Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Cleaning Out the Refrigerator

Nothing says pride like a refrigerator. Nothing boasts so boldly about our kids’ awesome accomplishments than does the family refrigerator.

Over the years, tacked onto my refrigerator door have been precious documents: a drawing Zach gave me for Mother’s Day, Colleen’s A Plus algebra test, Jacob’s third grade Ready Reader award.

And photos, of course. Even through their teens, their baby pictures, curling up at the edges, still graced the door: Zach on a riding horse, Colleen smiling beneath a thick fringe of bangs, Jacob buried in the sand at the beach.

And now, they are all grown up: 35, 33, and almost 30. And stuck with magnets to the stainless steel are Colleen’s Meals on Wheels business card, Jacob’s PAX East Indie Gaming Flyer, and a New York Times review of Zach’s latest film.

And this past year, my refrigerator has become WAY more complicated. Enriched in many ways – but definitely way more complicated. Reunited with Rebecca, my long-lost daughter, I now have four children instead of three. And she has three great children. And my youngest Jacob is now father to his partner’s adorable three young boys.

Pinned to my refrigerator is a greeting card that sums it all up: “I love my weird family.”

A refrigerator is a family’s most boastful appliance. Nothing preaches good news better than a refrigerator.

Clean out the Fridge Simpsons

And on Sunday, when we parade into the pews, that is what we want people to see: ‘our refrigerator best”. The service over, pressed and polished, we follow the scent of java and the cookie-crumb trail to the parish hall, where we boast of our good news. Our boy’s baseball team is in first place. My wife’s promotion. My son just got into the best college. My daughter tiptoed her way to fame at the ballet recital.  All the good stuff.

At coffee hour, we name and proclaim, each of those precious icons we have taped to the outside of our refrigerators.

God-forbid, however, we actually open that door. Open that door to see what lurks in the dark corners of our refrigerators. Moldy stuff. Rotten stuff. Unidentifiable stuff. Freezer-burned resentments. Ice cold anger. Frosty feelings of all kinds. To tell the truth, we’ve all got this nasty stuff in our refrigerators.

But the very last place we want to admit this – is church. Garrison Keillor says that the last place on earth we would ever want to air our dirty laundry is church.

Episcopalians have sometimes been not so nicely called the “frozen chosen.” It is not the Episcopal way to witness publicly to our weaknesses. When people are struggling the most, church can be the most uncomfortable place to be.

When a couple goes their separate ways. When a teenager comes home pregnant. When your nephew has been diagnosed with AIDS. When you lose your job. When you admit to a drinking problem. Church can be downright cold, an unforgiving place.

And Church History is filled with shaming and blaming. We no longer sew ‘scarlet letters’ on sinners’ garments, but we silently assign them in our thoughts. “Thank God”, we whisper in our prayers, “that we are not like them.”

Paul’s point today, in his Letter to the Romans, is we are all like them. We are “them.”

There is a tug of war going on about food, of all things. And judgment coming from both sides: the carnivores versus the vegetarians. Really, the Gentile versus the Jew, in this new thing called “church.”

Paul, humorously, does get in a bit of a dig about the vegetarians. They are welcomed as “the weak.” Jewish-Christians, apparently ordered vegetarian when eating out (or only ate the vegetables at a Gentile dinner party)– to avoid kosher conflicts.

But Christians sharing a table should not eat with one another for the purpose of quarreling over the food – or family traditions, or spiritual differences. Paul counsels his parishioners not to “lord” one’s traditions over the other.

Those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks. And those who abstain, also honor the Lord and give thanks to God.

 Neither is wrong. Both are right. The Lord of Love is “not a divider but a uniter.” (I think I have heard someone say this before!)

But unity is not the same thing as uniformity or even conformity. Healthy disagreement is a good thing. People of faith, family members, neighbors can thoughtfully disagree on all kinds of things. But our disagreements, hopefully, should not be a means to divide and conquer. Instead, our differences can open up windows into one another – to help us see and understand and heal.

