Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Story District Top Shelf 2019 – Joani made it!!!!

Woo hoo!

U&U Readers & Followers!

A secret fantasy of mine, ever since the first time I performed with Story District in Unhinged: True Stories of Living w/Mental Illness, has been to ascend to the Top Shelf stage.

This annual show at the Lincoln Theatre in D.C. features the top eight stories (chosen by twelve judges) culled from one hundred thirty-five of the previous year.

I was psyched and honored to be nominated this year. I am even MORE psyched and honored to be selected to be up there with veterans Katy Barrett, Morgan Givens, John Tong, along with other “Top Shelf virgins😊” like myself!!

A secret fantasy no more!

If you are anywhere in the greater D.C. metro area Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I encourage you to grab tickets. They fly fast!

And I guarantee you a knock-your-socks off evening. You will laugh and cry and then cry and laugh some more. Entertainment and enlightenment for the very affordable price of $35.😊

For more info & tickets click here!

Hope to see you there!!


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Wonder Bread

My apologies to the gluten-intolerant.

(Though I am happy for you that there is  gluten-free everything,  including communion wafers.)

Yes, my apologies, I confess that I am CRAZY about gluten.

“Bread is the staff of life,” has been my motto since I was a child.

Remember Wonder Bread? Wrapped in a package printed with bright balloons, the commercials claimed it could ‘build strong bodies”. Eight ways in the 1950’s. And in the 1960’s twelve!

Not so sure how. It was bleached so bright-white, no nutrient could possibly survive. As kids, we would roll it into balls and back into dough. And when spread with peanut butter, Wonder Bread would often tear. At least, that’s the reason my mom gave us why we couldn’t have the crunchy kind of Peter Pan.

But now, that I am so grown up, I buy the crunchy kind all the time. And my favorite food group remains – bread.

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I have an actual bread box in my kitchen – labeled Bread. Atop it, I keep two bread plates, shaped like bread. Yes, literally in the shape of a slice of bread. And I always have a few varieties on hand: Challah, Irish Soda Bread, and maybe sourdough.

I am very good at making toast. It’s one of my very best recipes. (I will share it, if you like.) I am partial to real butter and whole fruit preserves.

Ciabatta.

Focaccia.

Baguette or Boule (which is just a fancy word for loaf.)

 I don’t bake bread myself, but I love the idea of it. Kneading it. Rolling it. Punching it down and watching it rise and grow in the oven.

Now everyone who has ever gotten a Christmas card knows that Jesus was born in a manger – in a corn crib. Born in a town called Bethlehem, which you may not know means the House of Bread.

 Alan Copeland writes:

Was little baby Jesus actually laid in a manger? It seems like a very strange and dirty place to put a newborn. Mary and Joseph would have to be crazy tired or plain silly to put a newborn in a feeding trough!

 But the manger (manger – which means ‘to eat’) – is a reminder that Jesus is the Bread of Life. Little baby Jesus in the food trough points to big guy Jesus feeding the 5000.”

 Such a well-worn story, it is easy to miss Jesus humoring his cranky disciples:

“Six months wages cannot buy enough for these people to get even a little!” His friends  whine as they throw up their hands.

So, Jesus asks a little boy to help him – a little boy who opens his lunchbox and shares his bread and his fish.

(Maybe like you even did as kid, sharing your tuna fish sandwich.)

Five thousand people sat down in the grass.

Jesus said the blessing, broke the  bread, the pieces put into baskets. And the disciples passed them all around.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Jesus gave them that and more.

Jesus – who the gospel-writer John calls the Bread of Life.

 Grace Church in Georgetown (at Wisconsin & M), was my field work parish in seminary. Every Sunday they acted out the loaves and fishes – in a very down to earth way.

Grace was a house of bread in a hungry city. A half-time social worker worked there every weekday helping those in need with rent and food and medicine.

But the homeless came to church for more than bread.

The fiercely proud families who camped out on the C&O canal, resisted shelters because to go there they had to split up. These families also worshiped with us on Sunday mornings.

