Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Pregnant with Possibility

Once upon an Advent, I became an Anglican. Year’s end of 1984, to be exact.

Raised Roman Catholic and having spent my early adulthood agnostic, my ex-husband William and I followed breadcrumbs back to church. Not back so much really as forward. Instead of returning to the pews of our youth, we accepted an invitation to attend Immanuel on-the-Hill. (Yes, the other Emmanuel, directly across the street from Virginia Seminary.) Zach, my firstborn son was just three and Colleen was not quite six months.

These little children led us to knock on the door of a church – a door we had not darkened for ages. The liturgy was strangely familiar – like a favorite old song but to a different tune. And — singing this new song was a vested woman at the altar! And we got to drink the wine, as well as, eat the bread. What a revelation this was!

Literally, leaving church on my very first Episcopal Sunday, the rector had a proposition for me.

Would you like to join the worship planning committee?

Not just volunteer to read or be an usher, but to be a lay partner along with the priest planning the services of the coming season?

Having grown up in a tradition, where women were only allowed behind the altar if they had a vacuum cleaner, I was gob smacked! Floored!

Of course, I would love to! Yes!

And I do confess, this committee work helped fulfill a lifelong fantasy of mine – to be cast as Mary in the Christmas concert. The fantasy of every little Roman Catholic girl  (and every little Protestant  girl, too, I imagine!)

The Nativity, Julie Vivas

And alas, it came to pass for me this Advent of 1984. Recently pregnant and obviously not a virgin, at long last I had snagged the part of the BVM. Not quite as embarrassing as liturgical dance, in lieu of a sermon, I starred in a three-part liturgical drama:

Mary! Pregnant with God!

Three parts. Three trimesters.

Advent 1. Surprised. Uncertain. Shaky. Nauseous. Scared.

Advent 2.  Blooming. Stretching. Aching. Hoping.

Advent 3. Heavy. Swollen. Sleepless. Bursting.

I burst into the Magnificat.

It was Advent in the Eighties, and I wore Blessed Mother blue.

This is the blue season. The hangings are blue. The candles on the Advent wreath, except one, are blue. The darkness of these blue winter days yearns for the light. 

And on Advent 4, we have walked almost all the way to Bethlehem. Walked beside a pregnant, unwed peasant girl.

“…she was found to be with child… Her husband Joseph…planned to dismiss her quietly… But an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit… She will bear a son and you are to call him Jesus…after the prophet Isaiah who said, ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel – which means ‘God with us.’”

Now this 1st century story is a hard sell in the 21st. Such an illustrious and exceptional birth was a common motif for the likes of emperors-turned-gods in the ancient world. And I confess to you, it has always been a conundrum to this Christian.

But Anglicans are unafraid to ask such questions.

Twenty-eight years ago, I crossed the street from my home parish Immanuel on-the-Hill to pursue a quest that has landed me in the pulpit this Sunday and many before. And the very first sermon I ever preached in homiletics class was on Advent 4, Matthew 1:18-25, the virgin birth.

And it went something like this; I quote myself below.

“Hail Mary, never virgin, the Lord is with thee.”

“A little bit shocking? But I did get your attention, right?”

“And what I mean by Hail Mary, never virgin, in the poetic sense, is that when it comes to God, Mary is anything but a virgin. She is vulnerable, bewildered and yet open to this pregnant impossibility. Conceiving within herself all that is divine, all that is holy.”

“Don’t get hung up on the biology, my fellow seekers. Focus on the theology. The meaning behind the mystery. Focus on the good news that the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

“Just as true in 1991, as it was in Year One.”

“How do we conceive this Word of Love within us? How do we hear it, speak it, shout it from the rooftops, live it?”

“Like Joseph, what dream of God do we dream?”

“Like Mary, what does our pregnant soul proclaim?”

After a dramatic and pregnant pause, I returned to my seat. I was pretty sure I had flunked my first sermon, but I got an A minus or maybe a B plus — I can’t quite remember.

And the seminary did not kick me out.

And for twenty-five years, “Emmanuel, God with us” is the gospel I still imperfectly preach. And I am so grateful these past five years to have been able to preach it here at Emmanuel on High. Again, on Advent 4, on Matthew 1:18-25, on the virgin birth.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. And my spirit rejoices in God my savior.