Now there is not a soul anywhere who does not limp their way to the communion rail. We might look good, refrigerator good, but we all come to the table broken, cracked, and far from perfect. And if we were a bit more Evangelical, this would be the time for the altar call. And I would ask Ryan to fire up the organ and play “Just as I am.” Coming forward to the table, we would witness to our weakness. We would drop to our knees and confess our sins.

We Episcopalians do this “generally” together in the prayer that we share. But I’d like to end this little homily, with a confession of a different kind, a Celtic prayer.  One that helps us, personally to name and claim all of that nasty stuff in the back of our refrigerator.

Let us pray:

Jesus, forgive my sins.

Forgive the sins that I can remember and the sins I have forgotten.

Forgive the wrong actions I have committed and the right actions I have omitted.

Forgive the times I have been weak in the face of temptation,

and those when I have been stubborn in the face of correction.

Forgive the times when I have been proud of my own achievements,

and those when I have failed to boast of your works.

Forgive the harsh judgments I have made of others and the leniency I have shown to myself.

Forgive the lies I have told others and the truths I have avoided.

Forgive me the pain I have caused others and the indulgence I have shown to myself.

Jesus, have pity on me and make me whole.

Amen.

JoaniSign

 


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May the Circle Be Unbroken

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee.

 I confess to you that these are my very favorite Eucharistic words in the Book of Common Prayer. And I know they are seldom heard because they come from Rite One, in the prayer of consecration.  Very few parishes and fewer parishioners hear their priest recite these words much anymore. I cannot even tell you the last time I celebrated he Eucharist with Rite One. But these words resonate with me still, especially, because of the little church I served in seminary – the little church that broke all the Eucharistic rules.

At Grace Church in Georgetown, during communion, the entire community gathered around the altar with hearts all lifted up to the Lord. And the priest and people prayed: And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord ourselves, our souls, and bodies.  Together we blessed the bread and blessed the wine. Together we made Eucharist.

Now Grace is a small stone church nearly 200 years old. It was founded by the hoity-toity, for the riff-raff that worked on the C&O Canal and along the Potomac riverfront. The wealthy churches. Christ Church and St John’s did not want to suffer the discomfort of having the poor in the pews.  So, they charitably set up a church to segregate the poor. But little bitty Grace turned the hoity-toity upside down. You see Grace is in Georgetown but it’s really not of Georgetown. Its home to both street people and business people, artists and schizophrenics, a former prominent Pentagon spokesman and the proprietor of a porn shop across the street, professional families and homeless families.

And at Grace, when it was time to receive the holy host, time for the family to come to the table, the worshippers encircled the altar. They passed the plate from hand to hand. Each tore off a ragged piece of bread: The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Then around the circle the cup would go, tipped one-by-one to the worshippers’ lip. Sometimes dismembered crumbs would fall and float in a bloody pool of wine.

And from the circle, the prayers of these people rose like incense: for friends and family, for the stranger and the estranged, for the faceless and the nameless, for the broken and the battered, for the lonely and the lowly. They offered up their prayers for one and all.

And here we offer and present unto thee O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee…”

Now it is truly amazing and a little-known fact that the Bible freely and often quotes the Book of Common Prayer (SMILE). And these beautiful words from Rite One come directly from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter Twelve, Verse One. The passage has much to say about communion — not about liturgical niceties — but what it means to be in communion, to be in the Body, flesh and bone.

I appeal to you brothers and sisters by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. We are one body and individually we are members of one another.

Now the communion circle at Grace was intimate but it was not cozy. The communion circle at Grace was indeed comforting but it was also discomforting.  The communion circle countered Georgetown’s culture.

You might be shoulder to shoulder with someone who had not taken a shower in weeks. You might be passing the peace with people who panhandled in the streets.  You might be drinking from the same cup as the unhinged guy, who talks to himself.

This circle at Grace was a sacred circle. But it resembled very little the circles of influence and affluence outside its doors.

And that is what church is supposed to be. To call us out of the world so that we might witness to the world. And Paul, the circle drawer, tells us how it can be done. Romans 12: 9-21 is a litany of 23 Christian commandments. Paul weaves them together like poetry –  into two paragraphs.  The first paragraph’s commands, hardly any Christian could disagree with: Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. Serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer; contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

But in paragraph two, the going gets tougher.  Just to name a few:

Bless those who persecute you.  Bless those who put you down. Bless those who say you don’t matter, who say that you don’t measure up. Bless those who say you don’t belong.

