Reflections on the election

2016-11-09-08-09-12

This box greeted me when I got off the elevator at my office today.

Here are some things I’ve learned as an adult churchgoer that are coming to mind as I gird myself for the future with our next president.

  • At any given moment, one person can be having a transcendent experience while another person in the same pew, maybe the person sitting right next to you, can be enduring a kind of hell that can’t end a moment too soon.
  • Some people sing beautifully, with rich harmonic sensibility. Others can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Regardless of where any of us are on the musical spectrum, some sing loudly, others quietly, others not at all.
  • For some, a particular prayer or passage of scripture is a precious, delicate thing that must not be tampered with. For others, the same prayer or passage of scripture is an oppressive trigger.
  • There are good reasons why the most frequent thing Jesus is reported to have said is, “Do not be afraid.”
  • One person’s heroic messiah is another person’s evil terrorist who must be humiliated and destroyed.
  • When forces of oppression and annihilation are on the loose, some people collude. Some people flee and hide behind locked doors. Some people keep their heads down and try to pass. Some people—usually those with the least to lose—run headlong into danger, testifying with their bodies or their words or their lives, to the irrational notion that love is stronger than death.

As last night’s election results began to coalesce, my father called me from his bed in the rehab unit where he’s recovering from a heart attack and emergency double bypass surgery. His first words were, “So. Where are you moving?”

My immediate reply surprised me, not so much with its content but with its ferocity, given how defeated and despondent I felt, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying and I’m fighting.”

As I talked with each of my parents last night, as we shared our laments and anger, I felt a deep and renewed appreciation for how that response to stay and fight for what I believe and whom I belove is something I learned from them. Even as I feel so sorry for their having to endure this latest election, I feel infinitely blessed that they are both still alive to remind me how to survive this election: with love, by love, for love.

Yes, some of us are grieving while others are celebrating. Some of us are dying while others are being born. Some of us are feeling liberated while others are being incarcerated, tortured, even murdered for who we are. This is how life is. This is how life has always been. Our task has always been this: figure out what you want your life to stand for and live it as fearlessly and courageously as possible. Take your inspirations where you can find them and build on them. Learn how to love both ferociously and tenderly, and then use that love to change what you can, in yourselves and in the world.

After last night, many of my friends are wondering what we tell our children, whether they are adults or not yet born or somewhere in between. This is what I’m telling mine. And I aim to live long enough for them to tell me their version of this when I need to hear it.

Come to think of it, they already have.

We got next

This week. This life. I can’t believe what I’ve seen and heard this week. Really. It’s as though every cell of my body is simultaneously ecstatic and exhausted.

On Sunday night, at an interfaith prayer service to honor the Charleston Nine at the historic Charles AME Church in Roxbury, the attorney general of my state, Maura Healey, gave a rousing sermon in which she said this:

Today we talk of mourning, the hurt we feel, of healing, and coming together – and that is right. But that is not enough. That will not do. We have work to do. In basketball we say, “I got next” when you want to challenge someone. Tonight, I got next, you got next, our government’s got next. Each and every one of us has got next. We must challenge ourselves and our leaders, every day. Every day, every person must make this their own, to see the world through the other’s eyes, to live the world through the other’s experiences, the other’s circumstances.

Two days ago, the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, ordered all the Confederate flags removed from the grounds state capitol. In one of his statements about the situation, he said this:

“I said ‘we’re going to remove them,’ and I did,” Bentley said. “I’m the first governor that has removed a Confederate flag.”

This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 ruling making marriage equality the law of the land. The concluding paragraph of the decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said this:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is Reversed.

It is so ordered.

Today, my marriage to PW is legal in every one of The United States of America. Today, I listened to my president praise this decision, with a challenge, when he said this:

Those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them.

As the news spread on the equal marriage decision, political people in opposition to it began their predictable chorus of outrage and rebellion. I felt compelled to write a post on Facebook, in which I said this:

Can you hear it? The reactions of people insistent on not obeying this new law of the land (equal marriage) echo the refusals to adhere to the 14th amendment when it first became the law of the land in 1868 (protecting newly free persons who had been enslaved). Are you listening? Are you paying attention to what you hear?

Queer people and allies, do not limit your joy today. But know this: our freedom is inextricably linked to freedom for ALL society’s disenfranchised. We cannot be rest or be satisfied until ALL are free.

