Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Doctor’s Hours & the Great Physician

I’ve talked about my dad on U&U before. Maybe too much! Permit me, please to do so once more.

Dr. Peacock was a yeller and a screamer, but he was also a very gifted healer.

Playing sick was no game. To get out of school, you had to provide evidence – scientific evidence. My dad would pull out his little black bag: listen to your heart, look down your throat, peer into your ears, palpitate your stomach, tell you to take two aspirin, and send you off to school.

Case closed.

“Too sick to go to school?” Norman Rockwell

Being a doctor, of course, my dad worked crazy hours: weekends, holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter – no exceptions. As a child, it seemed to me he was always making rounds. And on very rare occasions, I got to go ‘round with him and troop behind him, at the hospital like an acolyte

Be it bedside at the hospital or in the examining room at his office, Dr. Peacock gave his patients whatever time they required to heal.

He was forever coming home late. After dinner was over. After we had already gone to bed.

Healing requires a deep, deep well of patience. Healing is exhausting work – for both doctor and patient. 

In the Gospel of Luke, an incredibly patient patient approaches the Great Physician.

Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. Jesus saw her, called her over, laid hands on her and said, “Woman, you are set free.”

And what seems to be a momentous and instantaneous miracle, really took eighteen years — eighteen years of hope.

 In 1stcentury Palestine, eighteen years is half a lifetime. Imagine struggling half your life with whatever ails your body, mind or soul. For some of us that might be a stretch. For others, struggles of a lifetime come easily to mind.

A chronic illness. Depression.

Poverty. Disability. Dysfunction. 

Dislocation. Isolation.

What cripples your body and soul?  What keeps you from living to the fullest your God-given life? 

How do you hold onto hope? 

Well, just ask Jesus – the Great Physician, who worked overtime on the sabbath. Healing work does not get a day off (to the chagrin of the powers that be). But after working weekends, Jesus is just exhausted as you or I would be.

Jesus’ reputation precedes him. A wonderworker who restores sight to the blind. A wonderworker who makes the lame to walk. Wherever he went, crowds pressed in upon him just to touch the hem of his cloak.

Jesus, just say the word and I shall be healed.

He cared, of course, for all who came to him. He got to everybody the best he could but even Jesus has only twenty-four hours in a day. Just like us he needs his eight hours of sleep and three-square meals. Time to gather his thoughts. Time to recharge his spirit.

And so, what does the Great Physician prescribe? 

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

That includes him. That includes everybody.

Sunday is the Christian sabbath (which we swapped out for Saturday, the seventh day of the week). God rested from hanging the stars and stocking the oceans. God rested on the sabbath and made it sacred.

The old Blue Laws, once upon a time, helped us to keep it holy. (Called blue, I know not why. Maybe because they made Sundays so boring?)

Once upon a time, when I was a little Roman Catholic kid, on Sundays we went to Mass. We slid into a back pew, squirmed in our seats, snoozed during the sermon, rattled off a few Hail Mary’s and nodded our heads in prayer.

Our Sunday afternoons after church were lazy and uneventful. Even my workaholic dad, Dr. Peacock put on a pair of jeans and puttered around his workbench. We read the funny papers, played board games, took cat naps. 

It was not let all mortal flesh keep silence. There were nine of us, after all, but we slowed way down. God gave us the gift of a lazy day.

Not so 21stcentury true, right? On Sundays we shop ‘til we drop. We’re glued to our devices, our smartphones and our MACS. We answer email. We return phone calls. We slip into the office.

(And by definition, I am literally required to work on the sabbath. Counting seminary, I’ve been working weekends for twenty-eight years!)

Sunday blurs into Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. You know what I mean.

Being summer, we are a little better at this but many of us schedule our vacations out the wazoo.

God created sabbath time for healing time – not busy time. So how to tell the difference? 

By following the example of the Great Physician, of course.

Pick a Sunday and give it a try. Try and see if you can keep it holy. 

If there is any truly healing work to do, you must do it, of course. But be honest, how much of that stuff you feel compelled to do is truly healing?

Otherwise, put down the newspaper. Leave the dishes in the sink. Leave the beds unmade. Go no further than your back yard. Swing in a hammock. Listen to music. Read a good book. Soak up a little silence along with the sun.

Close your eyes and listen. To the birds in the trees. The airplane overhead. The occasional breeze. Water gushing from a hose. Kids kicking soccer balls in the yard next door.

Tune into the sound of your breath. The rhythm of your beating heart.

Thank God for the life that surrounds you.

Thank God for the life within you.

And for twenty-four hours, let the world spin without you. 

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.


Confessions of a Not-So-Dangerous Bipolar Soul

I am not a mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV.

But I am openly and optimally bipolar. A mental health evangelist, I share first person stories on Unorthodox & Unhinged to create awareness, dispel stereotypes and encourage healing. You can quote statistics until you are blue in the face and make no difference. Stories, on the other hand, bring to life the challenge of living with a challenging brain.

The tragic events of just the last ten days raise important mental health issues, of course.

Bipolar Disorder is a medical diagnosis. You can find it in the DSM-V, the fifth version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association. Approximately 1% of the population walks around with a bipolar brain. Likely I inherited mine; it is how my brain is wired. (Thanks, mom!)

Hate, on the other hand, is a sickness of the soul. It is an emotion 100% of us are capable of. No one is born hateful. Hate is learned behavior. Hate festers and grows like weeds in gardens where we least expect it. Left untended, hate crowds all that is good.

