Friday, June 14, 2013

The Past is Not Past

In this internet age, the past is never really past.

High school classmates we spent four years trying to escape, and haven't thought about since we tossed our graduation caps into the air, suddenly want to be our "friends."  Intentionally long-lost relatives reassert their dysfunction over our newsfeeds.  Old flames we thought had lost the power to unhinge us prove us wrong as sidebar spectres: People You Might Know.  Social media limits our ability to leave people behind, and somehow, the people who come back always seem to be the people you most wish would not.

Or maybe it just feels that way to me today, while I ponder the reappearance of a person from my past.  This wasn't the first time that he's dropped in on my web world, and in theory that's fine.  If I'm not open to comment from anyone, I shouldn't post things publicly on the internet.  In this particular case, I invited his return by writing about the phase of my life when he knew me.  This wasn't the first time he judged my theology to be not truly Christian.  It was, however, the first time he attacked me personally, telling his perspective of those years, observing that I was (and implied, still am) difficult, unteachable, divisive, dramatic, feisty, and ambitious.  And so it wasn't just this person who loomed out of my past, it was also my college self.

For the record, I was (and sometimes, still am) all of those things.  Because I am all of those things, I have about a million things to say about all the accusations he leveled at me.  I want to defend my faith, my doctrine, my interpretation of Scripture.  I want to defend difficult personalities; have you ever read the Bible??  I want to defend my twenty year-old self, new to faith and wrestling with God and with everyone around her to define her identity and calling.

All that defensiveness, all that desire to legitimize myself, all the emotion shaken to the surface by this person...I thought that was past.  Caring that much about what anyone else thinks is a trait that belongs to a much younger me.  Except, apparently it doesn't.

It turns out that it's not just the internet that bears our past back to us, although it generously gives our triggers another pathway to reach us.  In some sense I am still all the phases of myself that I have been.  The past is never really past.

So, today I write to gently push back the past and remember to be who I am now, past twenty.  Thirty-five year-old me can read criticism, has read quite a bit of it, has dealt with a lot of disapproval and lived to tell the tale.  Time hasn't done much to blunt my tendency toward sharp reactions, but it has given some perspective and the ability to step away, to accept what is true and discard what is untrue.  The authenticity and accuracy of my faith is between God and me, and the congregation I serve and the classis to which I am amenable.  My personality is, well, it's in progress.  My past may not be past, but it doesn't rule my present.

And when the past pops up to bid me its less pleasant greetings, at least it's clear that I'm not the only one for whom the past is not really past.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Comments Closed

I wish that certain topics in life had an option, like blog posts, to close the comments section.  Unfortunately, that is not the case, and so I need to say this about comments about other people's relational and procreative statuses:

Please, just stop.

We, the single and/or childless of the world, have heard enough.  We have answered and refused to answer enough.  We are done.  On an internet forum, we would call you trolls and joke to each other about not feeding you.  In real life, we have to stand there and nod politely and think about your good intentions, and it's terrible.  Please, stop doing this.   
Do you really not realize that these sorts of comments cause nothing but pain for the person you allegedly care about?  This is not expressing love and concern, this is exerting the pressure of your own anxiety, and imposing your own assumptions upon people who likely are carrying around plenty of pressure, anxiety, and impositions of their own.

I keep hearing about rude and hurtful comments made to people I know.  Goodness knows I've received plenty myself, because God forbid you should make it to thirty-five as a single, childless person without having endured a constant barrage of prying, from the time you turn twenty until you fulfill the cultural expectations and grandparent dreams of your loved ones, or if you don't, until you die.  The reason I've heard so much about these comments is that the recipients were very much by them.  You're asking about very intimate and personal parts of their lives, parts that often are already tender.

That woman to whom you just said, "You better hurry up, you're not getting any younger," has been on thirty horrible dates this year trying to hurry up and silence the inexorable internal ticking.  The man you urged to settle down already splits his evenings between scanning online dating sites and trying to "get out there" and meet people in the local bar scene.  When you asked that couple when they were going to get around to starting a family, maybe it didn't occur to you that they've poured thousands of dollars into fertility treatments in an attempt to do just that, only to suffer a fourth miscarriage last week.  There is a very real possibility that the person you are talking to is actually in pain over this very topic at the moment that you choose to make your well-intentioned comment.  I have good friends who cry every day because the thing they want most in the world isn't happening, and you keep pestering them about it, as though they could just wave a wand and make it happen.  Stop.

