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?