In Grace’s nave there were no communion rails, no kneeling and no wafers.

Instead the little congregation encircled the altar, as David Bird the rector blessed a yeasty loaf of bread. He would break it into pieces and place it into a basket that was then passed round. Shared hand-to-hand, with each crusty piece, the worshipper would say: The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.

 And there was always some left over, not twelve baskets full, but there was always extra. So, we would pass it around again until all were full.

At Emmanuel, we do use wafers. Though less messy and not as apparent, Emmanuel equally  loves to feed people. It’s a ministry we hardily embrace.

Collecting staples and canned goods for the ALIVE Food Pantry.

Making sandwiches with the Bag Lunch Program at Meade for the homeless.

Delivering food to the elderly with Meals on Wheels.

Serving a Saturday breakfast and a Tuesday dinner at Carpenter’s Shelter.

The Loaves and Fishes is much more than a sweet little bible story. Loaves and Fishes is the way to live a Christian life.

It’s a hungry world out there full of hungry people. Our lunch boxes are overflowing. Let’s feed one another and share as we are fed,  here at Emmanuel, God’s House of Bread.

JoaniSign


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Sur/real: NPR Invisibilia w/Story District!

Woo hoo!

This past spring I was honored and overjoyed to be part of NPR Invisibilia’s first live event with Story District.

My Sur/real story of the summer of 2005 –navigating the space between the mystical and the manic — was one of six selected.

I felt a bit like an impostor – included with other heavy hitting storytellers I am in awe of. Working with Amy Saidman, Story District’s Artistic Director is an exercise in the craft of first class storytelling.

Each eight minute story is the end product of several coaching sessions, rewrites and rehearsals. It’s a rare and rewarding collaborative creative process.

And finally my knee-knocking performance April 17th at the Lincoln Theatre in front of a packed audience. Yikes!

Exciting for me but also I really hope my story might resonate with yours. All those listening who also have the gift of a bipolar brain. And those whose spiritual life lights up their world. This one is for you!

So take a listen to 47 minutes of great stories.

NPR Invisibilia Live with Story District Podcast

Or watch the the Sur/real performance on YouTube!

And please share! (I’m a shameless self promoter!)


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Show Up. It’s the Least You Can Do.

Show yourself, Jesus.  In the middle of drought and famine and disease, for God’s sake, why can’t you just show up?

This was the lament of the little village of Kingala, whose story is told by novelist Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible. It is the fictitious epic tale of a misguided mission to the Congo in the early sixties. Each chapter is narrated by the somewhat miserable minister’s wife and daughters. The youngest one writes:

Looking back over the months that led to this day, it seems the collapse of things started in October with the vote in the church. The congregation of Father’s church interrupted his sermon to hold an election on whether or not to accept Jesus Christ as the personal savior of Kingala.

 The crops were flat and dead. Fruit trees were barren. There were rumors of rain in the river valleys to the west and those tales aroused – the thirst of dying animals and crops. Tata Kuvudundu (the local witch doctor) cast her bone predictions. And nearly every girl in the village danced with a chicken on her head to bring down rain.

 Church attendance rose and fell. Jesus may have sounded like a very helpful sort of savior in the beginning, but he was not what the villagers had hoped.

 We went ahead and had church that day and Tata Ndu, the chief sat in the front pew. Papa preached a railing sermon against idolatry:

 ‘The people revered the statue of Baal and went every day to worship him, but Daniel worshipped the Lord our God. Don’t be fooled by a statue of clay and bronze!’

 Papa paused in his sermon for dramatic effect. Tata Ndu stood straight up and held up his hand.

 ‘Now is the time for the people to have an election. If you don’t mind, Reverend we will have our election now. We are making a vote for Jesus Christ in the office of personal God for the Kingala village.’

 Papa tried to object by explaining that Jesus Christ was exempt from popular elections and that matters of the Spirit were not decided by polls. But Tata Ndu forged ahead.

