Thursday, May 27, 2010

Choosing Where to Look

A friend of mine, Stoic Joy, and his wife, Mrs. Joy, take walks on the same trail I do.  Last week, he told me, "We saw a big snake there last week."

I blanched.

"It was in the woods," he added comfortingly.

I don't know if I'd call it a phobia, but I am veddy veddy scared of snakes.  I grew up in snake-infested woods and had too many times of taking dogs and cats to the vet, swelled up to three times their normal size, due to copperheads and cottonmouths.  (Incidentally, don't bother taking your cat.  Unless things have changed, there is no anti-venin they can give that's more effective than the cat's own natural anti-venin.)

But I love this trail and in a short time, have become mightly dependent on it for my spiritual needs.  "I'll just keep my eyes on the path," I told myself.  "And not look into the woods for now."  So, I went on my soul walk, listening to Jennifer Warnes' cover of Leonard Cohen's If It Be Your Will, gifted to me by the Hysteric Cleric.

(The best gift you can give me is a mix CD with songs that are spiritually or emotionally significant to you.  I think it's the adult version of pricking our fingers and becoming blood brothers.)

I had a bit to think about.  I am just thrilled, thrilled, thrilled in my life right now, convinced I'm where I'm supposed to be, in the time I'm supposed to be.  And ... yesterday I got a call.  Next week, I have to go in for a repeat mammogram.  A little sumpin' suspicious on my left side.

No need to comfort me, I'm fine.  There's many things it could be, and this is way too early to worry.

I'll just keep my eyes on the path, and not look into the woods for now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Thrill of the Missional Church (and a great teacher)

Have you ever been so excited, so happy, you felt like you could just burst into tears?  Yeah, okay, but in the middle of a class?

I'm there.

What a long, strange journey it's been, and bound to get stranger.  When I began at this seminary, I wrote:
I feel stripped raw, and completely alone, which I am. I know it's for a reason, the being alone... I know that it's part of the process, for me to have no one whom I can turn to for guidance ... heck, the fact that we lost our minister the month I started school -- obviously, I need to be completely and utterly alone, with no support, so that I can find what I need within me.
Oh, honey, I think.  You didn't even know from stripped then.

But I can remember sitting in class, with this fundamentalist professor, wanting to burst into tears as he taught a theology that was just so hateful to me.

Last night, I sat in a class, thrilled to the very marrow of my bones.  Father Mac and I sat together, both of us just giddy from excitement. 

In addition to both being theologically liberal, we have both been bitten by the missional bug.  Actually, we think it's more like the red and blue pills in the Matrix.  Once you've begun looking at church in a completely different way, in a missional way, you can't go backwards.

We've got us a missional teacher.  And I mean, the real deal.  Former Southern Baptist minister, who walked away from a 400 member church because of all his questions.  And now does "church" is a wholly different way. 

Last night, I witnessed a few students' heads exploding.  It was AWESOME.

Just a few of the gems:
  • “God’s spirit is big enough to guide us all.  And is big enough to protect us from going down the wrong path.”
  • "The life of a follower of the way of Jesus, is a life of journey.  God will be moving us away from a life that is comfortable." 
  • "I don't believe that Post-moderns don't believe in absolute truth.  Postmoderns DO believe in absolute truth.  But they don’t believe that science, religion, or YOU possess absolute truth.  You believe it’s true, but you can’t prove it.  Postmoderns say, 'Be honest that you can’t prove it, and be less certain.'
  • If your church is built on Reason and Certainty, postmoderns won’t come back. We have to learn to embrace the mystery of God.  And embrace some humility.  
  • The only harshness Jesus displayed was to the church.  If we have a view of God that he is angry and wants to punish someone, we didn’t get that from Jesus.
And tons of other great stuff, that I'm sure I'll be writing about.

When Father Mac and I left class, we didn't clasp hands and begin jumping up and down like excited schoolgirls.

But we both wanted to.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grab Bag, including Surprises!

Grab bag of various and sundry:

Was at a UU event this Sunday and a UU theologian was leading us in a very simple exercise in being in the moment, and feeling what we're feeling.  The third thing to do was to place your forefinger of one hand on your opposite hand, then sit with that, and examine how the hand felt, how the finger felt, where they connected.

One participant was incensed with this and when it was time for people to comment on their observations, she spoke of her anger at an authority making her do this, and she didn't know why, and then Hitler and the Brown Shirts were brought into it.  (No, really.)  At the end of all this, she slightly admitted that maybe she had issues with authority, but was proud she wasn't a sheep.

