Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Good Housekeeping according to Mary, Martha & Joan Louise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or at least so I thought. Until the day…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Bernard preaching in the public square.

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

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

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

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

Kingdom of God language is political language.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Toms Shoes, One for One”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


North Star, South of the Border & Good Sam Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vincent Van Gogh’s Good Samaritan

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

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

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

“Do this and you shall live.”

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

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

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

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

And what are we to do?

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

 And Vonnegut replies:

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

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

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

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

First is very close to home, our very own —

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

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

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

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

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

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


Soul Cycling & The Blessing of the Bicycles (#2)

This post is about soul-cycling, but not the studio kind. No, it’s about the kind of ride that stirs the soul to raise up hope in a crazy world. I am talking about the rides of our lives – be they literally from the seat of a bike – or literally by the seat of our pants — in whatever our vocation might be.

As an Episcopal priest, I celebrate the sacraments. As Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity at Emmanuel, in an Excel spreadsheet, I construct our weekly worship.   Cycling (yes, pun intended) through the church’s seasons, I play liturgical Legos. With about a dozen moving parts, I piece together the service pulling from a variety of sanctioned sources.  The Book of Common Prayer, of course, but also the Book of Occasional Services, Enriching Our Worship, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the ELCA Sundays & Seasons prayers and petitions. Prayers and petitions, which I edit each week to reflect the needs of this god forsaken world.

A labor of love. At Emmanuel we use far more of the Book of Common Prayer than parishes who simply pick up the book. Episcopal worship is expansive, elastic and flexible. And here at Emmanuel, we flex as far as the rubrics will allow:

Rite III Youth Eucharist the first Sunday of the month.

The Blessing of the Animals in October.

A Contemplative Christmas in December.

A Celtic Eucharist in February.

Down to Earth Maundy Thursday in Holy Week.

Pentecost & Pride in June.

And the 2ndannual Blessing of the Bicycles to celebrate the summer solstice.

Last year we had 120 folks of all ages with their trikes and bikes. I brought and baptized my own new shiny red pseudo-Schwinn with the fat white tires. Though I confess, I have not ridden my bike much in the last year. Given my personal recent rocky road, I imagine I might be much better off if I had.

I am really an avid pedestrian. To keep myself walking, I started this thing called Soul Strolling – an hour’s sojourn and conversation, one on one, a parishioner and me, walking local highways and byways and trails. Muscles in motion is good for the soul.

So, maybe I should start Pedaling with the Pastor  to get me back on my bike. An hour’s ride with parishioner and priest, cycling together to some favorite watering hole or coffee shop. This great idea is not my idea. I stole from Pastor Ken Dixon.  He beat me to it.

Pastor Dixon, a Seventh Day Adventist minister, loved cycling but had not been on his bike in umpteen years. Moving from church to church and climate to climate, his bike gathered dust in his garage. He became a potato on his couch and gained weight to the point of being pre-diabetic. His VA doctor cut to the chase, “If you don’t do something about this, you’re going to die!” A come-to-Jesus moment, Pastor Dixon realized – for the sake of himself, his family and his parish – he had to get back on his bike.

“I didn’t want to stand in front of my congregation and tell them to care of their bodies when I am on the verge of dying!”

Dixon started cycling with half a dozen fellow Texas pastors. A few months in, he raised the stakes – sort of as a joke. “Let’s ride to the Adventist World Conference from Dallas to San Antonio!” What! No! Maybe! Incredibly quite a few said YES! “Seventeen riders from all different ages, races and places covered 350 miles in just five days.”

This pedal-powered mission strengthened more than just hearts and lungs. It broke down cultural barriers and bore fruit of a spiritual kind. Dixon’s idea took flight.

“Flight” by Yusuf Grillo

The Flight (pictured aboveis an “oil on board” painting by artist Yusuf Grillo. “It depicts a young family in native Yoruba dress, seated on a bicycle. While the man pedals…the woman sits on the bicycle bar cradling a baby.”

“Grillo started the painting during the Nigerian Civil War, a very painful time in his country’s history. Many lives were lost and many more were maimed. The memory of his people fleeing the violence was seared into his psyche.”

“He likened the forced migration to the flight of the Holy Family – fleeing Israel for Egypt.” Not on the back of a camel or donkey but on a bicycle. An icon for refugees everywhere, it symbolizes the very human search for safety, security and peace.

