Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Show Up. It’s the Least You Can Do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The voting bowls were passed up and down the pews.

 Jesus Christ lost: 11 to 56.

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

doubting-Thomas-Jesus-window

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

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

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

Doubt has dogged the faithful for two thousand years.

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

How can the dead bring the dead back to life?

Is this stuff historical? Or just mystical?

Physically true? Or just metaphysically true?

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

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

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

Christians believe in a God who shows up.

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

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

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

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

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

 Eight days later Jesus shows up.

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

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

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

In the tired nurse by the hospice bed.

In the relief worker handing out bread.

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

In the words of a counselor, assuaging past hurts.

In the service of a soldier, setting captives free.

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

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

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

JoaniSign


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Dirt Therapy Redux

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Resurrection stories. U&U is an ongoing collection of resurrection stories — that before too long I would like to turn into an actual book. It seems that now I may just have carved out some time to actually do it.

Last week I chose to leave a job that I loved. You see the garden in which I so lovingly toiled had become a bit too overgrown with weeds. Weeds suck up all the water and crowd out the sun. Its hard to stay healthy and whole in a garden choked by weeds. Its nearly impossible to grow.

So I decided to uproot myself and with God’s help, to plant myself anew in life giving soil.

“Now the green blade riseth” is my favorite Easter hymn.

So it seems very apropos to repost Dirt Therapy once again.

So here we go….

Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.

Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.

And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:

”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”

It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet indeed. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (now 28 years old!). Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob. Sadly, you see, plants often came home to my house to die.

Even though I quite ironically once worked at plant store called “Great Plants Alive” most of the plants that crossed my threshold sadly met an untimely death.

And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:

If it’s green let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn. A sad little wagon and outgrown bicycles littered the grass.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

If it’s green let it grow.

My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not see to bestow upon me her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control, tamed only by a regular shot of bourbon, a little lithium, and the occasional session with Dr. Freud. My beloved mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears. Gorgeous.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We go down into the dirt like seeds forgotten and buried in the dark earth.

So as we are in the beginning, we are in the end. The Alpha is also the Omega.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, came to the garden and she saw that the stone was rolled away. And there stood the Gardener, the same Gardener who had walked at the time of the evening breeze. Mary did not know him until he called her by name. And then she knew. Here stands the very tiller, the very tender, the very lover of my soul.

Now the green blade riseth.

Dirt therapy.

JoaniSign


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Erasmus, Patron Saint of Bibliophiles

“When I get a little money, I buy books; if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”

Desiderius Erasmus, you are my patron saint. Great humanist of the Renaissance and reformer of the Reformation, it’s not so much your scholarship that I envy (though, of course, I do). It is your library I lust after. More accurately, it is your lust for books that invokes my devotion. A passion that I share —  a crazy passion, that  I have blogged upon on more than one occasion:

The (Christmas) Tree of Knowledge,

Bookish,

and,

Bibliomania, A Spiritual Diagnosis.

Recurring outbreaks of Bibliomania are problematic for this bipolar soul — and expensive. It is a professional hazard.

Allow me to quote myself!

“Now books are my thing — my very best thing. Besides being a professional Christian, I am a professional bibliophile. I do collection development at Bishop Payne Library. Like Juan Valdez who picks the Columbian coffee beans one by one, I help select thousands of new titles each year one book at a time. When you see me at the circulation desk drooling over the Times Literary Supplement, I am not goofing off; I am doing my job.

Not only do I help select them, in fact, I also read them. Not thousands of them, of course, but lots.”

And the temptations are great. Perusing university presses in the past few weeks, I have yielded to this temptation on many an occasion.  So impatient am I to have the book in my hot little hands immediately, I download them with a single click onto my Kindle or overnight them  to my front door.

My tastes are eclectic. At any one time, I am reading three or four books at a time. My appetite is is not just voracious, it borders on gluttony. My eyes are way bigger than my frontal lobe, and all those other parts of my brain that reading involves.

My reading list is my mood chart. It is a “gentle madness” but a madness nonetheless.

Herewith are the last month’s additions to my library — both electronic and paper bound. Each is listed with a little description. Click on each to catch the madness. It’s contagious you know.