And then there are those of us who are actually pretty happy with our life situations, who have chosen to be single or childless or both, or who would be happy with being partnered or having kids but are also okay with not.  I know, this is a crazy concept for some.  The good thing is, when you ask me about when I'm getting married or having kids, you're not going to throw me into an emotional tailspin.  You are, however, going to make me really irritated, because I know that there is no good way to answer your nosy inquiries.  If I tell you you're rude, then I'm defensive and overly sensitive.  If I try to explain to you that I'm not necessarily headed down the life path you assume, you either think I'm hiding my real feelings, or you just don't get it and keep pestering me with annoying questions.  If I happen to be having a bad day, then I start irrationally second-guessing my life decisions and wondering whether I'm going to wake up one day and be miserable and lonely, which is frankly not something anyone needs to spend time worrying about.  We don't need to feel bad about NOT having these particular unmet yearnings, just because you think we should have them.  Stop, please.

Occasionally, we aren't really single, or we're already expecting a child either through pregnancy or adoption, and we just don't want to tell you.  Possibly because you are nosey and thoughtless.  Believe me, if we were close enough that I wanted to tell you about these topics, I would have done so.

Unfortunately, I cannot keep people from trolling all over my friends' lives, but I am done dealing with it myself.  If you care about me, don't ask me about the things I lack; ask me about the things I have and do: my interests, ideas, friends, work, travel, etc.  There's plenty of material there for conversation.  As for my familial orientation, the comments section is now closed.   


Friday, May 17, 2013

Collect Call

"Collect call from (unintelligible).  Press 1 to accept."

I press 1, as I always do, although in this cell phone age, most of the collect calls I receive are from Ellis Hospital or the Schenectady Police Department.  Their subjects are pretty easy to predict.  Do pay phones still exist?

Confusion on the other end.  "Is this Patty's Place?"  Right, the number forwards to my phone during the week, with no way of identifying that it isn't a call directly to me.  The woman on the other end needs a place to stay, for her and her fiance.  She's also not sure her gas tank will get her anywhere she needs to go.  She's not sure exactly where she is, so taking care of that problem is a challenge.  She got the number from the hospital.  I'm immediately annoyed, that she didn't stay there where she would be easy to find, that someone at the hospital gave out our number while clearly not understanding what we do.

I try to clarify gently that we are a drop-in center for women who engage in sex work, not a shelter or a general case management service.  She's flabbergasted that this is the kind of place she has called, that such a place exists at all, that someone thought it would be useful for her.  She's embarrassed to ask for anything now, but obviously desperate as well.  She starts crying because she can't find a pen to write down the numbers for places that would be more helpful.  And I'm frustrated, because I know that it won't do me any good to call for her.  Every service in town needs to speak with her directly.  Even if they didn't, I couldn't call her back to tell her if I found her a placement.  She can't describe to me where I can find her.  I'm pretty much useless, except to give her a phone number when she finally finds a pen, advise her to walk to one of the nearby businesses to identify her location, and tell her to call me back if my reference doesn't work out.

I hate feeling useless, but I also realize that it's not really about me and how I feel.  It's about this desperate person who doesn't even know where she is, let alone where she should go.  There are services here to help her, but without the knowledge or ability to access them, she's going nowhere.  I can only hope that the next stop down the line can find a way to help, that this isn't an endless chain of useless collect calls.      

Saturday, May 4, 2013


"Left, left, left," I repeat to myself as I turn through the roads of Oban.  The highways were fairly easy, but in the city I always want to turn into the wrong lane, and get frustrated when there is a car there, until I realize that car is exactly where it should be; it's me who is trying to go the wrong way.  I'm forever a little disoriented.  "Left, left, left," has become my mantra in the UK, much as I get my bearings in a new place by finding north and then staying constantly aware of it.  North, north, north, trying to orient myself.

You'd think that keeping a part of my brain attuned to a direction would distract me from noticing other things, but it's not true.  I am actually more attentive to everything when there is a part of me that is on high alert.  Being disoriented has the odd effect of making me more aware of the things around me, and also of my own internal state of being.  I know, in an existential way, that I am disoriented, and so I feel more deeply all of the other things that are going on within me.