On May 12, 2018 Alana Murphy set out an 88-day, 4,380-mile bike ride across the country. Along the way, she conducted 65 interviews with refugees in 15 cities including Philadelphia, Detroit and Kansas City.

Alana’s idea took flight from the seat of her bike. “My hope was to make these stories and experiences accessible…’Refugee’ has become an increasingly divisive word. I realize most people in the U.S. have not had the opportunity to hear the stories of these incredible people….I spent the majority of my time riding through rural areas where many are not supportive of immigrants…By spending time in their communities, I was able to listen to their fears and concerns and learn about a part of our country that is often overlooked and misunderstood.”

As anyone who reads the news knows, as any who saw the photo of the Salvadoran father, Oscar Ramirez and toddler daughter Valeria, floating on the bank of the Rio Grande knows — immigrants’ desperate plight and flight is a harrowing, dangerous and heartbreaking road. As Christians – our faith compels us to respond with compassion. To welcome, embrace and shelter all such families as holy. As holy as Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the flight to Egypt. As holy as the Nigerian family fleeing danger on the back of a bike. 

And as citizens of our native land, I hope and pray this speaks to our American souls, as well. To address with all seriousness the humanitarian crisis on our southern border.

I looked into the Bible to find some wisdom about loving our neighbor on the open road. There are no scriptures that cite bicycles, of course. The closest I could get was the prophet Ezekiel:

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

Not about bikes, Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision is about flight, the Israelites escaping from bondage in Babylon. It is about a freedom ride, a ride of a lifetime, and the return to the Promised Land. To life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and hope. A wild ride that the whole world is on, really.

“More than anything,”Alana wrote, “I find myself dreaming about the next time I get back on a bicycle…cycling all day under blue skies, climbing mountain passes despite hail and rain and sleeping on the side of the road snug in my tent. Feeling just you and your bicycle facing the open road is something incomparable.” Something miraculous.Something to inspire whatever comes next. 

So, let’s all get back on our bikes – both metaphorical and real – and take flight. Soul cycling can do the world a whole lot of good.


B(u)y the Book, By the Pool, Bipolar

I spent the better part of an hour tinkering with the title for this post.

Hmmmm, should it be?

Letctio-Mania-Divina?

Bipolar Beach Book Bonanza?

Bipolar Summer Reads?

I settled on the B(u)y the Book, By the Pool, Bipolar because it captures it all. The season, my library, my finances and my moods.

And ’tis the season! Everywhere you look there are lists of “Best Beach Books” or “Sumptuous Summer Reads.” And here on U&U, I wanted to add my own.

I am well qualified (or at least so I think.)

Joani is a voracious reader whose reading knows no seasons — or at least there is no season in which she doesn’t pick up at least a dozen books. But summer is different. In summer, she believes she can read at least a dozen more!

And I am not alone. On vacation, lots of us bibliophiles shove a few novels into our suitcases, a few mysteries, a biography, maybe a memoir or two.

So just why do we read so much pulp fiction by the pool?

Just in time for the summer solstice, The New Yorker answered this question in this fabulous piece: The Invention of the Beach Book. And in it, Katy Waldman reviews a book about books (my favorite kind.)

“”Books for Idle Hours,” a new history by the academic Donna Harrington-Lueker, unpacks both the constructedness of “summer reading” and its gravitational pull. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, urbanization and industrialization gave summertime a new radiance—it offered a chance to escape the sweaty, overcrowded city and reconnect with nature. The steamship and the railroad made vacation getaways more accessible. Periodicals and newspapers began running features on resort towns and advertised summer activities and goods: cruises, camping gear, mineral springs. In the pages of Harper’s, the artist Winslow Homer published chic illustrations of fashionable, sun-dazed women watching horse races or strolling along the ocean. In short, bolstered by the era’s print culture, a new market of pleasure-seeking Americans emerged.

So in the summer, book shops, libraries, book stalls and drug stores all stocked up on beach books. As the reader’s appetite soared so did the publisher’s profits.

Schools and colleges and universities hijacked the tradition. The “Summer School Reading List” unfortunately is a buzz killer. Mandatory reading on holiday is just homework by another name.

But I digress.

Happily my reading is virtually all voluntary. I juggle a few volumes at a time, picking up whichever title matches a particular mood.

So let me “offer unto thee myself, my soul and my body” in my very own Bipolar Beach Book List. Here are a dozen mostly-read and a few hope-to-read titles. Fiction and non-fiction, familiar and far-flung. And be forewarned, my reading tastes tend toward the dystopian and dark, the provocative and the historic with a bit of self-help-psychology thrown in (like a cherry on top.)

