Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The photos are beyond belief.

I keep going back online, looking at images of the devastation in the Gulf Coast. Unbelievable. The hardest part for me to think about is the relief that people in New Orleans felt when the hurricane passed, only to face the horror of the levee breaches and flooding. Such an emotional roller coaster. And now families are scattered like leaves before a wind--how long will it take for people to be able to come together again? I can't imagine. And the story of the woman whose ill husband ran out of oxygen and died, and she was trying to find someone to help her move his body, so wrenching. There are no words.

Monday, August 29, 2005

If there was ever a good day for prayer... would be today. Hurricane Katrina has made landfall. Let us hold all of those whose lives have been and will be affected by this storm, in our hearts. Let us especially hold those whose lives were already difficult because of poverty, or age, or disability.

I also hold three people I know who have been struck by loss in the last two weeks: a woman from my church whose father has died after a lengthy illness; a man from my church whose mother died, suddenly, while in the Colorado mountains on vacation with her sons; and someone in ministry, who was let go from the job into which he has poured heart and soul for five years, because the new, large-corporation owner of the entity where he had been serving has its own plans for the future.

This last one is a person I obviously don't know well but respect greatly. The corporation has not, IMHO (and remember, I don't know all the facts) dealt ethically or justly with the employees of its acquired company, and I am reminded once again that there is what I can only call evil afoot in our American culture, an evil that surfaces all too often in business decision-making. I don't use the word evil lightly, but the widening gap between rich and poor, the sharp decline in customer service, and the tendency of a privileged few to make decisions that decrease quality of life for the less-privileged many, be they employees or customers, certainly paint for me a picture of evil. Much of the evil is unconscious evil, as our systems are set up to either protect decision-makers from, or minimize perception of, the effects of their decisions. Nontheless people's lives are being destroyed for the benefit of a very small privileged few, and it is happening every day, and the sentimental Christianity of the ruling powers that be sticks in my craw. If you want an example of what I mean, visit the website for The Denver Post ( and read the articles about workers whose promised pensions have evaporated.

And pray, pray for us all.

On a more positive note, our church hosted Carolyn Marshall and Pat Grant of Marshall-Grant Ministries, which is a traveling ministry of Christian music and inspiration. Lovely women, delightful to work with, and they put on a great show. Made for a good evening last night, welcome after so much bad news.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Stopping in briefly

...with thanks to Steph for her comments on my last post. She's right--young men are not getting, from older men, consistent messages about their position and responsibility in matters sexual. My hope for church involvement is dimmed somewhat by the number of clergy abuse scandals, not just those involving clergy and young children, but the equally distressing cases of male clergy pursuing inappropriate relationships with female congregants. I don't know what other seminaries are doing to address sexual ethics explicitly, but mine is not, I think, doing a lot. The question of boundaries and right relationship did not really come up at all in my Christian Ethics class. It *was* addressed, and firmly, in my Pastoral Theology class, but that was taught by a woman, and I sometimes think men need to hear this stuff FROM A MAN, and one they respect. Last year, as an exercise in one of my classes, I was leading a group discussion of the story of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2). I was pointing out that in society Rahab was on the low end of the power spectrum as a woman and a prostitute, and one male student seriously disagreed, stating that women in sexual matters actually have ALL the power. Good heavens, what a belief! And it's endemic in the culture. A man has no power over his own impulses, and a woman, by being a focus of his attraction, has actual power over him? No wonder men feel so wounded when confronted with consequences for their behavior. There is a lot of work to be done, and not all with straight men, either.

CPE group is pushing every limit I have. It was good to get out to the clinical piece yesterday and re-ground in a sense. If my purpose is to be stretched I will be nine feet long when I am done with this unit--but I am actually very grateful for it all.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sounding just like my father--except different

So the remains of La'Toyia Figueroa have been recovered, and it is believed that she was murdered, and there is the possibility that she was murdered by the man by whom she became pregnant. As the accused is in fact innocent unless/until proven guilty, I won't say more about this case except that I am profoundly saddened by the death of yet another beautiful young woman and that her four-year-old little girl and the rest of her family remain in my prayers.

