Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian

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Sur/real: NPR Invisibilia w/Story District!

Woo hoo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So take a listen to 47 minutes of great stories.

NPR Invisibilia Live with Story District Podcast

Or watch the the Sur/real performance on YouTube!

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

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The Pseudo-Librarian, the Priest & Her Wardrobe


1963. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Brown courdouroy smocked dress and white puffy blouse. Navy blue polka dot shift and striped Danskins. Parochial school uniform and Peter Pan collars. Mary Janes, saddle shoes, and Keds.

1973. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Peasant dresses, halter tops, and army jacket. Denim cutoffs, bellbottom pants, and macrame belts. Parochial school uniform and Oxford cloth shirts. Platforms, flip flops, and saddle shoes.

1983. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Pleated skirts and cardigan sweaters.  Padded shoulders and tailored slacks. Designer jeans, and tasteful flats.

1993. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Khaki trousers, corduroy jumpers, and denim overalls. Cotton turtlenecks, kilts and tights. Embroidered vests and cable knit sweaters. Black flats, brown flats, and tennis shoes.

2003. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Target basics and Talbot’s work clothes. Cotton sweats and running suits. Clergy shirts and clerical collars. Random flats, Birkenstocks, and flip flops — in every color under the sun.

And thirteen years on.

2016. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Funky tunics and interesting tops. Comfy leggings and skinny jeans. Prints, patterns, and primary colors. Autumn hues and basic black. Dressy dresses and dresses just for fun. Lululemon trousers and button down shirts. Bits of ribbon and bits of lace. TOMS, saddle shoes, ASICS, and a multitude of multicolored flats.

I have both lost and found myself in my wardrobe.

Middle child, parochial school girl, head of the class.

Flower child, high school nerd, and rebel without a cause.

Computer programmer, working mom, sometimes a wife.

Seminary student, kindergarten volunteer, and Del Ray mom.

Parish priest, divorcee, and mostly manic.

Half marathoner, storyteller, blogger, irreverent reverend, and pseudo-libarian.

I have lost and found myself in my wardrobe.

Clothes are the window dressing of the soul. Spiritual expressions of our psyches and personalities. Creative expressions of our passions and our moods.

In my darker days, my wardrobe was all solid colors. No prints. Basic and boring. I would buy three colors of the same pants and the same sweater.

All the better to hide in. All the better to disappear.

Those dark days are long — and hopefully forever — gone.

How do I know?

Because my wardrobe therapist tells me so.

My therapeutic fashion consultant, Stephanie Hernandez, helped me work through my closet issues.

Stephie is a very good friend of my awesome daughter Colleen. Stephie is a young LCSW with a passion for style and an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s the founder of  “Look Good, Feel Good” — “a therapeutic approach to finding your personal style.”

A brilliant idea! This bipolar soul signed herself up right away!

Personable, warm, and observant, Stephie first sat down on my couch and we had a chat. I walked her through a “regular day” so she could learn about my bipolar life — both at work and at play. I gave her a one minute tour of my condo and then we took a thirty minute walk through my wardrobe.

And then for the next half hour, we played dress up. Mixing and matching funky and flattering combos, Stephie helped me come up with outfits that I can wear just about anywhere: @ LOC, @EEC, walking Del Ray, or strolling DC.

Working with Stephie made me feel so much cooler and so much cuter than I actually am!

It was very therapeutic.

It was so much fun!

“Look Good, Feel Good Style”

It’s not just a catchy slogan, it’s fashion philosophy.

I recommend Stephanie Hernandez and her new enterprise most happily!

So friends, what’s in your wardrobe?


Note: Also posted on Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating




How to Get a Date Worth Keeping!


Blog post #79.

On one of my most popular topics — my so called dating life (or lack there of)!

Check the archives!

“Sex and the Single Vicar”

“Call Me Stupid, I am on OKCupid!”

“Disharmony, Smarmony: The eHarmony Expose”

and now…

“How to Get a Date Worth Keeping!”

It is fantastic. It is hilarious. It is poignant. It is true.

But….sorry, there is nothing to read here. This is a story you have to hear. You have to hear it live and in person.

Where?  When? How?

I am super psyched to tell you that “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping!” will be told at Story District’s 2nd Tuesday Show – “I Can’t Feel My Face: Stories about Altered States and Enlightenment” on February 9th at Town DanceBoutique.

(And there are 7 other great storytellers too!)

Want to come? Of course, you do. Here is all the info to get your tickets.

