Thoughts on Trusting Despite Sometimes Seemingly Contradictory Data

Like many others, I believe we are all on our own unique journey. How could we not be? There is no one who will 24-7, 365 share our minute to minute life experience with us but ourselves. We try with social media to draw each other in but ultimately, within each of us lies a universe.

cosmos-little-universe

That being said, when I think back over my life and specifically the dimension of my journey that some would label spiritual and some would label religious and I would label “spiritual and religious” Can someone remind me why these two are incompatible again?!?!?!  It becomes glaringly clear to me that my faith journey and maybe this is true for you too, is akin to a connect the dot puzzle. I’m not saying I have any idea what the shape is that we’re making here but what I can say is, I see a string of dots and I feel their connection to something bigger. You can’t finish a connect the dot puzzle by standing at one dot, glaring it down demanding to know, “Hey, just what are you up to there bub? What’s your angle? What’s your meaning? What’s your purpose?” It is only within the context of the others dots, that it all makes sense. My faith has thus far been an infinite feedback loop of conversation, conversion, more conversation and more conversion. (I consider myself lucky to have been a part of several faith communities who conduct themselves in this manner.) Faith then is the renewing of mind and spirit, always preceded by a death, of some other way, some other mindset, some other idea, some other person or thing.

As the Buddhists believe it is about shedding attachments to the illusions and embracing the reality, the infinite, intimate connection of all life. As Taoist philosophy teaches, the yin and yang: light, dark, joy, sorrow, the dance of gain and loss, have and have not. Everything allows for the existence of everything.

If I’m totally honest, as of right now, I don’t see the bigger picture but I feel it and like a radio signal strengthening, I feel it becoming clearer and clearer, the more time I spend in prayer, the more time I spend in meditation, the more time I dig into the mud of human experience. So, even in the face of what sometimes seems like contradictory data, I see a pattern emerging and I trust myself, those I love and the universe to confirm this pattern and so far, humanity has been my greatest source of blessing and cursing.

I consider it a privilege to be a human with a mind able to actually be able to see our Sisyphean boulders and to push, push, push, even though we all know it’s inevitable, that boulder is coming down. We are going to die, all of us are going to be subject to what Anne Lamott describes as ‘the big eraser.’ Yet, as Pitbull sings, “Every day above ground is a good day” and for those of us who believe that, we will have to guard our joy, against those who still feel cheated by their boulders, who still feel betrayed by the Gods of their imagination or reality and those who are stuck staring angrily at dots, pissed, because the dot they are seeing is not the cerulean scarlet seashell pearl moon star shine dot but, a dot, a point in time, a time to say, coincidence, luck, fate or something more? And often miracles show up in such a low key way, that we could easily shrug them off or oversimplify what we are actually seeing and experiencing. Very often we do, until, like a dam breaking, the evidence stacks up and you can no longer deny, there is something going on here, some higher order beyond my comprehension and I see it in split second windows of coincidences and I’m grateful.

I’ve  found in my own relatively short (chronologically speaking) life, that if we wait long enough, it is inevitable that we will step out and see, that the dots aren’t just dots, they’re connected to something and  it’s something much more real, raw, painful even but also something more beautiful than we ever could have imagined, hoped or dreamed for and that is why I trust, in Sophia, Grace, God/dess, the universe, even in the face of sometimes seemingly contradictory data.

Ron Remembers (Fiction)

Jim? Well, Jim was a tel-evangelist but no camra follerd him. He went town to town preachin da gud news of sein and reepentance. He come from a biiiig ole family Even as a grown up man Jim had a big family. He and his wife Agnes had a whole mess of children, 12 of em.

Yeah, I mean he luvd em, but he wuz a busy ma-en, and he was gone a lot, travelin and preachin.ron

Oh me? I’m Ron, and I knew his oldest, Jerry. When we were kids, Jerry would say “My Daddy told me that God loves us, but we are all too stupid to know it.” Jerry told me his daddy had big talks on stuff. Yeah, he dang near had the whole state of Texas lined up to hear him. He was dynamic… he was vocal… he was always… well, I don’t know if that man could ever shut up. One night he went on in a prayer at the PTA meetin, and my Mama came home and said, “That Brother Waters. It’s always his way or the highway.” She was two shades of red. But that was Brother Jim; stubborn, obstnate, in need of a soul to save. One day we kids was playin basketball and Brother Jim come out and up to me, he said, “Boy, have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior ?” Look, I just wanted to play basketball. I could only answer, “I don’t know, Brother Waters,” I choked.

