Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bethany Patchin, Wise Soul

I sincerely hope Bethany Patchin starts writing books ala Anne Lamott, because I would devour them whole.

"I'm to the point now where I know that I belong anywhere, and that there is shit everywhere, and I can take or leave what I need to. The Catholics and Episcopalians won't mind me falling on grace..."

The ice is thin enough for walkin'
The rope is worn enough to climb
My throat is dry enough for talkin'
The world is crumblin' but I know why
The world is crumblin' but I know why

The storm is wild enough for sailing

The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
Home enough to know I'm lost

It's just enough to be strong

In the broken places, in the broken places
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight

The land unfit enough for planting

Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Enough a cynic to believe

Confused enough to know direction

The sun eclipsed enough to shine
Be still enough to finally tremble
And see enough to know I'm blind
And see enough to know I'm blind

Should the world rely on faith tonight

Monday, September 17, 2012

As far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone

"The pattern of this world is chock full of people taking controversial stands on issues. Our world loves taking stands on issues. The worldly approach is to shout your point of view whenever possible and use any means necessary to make sure your team wins. And when Christians follow the same pattern, it doesn’t matter if the stand is different; we’re still following the same pattern.

What isn’t the pattern of the world is a position of humility. Of love. Of stopping to listen to the person you disagree with. Of compassion for your enemy."

Justin Lee, Worldliness in the Other Direction is Still Worldliness

The Peaceful Faith

“Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one’s faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one’s faith is unshakable.”

~Hillary Clinton
Violence is not just in our actions, but in our words. Let's speak the language of peace as we state, fight for, debate, and discuss what we believe.

My First Crush

I remember my first crush.

I was in the sixth grade, scanning the shelves at the county library wondering where I could find poetry.

I had never written poetry. I had once written in my fourth grade class that I would never be a poet. "I prefer stories," I said to my teacher who encouraged creative writing. I had a strange, vivid, but fragmented imagination. I wrote short, bizarrely humorous stories about my family (my sister as an alien, mailing my sister to Cuba, various interactions with my father who was easily made into a caricature in my youthful illustrations). I also enjoyed our daily oral language exercises which included making simple plain statements into eloquently described scenes. "Charles sat in the chair," became

" Charles slowly reclined into his overstuffed red leather chair as his beloved servant Aaron served him tea and stoked the fire."

But I found within me an urge to write poetry. I didn't understand it. I thought it was an inferior art form to story-crafting. But the truth was, while my fragmented imagination could create powerful or humorous scenarios, I couldn't write the novels I devoured so eagerly.

And there was that pesky urge.

I hated asking people for help, but I was at a loss. I couldn't wrap my mind around the Dewey Decimal System. I had no idea where to start.

There was a slim, middle-aged man with long salt and pepper hair and trendy eyeglasses sitting at the reference desk. I managed to squeak out,

"I want to read poetry."

He looked up from his computer and smiled brightly.

"Do you know what kind?"


"Well, what do you like?"

I thought for a moment.

"Trees. I like the woods."

He smiled knowingly (I had no idea what it was he knew) and led me to the stacks. He pulled off books, one by one, and handed them to me.

"Her name's Mary Oliver. She writes about nature."

I smiled shyly and held the load of books in my small arms awkwardly.

I read Mary Oliver and fell in love. Lines like, "All the darkness ever wanted was to become light," or "If the world was only pain and logic, who would want it?" spoke to me deeply, though I didn't understand why.

I became older, and went to her poetry occasionally, but not the way I did when I was a preteen. I didn't see the salt and pepper haired man at the library anymore. I think I asked about him once and was told that he went to another branch. I found many of the library reference workers fascinating, but especially him. Perhaps because he didn't brush a child off as merely a child. He treated me with respect and it changed my life.

When I struggled with my faith, Oliver's line from "Singapore" (the pain and logic line) kept me from Atheism.

This Christmas my fiance's family purchased Oliver's Thirst as a present. Oliver has been compared to Thoreau in her love of nature and the fulfilled life. In 2005, her partner of several decades, Molly Malone Cook, passed away. Her death devastated Oliver, who went on a spiritual pilgrimage that influence Thirst. It's filled with Christian imagery, theology, and truth. I suppose some would question whether a lesbian could communicate any truth about God, but I have yet to renounce many of my struggles but I hope God continues to work through me.

A recent poem of Oliver's (I don't believe it's included in Thirst, but is in some other work), spoke to me so much in a Barnes and Noble cafe that I had to buy a journal so I could have a paper to write it on. It explain my life as this moment. My desire to love more, to leave the past behind in a dramatic way, to look for an easier world.


Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman's boot
With a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
Under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharp nails.

And you know
What a smile means
don't you?

I wanted
The past to go away, I wanted
To leave it like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of a song where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I
wanted to know, whoever I was, I was
for a little while.

It was evening, and no longer summer
Three small fish, I don't know what they were,
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless,
the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish

Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don't we?


the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water

You don't want to hear the story of my life, and anyway
I don't want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway, it's the same old story--
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.

Mostly, I wanted to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.

And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that it
bulging toward them.

And probably,
if they don't waste time
looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

Eight years later, a simple gesture from one man is still affecting me. And so is Mary Oliver.

My Little Patch of Eden in the Asphalt Lands: Part Two

My little patch of Eden
In the Asphalt Lands

You stand there
A testament against cynics,
And the unbelievers

With your branches outstretched
With blossoms
Of which this world is not worthy

They are dazzling
In their dew

Under the morning light
Pink and delicate

But you have been ever faithful
To produce your fruit
In the midst of upheaval

How I wish to be like you

My little patch of Eden
In the Asphalt Lands

My family has lived in the same ranch house since the 1960s. There are many trees here that have been here since that date, or before they moved in. I am writing a series of poems on the most significant trees, the trees I climbed, the trees I planted, the trees I sat in for refuge from a troubled childhood.

The crab apple tree is significant because her continued survival was so unlikely. Every year since I was born I heard how she was dying, how she needed to be cut down. There were years when half of her branches wouldn't blossom or have any leaves. When I was older and learned things about trees after working at the plant nursery, I went out and pruned her long, spindly, branches and mulched around her tired roots. The next spring she was still struggling, but there was noted improvement.

This year, I had forgotten about her. I didn't notice her until this morning. Every single branch is covered in those delicate pink blossoms. She is glistening in the morning light. She is alive, despite the naysayers.

This is the first well-crafted poem I've written in months. I was discouraged this past summer by a number of troubling events. I died a little inside. And I was also discouraged because I was living in Donne's shadow. How I admire his work. But I am the product of a post-modern generation, and my mind is not structured in rhymes and preset formulas. I am a stream of conciousness animal, and my poetry will have to reflect who I am, and literary snobs will simply have to deal with my "lesser art-form."

Wear Yours with a Difference

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young Ophelia is tormented by grief and guilt over the death of her father. A misunderstanding results in her suicide. But in her final moments, Ophelia offers rue to those who hear her, admonishing them to “wear [it] with a difference.” In Shakespeare’s England, flowers were symbols for various emotions or characteristics. The virtue of grace would have done Hamlet well, instead of seeking vengeance.

I’m drawn to the character of Ophelia because she is tragic, like many things in this life. Her grief is unwarranted, her suicide devastating, because she is not responsible for any of the affairs unfolding around her, but the victim considers herself the perpetrator and cannot handle the responsibility of the guilt. She crumbles.

Life is not easy. If only some of us were to wear grace with a difference. Tragedy would still occur, no doubt. But the world does not need more condemnation; it needs forgiveness. Certainly we all do. A chance. A kind word. A safe place to stand when everything around us is falling apart, abusing us, subjecting us to exploitation and over-work. We are weary, victims, perpetrators, and human beings deeply in need of grace.

My life has not been easy, though perhaps it has been more simple than I realized. I have spent my days consumed with worry, bitterness, rage, and have viewed it all through a caustically critical heart. But touches of grace have changed me for the better. The world does not need more people like me. It needs people seeking love, seeking the good of others before their own, kinds words, encouragement, peace. I have fought for my way, for everyone to know that I’m right, for everyone to believe me.

At the end of the day, it is not important if you believe me, or even like me. Love is what is important. Love is important to me because I am a follower of Yeshua. I have failed in following His precepts. I have been caustic when I should have been gentle; hardhearted when I should have been tender; critical when I should have been accepting. I have been hurt deeply and have used that as an excuse to hurt others.

I do not wear grace with a difference. Ophelia, although fictional, is a tragic symbol for what happens in a world fueled by revenge and selfishness, not servanthood.

But I have experienced grace. I want to be different because of it.