A disturbed mind fueled by hate is a potentially lethal combination. A combination that becomes all the more probable when that person is armed and loaded. A probability, we all pray does not become reality. But reality it is.

I write not just from a bipolar point of view but as a mom and a grandmother, as an Episcopal priest and a struggling minister of the gospel.

In these dark days, I will tell you my personal story, not that you may agree with me nor to tell you what to think. My hope is that my story will encourage you to share yours. I believe that our stories may align, intersect and connect more than we might think. Our stories can help us connect at a deeper level.

So, as you may likely know —

I am no Second Amendment Sister. I am a Million Mom Marcher from way back when. No toy guns were allowed at my house. Only water pistols and Super- Soakers. My kids were crack shots — gunning down dandelions and blowing away begonias in the backyard. No BB guns, not even cap guns crossed our threshold. At least until….

The dawn of Nintendo 64. One showed up under the tree on a Christmas morn with Zach’s name on it. I think Santa put it there. If Santa put it there, it was a really big deal. Mom and dad wrapped up books and board games. Santa gave you stuff that knocked your socks off.

So welcome Mario and Wario (his evil twin.) Welcome Kirby and Donkey Kong. Welcome Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  Lots of fun and games. Lots of jumping over walls, catching stars, and grabbing gold coins. Lots of keys and magic codes to climb from level to level. Zach played for hours on end while his little brother watched in wonder — hoping against hope to take control of that controller. Just two and half years old,  Jacob picked it up and has yet to put it down at the age of thirty-one.

Jacob mastered Mario. He crushed Kirby. He tackled Tetris. He whooped Wario. And “bang, bang, bang,” — arcade style — he bagged hundreds of ducks. The first “stick that made thunder” had made it into our house.

As Jacob matured so did the ratings on his video games. I never really censored the games he played but I would lean over the screen to see just how much blood and guts were on display. “Is that a peace and love game?” I would invariably ask him. “It’s just mummies, mom. It’s just zombies.” So, I bought him “Civilization”, peaceful and educational. “How’s that going, Jacob?”Great, mom! Gandhi just conquered Genghis Khan!”

Jacob has grown up to be quite the indie gamer. And you will find no gentler or loving soul than Jacob. He founded Gaming in Public. On a Kickstarter project, he raised $20,000 for a Hobbit-Inspired game called Super Dwarf Madness.

Super Dwarf Madness is not exactly about peace and love. But it is not all that far removed from Elmer Fudd and his blunderbuss or Yosemite Sam and his six-shooter. “Sticks that make thunder” cartoon style.

Yosemite Sam was “the roughest, toughest, fastest gun-slinger west of the Pecos!” but he couldn’t hit the side of a barn. And every Saturday morning, Bugs Bunny got away with nary a scratch. It was a kinder and gentler time. Remember Sheriff Andy Taylor? No gun. Remember Deputy Barney Fife? One gun and no bullets except the one in his pocket.

These were the only guns my dad would allow in our house: celluloid guns; cartoon guns; sitcom guns; maybe a water pistol or two; maybe even a cap gun. But never, ever the real thing.

Guns were for my dad a very real and present moral dilemma. You see, my Rockefeller Republican father was Chief of Surgery at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in D.C.. A general surgeon, he took out gall bladders, repaired hernias, removed tumors. He loved his work. But extracting bullets from young men, my dad told us, he hated having to do.  He said that he had lost way too many young men on his operating table. Tragic and traumatic, so young and full of life, never to go home again. Never.

NEVER have a gun in the home, my father taught us. NEVER. Guns in the home were anathema to him.  In the heat of passion, it was best to err on the side of safety.

A lesson learned from my dad that I have taken to heart.

In my 64 years, I had never ever even seen a real gun – much less handled one, until a few years ago when I visited the home of a sharpshooting friend. Law abiding in every way, she only shoots tin cans and paper tigers. Proud of her sport, she took out her collection and introduced me to her “sticks that make thunder”. She taught me the difference between a rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, and a revolver. Patiently she explained cartridges, caliber, clips, millimeters and magazines. And she drove home the importance of safeties – the tiny little lever that keeps a gun from firing.

This tiny little lever between this life and the life to come — is called a safety.

Now there is a stereotype that people like me are not safe. Mall shooters and campus snipers are indeed disturbed and deranged. Of that, there is no doubt. But bipolar-me is no more likely to gun you down than anyone else. Regardless, the media often diagnoses the dangerous, as a soul likely off their meds. But it’s simply not true or at least very rarely true. Self-harm, rather than harming others, is much more likely with folks like me.

I have never had a plan to do away with myself. But I do know what it’s like to not want to wake up anymore. Depression can eat you alive just as surely as cancer can.

“Do you feel safe?”, the nurse at Dominion asked me. “No”, I replied. So, she took away my shoelaces and my belt and my cell phone. Dangerous weapons, I guess. First light every morning and last thing every night, we had to answer the same question: “Do you feel safe? Rate yourself on a scale from zero to ten.” Zero and you can go home. Ten – or anything close to ten – and you get to stay a little longer. To stay your hand from doing yourself in. To stay your hand from doing what cannot be undone.

Especially, if at home, you had a gun. God forbid, if I did. Thank God, I did not.

