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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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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Gratitude, A Way of Life

Gratitude is thankfulness, but without the gluttony, don’t you think? As we enter into the winter holiday season, my mind turns to the aspects of the holidays that we love about the holidays. Some of the holidays are religious, but others, like Thanksgiving were created by a President. These holidays have meaning for us all in different ways. Today I ask myself the ways we can celebrate family or community that aren’t filled with political incorrectness, materialism, or religious antagonism. That may be a monstrous task. Yet, our society has been in disarray to the point where we must look at our lives differently.

 

In my life, I always loved the Native Americans and their love for nature and the land. When, as an adult, I discovered the truth in our country’s Thanksgiving lie, I was torn. Torn because I didn’t want to celebrate what had happened to the Wampanoag, that both saddened and angered me. At the same time, Thanksgiving was the time it seemed my family got together and celebrated. The season was not as stressful as Christmas. Even as a child, I could feel the tension in family at Christmas that wasn’t there at Thanksgiving. At the Thanksgiving meal, everyone was merely peaceful and thankful.

My dear cousin married a Navajo musician and was the first to explain to me why she no longer celebrated the U.S. holiday. She is a kind woman who I know I can talk freely with and explore feelings, thoughts, and even dreams. Also, when talking with my cousin, I didn’t have to explain the tensions or dynamics of a big Southern family to her. She knew and lived a similar experience. Each year afterwards though, I think of the truth of how the Native Americans were treated, used, and then later, not only abused but massacred…some tribes to the point of extinction.

These stories are learned through reading the histories of Black Elk, Tecumseh, and The Trail of Tears. When I lived in Oklahoma, my favourite thing about living there was to see signs saying that the person was entering the Sac-Fox Nation or the Pottowatomie Nation. I was excited to be able to live among such noble people. Yet, they were treated as outcasts. The Native American there was treated like the blacks of the South were treated when I grew up in the 60s.

Years passed and I continued to learn how unmerciful the whites were to the tribes. In the book, 1491 (Charles C. Mann) a history is laid out about how the tribes welcomed the white man or the Spaniard, and then were exploited through the Americas. They were not immune to smallpox brought here by the Europeans. We stole their land and moved them to reservations or Oklahoma. In the comedy show, Latin History for Morons   Netflix says, “John Leguizamo won’t rest until every moron becomes less of a moron.”

Usually, in writing blogs, I like to have plenty of photos to break up the words. As we enter the “holiday season” I exhort you to change the holiday. Let’s take a holiday from bitterness, greed, and strife. Let’s choose to love one another and care for our world and our neighbor so that each day we live a practice of gratitude. Gratitude does take practice too.

Human beings that we are, it is easy for one to focus on the negative aspects of life. We forget the beauty and gratitude of merely waking up. Grief does not rest during these times either and can even be exponentially triggered. Can we take a holiday from the rush-a-holic business of this time of the year to pay attention to feelings: both the feelings of self as well as the other? Can we practice that each time we think something is wrong with a person to try and find what is right?

Even writing that paragraph was a hard practice for me. Why? Because I know that if I ask another to practice something, I must also look in the mirror at my choices and my actions. This practice of gratitude doesn’t have to be vocalized and in fact, vocalization can mask a dark reality. Look deep inside of yourself. What do you see there? Can you give thanks for all that you are? I know I can’t. Yet, I can give thanks that I have friends who love me just as I am.

My dog sits at my right foot watching me as I write the end of this blog. She thinks I sit at the computer for too long. Pets teach us the true meaning of gratitude, so does nature. Turn your Black Friday into a green one by going for a hike in nature with a loved one. There are many ways that we can practice gratitude that include all of humanity and our world. Let’s start this year.

 

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When I Am Not Writing…

When I’m not writing, I am creating something else. Or in the case of this blog, I’m also creating as I type because I’m listening to new musicians (at least new to me). The world is big and our souls even larger. In addition to valuing the creative spirit, I believe in the power and value of learning from others.

There are many ways we can learn. For me, it’s a mixture of listening, reading, and doing. Though my hope was to finish a book about dogs before year’s end, I’ve gotten engaged in painting again. Also, I’m working to bring two CDs to fruition. One is ready for mastering and it’s a CD of English Country Dance music played on guitars. The second is going to be a surprise I will tell you about when it is further fleshed out. This video is a kind of hint…

Painting is not something that comes to me as easily as music or writing. As a result, it takes me a long time to paint. I’m better at sketching, but there’s something rewarding in painting that is similar to writing. Just as I enjoy the feel of pen to paper, the feel of a brush painting color and bringing a thought or expression into being is healing.

We are all a work in progress.

“As we listen more deeply to suffering, we begin to notice non-suffering. The heart realizes its innate courage, strength, and invincibility. This journey through pain and suffering burns away the impurities, and what is revealed is something pristine, clear, and beautiful, like a moonlit pearl: the tender, merciful heart, and its infinite ability to receive the cries of the world.”

—Thanissara, “The Grit That Becomes a Pearl

The past year has been challenging as me and my dog, Birdie adjust to this new place and living without my wife…or ex-wife now. Divorce is hard on everyone. Moving is hard on the one who has to move. Death never gives us a break. Then, there’s always the world of politics. Everywhere we turn as humans, there’s something challenging happening even if others don’t always see what’s happening in our life.

I like the above comment because it speaks of the power of creativity. We can let the pain and suffering of life grind us to pieces, or we can be like a grain of sand and become something beautiful. To write this is not to spout Pollyanna crap. Life is just damn hard sometimes and I’m not going to make it sound like a positive attitude can make things turn out as we want. However, with a positive attitude and determination, we can make the best of a situation.

