Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


“God Keeps No One Waiting Unless It Is Good for Them.”

Impatience, thy name was Dr. Peacock.

When I was growing up, my father, a busy and successful surgeon, did not like to wait. He would not take us anywhere he anticipated crowds or lines. He would never go to a restaurant without a reservation. When we went to the movies, we went at odd times, arriving late, sitting in the back and leaving early. Native Washingtonians, we never visited the White House or the Washington Monument. We never went to the Cherry Blossom Festival or the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

.“Too many tourists,” my dad would say. “Too much God damned trouble to wait in those god forsaken lines.”

No time to be patient, beloved, no time to be patient.

Waiting for Santa, Circa 1960

Now most us, including myself, much like my dad, count waiting as a colossal waste of time. And via the bazillion apps on our iPhones, iPads, and MACs, we need only navigate the net to have an instant Christmas.

Point, click and shop till you drop.

UPS and Federal Express or a guy on a Segue or an Amazon.dot.com drone will deliver to your doorstop a complete Christmas, from soup to nuts: the tree, the trimmings, the trappings, the presents and all the wrappings. Cyber-Monday, Cyber-Everyday eliminates the wait and takes us far from the maddening crowds.

Awesome Sauce! Right? Convenient for lives and calendars crammed with business appointments, committee meetings, carpools, school concerts, errands and chores. This is something close to a f*ing miracle! Successful people know that time is money — more precious than money.

Waiting is for chumps, for the clueless, for losers.

Waiting is for crazy people, waiting on the end of the world – with a specific date and time in mind for Jesus to return: survivalists stockpiling food, water, and toilet paper. Only wacky Millennialists (No, not Millennials, Millennialists!) wait on the impossible. Only wacky people wait on the mountain top for the space ship to come pick them up, beam them aboard, and fly them off to who knows where. Waiting on doomsday. Waiting for the end to come.

Two thousand years ago, the people of the church of St. Paul’s in Rome were busy waiting. They were keeping Advent, getting ready for something like a Christmas. Waiting, not for Santa, but for the Son of Man to return. He would come in glory and majesty, riding on the clouds in the company of angels. (Eat your heart out, Rudolph!)

Jesus promised he would be back. He said he would be back. So they kept vigil and they waited and they watched the skies and they yearned and they longed and they pined.

But no one came.

Be patient, beloved, be patient.

Now, patience is a virtue and sometimes the wait is worthwhile. Sometimes hanging in there is indeed worth it.  After all, what is grape juice compared to a fine wine? What are Cliff Notes compared to the plot twists of your favorite book? What is a cheap and tawdry affair compared to a life long love?

Waiting cultivates desire, illuminates our need and heightens our expectations. And in the end, waiting sharpens our pain, as well as, our joy.

The people of Saint Paul’s in Rome were not just idly waiting. They weren’t just biding their time for something better to come along. They were waiting for a taste of heaven. They were waiting on eternity.

Something like a Christmas came and something like a Christmas went, year after year, generation after generation. And the folks at Saint Paul’s began to feel a little silly, a little self-conscious. And these folks, they grew plain sick and tired of waiting. And Christians everywhere, it seemed, lost the will to wait.

When Jesus did not come riding in on the clouds, like a shining knight on a white horse, as he was long expected to, we just gave up on waiting.

It’s naïve, a childish thing, beyond belief.

So instead, we now wait just four weeks for the baby in the manger.

We wait just four weeks for the Jesus who has already come.

And yet, anyone who has been through the nine months of pregnancy, or lived with someone who has, knows that birthing a baby is much more than a waiting game.

Now many a woman has wished for an Instagram/Polaroid pregnancy but it just doesn’t work that way. At first, there is the anxiety. Is the stick pink or blue? Is that a plus or minus sign? Once you know for sure, the room begins to spin and you regularly lose your lunch. And while you struggle to keep down saltines, this new little life feeds on you body and soul. You grow large and full of life, as does your heart grow and groan with love and angst. And by nine months’ end you feel a little bit like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

No part of you, no crevice of your womb is left unfilled. Over a trinity of trimesters, expectation heightens. And all those who keep watch and wait hover around you. “When is it coming? When are you due?” Some even touch and grab onto your belly as if it were their very own. (Please, always ask first!)