Story District. “I can’t feel my face”, February 9 at Town DanceBoutique

Come and cheer me on! Come and laugh (and cry) your ass off!

I would love to see you there!





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!


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Labor Pains & Stretch Marks

great with child

Theotokos, God-bearer, Truth-bearer.

It was Advent of ‘83 and I was pregnant with God.

Well at least a little bit pregnant with God.

That frosty November, I was new to the Episcopal Church and flattered beyond belief to be joining the worship planning committee. You see, I grew up Roman Catholic and Sunday services were just endless reruns of Father Knows Best. We lay folks stayed glued to our pews. Fenced off from the altar by a rail, we knew our place. Only the priest was allowed to perform those magical mysteries and pronounce God’s hocus-pocus.

So miracle of miracles in Advent of ’83 at Immanuel-on-the-Hill, and pregnant with my second child, I played the Theotokos. I played the Theotokos in a very awkward and makeshift, hippy-dippy liturgical drama – Mary, Pregnant with God.

Such a brilliant narrative arc! It was a three Sunday cycle through the three trimesters. On the fourth Sunday: pant; blow; PUSH!

It was my shortest pregnancy of record – so different from the previous three.

Being the mother of three, I have spent the better part of three years pregnant. And what my brain might not recall from those twenty-seven months – my body most certainly does:

Seasickness on land; nauseated with just one whiff of coffee (Best pregnancy test ever! I love the smell of coffee.); expanding waistline; swollen feet; wobbly gate; expansive in mood; energetic in spirit; exhausted by the smallest of efforts; cranky and uncomfortable; floating on hope; anxiety ridden; excited as hell; bursting with life.

Ladies, did I leave anything out?

You know that horrible hymn? Come labor on? Well God blessed me and gifted me with wide-birthing hips. So assisted by my friend, Gravity, I did not labor long.

I delivered my firstborn, Zach in just two and a half hours. Dainty daughter, Colleen was born in just four. And Jacob, number three, was nearly spontaneously birthed on the sidewalk outside the Emergency Room.

There was no time for drugs. There was barely time to get to the hospital and push.

So with the baby born and nuzzling at my breast, naturally manic me was euphoric squared, euphoric to the 1000th power. Blissfully exhausted and wide, wide awake, every little fiber of my being was belting out the Hallelujah Chorus.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given!

Now everyone has given birth. Be ye male or female, young or old, everyone, everywhere has given birth. Made in the image of the Creator, we are all fertile souls. And even if we are not in the business of procreation, we are all in the business of co-creation.

Over the course of the last nine (well actually eight) months, I birthed my fourth amazing child. And at sixty years of age, this is more than a minor miracle!

Back in September my bipolar brain conceived her. Formed in the pit of my stomach. Nourished by my frazzled flesh and bones. She kicked my insides and stole my sleep. A labor of love, she stretched me beyond knowing. Expanding in the dark — she was born in the light.

This past Saturday on April 25th.

SpeakeasyDC was both birth coach and midwife. Unhinged is her name.

Eight amazing storytellers told eight amazing stories about living with mental illness, loving someone with mental illness, and working in the field. Three hundred people packed the house. Laughter, tears, understanding, and standing ovations.

The truth was told: my truth, their truth, our truth, God’s truth, nothing but the truth.

Labor pains and stretch marks, the truth will set you free.

So friends, ready to get a little bit pregnant?



The Bartender Kid, the Bipolar Mom & The Bishop

people who drink old fitzgerald

I learned to make Old Fashions in 1965. I was nine. My father taught me by the book. A red hardbound cocktail cookbook, kept on the shelf behind the bar in our basement.

I still remember the recipe. My mother’s favorite. Equal shots of bourbon and water (Old Fitzgerald preferred.), sugar water boiled on the stove, bitters, and a slice of orange. In a Waterford glass.

I was quite the little bartender, and so were my siblings. Besides Old Fashions I could whip up a Tom Collins or a Gin & Tonic, on command, no problem. And when commanded, which was often, I would fetch my parents a beer from the fridge: Heineken for my mother, Lowenbrau for my father.

And in 1965 when I was nine the nightmares began. This one in particular:

My mom and I are alone driving down a highway in the sky. The sky is bright blue and the sun shines bright. We pass through fluffy marshmallow clouds. The highway is a thin ribbon with no beginning and no end. Just one lane. No shoulder. My mother is passed out drunk behind the wheel of our Plymouth station wagon. Somehow I slide into the driver’s seat and take her place. I clutch the wheel I can barely see over to steer. One tiny mistake left or right, and we crash into the abyss.

