Mindful of Justice – Lent 2020

To be mindful means to remember to let go of compulsive reactivity and realize a nonreactive way of life.

~Stephen Batchelor, “The Art of Solitude

Today is Mardi Gras and I still haven’t decided what my Lenten practice will be. I live alone with my dog so there is plenty of solitude for me. What does it mean to be intentional and mindful when the Lenten season is upon us?

I’ve been working on getting my diet healthier so there’s nothing to give up there. Yet, as I think more about this quote, perhaps the journey in the days to come is to focus on what it means to trust G-d working within my own life.

The practice of meditation is one that requires us to be alone with ourselves. In committing to sit in solitude, regularly and without distractions, we are exploring a new way of being alone—a new way of being intimate with ourselves.

Lenten Intentions Page

Since last summer, discernment of where G-d is leading has put me on an unusual path. Of course, I’ve never been 58 and nearing 60. No, I won’t skip the 59th year, just saying that part of the journey is one of embracing the beauty of aging.

The best thing I’m learning from the aging path is that there is much beauty in going slower. Sometimes it drives me crazy that I am a tortoise now, but there’s always some glittering gem that shows itself when patience breathes into my soul.

Yet, as the season of Lent begins, questions arise for which I have no answer. In my weariness, can I find a way to make a difference? Can making a difference be as simple as being brave enough to ask the questions and put the questions into the stratosphere for other believers to ponder?

Then, that easily it becomes clear what my Lenten task is. This year for Lent, my focus will be on changing and transforming my own heart into a heart of justice. Justice for the oppressed begins with me. We are all in this mess together. Let’s pray and act in ways that turn the tide towards justice, hope, and love.

‘If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.’

~ Marvin J. Ashton

Questions I will pray and ponder over as part of my Lenten journey:

  1. Why hasn’t the Episcopal church taken a stand to be a safe haven for immigrants? What is my part in the action or inaction?

I wrote both bishops and no response at all. Yes, 5 bishops of the Episcopal church are making a difference, but what about the rest of us? Bishop Curry does address what can I do here. The bishops are from the border region, but there are others being deported across our country and some of them unfairly.

  1. We have migrants in NC, what does our bishop say?

Last summer, when I still had a car, I was driving home from church and two carloads of brown people (who were small in stature like many Mexican families) were pulled off to the side of the road. The stunned naked child on the hood of the car made it clear they had to pull over for the child. Yet, all I could think of was what if they were running and trying to find a safe place to simply BE?

They pulled over in one of the switchbacks between the church and Spirit Ride Therapeutic Riding Center. It wasn’t a safe place for anything. What do our people, in this community, know about Protecting Immigrant Families? I do understand that I am still learning the communities here. However, there was a huge migrant camp in Cullowhee before the deportations started. One of our church members got deported with her husband. She could have stayed behind I’m sure because her parents were white. However, she was pregnant and also had a toddler. The marriage was new and obviously, it must have been illegal too. I did not pry. Now I find, In Christ There Is No Border and somehow it eases my sense of justice that the institution is making progress in justice issues. What can we do to become a sanctuary congregation? I am willing to begin the talk if that’s what’s needed.

  1. Resolved, That The Episcopal Church recommend that its institutions and congregations become places of welcome, refuge, healing, and other forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people; and be it further…

I type in a google search for a count of how many Episcopal churches offer sanctuary and at this writing, I’m only finding one and it’s in North Carolina!

 

  1. I do see that there are LGBT issues that are being addressed a bit. Yet, this government administration seeks to take away what rights we do have. What can I do as a person of faith that will give hope to those who have no hope in rural areas?

Though the Advocate Magazine often talks about issues that are not political here, it also seeks to keep us aware of how the current administrations wishes to take way adoption rights, marriage rights, and also keep us abreast of the hatred spewed by xenophobic attacks. What am I going to do to spread hope?

 

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First Volume of Praying Together: An Ecumenical Prayer Journal

Now available!

Announcing the first prayer journal in a new series called Praying Together. The daily prayers are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church of American and the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Volume 1 uses Psalms and John as part of the daily devotional reading.

Each volume will also include prayers found from other traditions that may be inspiring as well as modern poets or writers.

Within each volume, there is space to write or draw as one may feel moved. One of the goals, however, is to keep the devotional easy to handle for those with arthritic hands. The BCP and LBW are often too heavy for those with hand injuries or arthritis. The slim format of the book also makes it a book that is easily packed for travel or slipped into the Bible for daily use.

This is the first publication for the new non-profit press, Napping Dog Press of Beech Mountain, NC. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support those in need in the Valle Crucis area of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. If you would like to use these journals as a way to pray and give back to your community, please contact robin @ jrobinwhitley.net for a quote.

These books will be available with each contributing author as well as at City Light Bookstore in Sylva, NC. Ordering with the Indie bookstore or one of the authors will assure you of a more reasonable price.