This trip has been an experiment in disorientation in many ways.  I didn't realize how rooted in my own community I have become until I was somewhere else for a prolonged period of time.  It's good to be rooted, but it has also made me a little automated and numb, expecting all the same sights, within and without.  During most of this trip, I have had no idea what I would see at any given moment, and no idea what I would feel, either.  I have seen mountains rise out of what I thought was only mist, raging rivers where I expected trickling brooks, whole islands that weren't on my map.  I have felt deep joy, anger, peace, frustration, anxiety, heartbreak, vulnerability, and intimacy...usually at the "wrong" moments, the moments when I predicted that I would feel something entirely different.

I have spent this journey being challenged, by people, ideas, landscapes, weather, roadways, accents, emotions.  I have been disoriented by just about everything.  But in disorientation, something of my haze has been blown away.  I am aware.  I am alive.  Would that I would always be so disoriented.    

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Barriers and Inhibitions

One of the things I'm supposed to be doing while I'm on Iona (this would be a self-imposed "supposed to," but it needs to get done) is answering a question for a grant application, about the barriers and inhibitions that keep me from being fully alive to and for my vocation of ministry.  Now doesn't that just sound fun.  My initial thoughts on this are a bit much for a grant application, so for now they're going here.

I can identify two major personal inhibitions.  The first is simple fear of failure, that I will try something big and it will be a disaster, and I will no longer feel a sense of my own competence.  That self-definition takes up a pretty big part of the "who I am" pie chart, and the loss of it would do something truly devastating to me.  Of course, living in fear of falling off that precipice, such that I never really try anything big, isn't so great either, or terribly competent.  Which is why I make myself do at least one small thing that makes me feel a little stupid or afraid every day, but that's another post for another day.

Second, I fear that someone might actually take me for a minister.  That is, I fear that ministry will so subsume me that I will become all the things that really annoy me in other clergy and in the church (some of which I have already become....grrr).  I fear that I will stop pushing buttons, or only push the ones that don't matter.  That I will stop playing music because it's just too hard to have a gig on Saturday night and preach on Sunday morning.  That I won't have time to spend with street kids and sex workers and my friends, because committee meetings start being more important.  That I won't be fun or interesting, and I'll stop having anything to say to anyone outside of the church (which seriously, THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING).

But enough about me.

I also struggle with the persistent sense that the church as we know it is not long for this world, and that maybe the way we know it needs to die, because that's the only way resurrection happens.  Learning new forms to express the same old things seems futile and self-serving.  New liturgies and new programs are not going to transform the world.  New life, new ways of being and believing, maybe.  I love the church, but I don't want to be about administering life support to a comatose institution.  But I don't know how to lead toward really radical change, change that may mean death of what we know and hold dear.

Okay, that was still about me.  But the fact is, I'm experiencing some disorientation at the moment, so I'm kind of in my own head to an excessive extent, and also, this is my blog, so I get to write about myself.

Mulling in Mull

"The task of the minister is to guard the great questions."  Barry Taylor

I instantly liked this quote, and saw several others responding with an "oh, yeah!" sort of look.  But it keeps bouncing around in my head, and I'm not so sure I agree with it.  I've persistently tried not to be a guardian in ministry, except perhaps a guardian of those who cannot guard themselves; certainly not a guardian of ideas, or questions.  Information, ideas, questions...these are things to be shared, not guarded.  But somehow, something about the quote still catches in me.

Those of you who resonated with this comment: what do you think it means?  What is it to guard great questions?  What are great questions?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sorting out some of my muddled thoughts about IOG13

As I've thought about the event last week, and started reading of some of the thinkers whose names came up who I had not read, it seems to me that there are two related but different phenomena happening in the worlds of theology and philosophy.  I probably would have realized this sooner, but I've been a bit outside of the philosophy world since I graduated from seminary, and didn't know much about most of the contemporary philosophers who were discussed.  It seems there has been a movement amongst these thinkers toward a conversation that is neither theistic nor atheistic, and certainly is not dealing with either category in an apologetic way, but rather is moving beyond those categories into this new a/theism territory.