American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States, Sean McCloud, Oxford University Press, 2015. This modern grimoire “examines Third Wave spiritual warfare, a late 20th – early 21st century moment of evangelicals focused on banishing demons from human bodies, material objects, land, regions, political parties and nation states. While Third Wave beliefs may seem far removed from what many scholars view as mainstream religious practice, McCloud argues that it provides an ideal case study for some of the most prominent tropes within the contemporary American religious landscape.” SPOOKY SCHOLARLY FUN.

Forgiveness 4 You: A Novel, Ann Bauer, Overlook Press, 2015. “At once a brilliant satire set in the world of advertising and a serious reckoning with religion, this is a startlingly contemporary novel about faith and religion in an America addicted to quick fixes and instant gratification.”  A 21st century secular twist on medieval indulgences. CYNICALLY DELICIOUS.

Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, Matthew Beaumont, Verso Books, 2015.“Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night,” wrote the poet Rupert Brooke. Before the age of electricity, the nighttime city was a very different place to the one we know today – home to the lost, the vagrant and the noctambulant. Matthew Beaumont recounts an alternative history of London by focusing on those of its denizens who surface on the streets when the sun’s down. If nightwalking is a matter of “going astray” in the streets of the metropolis after dark, then nightwalkers represent some of the most suggestive and revealing guides to the neglected and forgotten aspects of the city.” MOODY and MYSTERIOUS.

Gratitude, Oliver Sacks, 2015.  “It’s the rare person who counts his blessings upon learning he’s “face to face with dying.” But Oliver Sacks did just that.  In January, Sacks, the neurologist and author of such books as “Awakenings” (1973) and “Musicophilia” (2007) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. During the months before his death in August, Sacks wrote a series of heart-rending yet ultimately uplifting essays. In them, he shared his thoughts about how he wished to live out his days and about his feelings on dying. Now collected in a beautiful little volume, “Gratitude” is a lasting gift to readers.” HOLY GROUND.

God Mocks: A History of Religious Humor from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert, Terry Lindvall, NYU Press, 2015. “In God Mocks, Terry Lindvall ventures into the muddy and dangerous realm of religious satire, chronicling its evolution from the biblical wit and humor of the Hebrew prophets through the Roman Era and the Middle Ages all the way up to the present. He takes the reader on a journey through the work of Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, Cervantes, Jonathan Swift, and Mark Twain, and ending with the mediated entertainment of modern wags like Stephen Colbert.”SCHOLARLY ROLLICKING GOOD TIME.

The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, Frans de Waal, 2013. “The ease with which our brain suspends reality—call it irrationality, imagination or faith—has been crucial to the development of religion in human culture, according to de Waal, a respected primatologist and avowed atheist. He has a scientist’s curiosity about religion. Unlike prominent neo-atheists of our time, he has no interest in disproving God’s existence or proving that religion poisons everything. Instead, in this richly observed and intelligent book, de Waal ponders our natural receptiveness to religion, how religion evolved and what if anything might take its place.” FAITHFULLY MIND STRETCHING.

The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women, Paula Kelly Hairline, Oxford University Press, 2014. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced the practice of plural marriage in 1890. In the mid- to late nineteenth century, however–the heyday of Mormon polygamy–as many as three out of every ten Mormon women became polygamous wives. Paula Kelly Harline delves deep into the diaries and autobiographies of twenty-nine such women, providing a rare window into the lives they led and revealing their views and experiences of polygamy, including their well-founded belief that their domestic contributions would help to build a foundation for generations of future Mormons.” FORGOTTEN VOICES.

 

Alcohol: A History,  Rod Philips, University of North Carolina Press, 2014. “Whether as wine, beer, or spirits, alcohol has had a constant and often controversial role in social life. In his innovative book on the attitudes toward and consumption of alcohol, Rod Phillips surveys a 9,000-year cultural and economic history, uncovering the tensions between alcoholic drinks as healthy staples of daily diets and as objects of social, political, and religious anxiety. In the urban centers of Europe and America, where it was seen as healthier than untreated water, alcohol gained a foothold as the drink of choice, but it has been more regulated by governmental and religious authorities more than any other commodity. As a potential source of social disruption, alcohol created volatile boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable consumption and broke through barriers of class, race, and gender.” AN HONEST TALE OF OUR DRUG OF CHOICE.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi Kline, Simon & Schuster, 2014. “Klein exposes the myths that are clouding the climate debate.