South Carolina, A Love Letter

These are homeless men wandering in front of speeding motorcars. These are trees suffocating under the weight of kudzu vines. These are words thick like honey but deadly as venom. These are voices lazy as the summer heat that passes through the body. These are flat lands where water rushes into pools searching for a place to fall. These are piles of dry earth after torrential rain. These are Bible-thumpers with porn palaces every five miles on a crowded stretch of highway. These are laurel cherries pouring pollen on my windows. These are traffic jams for miles as all citizens inquire into who is receiving the ticket. These are overweight shirtless men, no accolades or titles, playing with their children in the garden hose, not the automatic sprinkler. These are honeysuckle vines devouring my metal fence. These are dandelions, magnolias, wisteria, and roses seeking whom they may devour, not manicured gardens obediently bowing to their superiors. These are buildings with chipped paint and homemade signs where they sell turkey wings two days a week. These are angry insects who protect the sanctity of their homes with fiery mouths. These are snow-less days, unchristened earth begging for a cover of white tears to cleanse the stains.

This is where the wind is a surprise guest, not a reckless tenant;
Where life is obtrusive,
not tame.

Imperfect, contradictory, beautiful.

And I am just like you.

Perhaps it is why I'm falling in love,
despite all my efforts to the contrary.
I see my face in your many turbulent rivers
And know my soul has been suspended here until I could retrieve it
On a quest to find courage, not trepidation, and suffocate the past under a torrent of hungry vines.

Advent (written in 2009)

I’ve been wanting to feel something concerning this Advent. I chant. I kneel. I pray in expectation. I even looked intensely at my Christmas tree and saw streams of blood in a golden twinkling universe, but no baby.

I peruse liberal blogs to learn about extreme opinions. Something rattled me to the point where I actually thought writing something in response on the internet was a worthwhile endeavor. Certain couples don’t believe in the use of birth control out of religious conviction. However weird that may seem to Christians and non-Christians alike, they have several thousand years of church history to show for support. A couple has recently been in the news because they gave birth to their eighteenth child and there’s a TLC special about it. My thoughts regarding reality programming aside, it was my belief they had the right to do as they pleased.

The amount of venom I saw spewed at this family was appalling. Because in the name of “caring for the earth” these people joked about forced sterilization, abortions, and murder. Some strongly advocated it. The words of Flannery O’Connor became startlingly clear: tenderness divorced from its source leads to the gas chambers. This family wastes resources supporting human life and their religious ethic, and therefore should be destroyed.

It didn’t come into full focus until I heard mention of children of leukemia on television. They have made no measurable impact on society. They “drain” resources, millions of dollars, to attempt cures that are probably impossible, or at very least ease their pain and suffering so they can enjoy longer days learning, laughing, and loving with their friends and family. They are just alive, but that is not enough for some in the name of responsibility. The logic that leads one to destroy a large family also leads one to destroy the weak.

I do not advocate destroying the earth because God’s going to give us a new one anyway. My family attempts to live an eco-friendly life, and I wish I could make greater sacrifices in that regard. The greatest drain on our resources is insisting on constant use of electricity, fossil fuels, and forest destruction for the sake of “progress.” It is not family. We traded family for material means, and now that the earth is being destroyed we blame families rather than materialism.

Underneath the family Christmas tree is a gift bag with a Byzantine icon of the nativity. The Child is framed in the classic golden halo that indicates divinity. He is born to a teenage mother out of wedlock in an impoverished setting. He has come to say all things are held together in Him, and without Him we can do nothing. He has come to take us into His hand, and no one may pluck us out. Life, breath, trees, lights, smiles, children, parents, the aged, all of have meaning.

The Child is under the tree, and I see Him now. The bloody universe pulses around Him, groaning for release and twinkling with His life. The icon is misleading in its cleanliness. Birth’s not tidy because love never is. Not this side of heaven. We cry for life in this vale of tears. In the heights of our hypocrisy we make these cries as we murder each other and the gifts He has given.

Kyrie Eleison
Christe Eleison
Kyrie Eleison

Eucharist in the Traschan

It was during Advent.

I saw it in a trashcan at a church that I clean with my husband, among candy wrappers, coffee stirrers, and dried poinsettia leaves.

The high-church Anglican in me recoiled at the sight.

My savior in the trash...the symbolism was too much.

I gathered the bag in my arms and took it home to dispose of it properly. I don't know your Christian tradition, or if you're even Christian, but during the Eucharist in the Anglican communion, whatever remains must be consumed or disposed of on the earth. It cannot be thrown on asphalt, down a drain, into the trash, or a garbage disposal, for somehow, mysteriously, Christ is present.

The garbage dump of Jerusalem was called Gehenna, and is used frequently in Scripture as a metaphor for Hell.