At the same time that philosophers were working through the inadequacy of strictly defined theism/atheism, parts of Christianity were beginning to realize that the faith and practice we inherited are lacking in their ability to address our present world.  Some Christians reacted to that lack by moving in directions we now think of as the emerging church, embracing variations on traditional doctrines and worship styles that enabled them to engage more fully with both their faith and the realities of the world around them.

A side note: I can hear the protests now, that Christian doctrine is and must be timeless and changeless.  Sorry, I don't buy it.  Few of my more "orthodox" brothers and sisters would argue that the church should have remained the same during the Reformation.  Contrary to the typical line that it was just the corruption that changed, a number of doctrines that had before that point been thought of as crucial to the true faith were changed, first by the reformers, and later by the Roman Catholics themselves.  Corruption in the church may have lit the match, but the tinder was already laid on that funeral pyre.  Medieval doctrine and practice were no longer sufficient for the church at that time.  Similarly, I believe that we face a time in which many of the traditional doctrines and practices we have been taught will no longer be sufficient.

The more I thought about what was said last week, and especially what Pete was saying, the more a nagging sense grew in me that I was somehow not quite getting it.  I was missing something significant.  Today I think it might have hit me (although something else may well come to me later; I'm sure I'm missing many things about what most of the people there were saying).  I wasn't getting it because I was framing everything he said from my perspective, which is a particularly church-centric perspective.  An emerging church perspective, but still church, which I've noticed that he and ikon resolutely do not call themselves.  They use some Christian imagery and language, and so the emerging church has sort of adopted them as one of their own in their search for new and creative forms of Christian community.

But this is not the church.

Or maybe it is, in some paradoxical way, but they're not claiming that.

So I've been trying to wrap my head around the great collection of things that other people said and I thought last week, and there was a LOT said and thought.  But one thing I realized today is that I have been approaching radical theology all wrong by expecting it to play nicely with church, at least with the emerging church.  Not that they can't be in conversation, of course.  But part of me wanted to be able to use radical theology to insert some more honesty and more experiential practices into the existing structures, and not actually confront how different it might be.  I wanted these ideas to fit neatly into the existing church.

Because I am deeply invested in the existing church.

I'm a theist, a Christian, a questioning Christian, but a Christian nonetheless, and a minister besides, whose education and livelihood and identity are tied up in the church, whose years have been spent learning the church and caring about things like the Book of Church Order, who poured a ridiculous amount of energy into getting my denomination to FINALLY officially say that ordained women are equal to men.  And I think these things matter.  Some days I think they matter a lot.  But I feel the lack in what the church has become, and failed to become while the world changed around us.  I'm intrigued by how closely intertwined faith and doubt really are.  I long for (and fear) greater honesty, vulnerability, and responsibility for our own beliefs and practices.

I guess what I'm really asking is, how much will I let myself be challenged?  And if I do open myself up to that, will there come a time when a major part of my life doesn't make sense anymore?  What then?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Gender, Marginalization, and Emerging Church Movements

So, I'm just going to go ahead and spit it out without much lead-in: the emerging church movement is pretty much a middle-to-upper class, educated, heterosexual, white male-driven thing.  Here is a list of leading voices in the movement.  Notice anything?  Look up "emerging church figures" on Wikipedia and see if you can find a woman's name.  I couldn't, until I got to the references section, where I learned that women are talking about the emerging church, or rather, about what men are saying in and about the emerging church.  I can't tell from their names whether they are white or socio-economically privileged, but I have yet to see anyone who's not both of those things featured in the emerging church conversations.  And I just attended an event where everyone was white, well off enough to come to a conference in Belfast, well educated, etc., and where we listened almost exclusively to men, except once when we listened to a woman talk...about what men had written.

(I realize that the emergent movement isn't very well defined, and that many of the people considered to be part of it, Peter Rollins included, would not label themselves that way.  Oh well.  I have to group them as something.  Please understand that I mean a variety of alternative theological and ecclesiological ideas that can be broadly classified as "emerging.")

Of course, every theological trend has a particular source and primary audience, and this one came from, and seems to be answering mostly the questions of, educated, white people who are middle class or above.  However, the emerging movement tends to be critical of the traditional church's exclusivity, homophobia, lack of racial and cultural diversity, and failure to show justice and mercy to the "least of these."  The leading voices in the emerging movement are also egalitarians, that is, they believe in the equality of women in their churches/gatherings.  And yet, when you look around the table of Big Names in New Church these days, it looks pretty much like the table of Big Names in Same Old Church has looked for ages.  Economically advantaged.  Educated.  Straight.  White.  Male.  Those who have always been in power are still leading.  Those who have been marginalized are still at the margins.  