We have been told the market will save us, when in fact the addiction to profit and growth is digging us in deeper every day. We have been told it’s impossible to get off fossil fuels when in fact we know exactly how to do it—it just requires breaking every rule in the “free-market” playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies, and reclaiming our democracies.” A BOOK DONALD TRUMP SHOULD (BUT WON’T) READ.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, 2013.  “If you find the grubby spectacle of today’s Washington cause for shame and despair — and, really, how could you not? — then I suggest you turn off the TV and board Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest time machine. Let her transport you back to the turn of the 20th century, to a time when this country had politicians of stature and conscience, when the public believed that government could right great wrongs, when, before truncated attention spans, a 50,000-word exposé of corruption could sell out magazines and galvanize a reluctant Congress. The villains seemed bigger, too, or at least more brazen — industrial barons and political bosses who monopolized entire industries, strangled entire cities. And “change” was not just a slogan.” ONCE UPON A TIME, PRESIDENTS LOOKED LIKE THIS.

What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund, Vintage Books, 2015.  “It explores a simple but confounding question, one the author wrests from theorists literary and otherwise and presents this way: “What do we see when we read? (Other than words on a page.) What do we picture in our minds?” Mr. Mendelsund looks at these questions from a thousand angles, zooming in and out as if surveilling them with Google Earth. Because the author is also the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf, “What We See When We Read” is heavily and often whimsically illustrated. This would-be TED talk includes a PowerPoint presentation, one that’s redolent of X-Acto knives and drawing tables and graphic design software and clunky eyeglasses.” A PICTURE BOOK FOR BIBLIOPHILES.

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, Matthew B. Crawford, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2015. “Crawford investigates the intense focus of ice hockey players and short-order chefs, the quasi-autistic behavior of gambling addicts, the familiar hassles of daily life, and the deep, slow craft of building pipe organs. He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology, and becomes more comprehensible when understood as the coming to fruition of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature.” MIND BOGGLING.

The Heart Goes Last: A Novel, Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015. “Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. Living in their car, surviving on tips from Charmaine’s job at a dive bar, they’re increasingly vulnerable to roving gangs, and in a rather desperate state. So when they see an advertisement for the Positron Project in the town of Consilience – a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own – they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month, swapping their home for a prison cell.” A DYSTOPIAN ROMP.

Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness, Heather H. Vacek, Baylor University Press, 2015. “In Madness, Heather H. Vacek traces the history of Protestant reactions to mental illness in America. She reveals how two distinct forces combined to thwart Christian care for the whole person. The professionalization of medicine worked to restrict the sphere of Christianity to the private and spiritual realms, consigning healing and care—both physical and mental—to secular, medical specialists. Equally influential, a theological legacy that linked illness with sin deepened the social stigma surrounding people with a mental illness. The Protestant church, reluctant to engage sufferers lest it, too, be tainted by association, willingly abdicated care for people with a mental illness to secular professionals.” A TANGLED WEB OF THEOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY.

and last,  but by no means least,

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ with artwork by Yayoi Kusama, Penguin Classics, 2012. “Since childhood, Kusama has been afflicted with a condition that makes her see spots, which means she sees the world in a surreal, almost hallucinogenic way that sits very well with the Wonderland of Alice. She is fascinated by childhood and the way adults have the ability, at their most creative, to see things the way children do, a central concern of the Alice books.” AN EYE POPPING DELIGHT.

Do I have all of these books? Yes.

Am I reading all of these books? No, not exactly.

The page total combined of all of the above comes to  about a gazillion (or thereabouts!). I have read a few; I am digging into several; paging through some; and skimming a few. I can assure you, though, that I have read all of the dust covers!

So many books, so little time.

JoaniSign

 


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It’s a 61-derful Life!