In hearing the speculations about her death, I am reminded that earlier this year the Washington Post published a series of articles about a statistical link between pregnancy and homicide (here's a link for anyone interested: And the media have covered a number of cases (Laci Peterson, Cherica Adams, Lori Hacking) of women who were murdered by the men with whom they became pregnant.

Now, the meaning of the numbers has been contested, and justifiable criticism raised over at least the reporting. It would not be accurate to say that every teenager, for example, who becomes pregnant is at risk for homicide. Statistically, it is not huge numbers of pregnant women each year who are murdered--but even one is too many. But stories like this make me wonder, especially when I am a bit cranky: what on earth ARE we teaching our young people about sexuality? About relationship?

I know, I know--sexuality is only a part of the picture, and the incidence of homicide among pregnant women is about violence primarily, and the homicides of pregnant women are, to some, more loathsome because the death of a fetus is involved even than because the death of a woman is involved, but really. Can we not at least communicate that murdering one's sex partner is wrong?

People. These are women, murdered by men because they had the audacity to become pregnant and to maintain their pregnancies. Which brings me to a key point: where is the focus, by religious organizations, on the moral responsibilities of men? Church folks spend so much time talking about abortion, and talking about it as a moral issue of women, but do we spend even half as much time talking about the moral issues of the men with whom women get pregnant? Last I heard, women could not reach the point where abortion becomes an issue without some contribution from some man, somewhere.

Somehow, some way, some day, I think that churches are going to have to step up a lot more. It's so easy to be "moral" by talking about abortion and gay marriage--especially if one is not in a position to be intimately involved with either! But the "morality" of sexuality is so much more than those topics. How many congregations would tolerate sermons about abusive relationships? About exploitative sexual behavior? About communication and sexuality, even in "ordinary," socially and religiously normative (that is, heterosexual) relationships? I suspect many congregations would not; perhaps I am wrong, but I think the whole topic makes so many people so uncomfortable that we don't cope well. Which is one reason why gay sex (the horror! the horror!) is something so easy to oppose--it's "other" for most people.

For the record, I am a homosectional* and my denomination holds the position that spirituality and sexuality can/should be integrated. I suspect that individual churches and regions vary in the extent to which we discuss openly what that means... I think the UUA and United Church of Christ, who co-developed the OWL (Our Whole Lives lifespan sexuality education curricula--here's a link for that: have gone much farther. (I've heard wonderful things about OWL btw, although I think many churches would reject it for its discussion of abortion and its affirmation of sexual orientations other than heterosexual, and its progressive understanding of gender.)

Anyhow I need to stop ranting for tonight, though I may return to this general topic --church and sexual morality teaching--it is complex, and I've been thinking a good bit about it.

* A good friend, now deceased, told me that an unsympathetic relative had once in his presence referred to people like him as 'homosectionals,' prompting from him the only possible response: "I am NOT a piece of furniture!"

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ah, a lovely evening

So today I got the stamps on the stuffed and labeled envelopes (last night's chore) and mailed the wolfhound club's newsletter, hooray!! and read a couple assignments ahead for CPE and went back to the vets to get the wolfhound's rabies certificate re-printed to indicate (correctly) that he is a NEUTERED male (we are ALL neutered here at Our House). And this evening, with the dogs' supervision, I assembled the fertilizer spreader and spread a nice coat of Weed/Feed on the front section of bindweed, the one where the dogs do not go. In honor of this effort a few drops of rain fell. Alas, as the Weed/Feed is not supposed to encounter water for some number of hours (which will be about 36 because my next watering day is Saturday). In consequence of all of this the dogs are exhausted and are sleeping. Oh, I forgot, I took the wolfhound to PetsMart to schmooze, because, poor darling, he lives to meet people, and has not had enough fun of late.

I anticipate that I will awake tomorrow to a strange darkness, rather greenish-tinted, as I discover that the bindweed has been channeling a plot of kudzu and, aided by the fertilizer and the thunderstorm that appears to be brewing, has grown over the entire house. I wish I had thought to move the weed whacker indoors rather than leave it in the shed; I may need it to get out in the morning. (Not actually trying to write sentences of Faulknerian length, just rather stream-of-consciousness at present...)