 ‘You Americans say elections are good. You Americans say Jesus is good. Now we will have a vote.’

The voting bowls were passed up and down the pews.

 Jesus Christ lost: 11 to 56.

 One week after Easter, we are waiting for Jesus to show himself. One week out of the grave, we are waiting for him to make an appearance. To show up and do his job. His savior thing.

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Now most of us recognize the messiah, the same way we measure success. By the measure of peace, the measure of power, the measure of prosperity. Money in the bank?  Fancy car in the driveway? Promotion on the way?

We want a successful savior. One in a three-piece suit and a power tie. One who gets things done. One who can heal whatever sickens us. One who can resurrect whatever we may have ruined. Only water walkers and wonder workers need apply.

On this traditionally ‘low Sunday’ we have very high expectations. But given the current state of the world, like Thomas we have our doubts.

Doubt has dogged the faithful for two thousand years.

How can the divine die? How can the eternal end?

How can the dead bring the dead back to life?

Is this stuff historical? Or just mystical?

Physically true? Or just metaphysically true?

So much ink has been spilled struggling with these questions. Theological tome upon boring tome, has been penned trying to make sense of it all. Theology that would surely put you to sleep.

I typed  resurrection in the Bishop Payne library catalog search box and 2043 titles popped up. Type in Easter, you get 1002.  Doubting Thomas scores a mere 28.

Because maybe the story is ultimately not about Thomas (though we are ALL Thomas and Thomas is US). Maybe the story is about a “God coming to us, wherever we are”, no matter where we are.

Christians believe in a God who shows up.

On the second Sunday of Easter, two thousand years ago, Thomas the Apostle, was hoping for just that.  Frederick Buechner writes:

Imagination was not Thomas’ strong suit. He was a numbers man, a realist. He did not believe in fairy tales. Thomas wasn’t around at the time the rest of the disciples were as they sat together in the Upper Room. Doors locked. Shades drawn. Scared sick one of them would be next to be nailed to a cross.

When suddenly Jesus came in. He wasn’t a ghost or a figment of their imagination. He said ‘Shalom’ and showed them some of the Romans’ handiwork. To show them that he was as real as they were – and maybe more so.

 He breathed the Holy Spirit on them, gave them a few directions, and then he left.

 Now nobody knew where Thomas was at the time, maybe out for coffee, but he missed the whole thing. And he said, NO, I don’t’ believe you. Let Jesus show me himself, the marks in his hands, the wounds in his side.

 Eight days later Jesus shows up.

 Dumbfounded Thomas does not have much to say except, ‘My Lord and my God!’

 Jesus’ response to Thomas was to show up in person. Not in a book. Not in a creed. But in the flesh. Jesus let Thomas see his face and hear his voice and hold his ruined hands.

And that is the conundrum and miracle of Easter. We have a God with a human face – we may not recognize at first – but who shows up again and again.

In the tired nurse by the hospice bed.

In the relief worker handing out bread.

In the mother, hiding a timid child beneath her skirts.

In the words of a counselor, assuaging past hurts.

In the service of a soldier, setting captives free.

In the face of a stranger, in acts of random kindness and hospitality.

Thank God for this God. In this crazy and broken world, for me, this is the only kind of God who makes any sense. A God who embraces our lives despite our faults.  A God who believes in us, though like Thomas we doubt. A God who lifts us out of the dirt and into the light.

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

JoaniSign


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The Tide Washes Out; The Tide Washes In. 2017/2018

tide washing out in pictureSifting through the sands of this crazy-making, head-banging,  life-changing, heart-stomping year,  I turn once again to my annual exercise of cataloging its “ins and outs”.  So much to process personally, spiritually, politically, professionally! Yikes!  So after three hours of scribbling in my notebook, listening to Christmas carols on my couch, I present to you my hundredfold list —  in no particular order and without commentary.

