Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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“The Novel Cure” : We Are What We Read

Read books more. Read the news less.

This is my new mental health mantra.

Because of the number nine.

Nine. I have nine news apps on my phone. The Washington Post. The New York Times. The Guardian. NPR. Politico. Buzz Feed. HuffPost. The New Yorker. The Wall Street Journal.

Ten. If you count National Geographic.

Never has it been more important to keep up with the world. It’s head spinning the headlines a single week brings. And it’s an essential part of my work to keep up — or at least endeavor to keep up.

Each week I edit our Sunday prayers so that they speak to this hurting world we share. This past week alone I added intercessions for the Group of Seven talks in Quebec, the Korean summit in Singapore, volcano victims in Hawaii and Guatemala, the LGBTQ community for Pride Month, refugees and asylum seekers.

It’s a moving target.  It matters deeply. But I know as soon as they are printed they are also incomplete and possibly obsolete.

And that’s okay. Even in the best of times it’s not humanly possible to digest it all. Habitually surfing the headlines is not good for your mental health. Not good for my mental health, for sure!

So I have resolved to read books more and to read the news less.

To retreat, to refresh, to restore the soul, to recover perspective.

And yes, simply to escape into the world of a good book.

Call it biblio-therapy. Not a word I made up but a real thing. Biblio-therapy was pioneered by the authors of The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You.

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So, here I present my own little version, a diversionary reading list of my own making. Fifteen books that I have recently read, am currently reading, and are in my reading pipeline — the stack of books beside my bed.

Fiction. Memoir. History. Science. Spirituality. Cats. Dogs. Here I list them all in no particular bibliographic order. Reviewers’ quotes shamelessly lifted from dust jackets.

IMG_4860Jamaica Inn, Daphne Du Mauier: The 1930’s classic tale of romantic suspense by the acclaimed author of Rebecca. This is the perfect book to read on a dark and stormy night.

IMG_4871Vinegar Girl: A Novel, Anne Tyler. William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew Retold. “… a knockabout comedy at its best, genuinely laugh out loud funny, and indeed, Tyler’s funniest book to date.” One of my favorite authors, she’s written a lot!

IMG_4872The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr. I read this because I want to write a book — a book still in my head. This one is “full of Karr’s usual wit, compassion, and perhaps most reassuringly self-doubt.”

IMG_4861Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed. “As loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got punk and spirit and makes an earthy and American sound,” A remarkable debut for a first time author.

IMG_4863When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi is the author who died in 2015:  “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality had changed nothing and everything.” “This is an unforgettable, life affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death, and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.”

IMG_4873The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen, Elizabeth Norton. The title pretty much explains this one! “A power hungry and charming courtier. An impressionable and trusting princess. The Tudor court in the wake of Henry VIII’s death… where rumors had the power to determine fate.”

IMG_4862Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, Christopher De Hamel. A big fat, nerdy book about about books that changed the world with lots of fabulous pictures. “Reading is my life, but only about once a decade do I find a book that seems to tilt the world, so afterwards it appears different.”  My world was tilted!

IMG_4874The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, Kathryn Joyce. An investigative journalist’s deep dive into the world of the for-profit adoption business, misguided evangelical theology, and the lost voices of adoptees and first families. Being in reunion with my daughter Rebecca, this is a powerful and eye opening read.

IMG_4865Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, Alan Lightman. Even though my summer trip to Great Cranberry Isle got cancelled, I am still reading this astrophysicist’s beautiful book. “Deeply brilliant. Alan Lightman’s prose is so simple and graceful that it can be easy to miss the quiet, deep sophistication of his approach to the topic of science and religion.”

IMG_4869Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World, Amir Alexander. Okay, yes, very nerdy I know. But fascinating. This brief history takes us into the lives of “Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Hobbes, and from the Papal Palace in to Rome to the halls of the Royal Society of London to show how a disagreement over a mathematical concept became a contest over the heavens and the earth.”

IMG_4870After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, Jack Kornfield. This one I love for the title alone. It draws on the “experiences and insights within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions… Filled with ‘the laughter of the wise,’ alive with compassion.”