I consider her to be a particular kind of angel (that I'll explain when I have more time) but feel that the fact I didn't run out screaming and immediately quit seminary is perhaps a good sign.  Was this a test? "Smile, you're on MFC camera!"

Sunday brought a great gift!  Two, actually.

I'd gone to my home church (this is my year of "traveling" -- I'm usually either preaching at another church, or visiting a church) because a friend of mine was in the pulpit for the first time.

There was a couple seated in front of me, visitors.  During the "greet your neighbor" time, we introduced ourselves to each other.  They both seemed vaguely familiar.  She leaned forward and asked, "Are you a seminarian?"  Um, yes.  (It shows?)  She then asked, sotto voce, "Lizard Eater?"  Shocked, "Yes!" 

Well, what do you know, we already knew each other.  It was Liz Hill, co-author of Singing Meditation, whom I'd worked with (online) on other UU stuff. 

I also knew her husband, through the blog-o-verse, though I hadn't connected that they were partners.

I had a fabulous time chatting with them after the service. I committed the hopefully forgivable sin of outing Matt as a UU minister and dragging Liz to several people so she could tell them more about Singing Meditation and the workshop she'll be giving at GA.  


I didn't get as much time to talk with Matt and Liz as I would have liked, as I had an important date with ...

Chuck E. Cheese.

Chucky and I have quite a history.  When The Boy (now 14) was little, I was in a playgroup that would occasionally meet there.  It's not so bad on a weekday.  Back then, you could buy beer there.  I don't think I ever did, but just knowing it was there made the experience more bearable.

Over the years, we'd go, usually for classmates' birthdays.  And then cancer came, and Chuck E. Cheese became the symbol.  For the kids, he was the symbol of all sacrifice, because for Mama and Daddy, he was the symbol of all things germy.  A kid on chemo means nobody can go to Chuck E. Cheese.  No to the parties, no to the visits.  No, no, no.

During LW's recurrence, we watched a lot of PBS in the hospital, which is sponsored by Chuck E. Cheese.  No ads, just those little things at the ends of programs:  "Chuck E. Cheese, where a kid can be a kid."

My kid couldn't be a kid.

So, this year comes, and LW has been pestering me for months.  Could we go there on her birthday?

We went yesterday.  Divided up the tokens amongst our 4, got a special sticker designating LW as the birthday girl.  They climbed the tubes, played the games, ate the pizza, got the prizes.

I tossed a basketball into a hoop multiple times and remembered how much I enjoyed the game.  I think The Boy and I'll be playing a lot of HORSE this summer.


Today, Little Warrior is five.  It is an incredible milestone for her parents, her grandparents, aunts, uncle, and friends.  We didn't know if we'd ever see this day.  That night when she was 6 months old, when we found ourselves placed on the pediatric oncology floor ... we couldn't see this day. 

For her, it is an incredible milestone, because Mom let her polish her fingernails all by herself.

And that's how it should be.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Take Time to Think About Death

Is that a bummer title?  Sorry.  We often don't want to think about death until suddenly we're thrust into it, having to deal with the death of a loved one.

I've shared in the death journeys of too many families over the past 4 years.  And yet, it has been an honor, to see so many different ways of approaching, and dealing with, the death of a child.

My heart broke a little more than usual this week.  A young teen, SaxGirl, who had the strength and spirit of 50, finally was released from her fight, an amazing kid whom we'd known since the beginning of our own journey.  She fought it off for six years.  She came extremely close to death at least once, as her body reacted not to the cancer, but to the "saving" chemo.  So close her family was making plans ... and then, she pulled through.  So many times, she pulled through.  And lived life, exuberantly.  And then another routine scan would deliver bad news.

I won't tell all of this last journey.  It was very long.  But both she and her mother awed me with their approach that this was simply another part of life, this death journey, and they were going to do it as well as they knew how.  With music, and people that loved her.

The first time I read about a family doing anything other than just leaving it all up to the funeral home was in UU minister Kate Braestrup's Here If You Need Me, when she talked about taking care of her husband's body, all the way through the cremation.  Ms. Kitty talks this week about going with a family to the morgue as they washed their son's body.  For me, it feels like this would be more healing than what my parents went through -- identifying the body, the bag being zipped back up, the ashes delivered to a funeral parlor.  My friend, Bad Bad Man, prefers to be called an "undertaker" rather than "funeral director."  Because undertakers "undertake" those holy things families in modern times can't, or prefer not, to do.

SaxGirl died in her mother's arms.  Later, at the funeral home, her mother and grandmother washed her body, as mothers and grandmothers have done for generations.  Her father accompanied her body to be cremated.  They all rejoiced at the cancer being incinerated to tiny bits.  Yes, there can be beauty in death.