Not all of us can paint, sing, or play an instrument. That doesn’t mean we are not able to create something good out of the strife around us. Regardless of what life brings or what humanity does, we can all choose to be the best of self. Leo Buscaglia in his book, Love, says this: when we go to meet our creator, we won’t be asked why weren’t we the best artist, musician, mathematician, teacher etc. Instead, we will be asked, “why weren’t you the best you?” Don’t focus on perfection. Just be you.

 

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Calling All Heroes

Calling all heroes, it’s time to step up. At 57, I ask myself again, “What am I doing with my life?” It’s a question I’ve always asked myself and as a result, well, became rather results oriented. The first decision I made was in sixth grade. I was going to be a foreign missionary to India and teach music. I wanted to share the gift of church music in a foreign culture. From an early age, I was fascinated with India. Through Girls in Action (or G.A.s), I learned of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two main religions in India.

 

Though Hinduism was confusing to me with its copious list of gods, Buddhism sounded a lot like what Jesus taught to me. I was in elementary school at the time. Because I was supposed to see the “bad” in a religion that was not Christian, I did not tell anyone that I thought it very similar to Jesus’ teachings. I wasn’t sure how I would address it when the time came but was confident that God would guide me.

 

I went to college to study church music and music education. A pamphlet from the foreign mission board of the Southern Baptist church (where I was a member for that part of my life) pointed out the value of mission everywhere a person lived. As a result, I decided that I wanted to stay in church music in the US. I really didn’t want to be that far from my family.

 

Looking back, I can see that the idealist in me thought that somehow, I could play a part in saving the world. I’m using the word, “saving” in the manner more of saving a life from death than one of salvation. I was never a very good evangelist, even though I will quickly speak of all that God has done for me in this life. Free will. I want you to have it just as much as I want to have free will. Don’t tell me what to do and I won’t tell you what to do. You can see the challenges as you read that last sentence. The world is full of people who want to tell us the “right” way to live without any thought to the person in front of them. It always seems like we know better what is best for the other. In fact, nothing is farther from the truth.

Happiness happens when you fit with your life, when you fit so harmoniously that whatsoever you are doing is your joy.  ~ Osho

We set goals that are formulated by our jobs, our faith community, or those around us never contemplating the implication our actions and choices may have on society at large. We are only a small part in the community, right? How can what I do affect the larger world? Many laughed at me when I chose idealistic paths and some may laugh at me still; calling me naive in the ways of the world.

 

What if those of us who are idealists are not naive, but prophetic instead? What if those who seek a common good for the world see the larger picture? What are you doing with your life? Are you living to be the best YOU that is possible? I can’t be you. I don’t have your talents, gifts, stature, power. You don’t have mine. And as small as I feel sometimes, there is always something happening in the world to remind me of the privilege I DO have. Here it must be admitted that there are times I am prone to pity parties. No one comes but me, so it’s never any fun. Then, always, God steps in and reminds me all that I do have and the blessings that have abounded in my life and I end up thankful and humble. Perhaps this is not unique to me and you too suffer in such a manner.

 

What we need to be reminding each other is that we are not alone? No matter what is happening in the world, we are here as presences. Presences that can change lives. When heroes are asked of their inspiration, it is almost always some humble person living a life of integrity that inspires the hero to become heroic.

A cool version of Robin.

Did I want to be a hero? You bet I did. At the time I wanted to be Batman. The “Robin” we grew up on was a dork. I never wanted to be a damsel in distress. Hell, I never wanted to be a damsel or a girl, though it felt better to be a woman than a girlchild; as though I had some kind of power. To be a woman is to hold power, but what kind of power? Our society is full of imagery that denigrates women and shows them as the weaker of the two genders. As many are beginning to address, gender is more fluid than a marking of genitals. Power is something that a human being fosters deep in the soul. There is power that is given because of birthright or wealth or politics, but true power is more than that.

 

True power comes from the center of one’s soul and is unique to each individual. When the lowly shepherd, David, was born, he was endowed with a power that God needed. This wasn’t something the parent or society gave the child or the growing boy. Yet, it was something God identified within the youngest child of Jesse. Once anointed, this small shepherd boy brought down a giant with his power. It wasn’t the power of an army or birthright, but the power of belief in his God-given abilities.

 

It was David’s belief in his shepherd’s ability to aim true that brought Goliath down. Saul’s entire army had been fighting against this giant with all their might. David brought the giant down with a stone because of his talent as a shepherd, not his talent as a warrior.

In our world, we have many giants we face. The giant may be a lifelong goal yet unachieved, or it may be merely a hurdle or mountain to cross in life. The political landscape of our world is in upheaval and it is unclear at times who or what to believe. Now is the time to claim your power. Now is the time that God calls upon all lowly sheepherders to embrace the goodness that you are and aim true.

 

Don’t try to be like someone else. David tried on Saul’s armor and it was bulky and made it hard for the young boy to maneuver. Saul could not have been David and as a result, Saul later tries to kill David out of jealousy. Perhaps we are like Saul and are older. It is time to step aside and allow the young warriors and young musicians to lead life to a better place. It doesn’t mean that we no longer have value, only that our power is shifting.

 

There is beauty in every moment of life. Embrace your current moment. What are you feeling now? What are your sure of NOW? Can you be kind to the person next to you? Then be kind. Can you lift up another’s spirit? Then be a light. Are you called to be a warrior when no one else is? Then choose to be a warrior with integrity.

 

Clearing
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing
in the dense forest of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.
~ Martha Postlewait
Moss as a ground cover.
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