Weep with those who weep.  Weep with those in the depths of depression. Weep with those who live in darkness. Weep with the desperate and the destitute.

Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Associate outside your home-owners association: with the homeless, with the addicted, with the mentally ill.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Not just your neighbors — YOUR ENEMIES – a soup kitchen for the terrorists along with the terrorized.  A soup kitchen not just for refugees but for tyrants.

may-the-circle-be-unbroken-jo-anne-gazo-mckim

Paul, the circle drawer, draws some pretty tough lines in the sand. His uncomfortable words are a call to discipleship, one that demands more than a little sacrifice. Not the easy Lenten stuff, like chocolate, but the really hard stuff.  Can I give up my pride, my selfishness? Can I give up my arrogance and my conceit?  Can I give up my defenses and my prejudices? What will I offer up? What will you offer up? What will we offer up, of ourselves, our souls and bodies, to build up the Body of Christ?

The church is not supposed to be a country club. It’s not supposed to be a gated community. The church is not a Meetup group, either. The Church – capital C –  are the followers of Jesus. And Jesus says: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus gave it all up, once and for all, on a cross at Calvary. And as his followers, we got to  give up a part of ourselves, each and every day. Not to be martyrs. Not to suffer for suffering’s sake. But to give up more than a little, for the healing of the sacred circle, the circle of haughty and the lowly, friends and foe, comrades and enemies, the lonely and the lost, the tearful and the joyful: the gay and the straight, the Jew and the Gentile, the black and the white.

May this Circle be unbroken, bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye. There’s a better way awaiting, Lord, (with your help), if we but try, Lord, if we but try.

JoaniSign


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The Third Peacock

Middle child of six siblings, this third Peacock often got lost in the crowd.

Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Our six birthdays, from the oldest to the youngest, spanned just nine years.  No wonder my mom could barely keep us straight.

Maureen. Tim. Joani. Bernie. Clare. Joseph. She would rattle through our names till she found the one that fit.

It’s me, mom. It’s Joani. Remember me?

And with six kids in the suburbs, it was no wonder that my mom made use of all the help that she could get. My Grandma Cady, my mom’s mom, would cook, make lunches, and help get us off to school. My dad was a doctor, a surgeon, so we could afford to hire help. Cornelia cleaned, Cora did the ironing, and Sonny, Cornelia’s brother did all the heavy lifting.

Outwardly, we all appeared neat and tidy, organized and orderly. But that was so not the case. My mom’s bipolar disorder, along with my dad’s addiction to work, wreaked havoc on our home.

But we six kids, whether because of our circumstances – or in spite of them — compounded the chaos tenfold.

There was a lot of yelling, screaming and name calling. Middle child, I learned to keep my head down. Middle child, a translator at the bargaining table, I tried to keep the peace.

As much, as any little kid could.

the third peacock book cover

And there was more than just a little competition. Who has to do the dishes.  Who gets to sit up front in the car. Who gets first crack at the Oreos – when my mom got home from the store.

Our birth order was also our pecking order — but often in reverse. My grade school idea of fairness was quite literal. I remember sneaking down the stairs, on Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to bed, and counting the packages under the tree. Invariably, Baby Brother Joseph always got the most.

Always.

Joseph, was the most beloved, it seemed. Too little for household chores. Too adorable to be held accountable. He could always hide behind my mother’s skirts.

Or so it seemed to me.

Who wouldn’t want to murder their little brother? Or throw him into a pit? Or sell him off for twenty pieces of silver?

This is the story of Joseph. Not my baby brother Joseph. But Joseph of Genesis. Joseph, one of the great novellas of Hebrew Scripture. Joseph, the youngest and most favored son of Jacob. The one who got the awesome coat.  Baby brother Joseph, who did not endear himself to his siblings.

An angst filled family story of biblical proportions.

Joseph was seventeen years of – shepherding the flock with his brothers. Joseph, the apple of Jacob’s eye, put his brothers in a bad light. He ratted them out for some unnamed offense. And Jacob rewards him for betraying his brothers — with that amazing technicolor dream coat. The child of his old age, he loved Joseph best of all.