In short, we need to work our asses off to end white supremacy and the myriad forms of racism it generates, from the benign to the murderous. It will be difficult. It will require our hearts to break open. It will require each of us to be willing to sit with and hold the justifiable outrage and despair of people we do not know and who do not look or think like us.

Love one another. Live for each other.

As I was typing that, our president began to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the Charleston Nine, cut down in the middle of a Wednesday night Bible study by a white supremacist.

Hearing President Obama lead thousands of mourners in that song gave me such a strong memory of my friend and mentor, the late John Shepherd, who died of AIDS on October 7, 1993, in Washington, DC. He was 48.

I remember a passionate speech John gave during a worship committee meeting on the subject of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” John said he would not play it unless the words “that saved a wretch like me” were changed to “that saved and set me free.” In his speech, John said this:

All my life I’ve been told I’m a wretch. Or if not told that, then treated like one. So while I love this hymn, and I believe in grace, I will not be labeled as a wretch any more. And I don’t want anyone to take that label on. Let’s focus not on who we are before grace arrives, but on what grace does. It sets us free.

Ever since that day in 1991, I have always sung the line that way. Thank you, John, for teaching me to focus on freedom. May we honor the millions who died, enslaved or free, to bring us to this place of a new kind of freedom. May we all find the strength, the wisdom, the grace, and the courage to go out of our way to bring freedom to those are not yet free. If you know what freedom tastes like, don’t you want it for everyone else?

We got next, people. We got next.

The Algebra of Life

Only an infrequent blogger such as I would have ears so tinny as to pose a mathematical riddle on a Sunday. Today’s algebraic challenge?

When does 62 = 24? Show your work.

The answer is June 7. Today is a mixed bag in our house. In the algebra of life, each June 7 marks another year of marriage for my parents while also marking another year that PW’s dad has been dead. Today is my parents’ 62nd wedding anniversary. PW’s dad died 24 years ago today.

Isn’t that so like life? One person can be experiencing a transcendent moment of awe while the person right next to her can be staggering through the endless, rocky, unpredictable terrain of grief. Even stranger is when the same person is living in both landscapes.

I never met PW’s dad, but I’ve heard enough stories to wish I had met him. And not a week goes by that I don’t ask him, in case he’s hanging around within earshot, “Did you see that? Did you hear that? She’s stunning, isn’t she?”

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My parents on their wedding day in 1953.

As for my parents, well, in their 62 years of marriage, I’m pretty sure they’ve reinvented the institution of marriage at least a handful of times. Probably more. I’ve never understood why people are afraid of marriage being reinvented. It seems to me that every couple who enters into this covenant will reinvent it, shape it in their own way, learning how to love each other as they come, to paraphrase Kristin Diable’s “True Devotion.”

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My parents on PW’s and my wedding day in 2004.

I don’t know the particulars that have gone into my parents’ reinvention. I know some of the components that loom large: admiration, humor, and forgiveness.

When PW and I were watching the Belmont Stakes yesterday, we were both struck by how newly minted Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah finished the race–after a mile and a half, it seemed like he was still accelerating. That’s what my parents’ 62-year marriage looks like to me today,  as though their union has more forward momentum than ever before. I also happen to know that their church congregation gave them a standing ovation today, so there’s something else they have in common with the thunderous thoroughbred.

For some reason, this poem comes to mind on this bittersweet anniversary. It’s from Mary Oliver’s 2014 collection of poems entitle, Blue Horses, which PW gave me last Christmas:

RUMI (for Coleman Barks)
 
When Rumi went into the tavern
I followed.
I heard a lot of crazy talk
and a lot of wise talk.

But the roses wouldn’t grow in my hair.

When Rumi left the tavern
I followed.
I don’t mean just to peek at
such a famous fellow.
Indeed he was rather ridiculous with his
long beard and his dusty feet.
But I heard less of the crazy talk and
a lot more of the wise talk and I was
hopeful enough to keep listening

until the day I found myself
transformed into an entire garden
of roses.

Which brings us to another math problem:

When does 62 + 24 = infinity? Live your work.

Lent To Us

I’ve emerged from the endless task of snow shoveling (we’ve had more than 96 inches of snow so far this winter) to find that Lent starts today. These church seasons remind me of the hide-and-seek call, “Ready or not, here I come!” As usual, I am not ready, and I rarely know what to do with Lent, so I went back and read this sermon I gave three years ago on Ash Wednesday. It seems as good a place to start as any.

