Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Heavenly Coffee, Heavenly Feast

When I was growing up, there was a pecking order at the Peacock house. It played out in different ways.  It would be sounded out every time my mom called for one of the six of us. She would recite a litany of our names from the oldest to the youngest: Maureen, Timmy, Joani, Bernie, Clare, Joseph. One of us was bound to show up. This pecking order was also on display at our dinner table — or should I say dinner tables

Each evening at supper time, my parents ate their dinner in the dining room while my brothers and sisters and I were relegated to the kitchen.  Dr. and Mrs. Peacock’s table was set with Lenox china and Waterford crystal. While the kids had Melmac Plastic and Flintstone Jelly Jars. Sometimes my parents even ate different food: Beef Wellington on their plates, fried chicken on ours.  We actually had to serve my parents their dinner first before we could sit down to eat ourselves. Even on vacation the ritual was observed. My parents would dine at a fancy restaurant and leave it to my older sister to schlep us to a cafeteria.

These table arrangements taught me a lot. I did not learn much about food, but I did learn to know my place.

Such is the story of Babette’s Feast, a 1987 film based on the 1950 short story by Isak Dinese and set in the 19th century. Maybe you have seen it.  It tells the tale of Phillipa and Martina, daughters of a protestant pastor in a little village in the north of Denmark. Their father’s strict religious discipline shaped not just their lives but the life of their community. There was not much joie de vivre going on in the little village.

A very possessive father, he prevents his daughters from marrying.  And even after his death, to honor him, the sisters feel bound to carry on his austere unhappy ways. 

One stormy night, a woman, a political refugee from Paris shows up on their doorstep. They, reluctantly take her in.  She is called Babette and she is very grateful for their hospitality. In exchange for food and lodging, Babette agrees to take care of the two aging sisters. And keeping her promise, she cares for them for many years to come.

Then one day, a stroke of luck befalls Babette.  Every year since she has left, a Paris friend, has purchased a lottery ticket in her name.  Babette wins a small fortune and is beside herself with joy.  She decides to throw a feast for the sisters and the little village that took her in. The neighborhood buzzes with excitement but the sisters worry. They are afraid that Babette will leave when the feast is done – and leave them all alone.

Babette, in a frenzy prepares for the feast —  a feast, the likes of which the village has never seen.

But the sisters and the locals have a dilemma on their hands.  According to their dear departed father, such a feast is sinful and gluttonous. Their religion is about fasting not feasting.  They don’t want to hurt Babette’s feelings so they do accept her invitation to the feast. But they intentionally decide that they will not enjoy it! Absurd, right?  (Party poopers, one and all.)

Ah, but Babette has worked her culinary magic. She was a chef in a former life before she sought refuge.  She knows how to throw a party. She spares nothing and cooks up the finest of foods. Every single villager, from the highest to the lowliest gets swept up in the excitement of it all.  Even the dour sisters cannot help but join in. Someone starts to sing a hymn. And then another someone says,

The stars have moved closer tonight.”

But the sisters hang their heads. Surely Babette, with her fortune made, will be leaving them now.  “I cannot leave you,”Babette declares “I don’t have a penny left. I spent it all on the feast.” 

After all the food is gone, after all the money is gone, the village is not impoverished. Much more valuable is the little community communing round the table. 

In Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus communing with some Pharisee friends on the Sabbath.  A scholar writes:  Jesus is certainly preoccupied with eating. Not only does he imply that some think he is a glutton and a drunkard (7:34); there are in Luke more references to eating, banquets, tables and reclining at tables than in any of the other Gospels. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4)

At his friend’s table, in intimate gatherings, Jesus teaches, spins parables, and hangs out with a motley few. But for a wedding feast, Jesus needs a really big table where you pull out all of the leaves to extend it as far as it is able.  To make room for all that food and all those chairs and all of those unexpected guests – especially the uninvited ones.

Jesus’ table is where the last are welcome as the first. There is no seating chart. The have’s do not get better seats than the have-nots (though not for lack of trying!) There are no dueling dining rooms like there were at the Peacock house. Jesus’ table is a healing place where divisions cease. Divisions, between rich and poor; black and white; male and female; gay and straight; refugee and native born; maybe even Democrat and Republican!  

Sounds like a table only Jesus could set, right? A fantasy feast only possible when the kingdom comes. But the kingdom is right here, right now. — at the kitchen table.

Has the kingdom come to your house? Just how many of your grade schooler’s soccer friends, how many of your spouse’s random coworkers, how many of your college student’s roommates, how many of your in-laws outlaws, just how many more strangers can you squeeze in around your dining room table? I am not talking about Martha Stewart here — I am talking about biblical hospitality — the thankless kind! Ha!

And what about that larger table? The Lord’s Table. Here, every Sunday, we break bread and share the cup with those who are different than us, disagree with us, and who are new to us.  (Make no mistake, despite outward appearances, there is a lot of diversity sitting in Emmanuel’s pews.)