Biographies of Writers

Jane W. Blackburn is a librarian, would-be poet, rookie old-woman-with-cats, and a person grateful for the love and mercy of God. Born in Alabama, educated in Kentucky and North Carolina, she now calls the mountains of northwest North Carolina home.

Doris Boulton is a former teacher, Director of Religious Education (DRE), and writer. Publications include Religion Teacher Journal, Primary Treasure, Our Little Friend, Utne Reader, Humpty Dumpty, Highlights, Festivals,  numerous poetry journals. Now resides in Valle Crucis, N.C.

Tamara B. Franks is a lover of Creation, intrigued by humanity, and continually seeking the depth of our beings. A native Texan, she lives currently outside of Boone, NC where she passionately serves High Country UCC as its pastor.

Michele B. Jack is a freelance, writer, editor, and graphic artist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives and works in the UK. Her other job is as an IT consultant to primary schools, providing technical help and creating educational resources.

Alicia Randolph Rapking is an ordained Elder in the WV Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as pastor of the congregation at First United Methodist in Parkersburg, WV.  She is a global citizen, contemplative, writer, poet, artist, traveler, scholar, and seeker of justice and peace.

Jordan Venditelli is an ex-evangelical, queer and non-binary, Philosophy & Religion student in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Their work centralizes their experiences of being born and raised in rural NC, coming out as queer and non-binary in that environment, grappling with their queer and disabled identity, and finding an affirming faith community. They love sour beers, their cat – Java, and long chats about metaphysics and intersectionality.

JRobin Whitley is a freelance writer, musician, and preacher. Robin received a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Whitley now lives in the High Country of North Carolina with their dog, Birdie.

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A Definition of Butch: by Searching4Self (Permission Granted)

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Thinking about Butch

©2019 Pamela Lewis. Used with permission.

 

What happened to the butches? This is often heard in the lesbian community and it got me thinking about Butch. This is not about Butch Cassidy either. As I age and care less what others think of me, I become more of my butch self. I’m also going to capitalize “Butch” as a gender identity because I have been a butch with a little “b”  and now I want to be more myself. I’ve been butch my entire life, but what people like to call “soft butch”. It was a way I could pass as straight. It made me feel safer.

 

Stained glass windows at Sagrada Familia (Gaudi)

As I finished seminary, I was more comfortable with my Butch self because I was in a field that was important to me. I was confident in theology and the work I would do as a pastor. Though I still had to “hide” in other ways, I gave up eye makeup. I still wore dresses, slips, hose and high heels to church or a business meeting though I hated them. Being a pastor in the Lutheran Church was one of the most rewarding and blessed vocations of my life. Of course, I lost that vocation when I came out to the Bishop of my NC Synod. The ELCA at the time had not caught up with the UCC or Episcopal Church in the ordination of Lesbians as priests or pastors.

 

As soon as I was removed, I got rid of all my dresses and almost all suits with skirts. I wore mostly dress suits because my professional look was more tailored. Kept a skirt and jacket that mom had bought me for my ordination in case it was needed for a family funeral. At the time, I wasn’t out to them. Yet, the more I came out to family, friends, and anyone I needed to, the freer I felt. I gave up all things “femme” and even stopped shaving my underarms and my legs. I’m not a hairy person to begin with.

Throughout my life, I’ve chosen to remain in the South. In particular, I love the state of North Carolina. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like our state politics and as a whole, the state usually elects bigoted white men as senators. Though, in truth, the senator representing my new county is a bigoted white woman. What does this have to do with how this article started at all you may wonder. How did politics get into a conversation about what it means to be a Butch? It means more than we could ever have imagined.

 

On one hand, I knew this. On the other hand, I don’t care for politics and in my life have avoided discussions about it. Barely knew enough to vote responsibly when I was younger. Then, a dear Coptic priest from India told me why it was important to become more interested in the politics of the U.S. Our foreign policy affects whether his people can eat. Though I can’t say I’m a political junkie, I am becoming an activist. At this point, I may be willing to say that ALL women should be activists. All people of color should become activists or at least all should become MORE INFORMED!

I’ve been reading Jill Soloway’s memoir, “She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy”. In truth, if a trusted politico friend had not sent it to me, I would never have known about it much less read it. There is so much in this book that is helpful. Not only in understanding the challenges of artists, but also of our Trans community. In the book, she admits to making mistakes in different ways, but by the end of the book, you also see how they correct that and also how they are transformed. It is a powerful book.

 

Since my divorce, I’ve asked my own questions about “who am I?” Who am I without my wife? Who am I as a differently-abled person? The only thing I know for sure is that I am claiming my art and my Butchness. When I first moved to my new town in the mountains, I happened across an Instagramer named “butch-is-not-a-dirty-word.” I bought two sets of stickers they had for sale on Instagram. One said the same thing as above. The other says, “Butches Against the Patriarchy.” Man, I love those stickers. Have I gotten brave enough to put them on my car yet? Nope. You see, I live in the South. I do have subtle stickers on my car that the LGBTQ+ community will recognize as rainbow stickers. They are subtle though.

