.

Maybe boldness isn’t the right word. Because in some cases, society has not given you a choice. But whether you’ve felt strong or not, you’ve decided to survive and thrive and to me that looks like courage.

Here’s the thing: I love people who know their uniqueness, who have come to trust it and live that uniqueness fully. I consistently experience this with you.

You have taught me about an artist’s freedom. Just write it down, sing it your own way, paint it passionate. Art is supposed to stretch us, and true humans are intended to feel it all. You know yourselves the way only those who have come to an edge can.

Many straight people have never been confronted with the question of how our true, free selves look. Lots of us haven’t done the work you have.

You have stories of brave risk. One friend told me in his pre-out life he held intense feelings of protection for his family– how could he trouble his family with who he really was? How could he cause pain to his friends by coming out? And he held this for years.

By pure chance, in many regards I am a person of privilege in my particular society– caucasian, male, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, middle-aged; I may never feel the weight of risk that you have. I may never have to place my physical safety, my job, my sense of livelihood and reputation on the line for merely being who I am.

You have. I know you have.

And though we all have unique and powerful things in our identity that ask to be noticed– top of the list for me has been the stigma of divorce, mental illness, and an artist’s lifestyle– sexual orientation is, at the moment, the hottest button I can think of.

As a result of coming out, it seems to me you are attuned to integrity. Similar to my friends in recovery, you have a strong B.S. Meter for both yourself and others. Many straight people are at a disadvantage here; some of us have not yet grown to be honest with ourselves. We rarely consider what is at stake in living honestly and fully because we just haven’t had occasion.

As you know, I am all about “world-making” when I teach about music and liturgy– that what we enact as a community is what we create for the whole world. I am so happy that Sam was baptized in a church where families of all combinations were present, that his earliest years were surrounded by both gay and straight couples, differently-abled bodies, folks from all ages and social status sharing pews with their arms around each other. This is the world we wanted our fresh, new baby to know is real and good.

Trish and I figured this out last year: at ten years old, Sam has been to more same-gender weddings than straight ones.

That’s just to say the world Trish and I offer the next generation is one where you are among the most brilliant loves.  Not in spite of your sexuality, because of. We believe one of our greatest purposes as parents is to seed the world with someone who honors the beauty of you and all who live out their uniqueness. This ten-year-old does not see you as a them. And he will tell his friends.

Whatever a person’s story, those who live out their uniqueness are Christ emerging in the world.

So where can straight people sign up to be gay for a day?

Or have a mental illness? Or be in recovery from addiction? To, in whatever way required, come to the edge of themselves? Because whenever and however you do that, you come alive, and as Howard Thurman said, above all the world needs people that are alive. The alternative is unspeakably tragic for all.

What if all people had the occasion to cultivate a deep, centered clarity about who we are? To not waste time hiding, padding what’s true, or waiting for others to get comfortable with the truth before it’s revealed?

We’d understand something stupidly simple– that we all have brave stories, breakthrough seasons, and have hearts that function best open wide.

Do you know what a gift that is to the world? Especially right now?

God. Thank you.

It’s ridiculous that so many do not recognize you as the Christ among us, the Buddha awakening. [Deep breath.] At the risk of opening a can here at the closing, I’m sorry the world is so damn slow. I’m ashamed that the church has fought against you. I’m exasperated at the fear some still feel when they see you.

Weary heros of humanity, thank you for choosing to survive and thrive.

Thank you.
Thank you.

I am thinking especially of you today, and celebrating you:

H & J
M
M & M
J
B & S
D & R
H & J
M & S
M &
B
C & S
C
R
C & M
E & partner
M
R
C
S
BB
K & K
A with D 


The Emotional Lives of Ten-Year-Olds

Why are thousands of ten-year-olds sad today? Lego Universe, the amazingly bright, whimsical, smart and fun interactive adventure MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game)  game, closed up shop last night. Not enough revenue from subscribers, we’re told.

Our son Sam had tears in his eyes as in the late hours many avatars posted their final good-byes. “Good-bye, Lego Universe. I’ll miss you.”

Sam was sad. So was I, but he had some real grief. For the past four months, he had played with his pal Nathan to the brink of his parents’ allowance of screen time– an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But I let him plug in for extra rounds yesterday, the Last Day.

As eschatology was fulfilled and the stars went out one by one, I was reminded how passionate kids are.

And how adults sometimes forget to pay attention.

Sure, the occasion is not tragic in the scope of the world’s deepest problems, but feelings are feelings.