2017 Out/ 2018 In

  1. 62/63
  2. 3 kids/4 kids
  3. Divine Intervention/Home for the Holidays
  4. Fabletics/AdoreMe
  5. Day on the couch/Day at the office
  6. Joni Mitchell/ Wailin’ Jennys
  7. Little Sister/Big Sister
  8. Not Ready to be a Cat Lady/Cat Lady
  9. TOMS/Rothy’s
  10. Egg Salad/Tuna Salad
  11. The Crown/Victoria
  12. Guardian Angels/Better Angels
  13. Muslim Ban/Love Your Muslim Neighbor
  14. Newspapers/Manuscripts
  15. HuffPost/Washington Post
  16. Author Once/Author Twice
  17. No TV/Fire TV
  18. Virginia/Vermont
  19. Organic/Oreos
  20. White Christmas/White Reindeer
  21. Peacemaker/Truth Teller
  22. Good Girl/Bad Ass
  23. DC Singles/Elite Singles
  24. St Patrick’s Day/St Valentine’s Day
  25. Celtic/Irish
  26. Library of the Seminary/Library of Congress
  27. Preacher/Poet
  28. Left turns/“Right Turn”
  29. DayQuil/NyQuil
  30. Mom/Biomom
  31. Liquid soap/Bar soap
  32. Resistance/Persistence
  33. Blinds/Shades
  34. Book of Mormon/Cats
  35. Shirley Jackson/Erik Larson
  36. Angie’s List/Emily’s List
  37. Safety pins/Clothes pins
  38. Laurel & Hardy/Cheshire & Charlie
  39. Facebook/Instagram
  40. Almond milk/Coconut creamer
  41. Vitamins/Probiotics
  42. Walking shoes/Saddle shoes
  43. Colored pencils/Colored pens
  44. History/Her Story
  45. Fleece/Wool
  46. Evening Prayer/Night Prayer
  47. Quaker Oats/Quaker Meetings
  48. Cincture & Alb/Cassock & Surplice
  49. Daydreaming/Critical thinking
  50. Advent/Christmas
  51. Snow Globes/Snow flurries
  52. Linoleum/Tile
  53. Keeping secrets/Spilling the beans
  54. Democrat/democratic
  55. Burt’s Bees/Bare Minerals
  56. Amazon.dot.com/East City Book Shop
  57. Digital/Paper
  58. Credit cards/HELOC
  59. Single/Available
  60. Communion/Reunion
  61. Survival/Revival
  62. Categories/Cat toys
  63. Trump Nation/Salvation
  64. Great kids/Grandkids
  65. Anthropologie/Anthropology
  66. Head space/Fireplace
  67. Scrambled eggs/Egg Nog
  68. Pill box/Litter box
  69. Granola/Muesli
  70. Luther Strange/Stranger Things
  71. Humidity/Humidifier
  72. Gilligan’s Island/Great Cranberry Island
  73. UPPER  CASE/lower case
  74. Walking Dead/Exquisite Corpse
  75. Russians/Russian Orthodox
  76. Laundry room/Kitchen
  77. Pier One/World Market
  78. Anonymous/Anonymous Four
  79. South Meadows/Huntley Meadows
  80. DVDS/Blu-Rays
  81. Semicolons/Ampersands
  82. Ruminating/Illuminating
  83. Life jackets/Life Savers
  84. The Bells of Saint Mary’s/The Bells of Dublin
  85. Trash/Treasure
  86. Nurture/Nature
  87. WD40/DNA
  88. Off ramps/On ramps
  89. Anarchist/Archivist
  90. Green apples/The Big Apple
  91. Scarlet Alabama/Purple Alabama
  92. Puzzles/Puppets
  93. Confession/Reconciliation
  94. 6:30/Half past six
  95. Tea lights/Votives
  96. Maternal Outlaw/Mother-in-law
  97. Peacock things/Peacock persons
  98. Bananagrams/Scrabble
  99. Celebrant/Priestess
  100. Pink Hatter/Madder Hatter

& forever the Unfiltered —  Unorthodox & Unhinged!