IMG_4868Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis. The great Christian apologist of the 20th century, this is his last book. An engaging retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from antiquity written “with new meaning, new depths, new terrors.” Lewis reminds us of “our own fallibility and the role of a higher power in our lives.”

IMG_4866Cats Behaving Badly: Why Cats Do the Naughty Things They Do, Celia Haddon. Having become a crazy cat lady not quite a year ago, this was a must read. I refer to it often.

IMG_4867Dog Crazy, Meg Donohue. A gift from my canine loving friend Chuck, this little novel is “a big-hearted and entertaining story that skillfully captures the bonds of love, the pain of separation, and the power of dogs to heal us.” A great beach or backyard read.

IMG_4876French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, Mireille Guiliano. Self- explanatory!

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Reading has the power to enlarge us and inspire us and entertain us and enlighten us. And dare I say, even heal us.

Reading, Lectio Divina, is a spiritual discipline, no matter what kind of books you read!

So dear readers, tell me. What books do you have stacked up in that pile on your bedside table?

JoaniSign

And check out my favorite book store in D.C! East City Bookshop on Pennsylvania Avenue SE!


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Joani’s Big Adventure or The Blessing of the Bikes

Six years old, I learned to ride a bike on a little red Schwinn. No training wheels. My dad said training wheels were for sissies. “It’s all about balance, Joani Baloney. You can do this.” He steadied me on the seat of the bike and instructed me how to steer and how to pedal. Like the whole thing was an intellectual exercise.  And then he let me go at the top of the hill of a little cul-de-sac. It was a little hill, but to a six-year-old, a very big hill.  I careened down. I crashed. Head on into a telephone pole. I cried.

Now this is not a method I recommend.  (A method my father also used to teach me how to drive a car  – with similar results.)

But I did learn how to ride that bike – and it was my first little taste of freedom. My first little experience with independence.

I rode my bike to school, to the pool, to the store, to piano lessons and softball practice.

Reach back and remember. When was your first bike ride? Who taught you? Where did you go? And along the way, who have you taught in return?

A virtually universal rite of passage for little American kids.

But as a mom, I have flat out failed in this regard. Three of my four children will tell you that they are scarred from the experience – or the lack of experience – of learning to ride a bike.

We lived at 212 East Windsor, a 1920’s bungalow right here in Del Ray, directly across the street from the fire station. This was quite exciting when my kids were little. When they would hear the sirens, they scrambled to the front porch to watch the fire fighters slide down the pole – and gaze in amazement as they raced off in the bright red fire trucks.

As a mom, this spectacle also terrified me. A bit of a safety fanatic, I imagined my bike and trike riding children getting run over by fire engines. The sirens screaming so loud, I feared I couldn’t hear my children’s screams. Extreme. Ridiculous. I know.

In an abundance of caution, I made the street in front of our house totally off limits. And by extension, all streets in our neighborhood – relegating my children to sidewalk transport only.

On foot, of course, but also on wheels: roller blades and skates, wagons and scooters, big wheels.

But never a bike.

And my grownup children have never let me forget how I handicapped their childhood.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So today is at least in part about making amends.

As the liturgist at Emmanuel, as a lark for a friend I was googling “new car safe driving prayers” when I came across the Blessing of the Bicycles. Several urban churches and even cathedrals have held annual Bike Blessings.

I forwarded the link to Chuck, the rector and my colleague, an avid cyclist. “Would you like to do this at Emmanuel?’

 “OF COURSE! LOVE THIS!” he fired back in all CAPS.

We concurred, June 24th, the first official Sunday in summer would be a great day to do it. And we decided to do it up right. Not just a five-minute perfunctory blessing after church. No, we would lean in for the entire service: scripture, hymns, prayers, remembrances.

We are breaking more than a few Book of Common Prayer rubrics. It’s easier, of course, to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. And for the liturgy police out there the early service at 8:00 AM on the 24thwill be entirely kosher.

But what better way to celebrate the summer solstice than to celebrate the spirit of all things bicycle.

As I watched the four creatures, I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground…This is what the wheels looked like: They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope.

