Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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By Any Other Name

At eight years old, I was an overtly and overly pious parochial school kid.

First in line for Friday confession, first in line for first Friday Mass. Holy cards falling out of my missal, I knew my Baltimore Catechism like the back of my hand.

Eight years old, I was destined to save souls.

Including little Ricky Berger’s soul. He was my friend who lived in the house behind mine. Ricky was a good kid. Fare and square in all his grade school dealings. Pretty good at kickball and quick to share his popsicle. He honored his father and his mother and he kept the Sabbath just about as good as any kid could.

Problem was, it was Saturday. Which everyone knew was the wrong day, it was supposed to be Sunday, of course. And God had ordained me to set little Ricky Berger right.

Stretched out on the lawn, sitting on the grass in his backyard, I looked him in the eye and told him:

Ricky, I am sorry, I really am but unless you are a Christian, unless you are a member of the ONE TRUE CHURCH, unless you believe in the holy name of JESUS, you are going to HELL.

 Yes, I did. That is what I said. So messed up, I know.

What a terrible friend I was.

Know it all, goody two shoes, go to the head of the class Joani – could not be more wrong. Secure in my faith, I used my religion to trash his. What kind of God was I taught to worship – that would condemn a little eight year old boy?

Does God have just one name?

Does God require only one kind of worship?

Each Sunday, I  stand before my congregation as an ordained minister, an Episcopal priest of 23 years. Leading worship of the Holy Three, the three person and undivided Trinity. All according to the Book of Common Prayer.

At Emmanuel, worship is my primary and passionate ministry, weekly weaving together the dozen or so moving parts of the liturgy into the bulletin for the people in the pews. Liturgy means “work of the people” and this is work I love.

Family at worship Srpague Pearce

“Family at Worship” Charles Sprague Pearce

And I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that we worship the Ultimate One, the One and Only Holy One, the one and only God.

But I have long struggled with my way or the highway theology.

Faith, by definition, is not the same thing as certitude. And Christianity is not a monopoly. If God’s truth can be contained, if you think you have captured God in a bottle – then that is some other genie in that bottle.

Are there not many ways up the mountain?

Does God not answer to a million names?

St Augustine wrote in the 4th Century:

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.

Followed up by philosopher Blaise Paschal, who famously quipped that we are all souls created with a God shaped hole — that only the sacred can fill.

And Augustine and Paschal, both got it from Paul. In Sunday’s reading from Acts, Paul gets it.

Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship. I found among them an altar with an inscription: ‘to an unknown god.’

 What therefore you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you.

Paul gets it. He gets that God did not just drop out of the sky and appear out of nowhere when Jesus was born. God is timeless, more ancient than the stars, beyond the event horizon of the Big Bang, we might say.

Paul’s listeners are accustomed to the methods of Socrates, philosophically inclined and spiritually curious.

From one ancestor he made all the nations…and he allotted the times of their existence…so they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from any one of us.

Paul speaks their language and quotes their poets.

For in him we live and move and have our being. For we, too are his offspring.

 In him….

 Not in idols of clay or gold or silver. Not in idols of success or money or sex.

But in the creator of the cosmos, in the “ground of our being” whose language is love and whose name Paul proclaims as the one and only God.

In recent weeks, I have prayed shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim brothers and sisters. I have joined in the mystical worship of the Orthodox – surrounded by icons and drenched in incense. I have worshiped at St Mattress in the Springs and at the Church of the Holy Comforter. (Wink, wink. Nod, nod.) And last Sunday, I prayed and sang with the Unitarians at All Souls, my daughter’s church in DC.

God was and is and will be in all these places, by whatever name God be called.

The Jewish tradition says God’s name is so sacred that it cannot be said aloud – so they give him seven nicknames that can be lifted up by the faithful in their prayers.

Islam, says that God has 99 names, all beautiful.

Christians, not to be outdone: one source catalogued 900 biblical names for God.

What unites us is the One God who listens, the One God who loves us enough to lean in and care about our prayers.

God listens no less if we call him Allah, or Buddha, or Krishna, or Jesus.

Though we Christians are pretty sure it’s Jesus who is really listening.:)

And last week at All Souls UU, I discovered this hymn – which turns out to be in myriad hymnals: Presbyterian, UCC, Methodist, and even one of our own. But I had never heard it before.

 It’s called “Bring Many Names”, by Brian Wren and its six verses are very apropos for today. So I had it printed in the bulletin for you to keep and take home.

At 8:00 at Emmanuel, we will read it together as a concluding prayer. And at 10:30, with the music director’s  help, I am going to make the congregation sing!