(Blurbs are directly lifted from digital book jackets.)

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley “This groundbreaking dual biography brings to life a pioneering English Feminist and the daughter she never knew. Author Charlotte Gordon reunites the trailblazing author who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the Romantic visionary who gave the world Frankenstein…two courageous women who shared a powerful literary and feminist legacy.”

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman “Arguably the earliest written work of feminist philosophy, Mary Wollstonecraft produced this manifesto of woman’s rights in the time of the American and French Revolutions. This era induced many to reconsider not only the rights of men, but also of women, and none argued for female emancipation more eloquently or effectively than Wollstonecraft.”

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley describes the ethos behind what became her famous and frightening cautionary tale, “My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.

M.R. James Collected Ghost Stories “Considered by many to be the most terrifying writer in English, M.R. James was an eminent scholar…His classic supernatural tales draw on the terrors of everyday life, in which documents and objects unleash terrible forces often in closed rooms and night-time settings where imagination runs riot. Lonely country houses, remote inns, ancient churches…great libraries provide settings for unbearable menace. These stories have lost none of their power to unsettle and disturb.”

Dark Tales “After the publication of her short story “The Lottery” in the New Yorker in 1948, Shirley Jackson was quickly established as a master horror storyteller. This collection of classic, unsettling, dark tales, includes “The Possibility of Evil” and “The Summer People.” In these deliciously dark stories, the daily commute turns into a nightmarish game of hide and seek, the loving wife hides homicidal thoughts and the concerned citizen might just be an infamous serial killer. In the haunting world of Shirley Jackson, there’s something sinister in suburbia.”

Picnic at Hanging Rock Joan Lindsay’s classic Australian novel. “It was a cloudless summer day in 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing through the scrub into the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned…”

Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table “A fascinating and unusual chapter in American history about a religious community that held radical notions of equality, sex, and religion—only to transform itself, at the beginning of the twentieth century, into a successful silverware company and a model of buttoned-down corporate propriety. ” Written by Ellen Wayland-Smith, descendant of John Henry Noyes, the founder of the Oneida Community in upstate New York.

Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Growing Up and Starting Over “In the first in-depth research of its kind, Janja Lalich interviewed sixty-five people who were born in or grew up in thirty-nine different cultic groups spanning more than a dozen countries. What’s especially interesting about these individuals is that they each left the cult on their own, without outside help or internal support. In Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over, the authors craft Lalich’s original and groundbreaking research into an accessible and engaging book, the first of its kind.”

The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale that inspired the Hulu Original Series. “The story is told through the eyes of Offred. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate and wry, Offred reveals to us the dark corners of the establishment’s facade…It is at once scathing satire and a dire warning and Margaret Atwood at her best.”

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better AngelsWe have been here before. In this timely and revealing book, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame fear and division. With clarity and purpose, Meacham explores contentious periods and how presidents and citizens came together to defeat the forces of anger, intolerance and extremism.”

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are “A motivational and inspiring guide to wholehearted living, this eye-opening work of Brene Brown, Ph.D. bolsters the process of personal development with characteristic heartfelt honest storytelling. Based on her original research, Brown explores the psychology of releasing notions of an “imperfect” life while embracing a life of honest beauty — a perfectly imperfect life.”

Attached “Is there a science to love? In this meticulously researched book, psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel S. F. Heller reveal how an understanding of attachment theory – the most advanced relationship science in existence today – can help us find and sustain love. Pioneered by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s, the field of attachment explains that each of us behaves in relationships in one of three distinct ways: Anxious, avoidant or secure.” Which one are you?

All available in multi-media – ephemeral and real. Click on the links to learn more.

Happy reading!


Sleeping Around (not what you think!) or Travels with Joani

I have never been one to rough it or to sleep under the stars in the great outdoors. Even as a Girl Scout I was allergic to camp. All grown up now, the most rustic I ever get is a Shrine Mont retreat – an Episcopal mountain village and old hotel in Orkney Springs. Complete with clean linens and private baths.

My clergy income does not allow for international travel or cross country road trips. But I do love to get out of town once in a while. And when I do, I love to book myself into a fancy boutique hotel.

A weekend’s stay just across the river in my beloved hometown of Washington, D.C.; or a few days in Mr. Jefferson’s Virginia City; or farther afield to Brooklyn, NY (home of my filmmaker son!).

By Uber, by car, by train.