 They went in any of the four directions they faced, but straight not veering off. The rims were immense, circled with eyes. When the living creatures went, the wheels went; when the living creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off. Wherever the spirit went, they went, the wheels sticking right with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

 Now the prophet Ezekiel, in the 6thcentury BC, was not writing about bikes. They describe apocalyptic visions he had of the Israelites escaping captivity in Babylon. But their wild and vivid imagery suits our purposes for today – a vision of that wild ride, a vision of a spirited journey rising above the road.

Now I myself have not been on a bike in over thirty years. I am an avid pedestrian but not a cyclist.

So, for authenticity’s sake and to genuinely throw myself into the spirit of the occasion, I too had to get a bike. And actually ride it, of course.

I walked into Conte’s Bike Shop on King Street with the following criteria for my purchase:

  • I am not even sure if I still know how to ride a bike.
  • I will not be riding in traffic of any kind.
  • I am only going to ride on flat surfaces and seldom used bike paths.
  • I will not be doing any racing.

I picked out a red one with big fat white tires – an updated version of the Schwinn I had as a kid. And nearly identical to Peewee Herman’s in Peewee’s Big Adventure!

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 I have worked up to an hour’s ride, pedaling on the back streets of my neighborhood. And I have begun to experience a bit of all of those positive byproducts that bicycling brings.

It’s good for your mental and not just your physical health. It can lift your spirits when you are down and moderate your mood when you are manic. It’s very beneficial for the brain for ADHD and bipolar people like me.

Your lungs get stronger. You can breathe better. You can even enjoy a second breakfast if you bike to work.

Cycling can help you sleep better and it can even make you smarter! Boosting blood flow to your gray cells.

Without google maps telling you where to go, you develop a better sense of direction. Better to map your own way.

And cycling can widen your social circles and expand your world: Beyond friends and family, in clubs you can meet fellow cyclists of all kinds and in races for good causes, you can find kindred spirits along the way.

Biking is kinder to Mother Nature and a boon for the environment. No fossil fuels. No greenhouse gases.

And economical too. A car costs about 55 cents a kilometer to operate. A bike, only about a tenth of that. A little more than a nickel a kilometer. With a bike you might not need a second car.

And affordable bike sharing – in economically challenged locations – can help to provide low cost transportation – to work, to the store, to school – for the less affluent who need it the most.

And cycling is good for the soul. Connecting the rider not just to creation but to the Creator. It can get us out of our comfort zones and off the couch and put us in touch with communities we have never dreamed of.

And isn’t that what church is supposed to be all about?

Every ride can be a hymn of praise: for life, for health, for the sheer joy of pedaling down the road.

And while you ride, you can say a prayer for everyone you pass along the way: other riders, pedestrians, motorists and truck drivers too. Pray for safety and the security of all with whom we share the road.

So, let’s end this little blog post with a Celtic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you;

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

The rains fall soft upon your path;

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

And come join us June 24th, 10:00 AM at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia.  Click here for all the details on The Blessing of the Bikes!

JoaniSign

 


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Stretch Marks & the Gospel of Mark

Nothing stretches us as much as family. Stretch marks are real but they are not just for moms.  Family stretches us all: physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Families stretch in order to grow.

By birth, by adoption, or step by step, families blend, marry and merge.  My own family grew a bazillion percent over the last few years.  I now have two daughters and not just one. I now have three grandchildren by Rebecca. And my youngest son, Jacob parents his partner’s  little boys, giving me three more.  December, a year ago, I added a brother-in-law, when Joseph married John. And this past November, I gained a daughter-in-law – Jen — who married my son Zach on a boat on the Hudson River with the Statue of Liberty’s arm raised in blessing.

Stretching is not all good, of course. Stretching can lead to strain and stress. There has been a whole lot of kabuki theater drama associated within my own family as we have stretched to include all of the above. The Peacock family melodrama might make a good TV series someday – if we all manage to live through it. Relationships have been strained to the breaking point at times – but on the whole, we are bigger and better and more deeply connected than ever.

And we all have the stretch marks to show for it.

Jesus understands.

He has his own family mess on his hands. In fourteen heated verses in the Gospel of Mark, we hear why “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Accusations fly: “He has gone out of his mind. He is possessed by Beelzebul (which literally means Lord of the flies). And by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.”