Next week I will have my first individual supervision for CPE. My regional elder told me that she expected CPE may not, because I have more life experience, be the completely overturning experience it can be for some younger students. I hope she is right, but I know I tend to freeze if I feel myself being negatively judged and that is a process I have got to learn how to cope better with. It's odd, in the summer months seeing patients as a volunteer, I found myself a bit more likely to try out different interventions and approaches than I did last spring in field education. It might have been just having had more time and feeling more comfortable, but I think not being under focused supervision had something to do with it, too. Even though my supervisor is not only very insightful but very tactful in giving feedback...he tends to preface his comments with "I couldn't help but notice... " rather than "What on EARTH were you thinking??" which is very nice.

I met a particularly delightful man doing care center visits in this last year. His health was failing rapidly at the time I met him and so I only got to see him a couple of times, but he was so engaging I hope to remember him always. Along with a lot of other delightful characteristics, he had perhaps the most beautiful masculine hands I have ever seen, very wide and long and strong. His fingers were long and elegant but in perfect proportion to wide palms. To me, his hands suggested both power and gentleness, and I will be always grateful to have met him, because now, when I think of the loving hands of Jesus, I will always imagine this man's hands.

It has begun to rain, and I can almost hear the bindweed, stretching out with the rain and some good food. The weed and feed product I have used is *supposed* to be effective against bindweed, but my bindweed has survived three years of severe drought, and so in my imagination no mere commercial product will be able to touch it. Sort of like my dogs, all of whom have found Bitter Apple products to be merely a gourmet seasoning for furniture.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Note to self: Do not take all three dogs to the vets at the same time. Ever again. No matter how convenient it seems.

Second note to self: Yes, it is true that 36 pounds of terrier, divided between two dogs, can pull harder than 135 pounds of wolfhound. This is because the wolfhound, try as he might, can only go in one direction at a time. The terriers, because there are two, are not thusly limited.

First CPE last night. I think (she said, cautiously) that there are parts of this (she said, not wanting to be overly optimistic) that I may enjoy. The learning possibilities are awesome. The supervisors are very experienced and very, sometimes frighteningly, insightful. I am so grateful for the extended unit format that I'm taking. I know myself well enough to know that a 10-week unit probably wouldn't work for me right now, because I need the time to reflect and process. Also, logistically, I need to be able to take a course along with, to maintain pace in school.

Have been thinking some about 'theology' as it is taught in seminary and crafted by theologians. And thinking about my own style and how, given my past education experiences, I would expect to love theological reading and academic study. I have been surprised to realize that I find a lot of academic theology so "head-y" that I have trouble integrating it. The more theoretical it becomes, the harder it is for me to see that it has anything to do with God.

One thing I've learned so far is that theologies which are purely transcendent or purely immanent in their view of God don't feel complete to me. I find that I tend to imagine God as a definite entity that exists outside of me, not 'deep within.' I also imagine God as passionately interested in relationships between people, as well as in how people relate back to God.

Took a class on Religious Heterosexism this summer, in which we were exposed to a high-level view of a variety of 'gay' theologies. This was nervous-making for me as I found myself having trouble relating to all of them! Inherently each approach was formed in response to some form of oppression or opposition, and if one is continually reacting it is difficult to arrive at an approach that sustains over the long haul. And yet I think an approach that sustains over the long haul is what will be wanted, if people are ever to be able to come together and talk about GLBT issues, or even to talk openly about sexuality itself. "Gay is Good" theology is fine up to a point, and may be of great comfort to someone who has been so battered by the clobber passages that she, or he, can barely walk into a church, but it doesn't help someone who is non-gay who has heard untruths about "the gay agenda" over a lifetime and has never had reason to doubt them. As an example.