God has nothing specific to say about guns, of course. And biblically confusing, Yahweh vacillates about whether we should be beating those plowshares into swords or those swords into plowshares. But Jesus – he’s pretty clear on the subject. Clearer than Ghandi. Clearer than Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I say to all who can hear me: Love your foes, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. The one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek…Love your foes and treat them well….  Be just and lenient as your Father. Be not a judge…Be not an executioner. Pardon and you will be pardoned”  Luke 6 (trans. Garry Wills)

This is not faithless passivity. This same Jesus, a very angry Jesus, turns over the Temple’s tables.  Not just a place of prayer, ‘the temple was the center of worship and music, the center of politics and society, a place of national celebration and mourning. It was the focal point of a nation and its way of life.” (N.T. Wright)

Righteous anger is the antithesis of hate. Angry for all the right reasons, Jesus threatens to tear the place down. Forty-six years it took to build, but Jesus says he will raise it again in just three days.

Not resurrected stones, but literally flesh and bone. Not a resurrected building but resurrected life.

In my tenure as Emmanuel’s Associate for Worship, we have prayed a prayer inspired by an America Magazine article written by Jesuit James Martin. We have had to pray it way too many times and I hope to God we never need pray it again, but sadly, I know we will.

Genuine prayer is more than pretty words. Prayer is the act of God stirring souls to rise up off our knees. Prayer is the daily doing of loving, speaking the truth in love, and the hard work of reconciliation. Real prayer makes a real difference.

So I pray this revised prayer once more.

Lord God, in the wake of tragic gun violence in Virginia Beach; Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio: we ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded, to console family and friends and to strengthen the hands and hearts of first responders. In Christian charity, we pray for those who took these innocent lives. Cast out hatred from the human heart. Relieve the anguish of disturbed and troubled minds. Deliver us from demonizing and dehumanizing those different from ourselves.

We cry, Lord Christ, as you wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are weary, Lord God, weary, as when an exhausted Jesus fell asleep in the boat after wrestling with the demons of his day. We are angry, God, angry at the corrupt powers of this world that prioritize principalities over people: angry, as was Jesus, when he upturned the tables in the temple. Grant us courage and strength to preserve and protect the lives of all God’s children. Turn our tears into compassion, our weariness into advocacy, our paralysis into acts of love.

 Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For further reading:

More on mental health

More on video games


It takes a downright sinner to be a biblical saint.

The biblical book of Hebrews is not a letter. It was not written by Paul and it was not mailed to the Hebrews. Its origins are murkier, but its message is still on the mark. Think of it as a letter to the editor of the First Century’s Good News – a running commentary on testaments old and new. 

Hebrews sings a Song of the Saints of God, faithful and brave and true .It waxes poetic over the faithful deeds of our ancestors. One by one, salvation history’s star players strut on stage. The cast is dressed to impress. Cain and Abel. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Jacob. By faith there was Joseph and, of course, Moses, and the Israelites who crossed the Red Sea. Joshua and Rahab, at the Battle of Jericho. King David and King Solomon. A great cloud of witnesses.

Now Hebrews gives these saints a hero’s welcome. With God’s help “they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fires, escaped the edge of the sword and put foreign armies to flight.” Makes your heart beat a little faster just thinking about it, right? 

These are just the highlights, of course, the dramatic climaxes. The anonymous author of Hebrews has left out all the dirty, messy parts. Those lie in pieces on the cutting room floor. Let’s listen to these stories again. And with a little help from Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian pastor and author, one of my faborite authors. Let’s see if we  can read between the lines. 

In the beginning, East of Eden there were Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve’s boys. God preferred Abel to Cain. God is apparently not a vegetarian and he preferred a juicy leg of lamb to a nice bowl of couscous. But God’s love was poured out to no end on the rebellious Cain. Cain in a fit of jealous rage did his brother in with a pitchfork. When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain said ‘I don’t know’, which didn’t fool God for a second. But even so, God let Cain’s crime be his punishment.

 So, Cain the farmer took to wandering forever fearful of being found out. A fugitive, without a leg to stand on, he complains to God. ‘You know, God, whatever bandits find me along the road will kill me. You know they will.’  So, God, out of love, protected Cain. He vowed vengeance on anyone who would touch a hair on his head. The God of mercy marked the murderer as his own and Cain went and dwelt in the land East of Eden. (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures) 

And God was not ashamed to be his God. 

And then a multitude of generations later, there was Abraham, a righteous man of God. Who could be more faithful than Abraham? He packed up his home and family lock, stock and barrel and set out believing in some crazy land deal that Yahweh had promised. Imagine Abraham, a hundred years old and Sarah just shy of ninety, travelling by camel through the wilderness and she pregnant at that. Now these certainly have to be God’s saints. But that road to the Promised Land was long and difficult and when God wasn’t looking, Abraham took a few shortcuts. 

Low on food and supplies, Abraham took Sarah on a shopping spree into Egypt. He didn’t bring Sarah along just to push the shopping cart. He took her along as his cash flow card. You see Abraham passed off his wife as his sister, so Sarah could sleep with Pharaoh in exchange for a little food. Abraham, thinking himself quite clever repeated this disgraceful ruse with Abimelech. the King of Gerar. ‘Sure, you can sleep with her, she’s not my wife! She’s my sister, I tell you.’ 

Abraham subjected Sarah to abuse to advance his career as father of a great nation. Fortunately, God looked after Sarah even when Abraham did not. The first king, God strikes dead and the second king, Yahweh scares the bejesus out of him in his dreams. Abraham. a far less than faithful husband is rescued by the most faithful of Fathers. (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures)

And God was not ashamed to be his God. 

Fast forward a generation or two and we find ourselves in Jericho. We all know about Joshua “who fit the battle of Jericho.” But you may not be acquainted with Rahab.