 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 That’s a pretty chilling rejection. No one can fault his family for their concern. He’s acting strangely. He’s not eating enough. He doesn’t care where he sleeps. And he’s been talking a bunch of crazy stuff about the kingdom of God. And no one can really fault the religious authorities for wanting to keep things kosher, either.  Faith and family are the bedrock of society. Right?

One family stands outside. Another gathers around to listen at his feet. Jesus does not so much trash traditional family values as he stretches the meaning of family beyond its comfy cozy cultural boundaries.

A scholar writes:

It is an odd feature of Jesus’ ministry that he is open to everybody: Gentiles, the Jews, the poor, the demented, the sick, the working class, women, tax collectors, sexual outcastes.

 The only people who provoke Jesus’ intolerance are his family and the law-abiding scribes. The ones closest to him and the ones who are like him. It seems they are least able to make the leap [from traditional family values] to open-hearted love of God’s beloved and disfigured humanity.” (Wendy Farley, Feasting on the Word)

These are the ones who have the most trouble making the stretch.

DNA does indeed make a family but so do a lot of other things. It is often said that “We can’t choose our family.” But Mark’s gospel pretty much smashes that conceit.

We are gathered here as a church family – choosing to pray and praise and sing together.

We are gathered here as a larger family who chooses to reach out to a  family-larger-still beyond these walls – in service to our hungry neighbors, in service to the homeless, in service to the strangers in our midst.

We choose to stretch. Our faith and our creed – far more than any politics – demands that we stretch.

And we are also citizens, members of an American family – not defined by blood or birth.  America is born of our forbearers’ idea that we left behind the divisions of religion and race and nation – to a nation of laws: Where all men (and women) are created equal.

The Peacock clan have been native Washingtonians back to 1801 – when William Peacock was the sole member of the family counted in  the city census. But Peacocks came from England. Some from Wales. Some from Ireland. There are a few Vikings in the mix, as well. Some fled religious persecution. Some fled famine. Some just came looking for a better life for their kith and kin.

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How did your family get here? Did they arrive on a slave ship? Did they emigrate through Ellis Island? Did they flee the oppression of communism? Did they escape from the anti-Semitism of the Third Reich? Did they flee Castro’s Cuba? Were they refugees from any of our many wars abroad?

We are a country defined by our stretch marks.

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon hand glows world-wide welcome…”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed  to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus)

 We are a people made stronger by our stretch marks.

And never has there been a more urgent time for us to recall who we are: as Americans and even more importantly, as a people of faith.

Families, refugees seeking asylum come here not on a whim or a lark or to take advantage of us. Most are fleeing conflict, war, famine, degradation and persecution. These are, for the most part, very vulnerable people, and the most vulnerable among them are their children.

Xenophobic fears that immigrants bring crime and disease are not born out by the facts. Immigrants – who take so many jobs Americans don’t want: cleaning our hotel rooms and landscaping our yards and picking our crops and babysitting our children: These people just want a better life for their own families and children.

Criminalizing crossing our borders, America has callously separated hundreds of vulnerable children from their asylum-seeking parents. It punishes and traumatizes the children – who have no choice in the matter – and who likely have lived through trauma to reach our shores. It puts these little ones at high risk for PTSD, depression and anxiety – not just temporarily – but risks long lasting effects on their healthy development.

And so,  what would our Jesus have to say about this? What would our Jesus do?   Well, Jesus welcomes little children. Jesus reaches out in love to the least of these. The stranger. The marginalized. The outcaste. The poor. The sick.

No exceptions. No exclusions.

People from all four corners of God’s globe. (Not just  Norway.) People of every color, creed and stripe.

When it comes to family – Jesus asks us to STRETCH far beyond our comfort zones, far beyond the narrow boundaries of blood and soil.

And how much stretching do we need to do? A whole lot, I believe both as peopleof faith and as a parish family. Prayerfully, lets dig deep to discern what might be done. On the big scale and on a little one, as well.

Possibly…

More of us can support the refugee families Emmanuel currently sponsors: two single moms with their two little boys from Afghanistan. We can join a care team. We can donate summer clothes or household goods. We can make a contribution to the Christ Church Refugee Fund that supports families across the City of Alexandria.