And what is true of communion, is certainly true for coffee hour. Or at least it should be!  

Coffee hour is not a church invention, it was a marketing scheme cooked up by coffee companies to sell more coffee. In the 1950’s, companies like Maxwell House and Chase & Sanborn gave away free coffee urns and free coffee samples to churches. Instead of just shaking the pastor’s hand as you headed out the door, you could linger after the service and get to know your neighbors.

Coffee Hour (Capital “C”, Capital “H”) is a nearly universal Episcopal tradition.

With a little caffeine, coffee hour can help you climb out of your comfort zone. I bet dollars to donuts, there are people you share a pew with each week who maybe you have not ever really met.

Don’t be shy. Walk up to someone you have never talked to before and introduce yourself. Pour them a cup of coffee, have a conversation. Appreciate what you have in common. Respect any differences. Laugh at each other’s jokes.

Coffee Hour is a sacrament, you know, Holy Communion by another name. A place where everyone is welcome – whether you drink coffee, or not.

So, let’s toast the Great Feast of Jesus, and lift a cup-of-Joe in thanksgiving for everyone crowded around his crazy table. As Saint Brigid prayed,

 I would like a great lake of the finest ale for the King of Kings. I should like a table of the choicest food for the family of heaven. Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith and the food from forgiving love. I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children. I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy. Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place and the sick dance with the angels. God bless the sick.  God bless the poor. God bless our human race. All homes, O God, embrace.  Amen.


Remembering Mork: The Inner Sanctum of Outer Space

Five years ago, Robin Williams, gifted actor and comedian left this world by his own hand. The world was incredulous. How could a person so full of light struggle with such darkness? He was Mork, right? The hysterical alien who took up residence in Mindy’s attic.

We loved this lovable visitor from outer space. Weekly, he traversed the universe to inhabit our TV sets. But it was Mork, the out-of-this-world persona that we knew – not the personal inward workings of Robin Williams.

He died on August 11th of 2014. Three days later I posted this. U&U was just a few months old back then. A few of you may have read it but most not. And so, I am posting this update to honor and to remember this remarkable soul.

You are only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Robin Williams said.

So….

In 1966 the universe  — namely my universe —  tilted.  Thursday nights at nine o’clock on NBC, I boarded the U.S.S. Enterprise. “Space, the final frontier” called to me.. This was a mission, this little missionary, could barely conceive of – to “explore new worlds, seek new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Well I was “no man”. I was an awkward eleven year-old, a little Roman Catholic cosmonaut. Star Trek sounded like heaven to me. So in 1966, this little Trekkie was born.

I am a Trekkie still — a closet Trekkie.  I don’t go to conventions or dress up like a Romulan or speak Klingon, but I am still quite an officianado of Star Trek – especially the original Star Trek. I have all 80 episodes on DVD and a commemorative edition that came with a fluffy, purring, pink Tribble. I dorkily have plastic action figures of the crew, including the Captain and his coffee pot. Nothing could clear the room quite so quickly at my house as when I hunkered down to watch the reruns marathon style.

(An extended ritual I go through about once a year! I am especially fond of the episodes where the brazen and brash Captain James T. Kirk quite literally loses his shirt.)

This 1960’s series is still  a great solace to my dorky soul. While the cast and crew battle the unknown forces of the universe, I am comforted by the plethora of “M” class planets. “M” class planets are scattered all across the Milky Way and each one is capable of sustaining human life. I think “M” stands for miracle. Miraculously even the aliens speak English. The 430 crew members may be  “Lost in Space” but they are  never ever really far from home.

Star Trek was light years ahead of its time. Light years ahead of the space operas that came before it. But it is missing something that those quaint and quirky sci-fi series deeply understood. What is it like to truly be a stranger in a strange land?

My Favorite Martian blinked off the air the same year that Star Trek blinked on. Exigius, the exo-anthropologist from Mars crashed his one-man spaceship in Hollywood Hills. Stranded, he was taken in by a newspaper reporter who passes him off as Uncle Martin. (Sitting on the biggest story of his lifetime!)

Weekly Uncle Martin tries to keep his antenna down and and stay undercover. The going gets difficult though — especially when he breaks out in Martian mumps and measles. Things get crazy and confused. The laugh track prompts the television audience exactly when to laugh.  And the audience does as they are told. They laugh in all the right places not just because it is funny but because somewhere inside them it feels kind of true.

“Being a stranger in a strange land” was a sure fire formula for sit-com success. After My Favorite Martian came ALF – the furry Alien Life Form from  Melmac with an appetite for cats. 3rd Rock from the Sun debuted in 1996 with a house full of  extraterrestrials disguised as a college professor, a curvaceous military expert, and a teenager. And of course, there was the hilarious 1970’s series — Mork and Mindy.

Mork, from stardust he came, to stardust he returns.