Scripture tells us that she was the real hero of the story. She was one of Jesus’ great-great grandmothers and a most unlikely hero. You see she was a woman in a man’s world. She was also a foreigner, a Canaanite, and not to be trusted. And worst of all she was a business woman, an inn keeper and a ‘lady of the night’. Nevertheless, she and Joshua became strange bedfellows. You see the King of Jericho found out there were some Jewish spies shacked up at Rahab’s place. So, the King gave her a call and told her that she had better turn those boys loose or he would close down her house of ill repute.

 ‘Now Sir, I do believe there were a couple of shepherds who fit those descriptions, but I took their money and kissed them goodbye a good half hour ago’. When Rahab got off the phone with the King, she ran up to the roof where she had stashed the spies. ‘Boys’, she said, ‘with Yahweh on your side, I do believe that Jericho is going to be a pushover. I only ask that when the walls come tumbling down, you leave my house standing’. And so, by the wiles and deceit of the ‘lady of the night’ Rahab, Yahweh secured the Promised Land.  (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures) 

And God was not ashamed to be her God. 

Eventually we know as the story goes, God raised up a king and no doubt the greatest of these was David.  He found David, a shepherd boy bringing up the rear of his flock behind his older brothers. God picked this scraggly little boy, the one with the flute and a slingshot in his pocket. David grew up to be a poet and a musician, a soldier and a story book king. He captured the hearts of his kingdom and he captured the city no one could capture — Jerusalem. All vainglory, he named it after himself — the City of David. And with a stroke of genius, he moved the Ark of the Covenant into town. This was kind of like having Yahweh himself move in next door. David brought the Ark into town with great fanfare — a parade of horns, harps, cymbals and psalms. And David himself marched at the front. And then without warning, he did the flashiest, tackies,t most flamboyant thing of all. David stripped down to his skivvies and danced in all his naked glory before the crowd – and before Michal his mortified wife. Well you know she just wanted to crawl under the floor.

 But Yahweh’s passion for his people caught fire in David. And David whirled and danced around the Ark in a blazing flame of glory. Well from that day on David went on the break the hearts of his people. His vanity, his deceit and lust got the better of him, but out of love – God claimed him anyway – and sat him on the throne. (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures) 

And God was not ashamed to be his God. 

God was not ashamed to be the God of Cain, to be the God of Abraham, to be the God of Rahab and the God of David. This does not mean they all got a pass or get-out-of-jail-free card. It does not mean that God blessed all that they did. Far from it, much of what they did made God weep, I am sure. And for it these biblical characters are just as accountable as you and me. 

 But God can do crazy wonderful things through the most unlikely people in the most unlikely times and places. And in fact, if you think about it, God created each and every one of us to be ourselves and no one else. Free to be our imperfect and sinful selves. By design we are all God has to work with in this world.

Yahweh loves us, yes, we know because scripture tells us this love story again and again. How else could this motley crew be a Chosen People?  A cloud of witnesses thick with murderers, liars, thieves, adulterers, and prostitutes. Love is the only explanation. Love is the only possible reason that God was not ashamed to be called their God. 

While we mortals may argue here on earth about who are the deserving poor or who has earned our mercy and who is worthy of our love, God does not. God takes a crazy leap of faith. God comes to live among us as Jesus, son of Mary. This Jesus ate with tax collectors and ladies of the night. He drank with dirty fishermen. A single man, he stayed in the home of Mary and Martha. He broke bread with the poor. He attracted the sick and sinners, alike. Jesus cast out their demons and healed their wounds. He gave them eyes to see with and legs to walk. 


Good Housekeeping according to Mary, Martha & Joan Louise

I have always been a Mary and not much of a Martha. This is not so much a matter of theology as it is a matter of biology.

As a babe, barely out of my mother’s womb, I preferred the library to the laundry room. As a toddler, my favorite toys were blocks and rocks – in that order – not pots and pans. As a grade schooler, the household chore I excelled at most was getting out of household chores. In high school, rather than dust the bookshelves I would read the books. My mom’s favorite magazines  were Family Circle and The Lady’s Home Journal. I preferred  my dad’s Scientific American and Journal of the American Medical Association. (Not that I could understand either, but I liked the pictures!)

The domestic arts are just not part of my DNA. And now all grown up  — my house and my home —  will never quite qualify for that “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”.

Good Housekeeping, of course, has been the magazine of choice for homemakers since it was first published in 1885. Recently while plowing through boxes of books, I discovered two vintage issues: October 1953 and March 1957. Each is nearly 300 pages and a bargain at 35 cents. The contents are packed tight with domestic delights. Featured articles include: “Hostess with the Mostest”; “Mother is a Lady”; “Man Talk”; and the “How Did We Ever Get Along without Cellophane Tape?

Each issue has thirteen categories covering every conceivable domestic discipline: Fashion; Needlework and Sewing; Medicine and Health; Bureau and Chemical Laboratory (Don’t ask! I don’t know!); Textile Laboratory; Decorating and Building; Beauty; Teenagers; Children’s Corner; Food; Appliance and Home Care; and Automobiles. Apparently the 1950’s iconic mom could change a tire just as expertly as she could change a diaper.

(Homemakers, of course, can be any gender. But this was the 1950’s. Hang in there with me, please!)

One issue has a ten page “Hotdog Cookbook”. The other has the “Wisconsin Reducing Diet” based on cheese.

