These reds were volunteers in the asparagus bed. The whites, golds and blues we planted are a couple of weeks behind. I replanted all the tiny ones, and we will have a third crop in this bed before the rains set in. The first Quakers in this area called this The Garden of the Lord. I have no argument.
I am not sure I have ever seen a better garden year here in the Willamette Valley, and that is saying something.
Things are coming on early and abundant. They are producing long. I am not sure I have ever seen the snow peas last through the blueberry season. We have been eating buttercrunch lettuce for a month and it has not yet bolted. The strawberries were abundant. The tomatoes are many and mid-range orange. The potato crop makes me think we need a root cellar.
I wish I had planted more.
Our only mistake.
We had a fine big batch of compost ready at the end of may. I mounded several wheel barrows, and then planted not one, but TWO zucchini. They are producing two to three six inchers every day. Last evening I picked every zuke that was out there plus a handful of radishes to take to church. This evening before dinner I went out to get some peas, and there was a happy eight inch zuke, and another six. In under 24 hours.
Why, oh, why, has no one figured out how to make bio diesel from zucchinis?
Turns out it was hard to get rid of the zukes at church. Even the first time, even with cute little ones, even with hungry people.
We are in trouble.
Last of Six
This last selection come from the section of topical columns. This evening happened in the Spring of 2007
Star-Belly Sneeches and Modern Day Cossacks
So there I was ...
walking the halls of democracy and sitting in the midst of hostility.
The Capitol Building of the State of Oregon is a short distance from my house. I had received a phone call from a clergyperson I associate with and she was trying to turn out bodies for a series of evening hearings at the Capitol. The legislature was considering two bills, one to limit discrimination against gays, lesbians, and trans-gendered people, and one to set up a way for the same people to legally protect their relationships in a manner akin, but not equal to, the institution of marriage. I could go, so I did.
My problem was that I was two weeks home from a Central African war zone. I still had a pretty bad case of the social/emotional/spiritual bends. It takes me about a month to re-adjust from the effects of genocide to the comforts and concerns of American life. I cannot do counseling during this time. I just cannot immediately work up compassion for normal American problems after being emotionally present to people living in actual Hell. I get over it. I reset all the dials. But it takes a while.
That night as I walked into the Capitol, I was not real enthusiastic. But I remembered that I normally felt quite strongly about this issue and I figured I could be bodily present, if not spiritually present.
The first thing I noticed as I entered was that everybody was labeled. It was Dr. Seuss and the star-bellied Sneeches. Everybody was wearing stickers to designate their side. There were folks in the doorway discerning what party you belonged to and handing you your sticker. I don’t really like stickers on my person. I was picked out by the Basic Rights Oregon person and offered my progressive sticker. I was not real sure how I was spotted, but I declined out of sheer rebelliousness. The young man then took another look at me and spotted my grandmother’s cross that I often wear around my neck. He actually took a step back, and said “Oh, sorry.” That was my first clue.
The next thing I noticed was that the building was overflowing with people. I had trouble finding any of my friends. There was the main hearing room and then many overflow rooms with closed circuit TV and because those were all full, the lobbies were filled with chairs and people and additional TV sets. And security. Lots of security people. The security people looked nervous. Second clue.
By observing stickers, I noticed that all the gay families were huddled together in the hearing rooms. The lobbies were full of their opponents.
The next thing I noticed was that the people opposing the bills all looked like each other, really - they did. Round, scarved, middle aged women who looked like nesting dolls, and droves of tall, good-looking, clear skinned, brown haired blue-eyed men. A smattering of pretty blonde girls.
I found my clergy friend.
“Who are these people?” I asked.
“They are all from one church here in Salem. It’s a Slavic fundamentalist church. They can turn out 300 bodies any time the pastor calls for it. Thanks for coming, Peggy.”
“Where are your folks?”
“They are all together in the hearing rooms; nobody feels comfortable mingling.”
Well then, that gave me my mission for the night. Mingle with the Slavic Christians and see what was what. I don’t like fear-based segregation. I do not often find that it is based in reality. I like to challenge it and look for the good in the other side. That’s my default setting.
There was a seat open in front of one of the TV’s right in the middle of a knot of young men. I took the seat. The energy was really quite amazing. I could feel it in the air. Primal, like big sexual energy only about anger, not sex. Anger pheromones. I watched as people testified before the legislators - three pro, then three against. The rule for the evening, both in the hearing room and in the lobby, was no vocal demonstrations. But the young men around me were having a hard time containing it. Quietly cheering the people who predicted the fall of civilization if a couple of lesbians made a civil union, and jeering, hissing, and spitting invectives at anyone who disagreed with that analysis. There were many dozens of testimonies that night. I got weary, but the young Slavic men did not. They seemed to gain steam from each chance to hate, which did not dissipate with the speakers who they supported. They had a one-sided reaction that ratcheted up with each round.