Little Warrior is at that age where she's asking questions about death.  "So, everyone dies?" 

Yes, I tell her.  Everyone dies.  Some people just die sooner than others.  But we all die.

"Well, what if I live to be an old lady?" she asks.

Calmly, I say, "I really hope that you do."

"I do, too," she says.

Monday, she turns five. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Missional Church


"Thank you for contacting The Journey.  Lizard Eater is unable to come to the blog right now, as she's busy writing a paper about Missional Theology and Unitarian Universalist ecclesiology, soteriology, pneumatology, eschatology, and missiology.

Please enjoy this short video until her return."

Saturday, May 08, 2010

THOSE animals

Went for another soul walk today.  Didn't see any animals.  Probably because there were several people walking or running on the path. 

I walked along, peering in vain for a bird, a turtle, a squirrel -- any kind of animal.  Where are my gifts???

Humans are animals, breathed the wind.

Oh.  Yeah. 

Unlike with other animals, I didn't take any pictures of the human animals.  They might think it strange.  The non-human animals probably do, too, but they haven't figured out a way to report to the YMCA manager that there's a strange human, possibly dangerous, taking pictures down by the pond.

There was a man with a dog down by the edge of the water.  Both were well-behaved.  I think the man was training the dog, but it might have the other way around.

Three people, walking abreast and talking animatedly, came toward me.  They seemed disinclined to break formation.

Round and around I walked.  There was a jogger with a yellow shirt that I crossed paths with about three times. 

Time to leave.  I came upon a man who had just caught a nice-sized trout.  His eyes lit up when he saw me.  He was going to throw it back, but obviously wanted someone to show his catch to.  I get that.  "Spoon?" I asked.  "Spinning lure," he said.  He added that he'd had to walk all the way around the lake to catch it.  I'm not sure why.

Dang.  I bet he would have let me take his picture.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Hardest Working Mom

So ... the event.

About a month ago, I received an email from the mall near our church, congratulating me on being one of 10 finalists in their "Hardest-Working Mom" competition.  I figured it was spam, and deleted it.

A dear friend, adopted grandmother to my children, called me.  "You're a finalist!"


Apparently, she and another sweet older lady, had conspired to enter me in this contest, writing a lovely essay for why I should be named the Hardest-Working Mom.  What love.  What a honor.

Except I'm not.

I'm not saying that as some kind of blushing, modest, "Who, little ole me?" kind of thing.  I am SO not even remotely the hardest working mom.  When my own mom heard the news, she requested the phone number of the mall so she could call and set them straight.  "Have you seen her laundry room?"

I'm not the hardest-working mom; I would hesitate to even refer to myself as a hard working mom.  That's just not my priority.  I'm a slacker Mom, and damn proud of it.  I'm a fan of Free-Range Kids, responding to any child of mine who says, "I'm hungry!" with "Okay, go make yourself a sandwich," and sending the kids outside to play.  I'm a huge fan of Boredom and Benign Neglect, finding that together, they foster all kinds of creative mayhem.  I have been known to say, "Shoo" to my kids when in the middle of a book. 

I sincerely admire the hard-working Moms, but I'm not one.  I am, however, a cancer mom, a point made in my friend's essay.  "Cancer mom" trumps logic and reason.

The Husband laughed when I told him about the contest, quickly sobering up to say, "Oh, but dear, you are."  He is a smart man.  Horrible liar, too.

"You have to do it, though," he said.  I knew it.  My dear friend was so happy.  And it had come from a place of love.  Beer goggles ain't got nothing on love.  She knows I work my butt off at school, she knows I love my children fiercely, ergo, hardest-working mom.

So, I showed up for the photo shoot.  Oh my.  9 polished women, what the Brits call "yummy mummies" and the Yanks call something far cruder.  And me.

It was explained to us.  There would be a ceremony!  In the middle of the food court!  With a fashion show!  That we would be in!  Wearing our own outfit!

Whimpering, I requested some guidance as to what to wear.  "Oh, just whatever you're comfortable in!" the coordinator said brightly.

Okay.  So, yoga pants and I don't know ... "Should I wear my 'Does this pulpit make my butt look big?' tshirt, or my 'F--- Cancer' tshirt?" I asked the Husband and a Knowledgeable Friend.

The Knowledgeable Friend uncharacteristically recommended wearing yoga pants, bunny slippers, my F--- Cancer tshirt and a tiara.  The Husband cheered that idea on.

