Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bathrooms

It's all about the bathroom. 

When I was in high school, a lot of really smart and passionate people were working on an amendment that would make it unconstitutional to discriminate against women for being women.  Looking back, it seems a reasonable corrective to the idea that all men were created equal, opening up the founding fathers' dream of America to include the other 50 percent.  

But in my small city, I didn't know many of those smart and passionate people who were working hard to make sure that my dreams could be realized and my daughters' too. The people I knew were mostly oblivious, too busy living their salt-of- the-earth lives to worry about the Constitution.  

But there were also a lot of loud voices in my world--in school, at church, oh my, especially at church--who opposed this effort because, they said with utter certainty, it would usher in the End Of Life As We Know It. 

And their main reason for opposing those who opposed sexism?  The bathroom. If women's rights were actually constitutionally protected, there would no longer be any gender differences (as if that's even possible?) and we would all have to share a unisex bathroom. Even the word unisex became a term of derision.  

It was all about the bathroom. Something in me knew that was bogus, even then. I knew that we actually had unisex bathrooms at home and everything seemed to be okay. Something in me knew, even then, that the playing field was not level for women and girls and that the smart, passionate women in the newspaper weren't working so hard so that we could share bathrooms with men.  But what I didn't know then was how to think my own thoughts when the powerful people in my life were so certain. 

And I certainly didn't want to be responsible for the demise of Life As We Know It. 

So fast forward more years than I want to count. In my city, there is a proposal on the table to create an ordinance to protect the rights of all people, regardless of gender, sexuality and sexual orientation.  We are the last of the major  cities to approve such an ordinance and it is being heavily debated. 

This week I received an email from the pastor of one of the largest mega churches in our community reminding me to express my opposition to the ordinance by contacting my council person.  The first reason listed as to why I should do this?  Bathrooms.  

Apparently, if this ordinance is implemented, hordes of trans women will invade our powder rooms and assault us.  Never mind that in the places where similar ordinances are in place, there have been exactly zero such cases.  Never mind that if a sexual predator wanted to dress up as a woman in order to infiltrate a women's rest room, he could do that now.  Never mind that sexual assault is still against the law, even if trans women can share the ladies room with the rest of us. 

There are probably good reasons to debate the ordinance.  Religious considerations, for one thing.  Practical considerations related to enforcement, for another.  The possibility of unintended consequences for a third.  I welcome a vigorous debate about those things. But bathrooms?  Seriously?  I won't make that mistake again. 


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Guest post #1

I've been meaning to do this for awhile . . . open up this space to my gifted friends and family to say whatever they want.  I kept saying that I wanted to boost my readership first since this blog is currently read by ones of people but today I have the chance to link to the blog that my friend Emily writes over on Sometimes I Wonder, Sometimes I Wander.  She writes a lot about birding and about nature and her photos are often stunning.  But today, she wrote about her mother, her childhood and about going back to open up a way forward.  I hope you enjoy it:

Happy Mother's Day, Bonnie Ruth


I spent a good half century of my life not looking at this photograph.  I always hated this picture.  Why?  No other reason than my immature narcissistic focus.  I couldn’t look past the baby in this picture.

Let me be blunt:  that’s one ugly baby.  The head is too big; the eyes look crossed; and how about that double chin?  That one ugly baby would be me.

Some lifetime ago I birthed a child.  The day after, in the hospital, some five doctors walked into my room. 

“Mam,” the lead doctor said, “Your baby’s head is unusually large but we are confident there is no underlying problem.  When the child’s hair grows in, you won’t even notice.”

“And your baby has one eye that appears larger than the other, giving a somewhat cross-eyed look. But there is no underlying problem and the difference in eye shape won’t be noticeable, probably around the age of two.”

I listened to the words of the lead doctor and watched the four followers nod their agreement.  I just smiled the smile of a mother who understands more than any other, including five doctors, when it comes to the child of her mother’s child.

And so recent days brought me back to this photo; and after a half century of living I FINALLY got it:  It is the MOTHER in this photograph that I should give my focus.  Just look at her award-winning smile--and a happiness that over-powers any hint of exhaustion around her eyes.

