Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Toms Shoes, One for One”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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