But best of all are the ads – advertisements for every household, cooking, cleaning and beauty item under the sun.

I wash 1400 pounds of laundry a year…but I’m proud of my pretty hands.” Jergen’s Lotion only 10 cents plus tax. (Transfigured just like new!)

“Only the Sunbeam toasts with Radiant Control…that gives the same UNIFORM TOAST….Bread lowers itself automatically…Toast raises itself silently.” (Resurrection Bread!)

“Palmolive Soap is 100% Mild to Guard that Schoolgirl Complexion Look!” (Baptized like a newborn babe!)

“Crisco ends pie crust failure… Use Crisco, it’s digestible!” (Baptism by ordeal!)

It is comforting to imagine June Cleaver — of Leave it to Beaver — in her shirt-waist dress, pearls and pumps — her house neat and tidy as a pin and nary a hair out of place. June Cleaver, the iconic reincarnation of St Martha of Bethany. Manic Martha, my mom’s patron saint.

Growing up on 24th Avenue, the household chaos was measured in baskets of laundry, beds to be made and dishes to wash. On the high side, our house was House Beautiful. On the low side, our house was Mad Magazine. Raising a family of six kids in the suburbs with a workaholic doctor for a husband would make just about anybody crazy — and so it did my mom. My mom on the high side became a manic Martha extraordinaire.

So, I became a Mary — a  quite contrary one. My mom loved to cook. Not me. My mom loved to shop. Not me. My mom loved fashion. Not me. My mom loved to decorate. Not me. My mom loved to clean. Not me. My mom loved to collect stuff.  Not me. My mom loved to plant stuff. Not me. My mom was definitely a Martha. I was decidedly  a Mary.  

Or at least so I thought. Until the day…

I was magically transformed into Martha Stewart on Speed. The magic potion that worked this wonder was a decidedly delicious anti-depressant cocktail.  It’s counter-intuitive but chemically speaking these little pills can push the “max button” on the bipolar blender. Maximum speed. Maximum energy. Maximum ways to mix and match a million little things.

So, I stayed up nights hanging pictures on my walls, turning sheets into window treatments, and spice racks into towel racks. I created collages and decorated bulletin boards. I framed post cards. I potted plants. I arranged and rearranged knickknacks and whatnots. (I even dusted them!) I alphabetized my bookshelves and cleaned out my closets. I fluffed pillows already fluffed. I vacuumed floors already vacuumed. I even manically made my bed over and over. But I did not sleep in it, at least not very much.

But I would crash there when my addled brain ran out of steam.

Good Housekeeping”  is actually a great guide to the bipolar brain.  A bang-up barometer, indeed. In therapeutic language it’s called monitoring your “ADLs” – Activities of Daily Life. Laundry. Housework. Yard work. Grocery shopping. Cooking. Cleaning. Taking out the trash. Making meals. Doing dishes. Folding clothes. Checking the mail. Paying bills. Playing with the cats. Taking a walk. Phoning a friend. The rhythm and routine of daily life attests to the state of our health and wholeness.

Keeping house is literally about keeping healthy. When a loved one does way too little housekeeping or way too much, it’s time to be concerned. It’s time for a loving conversation to see what’s really going on. It may be time to talk with a counselor. Time to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. No, you are not crazy. It’s just the right thing to do.

And I, myself, have become a bit of a convert. Home is where the heart is and my home has become a sacred place — an outward and visible sign of my inward psychic space. Order, color, texture, sight, smell and sound – orchestrated and arranged — keep my bipolar soul – healthy and whole.

Just the right amount of Mary and just the right amount of Martha — biblically speaking — helps to keep our heads on straight. Just the right amount of Mary and just the right amount of Martha  brings peace and balance to unquiet minds –  bipolar and not.

And it is not just me who says so. Jesus says so (Ha!). Jesus said so right there in Martha’s living room — while Martha fussed in the kitchen and  Mary listened at his feet.

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled by many things; one thing is needful; Mary has chosen the better part; and it will not be taken away….” Luke 10:38-41

All things in moderation, my dad, Dr. Peacock, so wisely used to say. Good Housekeeping a blessing in disguise!


Preaching — a Heartbeat away from Washington, D.C.

I am proud of my heritage and fond of telling visitors on my tours at the Library of Congress, that I am a sixth generation Washingtonian. As in D.C. While others move in and out of the city, with each passing administration, the Peacocks have stayed here from one decade to the next.

I believe this is so because we have never worked for the government or been in politics. We are the ordinary working people who love and call the District of Columbia home.

This does not mean that we have never been political, of course. I was raised by a Jesuit educated, Rockefeller Republican father. Dr. Peacock preached fiscal responsibility and championed civil rights. I myself am an aging hippie, who skipped school to protest the Vietnam War. A year shy of voting age, I rallied for George McGovern — who, as we all know, lost in a landslide to “Tricky Dick” Nixon.

I’ve lived in Alexandria, Virginia for over thirty years now, in the shadow of my beloved hometown. Alexandria has sometimes (mostly fondly) been called “The People’s Republic of Alexandria” — a predominantly blue bubble in what has become a purple state.

I am comfortable here, maybe a little too comfortable. My bleeding heart liberal politics are rarely challenged in my own backyard. And as preacher and pastor, in the pulpit I try to own that. I try to be honest and not self-righteously holier than thou. As if, Democrats had a monopoly on holier-than-thou. Far from it.

I serve a congregation whose bread and butter relies on both government and politics. While I discern the politics in our pews skew center-left, I am grateful that they are balanced with faithful folks on the right side of the aisle.