We can educate ourselves about the needs of immigrants and refugees. We can volunteer for ESL programs in the schools. We can advocate for access to community services for those most in need. We can call a congressman or senator.  We can write a letter to the powers that be.

With God’s help, we can STRETCH ourselves to stand up for family – not as we define it – but as Jesus does.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred 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 gather in harmony around the table in your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

JoaniSign

 


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Creator of the Stars of Night

Once upon a time, a generation or two ago, before we landed on the moon, Cape Kennedy was Cape Canaveral – home to NASA – the National Air and Space Administration  (if you need me to spell it out:-)).

When I was a kid, periodically we got to swap out our spelling books for something far more exciting. Sister Inez Patricia would wheel a little black and white TV into the classroom — 1960’s technology at its finest. Sister would fiddle with the horizontal and vertical controls – and the rabbit ears (remember those!) to get the picture just right.

Our little third grade eyes would be glued to screen as we listened to the countdown on the launch pad. 10, 9, 8, 7,6,5,4,3,2,1,0. BLASTOFF!

Off blasted John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. Off blasted Apollo mission after Apollo mission until that incredible day when Neil Armstrong set his boots down on the surface of the moon.

One small step for man. One giant step for mankind.

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 And on those same little TV screens in 1966, Star Trek premiered. Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock and crew set out on their five-year mission to “go boldly (and in technicolor) where no man had gone before.” The Star Trek crew blew our collective imaginations as they traveled through interstellar space. Galactically romping around the Milky Way of the millions and billions of stars.

The stars declare his glory, the vault of heaven springs

Mute witness of the Master’s hand in all created things.

And through the silence of space, their soundless music rings.

(para. Psalm 19, T. Dudley Smith)

When was the last time you gazed up at the stars?

Sadly, stargazing is nearly impossible under the artificial light pollution of our urban skies. But maybe you have gotten a chance to steal a glance on a starry-starry night. Maybe out in the country or up in the mountains. Maybe at Shrine Mont.

On this Feast of the Trinity, I invite you to turn your eyes to the skies  – heavenward. And behold the handiwork of the Holy One, the Creator of the stars of night. That we may discover – or possibly even recover – the experience of what it feels like “to be born from above.”

Alan Lightman, an astrophysicist, in his book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine tells the story of how he took out his little skiff onto the water in the dead of night. He writes:

 I turned off my running lights…I turned off my engine. I lay down in the boat and looked up. A very dark night sky seen from the ocean is a mystical experience. After a few minutes, my world dissolved into the star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity…I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them. And the vast expanse of time….from the time before I was born and into the far distant future after I will die – seemed compressed to a dot…I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a great and eternal unity,  a hint of something absolute.

 Something, someone we Christians call God, Creator of all that is seen and unseen – the divine first person of the Three Person  and singular God. The God we confess week after week in the Nicene Creed.

In Lent of 2014, I took up a rather unorthodox spiritual discipline. Rather than walking the Way of the Cross, I went in search of my Creator, the ground of my being.  I am not much of a contemplative. I don’t have the discipline to read the Daily Office. And being an extrovert, I am allergic to silent retreats. But as a bibliophile, I am all about living into the Great Commandment: to love the Lord our God, with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength….but especially with all my MIND.

So instead of cracking open a Bible, I cracked open the Book of Creation – with more than a little help from a little trinity of astro-evangelists: Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, and Neil de Grasse Tyson.

I read Kaku’s Einstein’s Cosmos: How Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time. Along with my daily prayers, I made daily online visits to Brian Greene’s World Science U – and got sixty-second -plain-English answers to my questions about the mysteries of the universe. And on the Lord’s Day, I would tune into PBS for a liturgical hour — to watch an episode of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.

I am not sure how much I actually learned science wise. I would ceratinly need to study up if I had to take an exam. But this little discipline definitely deepened my awe and expanded my sense of wonder in God’s universe (or it multiverse?)

Much like my awe and wonder were expanded all those years ago by John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong and Captain Kirk.

And this Trinity Sunday precedes Memorial Day Monday.