A very happy 2018 to you and yours!

 

JoaniSign

 


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Wilderness in the Key of C

While the church is a bit fussy about music in Advent, I confess to being obsessed with the “mall muzak” of the holiday season.

Ever since I was a little kid, Jingle Bells has brought me joy; O Come, All Ye Faithful has given me comfort. The chaos of my childhood home not withstanding.

loved to sing — though Sister Inez Patricia kicked me out of the Glee Club for belting out Joy to the World off key. And with my piano teacher, Mrs. Wertz, I cajoled her into letting me work on Christmas carols the year round. And I have a vague memory of actually gathering a sibling and likely my grandmother (who would humor this child) “round the spinet” a time or two.

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No matter how dark my December days, these little embers of memory never fail to warm my Advent soul.

But not to over do it! Psychologists warn us that overdosing on Christmas music is not good for your mental health. Especially, if you start tuning in the first of November, when Target has put up all of their Christmas stuff – post Halloween. The Twelve Days of Christmas will definitely drive you crazy, when you still have fifty five days to go!

But this second Sunday of Advent, I think we are safe.  “All things in moderation,” my dad used to say.

Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace thus saith our God;

Comfort those who sit in darkness mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load;

Speak ye peace to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them;

Tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.

Hark, the voice of one that crieth in the desert far and near,

calling us to new repentance,  since the kingdom now is here.

These words of Second Isaiah encapsulated  in Advent hymn #67, from the ’82 Hymnal, can make a good measure of the the music we play – to make our souls merry – this holiday season. As do the words of the psalmist, as well:

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his people. Ps 85:8

Our lives in this world – no matter how charmed our circumstances – are but a walk in the wilderness. A wonderful walk. A dazzling and challenging walk.

And maybe this year has been wilder or weirder or more bewildering or even more wondrous than those past. With…

newborn babies and loved ones dying;

terrible twos and aging parents;

lost jobs and new occupations;

weddings and divorces;

retreat and renewal;

reunion and return;

delight and despair;

whether any of it be private, personal, or shared.

Having a Holly, Jolly (and hopeful) Christmas is a complicated thing.

For a decade running now, two of my children, Zach and Colleen have produced an annual Christmas album. It is not your usual holiday fare. It started out just silly and fun but has turned into a sibling bonding ritual they return to each year. (Zach now being 35 and Colleen 33.)

And each album has a different theme – that captures the mood and the meaning of this Christmas:

Party hardy Christmas;

Down Home Country Christmas;

Christmas All Around the World;

and in a bluer season:

The Smooth Sounds of Christmas.

The tracks they choose are outlandish, surprising, delightful, poignant, moody, and sad.

Each of them is a cacophony of voices, crying out in the wilderness – a way to tune into Jesus in the manger once again. A way to tune into the crazy Second Coming of God.

(Though I am pretty sure they would not describe it that way! Ha!)

So what have you got on that iPod of yours? What have you got on Spotify?

As a spiritual exercise, why not put together your own “Messiah” playlist: whether it be Handel, Bing Crosby, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Prince, the Anonymous Four, Gregorian chant, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Instead of a Christmas letter, you can share your playlists and attach it to an e-Christmas card.

My own which I, so creatively labeled: Christmas, Christmas, Christmas 🙂  shuffles over 200 carols in the privacy of my car (or my living room.)  Where I can sing along – lustily and with abandon – which I recommend most highly!

So make a joyful and genuine Christmas Carol noise!

Lift up your voice with strength…

Lift it up and do not fear.

For here comes our God.

JoaniSign

 


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Over the River and through the Woods – Redux

The surgeon carved the turkey. Though Dr. Peacock preferred a scalpel to an electric knife, on Thanksgiving the electric knife would do just fine. And fine was what everything had to be. Not just fine — but refined. My father insisted on orange zest in the cranberry sauce, oysters in the stuffing, and lemon peel in his espresso. My manic-depressive mother somehow managed to oblige and laid the table with Lenox, Waterford, and Irish linen.

