Marking the Days and Sometimes, Rage

Raging Corona Virus Diary

April 14, 2020
Normally, my days are marked by church days. On Sundays, it is worship and Adult Christian Education (ACE) when possible. That way, I know if the next day is Monday. I know if it’s Tuesday by its location between church on Sunday and my prayer group on Wednesday. Now, NOW is all there is.        “What kind of freedom is it that exists in doing nothing? It is the freedom not to interfere or react. It is the freedom to merely observe.” ~Ananda Baltrunas, “A Prison of Desire”

Window On Beech and a painting by JRobin Whitley

4/20/20
More days have passed and writing was set aside. Thoughts are more elusive these days. One moment, like above, I have something on my mind to write or draw or sing. The next, I am standing at the door staring out at the trees. Trying to calm myself, find a place to anchor my prayers that is not a place of fear, I bounce from moment to moment. Yes, that place is in our Creator. But also, isn’t it somewhere within the goodness of humanity? Aren’t we called to care for each other and the earth?

Going on without denying any aspect of the human drama is what strength is all about. We are carved by life into instruments that will release our song, if we can hold each up to the carving.”  ~Mark Nepo

Something is being carved away from us with this virus. We have a choice right now whether to pick at the wound of it and end up with scars, or to allow healing to occur more naturally. Yet, as humans, not only are we fearful but we all want to be in control. Though experts on the virus, actual doctors and epidemiologists, tell us to remain in quarantine, there are those protesting the stay at home orders. I understand that they are afraid of their livelihoods. Many have been posting things on a FaceBook page that go along with The Proud Boy message. It’s frightening. The group is a designated hate group.

“Established in the midst of the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys are self-described “western chauvinists” who adamantly deny any connection to the racist “alt-right,” insisting they are simply a fraternal group spreading an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda.”  from Southern Poverty and Law Center[1]

I don’t know how to address this with love. When Obama was elected President, many believed all the nonsense about Obama taking guns away. Some of my family members are taking risks now with their lives that scare me. This morning, I am alternating between writing and catching up on the news that happened in the short time that I slept, a powerful article by John Pavlovitz speaks to me.

“I may be wrong, but I don’t believe whatever or whoever god is, that such devastation and death are part of the plan. The best guess I have right now, is that this season of suffering (like all moments), is the sacred space for we who claim faith to live what we believe: to persevere and to give and to heal—and above all, to love. That love, is the only plan.”[2]

Love as the only plan leads me back to speaking up when I can and it is timely, but otherwise to mind my own business. As the theologian Buechner says, to love is to work for another’s well-being even if it means sometimes leaving them alone.[3] That leaving them alone is really hard for us. I say us, because on one hand, I understand that we are all entitled to our beliefs and points of view. On the other hand, in this time of the unknown, the only thing we DO know for sure is that the only way to stop the pandemic is to STAY HOME. I understand what it means to fear for one’s income. Most of my life, I have struggled financially.

None of us in the U.S. have faced what all are facing with the downfall of our government since 2016. No one in the world has experienced COVID-19, so who knows what is best for anyone really? I was glad to see that Pavlovitz addressed the fact that some think that the pandemic is an act of a god. Only a little insecure god would do such a thing.

Taking a break to do the weekly chore of garbage duty, it is hard to return to writing because of the topic at hand. Karl Barth said that the pastor should read both the Bible and the newspaper. His actual quotes about the importance of keeping up to date on our society is so that we understand what it means to live as a person of faith in any era.

“The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

“Reading of all forms outspokenly secular literature – the newspaper above all – is urgently recommended for understanding the Epistle to the Romans”

Perhaps the most clear statement on the record from Barth concerning these matters comes from a Time Magazine piece on Barth published on Friday, May 31, 1963:

“[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’”

The Time article goes on to give us more of Barth’s thoughts on journalists and their place in the world: “Newspapers, he says, are so important that ‘I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church – in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him – either East or West. He should make his vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there is peace on earth is implicit. Have we forgotten the Christmas message?’”[4]

These thoughts came out of his experience with the news of his day. Though Barth was a man living at the start of a technological society, the internet was not something the world shared. Now, in addition to newspapers and radio, we have cable news, social media spread across a wide variety of platforms. There is so much “news” that it is not only often hard to discern fact from fiction, but also, how could we read it all and still have time for prayer or scripture reading? The task often overwhelms me and I stick to only three or four reliable sources for understanding what I going on in our modern world.

