Thursday, July 26, 2007

Here's the PUPPY!!

This is Toby Wolfhound, cute as he can be. He is every bit a pet; if you know wolfhounds you will guess that at the very least his ears are not his fortune, but look at his cute face.
He is doing well. We (all three dogs and I) mowed half the back yard. I'd been worried Toby would spook at the mower, but no. He was initially taken aback by the noise, but soon decided, puppy-wise, to use the mower as an excuse to run. He'd chase after it, and then turn and run away. If I stopped and called him to check on him, he'd run over with wagging tail, all happy. He likes the mower. Who'd have thought.
He's now met three neighbors, and this morning wanted a longer walk, and seems shy but game. I think he'll do a good job at what puppies do best: making things better.
Other news: I applied for a weekend/on call chaplain position--the HR person just called to say they hope to have a decision in another week. It has dragged on for some time and I don't feel all that confident. But while we were mowing I realized that if they really HATED me they wouldn't bother to keep me in the loop. Perhaps. Maybe that's not true, but don't tell me. I need to keep some hope.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A puppy!!!! Overwhelming joy!

My beloved Wilson Wolfhound died in February at the tragically young age of 4.5 owing to heart failure, a problem in the breed. I was bereft; if one loves big dogs, there is nothing so comforting as a big dog to wrap one's arms around, to talk to, to love. I have missed my big darling desperately during this wilderness time. My two old terrier mixes, also beloved, have been doing their level best to pick up the slack, but anyone who knows terriers knows that, for them, picking up slack generally means redoubling their efforts to manage the entire household. I have laughed and laughed, and the Terrors and I have enjoyed wonderful long walks even though they are both 14 and each have several veterinary diagnoses.

A wonderful friend of mine in wolfhounds has been putting the word out that there was a home that needed a wolfhound, just in case a wolfhound came along that needed a home. Today, a five-month-old puppy came to join me and the Terrors. He has spent much of his life outdoors without a lot of human contact and affection. However, he is rapidly deciding that affection and patting feel very good, that a house with soft rugs on the floor feels good for sleeping, and that one's very own bowl of fresh cool water is a particularly good thing, especially when one has not had these things on a regular basis before. He tells my friends and me, by virtue of his face, that his name is Toby.

When I met him earlier today he was overwhelmed and exhausted. But by tonight he had met the Terrors and loved them, figured out how to lean on me and ask for patting, figured out how to look up with endearing puppy eyes and give kisses, discovered his puppy bark, etc. He is simply adorable.

We now will begin the adventures of socializing, training, vetting, and etc. But oh, it is so wonderful to have a big furry friend to hug.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wilderness Fatigue

So I went to the ECC (Evangelical Catholic Community) congregation where I've been hanging out the last few weeks, and my former seminary classmate the Sarcastic Lutheran gave a truly excellent homily linking themes from the book of Ruth and the story of Mary Magdalene. The Sarcastic Lutheran is an intimidating bit of creation indeed. I have yet to discover anything whatsoever that she cannot do. And on top of that she is one of the most authentic people I've encountered, very clear about who she is and is not and very open.

Anyhow as I sat in the pews I was struck with a wave of grief; I want that, I want to preach again, to share the elements of communion, to bring the message of a loving if sometimes profoundly annoying God (read the Psalms of Lament if you doubt that last) to a community. All of that I gave up. And why? In the sad times it is hard for me to remember that the theological differences that lie behind my decision are genuine and deep, and that the denomination I left is best served by my leaving, as am I. I find in myself a certain desire to be super-flexible-pastor, no theological position too challenging for me to embrace, no behavior too challenging for me to affirm as good. And yet that is not who I am. My former denomination, which brings a particular and profoundly needed message to a community desperate to hear it, moves in theological directions where I just, simply, cannot follow. Thus, the wilderness, thus the deep grief, the continued collision with the limits of who I am; and thus the oh-too-human desire to wish those limits away, rather than to engage them as part of God's calling to me. How prideful of me to think that I can, or should, have no limits to whom and how I serve. Is there any other human who is without limits? Hardly. Surely, I think, there must be people whose limits are more compatible with mine, to whom I can bring something needed.