Clothing aside, when I thought about the event, it made me feel a little sick.  Society loves making moms compete -- working/SAHM, breastfeeding/formula ... heck, even how we birth our babies has become a competition.  Would I have felt better about the competition if I didn't feel on the losing end? 

"The thing is," I said to The Husband, "the only way to get put in this competition is to be at the mall in the first place.  And most of the women there said their husbands submitted them.  Who's going to submit the name of the single mom?"  He agreed, but seemed a little bemused at the effect this was having on me.

(I must confess, in a moment of frantic insecurity/lunacy, I wondered if I could build a Habitat House, mentor an underprivileged child, and coach my daughter's soccer team, all in one weekend.  But none of my kids play soccer, apart from trying to see who can kick a ball over the neighbor's fence and into their pool.  And I had three papers due the next week.) 

I guessed I'd just have to be me.

So I dressed in black slacks and a black shirt, with my big UU pendant.  I chatted with my fellow contestants, several of whom were Junior Leaguers.  I made some good contacts, since I'm organizing a St. Baldrick's event for next September.   When I told them that I'd be shaving my head, their eyes got very big.  When I said I'd be contacting them to see if they'd be involved, their faces went white. When I assured them I'd wouldn't be asking them to shave their heads, they were suddenly quite amenable to helping.

I didn't win, no surprise there. Disappointing to me was the fact that neither the Hispanic mom who works as a waitress AND volunteers for an inner-city program nor the African-American mom who works a 70 hour a week job at a car dealership, has 3 kids, plus is a foster Mom, won.  But they were all nice people.

We stopped for ice-cream on the way home, our family tradition after any one of us incurs honor.  After we got the kids in bed, The Husband went to the grocery store to get stuff for the next day's lunches.  When he returned home, he said, "I get it."

It was about 9:00 pm.  At the store, he'd run into a woman he knew from a previous job.  She's still there, doing accounts payable from 8-5.  And she was at the store, her second job.  She has two kids.  She was cheerful, as always, wanted to know how he was doing, encouraging him to stop by and tell everyone hello.

Yep.  She's not just the Hardest Working Mom, she's an Amazon Warrior Princess.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Swag Bag

Before I even got out bed this morning, Soul had hopped up on top of the covers, bouncing around, "Can we go for a walk today?  You don't have class and there's no rain!  Can we, can we?"

I ignored it and headed for the coffee.  I'd been up late the night before finishing a short paper and have a Big Mondo Paper to finish by next week.

I sat down with my laptop, coffee, and lowcarb bagel and began checking emails, reading the headlines, and trying to wake up.  Kissed children, kissed husband.  House to myself.

A cold nose poked at my knee.  Soul had its leash in its mouth and wagged its tail hopefully.

"No," I told it.  "I need to feel bad about myself for a while."

Soul sat on its haunches and cocked an ear, confused.

I have something to go to tonight, a story for another time.  It's a function that has come about because someone loves me, but it's ... well, it's an outfit that doesn't fit.  I've been fairly comfortable in the identity I've carved out for myself, and suddenly, I feel like Pretty Woman at the polo match, a cover I didn't want, blown.  "I say who!  I say when!   I say who ..."

(LE wishes to clarify that she is not turning tricks.)

Soul began alternately whining and barking.  "Now, stop!  Timmie is not in the well!"

Soul didn't stop, so with a sigh, I pulled on shoes, grabbed phone, and headed out.

I got down to the pond where the air was surprisingly cool.  Aaaah.  Turned on some new songs that friends had recommended and walked, Soul happily trotting beside me.  Lost in my own thoughts, I was suddenly startled when the grass in front of me moved.

Aaa!  A turtle!  Quick, get the camera!  I fumbled with my iPhone hurriedly, then laughed at myself.

It's a turtle.  What's it going to do, dart away?

He didn't seem to mind posing for pictures, though I thought it best to not ask for his autograph.  I couldn't help but interpret it as a reminder to  just be myself.  The turtle is a turtle.  He doesn't dart off into the bushes, he just gets where he's going in his own sweet time.  I doubt he feels bad that he's not doing this or that.  He's a turtle.  And God Bless Him for being that.  A world with no turtles -- perish the thought!

A smile on my face, I stepped along.  Responding to my uplift in spirits, Soul quickened its pace, straining a bit on the leash.  No one was around.  I bent down and disconnected the leash.  Soul streaked up the path and back, giddy with pleasure.  We went over a little bridge and there she was, right in front of us.

Oh! I said, drawing in my breath.  Two gifts in a row, just like that.  Now I felt giddy.  A surprise party?  For me?