Trying to check the news of today while also praying, it is hard to finish this essay. I check on the black bean soup I’m cooking. Write a paragraph, then research the news. The news is too overwhelming causing me to stop writing because the angst of the situation begins to choke me. For fifteen minutes, I work on the icon project of St. Julian of Norwich and her holding the words, “All shall be well.” Though it calms me for the time while working on the painting, the question now arises, “when?” When will all things be well again?

That’s the question no one can answer of course, when will life be closer to what we know as normal. At this point, it is clear that our world is being changed through this pandemic. Nothing will be the same whenever we can return to some semblance of life before Covid-19.

The most important implication of the breakneck changes currently underway, though, is that there’s no going back to normality. That train has left the station. The coronavirus isn’t going away. And even when there is a vaccine, the risk will endure, because climate change and the erosion of wildlife habitats will ensure a ready supply of zoonotic viruses. Companies will have learned to build supply chains with resilience built in. White collar workers will have discovered that they don’t have do as much commuting as before. Air travel will go back to being a luxury. And so on.[5]

Though we have no definitive answers on what the world will be like tomorrow, there is an ultimate goal in life for those of us who claim to have faith. That path is one of love. We are called as people of faith to work for each others’ well-being. We are all afraid and some are afraid for different reasons. The thing we must ask ourselves, however, is what does it mean to trust? What does it mean to trust another human working for our well-being? Yes, but more importantly for the person of faith, the question is, what does it mean to trust in G-d in these days of confusion?

 

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[1] Hate, General. “Proud Boys.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2020, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/proud-boys.

[2] Pavlovitz, John. “No, This Pandemic Isn’t God’s Plan.” John Pavlovitz, 19 Apr. 2020, johnpavlovitz.com/2020/04/19/no-this-pandemic-isnt-gods-plan/.

[3] On the contrary, he [Jesus]is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. from Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechner

[4] University, Princeton. “FAQs about Karl Barth.” Frequently Asked Questions | Center for Barth Studies, Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, 2020, barth.ptsem.edu/about-cbs/faq.

[5] Naughton, John. “When Covid-19 Has Done with Us, What Will Be the New Normal?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Apr. 2020, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/18/when-covid-19-has-done-with-us-what-will-be-the-new-normal.

 

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Ginger Snaps and Coffee

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

There have been several times I’ve started to write for the website. Then the muses bombard me with ideas, poems, songs. This isn’t a complaint though. All artists want their muse or muses talking. Mine can be quite stubborn when I don’t listen because I am ornery. Today it seems they will allow me ginger snaps and coffee if I keep writing. I’m good with that.

“A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.” ~Kate Baestrup

Ginger snaps are good at any time of the year for me. However, fall is my favorite time for ginger snaps. As I bite into a cookie, I remember all the times my sister and I came home from school, grabbed the ginger snaps mom had bought and a glass of milk. We snacked while watching our favorite after school television shows. When Andy Griffin came on, we knew we had to hurry and make sure our chores were done before mama got home.

Our world is flavorful, isn’t it? There are flavors we don’t like for various reasons. Perhaps it’s merely a dislike of the taste or the taste is associated with a bad memory of sickness or hurt. We avoid those (if possible) of course. Then there are those tastes like ginger snaps or molasses cookies that remind us of those we love. Times gone by that were good and safe.

Tastes bring back memories. Molasses cookies were the only soft cookies I liked growing up. They reminded me of the taste of ginger snaps and were another after school snack. However, anything molasses made me think of Grandma and Grandpa Whitley. Molasses were a staple at their house and there was nothing better than pouring that earth brown syrup over fresh hot biscuits.