The Crooked Line

Several weeks ago, PW invited me to preach at the noon Ash Wednesday service at Emmanuel. My first thought, which I kept to myself, was, “Yikes! There’s no way I can be ponderous enough to write and then give an Ash Wednesday sermon.” So, of course, what I said out loud was, “Okay!”

Every time I worked on my remarks, in the days leading up to today, I kept hearing the voice of a man I interviewed recently for a letter I wrote for work. So here’s what I ended up with.

Well, here we are, perched at the beginning of the 40-day journey of Lent. You know, legend has it that explorers used to write “There Be Dragons,” or they’d draw dragons onto areas of maps to represent uncharted territory. I’ll confess that the view of Lent from Ash Wednesday often feels to me like looking at a…

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Update from Prison: Prayer as Pep Rally

UPDATE: PW had a clarification to the first bullet of holiday advice near the end of this post. 3:47 pm Eastern time, 12/23/14.

The two months at the end of the year are the most emotionally charged among the women who are incarcerated at the jail where we do our card-making project every Monday night. This is as reliable as the tide, and has been for each of the 17 years that PW has been leading this program. This year, these past few weeks have featured:

  • A loud woman who seemed almost boastful about her proclivity for stealing. One night she crowed about having stolen an ornament off the Christmas tree during chapel, “because I’m outta here on Wednesday and I liked the ornament and I wanted to give it to my mom!” The guard who accompanied us that night said, “You’re outta here Wednesday? See you on Thursday!” We haven’t seen her since that night. Yet.
  • Several silent, weeping women, painstakingly making cards for their infant children.
  • A table full of ebullient women who sang “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” loudly, complete with shout-outs:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (reindeer)
Had a very shiny nose (like a light bulb!)
And if you ever saw it (saw it)
You would even say it glows (like a flash light!)

All of the other reindeer (reindeer)
Used to laugh and call him names (like Pinocchio!)
They never let poor Rudolph (Rudolph)
Join in any reindeer-games (like Monopoly)!

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph with your nose so bright
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Then how the reindeer loved him (loved him)
As they shouted out with glee, (with glee!)
“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, (reindeer)
“You’ll go down in history!” (like George Washington!)

Last night there were five women, one of whom was chomping at the bit to get started.

“I have a lot to do and I don’t have a lot of time! Come on! Let’s go!”

We hadn’t even gathered for our opening circle and her energy was spiraling out of control. PW responded by leading our usual opening prayer as though we were a football team, huddling in the locker room for a rousing pep talk before taking the field. There we were, five volunteers and five incarcerated women, holding hands in a circle, bouncing up and down to this chant:

PW: WHAT DO WE WANT??
Everyone: POWER!!

PW: WHAT DO WE GET??
All: FRAILTY!!

PW: WHAT DO WE WANT??
All: CERTAINTY!!

PW: WHAT DO WE GET??
All: AMBIGUITY!!

PW: WHAT DO WE WANT??
All: ANSWERS!!

PW: WHAT DO WE GET??
All: QUESTIONS!!

PW: WHAT DO WE WANT??
All: SELF-SUFFICIENCY!!

PW: WHAT DO WE GET??
All: INTERDEPENDENCE!!

PW: WHAT DO WE WANT??
All: PERMANENCE!!

PW: WHAT DO WE GET??
All: TRANSCIENCE!!

PW: WHAT DO WE WANT??
All: CLARITY!!

PW: WHAT DO WE GET??
All: MYSTERY!!

PW: WHAT DO WE WANT??
All: FANTASY!!

PW: WHAT DO WE GET??
All: GOD!!

ALL: AMEN!!

I don’t know whether PW’s ingenious Prayer-As-Pep-Rally approach was what calmed the women down, but the rest of the night was mostly quiet. Toward the end, I stood at a table counting supplies while three women complained about a particular guard who writes them up for things that they suspect aren’t against the rules.

“She says to me, ‘What’s in your hair?’ I say, ‘A floss loop I bought at canteen.’ She says, ‘That ain’t for your hair. Take it out.’ Damn. I’m pretty sure once you buy stuff at canteen, you can do whatever you want with it. If I wanna decorate my hair with a floss loop, I can! Pretty sure that’s not in the rule book. Why she gotta be so angry?!”

They went on to describe this guard in more colorful language. I didn’t say anything. Finally, one of the women looked up at me and smiled and said to the other two, “I know why she’s so angry. Her pants are too tight!”

Then they all, and I, fell out laughing.