So, it seems to me to be both a right and a good thing to remember with gratitude those cosmic pioneers – who risked their lives to explore our solar system and the mysteries of space. For all the astronauts whose rigor and training, intelligence and dedication were given for a higher purpose.  And especially for the fallen heroes of American space flight: the 1967 crew of Apollo I, the astronauts of the  Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, the 2003 explorers on the  Space Shuttle Columbia.

 Let’s give thanks to God for all brave and bold enough to shoot for the stars, fly to the moon, and maybe even travel to Mars. Let’s give thanks to God for the gift of wonder and awe and joy in all the Creator’s works. And most especially let us praise the beloved Name  of the First and Foremost Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

The stars declare his glory.

JoaniSign


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The Sticky Sixth Commandment & “Sticks That Make Thunder”

Lent Three, Sunday service starts off in self-reflection. We sift through the commandments, all ten — one by one. Scripture may trip us up at number six:

Thou shall not commit murder.

Now, I am pretty sure that none of us, either in the pulpit or in the pews, have committed such a crime. But that does not mean, that our consciences are completely clean on this one.

We confess in community. Sins not just against God, but against neighbor, as well. And in the aftermath of the 8th school tragedy this year, as Christians, we need to do everything we can,  so, no parent ever has get that terrible phone call; so that every child knows that every adult is doing everything they can to keep them safe and sound.

While tribal politics may drive us to take sides, this, at its heart, is a faith conversation. Personal and difficult.

I am going to share my personal story, not that you may agree with me and not for me to tell you what to think. But I hope that by sharing mine, I can offer a little encouragement for you to share yours.  Maybe we can begin to respectfully connect – and talk about what we think we shouldn’t talk about in church.

So,

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.

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. He founded Gaming in Public. On a Kickstarter project , he raised $20,000 for a a game called “Super Dwarf Madness.” Inspired by Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”“these dwarves are taking back their kingdom with GUNS.”

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

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Mural in remembrance of Sandy Hook

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.

My dad was pro-gun-control long before it was politically correct. You see, my Rockefeller Republican father was Chief of Surgery at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in DC. 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.

This is a lesson learned that I have taken to heart.

In my 63 years, I had never ever even seen a real gun – much less handled one, until a few years ago, 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 wether 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.

“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)

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 a resurrected life.

Since the start of this young year, we have prayed a prayer, that I cobbled together and crafted — from an article by the Jesuit James Martin.

Though my hope is that we never need pray it again, I repeat these words in the hope that God strengthen our resolve.  So that we may discern what stones not to leave unturned; to discern which tables need to be turned upside down – to preserve the lives of the most vulnerable among us.

Lord God, we ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded, to console family and friends in the face of such tragic loss; to strengthen the hands and hearts of first responders. In Christian charity, we pray for those who have taken innocent lives. We grieve, Lord God, as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are weary, Lord God, of the blindness to this important issue; weary of those who say nothing can be done. 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 profits over people: angry, as was Jesus, when he turned over the tables in the temple. Grant us the courage and strength to work for change to preserve and protect the life of all your children. Lord, turn our sadness into compassion, our weariness into advocacy, our paralysis into acts of love.

 Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

JoaniSign


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“Reel” Time Revelation of Rebecca on the Story District Stage

For those of you loyal readers who have followed the tale of reunion with my firstborn daughter Rebecca – and for those of you tuning in for the first time — here is my December 2017 telling of it live on the Story District stage.

Eight minutes of riveting entertainment!

Joani Peacock in Story District’s Home for the Holidays!

Also published this year in Turning Points: Stories about Change and Choice. Scarlet Letter No More is on Page 37 of this excellent little anthology.

A great 10 minute read!

Stay tuned for new posts on U&U! God only knows what might be up next!


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Jesus: The Electric Album

Take out your pencil. Today’s post begins with a pop quiz on that Jesus-on -a-mountaintop story in the Gospel of Mark.  Have you read it? Have you heard it? Do you know what it means?

Don’t worry. There’s only one question on this quiz and it happens to be multiple choice:

Trans-fig-ur-a-tion means:

a. First century plastic surgery

b. A biblical plan to compute your tithe

c. A Christian weight loss program

or….

d. The glory of God breaking open the heart of a man on a mountaintop.

(Ding. Ding. You’re right. Of course, it’s “d”.)

