Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Prejudice or "The He/She"

Our arrival in the North Country has been no big deal. St. Barnabas' previous priest was a partnered lesbian. Most of the folks that I interact with on a daily basis seem unphased by my sexual orientation or our partnership. Both of these realities led me to think that, for the most part, the North Country is pretty open. And, perhaps it is.

But, Michelle and I had an interaction last week that gave both of us much pause.

We joined a local gym for the winter months. One morning, we were in the changing/shower room getting ready to work out, when the woman who cleans came in. She offered to leave until we were done. Then she asked if we wanted the door into the gym shut. We said that closing the door wasn't necessary. She replied that we might want to close the door, because "that He/She" might be coming in soon. In the moment, the cleaning woman's words were so surprising to me, all I could do was stare at her. I stammered that her coming in would not bother us; then we left the locker room to work out.

We have a good friend in Northern Michigan who is transgendered. In fact, she led the prayers of the people at our wedding. In later conversation about this interaction, neither of us could figure out why having this woman come into the locker room might be a problem.

I've gone back over this interaction a number of times. I wonder what the cleaning woman would say about two lesbians in the locker room? I wonder how much intolerance this transgendered woman (whose name I don't know) has to put up with.

I'm struck, once again, by the prejudice that comes your way when differences are physically obvious (like race-based prejudice, or in this case, gender ambiguity). There have been times in my life when my appearance was more "gay" (I had a severe crew-cut), and people shouted anti-gay sentiments at me out of car windows. These days, my appearance doesn't single me out.

I hope that I encounter the transgendered woman again. I'd like to know her name. I hope I can signal to her that we are allies. And, I wonder how to communicate to the hard-working cleaning woman that she has nothing to fear. I may not be able to accomplish any of these things, but these are my hopes.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday Reflections

If you know anything about Ash Wednesday, you probably know that it involves having ashes smeared onto your forehead. It's supposed to remind us that we are mortal creatures.

It goes like this: the priest (these days, that's me!) dips her thumb in some ashes, and traces a sign of the cross, in ashes, onto your forehead, saying, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Ash Wednesday is one of those churchy traditions I pretty much took for granted. It's one of the things I've always done. The first time I truly thought about what we were saying was the Ash Wednesday in seminary after my friend Lucia was diagnosed with breast cancer. There's nothing like the possibility of death to bring those words into sharper focus.

They came into sharper focus again this year, at several different moments. Yesterday, I reminded someone who might be dying that she was dust. And a girl of 11. And a baby of about eighteen months (or perhaps, really, his grandmother). It's very different to be on the reminding end than it is to be on the receiving end.

I've presided at Ash Wednesday services before, but I was particularly struck by the seriousness of the role yesterday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Holy Lent

At two different Ash Wednesday services today, I invited the assembled congregation to the observance of a Holy Lent (using the form in The Book of Common Prayer). In my sermon, I encouraged folks to consider what a Holy Lent might look like for us living in this place and time. The readings for Ash Wednesday invited us to change the world (Isaiah) and to be counter cultural (Matthew). Traditionally, Lenten disciplines have been prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

So the question becomes how does that translate? Thoughts: if you've decided to give up something for Lent like chocolate (or coffee, or your evening cocktail) consider taking the money that you've saved over the course of Lent and donating it to a cause that fights hunger, either locally or internationally. If you've taken on a discipline of prayer for Lent, consider committing to pray daily for something or someone: for peace, for someone you love who is struggling, for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). What you pray for matters less than that you pray.

Given my willingness to dole out advice, it seemed only fair to put my own Lenten practices on the table. I've decided to do four things for Lent (though I'm totally not an overachiever, so not every thing every day):

1. The Daily Devotional Guide produced by Episcopal Relief and Development. Called Peace and Compassion, it focuses on the elimination of extreme poverty through the MDGs.

2. Morning Prayer. I've missed morning prayer and would like to get back into the practice. I've subscribed to a great podcast which has allowed me to download morning prayer onto my iPod.

3. This Blog. One of the things I feel like I need a bit more of in my life is discipline. If you've followed this blog at all, you can tell that I've not written with any regularity. My goal is to write regularly throughout Lent (hoping that will help me to develop some discipline about writing).

4. Reaching Out. On the days when I don't write here, my hope is to reach out to someone I know to connect. Perhaps the someone might be home bound or struggling, but it may just be someone I love and miss. Sometimes it's the little things make a difference.

So, do you observe Lent in any way? How are you practicing a Holy Lent?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Barred Owl

There's excitement on Milan Hill Road today. In fact, we're both charging around the house with some pent up energy. The source of it all is a barred owl, which has taken up residence (at least for the moment) in our back yard. It's stalking small prey, so far with no luck. A woman who's lived here longer than I says it's probably having trouble finding food. That makes me sad. But, we're glad that it's here. And, we're rooting for it. Here are two pics M. took from our back door. You can see the squirrel's head poking up from below the bird feeder in the more distant shot.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

2008 Wrap Up

Michelle and I both worked on this meme in 2008 (for 2007). I thought it would be interesting to do the same for this year. I haven't gone back to read 2007 before starting on this one. If you want to, you can find it here.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you have never done before?
Got married. Now, we're not yet allowed to be legally married. In fact, gay marriage is constitutionally forbidden in Michigan. We had a wonderful service of "blessing and commitment," and when it was over many of the guests told us it was the "nicest wedding they had ever been to." We gave up, started calling it a wedding, and now I introduce Michelle as my wife.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I'm not much into new year's resolutions.  I think they are destined to be broken.  But I did think I would try to be more active and healthier.  And, I think I succeeded.  I lost 30 pounds in 2008 when I stopped eating the foods I am allergic to (dairy and egg).  