His brothers hated him for it. They could not even spare him a peaceable word.

Jacob sends Joseph out to find where his brothers are keeping the sheep. Before the distance is closed between them, the siblings conspire to do their little brother in.

Here comes the dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into a pit.

We’ll tell dad a wild animal devoured him.

No, the eldest counters. Let’s just steal his coat, go with the pit and not kill him.

It being a waterless pit, this was Joseph’s brothers’ singular kindness.

Callously, they sit down to eat – while up comes a wandering band of Ishmaelites – nomads and merchants on their way to Egypt.

This inspires in Judah, another of the brothers, a very profitable idea.

Let’s sell him to the highest bidder!

So, they pull him out of the pit and hand him over for twenty pieces of silver.

 Joseph, the youngest, the interpreter of dreams, quite ironically is put in the middle. His protective father behind him – ahead, his brothers plotting his demise.

They could all use a little family therapy, don’t you think?

So, could we all.

Our families of origin. Our communities of choice. Our workplaces. Our psychic spaces. Our social circles and political cul-de-sacs. We all tend to hang out with our own tribe. The folks who look like us and think like us and agree with us.

All could use a little family therapy.

Yahweh does not rescue Joseph from the pit – at least not in the swoop down from heaven – Deus ex machina — way. Instead, God, quite providentially, leaves his children –- including us — to our own devices. The devices, God has equipped us with. By our wits, by our skills, by our gifts — to work out this family squabble on our own.

To literally appeal to our better angels.

Three weeks ago, July 21st, the Washington Post reporter, Colby Itkowitz wrote:

On a Wednesday evening, Donna Murphy joined about 30 people in a nondescript basement…for a Better Angels’ “skills workshop” to learn the fundamentals of how to have difficult conversations, to bring Democrats and Republicans together for a three day Better Angels dialogue.

 Better Angels began as a civics experiment in rural southwest Ohio several weeks after the election. With the emotions of the campaign still raw, a room of 21 strangers, ten who voted for Trump and 11 who voted for Clinton spent an entire weekend together talking.

 They listened. They debated. They vented. There were tense moments and emotional ones.

 After 13 hours of discussion, the participants did not change their views but left with a softened view of the other side.

 Better Angels went on a thirteen-city summer tour to promote this red-blue dialogue – to facilitate conversations across a deep political divide.

 The program is the brainchild of David Blankenhorn, a Republican, and onetime opponent of same sex marriage – who later changed his position after a friendship with a gay man changed his mind.

 The group takes its name from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, will swell the chorus of our Union, when again touched, as surely, they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 Blankenhorn concludes:

 “One consistent message we’re getting is, there are strong disagreements, but we’re not as far apart as we thought we are. There is passion and disagreement…but the main takeaway is that this is good, this kind of talking with — rather than at or about – our political opponents is good for us and good for our country.”

 Some of these groups have decided to meet on a monthly basis. Some not. But meeting even once like this could be a really good idea, don’t you think?

A really good idea, we could put into practice here in Alexandria.

Maybe?

On behalf of Emmanuel, I have sent Mr. Blankenhorn an initial inquiry of how, as a parish, we might sponsor a Better Angels training weekend in our own backyard.

Just a possibility that could come to pass early next year.

A way to equip ourselves, as sisters and brothers, to speak and to listen to one another in love.

Let’s think about it. Talk about it. Pray about it.

The third Peacock, in me, wants to believe that we can work towards healing our tribal divides.

This middle child wants to believe that we can work towards putting aside our self-righteous needs always to be right.

Dear God, please, help us to both temper and to tame

the destructive side of our, all too human, sibling rivalries.

JoaniSign


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 Who Am I Really? A “Rebecca on Reunion” Podcast

Here, in my firstborn daughter’s own voice,  is Rebecca telling the story of our reunion.   Who Am I Really? is a project of Damon Davis: a series of very personal podcasts about the life journey of an adoptee and their search for reunion. Rebecca’s is Episode 18:What I Gained Through Reunion Is Context.