“Welllllll, ya aught ta. Let’s stop foolin around he-a; it’s time for you to get saved!”

I tried to figure out what he meant, but no sooner had I breathed than he had pulled that little wadin pool up, and rolled up his sleeves on his white dress shirt.

“Come on Ron. Boys git my bible.” He had a glint in his eyes (like a hunter aiming on a deer at dawn). It was all ova in just a blur to me. I was dunked in that cold wata, baptized and Jim stood triumphant (while I shivaed in my wet jeans and t-shirt.) He stood over me like that hunter ova a fat carcass of a fresh kill.

“So I’m saved now?” I asked my mama later.

“He shouldn’t go just baptizing people,” my mama said, all angry and indignant-like.

“Oh Rita, that’s just Brother Jim,” my daddy mumbled between puffs of his pipe. “Besides, it’ll be good, him bein saved. Ron can talk to St. Peter for us.”

“Who is St. Peter? “

“The one at the pearly gates, son,” my daddy said like I would know what he was talking about. I didn’t even know there were pearly gates. I decided to ask Brother Jim.

“Brother Jim? Do you know about the pearly gates?”

“Oh Ron, is someone in your family sick?” He was packin his car for a trip, but he took a few minutes to talk to me.

“No sir. I told my daddy about me gettin saved, and he said that was good cuz now I can talk to St. Peter at the pearly gates.”

“Well, Ron, that’s not the true gospel message.”

“Oh, you have the true message?” I waited wantin to hear it.

“Yea, I do. I got a couple of minutes. I’ll explain. come along boy.” He shut his trunk with a click and spun around on his soft leather very modern shoes. Yea, I can see as an adult how goofy it was that he believed that in only a couple of minutes he could tell me what there was to know about faith, but he had charisma and he was nice. People liked him; most everybody did. He was polite and well-mannered, and shoot even his wife was lovely. Their house was just picture perfect. They always were smiling, like they was real happy there.

When Jerry and I just started college, the dorm phone rung on some miserable dreary November day. I remember that day too well. On the phone was our friend Toby. “Ron“, he said. His voice was a crackin. “Ron, Jerry’s hung hisself. We’re all headin home for the funeral. Since you’re on my way, I thought I’d see if you’d ride with us.”

“Jerry Waters?” I was stumped. I kept thinking about his ideal childhood and his preacher daddy. Why my breath barely sustained me. “Why would he do that?”

Toby said pretty blunt, “I guess he was a homosexual, him and his daddy been fightin.”

I immediately knew what that meant to Brother Jim. Couldn’t bring myself to hear the funeral sermon. I knew there’d be a alter call and a condemnation of Jerry, and Jerry was a good person, like a brother to me. I couldn’t be no Christian no more if that’s what it meant, seeing young men full of potential wither in the eyes of that God it took 2 minutes to explain. Yeah, I got a nephew – he’s gay and I try to let him know we love him, we think he’s wonderful because shoot, we’re in the Bible belt, and his parents aren’t gonna tell him, but I’m not gonna have that on my conscience. Life is too precious to waste it worrying about everyone else’s sins. I wonder if that Brother Jim ever even for just a second realizes that. I mean, I’m a father now, and I can’t even imagine. Oh, I can’t imagine!

Fly Over State of Mind

I used to always wish I lived in a warmer climate. I didn’t know until 2 years ago that I live in, what is often rudely referred to as a “fly over state.” Apparently the Midwest and Iowa in particular, just doesn’t cut the mustard. Do you know what though? I’m proud to call the Midwest region of the United States my home, I am even proud to be born and raised in the Midwest, also proud to be an Iowa resident. In LA and Florida, they may have golden sunshine and year round pools and amusement parks, which admittedly is pretty great too but they don’t have what we have.

Corn.

Ha, kidding, just seeing if you were paying attention.

I’m talking about 4 seasons y’all, all Vivaldi like.

You don’t  have to be from Iowa to know what I’m talking about. You just have to be from somewhere where it’s not unheard of to have blistering hot humid summer days that you think will never ever end. Then before you know it, you need a jacket and it’s time to go apple picking or to the pumpkin patch and don’t you dare pass up the complimentary hay rack ride.