He descended to the dead...

As someone who straddles the line between Anglicanism and Catholicism, the sight was that much more gruesome to me. Christ is present, and those He bought with His sacrifice, instead of offering burial spices and wrapping Him in loving care, have discarded him as refuse. Just a symbol, I hear them say. Just a reminder. Just a memorial. But what does it mean to be just a symbol? My wedding ring is a symbol of my covenant with my husband. My husband is not contained within it, nor is our love, but I polish my ring, admire it lovingly, and remember the wonderful day he gave me my precious ruby.

But I do believe His presence is in the Eucharist.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Little Patch of Eden in the Asphalt Lands: Part One

You were such a contrast
To the inhabitants upon your land
Who sought gain, power, ease,
Life without the burden (or blessing) of family

You, in death, gave life
To a little child whose eyes beheld only regret

From your tired branches, your withering leaves, I gathered the only fruit of that season--
I gathered your infant in my trembling hands--
Planted her in the soil
And with wondering eyes and bated breath
Watched her climb
Higher into the sky.
She is a mother now
Her seeds gliding toward the ground in the wind
(little birds released, but not free—not yet. Some visions are yet to be seen)
Your remains in the soil about her roots,
Giving life to a new generation.
And I pray, seeing your roots decay into black earthiness as your daughter flourishes:
How I wish to be like you
My little patch of Eden in the Asphalt Lands.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What I Want From My Brothers

from the nakedpastor

I want my brothers to stop saying, when I bring up how the so-called biblical limitations make me feel, "It's scripture." I want a conversation about Scripture, not a conversation-stopper.

I want my brothers to stop saying, when I bring up the limitations women face, "Men can't give birth. Men can't be mothers." Childbirth and motherhood are beautiful parts of femininity. But role limitation that is caused by biology is not the same as role limitation that is caused by theology.

I want my brothers to enter my world for a moment, to understand what it's like to hear, "Women don't struggle with lust, pornography, masturbation."

To understand what it's like to hear, "You should stay beautiful so your husband doesn't cheat on you."

To understand what it's like to be told that I won't enjoy sex as much as men, but that my body is so intensely sexual that I must be overly-fastidious about how it's covered.

I want my brothers to understand what it's like to hear, "You'd be a great pastor if you weren't a woman."

Likewise, I want my brothers to imagine what it would be like to hear, "You are perfectly qualified, but you can't because you're a man."

I want my brothers to understand that "feminist" is not the same as "man-hater."

I want my brothers to understand that this issue isn't a rights issue, it is a theological one.

I want my brothers to understand that I am asking for the opportunity for my gifted sisters to serve in the role of priest, bishop, deacon. This isn't about power. This is about gifted women being able to serve God to the best of their abilities. The old line that women are told, "Those who demand to be priests aren't suitable to be priests," is true. But I'm not demanding anything. I'm asking for a re-evaluation. I'm asking for my view to be considered. I'm asking my brothers to entertain the possibility that complementarianism might be theologically incorrect.

I want my brothers to know that I am perfectly willing to entertain the notion that complementarianism is correct and that I am wrong. I just haven't been convinced yet.

I want my brothers to understand that women have been systemically marginalized for centuries, something men, as a group, have not faced.

I want my brothers to allow me to explore the hard questions without telling me I'm on a slippery-slope.

I want my brothers to understand that questioning traditional gender roles isn't the same as questioning the Gospel or the inspiration of Scripture.

I want my brothers to understand that I don't want them to change their position just because it makes me feel bad, but because they're convinced.

But I want my brothers to understand that the emotions and intuition of a redeemed person can be as valid an indicator of orthodoxy as reason. Let's pair them together.

I want my brothers to understand that I know that some of them understand some or all of these things (even if they disagree with my conclusions).

I want my brothers to understand that I don't think they're misogynists if they disagree with egalitarianism.

I want my brothers to understand I say all this from a place of love and respect for men, for the importance of fatherhood, brotherhood, husbandhood.

I want my sisters who disagree with me on these issues to consider these things as well.

And I want my brothers to know that I want women to enter their world of struggles as well. I'm sure a man could write a loving, thoughtful post entitled, "What I Want From My Sisters." But this post is about women, because I'm a woman, and this is the world I know to write about. The world I want my brothers to understand.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

And That's How I Got 5 Cats

Coal Porter, about 6 months old. He looks big in the photo because of the perspective; he's actually a wee lad.
Jackie-Julep, 2 years old, very pregnant
On Monday April 2nd, Craig and I brought home Jackie-Julep, pictured at left. A friend of ours had encountered financial trouble and wasn't able to care for them any longer. What I didn't know is that they had been put outside full-time for several days before we got there. Their owner left early Monday, so Craig and I decided to try to catch them that evening.