I ventured a little closer, marveling at the unexpected.  A cardinal or a sparrow here and there is normal.  An egret is not. 

I ventured a little too close and she flew away, giving me a last enjoyable look as she stretched her wings and skimmed the pond.


Soul danced in front of me now, twirling and twirling, her pink skirt floating around her, her plastic tiara tilted over her forehead.  She hummed softly under her breath, dancing to a song only she heard.

We walked on, blissful. And ignorant that I'd left the camera on.

This is my new friend, Stripey.
 Stripey is also my new hero.

See how Stripey is in the sand?

The sand made hills and valleys.  Stripey would inch along ... not even an inch, then the sand would cause her to roll on her back.  She'd right herself, then inch along another millimeter.  Over, she'd go.

I fear that I would have just given up, lain there on my back, looking up at the sky and cursing the forces that gave me a million legs but no rigid spine.

Not Stripey.  She just kept on going.

Soul and I walked, around and around, pausing now and then to look into the water.  I saw Turtle's cousin, swimming in the shallow end.  I saw a fish splashing after a minnow.  I found little surprises everywhere.

I looked at the time.  It had been an hour.  It's time to go, I told Soul, reluctantly.  Soul was fine with that and trotted along, satisfied.

I walked back the way I'd came, lost in thoughts and imaginary conversations with those who will be called to judge me.  I turned a corner and WOW WOW WOW.

A giant, regal, great blue heron and I startled each other.  We stared at each other for just a second, then it flew off across the pond.

Iphone cameras don't zoom.  Here, I'll point to it.

An embarrassment of riches.  I looked up and hollered, "Thank you!"

I have already been promised a swag bag at the event I go to tonight.  Oh, I've already received one.

Soul walked alongside me, humming softly, but giving me a smug grin.  Yeah, yeah.  You were right.

We walked back.  Filled and fulfilled.

And forgetting to turn off the camera again.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

UU Salon May: The Soul

“The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.” -- Emerson

I have held four babies, seconds after being born, searched their faces, looked in their eyes, and am convinced that each arrived with a soul.

But first, I need to explain what I believe a soul is.

I believe a soul is effectively “on loan” for each human being. Emerson called it the Oversoul, process theology sees it as one encompassing event that has always been, yet is progressive and changeable in nature. From this oversoul, we each are given a part. We humans share in a giant pool of oxygen, it becomes one with us, yet it is still part of the oxygen that exists worldwide. Similarly, we each have a soul within us that becomes part of us, yet is still part of the great oversoul that unites us all.

It seems logical to me that our little part of the oversoul, now called “our soul,” develops in us, in the womb, in a natural way, just as our hearts, lungs, and brain develop. We are born with everything we need, we do not at 20 years suddenly sprout a new organ, so it seems to me that we are born with a soul.

But just like a brain, our soul at birth has a ways to grow. How we are loved, how we are challenged, how we learn to love and exist, all grow and strengthen our inherent soul. I have written about the soul being an organ, but perhaps it is more appropriate to describe it as a muscle. Never using it causes atrophy. Exercising it, through compassion, through working for others in this world, strengthens it. And to continue the metaphor, yes, it is possible to overtax one’s soul; when the balance between serving versus enjoying the gift of existence tilt so far into serving that one forgets the gift of being here, the soul is exhausted. It needs time to heal.

And it can. Our souls are wonderful, elastic things, that in most cases, with the right “medicine,” can heal. As ministers, we are doctors to the soul, prescribing exercise for those who need it, rest for those who need that, love and attention for all the souls. And right now, just as the vast majority of medicine is being done at home, by dads putting on bandaids, moms giving cough syrup, individuals offering an aspirin to a a friend, we each minister to each other. Life circumstances can damage a soul; deeply and lovingly listening to the person is our stethoscope. We listen for where the damage is located, applying compassion and offering a safe place to rest while the healing takes place.

But is the soul eternal? is another point of argument. For me, I say, yes. When we die, our bodies don’t cease to exist. They change form, they become one with the earth. So, too, our souls do not cease to exist. No longer in individual form, carried in our human container, they return to the oversoul. In most cases, it is a different soul that returns to the oversoul (well, really, it never left, just as the oxygen within my body is still part of earthly oxygen). But the portion of the soul carried within an individual has grown, and changed. And thus, it affects the rest of the oversoul, just as the person’s life on earth affected the lives of others, affecting who they became.

In this way, yes, I believe in an eternal soul, that takes residence in us before we are born, and continues to exist after our physical body dies.

UU Salon: May 2010, "What is a Soul?"