I’m not going to use this day, this morrow’s holiday to expound on what tugs at my heart these days.  But simply stated:  We adults too frequently disparage our mothers.  And we are in the bad habit of making these disparaging remarks to others.

Sometimes our harsh judgments are rooted in the dysfunction of an abusive, or negligent, or absent set of two parents.  But I believe our harsh judgment is more often rooted in today’s popular culture that embraces the criticism of our mothers. 

But mostly I believe that it is the ignorance of our narcissism that nurtures our critical voices.  We’ve convinced ourselves that growing up means tossing out the baby AND the bath water.  And in this case, the bath water is our Mother.

I’ve listened to the most loving and highly-functioning of friends criticize their mothers over the least of harms.  I’ve heard casual acquaintances feel comfortable in expressing angst against their mothers with no balance of praise.  I cannot judge them because I see too many years of MY OWN VOICE, in their words.

This frustration in my belly, over our culture’s disparaging of mothers, is NOT coming from some ignorant, innocent, picture-perfect childhood of mine.  My mother was ill for the ENTIRE lifetime of memories that I hold with her.  Her illness did not make her loveable. 

But my reaction to her illness was worse because it did NOT make me loveable.  And that was my mistake.

So when it comes to the harsh judgment we adults so easily hold against our mothers, I quote a modern day philosopher (and tennis coach):  “Get over it!”

If your mother is alive, I encourage you to strive to know her as the woman who is so much more than your mother.  Learn about her early life; her passions and dreams.  Learn about the girl in her. Learn about the woman who became pregnant with you. 

Seek out ways to give her your love and respect.  Choose to ask and learn from her—you may find you better learn from her mistakes if you understand HER perspective on what she considers to be her mistakes.  And you may be surprised to learn of her life’s successes that you know nothing about; not to mention her passions and dreams.

Share the good in her with others.  Honor her with being actively present in her life.

If your mother has died, as mine has, seek to know her and give her credit for the most possible, even if that most was no more than birthing you.  But my guess is that the great majority of us should give her way more credit than birth.  Seek out those who knew her.  And if nothing else, look at old photos with new eyes.

I now love to look at this photo.  Now I see a healthy, happy baby.  This baby girl is dressed and held with love.  But the photo of this baby is NOT why I now love this photo.  I no longer look at the baby in this photo.

Now I see a young woman looking healthy and happy.  I see her award-winning smile that I never saw often enough. 

And I recognize that smile, as she gifted it to two next generations of family.  And still, I do not see it enough.

Happy Mother’s Day, Bonnie Ruth.  Thank you for the life you gave; for the stories you shared. 

How I wish I could ask you more.  And how I wish I’d chosen to learn the more, that you so wanted to share.



Friday, May 9, 2014

Happily Ever After

Today I flew from St. Louis to Houston next to a couple who were clearly very in love.  When I first sat down, I thought that the woman was much younger than the man and they were so into each other--ahem--I assumed they were dating.

Pretty soon I figured out that they were about the same age (early 50s) and affluent and deeply connected.  They chatted and laughed together for awhile, worked on Sudoku together and separately before she fell asleep on his lap and he stroked her hair and her back as she slept.  Later, she was nervous about the turbulence and he reassured her quietly, offering to share his headphones so she could listen to music.  I noticed wedding rings and wondered if they were in a new or second marriage.

When we landed, I mustered up the courage to tell them that I was a counselor who worked with couples and wanted to ask, "What is your secret?"  The woman was thrilled: "A counselor noticed our marriage!"  Then this fascinating conversation ensued:

She:  We've been married 31 years!  Our secret is that he's calm.
He (smiling):  And communication.
She:  Yes, communication.  You've got to be able to give it and you've got to be able to take it.
He:  Because if you don't say what's wrong, it builds up and then you might blow up.  I've learned that.
She:  And if you don't let the other person tell you what is wrong or how you can improve, how can you ever get better?  There's no accountability.  Your friends probably won't tell you.
Me:  You don't know what you don't know.
She:  Exactly!  So you have to tell each other and you have to listen.
He:  And you can take it because you know the other person has your best interest at heart.
She:  Yes, and we never busted the trust between us.  We've always been able to trust each other, no matter what happens.  He travels a lot but we've been really careful about that.  So we always know the other one will do anything for us.  Do you have a happy marriage?  Do you have children?
Me:  Yes, I do!  And we have two children but they're grown and gone.
She:  Isn't the empty nest the BEST?!