Unfortunately, at present, the wilderness, while no doubt containing exciting and life-giving possibilities, also contains tangled vines, old branches that trip one up while walking, and bugs. Perhaps even snakes. And almost certainly porcupines.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I have been spending a lot of time doing housework, which is a thing I actually enjoy when I have time to do it. After three years of graduate school, there's a lot of housework to do. I am feeling particularly ruthless, which is exactly the right frame of mind for housecleaning, as it leads me to toss things for which I really have no use at all. Am happily scrubbing baseboards, vacuuming cobwebs, etc., etc. It is a good anchor, that and reading prayer twice per day.

Have been visiting an ECC congregation the last couple of weeks, and enjoying the people and their sense of commitment. Hung out with the Sarcastic Lutheran before service last week and with ECC folks afterward for lively discussions about church, roles, theology, what ordination means, and the like. These discussions are timely as emerging churches and emerging denominations are considering how to understand the role of pastor/spiritual leader. ECC is ordaining women, and also having to decide what constitutes an ordination call and process, and emerging churches, it seems from what little I know, are thinking deeply about what it means to be a leader--not an "authority figure" from on high who tells people what to think and do and believe, as the role of pastor has been cast by some, but something else... the questions that arise from the desire for leaders to be more transparent and embedded in community are important questions.

ECC I think faces some theological challenges, because it posits itself as "Catholic" without being rigorous as to its sources of authority--it is now focused on formation as a denomination and on openness. I think the healthiest thing ECC can do in this stage of its development is to build a set of values that allows for open, even heated, discussion of difference. Theological knottiness is down the road sooner or later for them, because what it means to be "Catholic" is not simple or straightforward for those who join. For some, it means remaining identical to the positions of Rome except for certain ones that are troublesome; for some, it means remaining identical to the ritual and rubric of Rome but with greater openness as far as membership and ordination; etc., etc. Eventually this will need sorted out, because "Catholic" is so multivalent that there will be definitions that are mutually incompatible, that will have to be discussed. A climate that can handle discussion in a healthy way will be their best tool to take forward IMHO. And trying to find positive distinctives, rather than defining themselves solely over against Rome.

Back to cleaning now.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Simply stunned


Our President held a news conference this morning to announce that current events in Iraq show that progress has been made.

Is ANYONE surprised he would say that? Shocked, appalled, disgusted, heartbroken, irate, sure, but surprised?

OF COURSE that is what he said. It is what he wants to believe and what his privilege and his resistance to reality and his careful choice of supporters tells him to believe.

Tell it to the people on the ground. Tell it to the families who have lost loved ones; not just American families but Iraqi families. Tell it to the women who have been raped. Etc.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The "Religious Right" and the sex industry

So, a couple weeks ago I went to a book signing event at a big independent bookstore. Mike Jones, the man who disclosed a sexual business relationship with former evangelical leader Ted Haggard, was there to talk about his book and sign copies. I didn't know what to expect, and in particular I didn't know who would attend. Would the audience be sympathetic to Haggard or to Jones, or would most be merely curious? Would the appearance turn into a slanging match? As it happened, I think most attendees were either curious or sympathetic to Jones. If Haggard supporters were present, they remained quiet during Jones' talk and the question and answer session.

Jones, a long-time bodybuilder, is a good-looking and very well-spoken man. He is unafraid to tackle any topic and in particular is unafraid to speak directly and explicitly about sexual matters. He read excerpts from the book, some about his escorting business, and one about the death of his mother, which occurred only weeks before his discovery of Haggard's identity. During the question and answer session, Jones received generally supportive comments for his choice to reveal Haggard's political duplicity (Haggard, as a powerful spokesperson for his variant of evangelical Christianity, opposed gay marriage and aligned himself with really vicious anti-gay language).