Politely, we Episcopalians believe that we check our politics at the church door. For middle child and peacemaker me, this has been a comfy place to be. Again, maybe too comfy.

I took a vow to preach the Gospel, not apologize for it.

St Bernard preaching in the public square.

The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr famously said he hoped his “preaching would comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Not his own words exactly, Niebuhr was paraphrasing a Chicago journalist. In 1902, “Finley Peter Dunne wrote a column in the ‘everyman voice’ of fictional Mr. Dooley — a satiric ode to newspapers’ important place in society.” Dunne regularly critiqued Theodore Roosevelt and the President loved it, often sharing the commentary during his cabinet meetings.

Though public and political in its origins, the quote has a very biblical ring to it.

Reinhold Niebuhr picked it up in the aftermath of the atrocities of World War II. William Sloane Coffin Jr. used it as an anti-war rallying cry. Martin Marty, the Lutheran theologian, quotes the journalist to emphasize that in a me-first-world, God will be just as just with the rich, as he is merciful to the poor.

All three of these religious thinkers are staking a claim in the political sphere. Jesus did not preach in a vacuum. He challenged the corrupt powers and principalities of his day, who preyed on the outcaste and destitute.

Kingdom of God language is political language.

Which brings me to the political firestorm in which we find ourselves now.

In my 25 years of ordained ministry, five presidential elections have come and gone. And now in 2020, here comes the sixth. From the pulpit, I have never told anyone who to vote for. Democrats and Republicans, in many ways, have seemed virtually interchangeable — just leaning in a different direction every four to eight years. Brazen partisanship, I believe, does not have a place in the pulpit. But that does not mean that the policies of politicians and elected officials – aspirational or real — cannot be critiqued in church.

In fact, I took a vow to do just that. I took a vow to preach both love of God and love of neighbor. I took a vow to speak the truth in love.

Rabbi James Prosnit, last year, preached much the same on Rosh Hashanah morning:

I’ve tried never to be partisan. But as I’ve suggested to some, my rabbinic role requires me to be political — particularly when the Jewish values on issues are so clear in my mind. When it comes to God’s earth and this planet, Judaism has some things to say. When it comes to societal inequalities… our tradition reminds us that with privilege comes responsibility. And when it comes to something like immigration and refugee status, not only our texts, but our history and experience as Jews has a lot to teach those in power.”

Inheritors of the prophetic tradition, this is just as true for Christians, as it is for Jews. Just as true for this Episcopal priest, as it is for the rabbi.

And in this poisonous milieu, where we currently stew, Rabbi Prosnit continues,

The present mindset purposefully and blatantly exploits divisions by what we tweet, and by the names used to call out or belittle someone we disagree with.”

In the Twitter-sphere, and on social media, hate has found a home. A place where it is nourished and helped to flourish. Cyberspace has become a cowardly place, where bullies choose to hide. On Facebook, in a virtual world with like-minded friends, we don’t have to come face to face with anyone real. And we don’t have to take any real responsibility for the damage we do to the fragile social fabric — of our culture, communities, and country.

Our Sunday service means little, if it does not speak to the realities of our Monday through Saturday lives — if it does not speak to the precarious times in which we live. Our heavenly theology means nothing if it does not allow us to wrestle with everyday devils.

So nothing from the public sphere should be off limits in the pulpit or in our prayers. Not abortion, nor addiction, nor climate change, nor the death penalty, nor gun violence, nor healthcare, nor human rights, nor immigration, nor criminal justice, nor public safety, nor racism, nor anything else should be forboden.

This does not mean, of course that the priest and the preacher, are instant experts on current issues or world affairs, far from it. But it does mean that our faith can inform our thinking and move us to do, what Christians ought to do morally and ethically – to help heal this broken world.

And if you can’t talk about life’s most important issues in church, we might as well close our doors, right?

So, the Episcopal Church welcomes you, my friends. Come worship with us at Emmanuel at 1608 Russell Road in Alexandria, Virginia. Sunday mornings at 8:00 AM or 10:30 AM.

All are welcome. With all your questions. With all your concerns. With all your hopes. No exceptions.


Take off your “TOMS”; You are standing on Holy Ground.

I am no Imelda Marcos. I stumble in stilettos and wobble in wedges. Flats are my friends. Gravity is kinder to me when I am low to the ground. I am not what you would call graceful, much more of a klutz. I took ballet briefly as a teenager but never managed to dance on my toes. Jealous of my classmates in tap shoes, I lacked Shirley Temple’s “je ne sais quoi”. And on top of all that my feet were fat — at least so my mom told me!

(Note: If you are too young to know who Imelda Marcos and Shirley Temple are, you can google them!)

My closet as a kid looked like the inside of a men’s shoe store: Hushpuppies, Keds, Weejuns, saddle shoes, oxfords. I might as well have been a boy. I lusted after shoes of a more exotic kind: red patent leather, sexy black velvet, shiny white, sparkly sequined and even those with little heels — but it was not to be. My fat little feet did not fit into them. I wore a double-D width, a size not often kept in stock at the local Stride Rite store.

Shoe shopping with my mom along with all six kids was a bit of a nightmare. The salesman would line us all up to measure our feet with that shiny metal foot gauge thing. Then he would disappear behind the magic curtain at the back of the store. Then Abracadabra!, he’d return, arms filled with boxes, which he dealt out like a deck of cards. Each of my brothers and sisters would get at least two or three pairs to try on. I would invariably get one and only one. I did not even have to lift the lid to know what was inside my shoebox — a sturdy pair of red oxfords with matching red shoelaces. 