I wake up silently screaming.

My grandmother makes breakfast, my older sister packs our lunch, and my mom drives our carpool to school. A bit embarrassing to a nine year old, my mom often just threw her raincoat over her nightgown to get out the door and to get us to school on time.

Now my mom under the best of circumstances was not the best of drivers. Having learned to drive with a stick shift, she still drove the automatic with two feet. Clutching, breaking, we were never sure what she was doing.

She always drove under the speed limit, even on the interstate. She told us she only drove as fast as she felt safe. I remember slinking down in the back seat as cars whizzed by, drivers honking and flipping us the bird. I was both mortified and terrified that somebody would crash into us.

Miraculously no one ever did.

I was never aware that my mother was ever drunk when she was driving. But I can’t help but think that with all the medication she was on – prescribed and not prescribed – along with the Old Fashions, that indeed sometimes she was.

My mother loved us most dearly and never would have intentionally put us in harm’s way. But most sadly now I believe unintentionally likely she did.

Like my mother before me, I too am bipolar. And like my mother before me, I too am a terrible driver. I have no sense of direction and I am easily flustered behind the wheel. Even with Google Maps, I can get lost in my own backyard.

And while I do not share my mother’s addiction to alcohol, flights of mania have had me fly down the highway at rocket speeds. And in 2005 one very dark Sunday at the crack of dawn flying down I95, I fell asleep behind the wheel. My car crossed three lanes of traffic, crashed through the guardrail, rolled over twice, and landed on the shoulder on the opposite side of the road.

My roof was caved in. My windshield shattered. My front end folded like an accordion.

I could have been killed. But more horrifically I could have gotten other people killed. Someone’s loved one. Someone’s mom. Someone’s child.

All because I thought it so important that I get to church in time to preach on Stewardship Sunday. Even though I knew that my new combo of meds made me exceedingly drowsy — I thought I could shake it off by rolling down my windows or turning up my radio. I thought of pulling over a few times, but my bad judgment prevailed.

The impact of the crash woke me up. When the police arrived, they had to force open the driver’s side window. The officer leaned in and said, “Lady, are you all right?” I responded, “I’m fine, officer, but I have to go church.”

Blasphemy. In the name of God, I risked everything. In the name of God, I jeopardized the lives of God’s children. Innocent lives. A mortal sin — if there ever was one.

I was charged with reckless driving. But because my impairment was medicinal and not alcoholic or narcotic, the charges were dropped. It did not hurt either that I wore a clerical collar to court. I never wear a clerical collar. Blasphemy compounded.

All the mitigating circumstances did not mitigate the fact that I was responsible: Responsible for taking care of my illness. Responsible for my medication. Responsible for choosing to get behind the wheel of my car.

And so was my mother.

And so is Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook — held responsible in the hit and run fatal accident in Maryland that cost a 43 year-old Baltimore bicyclist his life.

All the circumstances are not known, but what is known is that she was charged four years ago of drunken driving and drug possession. She pleaded guilty to the first and the second charge was dropped. Her record was expunged in exchange for future good behavior.

Truly tragic from every possible perspective.

All over Facebook folks have been chattering. A prevalent sentiment expressed by clergy and others is that the bishop is just as human and prone to human frailty and sin as anyone else.

This I tragically know is so. There for the grace of God go we all.

Alcohol use and abuse is pervasive in the life of the church – at receptions, conventions, meetings, and meals. And it is too often ignored or excused and at great cost.

Alcoholism –along with alcohol abuse – is an illness, an insidious illness. An illness the bishop may likely have confessed to and for which hopefully she sought treatment. But her failed recovery likely cost the cyclist his life and untold grief for all those he left behind.

Possibly she was rushing off to church like I was. Very possibly under the influence and very possibly with her judgment impaired, she chose to get behind the wheel of her car — just like I did.

And she is just as responsible. No mitigating circumstances can mitigate that.

I pray for the Bishop’s recovery. But I pray more for the life that cannot be recovered and for those who grieve an unspeakable loss.

There for the grace of God go we all.

Therefore I implore you, sisters and brothers, this New Year’s Eve, to not drink and drive. Do not let a friend drive drunk. Toast the New Year with sparkling cider. Be the designated driver. And this very night you might save a life.

And please, dear God,  grant us the wisdom and the courage and the presence of mind needed to so make it so.