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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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U&U Coming to a Stage Near U: April 25, 2015, SPEAKEASYDC

speakeasydc

SPEAKEASYDC, Amy Saidman, Executive Director

 

I am a woman with a storied past. I tell stories here weekly  — stories most unorthodox and unhinged. Ghost stories, bedtime stories, bible stories, camp fire stories, family stories, horror stories, funny stories, glory stories, and true stories of a bipolar and sometimes balanced life. I tell the truth, the God’s honest truth and nothing but the truth one story at a time.

This is story #41.

There is no better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

And this woman is a devoted disciple of Jesus, the Story Teller. Whether you believe in Jesus or not really doesn’t’ matter. What matters is that Jesus was a hell of a storyteller. Seductively simple, Jesus’ arresting parables engage the head and disarm the heart. Folks who have never cracked open a bible in their lives immediately recognize the story of the Good Samaritan or the tale of the Prodigal Son.

No better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

The Bible is really just a book of family stories. Some confusing, some comforting, some terrifying, some edifying, some mortifying, some glorifying, some death defying, some life giving, some poignant, some tragic, some miraculous, some crazy, some healing. Some might even say saving stories.

No better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

So that is what I do for a living. I tell stories. I climb into the pulpit from time to time not to preach but to tell stories. The Gospel story is not meant to lie lifeless on the page. With a little help the words need to be made flesh. Made flesh in sight and sound, in touch and taste and smell. Yes what does this story smell like? And what does it really mean?

No better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

Last summer after the 8:00 am Sunday service, shaking hands at the door, a young woman named Katie Kelly spoke to me. “You are a really good story teller. Have you ever done storytelling?” “Only in the pulpit” I told her. “But I write stories. I am bipolar and I have a blog called Unorthodox & Unhinged about mental health and faith.” “I am active with NAMI” she told me “and on the board of SPEAKEASYDC” she told me. “The director, Amy Saidman and I have been talking for some time about doing a show about mental health. Would you like to meet her?”

“OMG! YES!.” I said.

Amy Saidman and I met in September. And we agreed — stories like mine need to be told far and wide. They need to be told live and on stage with a real audience up close and personal. A stage for people seldom seen. A venue for voices rarely heard. True stories truly making a difference. So let’s make this happen.

OMG! SPEAKEASYDC is working with little old me. But not just me. I tell crazy stories so others like me can too.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults – approximately 61.5 million Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 20 per cent of youth ages 13 -18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year and approximately 13 per cent for ages 8 -13. Despite the profound impact that mental illness has on so many individuals, families, and communities it remains misunderstood and taboo.

This is about me. This is about you. This is about us. All of God’s children have a story to tell.

So coming to a stage near you, at Emmanuel on High, Alexandria, Virginia at 8:00 pm, on Saturday, April 25, 2015, U&U is proud to present:

Unhinged: True Tales of Living with Mental Illness

A unique, fresh, first person program, and out of the closet approach to mental health advocacy, produced in collaboration with SPEAKEASYDC, called “the gold standard in storytelling” by the Washington Post.

SPEAKEASYDC is renowned for creating spaces in which diverse perspectives are expressed and heard through the art of contemporary autobiographical storytelling. Unhinged will feature eight masterly crafted true stories on the theme of living with a mental illness, loving someone with a mental illness, or working in the field.

The storytellers will come from a wide variety of backgrounds, situations and settings. The program will be recorded by SPEAKEASYDC and made widely available for mental health advocacy and education.

The performance is free to the public and is made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Friends of the Alexandria City Mental Health Center, Virginia Theological Seminary, The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, NAMI, and Emmanuel on High Episcopal Church.

And it’s not too late! You can be a sponsor too. We are more than two thirds of the way to reach our funding goal of $3000 which supports five weeks of training sessions for the storytellers, promotion, staging, and professional reproduction of the DVD.

And I would be very grateful indeed — if you would consider a tax deductible gift to SPEAKEASYDC in support of Unhinged: True Tales of Living with Mental Illness. em>A little help can go a long way.

I have a birthday coming up. A big birthday coming up and it ends in a zero! So can I challenge you, my friends, to contribute $6, $16, $60, dare I say even $600? The more we raise, the more these stories can be heard. The more these stories can be heard, the more people we can reach. The more people we can reach, the more difference we can truly make — to educate, elucidate, illuminate, and advocate on behalf of the many who live with mental illness.

There are two ways to give: Click on https://tinygive.com/organizations/speakeasydc or you can Tweet “I’m giving $__ to @speakeasydc to support Unhinged: True Tales of Living w/Mental Illness 4/25 #tinygive.” Tinygive.com will contact you for details. People can give the same amount by retweeting too!

There is no better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

JoaniSign