Soon enough you’ll be walking through the freshly fallen snow, on the way to cut down your own Christmas tree on a family farm that gives you fresh hot cocoa and lets you play with adorable soft, very warm, compared to your near frostbitten digits, rabbits. They will be adorable. You will feed them carrots. You will have all the joys of rabbit ownership for 20-30 minutes, until the next family arrives and their kids make pitiful faces until you finally, full of guilt, hand over the rabbits you have so grown to love. Nevermind that you are in your late 20’s early 30’s now, it’s true it is “their turn.”

You won’t even get mad about handing them over but you will debate getting one of those adorable rabbits as a pet, until you google their needs and find out you are not near as ready for rabbit parenthood as you thought you were.

Somewhere past that point, winter will really arrive and vomit frigidly and violently, leaving glittery hills, 2+ feet long icicles hanging off of rooftops and slick scary black ice. Just when you think you can’t stand to layer up for the 73rd+ day, for just one day, it will turn 30 maybe even an entire 40 degrees outside, being from the Midwest you might even be inclined to wear shorts. People from Florida won’t even go swimming in 70 degree weather and if you know a Floridian transplant, they will mock you for so exuberantly welcoming 30 degree weather. Let them mock you, you know the value of the warmth after surviving all those negative temperatures.

Soon enough, something almost magical happens, just when you think winter will never end, it does, it just ends. Snow melts, robins return and flowers bloom. Ironically, those little white bell like flowers called ‘snowdrops’ signify the end of winter’s reign. Spring is again crowned the royalty of the land.

So now, what do you do? Begin the whole crazy cycle again. End. Begin. End. Begin. Death. Life. Death. Life.

I used to always wish I was from somewhere else, anywhere else, anywhere other than the Midwest, the ‘fly over states.’ Now, however, I see how every rain drop, every snowflake, every ray of sun, has equipped me to face the series of never-ending beginnings and endings in my life. I am so proud to call this my home. I am so humble to have had Mother Nature herself as my greatest teacher.

“We Were Supposed to Have Time”

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, we were supposed to have time.

However, as it became starkly clear to me, we were in fact sitting at her funeral, whether we liked it or not.

I was emotionally at one of the lowest points in my life. She had 2 years before this, been widowed by her husband. I had walked that journey with her, in the hospital, to the casket, from the grave side, to her home where I scrubbed her toilets on hands and knees. Now 2 years later, I had just recently wrapped up a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education where I worked as a Chaplain Intern at a local hospital and it was safe to say, that at 28, adulthood was hitting me like a freight train.

All of the things that gave my life meaning were now relative and up for debate. You can’t really look at life the same guarded way when you’ve danced with death’s soon to be partners as many times as I have.

This is the state that I entered into her Holiest of Holy Catholic churches. I brought my guitar because Father Thomas said I could play the song I had written about her. Father Thomas was from Africa and he had such a thick accent that when he introduced himself it sounded very much to the uncultured American ear as if he was introducing himself as, “Father Dumbass.” Which some present at the funeral really got a kick out of, especially when he began referencing “doubting dumbass” in his eulogy. Was it immature of us? Sure, but people in grief often revert to the things that give them comfort and as soon as a family member pointed it out to me, it was something to smile about amidst the complete and utter grief which encased me in itself, like a barbie doll box. I looked fine and dandy to the random passerby but who knows how many silent screams under the cellophane wrapping?

I’ll never forget the feeling of that day, being a former Baptist and now transient from my church home who wouldn’t ordain women. In her church, her home and while the choir beautifully filled the room with their singing, “One Bread, One Body, One Lord of all.” I felt myself rising from my seat, almost in a trance like state. I tripped over and banged into my guitar, it let out a melodic yelp. Father Dumbass shot me a downcast stare. I didn’t care, I felt that at least I would have the Eucharist, an all too familiar and mostly absent companion as of late, to comfort me. I wouldn’t be so lucky, I was met by crossed arms and though the woman who denied me, later offered me extra bread at lunch, I lamented to anyone who would listen to me how terrible to be singing about “one bread, one body” and then to be denied the bread/body of Christ by those who themselves were hypocritically singing such a beautiful hymn. “Don’t offer me that bread when you won’t even give me the living bread.” I said defiantly, after she had walked away, behind her back, like the good person of faith that I am and was. I am making fun of myself at this point and I’m just going to say so because in the written form, sometimes these things get lost in translation.

It’s been 3 years since she died and I still miss her.