The molasses were actually considered “grandpa’s” but he always shared with us. Grandpa liked the type of molasses found in the mountains. They were not the jars of blackstrap molasses that one can find in the store. He liked the molasses best that were sweeter and with no bitterness. The viscosity of his molasses was such that it poured like honey and when it was poured, a line of gold shone at the lip of the jar. Just to talk of pouring molasses reminds me of all the times we four of my family sat at grandma and grandpa’s table eating fresh vegetables from their garden or my dad’s. Then, dessert was molasses over biscuits.

The only time we didn’t have molasses and biscuits for dessert was at this time of the year when grandma made persimmon pudding. Though, growing up, we pronounced it as “persimmern pudding”. Seems that we Southerners add syllables unconsciously when we speak. It was only after I had gone to college with many Northerners that I began to hear how our brogue was different from “the yankees”. Returning to work at the fish camp where I had worked in high school one weekend, I laughed to discover that the number four could have two syllables as in “fo-er”.

As the taste of ginger lingers in my mouth, I dream of grandma’s persimmon pudding. Most who have never tasted persimmon pudding turn their noses up because its color is brown like ginger snaps. Grandma’s was a simple pudding made of persimmons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Mama can make one like grandma’s and so can my sister. I’ve made them years ago when I lived closer to farmers who had persimmons.

Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

A persimmon is a fruit of the South. Maybe they have them elsewhere, but even some of my friends west of the Carolinas had not heard of or tasted persimmon pudding. One of the first things you do for a friend is to let them know not to taste the uncooked/unsweetened persimmon. Without the sugar, they are a bitter fruit that turns the mouth inside out. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Teeter, taught us this as we took a nature walk one day and she spotted a persimmon tree. I’ve always been thankful that she warned us so that no one would be able to play that cruel joke on us.

Waking up in the dark this morning, the sun rose in my heart filling it with love for all of creation. Some days are simply like that. Then, during meditation, memories of being loved returned flavoring my soul with the sweetness of memory, more love, and the realization that love transforms everything bitter into something sweeter.

We all know that life can be bitter. Yet, there is a sweetness to be found as the sun rises and birds begin to sing. The pink of the sky kisses the mountains and light begins to glow in the darkness. The day will pass with the good and the bad. Then, as night falls, there is rest and starlight and a safe warm bed. Not everyone has a safe warm bed or food to eat. Some awaken blind and deaf to the world around them. Yet, even then, there can be sweetness in life when it is allowed.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

The thing is, is that love is not aggressive. Love works for the well-being of another and if that other says no, or, leave me alone – love listens, hears, and respects the other. In my life, I wanted to give love to the world my heart full of idealism and hope. Then, as is prone in this world, hurts occurred, and dreams were torn apart. The remedy I was told was to love myself. That made no sense. Yet, time and again the message given to me by priest, counselor, doctor, friend was that real love for others could not occur without first loving one’s self.

The love they suggested was not that of narcissism but being as willing to work for my own well-being as I was to work for another’s well-being. This was hard to learn because it also meant being willing to express my thoughts and feelings even if and even when they were different from those I loved. There were fights and disagreements. The lesson is not one to be learned overnight and one born of loving friends and community. Through that lesson, after several decades of struggle, my own eyes were opened to see that I was not alone; that others loved me even with my faults and insecurities.

Being blessed with friends willing to challenge me in the best and worst of times also taught me that working for the well-being of another or of one’s self means taking the

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

time to look at mistakes and misconceptions. Now it becomes clearer why it’s so hard for us humans to accept love. Why? Because accepting love changes us, and we humans are too afraid of change expecting it to be bitter and painful.

There is pain in the acceptance of love given to me and love I have accepted in and for myself. There’s no special cruise that love boats us to a better place. We have to unlearn bad habits or let go of unhealthy practices, people, friends, and sometimes family. Sometimes it’s merely looking at those people, friends, family members in a different way and seeing that they are afraid too.

Love changes us. When we can trust in love and that real love leads us to health and well-being, we can allow the sugar of life to mix with the bitter chemistry of pain, loss, and fear and cook up something as delicious as a life well-lived. Of course, the persimmon is a passive fruit being what it is. As humans with will and choice, we can always say no to love. My only question is why?