It gets tricky, because it's not like you can go grab someone who fits a target demographic and tell them to write a book about their take on alternative theology.  But I cannot believe that there are no women or non-white people who have something important to say about emerging or radical theology.  What I suspect is that they don't have access to the circles where their voices would be heard, and that there is a cycle in which being privileged makes it easier to do things like be published, and so it is the books of privileged people that get printed, marketed, and read, and thus there just is nothing really available to be read by marginalized people, so they'll never be invited to speak at a conference or contribute to a conversation.

Eventually (or sooner), it will be helpful if those major figures in the movement start being intentional about finding marginalized voices and encouraging them to come forward.  Sometimes that will mean that the star will have to step back.  Otherwise, all of this stuff about critiquing the power structures in the traditional church will have to stop, because you look just like the thing you're criticizing.

Eventually (or sooner, or now), it will also be helpful for some people in the unrepresented groups to decide that they care enough about their voice being heard that they really push for it, and keep speaking - loudly - until they are heard.

Which brings up the related fact that I am feeling some internal pressure to write something substantial.  I'm not sure whether this pressure is because I'm just so annoyed that there are no women in this conversation and know that my voice is, well, loud.  Or because I actually have something to say.  Or because I want to be recognized somehow, and feel like I've achieved something on a larger scale.  Probably some of all of the above.

I think the emerging church movement could use a healthy dose of conversation with liberation theologies, which come from the bottom and intend not to appeal to those in power, but to challenge them.  If they're serious about including those the traditional church has marginalized, they're going to have to be intentional about inviting their voices into the conversation, or perhaps just sitting back and listening to the conversations that go on among them.  As for me, I'm contemplating what a melding of these theological strands of classical Reformed, emerging, radical, and liberation theologies - which is pretty much where I am - might look like in written form, and whether I might write such a thing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A few random IOG thoughts

One of the themes that keeps arising is that "people don't want to change," by which I think Pete  means that people fear change, and in particular that the institutional church anesthetizes people against the pain that would generate real change, and regulates belief in such a way that people are punished for change.

I would probably amend that slightly and say that people exist in a constant tension between the deep desire for change - freedom from the anxieties and desires that rule them - and a paralyzing fear of the uncertainty of change.  So I wonder, how do we go about fostering (and sometimes creating) communities where people can see change in others and believe it to be more possible in themselves?

One of the things that is fun about being here is a shared sense of awareness.  On the other hand, that wanders sometimes into a sort of "We are the ones who know the cosmic trick" attitude.  So I also wonder, how do we know that we aren't creating a different idol of our own "enlightenment?"

There are a whole lot of people here whose churches and/or families are really uncomfortable with them being here, or who don't even know where they are.  I hadn't even thought about that possibility.  The idea of being in a place where the people closest to you a) know who Peter Rollins is, and b) feel threatened by his ideas, is kind of foreign to me.  I guess I know some people who might not like this stuff, but most of them already think I'm a theological whack job and are kind of past worrying about what weird events I go to.

On a completely non-IOG-related note, I skipped out of the film session last night and instead had a pint at the Royal, which is apparently a paramilitary bar and is full of crazy characters who told me all kinds of stories (true? not true? who knows?) about horse racing, their mental health histories, and their days during the Troubles.  Then I went to the Crown, which is about as different a world from the Royal as one can get.  It's a swanky Victorian bar with gas lights and an imprint of the crown on the floor (which you're supposed to step on if you're Catholic).  There I met some post workers, who also told me stories about the Troubles.  One of them described growing up during that time as "fun," which was kind of interesting, but he mostly remembers the parts where he got out of school early.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Conflict, Decay, Death, and Jay Bakker: Day One at the Idolatry of God

Belfast is not the world's cheeriest place.  Which I suppose makes it an ideal place for a conference about decay and death.  Death is everywhere here, on the murals, in memorial gardens scattered through neighborhoods, in the peace walls that represent everything but peace.

So what am I doing at a conference revolving around death?