We thought we had time, she was supposed to be with us at least another 10 years.

She welcomed me into her family when I married into it. She and her husband were supportive of any path my feet might land on. I miss her support, I miss her love, I miss her laugh. It was like having a non-critical version of my mother’s mother alive and with me again.

I loved my maternal grandmother very dearly, critiques and all but I have to say that Grandma 2.0 was a pretty rad upgrade. I didn’t only think of her as a grandmother, sort of also like a mother. One day she took me to buy my first rosary and all the salesgirls thought she was my Mom. She never had children and I think now looking back, it made her happy to think of me in that way. I scoffed the day it happened but only because I grew up with teenage parents and I spent nearly 30 years with everyone asking me if my mom was in fact my sister. I didn’t scoff because I’d be ashamed of the thought of her, then 60 something, being my mother, I would have been and would still be quite proud if someone thought that. I never got to explain that scoff to her.

We thought we had time but now I see, we only get moments and even those aren’t guaranteed for any of us. Sometimes, I hate how we only get moments in life and we do our best to try to convey who we are, why we are the way we are and how we feel and none of it’s fixed. It’s all so fluid and ever changing. How do we ever really know another? How do we ever really know ourselves?

Well, we know through stories, from others, from the narratives we ourselves lug around in metaphorical suitcases and we unpack them from time to time and see if anyone near by can help us find a place for the contents. However, we don’t often realize how much of what we’ve experienced is distorted, when it happens and when we recall it. Reaching this space, of acknowledgment of un-knowing can be overwhelming and scary. I was so scared when I began to open up to these insights. Then, over time, I found this immense freedom, each day then is a re-birth, a new chance. What do we do with it? Well, first of all we can’t look too far out or we’ll feel as if we’re drowning in a sea of possibilities.

Eventually after feeling like drowning for close to two years, I found myself again drawing on the words of Jesus found in Matthew 6, “and can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

We thought we had time but now I know, we only had and have today.

The hope that now pulses through and sustains me is that we might all have the capacity to have Grace with each other. I think this not just because in my spiritual journey I’ve evolved into a super duper liberal Universalist, although that can’t really be denied but also because maybe there are many things we’ve yet to fully understand, maybe we won’t ever understand.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Perhaps myself or you will be or have been on the receiving end of a scoff that truly wasn’t about us. Perhaps we’ve experienced worse by those we were supposed to be able to trust. Perhaps that will be a future event.

Don’t get too worried about it, take it a day at a time, an hour at a time, a minute at a time.

Whatever you do, don’t worry.

Hang in there.

Keep going, it will (very likely) get better.

Peace,

Irreverent Reverend

Childfree by Choice

Frank Zappa is quoted as saying, “without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” I wholeheartedly agree but what he doesn’t capture in that quote for me is the essence of what it feels like to deviate. Have you ever held within your heart something that you know down right offends other humans? Yet, to ignore it is to deny a piece of your very being. It can be painful. It is not a fun place to be.
I hold in my heart a secret. Although my “secret” isn’t really a secret. Anyone who has known me for the past 5 years could tell you that I have been wrestling with whether or not to have children. What I haven’t been as vocal about is the fact that I am seriously contemplating electing to NOT have children. That would put me in the childfree by choice camp.
Some folks view this stance as morally inept. Others still can’t possibly imagine their lives without the children who helped shaped them into the people they are. Many share their experiences of being opened, vulnerable and more compassionate to their fellow human beings once they had a child. To them, I say hurrah. I celebrate your new vision and capacity for love. I also say, please understand that many people already possess such compassionate over-flowing hearts before or having never had a child of their own.
There are so many stereotypes out there regarding the childfree and for the past week my husband and I have been sifting through them. This all being preparation for one the biggest choices we have ever made. We are preparing to seek permemant sterilization. The thought of having our own biological children doesn’t fill us with joy or wonder but anxiety. We are fully aware of all the foibles and fumbles of our families of origin. Family can be a beautiful thing but if we’re all really honest, family can also be the source of some of our greatest pains.
We also find our hearts aching for the children in abusive households and in foster care who need good, homes. As we look to our futures, we are open to providing a home for such a child.
Today, I say to the world and to you reading,  I’m childfree by choice. If you are too, don’t feel alone.
Today, our vasectomy is scheduled. Let the deviation begin and may progress follow.

Peace,

Irreverent Reverend