Listening to Rebecca’s voice, I definitely hear Joani. And I hear my daughter Colleen’s voice, too. Maybe even my niece, Lauren’s, as well. Not just the timbre of our voices resonates but how we all string words together. We use the same verbal punctuation. It is uncanny.

And Rebecca’s description of reunion dovetails incredibly with biomom’s. No coordination involved. Just DNA. Incredibly delightful.

So take a listen to Rebecca and let her fill you in on Who She Really Is!


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If It’s Green, Let It Grow

Back in the day in Del Ray, when I still had a yard, this was my gardening mantra:

If it’s green, leave it alone.

I should have had better garden sense, having once upon a time worked at a plant store called “Great Plants Alive”. But truth be told, my house was kind of like a hospice – where plants came home to die.

I depended on Mother Earth to till my soil.  Whatever grew, grew — and whatever withered, withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my golden rule:

If it’s green, let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my push mower and my weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

But I did learn one thing of worth at “Great Plants Alive” from a South African gentleman who came into the shop. I noticed him admiring the orange calla lilies just outside the front door.

“Can I help you. Sir? Those lilies are beautiful, aren’t they? Just three dollars a pot.”

“Back home these are WEEDS. Why are you selling weeds? We tear them up and throw them away,” he said.

One person’s weed is another person’s flower, you see.

Good seeds. Bad seeds. Whose to know the difference?

Consider your life a garden, crumbly creative dirt.  Watered by  grace, seeds sprout, reach for light, struggle to grow:

Seeds planted by parents who raised us.

Seeds planted by all the beloved, bewildering people in our lives.

Seeds planted by all of the puzzles we solve and by problems we invent.

Seeds planted by poets who inspire and by writers we have read.

Seeds planted in all of the ages and stages of our growing up.

Seeds planted by the predicaments and the challenges of our times.

Good seeds. Bad Seeds. Flowers. Weeds.

Whose to know the difference?

Over the course of our lifetimes, whose to know the difference?

Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned but gather the wheat into my barn. Matthew 13:30

 This burning thing makes me very uncomfortable. My personal and favorite heresy is the denial of Hell – at least the three-tiered universe kind of Hell, with Heaven above and Earth below. The flames that burn for all time, fire and brimstone, that eternal damnation kind of Hell.

No, I do not believe in it at all because, if you excuse the expression:

What in Hell kind of God is that?

have weeds taken over your garden picture

But I do believe in a more personal hell, more of a purgatory really, where we burn through, burn off, burn up the weeds that have choked out the wheat.

This refining fire is something we all walk through. Like the winnowing of wheat, all of that crappy chaff flies away, and we are left with just a handful of kernels, a few kernels of wisdom.  (Maybe.)

Anne Lamott did a Ted Talk a few years back. One of my favorite authors, she is funny, earthy, poignant, and profound – in the most ordinary of ways. Her Ted Talk is called: Twelve Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.”

On the eve of her 61st birthday, she decided to write down everything she knew to be true. Twelve things but by my count sixteen. Let  me briefly paraphrase them for you.

Lamott shares:

  1. ;I am every age I have ever been, though my paperwork says I was born in 1954, I feel 47.  My true self is outside myself. A friend in his seventies says, “I feel like a young person just with something really wrong with me.”
  2.  All truth is a paradox. Life is at one time a precious, unfathomable, beautiful gift. It is also hard and weird. Filled both with heartbreaking sweetness and heartbreaking poverty.  I don’t think it’s an ideal system.
  3.  Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes and then plug it back in. Including you.
  4.  Help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everyone.
  5.  You can’t buy or steal or make anyone else’s happiness. You can’t run alongside of your grown children with sunscreen and Chap-stick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s the respectful thing to do.
  1. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Everyone is broken, insecure and scared. They are more like you than you can imagine.
  2.  You also can’t fix or save or rescue anyone else or get anyone else sober. One acronym for God is the “Gift of Desperation.”
  1.  Be full of yourself. Being at home in your own cranky self allows others to be at home in themselves.  Being full of affection for one’s self is where world peace begins.
  2. Chocolate with 78% Cacao is not actually a food. It was never supposed to considered edible. It is best used to balance the legs of wobbly chairs.
  3.  Writers all write terrible first drafts. But they keep their butt in their chairs. Their truth comes through little by little.  Just take it bird by bird, her dad told her brother when writing a report for school. Tell them about each bird in your own voice. Bird by bird, God awful first drafts — really good advice for all of life.
  1. Success will not heal you. It will feel good for a while but it will not fill the “Swiss-Cheesy holes” in your soul.  But fostering old dogs or painting murals might
  2.  Families are hard, hard, hard — no matter how cherished or astonishing they might be. Remember that it is a miracle that any one of us was conceived and born. And Earth is forgiveness school. So, we might as well start at the dinner table. This way we can do this work in comfortable pants.
  1. And food. Try to do a little better. I think you know what I mean.
  2. Grace. Spiritual WD40 or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Vladmir Putin and me and you exactly as much your new grandchild.