“Don’t cry” my mom would tell me. “I told you not to cry.” Shoe shopping day was definitely not my dancing day.

As you can imagine, the Peacock family shoe budget was astronomical. There were new shoes for school, new boots for winter, new tennis shoes for gym, new dress shoes for Easter, new sandals for summer and new shoes simply because you grew out of the old shoes. It did not stop there. Both of my parents had quite an appetite for shoes. My mother’s were all stacked and color-coded in plastic boxes piled high in her closet. My dad’s wing-tips and tasseled loafers were all lined up like soldiers, shoe-trees in each and every pair.

Lucky for me as I grew older, my feet grew thinner. My foot ware became more fashionable — stacked heels, platforms, espadrilles, Chinese canvas Mary-Jane’s, Herache sandals. desert boots, and my first pair of Birkenstocks. Charged on the parental credit card, I bought shoes for my every mood: practical and pretty; trendy and traditional. With shoes, I could make a statement. With my shoes, I could stand my holy ground.

“Toms Shoes, One for One”

Now all grown up, my go-to shoes are Chucks and TOMS. I have seven pairs of Chucks: black, purple, red, pink, gray, turquoise and champagne– and just as many TOMS: red polka dotted, lilac & off-white lace, star studded black, burlap canvas, casual gray, and faded denim.

And my manic mind justifies the expense. I spend because it’s all for a good cause. At least for the TOMS. For every pair I purchase here at home, TOMS gives a pair to a needy child in places faraway. What better reason is there to get out my debit card and shop away on my Mac into the wee hours of the morning? 

Bipolar brains like shiny things and we like them right away. So why have one pair of Top Siders when you can have two? Why have one pair of rainboots when you can have three? And of course, four pairs of black flats are certainly better than one.

 Manic me is no good with money – much like my mom. Well not exactly like my mom. My mom’s spending sprees made no sense. She bought the craziest things out of catalogs. She would spend as much money in the drug store as she would in a jewelry store. She often bought the same thing again and again simply because she forgot she bought it.

I on the other hand, clothe my spending in virtue. I am generous to a fault when it comes to my children, breaking the bank for their every endeavor — even when they don’t ask for it and even though they are grown.  I am no philanthropist, but there is nary a charity dear to my heart that does not get an electronic check. But I really should check first just how much my checking account can bear. 

And then there are TOMS where I believe myself to be standing in the holy of holies — and on the holiest of ground.

Shopping and religion are not all that far apart, you know.

Laura Byrne Paquet, author of “The Urge to Splurge: A Social History of Shopping” writes in the July 14thWashington Post:

Shopping has had quasi-religious overtones for much longer than most of us realize. In medieval England, markets sprang up in churchyards on Sundays. By the 1500’s, the deans of Saint Paul’s in London were irritated by tailors, scriveners and souvenir hawkers cluttering up the nave itself…

Spectacle plus publicity equals crowds. And few institutions have been better able to manufacture spectacle than religion – with its artworks, music, monuments and rituals – merchants learned from the masters…

Some observers believe shopping has become a substitute for belief itself. As British philosopher Juian Baggani writes, “Preachers seduce us with the promise of a better life to come, advertisers seduce us with the promise of a better life to come right now. Both offer an escape from the mundane reality and endless striving that real life is made of.”

As a bipolar Episcopal priest, this is a bit of a conundrum.  In my bones, I have felt deeply the impulse of both. Personally, and professionally, I am uniquely equipped to discern the difference, right? Well, at least, when both my feet are planted firmly on the ground.

Just how many books, how many dresses, how many pairs of shoes does it take to fill up that God shaped hole in my soul?

Well, I will not preach poverty for I never took such a vow. Life is too short to wear boring clothes and my living space is a sacred place. And every book is holy, right? 

But I will confess that I have acquired far more than I need. Probably enough stuff for the rest of my lifetime.

I am not about to convert to KonMari (God forbid!) – much of my clutter brings me joy! But on balance my consumer soul could use a cleanse. Press the pause button, exit out of that website, put that debit card down. 

And my conscience also compels me to consider: Who made all these things? Under what conditions do they work? How much are they paid?  Does it come from a sweatshop or is it labeled Fair Trade?

(And here is a little book, if you would like to explore more about that: “Shopping” by Michellle Gonzales – a Christian Exploration of Daily Living.)

So, let me end with this. A made up prayer, that you might also want to pray.

Good God, bless me, please, with a bit of sales resistance. Teach me to better live within my means. Make me ever grateful for my daily bread.  Shield me from a shopper’s gluttony, my favorite of the deadly sins. Keep my heart light and soul generous. Remind me always that it is better to give than to receive. And that the most important things in life cannot be bought.

And as Saints John & Paul of the Beatles so wisely said, “Money can’t buy you love.”


North Star, South of the Border & Good Sam Sunday

Oh Canada, might you be the North Star to our immigration crisis here on our southern border?  A window — an icon — into a more humane way?

The Canucks have done something amazing up there.  Hockey moms, poker buddies, and neighbors have adopted Syrian refugees, one family at a time.