Who is this little one coming, who has turned you inside out?

Who is this little one coming, who will turn the world upside down?

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…”

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion, and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.”   — Isaiah 11:1-10

Just like the people, two millennia ago, we are waiting on this little scrap of eternity, a little taste of heaven.

How do we tread this waiting-way? Well, here at Emmanuel, we have a little home grown devotional, Waiting Rooms: Poetry, Scripture & Icons for Advent. I am also leading a conversational class, God of the Cosmos & God in the Cradle on the four Sunday mornings of Advent at 9:15 AM between the services. Cocktails, Mocktails & Carols, Saturday December 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 PM joyfully previews the birth of the child. And Contemplative Christmas: A Taize Service of Evening Prayer, December 15th at 6:00 PM quietly anticipates the light of the coming Christ.

In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that the Spirit breathe life into our weary souls; that Christ’s light penetrate these dark days of December.

And let us pray, beloved, that with patience, once again,

Christ be born — flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone into this broken, beat up, and wonderful world.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

JoaniSign

“God keeps no one waiting unless it is good for them.” Oswald Chambers


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Reindeer, Rainy Days & Mondays

White Reindeer, Zach Clark Films, 2013.

 

Bipolar, I am very rarely down.
I live my life gloriously balanced in hypomanic and holy space.

This space is the woof and warp of my loony loom. Daily decisions, large and small, weave together the texture and color of my daily walk.

Yes.

Walking, talking, balking;

Reading, working, sleeping;

Lurking, leaping, housekeeping;

Netflixing, Hulu hopping, blogging;

Sermonizing, staff meet-ing, colleague conferencing;

Teaching, preaching, pastoring;

Cafe haunting, eatery slinking, coffee drinking;

Advocating, electioneering, volunteering;

FaceBooking, photo shopping, grocery shopping;

Floor mopping, dish washing, laundry folding;

Clothes modeling, junk recycling, riverfront hiking;

Story Districting, LIbrary (of Congress) docenting;

Eucharist celebrating, neighborhood organizing;

Writing, reflecting, philosophizing;

Socialzing, parenting, befriending;

Showering, singing, flinging.

Laughing.

Living.

Loving.

Entertaining angels unaware. 
Rainy days and Mondays rarely get me down.

Yet —

whirling and spinning, even I have to begrudgingly admit, that my psyche so wound up, eventually has to wind itself down.

Darker, wetter December days enter.

I feel a tug that pulls me downward

and closer to the earth.

An undercurrent of small sorrows,

lingingering losses,

little ripples of sadness,

lonely and alone.

Bittersweet, emotionally delicious,

I taste and touch the deeper parts

of my happy, happy manic soul.

Like the little blue girl in Inside Out,

“Sadness”  is a place we should not fear to go.

Sadness, sometimes, is exactly the place we need to be.

Tearing up in the shower is okay.

Soul searching on the subway. Also okay.

Channel surfing in your pajamas. Okay too.

Just let it be, 

at least for a little while,

but not too long.

Darker, wetter December days are holy days,

these holidays,

like rainy days and Mondays,

yes,

they sometimes weigh us down, 

but the darkness will be overwhelmed by the light,

by light,

most luminous,

Light Divne.

So from U&U:

A very, very,

merry, merry,

 happy, happy, 

manic-depressive Christmas to you!


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Frantic Friday, Manic Monday & The Season of Generosity

Woodies at Christmas downtown

We got all dressed up to go Woodies.

At Christmas, my mom would get us all dressed up to go shopping downtown in D.C. As a kid, this little corner of Washington was a wonderland to me. I remember pressing my nose up against the department store windows – bedazzled by animatronic snowflakes, snowmen, and Nativity scenes.