It was a fun and fascinating conversation.  As we were going our separate ways, the wife thanked me again for noticing their marriage.  "I just feel like I won a trophy!" she squealed.  Her husband put his arm around her.  "You're my trophy wife, sweetheart.  Let's go."  And they went toward their gate and I came home.  The end.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Darned if you do . . . darned if you don't

I read an article online today about how to spot emotionally healthy leaders.  The article itself was fine but it reminded me of a pet peeve I have these days.

#5 says that emotionally healthy leaders are "able to say no."  #7 says that these leaders "have a record of giving their all."

I've got no problem with the idea that healthy leaders can do both those things.  My problem is with the reaction they often get from other people--meaning us--when they choose not to give their all in some particular area and to say no instead.

I know people who have impeccable boundaries--not many, but a few--who are crystal clear about where they are investing their lives and therefore are also crystal clear about all the good things they need to say no to and I also know that they catch a lot of flak for having the audacity to say no so often and to such good things.  More often than you might think, I almost get whiplash in a conversation in which someone is encouraging me to slow down and say no more often and then criticizes another person for not stepping up to a pet project.   And of course, the decision to say no or to give one's all belongs completely to the person making the decision.  But it seems to me that it's not fair for us to say that people should have the right to say no when what we really mean is "except for to me or about the stuff I value."

So, yes . . . let's all take on the wisdom of finding the balance between saying no when we need to and giving our all when we're called to but let's also offer that same grace to others when they need to say no.  Even if it's to me.




Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes to ashes

I was really pleased by my Baptist heritage tonight.  We went to our new church for Ash Wednesday along with about 40 other people, gathering in the frigid sanctuary for melancholy singing and Scripture readings.  When it came time for the imposition of ashes, I sat forward, ready to stand and go forward so that our minister could make the sign of the cross on my forehead and say the words that usher in the Lenten season, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

But then he came down from the platform (we Baptists don't have chancels) and explained that we would give and receive the ashes to and from each other.  He started with his wife, gave her the ashes and she turned to the woman next to her, holding a new baby, who then took the ashes (the woman, not the baby) and administered them to a man sitting behind her who then gave them to the elderly woman next to him and so on and so on.

There was the very faint murmur of voices . . . "remember that you are dust" . . . and a little giggling when the ashes got to the youth group . . . and the creak of pews as people stood and faced each other and made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of strangers and friends.

My first reaction: that's not how it's supposed to be done.  My next reaction flooded me with warmth:  well, of course that's how Baptists would do Ash Wednesday; of course we would share the ashes with each other, each of us a priest to the other.   (Of course, Baptists of old would be appalled by the imposition of ashes at all--so Roman, so popish--but we've come a long way.)

I've been reading lately about the polity of other Christian traditions and I can see the wisdom in much of what I've read but I realized tonight that I am still a Baptist girl through and through--part of a church that just barely still remembers the old ideas of soul competency and the priesthood of the believer and the equality of each member of the body of Christ.




Sunday, March 2, 2014

A year later . . .



Can it really be a year since we left the pastorate?  A year?  Really?

One year ago, after 28 years together in ministry, we walked hand in hand up the center aisle of our church--the church C had pastored for 6 years--and we said goodbye.  We said goodbye to people we had come to love and to a church building that held so many good memories but we also said goodbye to a way of life.

The life of a pastor is a unique one.  It is not more stressful or more difficult than other lives but it is different.  The expectations on a pastor and his or her family are unique.  If C had worked for NASA or Dell, no one would have cared much about what his wife wore to church or where his kids went to school.  No one would have wanted to scrutinize his beliefs or dictate his politics.  He wouldn't have been invited into the most sacred spaces of people's lives--birth and death and illness and marriage.  We wouldn't have lived in a fishbowl but we also might not have lived in the embrace of a loving faith community.

Truly, I loved being a pastor's wife.

I loved the front-row seat for God-at-work in people's lives.  I loved the ready-made friendships.  I enjoyed the hospitality, both giving and receiving.  I took advantage of the bully pulpit occasionally and I was grateful for that opportunity.  I loved working alongside some of the best people in the world in years and years of VBS and Bible studies and women's ministry and Sunday School and worship services and Christmas cantatas.