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Michelle's good friend Sandy.  

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Canada - several times.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
More local friends.  A good vacation.  I didn't really get to travel in 2008 because of the whole job transition thing.  I'd like to go somewhere fun this year.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched in your memory, and why?
April 16 - my mom fell down our stairs, and for several horrifying minutes, I thought she was dying.  It was horrible.
April 17  - our wedding day.  Memorable for so many ways: lots of good friends, good service, and because mom was able to be there (and she was such a trooper, walking us down the aisle with her arm in a cast!).
June - Over and over I said goodbye to people and congregations I had grown to love. It was the lousy part of working with five congregations.  So man goodbyes.
August - hanging out with Michelle's folks was wonderful, leaving the UP was wrenching, arriving in New Hampshire and beginning the new job was so much fun.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting hired for a pair of dream jobs.  Rector of a wonderful small congregation and working for the diocese supporting and empowering small congregations for ministry.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not finding a job in Northern Michigan.

10. Did you suffer from illness or injury?
No.  It was a very healthy year for me.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A house!  Wow.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Moving all the kitties into one house gave them a level playing field.  Nobody had staked out territory.  So, they are all getting along much better than they did in Houghton.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled or depressed?
The government's.  I'm pleased with Obama, so far.  But the vast majority of our elected officials have behaved dismally.  And the media's failure to report real news while obsessing over insignificant details is so distressing to me.  CEOs who took gigantic bonuses while laying off workers.  Or who took bailout money and then squandered it.

14. Where did most of your money go?
For the house, or into the house.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Barack Obama's election.  My new job.  Being married to Michelle.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
I'm so bad at this game.  I can never come up with one - but there are a few songs from our Wedding Mix playlist that make me think of the wedding.  Friday I'm in Love by The Cure; Save the Last Dance for Me by The Drifters; They'll be Time Enough for Rocking When We're Old by The Magnetic Fields.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
I am happier to be in a job I loved and married to a woman I adore, but sadder to be away from all of my UP friends.  I am thinner and much much poorer (though I did double my salary in the move, but given my low salary in Northern Michigan this doesn't say much!

18. What do you wish you had done more of?
Read books (as opposed to websites, playing on the internet, watching mindless TV), knitted

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Wasting time.  I am the queen of internet doodling.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
My mom came.  I presided at the Christmas Eve service at St. Barnabas.  We had a great Christmas dinner with Ellie and Betsy.  And then I had a two-day flying nightmare on my way to the UP for a few fun days with Michelle and her parents.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Yes.  I've fallen in love with the North Country, and the people of St. Barnabas.

22. What was your favourite TV program?
I am completely addicted to the Food Network.  I love Iron Chef America, Ace of Cakes, and so many more.  Plus Top Chef.  And, we've recently discovered House (but this could be a 2009 happening, don't tell!).

23. Do you hate anyone now that you did not hate at this time last year?
I don't hate.  But I find some behaviour distressing, particularly behaviours rooted in hatred and bigotry.

24. What was the best book you read?

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I don't think I can name one.  Michelle has introduced me to so many great bands.  

26. What did you want and get?
A great job.

27. What did you want, and not get?
To stay in Northern Michigan.  An iPod Touch.

28. What was your favourite film of this year?
Juno - no contest.  I wish I'd had an 8th of her hipness when I was sixteen.  Hell, I would be happy to have an 8th of her hipness now.

29. What did you do for your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 42.  A group of friends went for Chinese at the yummy place in Houghton, and then we went to a Michigan Tech hockey game to celebrate Winter Carnival.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
All in all, it's been a satisfying year; a job in the UP would have made it even more so - though I am happy to be where I am now.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
I'm so happy to have a job where my work clothes are blue jeans, a clergy shirt, and a fleece top.

32. What kept you sane?
Talking to Manuel every week.  Facebook.  Running.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I'm not much into celebrities or public figures.  But, I have been an Obama fan since reading a transcript of a speech in 2006.  +Gene Robinson's  (MY BISHOP, how cool is that??) grace under pressure is a constant source of admiration.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Gay marriage.  It is insane that our marriage is not recognized, and that we have so many rights denied to us.

35. Who did you miss?
All of my friends and colleagues in Northern Michigan.  And, I still miss Jim.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
I've met so many great people this year.  The people of St. Barnabas are wonderful and I enjoy partnering in ministry with them.  

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
Live in the present.  Tell the people that you love that you love them.  

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"They'll be time enough for rocking when we're old.  We can rock all day in rocking chairs of gold.  For tonight I think I'd rather just go dancing.  They'll be time enough for rocking when we're old."  From Time Enough

"Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, A place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.  Built of hopes and dreams and visions, Rock of faith and vault of grace: Here the love of all shall end divisions: All are welcome, all are welcome, All are welcome in this place." From All Are Welcome [The Recessional Hymn at our wedding]