At the time that Jones disclosed his contacts with Haggard and since, I have had reservations about the choice, since the action also impacted Haggard's wife and five children--it seems they did not know about his double life, and found out about it in a particularly public way, and I didn't think that aspect of their experience had been addressed in the discourse about the whole mess. So I was pleased to hear that Jones himself says that in retrospect he might have done some things differently.

During the question and answer session, a number of speakers thanked Jones for his actions and some called him a hero for having exposed this hypocrisy. A few spoke about how significant it was to them that Jones had "taken on the church," and expressed their opinions that the church was the single most dangerous institution facing sexual minority persons. These remarks garnered applause, and I felt uncomfortable about this. It seemed that many of those present saw the sexual minority community and conservative religion as utterly separate and diametrically opposed. (They may also have seen the escorting business as representing the sexual minority community as a whole.) The more I thought about it, the more I thought these remarks, popular as they were, represent a potentially dangerous oversimplification.

I'm not particularly familiar with the sex industry, but in his talk Mike Jones stated that he had had sexual business relationships with many men employed in churches. He also stated that he suspected that some paid his fees with money taken from collection plates. I think it would be fair to say that he saw his work as providing respite from the hostility these men encountered in their work and daily lives, of providing a dose of tenderness and caring that allowed them to go back into the world and function. If it is accurate that there is a significant number of men in conservative religious institutions who desire male-male sex and seek it out from sex workers, then the conservative institutions and the sex industry are not in fact separate and opposed, but tightly joined in a complicated symbiotic relationship. It is pretty well known that some religious institutions raise a lot of money by disseminating really vicious anti-gay propaganda, generally focusing on the sex lives of sexual minority persons to the exclusion of any other considerations. In such propaganda, all sexual minority persons are identified with extreme images of pornography, prostitution, and the like (all of which exist among so-called "normal" heterosexuals as well). So these religious institutions benefit from gay escorts like Mike Jones in two ways: they use exaggerated images of such people in their propaganda, and gain supporters and money; and, individuals within the movements use sex workers in support of living double lives, maintaining their positions of power and reward while obtaining particular satisfactions "on the side." These postures on the part of individuals and institutions are certainly problematic. The sex industry, however, in providing services to men living such double lives, also allows the power structure to be maintained without challenge. It also depends for some of its income on the very existence of structures including religious ones that require secrecy and denial for sexual minority persons. In these ways, looking systemically, both the sex industry and hostile religious institutions are complicit in maintaining one another EVEN THOUGH their positions would seem opposite. Let me make it extremely clear that I believe this symbiotic connection is NOT limited to gay sex; I am writing about gay sex because that's what Jones and his book are about.

Mike Jones, in publicizing Haggard's duplicity, lost all of his escorting business. I don't know that there is any "going back" for him. He could be embraced by conservative religious movements IF he "repented" of his past and denied his sexual orientation. Neither party in the deadly embrace of symbiosis has room for Mike Jones as he exists today. And, sadly, the symbiosis will continue.

There are conflicting opinions about whether, or how, Mike Jones' actions impacted the larger political sphere. The long-term effects on Haggard and his family and his former congregation are yet to be seen. The effect on Jones has been exceptionally complex. Naming him as a hero and ignoring the larger systemic realities may feel good to some, but I do see some moral ambiguity in his actions and positions. I see moral ambiguity most places, so that does not make Mike Jones unique in any way. But, listening to him, I got the sense that Mike Jones is a complex man who might, actually, fare better in his own life in the long run by facing the ambiguity.

That's enough for now. More on the topic in another post.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


So, Sunday was the first time in more years than I can think that I did not attend service at the church/denomination I am leaving. This was a far more emotionally-laden event than I had expected; I thought and thought about where to go, where to take this first step. I thought so long that I would have been too late for a couple of the options. Finally decided to visit a church in a town some miles away where I know the pastor as a sometime teacher at seminary; I have a huge respect for him.