I was touched in some way by all the testimony. I was pretty put off by the fear-mongering, but when someone stood up and spoke eloquently on behalf of their alternative family, it warmed me, gave me hope, and trust that love would eventually win out. One young woman did an especially good job, and I just couldn’t help but say a quiet “Amen, preach it sister.” The young men on either side of me, sat bolt upright and looked at me.
“Hi, my name’s Peggy, I’m with the other side – I just didn’t get my sticker.” I put out my hand to the young man on my left.
He did not take it.
The next speaker was a clergyman from some progressive protestant denomination. He wore a Roman-style collar. He spoke of God’s love for all people. This really heated up my area. Much gasping and hissing. They really didn’t like the pro-gay clergy guy.
The young man on my right sat with his fists and probably a few other body parts clenched. “Using God’s name to defend an abomination! God should strike him dead,” he hissed. I had the distinct impression that if God didn’t do it, that this young man would volunteer to be God’s agent.
I suddenly remembered why I cared about this issue. These fine Christian folk, would, if they knew everything I believed and everything I preached, and if given a free rein, likely stone me dead without a second thought.
Think that couldn’t happen in America? Quaker preacher Mary Dyer was hung in Boston Commons by fine Plymouth Rock, Thanksgiving Day, Christian folk. The framers of our constitution knew that well and attempted to prevent it from happening in the new union. But they knew it was a real problem that needed to be addressed.
I remember something Garrison Keillor said about the Puritans, his forbearers. He said, “They came to America to practice religious persecution at a level not actually allowed under British law.” He was right, the Puritans, of course, thought they were fleeing religious persecution and protecting their faith by hanging Quakers. The Slavic Christians gathered around me also fled religious persecution and believe that they are protecting their faith.
There was one other person sitting in that group that stood out even more than I. An orthodox Jew – side curls, hat, fringe – the whole thing. We don’t see a lot of that in Salem. From his sticker I could see that he was in harmony with the Slavic Christians on this issue. When I got the chance I moved and sat by him.
“Hello, Friend, so you agree with these folks?” I said
“I do, they are on God’s side of this issue.” He said, stiff, not looking at me.
“Don’t they remind you of anyone?”
“I do not know what you mean.”
“Like, I don’t know, Cossacks, maybe?”
“You do not know what you are talking about.”
“Probably not, no, I’m sure I don’t. But are you really sure that if they managed to put down the gays like they wish to, that they wouldn’t come next for, oh, say the Jews?”
Then he looked at me.
“Just a thought.” I said and I moved on.
A Pastoral Letter about Loss and Grief
For Freedom Friends Church and anyone who needs it.
I will bring you by a way you do not know, I will make the darkness light before you, and I will make the rough places smooth. I have made up my mind, I will never forsake you. Isaiah 42:16
I have decided to write a general and public letter because so many in our community are going through, or have someone they care about going through, some pretty rough places. We have lots of loss and death and sickness is our wider community at the moment. I want to remind us of some truths that we know, but occasionally lose track of, and outline some healthy responses to loss and grief so that we can help ourselves and each other.
Loss is terribly real. It is terribly consistent. It is never far from us. It is never fun, and often is excruciatingly painful, This is just the truth. It is ironic that the “luckier” we are by human standards, the more loss we will experience. If you are so fortunate as to live into old age, you will watch all your predecessors die, and many of those younger than you as well. The more friends, mentors, and family members you have, the more funerals you will attend. You will also experience other kinds of losses. Jobs, relationships, and situations will be transitory. If you live long enough you will lose your strength, physical beauty, sharpness, and independence. This is the path of a blessed life. I know that this sounds grim, but we have to start the path to redemption from somewhere in realityland. The difference between people who live life abundantly and with intermittent joy, and those who feel picked on and defeated is how they have learned to perceive, interpret and cope with loss. It is not an optional discipline.
The Apostle Paul said that “We do not grieve like those who have no hope past the grave.” He recognized that people of faith have access to a way of living, that while not making us in any way immune to loss, nevertheless makes us able to walk through it with some level or grace and serenity. This way of living helps us with all kinds of loss. I want to remind you of that way.