Sleeping around in funky beautiful places is one of my favorite things to do. So let me recommend a few. All are fabulous and none are cheap so shop around for online deals.

So here we go, details shamelessly lifted from websites.

Places Where Joani Has Slept in Washington, D.C.!

The Intercontinental at the Wharf

On the SW waterfront overlooking the Potomac River, you can take the Water Taxi from Alexandria to the Wharf. There is a rooftop pool & bar and an Afro-Caribbean restaurant called Kith & Kin. Take a stroll on the waterside piers and promenades. Check out the books at Politics&Prose. Attend a performance at the Anthem or Union Stage.

The Line

Located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, this unique hotel is housed in a 110 year-old historic church. Room numbers are posted on old hymn boards and recycled church pews line the corridors. The Line is the brainchild of local chefs, bartenders, artists and designers. It has a “full service” radio station in the lobby and three restaurants. Brothers & Sisters features “American classics with an Asian point of view.” Nearby is the Adams Morgan Community Center “an incubator space for artists and nonprofits..which hosts art shows, performances and workshops.”

Capitol Hill Hotel “…tucked away amidst charming brick row houses…and a short walk to the Capitol, Supreme Court, Library of Congress” (my happy place!) “and the Botanical Gardens.” It is across the street from the Capitol South Metro Stop and accessible on the Blue & Yellow lines. The rooms are appointed with “plush white bedding, eclectic furnishings and classic prints by American artists.” Nearby eateries on Pennsylvania Avenue include the Hawk ‘n Dove and the infamous Tune Inn. The East City Book Shop, a fabulous indie bookstore is a hop and a skip from the must-visit historic Eastern Market.

Places Joani Has Slept in Charlottesville, Virginia!

The Oakhurst Inn

“This Craftsman inspired Inn borders the University of Virginia…the classic rooms” are all housed in three historic bungalows. Instead of a lobby, the Oakhurst has four libraries: “Sit by the fire, peruse a book, help yourself to an espresso or Italian soda. Decorated with architectural curiosities. Have you ever seen a Russian gramophone?” The cafe features “fresh takes on southern classics” and the new Oakhurst Hall sports a salt water pool and Jazz Nights. Walk across the street to Mr. Jefferson’s University of Virginia (the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the U.S.) or hop on the trolley to go shopping at the Downtown Mall.

The Boars Head Resort

Owned by the University of Virginia Foundation, the Boars Head is a country resort where the “borders between past and present, serenity and energy melt away.” Decorated with classic southern charm and equipped with modern amenities, this fabulous getaway includes nature trails, a racquet & fitness club, a spa (where I got a facial!) and three outdoor pools (one for adults only!). If you are brave (and I am not) you can book a ride on a hot air ballon. The Mill Room’s award winning chefs culinary delights are sourced from local farmers and vineyards. Literally catch your own fish (from the fish farm) for a delicious Trout Salad. Explore the “Monticello Wine Trail”. There are over 30 wineries in a 25 mile radius of Charlottesville!

Places Where Joani Has Stayed in Brooklyn, New York!

The McCarren Hotel & Pool

Located in the Williamsburg neighborhood, on land stolen from Native Americans by the Dutch West India Company in 1638 and eventually bought up the wealthy Jonathan Williams who in 1802 named the town for himself, the McCarren describes itself as “edgy, artsy and epic.” It has a rooftop bar, Freille linens and “rainfall showers.” The Urban Vegan Kitchen serves “semi-sophisticated comfort food.” The Olympic sized pool across the street, open in the summer, is a place to mix and mingle with the locals. Williamsburg is a “hipster hotspot alive with music, art shows, food festivals and farmers’ markets.” Go for a tour and a by-the-token beer tasting at Brooklyn Brewery.

The Box House Hotel

“Once a doors and windows manufacturing facility, The Box House is now home to 130 spacious lofts with soaring ceilings and factory details. Located off the East River in Greenpoint, where streets are still named for 19th century farmers, the hotel is decorated with original artwork and nostalgic details.” (My Room has a Royal manual typewriter. Maybe I will write that book!) Balconies overlook the Brooklyn skyline. The Brooklyn Lantern downstairs is a yummy full service cafe and the hotel even has its own “neighborhood taxi” which will save you a few Uber-dollars.

Too fancy to leave behind any graffiti, I would love to scribble Joani slept here on these guest room walls. But alas, no. They would not welcome me back!

The photos are are all mine (except for the McCarren). Click on the links to explore more!

Happy travels!