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1965, A very good year.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite Christmas movie. In fact, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie period. Not because it is full of holiday cheer, it is not. The 1947 film’s focus is on an attempted suicide.  The grainy black and white photography perfectly fits the mood. (The colorized version is an abomination!) The inebriated George Bailey is about to throw himself off a bridge. But before he plunges in, the Angel Clarence beats him to it.

Someone is about to be rescued. Someone is about to sprout wings.

Clarence walks George backwards through his life. Through all the light and all the dark and all the gray, through all the crap and all the joy, through all his years — and it still turns out to be a wonderful life.

“The glory of God is a human being full alive!” – St. Irenaeus, 4th C.

When I was 40, I would have told you that 60 was old.

Now that I am 60, sixty is the new forty. No, let me rephrase that. Sixty is better than that. 60 is like being two rocking 30 year olds. (Within reason, of course!)

And now I am on the verge of turning 61. On February 28th, I turn 61-derful!

Cosmically speaking SpaceTime can stretch; SpaceTime can contract. But the arrow of time travels in only one direction. With each passing year, we grow older. With each passing year, we dig deeper. With each passing year, we live larger. With each passing year, we become who God created us to be.

I no longer see the world through rose colored glasses. I see the world through progressive lenses – beautiful, breathtaking, heart breaking, and bittersweet. In six decades my life has progressed and regressed and progressed again  in O’ so many ways.

Let me count them down. Listed below are touchstones, milestones, and millstones (with a little parenthetical commentary!).  All linked and connected —  for better and for worse — throughout my 61-derful years.

2016. Mind Over Matter, Atlas Intersections Festival ( A star is born!)

2015. My 4th (brain) child, Unhinged, April 25, 2015

2014. Emmanuel on High (My spiritual home)

2013. Real Girls Run 13.1 (and Walk 13.1!)

2012. The Artist’s Way (Journaling each day)

2011.Huntley Meadows Wildlife Preserve (Enchanted Forest)

2010. All Saints, Sharon Chapel (A Way Station)

2009. Bishop Payne Library (Bibliomania!)

2008. Ten Thousand Villages (Fair Trade Fridays)

2007. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (A little help from our friends)

2006. South Meadows Condominiums (Me, myself, and I!)

2005. St. George’s, Fredericksburg (Interim time)

2004, Saint In-Between

2003. Dominion Hospital (Crazy time)

2002. D*I*V*O*R*C*E

2001. Holy Cross, A Space Oddysey

2000. A Closet full of Bridesmaid Dresses (Job search)

1999. Emerald Isle Sabbatical

1998. The Diocese of Virginia (Committees, committees, committees)

1997. AT&T Wired Wirelessly!

1996. WHFStival (Rock on!)

1995. Mount Vernon Community School (and the Caboose!)

1994. St. Luke’s, Alexandria (Sometimes Wellington)

1993.Politics & Prose (DC Book Store Extraordinaire)

1992. Shrine Mont (Fried Chicken, But Rolls & Apple Butter)

1991. Virginia Theological Seminary (What I want to be when I grow up.)

1990. George Mason University (A belated college degree)

1989. The Voyage of the Minivan (Three kids in tow!)

1988. Frisco Island, The Outer Banks (Ribbons of Sand)

1987. Jacob Nathaniel Peacock Clark (Indie Gamer Extraordinaire!)

1986. Immanuel on-the-Hill (Launchpad)

1985. 212 East Windsor Avenue (Delray!)

1984. Colleen Noel Peacock Clark (Development Director Extraordinaire!)

1983. Freddie Mac (The IT Crowd)

1982. Zachariah John Peacock Clark (Indie Film Maker!)

1981. Computer Learning Center (No link to be found!)

1980. The Springs Montessori School (Primarily a teacher)

1979.Library of Congress Reading Room (Study away!)

