Sunday, December 13, 2015

My First "Boyfriend"

I was planning to post this piece of writing to my poetry blog, River Poems. That is, until I began to ponder the truth of it. I wrote it the other day to read at the open mic at one of my favorite poetry series, Caffeine Corridor. It meets every second Friday at {9} The Gallery in Phoenix. I've written about it on another blog. If you're interested, you can read about it at my LiveJournal. Anyway, I wrote this little piece to be spoken;  more of a story than a poem. A story about my first boyfriend. I think many of you know him. Let me share this little story with you, then I'd like to share some thoughts...


My First Boyfriend

My first boyfriend was an evangelist
I mean, I didn't think of him that way at the time
I met him at 7:30 p.m. on December 9, 1965
I suppose it could have been 8:30, Central, after all...
I don't remember if there was Daylight Savings time
I was seven, just a little blonde girl
Shorter than the Minnesota snow drifts
I walked by on the way home from school every day
I might have had a crush on a little boy named Johnny
The year before, in kindergarten
 That doesn't matter. It's my evangelical boyfriend
That matters. You know him -- he has a really mean big sister
And carried around a blanket, he sucked his thumb then
I didn't care. So did I.
 For a long time, he was my Christmas boyfriend.
I looked forward to seeing him standing alone
On that stage, evangelizing.
Well, I didn't know that word. He told a story
About shepherds, angels, and a baby
You know...
A year after I met him, I would have sat in that
Stupid pumpkin patch with him
Waiting...

(c) 11 December 2015

When I thought about this story on my way to church today, it came to me. For years now, I've been writing papers about my "call" to ministry, recalling my days of sitting in nature with a book or my journal, knowing that I was not alone, that I was part of something greater. Something ineffable, though the only name I knew It by was, "God." I've written about mountaintop experiences, a sense of connection with All-That-Is, and the constant sense that I was somehow destined to share about it, write about it, talk about it, learn about it. All the times I've reviewed this continuous sense of call, I could never pinpoint an exact moment when it began. This morning, I realized that this is it. That first night sitting in the living room cross-legged, leaning forward on my elbows, thumb in my mouth, watching Linus present his homily.

I liked Linus. I thought that if he were a real boy, I'd maybe marry him. He was cute, spiritual, and intelligent (that whole Great Pumpkin thing notwithstanding). He was everything I wanted in a boyfriend. More importantly, he convinced me, and from that night forward, my favorite account of the night Jesus was born was the story he told - Luke 2:8-14.

It's a beautiful story, isn't it?





Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Audacity and Integrity

Have you ever thought about what makes the difference between talented people who find fame and/or fortune and those whose talents go unnoticed by everyone except their closest friends and family? I have. As a writer and quasi-visual artist, there have been many times when I’ve seen someone else’s work and thought ‘I could do that,” or ‘That’s really not very good writing, how did it get published?’ As I’ve thought about this over the years, I’ve identified a few things that may make the difference. As you read through these, please keep in mind that though I refer to artists and writers, I am also thinking of anyone in any field where they find their happiness and purpose.

Right Place, Right Time

Of course, one of the situations that can make one person or group famous or even rich is that they are in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, this happens by birth, right? Born into fortune, in a time when they are able to take advantage of it. It could be that they create something and reveal it to the world in just the right place and time that it is discovered by someone who can help the artist take it to the top. I don’t think this actually happens as often as we’d like to think, though it is a sort of American fairy tale.

It’s Who You Know

This is another kind of American fairy tale. If a person is lucky, they can emerge from their education and move into their dream job because their dad, mom, uncle, aunt, sister, cousin, or family friend is in the business. Or, they networked and met the right connection to take them into the field without the struggle most people go through. This kind of thing can happen in the arts and even sports as well. For instance, a talented skateboarder could gain fame and an advertising contract because they have a relative in a band that plays festivals.  It’s not a bad way to get started, but not all of us are lucky enough to be born into a family of moguls.