And on that fourth Thursday of November, each of us little Peacocks had to be perfect. Or at least appear to be perfect — family portrait perfect. My brothers, all in suits and ties. My sisters and I in smocked dresses and patent leather shoes. Hair curled and tied back with a bow. All of us — beaming in black and white and frozen in a silver frame. Perfectly pretending that we were perfectly fine.

So perfectly not so.

There was always yelling before and after and even during the meal. The turkey was overdone. The stuffing was dry. The relish was runny. The sweet potatoes bland. The pumpkin pies burnt. The kids misbehaving. The relatives rude. Everything half ass and nothing quite up to snuff – for Dr. Peacock.

Happy Thanksgiving – at 5408 24th Avenue.

Over the river, and through the woods, to sanity’s house we go.

I swore that when I grew up, Thanksgiving would be calm, cool, and collected. At the tender age of seventeen, I married into such a family – par excellence — the Clark family. Their lives seemed so blessedly routine – so blissfully quiet. I married the boy next door – yes, the boy next door. No more chaos. No more dysfunction. No more crazy Thanksgivings.   At least so I imperfectly thought.

But the Clark routine turned to rigidity. And their quiet became passive aggressive. And my father-in –law, an alcoholic just like my mom. Their traditions seemed more traditional but they were just straight jackets of a different kind.

And still year after year, over the river, and through the woods insanely to their house we would go. We would go with all three of our kids in tow….Until one blessed year, when Jacob threw up.

Rolling down George Washington Parkway, our Subaru Station Wagon was packed to the gills. All three kids were bundled up and buckled up in the back seat: Zach with his comic book; Colleen with her Barbie; Jacob with his pacifier. All was right with the world until Jacob erupted all over his brother and sister. Projectile vomited everywhere.

Thanks be to God.

It was just about the best Thanksgiving we ever had.

We turned around and went back home. After hosing down the car and the kids, we made dinner from whatever food we found in the refrigerator and some random canned goods in our cabinets. We ate dinner in our pajamas while we watched “Ernest Saves Christmas” (a classic!) on TV.

The kids dozed off in their sleeping bags on the living room floor. And William and I had a little glass of wine before turning into bed.

Over the river, and through the woods, to sanity’s house we go.

Now one of my favorite movies is “Home for the Holidays” – with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr. and some other really good actors whose names I don’t remember. The characters — all grown — return to their childhood home for Thanksgiving and some dysfunctional living: The neurotic sister. The gay brother. The rebellious teenager. The single mom. The uptight in-laws. The alcoholic dad. The codependent mom. They all get together for a hellacious holiday.

It’s not exactly “A Wonderful Life” but it is wonderful and I recommended it  to a friend. Appalled after seeing it, she asked me how I could possibly like this movie. The family was so terrible, she said. Just terrible people, she said. These are my people, I said.

And these may be your people too: a bipolar brother; a schizophrenic sister; an obsessive compulsive cousin; grandiose grandchildren; traumatized spouses; paranoid partners; manic relations.

And some of your people may be hard to break bread with. It’s a blessing if you do. It’s okay if you can’t. And it may be a blessing if you don’t. Being bipolar myself – being crazy myself – I understand there is only so much crazy any one of us can handle — especially at Thanksgiving.

So for sanity’s sake, this year, sadly I won’t be having turkey with some delusional and dysfunctional loved ones of mine. It’s time to celebrate the ties that bind and not the crazy making rituals of yesteryear. Maybe next year will be different. Maybe not. We’ll have to see.

So “thank we all, our God” for the people not at our Thanksgiving tables this Thursday. Thank God, that God loves them even when we cannot. Thank God, God loves us even when we cannot bring ourselves to do the same. Thank God, God commands us to love even our crazy making selves . Yes — ourselves. Even on Thanksgiving.

Over the river, and through the woods, to sanity’s house we go.

JoaniSign