1978. The Montessori Institute (The Halls of Maria)

1977. The Key, The Biograph & The Georgetown Theaters (Subtitles!)

1976. Bicentennial Moments at The Reflecting Pool

1975. Spanish Education Development Center (Se habla español?)

1974. The Potter’s House (Coffee!)

1973. Catholic University (Philosophizing)

1972. William, the boy next door, 5/19/1972

1971. May Day Protest of the Vietnam War (Skipping school)

1970. Immaculata Preparatory School (Brainy school)

1969. La Reine High School (Jock school)

1968. Holy Family 8th Grade Valedictorian

1967. Expo ’67, Montreal, Canada (Foreign travels)

1966. “Remember You’re a Peacock” (my dad)

1965. Saint Veronica (Confirmation 101)

1964. Lady Bird Johnson makes America beautiful again.

1963. November 22, 1963 (Tragedy)

1962. “Grounding Rounds & Rattling Beads” (Communion)

1961. “In her house are many dwelling places” (Salvation)

1960. A Catholic in the White House (JFK)

1959. “Are you my mother, Mother Mary?” (my mom)

1958. Hillcrest Heights Brick Colonial (home)

1957. Marlow Heights Semi-detached (home)

1956. Anacostia Row House (home)

1955. Providence Hospital, 2/28/1955 (Ground Zero!)

Happy Birthday!!!

JoaniSign


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The (Christmas) Tree of Knowledge

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Me and my tree, Bishop Payne Library, 2015.

I built a Christmas tree out of books.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. I work (at least part of the time) in a library.

Deeply rooted in theological knowledge, I built my tree out of old National Union Catalogues, Anchor Bible Commentaries, and dusty volumes of Luther’s Works. A novel here, a dictionary there, a little liturgics, a little pastoral care, some lights, and voila – a veritable tree of wisdom!

It took about 300 books. Hardbacks work best. And literally every branch of the tree sprouted from someone else’s library: read, marked, inwardly digested, discarded from or donated to Bishop Payne Library.

When clergy retire, downsize, or go to their greater glory, their books often are bequeathed to the seminary. Sorting through boxes of old musty books might seem like a pain in the ass, but for me it is a rare privilege. It is a labor of love.

As I pull books out of boxes, it’s like pulling up a chair in the pastor’s study. Running my fingers across the spines, I inventory their interests and note their passions. Counting the volumes, I calculate the year of their graduation and the years of their career.  Dating the collection, I witness their ministry both rise and fall.

It is deeply personal.

Handling the books one by one, sometimes a little something will fall out: a letter, a photograph, a Christmas card — a little intimate window into the mind of another.

A library speaks volumes on the state of one’s soul.

So what does my library say about me?

My library occupies every room in my house – except the bathrooms! Even my hallways are lined with bookshelves. (I have a Kindle too, but that really doesn’t count.)

Just this past week, my daughter Colleen asked me to choose my seven favorite books. She said to take pictures of the spines and send them to her. It has something to do with my Christmas present, I think, but I am not allowed to ask.:)

How can I possibly choose just seven? And OMG how long is this going to take? Well, somehow the Spirit moved and within fifteen minutes, I had selected them all.

Seven books are listed below. Each one represents approximately a seventh of my brain: its moods, its appetites; its insatiable curiosities.

So here we go.

The Book of Common Prayer

You saw this one coming, right? Lex orendi, lex credendi. We pray what we believe. For 500 years, these prayers have been shared  across both time and space. Even when I believe in nothing, I continue to pray.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I read this childhood classic in college.  There I fell in love with John Tenniel’s inky drawings and Lewis Carroll’s marvelous play on words. It became something of an obsession, which became my “Alice collection”. Visit my house and you will see, it obsesses me still.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

A no brainer (pun intended!) This is Kay Redfield Jamison’s eloquent and elegiac story of her own bipolar life – both personal and professional. She is my manic-depressive hero.

Carmina Gadelica

Literally translated, it means Gaelic Songs. This is Alexander Carmichael’s 19th century compendium of Celtic charms, prayers, and invocations. A civil servant, he collected them in the Outer Hebrides while auditing books. Divine music to soothe my pagan soul.

Joan of Arc, a History

Helen Castor’s masterful book tells the tale of the Maid of Orleans – my saintly namesake, Joan. Like her, I do confess that I have heard voices from time to time.

A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books

My nerdiest passion is reading books about books. There is nothing more delicious and decadent than reading a book about books – this one in particular. Be still my heart, Nicholas Basbanes!

 Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution

In the beginning was the Big Bang. In the beginning was the Word. Science is this theology student’s final frontier. Thanks to great translators, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, reading science has become my Lectio Divina.

Seven is a very revelatory number. Seven little books to reveal my soul.  Possibly they say more than could be said in ten years of therapy – bibliographically speaking!

(Thank you, Colleen!)

This little spiritual exercise  has been healing, hopeful, fruitful and fun — all very good things at this time of the year.

So go ahead and choose your seven!

Select seven books that speak your mind and sing to your soul. Mix them and match them. Run your fingers along their spines, recall their pages, and hold them close. Take them and build a little tree of wisdom – a Christmas tree of knowledge.

Inhale their aroma as incense rising to the heavens.

And may The Word that resides in the words of your seven — bless you seventy-times-seven  this Holy Yuletide!

JoaniSign


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Bookish

bookish heart pages folded

The true heart of a bibliophile.

This blogger wants to turn U&U into a book.

Doesn’t every blogger want to turn their blog into a book?

Now books are my thing – my very best thing. Besides being a professional Christian, I am a professional bibliophile. I do collection development at Bishop Payne Library. Like Juan Valdez who picks the Columbian coffee beans one by one, I help select thousands of new titles each year one book at a time. When you see me at the circulation desk drooling over the Times Literary Supplement, I am not goofing off; I am doing my job.

Not only do I help select them, in fact, I also read them. Not thousands of them, of course, but lots. My reading tastes are eclectic. Currently checked out on my library card are: Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood”; Thoreau’s “Walden Pond”; a text called “Varieties of Anomalous Experiences”; “The Penguin History of Canada; “Collected Ghost Stories” by R.M. James; and Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” – just to name a few.

I even have thought of starting a book blog: The Year of Reading Manically – but that’s another blog post for another day.

Reading books and buying books do not qualify me to be a writer of books. Blogging does not make me an author. But all of this helps. It helps a lot.

Two months ago, I met Meredith Maslich at the Story District coming out party. Meredith wears multiple hats. She is both a Story District instructor and also the founder and editor-in-chief of Possibilities Publishing. – “a small , independent publishing house…living in the dynamic space beside traditional publishing where anything is possible.”

I checked out their website and gave her a call. Meredith was kind enough to have coffee with me and give me the lay of the land.

U&U is unique, she said, but you don’t just randomly plop your blog into a book. Folks already read it for free. You need a story, a real story that pulls it all together. You need a really compelling narrative arc (I love that phrase “narrative arc”.) You want to  make people really want to turn the pages.

So I asked myself and Meredith, “Now for me what would that be? “ “Look at your most popular posts”, she said ,“That will give you a clue.”

 Well that’s easy. My most popular post of the 66 I’ve published so far is Naked in Public – or Coming Out Crazy. It’s a funny, frank, and informative piece about my aversion to locker room nudity as a metaphor for coming out of my particular closet.

What makes it so popular though is not the compelling content but  the title. “Naked in Public” is a very catchy catch phrase often used as search terms on Google and other nefarious search engines.

The post also includes “The Joani Slideshow” produced by documentarian friend, Kristin Adair. It’s also been viewed a billion times – but only to disappoint the viewers. The closest to naked I get is a slide of me sitting on the couch, wearing pajamas, eating cereal, and watching The Andy Griffith Show. (So sexy!)

But talking to Meredith made me realize that all 66 of my posts are about being Naked in Public. With each post I continue to come out of my closet. I continue to come out crazy – in new and different ways: vulnerable, scared, liberated, and alive. I have come alive more each week, as I have helped others get naked too.

So that’s my narrative arc. That’s what my book will be all about – this thread that runs through U&U.

So I am taking a Story District class to help me pull the pieces together. I’ve joined Monkeys with Typewriters, a weekly Meetup for creative types (all half my age!) And I’ve signed up at Possibilities Publishing for an online tutorial starting in January – kind of like Authorship 101.

In 2016, I hope to write a book. And I hope like blogging, I will have the discipline in writing to crank out a chapter or two every week or two.