Audacity

Personally, I think the main difference between those talented people who “hit it big” and those who quietly go through life creating, wishing they could make a living doing what they love, is audacity. It’s audacious to take a creation of one’s own, put it out into the world, and call it art. It’s audacious to choose the struggle for success that artists undergo while trying to make a living. It’s audacious to create something from the heart and expose it to the critique of experts and the public. Of course, audacity alone isn’t enough. While audacity can overcome lack of connections, education, and even talent, audacity by itself can often create pretentiousness and pridefulness. Audacity with connections and wealth can create monsters. One need only look at current political “hopefuls” to see what audacity and wealth can do. So, audacity alone may be enough to bring an artist fame and fortune. Audacity and wealth might bring fame or it might bring notoriety. It all depends, I think, upon another quality, one that I believe is integral to being a true artist. Integrity.

Integrity

According to Merriam Webster, the first definition of integrity is “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values -- incorruptibility.” My off-the-cuff definition is that a person of integrity is honest and compassionate. Integrity alone is a wonderful quality, in my opinion. I’ve been fortunate to know a lot of good people of integrity. I wish I could say that I’ve always been a person of integrity myself, but I know better. I suspect that there are few of us who have been. Integrity can be cultivated, however. I’ve been working on this for awhile. I hope that when people remember me one day, they think of me as a person of integrity. One cannot erase past errors, of course. All one can do is move forward, and learn to be the kind of person they really want to be.

A person of integrity is honest on the job, with others in their field, and at home. They are considerate of others, because a person of integrity is also kind. A person of integrity is the kind of person that others can count on to support them in some way, if possible. A person of integrity will also be honest when they cannot do something for others. In this way, they don’t let others down by not showing up when they’re expected. 

Integrity is a quality that I think everyone should develop. However, for the artist, integrity alone is unlikely to bring success, at least during their lifetime. Emily Dickinson seems to have been a person of integrity and was certainly one of talent. Yet her works were not published in their intended form until after her death. Most were found in notebooks kept away from the eyes of others. It’s difficult to say if things could have been different. Perhaps if she had insisted on publication without the editorial changes, if she had been part of the community rather than shut-in caring for her mother, she might have gained more attention during her lifetime. It takes some audacity to bring the one’s works to the attention of others.

Integrity and Audacity

When people of integrity are both talented and audacious, the world is given a gift. I love it when good people get the attention they deserve. I remember back in my rock-n-roll days, my friend and partner in the pursuit of the dream were ecstatic when a band whose members were nice got a crack at fame. You see, there were always those who acted as though they were special, who expected to be treated like gods, and insisted that they were going to be the next big thing at the expense of others. They were audacious. They did not have integrity. Some of them did make the big stage. Their audacity got them noticed by the right person, at the right time. Then, there were those who worked hard, played well, were nice to others, and never got a contract.

Neither pridefulness nor false humility brings positive attention to the artist; nor does audacity or integrity by themselves. However, if the talented, creative person also has the combination of audacity and integrity, the attention their work garners can only bring good into the world. The works, whether they be visual art, spoken word, film, crafts, or even the kind of work everyone does on a day to day basis, are gifts in themselves. However, when these gifts are shared with the world with integrity, the gift is of a value much greater than it is alone.

Bring It!

The lesson in this for the artist, for the retail or food service worker, for the secretary, for the manager, or even for the pastor, is that our work will be noticed in a positive way if we have the audacity to be different while maintaining our integrity. It is not to be prideful – humility, which is an important value in itself – need not be lost when we become more audacious in our dealings in the world. There is no need to fear being different, being a little bit loud and proud of what we give the world. To be proud of who we are and what we have to share is not the same as being prideful, either. To be prideful is to assume that we are the unique creator of our gifts, to take credit for who we are without acknowledging the true giver or others who help us become who we are, and to insist that we are the only one who can do what we do. To be proud of the talents we have been given is to honor the Giver of the gifts and those who have been with us throughout our journey.

To have audacity is have the “guts” to bring our talents to the attention of the world in our own unique way. Amanda Palmer is a great example of how audacity can bring our art to the attention of those we want to reach. In her book, The Art of Asking, she reveals her secrets to self-made success without fear. You can hear a bit about it in her TED talk with the same title. To do what we love with integrity is to listen to the guidance of the Spirit that leads us, to give thanks for our talents, to give thanks for those who notice and share the gifts we have brought to them, and to be honest in all our dealings with those others.