Jacqueline (formerly named Alice White) was easy to catch. Getting her in the crate was another matter. She wasn't having it, and none of us wanted to force her since she was (is) pregnant. We put her in the backseat of the car with the crate and a can of wet food. After eating my husband coaxed her into the crate.

Her son, who we've named Coal Porter (formerly Kepler) ran from us that evening. I don't blame him. He had been confined to the outside after being an indoor-outdoor cat, his owner was gone, and some strange people just took his mom. We tried again Tuesday. When he didn't come again we arranged to meet with the owner to see if he could coax him. The owner backed out at the last minute, so my Dad and I went over there by ourselves, but we didn't see him at all this time. Our friends who lived next door to the cats offered to befriend and catch him for us, something for which I am incredibly grateful.

Two weeks passed and I wasn't expecting much. Since we hadn't seen him on Wednesday, I thought something had happened. After all, he was about 6 months old, outside by himself. There was food and water available at all times, but he could have been caught by a predator or taken in by someone else. Part of me was somewhat relieved, because 5 cats is a lot, but I was also worried.

Jackie-Julep hid under the couch a great deal when we brought her home. She'd peep out to eat and cuddle, then retreat. I have never met such an affectionate cat. All she wants to do is cuddle, and if she notices one hand isn't touching her, she'll go find it. My husband had a hand behind a pillow, and even though he was petting her with the other one, she went and dug out his other hand and forced her head into it. Today she's lying on the couch and like a queen, awaits for her loyal subjects to shower her with affection.

We have an alcohol theme for our cat's names, so we bandied around names like Bailey. We were about to name her Julep when my dad came in and commented that she looked like a Jack Rabbit. My husband, in a stroke of inspiration, said, "Jackie-Julep" and it stuck. And Jackie can also stand for Jack Daniels.

Thursday, April 12, my husband and I were out to dinner when we got a call from our friends that they had confined Porter to a room in the owner's former house. We went home to grab wet food, and headed over. Armed with flashlights, we went into the house. My husband put down a can of wet food. As Porter eagerly ate it, he kept pushing it towards the cat carrier, so my husband took advantage of the opportunity and pushed it further in, and we caught Porter.

We named him Coal Porter because Porter is a type of beer, and Coal because of his black nose. And obviously it's a pun on the name of the songwriter Cole Porter.

Porter had a terrible flea infestation, so we've treated him with Revolution flea drops. He is also terrified of the outside. I opened a window in his room and he hid under the bed until I closed it. When he's downstairs and we open a door he runs far away. He's a survivor, but clearly his time outside traumatized him.

He's as affectionate as his mother but far more playful. He is not fond of the other cats at all, and we're going to have to make slow introductions. Jackie is currently fighting a respiratory infection and pink-eye and is due to give birth any day now. Unfortunately Jackie was not excited to see her son, so we couldn't keep them in a room together.

And that's how I got 5 cats.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Body Peace

I put this on my tumblr, but I thought I'd share it here too.

Body peace means the end of belittling, insulting, and hating my body.

It means making healthy choices out of a place of love, respect, and honor for my body.

It means never judging myself or someone else by their body.

It means never insulting my body in front of others, and when I do share my struggles with body image with others, to only do so with those strong enough to help me carry my burden, not with those I think I could negatively influence to hate themselves.

It means never letting a child hear me say that I’m fat, ugly, or worthless, because children are impressionable and absorb the messages around them, and learn from the adults in their lives how to see themselves.

It means that, if I start a weight loss goal, that it comes from a place of love, respect, compassion, and honor for my body.

It means I will not wait until I’ve gotten healthier to love my body. I will love it in this moment, at this weight, at this size.

It means peace of mind and soul with my body. 

It means rejecting the beauty standards that have come to saturate our lives and psyches, and embracing my own standard of what counts as a beautiful body, mind and soul.

It means celebrating and respecting every body I come into contact with.

It means that, when I falter in loving myself or others, when I falter at making healthy choices, I will not inundate myself with guilt and hatred, but with forgiveness, love, and grace.

It means rejecting the idea that it is wrong or selfish to love yourself, because only when we love ourselves can we truly love others.

What does body peace mean to you?