 

After my separation and divorce, the only place I could find that is affordable is set in the midst of not only a large group of Republicans but many of whom are part of the 1% wealthy who buy vacation homes. I keep asking G-d what in the heck is She thinking to do that? They don’t want me here. Yet, the people in my town are wonderful. The more I get to know them, the more I accept that we are all merely human beings trying to do the best we can to get through this life. We are neighbors and friends first.

 

Yet, one of the things that Solloway does in her book is to encourage each of us to become more involved in the changes needed for our country to become a better place for all, not merely some. She and Eileene Myles, another activist, spent time writing what they called “The Thanksgiving Paris Manifesto” and they believed in it so much that Solloway bought the website Topple The Patriarchy.

 

One of the things I’ve been doing in the past two years is accepting and adapting to these truths of mine. Sometimes there are old truths (butch), and sometimes there are new (differently-abled).  I’ve finally decided that if others can’t deal with it, okay. This is who I am. I am embracing my butchness. I like being Butch. Have even been brave enough to wear ties to the church. I didn’t care what they thought. I wanted to look good. Also, I am religious. So be it. I tried changing but I was miserable. Some people would say “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Tried that too and the fact is, I am both.

 

I am becoming more of an activist and my wife didn’t like that at all. She was too fearful. I am not any longer; tired of hiding and always being afraid of who I am. This creative person works as hard as possible, though I am differently-abled. It took me forever to get used to my limitations. Yet, I am finding beauty in them too. In my haste to work, get a lot done, please people, there was so much WONDER that I missed. I am claiming the wonder and the mystery of life.

 

I’m claiming ALL of my life regardless if WHO I am makes others happy. We can’t make others happy anyway. It took forever to get that lesson. Now, I am happy to be me. For all you Butches out there, I want you to claim you too. Because

 

Claim it!

 

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Ornery Muses and Love, Sweet Love

Photo by They Might Be Fierce – Jordan Venditelli

As I finish a music project for a local church and print off a book draft, I have to laugh at how ornery my muses are. At first, I typed that they were uncooperative and realized that wasn’t exactly correct. I’m not having a creative block. If anything, they are hounding me about so many things I can’t get it all done fast enough. My body just doesn’t do fast anymore even if my mind does.

 

You might ask why I am calling the muses ornery or uncooperative if my creative life is thriving. I state this because about a year ago I wrote to let everyone know that I’m working on a new book about dogs. At the time, I was bold and said I hoped to have it out in 2019. It is now June and the draft of the book I’m working on is about prayer, not dogs. How in the heck did that happen? For years I’ve wanted to create a prayer book but couldn’t quite find the right format. Why, when I wanted to focus on a book about dogs, did it suddenly show itself now?

 

Who knows really? The creative process is what it is. One thing that comes to mind this morning is something I realize that I must also admit. The easy thing to admit is that I’ve always loved dogs best and always say I’m a dog person. The harder thing to admit is that this doesn’t mean I’ve always done the best thing for my dogs. It wasn’t because of desire to do right, but I had a lot to learn as a young dog owner. My current dog, Birdie, would say I still have a lot to learn, but she’s a bossy little thing. She is fifteen pounds of love, but also fifteen pounds of bossy!

 

Also, writing the book about the dogs has been harder than I thought it would be. Not only because I will be required to confess to the error of my ways but also because of how dogs are always connected with places and other loved ones. Memories of dogs open up memories of life with others and when those others have been lost and the dog has been lost too, well, sometimes I get tired of writing about loss.

 

The music project I planned on doing this year (a CD of hymns) has morphed so many times into other recording projects that I’ve lost count. The good thing is that it’s empowered me to encourage others. The difficult thing is that I need to practice my guitar more often…even when Birdie wants to play dragon-pull.

 

This day I will be facilitating discussion on a book at church. Writing books means one must also read books. Reading books takes away the time for writing books. Also, some books I’ve read lately have been extremely well-written or exquisitely poetic and my tyrant brain says why bother?

 

When I get discouraged the beauty in life is how the muses or the universe, or G-d, send messages to let one know to keep on going. Creativity has been my life’s work. In that creativity there has been a theme of love. As long as I’m creating words of love, songs of love, paintings of love or the result of love, the world is a better place. Here is a short video of what I’m trying to say.

The corrections are that I was not 7 or 8, but junior high age and the version of the song playing was sung by Dionne Warwick most likely.

 

Please visit Abigail Rose Clark also has a wonderful post about love and the importance of loving yourself and working for your own well being called “Beyond All Binaries” where she asks these good questions:

 

Where do we think we need to be good to be loved?

Where do we think we need to be right to be worthy?

Where do we still buy into the belief of right/wrong, good/bad, worthy/unworthy?

And how do those beliefs influence our relationships?

 

 

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