First of all, I don't think I'm entirely on board with everything Pete Rollins writes and says.  Specifically, his critique of the church seems based on a couple of common themes in the contemporary church that I agree are problematic, but which I don't think can be imposed upon the entire institutional church.  Not every Christian community or "orthodox" (whatever that means) Christian person lives in denial of doubt, or fears disagreement, or is addicted to its own certainty.  My sense is that his generalization of the institutional church causes a discarding of the 2,000 years of Christian experience that came before us.  While there are certainly faults there, I believe that Christian tradition has something to teach us, and that sometimes those liturgies, creeds, confessions, and doctrines that feel so limiting, feel limiting because they challenge us and urge us not to create a god that is simply a reflection of our own selves.  I still have hope for the existing Christian community, and I sort of get the idea that he doesn't.

(What?  You don't know what Pete Rollins writes?  Go read some.  I don't think I'm going to get around to explaining.)


I'm here, listening to a lot of talk about pain, uncertainty, decay, and death, for a lot of reasons.  I'm here because I'm frustrated with denominations' and congregations' terror about their own decline, and frantic obsession with self-preservation.  We follow a Christ who died.  What do we expect for our own lives, as individuals and institutions?  So, I am struggling to find a way to help my community and denomination embrace our own impermanence, and truly live the life we have...and not fear our own demise.

I'm here because I believe in the power of shared brokenness and vulnerability, and so rarely see it in Christian communities.

I'm here because I long to integrate art, music, dialogue, and mystery into faith expression, and have never quite managed to do it.

I'm here because I needed to meet some fun and interesting people who can talk about all the theological stuff that is usually so separate from all things fun and interesting.

So, yesterday, with this strange and fascinating group, I toured the conflict and decay of Belfast, and then attended an ikon event that focused on facing our own imminent death.  Then we heard Jay Bakker talk for a while about his unimaginable childhood and how he has been grasped by grace.  He described his own vocation and his inability to escape grace, or Jesus, or church, and wow, could I relate to that.  And so I guess that I'm also here just to be reminded that I am not alone in all of this.  


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Seizures and other fun things

A week ago I had a seizure.  It was my first in six years, which is just long enough to forget what it's like.  I was in the back seat of a car, which is an unusually safe situation in which to have a seizure.  When I rode the same route today, I realized that I don't remember seeing anything for about fifteen miles before the site where the driver pulled over.  When I was more accustomed to seizing, I would have had about fifteen minutes to warn them about what was going to happen, but I didn't see it coming this time.  So, I lost a big block of time, between when I started the whole pre-seizure process, and when I mentally "came to," which was when I was talking to the paramedics.  It's kind of disorienting to regain consciousness while you're standing up, talking to people, trying to remember your address.  My overriding mechanism is competence, so of course I was trying to convince them that I didn't need to get into the ambulance.  It's funny what core part of your being comes out when you are operating subconsciously.  "I'm fine" is clearly situated pretty centrally in my being.

Unfortunately, there are few things quite like a seizure to remind you that you're not really fine.

I scared the crap out of the people who were with me, which is not really in keeping with my general mode of never having people worry about me.

I had no control whatsoever of my body or brain for a while, which doesn't really lend itself to independence.  Even afterward, I had a full day of near immobility, and a week of feeling like I was recovering from electrocution.

I can't drive for a while, and frankly I'm nervous about even being alone until we're sure that the meds are stabilized.  Now this is the kicker: not being able to go or be anywhere on my own.  I am always everywhere on my own.  This seriously sucks.  But I am way too anxious to even try to get behind the wheel of a car right now.  My anxiety about getting into the pulpit this week was very nearly crippling, and the likelihood that I'll kill anyone if I have a seizure there is pretty slim.

I have lost, for now anyway, the ability to trust my own body, my own brain.  I am constantly aware of whether there are any signs that I might seize again, whether my focus is flagging or my vision warped.

Incidentally, I am still getting on a plane in five days and going to Northern Ireland and Scotland, by myself, because I am not missing this trip, and because I believe in doing things that are scary.  And this time, this is scary, even for me, who has traveled alone many times to many places.