A 2016 article in the New York Times tells the story, highlighted here:

Across Canada, ordinary citizens, distressed by news reports of drowning children and the shunning of desperate migrants, are intervening in one of the world’s most pressing problems. Their country allows them a rare power and responsibility: They can band together in small groups and personally resettle — essentially adopt — a refugee family. In Toronto alone, hockey moms, dog-walking friends, book club members, poker buddies and lawyers have formed circles to take in Syrian families. The Canadian government says sponsors officially number in the thousands…

When Ms. McLorg, one of the sponsors, first met the Mohammad family, she had a letter to explain how sponsorship worked: For one year, Ms. McLorg and her group would provide financial and practical support, from subsidizing food and rent to supplying clothes to helping them learn English and find work. She and her partners had already raised more than $40,000 Canadian dollars, selected an apartment, talked to the local school and found a nearby mosque.

In the hotel lobby where they met, she clutched a welcome sign written in Arabic but could not tell if the words faced up or down. When the Mohammads appeared, Ms. McLorg asked their permission to shake their hands. 

 Abdullah had worked in his family’s grocery stores and Eman had been a nurse, but after three years of barely hanging on in Jordan, they were not used to being wanted or welcomed.  The family had been in Canada less than 48 hours and their four children, all under 10, had been given  parkas with the tags still on. (It’s cold up there!)

As they headed to their new home, Abdullah asked,“You mean we’re leaving the hotel?” And“to himself, he wondered, “What do these people want in return?”

Much of the world is reacting to the refugee crisis — 21 million displaced from their countries — with hesitation or hostility. Greece shipped desperate migrants back to Turkey; Denmark confiscated their valuables; and even Germany, which has accepted more than half a million refugees, is struggling with growing resistance to them. Broader anxiety about immigration and borders reverberates across the globe.

Reverberating urgently here in the United States, as well, but…

Just across the border,  the Canadian government can barely keep up with the demand to welcome them.

“I can’t provide refugees fast enough for all the Canadians who want to sponsor them,” John McCallum, the country’s immigrations minister said.

No matter your politics or policy opinions, no one can doubt there is a crisis on our southern border. Illustrated poignantly in the heartbreaking drawing of a child, the tragedy hits home.  A crush of humanity: men, women, and children fleeing political unrest and violence in Central America have overwhelmed our immigration system.  And by our government’s own accounting, by the Inspector General of Homeland Security, detention center conditions are abhorrent: overcrowded, unsanitary, unsafe and unimaginable.  The United States has detained thousands whose only crime is legally seeking asylum. Legally seeking security and safety. The safety and security, we take for granted.

Drawing by a migrant child at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

Which makes this story from north of the border seem almost like a fairy tale.

What the Canadians are doing is not without risk, of course. It is far from easy. It’s messy, and complicated, and expensive. There are no crystal balls to know ten years from now – how this will all play out. While the Canadians vet the immigrants the best they can, there is no guarantee there are not bad apples among them.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Good Samaritan

But this is the cost of compassion — the story of the Good Samaritan writ large. 

And if anyone were to ask in this global village – in this world of ours – what is the “essence” of our faith?   Jesus has the answer, his answer to the lawyer’s question in the Gospel of Luke.

 “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

“Do this and you shall live.”

“But who is my neighbor?”, the lawyer asks.

And Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, probably the most familiar parable in all of scripture.

“And which of these three, do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 

“The Samaritan” – the lawyer replies – “the one who showed him kindness.” The Samaritan — a despised foreigner, a believer of a rival creed. The Samaritan crosses the road, reaches deep into his own pockets and binds up the stranger’s wounds.

And what are we to do?

That not so famous theologian, Kurt Vonnegut, in his book, A Man without a Country, recounts an encounter with a young American from Pittsburgh, who asks: “Please tell me everything will all be okay?” 

 And Vonnegut replies:

“Welcome to Earth, young man. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside Joe, you have about a hundred years here. There is only one rule that I know: Goddamn it, Joe, you’ve got to be kind.”

Simplistic? Naïve?  Well according to Jesus, being kind can make all the difference in the world.

The priest and the scribe flee the scene, but not the Good Samaritan.  He is kind beyond words.  And in our current crisis, we can be too.

Charity Navigator is a helpful resource. They report: The recent news of children being separated from their caretakers at the border of Mexico and the United States highlights the need for a larger conversation about families fleeing their homes, communities, and countries in the wake of famine, social unrest, persecution, war, and environmental disasters. Highly-rated nonprofits advocate for and provide relief to refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless groups around the world. They seek to provide for individuals basic needs like food, water, and shelter while advocating for policies and legislation that will address the root causes of this crisis.

First is very close to home, our very own —

Christ Church Refugee Ministry – Three years now, Emmanuel has shepherded three different Afghan refugee families.  Join the Care Team – which helps with everyday needs such as clothing, doctor’s appointments, and household needs. Or donate dollars to the cause, Christ Church Refugee Ministry currently helps 29 families here in the City of Alexandria. 

Second is Mother Church: Episcopal Migration Ministries provides resources for education, advocacy and direct relief and assistance to migrants and refugees. In 2017, EMM resettled more than 4,000 refugees from 34 countries in 30 communities across the country. 

And there are many other organizations working on frontlines to address this crisis: the Texas Civil Rights Project, The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Church World Service, Oxfam America and UNICEF USA, are just a few.

May this Sunday, July 14thbe Good Sam Sunday, to do something tangible and concrete.  May God grant us ample compassion to cross the road to bind the stranger’s wounds – the stranger who is our neighbor – no matter where they come from.

And  so, let me end this post with a prayer from the BCP,

O God, you made us in your own image: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that in your good time, all nations and races may serve one another in harmony, in your name. Amen.