So dear followers, you will see and hear less of me. I will still post here from time to time – once a month or so. At some point next year U&U will withdraw into its cocoon hopefully to re-emerge as a real live book — both in print, of course, and downloadable for your Kindle. It is the 21st century after all!

So please, pray for me and wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted, one chapter at a time!

JoaniSign


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Silence. Quiet. Shhhh!

shhhlibrarian_jewelry_case

The Zen master of  the library –  recognize her?

 I am not by nature a quiet person.

Third child in a household of six, I had to speak up loud and clear to be heard. An extrovert par excellence, I am compelled to fill awkward silences in awkward conversations. A social butterfly — who works in a library – I am often shushed by the Head Librarian. In fact, last year at my stellar annual review discussing “room for improvement” my boss told me:

“Joani, you need to remember to use your library voice.”

Yes, my library voice.

As the noisiest person on staff  I am positioned in the perfect place – at the circulation desk. I love getting to know whoever comes through those front doors — studious students, various visitors, crazy clergy, fastidious faculty, steadfast staff.

Checking books out — I deal in public relations. Checking books in — I do a fair amount of pastoral care. We talk church politics. We talk reading assignments. We talk family. We talk churchmanship. We talk theology. We talk mental health. We talk small talk. We even talk a little bit of trash. (Shhh!)

I am a noisy and priestly librarian want-to-be. An Anglican who LOVES the OUT LOUD prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, I would make a very lousy Quaker.

A very lousy Quaker indeed.

Yet even in this loud mouth beats a somewhat contemplative heart.

I am no stranger to quiet. In fact, I love quiet. I live on my own and all alone and very rarely am I lonely.

I live in a third floor walkup. Two bedrooms and two baths — it is my sacred and solitary space. Alone in my cell, I am free to walk around in my skivvies and turn up the volume on my Spotify. I love to light my gaslight fire and curl up on my couch with a good book and a bowl of cereal.

It is my sanctuary.

I walk alone. An Olympic walker, I constantly check the stats on my Fitbit. I have taken 6,011, 861 steps  — alone. I have walked 2546 miles — alone. I have burned 1, 387, 139 calories — alone. Well mostly alone.

Walking  — my head is freed up to think about everything or nothing at all. Silently walking the streets of Capitol Hill, the Old Town waterfront, the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park, St. Theo’s Holy Island –I think, I write,  I fantasize and pray.  While walking, I meditate, negotiate, and investigate.  I regulate, navigate, and instigate —

silently walking alone.

Stopping along the way  — I go coffee shop  hopping — alone. Silently sitting, nursing my latte, watching people come and go, I catch snatches of conversations – little bits of meaning – in all kinds of languages – haikus of wisdom. I pull out my notebook and write and write and write.

In high school,  I’d   go —  alone — to THE LIBRARY – the Library of Congress reading room. A hushed sanctuary, it smelled of wood polish and old books. I’d do my homework and write my essays on those lovely wooden desks lit by green shaded lamps. Here in this holy of holies, I first read Thomas Merton’s “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.”

 Journal-like it is not a journal. Theological, it is not the least bit systematic. Seemingly random, it is deeply reasoned. Mystical, it’s down to earth meaningful.  A monk in a Trappist monastery, Merton writes as a man of the world.

A man alone — a man who practices sacred silence — he has much to say. And what he says — he says in a few paragraphs, with a few sentences, and with a few well chosen words. (All the better for that long ago high schooler to understand.)

“Above all, these are the day-to-day impressions, the simple conjectures of a man in his own world with its own challenges. It is a monastic world, and doubtless strange to those who have no experiences of such a thing. Yet it is, I think, open to the life of experience of the greater, more troubled, and more vocal world beyond the cloister. Though I often differ strongly from the ‘world’, I think I can be said to respond to it. I do not delude myself that I am still not part of it.”

I am in no danger of entering a monastery anytime soon. But Merton does teach me that I really do have monastic moments. These monastic spaces help contain this  manic brain. These mindful and meditative places help expand this melancholy soul.

“One has to be alone, under the sky before everything falls into place and one finds one’s own place in the midst of it all…a spring morning alone in the woods…the ceremonies of the birds feeding in the wet grass.”

 Silence, quiet, shhhhh!

JoaniSign