So I thought about my role as a dad. I want to listen carefully and guide our son who is inexperienced with the power of emotions. Strong feelings can be disorienting and it’s helpful to have a mentor. What’s at stake? Picture the grown-up child with a sense of personhood that either accepts emotions as a vital, chemical, good part of his or her life or something peripheral to stuff and resist.

Treating kids with respect is making a new world.

Jeez, I’m getting all preachy now.

What would your life have been like if you’d had a respected adult honor your emotions when you were ten? How would your life have been different if a grown-up had helped you understand the nuances of anger, sadness, joy? And maybe you did. And maybe you’re grateful.

If you’re a grown-up, you can help kids explore what emotions feel like and what they mean. Invite them to feel them and sort them out. When you do that, you serve this world today and also you’re helping with the formation of a fully grown homo sapiens sapiens. Maybe a someday President, doctor, bus driver or artist. You’re helping to shape the world toward health and integrated wholeness.

You maybe don’t remember having feelings for the first time, such as grief, confusion or delight, but when the moment comes for the kid in front of you, maybe you’ll be one to witness it. How you choose to handle this moment may instill some confidence and guide that person on the road to an integrated sense of self.

And now I’m getting all Buscaglia on you.

Sam and I talked about how he had come to know this game and the characters, the great symphonic music, the stories, the colorful play. The whole context had become like a friend, and we miss friends when they go away.

Let me be honest.

Part of me was tempted to diminish this. To point out there are worse atrocities on our planet than the shut down of an online game he played for free in our warm house. Part of me wanted to remind him of the holocaust and show him pics of Bosnian refugees. I guess that part of me wanted to give him wisdom and some sort of speech about not being self-centered. You know, perspective. That’s part of my job as a parent, too, but I’m reminded that Douglas Adams wrote that a sense of perspective can crush us. Okay, he said it much funnier.

There’s lots of ways to love a kid. These days, I am learning about keeping it simple.

How do you think about nurturing emotionality in the young people in your life?

We’re sad about Lego Universe, and that’s good for now.


Introvert Practice: Good, Alone and Free

I went to strip away what I had been taught, to accept as true my own thinking…no one around to look at what I was doing, no one interested, no one to say anything about it one way or another.

I was alone and singularly free.

— Georgia O’Keeffe

.

Sometimes you need to get away to see yourself clearly. Pry yourself away from the impulse to please family and friends, watch yourself be a self-standing whole You, and feel what that feels like.

Much of my vocation orbits family life, to give myself to wife, son, parents, sister, friends. The feeling is cozy, immersed in a glorious web of color and song. I love this life.

And then there are seasons where I feel entangled, and I begin to feel derivative of these powerful forces to which I gladly give myself.

Imagine with me browns, greens and blues. I am thinking of one of my favorite solitude spots, a one-room, no-electricity cabin in the woods. I stand on the edge of the forest, swallow hard my Blair Witch-phobia, and exhale. “This is my time,” I speak out loud. Nothing to produce, no multi-tasking, no email. Nothing to keep up with, no meetings, no waiting. No, in fact, clock.

I step slowly on the path through the oaks, as to not cause a wake to disturb the leafy floor. Slow. Slow. Slow feet for this seasonal pilgrimage to meet myself. “Nice to meet you,” I’ll say. Deep smiling sigh. “Tea?”

I inhale the sounds of squirrels and birds and the leafybreeze. Wind, spirit, Ruach. I watch for deer and turkeys for their medicine. I look for the cabin to come into view like meeting an old friend.

There is absolutely no one interested in what I am doing, and I am for the moment singularly free. Like Georgia.

When I am in the midst of change, I need solitude to get my bearings. Shout it from the mountaintops: I am an Introvert.

I love people for whom the opposite is true: when they are overwhelmed, they need a party. Like my friend Doug who just about crawls out of skin when faced with a contemplative exercise. Both ways in the world are good, and it’s good to know who you are.

Georgia cultivated her artist’s life by getting away. Silence and space refreshed her imagination for her true life.

Introverts unite! Er, Disperse!  In this change of season, some of us are getting out of the current that’s been sweeping us along. Even for an overnight, or an afternoon. Shoot, maybe an hour would do it: to practice your alone-ness, your free-ness and your goodness.


Tell the Truth Faster

Trish and I were in a canoe on a little lake in Wisconsin. A loon was there, seeming to follow us as we paddled around slowly.

Today my Beloved and I celebrate the anniversary of Island Day, the day when we first professed our love for each other. It was kind of a big moment.