The first thing we can do is work on changing how we think about loss. You are not being “picked on” even when you are in a season of multiple losses. God is not angry with you, is not punishing you, has not abandoned you. I do not even think that God is ‘testing’ you, except in the sense that all loss offers the chance of growth and change, and that loss is part of the greater lesson of life. Loss is part of the package and people of faith accept the package as good. The serenity prayer says this: “Living on day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.” Not all the moments are enjoyable, but they are all part of the path. And in the worst of times, we can find evidence of goodness and God. People pull together, comfort each other, and we see God evidenced in community. Acceptance of loss as a normal part of a healthy and blessed life is the first major task in recovery. It is also a recurring task. We accept in waves. Anger and resistance in the face of loss is not sin, but for health it must eventually give way to acceptance.
“Not my will, but yours.” This requires trust. And for some of us that the very core of the problem. We know we are supposed to trust God, but trusting other authority figures in our life has never gone very well, and so we are very cautious about trusting God. God is not like your parents, or your ex-boss or ex-spouse, or teachers, or the government or whomever it is you have very good reason to keep at arm’s length. If trusting God is a core issue for you, then moving that up to an active project will make dealing with loss possible. Without that trust, you will have the same losses, but you will have shut the door on your best resource, the immediate comfort of the Spirit.
Honoring your loss and the feelings you have about it is another major task. Denial of your pain is no healthier than wallowing in it. When someone we love dies, we feel pain, often deep searing and lasting pain. If they died in a way that seems unjust, or early, we also feel anger. The pain is hard wired into us as part of the reality of love – it is one of the ways that we know love is real. Anger is hardwired into us as a response to injustice. Injustice is supposed to move us to action, and anger is what gets us moving.
There is no timetable or formula for grief. Everyone copes in their own way. But there are some important tools that everyone needs to have. Because everyone is unique, we cannot really know what to do for someone when they are suffering. We have some customs; we offer food, we offer company, we have rites and rituals that feel correct. But when we are dealing with loss the most effective tool we can have is the awareness and courage to ask for what we need. The awareness part is not easy for some of us. But the way you do it is to start doing the best you can to take care of yourself, and then notice where the gaps are. What is not getting done? What is it that you just cannot cope with right now? Then you ask yourself if perhaps it just doesn’t need to get done, but if it does, you need to ask for help. This is why community is absolutely essential for everyone. We access it and enjoy it at different levels, but we all will need it eventually. Most of us are lucky enough to have multiple communities (church, work, family) and the ability to build a community around us that meets our needs (doctors, therapists, mentors). If you have only one community and it is small, you do need to be sensitive to not burn them out, but you do this by asking with the clear assurance that saying “yes”, “no”, or “I can get to that at a later time”, are all acceptable answers.
While grieving, we need to lighten up. We need to slow down and do less. We need to make this OK in our life. We need to be rigorous about our self-care, we need to rest, eat, and take care of ourselves physically. It is a really good time to be super protective about addictions – more meetings – more chats with our sponsor. Developing good self-care skills, and dealing with our addictions when we are not under duress is really smart. It is optional however, and some of us don’t even notice how bad our self-care is until we get to the critical level. You might need a coach. If you know that your historical coping methods are addictive or destructive or harming, you need to move that problem up to the top of your list and engage some help to turn those habits down or off.
When we are grieving we need to connect – as often as is indicated. Introverts may have more of a tendency to crawl under a bush and lick their wounds, and to a certain extent this is natural for them, but there need to be trusted people who can check on you, who you will tolerate and be honest with. Extroverts who are grieving may need to be attended nearly round the clock for a while. Usually extroverts have a social system that can accommodate this.
When you have had a string of losses you will definitely need to up your self-care. It is my experience that losses often do come in clusters or waves. When you feel you are at your limits of receiving bad news, sometimes you need to restrict your access to news for a while. I mean this literally. We are all affected by the pummeling of our so often negative world. When you are hurting, turn the TV off, and stop looking at the headlines. Pick up something old and comforting, a favorite book, or pick up the phone and talk to someone who is consistently encouraging. If you feel like you ‘can’t take it’ any more, you may have to assign someone in your life to be your filter, and just ask not to be informed of any peripheral bad news for a week or so. This is caring filtering, not isolation – it is sometimes needful.