I was sitting on the couch tight with anxiety, my neck and shoulders like rocks, abdominal cramping, trying to sense--what was I afraid of? The piece of me that says I am a failure, an overly-narrow and hyper-reactive person who is unable to be ordained in my prior denomination because of hard-heartedness, say, or inability to truly follow the way of Christ--that piece of me feels undeserving of sitting in any church and also being found out as the failure I am. The piece of me that is angry at my former denomination is afraid I will be judged for my long association with them, projection of some of my own inner wondering about how I shut down some sensitivities to remain in fellowship. And the piece of me that is just plain sad and lost was there as well.

I cried in the shower, wiped tears from my face while driving, felt tears in parts of the service, and also when I spoke to the pastor afterward. What do you know, he gave me a card and offered to be among those who walk with me through the grief. Imagine that. I do not know if this church or denomination will be an eventual home. I do know that I need places to sit and worship, just sit and worship in community, places where I can bring all the pieces and lay them before God.

So--a big milestone.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Things that make you go "hmmmmm," yes indeedy, and other stuff too.

OK, so, the news are reporting that John Mark Karr was arrested in a case of domestic violence involving an argument between himself, his father, and his girlfriend.

Yup, the guy who was reportedly obsessed with the murder of JonBenet Ramsay, and sent all kinds of really, really, REALLY weird emails about his relationship with her and other little girls. He has a girlfriend.

I just want to shout across the internet to her, whoever she is, whatever she looks like, however she met him, and say, "Honey. You can do better."


Busy day of walking dogs mowing lawn running errands, and I was cruising over by the coffee shop and there was the Bloodmobile, so I got to give blood, first time in a long time. I am now a TWO GALLON DONOR. They gave me a fake tattoo and now all I have to do is figure out the best time to deploy it. Even better, they gave me a heart-shaped squishy thing, not the anatomically-right one, but very cute anyhow. And I am about to enjoy a bowl of low fat chocolate ice cream with no guilt whatsoever.

AND the dogs decided that, after a rainstorm and drop in temperature, they needed a second walk. Those two little 14-year-olds have walked two miles today. I am tired. They want to know what we're doing now.

Have been working on a post inspired by reading Mike Jones' book (he's the guy who revealed that evangelical leader Ted Haggard was living a double life, enjoying gay escorts while purporting to be a happily married father of five). There are those who would make Jones into a hero; I don't think it is that simple, and I'm not sure that the sort of "reduction" that is actually part of making someone a hero is in Jones' best interest over the long haul. Hopefully I'll get the post done soon. Though if those little old dogs keep demanding an escalating amount of walking, heaven knows. I am so thankful for them and the company they bring.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Five

Long time no see, easing back into the routine via RevGals' Friday Five:

Today, what are you:

1) Wearing--Denim shorts, black AIDS T-shirt, and my fuzzy slippers. Very trendy.

2) Reading--Hmmm, let's see: a couple "bathtub books," plus K. Pargament's The Psychology of Religion and Coping. Although the latter is in tiny spurts; my brain is still recuperating from the last quarter. I think there are a couple pastoral theology books lying around too.

3) Eating--Just finished a bowl of reduced-fat chocolate ice cream.

4) Doing--Sitting on the couch, contemplating the rubble-like piles of books I am sorting. Repeating, "This looks worse than before, but it will soon look better." Repetition conveys power, so it is said.

5) Pondering--Will I ever find work? How badly did I suck in this afternoon's interview? Is the thermostat in the van starting to go bad? Am I a complete failure as a human being? Is there any ice cream left in the freezer?? How can ANYONE believe that going to war in Iraq was a good idea from any perspective? How can ANYONE think that racism has been eliminated in the US of A? Or sexism, or heterosexism? How can I most easily lose XXX pounds? And on, and on. Bedtime now!!!!