We’d go to lunch in the tearoom where we got to sit on Santa’s lap. We’d ride the elevator to every floor and at every stop — notions or housewares or lingerie — all of the clerks greeted my mother by name.

“Mrs. Peacock, how good to see you. How may I help you?”

At Garfinkels, Woodies, and Hechts she would charge up her Washington Shopping Plate. It was Christmas after all – time to load up on socks, mittens, and gloves. Time to splurge on fancy talcum powder and Christmas cologne, pierced earrings and cultured pearls, Instamatic cameras and baseball bats.

“Put it on my account,” she would say.

In my teenage years, my mom converted to catalogs. Long before online shopping or the Home Shopping Network, Christmas catalogs clogged our mailbox. I remember them being piled high in a basket in the family room by the couch. And I can see my mom sitting there — clear as day – leafing through them: LL Bean, Orvis, Land’s End, Sharper Image, Harry & David’s Fruit of the Month Club.

Armed with just a telephone and a credit card, my mom would shop until she dropped. Sometimes she would buy so much stuff, she would forget that she had bought it and buy it again. Sometimes she bought so much stuff, she would hide it in the attic or the trunk of her car. She would bring it in little by little – hoping that my father would not see.

Until the bills came, of course, and the sh*t hit the fan and my father hit the roof.

We always got tangerines and toothbrushes in our stockings – but it was the stuff under the tree that was the measure of my mom’s moods.

Unwrap a box and you would peek into her soul: bright on the outside, dark and disorganized on the inside.

One year she did all of her shopping at the drug store. She gave me a man’s thermal undershirt, a meat thermometer, and hot pads. Another year she did all of her shopping at the country club pro shop. I got golf balls, a golf glove, and a yellow sweater embroidered with golf clubs and putting greens.

I do not play golf. I have never played golf. It did not compute.

And that’s the point. A manic-depressive mind has no use for math. Bipolar brains are no good at budgets. That would require calculated decisions, measured judgment, and impulse control. Such minds have no concept of living within one’s means.

My bipolar brain included.

In my married years, I abdicated all my financial responsibilities to my skinflint ex-husband. I was the breadwinner and he was the stay-at-home dad. I made the lion’s share of the money but he managed it. He did all of the grocery shopping which was a blessing. He bought everything on sale including cornflakes and he would not buy a new box until the very last flake was eaten.

It wasn’t’ until I was on sabbatical in 1999 that I had my very own checkbook — for the very first time. I was 45 years old.

Now my money was mine to manage. A middle child, I sought to drive a middle course. But I am not a very good driver; I am my mother’s child. My finances too can be tracked by my moods – or is it the other way around?

In my dazzling days, I have charged up my credit cards.

In my dark days, I have neglected to pay my taxes.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.

I am embarrassed to bear this broken part of my bipolar soul. And I have worked very hard — for years — to balance this part of my brain.

My car is paid for.

My mortgage is small.

I am on an all cash diet.

I use a debit card whenever I can.

I pull out my credit card only in emergencies.

At least, I try.

Honestly, I still struggle daily to live within my means – especially at Christmas – so many shiny things to stuff into stockings and pile high beneath the tree.

So today as I write – on Black Friday — I am doing my best to sit on my wallet. On Cyber Monday, I will try to stay off of my Mac. And on Giving Tuesday, I will try to be as generous as I can without going into debt.

After all – generosity — is the reason for the season, right? At Christmas we celebrate the Holy One, born poor in a stable; the Holy One, homeless with no place to lay his head; the Holy One who preached good news to the poor; good news for those dirty shepherds who worked the late shift and watched their flocks by night.

He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He puts the mighty down from their thrones and

He exalts the lowly.

The hungry he fills with good things and

the rich be sends empty away.

And so I pray this Christmas,

That where my heart lies, so my treasure will be,

not just in the stockings and under the tree,

but spent for those in need,

for those in want and poverty,

spent in generosity.

JoaniSign