In our community, like all good communities, we share each other’s burdens. But sometimes we need to hold others in the Light very lightly. If you are on the edge, don’t try and hold the prayer list for the meeting. If you are at your edge, you get to therapeutically stop caring about others for a bit. This may sound unchristian to you, but it is not. This is an act of faith in God. You are saying to God, yourself and your community that you trust that God has infinite ways to help others, and that you are taking yourself out of the batting rotation for a bit, trusting that the skipper has other good hitters to put in the game. God will not be mad at you for this, and any human who would shame you for this, needs to be put at a little distance. This extends even to sitting in meeting. Be there if you want to be, if it comforts you. But if you can’t handle anyone else’s pain, you can stay away for a week and ask the pastor, or Ministry and Oversight to meet with you for individual care and worship. Only you can know if you need to be with others or not. But whatever you need to do to care for yourself, is all right with us.
Eventually you need start re-investing. First you can take the energy you would have spent on what is lost and invest it in yourself. But after a while you need to honor that loss by saying that it was so important to you that you need something like unto it in your life. You love again, you work again, you let the pain fade and seek out things that bring you joy. It is not a betrayal to those lost, when you seek out new interests, it honors their place in your life. As we proceed far enough into life, we not only reach out again to another ahead of us, but we reach out to those behind us, and repay our debt of love to new people. This is another round of acceptance.
Christ said that after the intervention of His life, that he would leave and a Comforter would come. This Spirit that we call the Present Christ or Spirit is all around us. We access it when we meet on Sundays, and when we practice our gratitude, petition and listening during the week. It is there whenever two of us have a cup of coffee. It is there on our pillows at night, and in our cereal bowl in the morning. You trust that Goodness and mercy are that near to you at all times, even and especially when you are in pain. Your pain does not mean that you are outside of a state of grace, it means that you are deeply in the center of God’s love.
I do not fully understand, no one does, why God allows the depth and variety and number of losses that we experience in this world. But with half a century in, I do believe that joy can outweigh pain, that peace can be the default setting that you return to, and that hope is not only realistic, that it is functional.
I hope this has been a help to you. We can talk about it some more. Just ask.
Six of Sixty - Number 5
Continuing the celebration of "So There I Was ..."
From the Section of Post-Modern Theology
Hell's Freezing Over
So there I was ...
sitting at a lunch table with a group of insightful, visionary, powerful, spiritual women. We were talking about what it would take for our corner of the Body of Christ to embrace an application of our professed testimony of equality. Specifically, what it would take for the spiritual sea to change enough to make gender identity and sexual orientation non-obstacles to membership and ministry.
“What if we just opened that door and walked through it and let them watch? – Maybe they’d follow.” I proposed.
“Yeah, when Hell freezes over!” said one of my sisters.
That phrase haunted me for a while after that. It rattled around in my heart like a marble in a glass milk bottle. Then the bottle broke, and it was spilt milk all over, but I had a jagged glass epiphany.
That is our job. That is precisely our job. We are supposed to be freezing Hell. Turning the thermostat of evil down till the devil is wearing thermal underwear.
Hell requires conflagration. Badness expends huge energy. Evil itches and requires lots of scratching, which leads to angry inflammation. Hellfire can be quenched.
The best way to chill inequality is to not participate in it, not cooperate with it, not ignore it. Racism is not by any means conquered in our world or our church. But in our country in the last century, it has been moderated by courageous people refusing to accept that it is the norm. Racism lives, but Jim Crow is history. People, a few people at first, just refused to be segregated, black people and white people. They just stopped participating. They had a chilling effect on evil.
We were created to be effective. Each one of us individually and all of us together.
Individually, we can douse and stomp on fires of evil that spark up around us. As a people of God we can be the cool soft rain that puts the forest fire to bed.
Hell loves a mob; especially a trauma crazed mob, an unthinking, angry mob. Hell especially loves an armed mob; guns are nice, but machetes will do. But it is amazing what a few people or even one person can do to a mob. Hell was having a picnic in My Lai, Vietnam when Hugh Thompson, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta landed their helicopter between their comrades and their comrade’s innocent prey. They stopped the carnage. The devil considered those guys to be party crashers. They were called traitors when they got home. Eventually, they were decorated as heroes.
What we don’t know is how many similar atrocities, in that war, and in the wars since then, including the travesty of a conflict we are engaged in now, have been stopped short by one person saying, “Hey, that’s not what we’re here for” or “Don’t even think about it.” They don’t get written up as heroes for preventing evil. It happens all the time. The devil doesn’t want you to know that he gets thwarted a thousand times for every time he succeeds in getting drunk on mayhem.