And all of the above is an example of why I should not try writing when I have a cold. Snort.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sunday evening mumbles

Very busy day today, with an ordination at our late service. Lots of visitors, denominational leaders, friends of the ordinand, etc. I wish I had felt more festive. I just finished some work at my old job, the job I held before starting seminary. Being back made me realize how glad I am to have taken the leap of faith to start school, but it also made me wish, somehow, that I could have been happy with what I had--the steady income, etc. There are some great people there, but my passions in life are just different. Not better, not worse, just different.

I am very tired today, and feeling a loneliness deep in my bones. One of our members posted, to a private church site, an impassioned plea for focus and attention for HIV/AIDS ministry, a plea to 'end silence.' It's a sign of how tired I am that I read his plea and wept--I wanted to say, but there are so MANY silences, so many secrets that people carry, so many of us, even those who are lucky enough not to be affected by HIV, who need to give and receive support. Somehow this one 'silence' seems, to many, to be THE one that matters.

My reaction is, I am sure, a message to me, about me, about my own difficulties in asking for support in times of weariness. Sometimes it just seems too hard in church, too risky, too much like my childhood, when there was always someone in the family whose need was greater and more important than any of mine. After all, what need do I have that could possibly trump HIV? Any more than it could trump the constant and genuine crises in my family? Even the terminology--the word 'trump'--is from childhood, because there was never enough to go around, and life felt like a constant triage system, where the only way to receive was to have the most desperate need.

So, tonight, I spent time outside with the dogs, and time inside cuddling the wolfhound, and resting. It has been a long few weeks and I need some quiet meditation time, some laughter, some putting-myself-at-the-top-of-my-own-prayer-list. Selfish though that be. If we don't take care of ourselves, no one else will!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Well, so far so good.

Who would have thought that a Luddite like I would end up with a blog? I can rather see that this could become addicting.

Time to introduce some of the cast of characters:

The Dog is the Irish Wolfhound, 3 year old neutered male, sweetest boy on the face of the earth, most sociable boy on the face of the earth. Smartest? Not so much. Cannot multi-task. Walks into objects while watching people on the other side of the street. Surpassingly huggable.

The Big Dogs are two terrier mixes, 12 years old, far smarter individually AND collectively than either me or The Dog. They rule the house and have done since I got them as wee puppies.

At present the Big Dogs are asleep in the bedroom and The Dog is asleep, farting gently but fragrantly, at my feet. He and I took a three mile walk earlier. He actually was able to heel successfully through a pile of windfall apples, the measure of success being that he did not grab a single one. I had to talk to him seriously first though. "You are THREE YEARS OLD," I said. "YOU CAN DO THIS." His eyes replied, "But why ever would I WANT to do this?" Cuts to the chase every time and forces me to resort to The Mommy Voice: "Because I said so. Windfall apples in quantity are not good for you. And besides they are Not Ours."

Starting CPE next week. Have been told it is like group therapy in the midst of crisis. Somewhat nervous. Also very excited. I did my basic field placement with this agency, and during my final evaluation session with my supervisor I mentioned that I was having a hard time finding a CPE opportunity; that's when he told me about this extended unit that he is offering.

There have been a few of these coincidences that make the hairs on the back of my head stand up. Praying for a sign that giving up a steady job could be really right--and getting one (long story). Qualifying for a scholarship. Finding out about/applying for/being accepted into this CPE unit. There is something to this "openness/seeking/trust" stuff that is hard for me to really grasp. When, if ever, will I learn to say, "I can do this?" Will God get tired of me asking, "Are you sure??? Are you sure it is OK for me to do this? Are you sure I *can* do this??"

I have to go finish a newsletter that is due, and I want to spend some time with Tuesdays With Morrie. It's required for the first CPE group meeting. I finished it in a rush and want to go back in a more thoughtful manner. I cried when Morrie died. I think that was the idea, or part of it!

In the Beginning

It was a dark and stormy night... no, it was a gray and rainy morning. And I decided I need to have a blog for a variety of reasons:

  • Keep up with the cool people (not a chance really)
  • Be able to leave comments on some blogs I really love
  • Get back to journalling, which has always been a rich endeavor when I make time to do it.
  • Play and have fun.

Me? Older returning student in seminary. Somewhere in Western half of USA.