Mork – the world of course knows – was played by the manically comic and the manically gifted Robin Williams. And on August 11th of 2014, the world was stunned to learn that Mork had died by his own hand. After battling a lifetime of depression and addiction, he succumbed to the darkness.  Mork hung himself quite literally from a metaphorical tree, the frame of his bedroom door. And the whole world wept for the loss of this amazing man who never failed to make us laugh.

So how could this possibly be? He was hilarious. He was happy. He was a comedian beyond compare. He was “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Patch Adams”. He was our ever-shining star of stage and screen.

But even stars run out of fuel. Even stars implode. Even stars turn dark.

Mork’s mood disorder – likely bipolar disorder  — was the demon that plagued him most of his life. Depression and its companion mania are commonly misunderstood. Happiness and sadness are ordinary human emotions. They ebb and flow with the ups and downs of everyday life and they ebb and flow in  us all.

But different in kind are the moods that manifest themselves in the heights of mania and in the depths of. depression. It’s not about being happy or sad; it’s about the size of your universe. On the up side you are exploring the galaxy with Captain Kirk. On the downside you can barely climb out of your black hole.

Barely is the operative word. While those who live with depression struggle to get out of bed —  they, in fact, regularly do. The effort it takes  to change out of your pajamas can be painstaking. Brushing your teeth can feel like a burden.

And yet — even so — depressed folks get to work on time. Depressed folks work hard and get promoted. Depressed folks run companies. Depressed folks run marathons. And depressed folks also run like crazy to escape their depression. Depressed folks are very good at disguise. Depressed folks are marvelous actors. They have to be.

And this is how a star implodes. Every last little bit of fuel is exhausted. Every energy source is completely depleted – be it physical, spiritual, or emotional. And you are Lost in Space. The universe may be expanding but so does the void within you. You have absolutely nothing left. Today is an unthinkable burden and the thought of tomorrow is unbearable. And you go to bed not wanting to wake up anymore.

You believe yourself a “foreigner and a stranger on earth….looking for a country of your own” (Hebrews 11:13-14) A country not of this world.

People tell you to be patient; that the pain will subside; the crisis will pass. But you do not believe them. How could they possibly know if they haven’t suffered so? You just want it to be over, now and forever more. So in the depths of despair people take their own lives. In the U.S. more than 47,000 people in 2017 died at their own hand. 23,851, virtually half, by firearms.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is no greater taboo – than suicide — a taboo that sorely needs to be brought out into the open and talked about.

Difficult as it may be, we need  to speak this truth in love. When we believe a loved one, family member, coworker or friend is thinking of hurting themselves  — we need to ask them just that. With compassion and concern: “I am worried about you. I have noticed (whatever you have noticed) and I want to ask if you are you thinking about hurting yourself?

It’s a myth that discussing and naming a loved one’s suicidal thoughts — puts these thoughts into their heads. Not true. Directly asking a person whether they are thinking of suicide can save that person’s life. Mentioning it out loud can be an enormous relief. Mentioning it out loud allows your loved one to name and claim the demons that haunt them.

If your loved one answers yes – or if you believe the answer is yes — then call 911. Stay with them until help arrives. Don’t be afraid to appear foolish or wrong. You cannot diagnose your friend but you can perform first aid, call an ambulance and get them to  professional help. And if you need help finding the words — sign up for Mental Health First Aid.

In ages past, the Church classified  suicide a mortal sin, denied the dead burial in sacred ground, and condemned the sinner to the fires of hell. Christianity was not alone in its error.

Historically in Judaism, suicides were also segregated in cemeteries and the dead buried with lesser rites. Islam views suicide as the gravest of sins and anathema to eternal life. Muhammad says that anyone who throws themself down from the mountain will eternally be falling into the depths of hell. For Hindus, suicide violates the code of “ahisma”, the code of non-violence and one who takes their own life will forever wander the earth as a ghost.

Blessedly for Christians  — and believers of other kinds —  this theology is mostly no more. But old beliefs die a hard death. Its seems virtually beyond belief that anyone could still believe in such a cold-hearted god – a god so devoid of compassion. But people still do. So  —  biblically speaking  — let me speak to the matter of suicide and how God decides the disposition of our souls.

Frederick Buechner writes: Saul may have fallen on his own sword; Judas may have hung himself from a tree. Out of the depths of despair, both may have condemned themselves to hell. But God did not.

God  understands the depth of despair because  God himself has been there. Our God knows what it is like to lose his own life — to be emptied with nothing left to give. God knows what it is like to lay down his life and to lift it up again. That the whole world would taste and see that God is good.  Be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, Scientologist, Wiccan, Agnostic, Atheist, Romulan, Vulcan, Klingon, Earthling, or none of the above.

We may be lost in this space and in this time, but lost to God — NEVER.

At least, that’s the God I believe in. And It’s the same God I believe that Episcopalian Robin Williams believed in, as well.

From stardust he came. To stardust he returned..  All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Nanu! Nanu!


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!


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.”