But here's the thing about having a seizure, about suddenly not being able to trust your body, about not being able to get yourself anywhere on your own: it's reality.  I don't want this reminder, but I acknowledge that it is a reminder, that I am never really in control of everything my body does, that I am never really independent, that I am never really on my own, and can't be any of those things.  Independence, that thing that is so much at the core of my being that I cling to it even when I'm not fully conscious, is an illusion.  The reality is weakness, uncertainty, and need.  This is onerous, and annoying, and inconvenient, but it is also true.

As much as I hate it, and feel confined by it, the loss of my independence is an interesting lesson.  And so I walk away and leave my car to sit in the church parking lot indefinitely, and call one more person to get a ride to tomorrow's meetings, and I think, none of us can do this alone.  None of us can do this alone.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Appearances are Distracting

A couple of nights ago, I saw New Jersey governor Chris Christie on David Letterman.  I've heard Dave make...oh, maybe a hundred jokes about Christie, usually about his weight.  Okay, always about his weight.  Governor Christie came on the show and made jokes about his weight as well.  He took it all with grace and good humor, like someone who's spent over forty years listening to fat jokes, which he probably has, and like someone who's spent over forty years making them in return, which I'm sure he has as well, because as any fat person knows, the best defense is a good offense.  Personally, I had hoped to hear about the ongoing response to Superstorm Sandy, which Christie managed to wrangle into the discussion for about two minutes, and his attempts at bipartisan political work, which wasn't mentioned at all.  Apparently it was more interesting to discuss his weight: was he trying to lose weight, had he gained weight, how did his family feel about his weight, how was his blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.

Because, you know, people don't actually know when we're fat, unless some thin person mentions it.

Fat people also don't realize on our own that being fat might affect our general health.

Mostly that's because fat people are completely unaware of our health.  We're probably fat because we don't monitor our blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.  If we did, we'd realize that we need to change, and we would, and then we'd turn thin, like the whole world is supposed to be.

As it is, all fat people have terribly high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, and all thin people are perfectly healthy.  Obviously.

Anyway, Christie reported on the state of his health, which is apparently pretty good, to clear disbelief on Letterman's part.  All the while I was thinking, "I just had this conversation, only not on national TV."  Someone took me aside to talk to me.  She was concerned.  I've put on weight.  Do I know that I've gained weight?  Do I maybe have a health problem?  Have I been to a doctor?  What does my doctor say about this?  Do I know that gaining weight can be hard on my heart, can put me at risk for diabetes?

Yes, I know that I've gained weight.  I have a scale.  And pants.  I suffer from a health problem called genetics and another called seizure medication, both of which make it really difficult for me to keep off weight.  I have another health problem called "the between-meeting diet," otherwise known as "complications related to being a workaholic." Yes, I see my doctor.  My doctor says I should remember to exercise, and that I should try to eat vegetables instead of french fries.  My doctor says that my blood pressure is great, my cholesterol is shockingly good, and my blood sugar is a-ok.  My doctor also says that none of this is any of your business.

The assumed acceptability of saying whatever you want about people's weight drives me fairly nuts.  In case you are one of those people, here's a news flash: we already know, we're already doing or not doing whatever it is that we feel the need to do or not do, we're facing the consequences of our own choices and genetics, and whatever you have to say about it is hurtful and unnecessary.  We already have a voice that tells us that we are unhealthy, undisciplined, ugly, that we are worth less than thin people, that we are less likely to be loved, more likely to be cheated on, that we don't fit (sometimes literally).  It's our own.  We don't need yours.  But thanks for your so-called concern.

In case you're a friend of mine and worried about that last paragraph, don't be.  That is not my predominant voice.  I'm just completely pissed off at the general sense that nothing I do, and perhaps nothing most people do, will matter as much as what they look like.  No matter how much work I do in mission and community engagement, no matter how great my sermon is or how wonderful our youth program is, I will always get more comments about my hair and what I'm wearing and, yes, my weight, than on any of the substance of my job.  No matter how ridiculously intelligent and effective Hillary Clinton is, we will never read an article about her that doesn't mention her pant suits or hairstyle.  No matter how elegant, smart, and compassionate Michelle Obama is, I still have to see articles about how big her butt is.  And lest we think it's only women who face this kind of scrutiny, just try Googling Christ Christie.  The second most searched term after his name alone is not "chris christie governor" or "chris christie sandy relief," but "chris christie weight."  Really?