 Laughter is bubbling grace. It is really “carbonated holiness.” It allows us to breathe again and again and to renew our faith in ourselves and in one another.

 And Grace always bats last.

  1. A good name for God is “not me”.  The happiest person on earth, Emerson says, is one who learns from nature the lesson of worship. Go outside. Look up!
  2. And finally, death. Wow. Yikes.

 We never get over these losses and against what our culture says, we are not supposed to. Tears of grief bathe and baptize and hydrate and moisturize us on the ground on which we walk. Take off your shoes, God says, this garden is holy ground. All evidence to the contrary, this is the truest thing of all.

 Death is as sacred as birth.

 When all is said and done, we’re all just walking each other home.

Lamott says she will get back to us, if she thinks of any more.

So, winnow through your own wheat and toss out the weeds.  What kernels do you come up with?

I came up with three on my way home from Montana. A frequent flier, I am not, and turbulence is not my friend. I tightened my seat belt and rattled my rosary on a very bumpy ride out of Missoula. Usually it is terror that I taste coming up in my throat, but on this occasion, tears smearing my mascara streamed down my face. Three little words popped into my head.

Love. (OMG! I love you God.)

Thanks. (Thanks for EVERYTHING.  Thanks for EVERYONE.  I can’t say THANKS enough.)

Hope. (I hope I made a difference. At least a little.)

And then we were safely on the ground. Thank God.

I hope to hold onto these kernels, these little scraps of God given grace – from United Flight 3054.

Love. Thanks. Hope.

And with my feet firmly on the ground, I pray, that they take root, sprout up, and grow all over the place: my place, your place, everyone’s place.

Let the weeds grow up with the wheat, let them grow together until the harvest.

If it’s green, let it grow.

 

JoaniSign


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A Room Full of Mothers

How many children do you have?

Not a trick question, right? But it is a tricky one for me.

Publicly the answer has been an easy “three”  for twenty-nine years since I bore Jacob, my third following  Zach and Colleen back in 1987.

But behind closed doors, when asked, I would falter. The gynecologist would look at my chart and say: “How many pregnancies? Number of successful deliveries?”

Do I lie and say “three”? Does it really matter for my medical history?

Or do I tell the truth and say “four”. Then hold my breath and hope I won’t have to explain why I gave the first one away.

Every doctor’s appointment was a little flashback to my 17th year. The year the rabbit died. The year of seasick mornings and solitary trips to the Medicaid clinic. The year of the swelling belly and iron capsules to choke a horse. Remembering being ostracized by my family and terrified by the little life inside me.

Sitting on the examining table in a hospital gown, I would recall the mysterious being who kicked and elbowed and crammed their little self  into every little square inch of me.

And every year, September 28th, on her birthday, I would think of her and wonder where she was. I would beam powerful positive thoughts in her direction — to her unknown location.  And I would permit myself a melancholy moment or two, stuff it down, and then move on.

Stretched, so stretched beyond my teenage capacity.

She gave me my very first stretch marks. A badge of honor.

And just prior to Christmas past, she found me. Rebecca found me. I have told this story on U&U. And I have blogged about our Saint Patrick’s Day weekend reunion.

So serendipitous that we reunited on this Celtic feast. As an adoptee, in a sealed adoption, Rebecca’s “non-identifying information” identified her biological maternal family as Jewish.