 

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Changing the Story and Changing Perception

“Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.”

 ~Jean Houston

 

Change is not one of humanity’s favorite gifts. Yet, most humans don’t see change as a gift, but more as moving into the unfamiliar. The irony is that the only thing we can truly count on in life is that things are going to change. When we ignore things we don’t like, like weeds, those undesired things can take over and ruin a good life, a good marriage, a good school record, etc.

 

When we look at change as inevitable, then, we are given a choice of direction. We have the ability to change the perception in our own mind of the event (whatever it may be). Just because sometimes change is inevitable doesn’t mean it always has to be devasting.

 

St. Ignatius of Loyola had a way of looking at life where he encouraged his students in this way:

 

During times of consolation, prepare for the oncoming desolation.

During times of desolation, prepare for the oncoming consolation.

 

This was explained this way during a retreat on how to lead an Ignatian retreat. At the time, my Spiritual Director/Counselor said that was a depressing way to look at life. Though I could see how one might see fatalism in the comment, what I had experienced was more balanced.

 

The quote is about the inevitability of life. There are good and bad things that happen. Sometimes it really is only a matter of changing our perception of things. Once I thought about the good things that would return to life (in times of desolation), it was merely a matter of waiting (or wading) through the challenge until normality or gift occurred. That can be a long time. However, by being prepared that during times of desolation that there would be a time of consolation on the way, that made the waiting and the wading much easier. Okay, so maybe more tolerable is more truthful. To be in a time of desolation is not easy ever.

 

Not sure why we think that when we hit those times of consolation that they will last forever. It doesn’t take a lot of living or even listening to music on the radio to know that nothing good ever lasts forever. That truth is the theme of all the arts. Nothing lasts forever. How can one change the perspective on the fact that loss is a natural, human, life experience?

 

Of course, there’s no universal answer. You have to decide what works for you, and I have to decide what works for me. My decision has been to look at loss as the natural course of life. Seasons come and go. People come and go from our life in many different instances. Most of the time, those coming and goings from humans are nothing personal.  Just like me, like you, like us, the ones we love who go somewhere else, have to deal with the question of change and perspective.

 

We can accept change and learn to live with the changes that come or seek to change. The reason our world is in chaos is because of how we all fight to avoid change and sometimes change is growth. To grow is to change and ideally, with the right perception or perspective, we can grow when change happens that we haven’t planned for. What is good about change?

 

Change is all about perspective. When we continue to resist change that is inevitable, like aging, we only create misery for ourselves. This is where St. Teresa of Avila’s quote on loving more than thinking can be quite helpful.

 

“The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so, do that which best stirs you to love.”

~St. Teresa of Avila

 

What “best stirs you to love”? That question can move our perspective to a better way at looking at change. That may mean that we have to take action. In the case of injustice being done to another, it’s important to find a way to be proactive in love. Sometimes change catches us off-guard anyway and all we have time for is to react and not plan a loving response. That’s when it’s vital to remember that we are also called to extend love towards our own selves. When we make mistakes, learn from them, make corrections, and then move on to a better place.

 

This morning during prayer, it was a blessing to be reminded of a dear woman from my time in Tallahassee. She was one of the shut-ins we visited at church. Though we would go to check on her and make sure she was okay, everyone agreed that when you left Jo’s home, the visitor felt that JO had done the ministry. That is because of the power of her love and light. Each time I visited Jo, she always said that she wasn’t lonely because she always knew God was with her.

 

This morning, though Jo died long ago, her light shone into my heart. She lived into her nineties and we all were saddened at her passing. Yet, some twenty years later, the love she shared with me in those moments brought light into sadness for me. Things are changing as I age. People die, move away, or just go away. It is okay to grieve. Here’s the thing though, when I get past the grieving, when you get through the sadness, you too will see that though a person is gone, the love remains.

 

“No matter where life takes you, the place that you stand at any moment is holy ground. Love hard and love wide and love long and you will find the goodness in it.”

~Susan Vreeland

 

 

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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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