To be transfigured, to have your whole self, your whole person turned inside out, is an experience that many a mom knows well. Carrying a child for nine months reshapes everything.  Your heart swells with love and your body with life but so do your hands and your feet. Rings no longer seem to fit and shoes are too tight.

And just when you think there is not a single inch of you that this little person does not occupy, delivery day draws nigh.

Upon a tidal wave of contractions, you surf the ecstatic — burning stages of birth.  And with every fiber of your being, this little tiny person is propelled into the world.

You feel like you have just climbed a mountain.

And when they place that little slippery purple person on your naked chest, there and then, life itself is transfigured. In the baby’s face, you see your loved one’s eyes and maybe your grandmother’s nose.

The spitting image of your hopes and dreams.

(And I know that adoptive moms go through their own transfiguring experience, too. And it often takes a lot longer than nine months!)

Bring that little person home and very soon your mantel and your hallway are lined with photographs: baby pictures, school photos, family portraits. Images, reshaped and transformed and transfigured over a life time.

Some of us work like the devil to try to live up our parents’ expectations. While some of us run like Hades to avoid turning into our mother or our father, our parents or grandparents.

Most of us are also scared to death, I believe, to discover whose image actually is stamped on our souls.

The catechism says it is the image of God — the image of Christ. Can you believe it?  In a culture that is prone to value firearms more than families, in a society where profits are often more important than people, can we still believe that each and every on of us is created in the image of Christ?

Jesus of the People by Janet McKenzie

“Jesus of the People” by Janet McKenzie

At the turn of this century, there was a contest that called on artists to create an Icon of Christ for the third millennium. It was sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter and it drew nearly two thousand entries from over nineteen countries. Sister Wendy Beckett selected the winners, as well as, the runners-up.

The chosen images drew visceral responses – many written up in the Washington Post.

One anonymous e-mailer shrieked: “It is nothing but a politically correct, modern, blasphemous statement reflecting the artists’ and the judges’ spiritual depravity.” 

 Another critic complained that a certain entry made the Prince of Peace look like the artist formerly known as Prince. And yet another called the winning entry – a blatant rip off of Jimi Hendrix from the Electric Lady Album!

But others were deeply moved by these newly cast images of Jesus. A Catholic priest wrote, “I am sitting here with tears brimming over and running down my face.  These are magnificent images of haunting, inviting serenity. Jesus would recognize himself in these images.

Jesus as a thick lipped and broad nosed ebony woman. Jesus as an olive skinned, dark haired Middle Eastern peasant. Jesus as a gaunt, gray haired, gay man. Jesus portrayed in bursts of color and glorious light.

Jesus transfigured before our very eyes.

Now the transfiguration of Jesus as the Christ, a scholar writes  “is one of the strangest tales the gospels have to tell.  Even with the voice from the cloud trying to explain it, the transfiguration is a cosmic and a confusing event. Even Jesus — who spent his life in conversation with the prophets — has no words.”

Instead, a vision erupts on a mountain top and images appear. Up the mountain, Jesus climbs with Peter and James and John. When they reach the top, Jesus can no longer contain the glory of God.  It splits his heart in two. It spills out of his every pore: blazing and blinding, exquisite and ecstatic.

The image of Elijah is seared onto his soul. The commandments of Moses beat in his heart. The holy three enveloped in a cloud. But when the cloud is lifted, only the image of Jesus remains.

And it is the same Jesus, the man with whom his friends had traveled a dusty mile. The same Jesus whose mother and brothers they knew. The same Jesus they had seen hungry and tired and sore. Out of the cloud, steps the spitting image of God. Jesus of Nazareth. Flesh of our flesh. Bone of our bone.

In this last flash and blast of Epiphany, walk down the mountain, friends. Take a look around and try to catch a glimpse of such glory. In the eyes of a child. In the arms of a beloved. In the voice of a friend.  In the face of a stranger.

Just about anywhere. Just about everywhere. Just around the corner, the human face of God waits to greet us – if we but recognize him.

May God’s glory break open the hardest of hearts – no matter who we are – no matter how impossible that might seem.

May God’s love transfigure and transform us into the likes of love, into the likes of him.

So, let us pray. Day by day.
JoaniSign