Bring many names, beautiful and good,

Celebrate, in parable and story,

Holiness in glory, living, loving God,

Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!

 

Strong mother God, working night and day,

Planning all the wonders of creation,

Setting each equation, genius at play:

Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!

 

Warm father God, hugging every child,

Feeling all the strains of human living,

Caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:

Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!

 

Old, aching God, gray with endless care,

Calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,

Glad of good surprises, wiser than despair;

Hail and Hosanna, old, aching God!

 

Young, growing God, eager and one the move,

Saying no to falsehood and unkindness,

Crying out for justice, giving all you have:

Hail and Hosanna, young growing God!

 

Great, living God, never fully known,

Joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,

Closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:

Hail and Hosanna, great, living God!

 

JoaniSign


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The Pseudo-Librarian, the Priest & Her Wardrobe

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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?

JoaniSign

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

 

 


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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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“Slow Down, You Move Too Fast”

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In the woods and in the groove, Sabbath time.

Remember “feeling groovy?”

This aging hippie certainly does.

Groovy is that “mellow yellow” mood so celebrated in the ‘60s. Groovy could be chemically induced tripping in your friend’s, Mary Jane’s basement.

Or groovy could be musically induced,  mind melding with the vinyl grooves of your favorite LPs. (Joni Mitchell being my drug of choice!)

But the hippie dippiest way to get your groove on was by “getting back to nature”.

Not too much nature, mind you, but just enough nature to pay quick homage to Mother Earth. Planting some vegetables, growing some “herbs”, skinny-dipping in the lake.

More recently, I got back to nature again, on retreat at Shrine Mont, with the good folks of Emmanuel on High, where,  Margaret Wohler, a gifted naturalist and artist at Huntley Meadows Wildlife preserve, introduced us to the lost art of illustration.

Like  “Lost Children in the Woods” she introduced us to “The Forest Unseen”.

Drawing, she said, helps us to pay attention. It helps us to slow way down. And her “way” was drawn out with lots and lots of extra “a’s”. We each got an art kit with a sketchpad and pencils.

“All you need are five basic shapes: a circle, a dot, a line, an angle, and a curve.”, Margaret said.

“Choose a spot to sit. Jot down the location, date, time, temperature, cloud cover. Close your eyes and listen for just a minute – 60 seconds. Then open your eyes and list everything you heard: birds, honking horns, wind in the trees, screaming babies.”

“Draw the big stuff first, then the little things.”

“Stay put. Look up. Look around you. The more you stay put the more you see. The more you see, the deeper you will go. The deeper you go, the slower you will go. And the more slow you go, the more you will know — not just about what’s is front of you – -but the more you will know about what’s going on inside you.”

(At least that is what I heard Margaret say.)

And so I sat for an hour in the woods, drawing trees and rusted out, old, discarded bathtubs — meditating and feeling groovy.

Recently this Celtic Warrior Woman trained to take on the three-day Warrior Challenge in The Patriot Running Festival in Williamsburg. And seriously train I did: walking up to 37 plus miles a week for 12 weeks for the Friday 5K, Saturday 8K, and Sunday 1/2 marathon.

That Friday morning, waiting for the Amtrak train to take me south, I sat down with my sketchpad for just the second time since Shrine Mont.

Now I have sat in this Civil War era station a bazillion times, idly and obsessively checking my phone, waiting on trains that rarely arrive on time. But this time, in the most mundane of places here I was – sketchpad in lap and pencil in hand.

I looked up and noticed the enormous, glass inset doors that lead to the tracks. So gorgeous, I had never noticed just how lovely they were – with simple, geometric patterns, arches, scalloped edges, and lots of rectangles.

I can draw this!

I had an hour’s wait for my train and thought sketching the doors would be a pleasant ten-minute diversion – maybe fifteen, max. In fact, however, I got into a groove and it turned into a sixty minute, mellow, mindful meditation.

First I sketched the doors, then the windows, the lanterns, the tracks and the buildings beyond, then the trees through the glass, the travellers on their way, their rolling bags and backpacks– all framed by those lovely doors – that I had so long ignored.

On the other end, my dear, dear friend, Pam picked me up in Williamsburg. She and I have been the best of friends since our seminary days – over twenty years. Very different people, we very much enjoy each other’s company. We gossip, laugh, shop, watch chick flicks, catch up, and confess all that is going on in our divergent worlds.

And best of all, we do the latter, floating in her pool.

The weekend was pretty well planned around my three day’s walking the Patriot Running Event —  and  Pam was charioteer-ing me wherever I needed to go. (Thank you, Pam!) But between the races, the two of us planned to pack in as much playtime as we possibly could.