I’m glad there’s something on the calendar reminding me that I have been brave and honest in sharing my love. Definitely worth celebrating.

When I don’t share who I am with people, I experience their love for me as conditional. It’s not any lack on their part; it’s because somewhere inside me I know it might be different if they knew what I was thinking. So though love abounds around me, it meets a secret semipermeable membrane.

If I have not opened my heart naked to you, I can only receive your love under the conditions I am offering to the relationship. I feel it as conditional.

I am so grateful to my Beloved for continually inviting me to understand the mystery of love in the world.

Sometimes it’s a brave thing to be honest. It’s a risk you measure out, and there’s plenty at stake. Other times, it’s intuitive, flowing and bright and you give it no thought. I desire that life and that sense of trust. I want to, as Jack Canfield says, tell the truth faster.

As we raise a glass to brave Island Day, here’s to all the ways you are opening to love by saying what needs to be said.

Take it away, John Mayer:


Our children have already decided.

A few weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted into their denomination’s constitution Amendment 10-A which allows the ordination of publically-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to serve as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, Elders, and Deacons. Effective July 10, 2011, the amendment was made part of the Book of Order.

One friend who was present at one of the Presbytery votes said there very little attempt to rally against the amendment. There were a couple of old, caricatured arguments registered against the legitimacy of gay and lesbian people being equipped and called. Stuff about sex, Scripture references torn out of Leviticus, etc. Overall, there was almost a sense of resignation that, as he put it, “Our children have already decided.”

What a powerful statement.

One message of the Star Wars epic is that our children can redeem us. Sam the wonder ten-year-old is teaching me how the world needs to evolve. It’s clear to him that he both has a strong lineage and that he is on the planet to in some way break free of it. Like Jesus who loved his tradition enough to faithfully mess with it.

A few years ago, the ELCA made a similar vote. In the aftermath, a number of local ELCA churches left the denomination. In the congregation I served at the time, individual church members pulled their offering pledges, wrote letters of protest, and even stopped coming to worship as a way to demonstrate their beliefs. It might get tough here for awhile, and I’m grateful for the PC(USA) taking this prophetic step.

For now, I celebrate the unfolding of the church and the evolution of faith-full community wherever it happens.

It’s gonna be okay. It’s all in the hands of the ten-year-olds.

  • More Light Presbyterians: A national network of folks seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Covenant Network of Presbyterians: A broad-based, national group of clergy and lay leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole.
  • That All May Freely Serve: Advocating for an inclusive church that honors diversity and welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons as full members.

Marriage 2.0 and Counting

Last weekend in Minneapolis I got a new wedding ring. Nothing wrong with the old one, it was just Time.

In our going-on-12-year partnership, Trish and I have gifted each other with new rings whenever there’s been an important change of season in our marriage. It helps us give deep attention to the subtleties of our relationship as it carries us like a river into new territory to discover.

As we shared this with the good people at Irish on Grand (where I found my ring) and the other artsy places along Grand Avenue (where I didn’t), they all said they’d never heard of this way of doing rings. Since I’m a blogger now, I could not hide the lightbulb above my head under a bushel basket. (I’ll pause a moment for you to enjoy that image.) Here’s the story:

Trish and I have realized from the beginning that our anam cara relationship is a spiritual practice. That is, it’s one of the primary ways we are transformed and enact transformation in the world. I love talking with people who do relationship this way. Each partnership is a unique dance, a one-of-a-kind jewel. When I hear stories from other couples, I see possibilities for what our own marriage might be up to. Relationship requires a rich imagination because, like my friend Jonathan Rundman sings, “Love is science and love is art.”

There are two parts to a lasting relationship: change and stability. To the first point, relationships are dynamic, flowing and often bewildering. They change all the time. You can’t step into them twice. No surprise here, since both parties are presumably living, breathing creatures, each of whom is evolving in their own unique way. But to the second part, there’s also the dimension of stability and trust that happens over time. Between the partners there is a heart-opening sense of safety and strength. If the needle goes too far one way, you have a dusty institution on your hands. Too far the other way, it’s chaos.

The mysterious weaving of these two juicy elements is one reason I am here on the planet.

Getting new wedding rings plays with this potent blend: Trish and I desire a sign of our relationship’s strength, AND we want that sign to change over time. To honor such glorious mystery, however you do it, is a gift to the world, because you know and I know there are plenty of places mystery is snuffed out. So instead of a lifetime ring on each of our hands, we decided it might serially evolve. The changing shape, style and color of the rings on our hands is part of the delight of paying close attention to what our Beloved is doing with us.