And don’t think that it is only warriors who block disaster. I have seen a pig-tailed eight-year-old walk into a knot of bullies and take a scared six-year old by the hand and walk them out with a “Shame on you – I’m telling” look.
The truth is that evil is the sissy. Our spiritual adversary and all his minions are cowards of the first order. Hell can be frozen by the kindness of a child, the courage of a man, the voice of a boy, the persistence of an old woman. All we have to do is wake up, speak up, and step right in.
Six of Sixty - Number Four
Continuing the celebration of "So There I Was ..."
From the section "Where I Came From" - the early stories
So there I was ...
walking the green mile.
OK, it wasn’t a mile, it just seemed like it. But the long corridor was a sort of turquoise green. I wasn’t actually condemned to death, though for a second grader I might as well have been. Dead little girl walking, and worse, I had to do it every Tuesday afternoon for all of second grade.
The call came at two p.m. every Tuesday, just before all the other kids went to recess. My teacher, Miss Cartier tried to be as subtle as possible, sidling up to my desk and whispering, “Peggy, it’s time.” But it didn’t matter because all the kids knew where I was going. They snickered behind their hands, and giggled as I got up from my seat and left the room. I was nervous and often managed to kick something or bump into something on the way out. Kids would stick their foot out and try to trip me if the teacher took her eyes off me. Miss Cartier didn’t let them get away with any words, but it didn’t matter, because there was after school, and before school, and other recesses to get the taunts in. I was labeled for the rest of grade school.
I was walking down to what the kids at school called the “retard room.” Even in 1965 nobody was allowed to call it that in front of teachers or staff, it was officially the classroom for the “handicapped” children. But on the playground that is what they called it, and they called me a “retard.”
I actually got to know the kids in that classroom. Some of them spent their whole days there. Some kids assigned to that class spent part of their days in a regular classroom. It was a pretty progressive school district. Some of them had physical difficulties, some had developmental difficulties, and some of them didn’t seem all that different from the kids in the regular classes.
I was pigeon-toed. Seriously pigeon-toed. I tripped over my own feet all the time. I scuffed my Mary Jane’s all to death. They tried making me wear those special stiff high shoes, but they didn’t help. So I got sent to Miss Belknap the physical rehab teacher.
Here’s what the other kids didn’t know. The long walk down the green hall was hell, but heaven was just on the other side of the door to Miss Belknap’s room. The room was full of giant toys and gymnastics equipment. She wore sneakers and shorts while all the other teachers were in heels and dresses. She was kinda loud, and funny, and she was pretty masculine for a lady. She called me “Girly.” I didn’t know anybody else like her. But she liked me. I think she liked all her kids. When I walked in the door she welcomed me, like a beloved lost lamb. As if she was surprised to see me. As if I was the best part of her day. She was the best part of my week.
She taught me how to walk. How to turn my hips so that my toes would go straight. How to tuck in my tiny little butt so that my hips would open out. We practiced many walks, we walked like ducks, we walked like cowboys. She would have me put my hands behind my back as if they were tied and I would pretend to walk the plank – with plenty of pirate talk to go with it. We laughed a lot. Wednesday mornings during second grade I was always a little sore. I remember one day in the spring when she was pretty pleased with me and she said, “Well, we could quit now, Girly, but as long as we’ve taught you to walk straight, we might as well teach you how to walk pretty.” I did not object. Then I spent a few weeks walking like Miss America with a crown on my head. If they would have let me stay with Miss Belknap for the three R’s I would have stayed. Miss Belknap was my secret treasure.
There is a stanza in the Serenity prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr that goes
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
As the pathway to peace.
I learned the truth of that every Tuesday in second grade. After the mocking there was grace. After the loneliness there was kind attention. After the pain came fun. I could have let the humiliation ruin the joy, but I didn’t. And in my memory the grace is huge and lively and the persecution is ghostly and pale.
Perspective is a choice.
So there I was ten years later, 1975, in the grocery on an errand for my mother. I whizzed around a corner in my three-inch platform sandals and mini skirt. I heard a loud voice from the back of the store yell,
“Stop right there! – Is that you Peggy? Peggy Senger?
I executed a perfect pivot turn and faced Miss Belknap, now a retired teacher. I grinned. She whistled a loud wolf whistle as all the patrons of the store turned and looked.
“Look at that walk! Look at that pretty, humdinger of a walk! Give me a bit more, Girly!”
So I gave her my best strut and then a hug and we laughed. And she said,
“Well, Girly, when you walk that plank they are gonna remember the last thing they see! Go get ‘em.”
So I did.