Uh, no. Def got that wrong.

DNA and Ancestry.com identified a healthy dose of green blood. Irish. Definitely Irish.

Somehow deep down in her bones, Rebecca intuited this all along. All three of her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir are all steeped in Irish step dancing.

On my visit in March, I tagged along to their class at a dance studio in a nearby town. Kids of all ages in comfortable clothes and special shoes shuffled and kicked to Celtic tunes.

A Room Full of Mothers Jackie Wade mother an daughter

Parents, meanwhile, and by “parents”, I mean mostly moms crowded into the windowed little waiting room. Kindly one mom gave up her seat so that I could sit up front and see.

As other moms came and went, Rebecca introduced my unfamiliar face. Some already knew our story and some did not. Those who knew smiled and nodded. One very sweet mom even made us a celebratory strawberry tart.

But for those not in the know, Rebecca would quickly try to catch them up, starting with,

“This is my mother.”

Startled by her words, instinctively I looked over my shoulder and thought:

“Where, where is your mother? OMG, she means me!”

A singular mom sitting by the door had a quizzical look on her face — which compelled me to explain myself. I spew forth my teenage tale, circa 1972.

I didn’t need to do that. Or did I?

And I wonder about all of the moms in the room and what their stories might be. I wonder about the maternal ghosts and mothers in abstentia – who haunt this waiting room. Rebecca’s mother. My mother. Adoptive mothers. Birth mothers. Grandmothers. Stepmothers – both evil and good.

I wonder about all of the overlay and layers of expectations that our culture slathers onto maternity.

From our very first December conversation, I wanted to be especially respectful of Rebecca’s mom — the one who parented her so wonderfully. And I wanted  – and still want – to be especially careful not to offend her in any way.

Rebecca, 44 years old, reminded me that she is a fully functional grownup. Ha! And that it is hers alone to manage these relationships separately. I need be responsible only for my own.

And Rebecca has taught me that it is okay to say that I am her mother. That is biologically and verifably true. “Biomom” is what she most appropriately calls me.

Six months have now passed since Christmas. Rebecca and I talk, text, and email with some frequency. We have a loving relationship, a rippling relationship that now ripples throughout my family: with her siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and even cousins many times removed.

I now include Rebecca on all family emails, both the good news and the bad news. And when I send an email to “my kids”, I simply sign it “mom”. It was just too wonky and weird to qualify it as bio/mom or biomom/mom/Joani. And it seemed really silly to leave it blank. Its just an email for heavens’ sake, right?

It really is more though, isn’t it? Yes, I think it is.

And so back to the question:

How many children do you have?

No longer a tricky question,  I answer “four”.

One in VT. One in NYC. One in D.C. One in NC.

All rocking adults.

And I am happy to answer any questions, if you would like to know more.

JoaniSign


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The Library of Congress Restoreth My Soul

WELCOME TO THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!

I AM SOOOOOO EXCITED YOU ARE HERE!

I AM SOOOOOO EXCITED TO SHARE THIS LIBRARY WITH YOU!

Such begins my weekly spiel, as I lead visitors from all over the world on a tour of the Nation’s Library.

A bibliomaniac, I served seven years at Bishop Payne at VTS.  Last fall, I was simply OVER THE MOON when I got into the four-month docent immersion program at the Library of Congress.

In class, I got to sit at the feet of remarkable librarians – who curate remarkable collections from around the world. We got to go behind the scenes and behind closed doors. Into the stacks and into the reading rooms.

We got to touch – well not actually touch – but see up close – Thomas Edison’s pencil sketch of the telephone; Thomas Jefferson’s journal pages; Amelia Earhart’s flight logs.

WOW. Right? WOW.

Sort of like a liberal arts education in all things LOC, we heard from art historians, rare book collectors, doctors of the arts, architectural experts, scholars of the Gilded Age, and experts in the history of D.C.