I truly loved being a pastor's wife . . . and I don't miss it.

When we moved into our new house, the first thing I took to Goodwill was the punch bowl.  It never was very practical, since my entertaining was more likely to involve Dr. Pepper than sherbet punch but it was a symbol of my pastor's wife life.  I've exchanged the fishbowl for anonymity at church and while I was grateful for the easy entrĂ© into church life in the past, I don't mind that no one cares whether I wear a dress to church or notices whether I stop and speak to them or even knows who I am.  We actually attended a church business meeting last week and it was surreal not to know the emotional backdrop of the decisions we were making.

I think I will miss it someday.  At heart, we will always be pastors, I think.  I know that C misses preaching and so who knows what the future holds?  But for now, I enjoy having Sundays that actually feel like Sabbaths.  I like having my husband at home most evenings, especially Saturdays, since he isn't distracted by all that will happen the next day at church.  I like looking at church opportunities and thinking about what I want to do instead of what I am expected to do, not that I was ever all that great at meeting expectations!

And what is really strange . . . it's been a year!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

You are now leaving the comfort zone

I had worked hard all day and I was tired and hungry.  I had been thinking since breakfast about a Subway sandwich, tuna on white with pickles and green pepper.  As I reached my neighborhood, I pulled into the parking lot and reached for my purse.

Then I saw the group of Hispanic teenagers standing around the door to the restaurant.  They were likely high school students from the charter school across the street.  You could say that they were dressed in gangsta style; you could also say that they were dressed like kids dress today.  You could say that they were rowdy and disruptive; you could also say that they were laughing and having a good time.  I thought about walking through that group of kids to get to the door and started to have second thoughts about getting a sandwich.

Then I looked up and saw a black man walking toward my car.  He was about my age, casually dressed, smoking something that wasn't a cigarette you could buy at a store and he was walking toward me, his eyes locked on mine.  I drove away, then felt ashamed.

Our new neighborhood is majority-minority and mostly working class.  It was built as a Jewish community in the early 70s and now reflects the demographics of our city.  While the neighborhood itself is middle class, it is literally surrounded by low-income apartment complexes housing new immigrants from Africa and central America as well as locals with similar skin tones.

The hair places near my house advertise braids and wigs.  The grocery store sells as much Hispanic merchandise as it does the things I'm used to and it advertises cuts of meat I'm not familiar with.  The sheriff's office sends notices about crime in our area and I wonder how it compares to other places I've lived.  (I witnessed 5 arrests in the first 5 months we lived here but nothing since then.)   There are an abundance of pawn shops and payday loan places and deep-discount shoe stores and very few national chains.

This means that when I worked out at the gym today, I was the only white person there.  It's the same thing when I go to the grocery store less than a mile from my house or stop at Walgreens for a prescription or go into the library to pick up a book.

All this means that I live outside my comfort zone.  And I'm glad.

We didn't buy our house with any particular demographic information in mind.  We had decided two things:  we would live in the city and we would stay within our budget. We found a really affordable house that we liked a lot, that felt like it could be home.  We love the trees, the neighbors, the cul-de-sac, the proximity to our work and to stores and restaurants.

I didn't plan on confronting my prejudices and fears on a daily basis but that's what happens.  I didn't sign up for experiences in what it feels like to be "the other" but it's what life sometimes feels like here in the southwest part of our city.

And yet, I can drive a mile or two and everything changes.  On the way to church, there is a grocery store where most people--more than half--look like me.  On my way to work, the surroundings gradually change until things look like what I'm used to with all the national chains that comfort me.  Sometimes I think, "It would be easier to go to those stores, to go to that Walgreens, to switch to that library."  I would feel more comfortable, more at ease.  I hope that changes, that eventually I am so at home in my own neighborhood that I wouldn't feel more comfortable somewhere else.

In the meantime, I'm letting my neighborhood confront me.  Noticing my fears and my prejudices and holding them out for change.  Smiling at people and enjoying them smiling back.  Enjoying the different languages and hairstyles and food choices and slang.  Thinking, "This is my neighborhood.  This is where I belong."