Based on my Monday evenings in jail over the past month, here’s my advice for enjoying the rest of the holiday season:

  • When you sing a song that is intended to be joyful, don’t hold back. PW’s embellishment on this advice: If you smile when you sing “Alleluia,” it will look AND sound like an “Alleluia!” UPDATE:    PW clarified: “What I say about smiling when one sings ‘Alleluia!’ is that it makes the resurrection seem more plausible. (:”
  • Some of your prayers might work well as pep talks, complete with a huddle, shouting, and jumping up and down.
  • If you need to cry, but can’t let your guard down, start coloring something to give to someone else.
  • If you want to decorate your hair with floss, gitchyer floss on. But don’t use it before. Or after.
  • If you’re going to wear pants, make sure they’re not too tight.
  • Savor your freedom.

May your holiday season bring you some measure of joy, even if it’s fleeting and hard-won.

Clinging to peaches

Here’s how good this year’s peaches have been. Earlier this week, PW said, “Fifty years from now we’re going to be saying to each other, ‘Remember that summer 50 years ago when the peaches were so good??'”

So here we are in October. The days are getting shorter. The time change is a month away, after which it will be dark here around 4:15. The window on the availability of these extraordinary peaches is rapidly closing. My father is in surgery at this very moment. My officemate is burying her last remaining grandparent, also at this very moment. Beloved friends and mentors are grappling with cancer, surgeries, traumas of all kinds. My boss just buried her best friend, dead from cancer at 42. Friends are rocked by controversies and conflicts in their vocations. I could go on, but, really, the headline I haven’t seen in any newspaper or social media feed is: 15 Reasons Why You Should Try One Of This Year’s Peaches.

The peaches stand alone.0916141325

Later this afternoon I’ll head over to the farmers market in hopes of collecting another batch of these fuzzy globes of summer, along with whatever straggling tomatoes I can find. And we’ll eat them under the shadow of the fear: “What if they’re never this good again?”

Lately I’ve had this sticky mantra in my head: “Forget the steps already trod.” It’s from the hymn, “Awake My Soul Stretch Every Nerve.” It pops up like surprise toast at the weirdest times. It’s got me wondering if fear is just another way of rehashing the steps already trod, of clinging to the memory of this summer’s peaches even as we’re still eating them. I wonder if fear is a way of hunkering down against every nerve being stretched (and, inevitably, plucked).

This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine will include an article about the writer, Marilynne Robinson, whose latest book “Lila” is being published this month. The article begins with Robinson weighing in on fear:

“I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear.” Perched on the edge of a sofa, hands loosely clasped, Robinson leaned forward as if breaking bad news to a gentle heart. “What it comes down to — and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently — is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’ Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations…Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”

Can we overcome our fear with the very peaches that provoke it? It’s an experiment I’m willing to try. Even before my experiment is over, I submit this poem as an abstract for the endeavor. I’ve included it in my blog before, but it bears repeating.

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Tin: Soft, pliable, superconducting, resists corrosion, with the greatest number of stable isotopes

Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" played on kazoos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updated to include some info about tin that I found for a post on Facebook earlier today.

Tin is a soft, pliable, silvery-white metal. Tin is not easily oxidized in air and is used to coat other metals to prevent corrosion.

Tin was one of the first superconductors to be studied; the Meissner effect, one of the characteristic features of superconductors, was first discovered in superconducting tin crystals.

Tin is the 49th most abundant element, and has the the largest number of stable isotopes, 10. This large number of stable isotopes is thought to be a direct result of tin possessing an atomic number of 50, which is a “magic number” in nuclear physics.

Today PW and I are celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. Tin is the traditional gift for this anniversary, so we’re calling it our tinth anniversary.

We had it all cattywampus, of course. We were five years into building a life together before we could have a wedding to legally recognize the marriage we had already begun. We had already exchanged rings, at different times no less. I found a ring I liked before PW did, so we got mine first. Months later, PW found one she liked, and, while different, it shares the same basic features of mine: hammered, dented silver surrounding a smaller, smooth gold band. We both like the reminder that we were already dented when we found each other. It helps beat back the toxic lure of perfection.

I made the video (below) to celebrate our fifth anniversary. Technology being what it is, I can’t find the original file so that I can change it for our tinth anniversary. But I do love the marriage of this song with the images. The story this little video tells is a small glimpse into our ordinary yet miraculous life together.

Happy tinth anniversary to my one-iest one. See you tonight at dinner at that place with the food where we have a coupon. I’ll be the one wearing the same peach-colored linen jacket I wore 10 years ago today.