The Jefferson building is  breathtaking: “Beauxes Artes” breathtaking. A boastful triumphant building completed in 1897, fifty American artists worked, painted, crafted, and sculpted its insides.  America flexed its cultural muscles at the close of the 19th century. The United States was as great a nation, as any in Europe. And a great nation – needs a great library.

library of congress compass rose floor

In the floor of the Great Hall is a multicolored marble Compass Rose — surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac in bronze. Parallel white marble staircases rise on either side – each carved with angelic looking figures – who are not angels at all but little boys.

Halfway up each staircase is a globe – nestled between two of the boys. To the left is Asia and Europe. To the right Africa, with a crocodile behind him and a Native American, hand raised  to his forehead.

Learning is universal, you see, and comes from all four corners of the universe. This library – the LARGEST library in the world – is America’s library – but it is not an American library – half the collection is in languages other than English – 470 and counting.

This is not some 21st century – cultural diversity tax collector waste of money thing. This is the raison d’etre of the place since the first library burned in the War of 1812.

In 1814 Thomas Jefferson offered his own books to Congress to restart the fledgling library — housed across the street in the Capitol.

Jefferson’s literary collection was one of the most extensive in the young United States. He cataloged his books according to memory, reason, and imagination: history, philosophy, and the arts. He had books in 16 languages including Arabic and Native American dialects. He had books about bee keeping, magic tricks, and Italian cooking. He had books about EVERYTHING.

Congress balked. We just want the law books, they said. But Jefferson argued that “There may not be a subject to which a member of Congress may not need to refer in the course of his work.” So, Congress bought his almost 7,000 books for almost $24,000.

And the LOC to this day, still collects this way. It is Thomas Jefferson on steroids.

And the library’s universal collection is universally available to anyone – not just members of Congress.

library of congress good government

Just above the doors to the Main Reading Room are a series of murals called “Good Government”.  A young boy with books tucked under his arms drops his ballot into a Grecian voting urn. Sound government rests on sound learning. Not just for elected servants but for EVERYBODY.

Because this land is your land, this land is my land.  Right? No matter where we came from. And we all came from somewhere else.

When I introduce myself to the LOC visitors, I boast about my native Washingtonian, as in D.C. creds.

I boast that when I was in high school, I used to do my homework at LOC. My family on the Peacock side goes back seven generations in the Nation’s Capital – back to the late 18th century. My mom was a (not very serious) member of the DAR. A Peacock, a 13year-old boy – Nathaniel Peacock arrived stowed away on a boat at Jamestown.

library of congress dome

But I am no more American than the most recent naturalized citizen – be they from Mexico, Syria, South Korea, Guatemala, Germany, or Yemen. They are just as American as you and me.

We are a nation defined by liberty and law — not by ethnicity, religion, or race. Right?

 Every week, the Library of Congress, restores my American soul. Its a place where politics are verboten – a secular temple that celebrates our highest American ideals.

We were constituted to be a radically welcoming nation, born both of the Enlightenment and  of ancient biblical values.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.  I lift my light beside the golden door.”

To welcome the stranger, to welcome the sojourner, to welcome the orphaned, the refugee: it’s the Judeo-Christian thing to do.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

 First century Jewish and Christian hospitality is really different than how we think of hospitality. We ready the guest room for when friends and family visit. We don’t change the sheets for strangers. But that who really needs it. “Biblical hospitality is about welcoming the needy for the sake of their need.”

Strangers, immigrants, the homeless.

Jesus says, “Take that love for family, that love for country and kin, and extend it, extend it further and further still. Welcome in the stranger. Welcome in the one whose life you hardly understand. Not to change them but because they too are God’s children.” (Feasting on the Word, Lance Pape)

This Independence Day weekend, Jesus gives us a challenge.

As Christians. As Americans.

A challenge to our public discourse and policy. A personal challenge.  A challenge to our faith.

To practice this radical welcome of Jesus  – to see the sacred — in every encounter, in every exchange, in the face of friends, of course, but even more so in the face of those we count as foes, in the face of what seems foreign, in the face of the unknown.

A spiritual exercise:

To stretch those welcome muscles.  To stretch beyond our comfort level. To stretch until we feel the burn. It’s a good workout for the heart. It’s an even better workout for the soul.

Stretch your spirit, friends, stretch.

(And if you would like a tour of the Library of Congress just let me know!)

JoaniSign