Side trip for liturgical geeks: This is not unlike the visible sign of the sacrament that represents an invisible grace. When you partake in Holy Communion, for example, you may experience the Meal differently every time. There’s the anamnesis element of remembrance alongside eschatological celebration, connection to the human story of existential isolation but also the salvation of community, connection to the Jesus Story in crucifixion lament as well as resurrection joy. Or when you witness Holy Baptism where we are both drowned to death and raised to New Life. There’s lots to unpack. In this way, I can appreciate why Roman Catholics see marriage as a sacrament. Sheesh, that ring’s got a lot to hold.

In my marriage with my partner, I think of these two entwined mysteries as being held not by either one of us, but by a kind of Third Holy Thing. Which brings me to the name we have for our marriage: Beloved. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying: Beloved. This Beloved holds us together.

It seems to have a wisdom, compassion and will all its own.

Sufis speak of Allah as the Beloved that is closer than we are to ourselves. The Christian tradition speaks of the Christ-life in which we live and move and have our being. In the Hebrew scriptures there is the Garden of Eden holding space for delight and holiness, and the Song of Songs with the dazzling dance between Lover and Beloved that is the passionate love of G-d for Israel. To me, our Beloved has that kind of heart.

As a spiritual practice, relationship can be both a magically ecstatic and nakedly terrifying place where you face the Truth. I am continually amazed at what our marriage brings to me (and asks of me) if I am paying attention. I’m amazed, I suppose, because I don’t quite get what’s going on here. For example, Midrash around the book of Genesis is rich with dialogue exploring human sexuality, equality and uniqueness among the genders. In the story of Eve and Adam, the Hebrew term for their partnership has a loaded connotation: “an adversary, as it were”. That is, your best life partner is one who will be against you in all the best ways. Wo. Is that what I signed up for? Truly, yes, because how else would I grow, but it’s good I didn’t think about it too much on the day I said “I do.”

When things get complicated, crazy or scary, the main temptation in our society is to oversimplify. Tame it. Control it. Kill the mystery in it so we can be sure where we stand. In other words, to keep from being overwhelmed by a thing, we overcome it with understanding. That’s often the urge in relationship: to box it up and label it. And, by the way, this is true for any relationship: parent-to-child, grandparent-to-grandchild, neighbors across the backyard fence, dorm room-mates, middle school frenemies, adult life partners. These interconnections are powerful because they are under no one’s control. They are a luscious blend of you, the other and some third thing in orbit around you both.

Side trip: There’s a Native American idea about this, that in any gathering there is a spirit created out of the unique persons present. The people’s intentions, moods, their choices to speak or listen, all of this is woven into the making of a spirit that has never existed before and never will again. Our presence and choices in community matter as much as if we were giving birth to a whole new being.

To consider a relationship an honest spiritual practice, you do a rare and amazing thing. You open yourself up to to be changed by this out-of-control thing. You give yourself to something Other than you. It’s really nothing short of a miracle for that to happen, survival-oriented, biological-success-driven beings that we are. To approach a relationship this way requires vibrant imagination, and a trust that this thing is alive and knows something you can’t access alone. I operate in life favoring and cherishing this mystery because I feel protective of it. The alternative is a relationship that has crystallized, under tight containment  in an effort to keep it the same through seasons. As Thomas Moore writes, literalism in any relationship is the end of it. Any time we think it’s arrived, it’s over. The fun is celebrating each moment while knowing full well that it will never be the same again.

When Trish and I got married 11 years ago (which we were privileged to do by law because we claimed to be heterosexuals) we noticed something about the service we designed. Whereas many beautiful weddings are a moment of ritual to bring a partnership into official being, ours was about celebrating what we knew was already true.

So back to the rings. How are our rings ringing true to our Beloved in this current season?

The last time we got new rings for one another was in Florida few years ago. In the midst of a retreat, we realized we were discovering something new about who we are for each other. My new ring had a silver swirl like an ocean wave or a curling arm.

The one I chose last weekend has a loose Celtic knot spinning in infinity (hey, hallelujah) like Pentecost wind and fire. It’s good. It’s perfect for how I’m stretching right now. And it will someday grow stale, ceasing to spark my imagination about what our Beloved is doing. Then it’ll be ring shopping time again.

Well.

I do go on, don’t I?

Your thoughts? You partnered people, how do you keep it fresh? How do you celebrate both the stability and change of your primary relationship?