So before I went, I gave myself permission — that while I was indeed getting my warrior on – it was perfectly okay to opt out of any or all parts of the Warrior Challenge.

Too much “works” and not enough “grace” can make Joani – a manic, manic soul.

So all three days we floated, floated in the pool — lazy and stretched out in the sun, gazing up at blue skies, listening to the birds and the wind in the trees, listening to the murmuring of the filter motor and the rumbling of lawn mowers.

And best of all, floating with my best of friends, Pam and I talked and talked and talked. And just as lovely, we floated comfortably in silence.

So slow, so blissfully slow.

Slowing down and feeling groovy.

So I walked the 5K on Friday. Yea!!

I walked the 8K on Saturday. Yea!!

And yes, I have the medals to prove it (though one is made of plastic!).

And then on Sunday, I chose Sabbath time. Not church per se – but St Mattress in-the-Springs.

I slept in, stayed in my pajamas until 10 o’clock, drinking coffee with my friend, went to brunch at 11, came home and slipped into my swimsuit, slathered on the  SPF 100  –

And floated, floated, floated – my ½ marathon – floating in Pam’s pool.

My mania calmed.

My mood lightened.

My outlook brightened.

My spirit lifted.

My soul restored.

God, in Her Heaven, all right with my world.

Slow, slow, so slowed down.

Kicking down my cobblestones.

Feeling groovy.

Slow down, friends, don’t move too fast.  God wants you to make your morning last. And just like Her — on that seventh day —  take some sabbath time and get some rest. The world can revolve without you — at least for a little while.

Thanks be to God.

JoaniSign

 


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Missed it? No problem! SpeakeasyDC Unhinged on Youtube!

April 25th eight masterful storytellers took to the stage at Emmanuel on High before a packed house. The 300 plus folks in the pews laughed, cried, listened and learned to voices that are seldom heard.

Unhinged Picture Album, PhotographyByAlexander

The SpeakeasyDC performance was recorded. Five of the eight storytellers have elected to share the video version with the public.

Click on the links to watch and to hear the tales of Bipolar Joani, (Me!),Psychiatric Nurse Matt (Matthew Manning); OCD Bobak (Bobak Shafiei); Panic Attack Mike (Mike Kane), and Spill Your Guts Therapy Mikael (Mikael Johnson). All true stories worth hearing – and worth hearing again.

You will love them all, I promise!

SpeakeasyDC Unhinged April 25 on YouTube

Watch them anywhere, anytime on the device of your choice. Watch them alone or watch them with friends. Watch them just to enjoy them. Watch them to learn something new.Talk about them and share them anyway and anywhere you can.

Lean in and listen. You likely may recognize friends and neighbors, family and loved ones. You may very likely recognize the likes of yourself.

That’s a good thing. You are not alone.

Everybody, yes everybody is a little bit Unhinged!

Thanks again to all the sponsors who made this possible: Emmanuel on High, The Friends of the Alexandria City Mental Health Center, Virginia Theological Seminary,  Bishop Shannon Johnston, and many, many, many TinyGivers!

Thanks be to God!

JoaniSign


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Tickets for “Unhinged”! Free! Please RSVP to SpeakEasyDC!

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Unhinged: True Stories about Living with Mental Illness premiers live on the SpeakeasyDC stage April 25th, 8:00 pm, at Emmanuel on High (no, not Immanuel on the Hill!), 1608 Russell Rd, Alexandria, VA.

Eight masterfully crafted first person tales of living with mental illness, loving someone with mental illness, or working in the field of mental illness.

Tickets are now available. The performance is free. Please RSVP to SpeakeasyDC. Click on the link to reserve a seat.

http://speakeasydc.com/events/item/unhinged

Let’s pack the house and make a difference.

Hope to see you there.

JoaniSign


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Pitch Your Story by February 25 for Unhinged: True Tales of Living with Mental Illness, April 25 – Updated Form!

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Colorfully coming Unhinged.

 

Dear followers of U&U,

I hope you read my recent post, U&U Coming to a SpeakEasyDC Stage Near U, April 25. (http://wp.me/p4wnf7-hr). Now here is your invitation to join me on stage for Unhinged: True Stories about Living with Mental Illness. True tales told live to make a difference!

Interested? Here’s the opportunity to pitch your own story. Here’s whats required. All the info is  in link below. Summarize your tale in 1600 characters or less, give us your contact information, and click “submit”! Selected storytellers need to commit to 4-6 group rehearsals prior to the performance.Stage fright? Don’t worry. All storytellers will be professionally coached!

http://speakeasydc.com/shows/pitch-your-story (choose “unhinged”)

JoaniSign