What’s That? You’re an Introvert? Don’t Let That Stop You!

Just as integrity can be cultivated, so can audacity. It’s difficult to change, but it can be done with a bit of self-reflection and a little help from your friends. We’re lucky. We live in an age when we can do a lot of things online without ever getting face-to-face with other people. However, it’s better if we do interact with others once in awhile. Writers and artists should get together once in awhile to support each other and find places to share their works with the public

Of course, this means getting involved in public readings, art festivals and shows, events of that sort. Writers and artists should find or start groups to share, critique, and support one another. These can be gatherings of friends or people you meet on Facebook. Groups can be found through websites like Meetup.com. People in business should get together in service groups that do good in the world but also bring them together for networking, like Kiwanis or Rotary. They can even have small interpersonal support groups, such as a Master-Mind group (My friends and I call ours a "Divine Mind" group, and have adjusted the liturgy to accommodate the change). It can also mean learning ways to shore oneself up for the actual event. I recently saw another excellent TED talk by Amy Cuddy about how our body language can actually help us change ourselves. Even if we don’t believe we are “Super,” we can “fake it ‘til we make it.”

Whatever we do, be it art, music, customer service, architecture, design, cooking, food service, crocheting, modeling…whatever we love…we can do it better if we do it with both audacity and integrity. If we live it with pride and purpose, we can do what we love, and let others know about it.

It’s your life. Create it. Live it. Love it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

“Oh, Grow Up!” The Real Difference Between a Man-Child or Woman-Child and a “Grown-Up”

What is it that differentiates the man-child or woman-child from the grown man or woman? Is it how they behave or how they dress? Is it what they do for a living or what kind of car they drive? I have been pondering this question as I enter into a time of my life where I finally realize I’ve not known what it really meant to be a “grown-up.” I ponder it as I watch my children grow from teenagers into young adults.

There are a lot of woman/man-children in the world. Perhaps there always have been; certainly it seems that it’s the result of human nature. We are a selfish, self-centered lot. We seek to serve ourselves first, often to the detriment of those around us. When we are children, this behavior is expected. Some of the first words we speak as children are “no” “mine” or “me,” until we begin to be aware of others around us. We are taught to share, yet we continue to first serve ourselves.


As we mature, we come to recognize the needs and desires of others. That’s where we begin the process of becoming men and women. It’s also about the time we are in complete control of our response to outside influences. Yet, it becomes continuously more difficult to do. Advertising comes at us full-force, telling us what we are supposed to look like, what we’re supposed to do, and how we are supposed to live. We seek to become what we believe society expects of us.

Our influences come from the advertising, our upbringing, and our peers. Some of us get caught up in the outer means of reflecting who we are, and we expect others to do the same. We think that as we grow up we need to give up certain behaviors, certain fashions, certain hobbies and take on new, often more expensive ones. At the same time, we forget that there are more important indicators of maturity.

It is not the games we play, the clothes we wear, or the company we keep that make us “grown-up.” It’s the way we respond to the world. It’s how we take responsibility for ourselves and our own decisions. It’s how we share with others when others are in need.
In her book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp points out that we have “response” “abilities.” We need to use our abilities to respond to life appropriately. We need to do things like pick up after ourselves, acknowledge the help we get from others (and accept that help gracefully), be respectful of others and their way of looking at the world, and we need to be responsible for those who count on us. That includes being responsible for ourselves. As men and women, we are to use our “abilities” for appropriate “response” to what happens in our lives.

People who reach a certain age might think that they’re men or women simply because they have celebrated a magic numbered birthday. They might do “grown-up” things like a regular job, go out for dancing and drinks, read books, or watch “adult” television (as opposed to animated television). They might eschew Pokémon or Batman and the like as “childish.” These life activities have nothing to do with their status as men/women-children.

Man-children and woman-children expect others to take care of everything for them. When things go wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. They seek self-satisfaction in all they do, without regard for the feelings of those who are affected by their behavior. When someone responds to their behavior negatively, they throw tantrums or whine that nobody understands them, the world is out to get them, and by golly, they’re going to do (or buy) something fun to make themselves feel better.  Even when they know that something they do affects others negatively, they continue the behavior because it makes them feel better.

Grown women and men might be into watching things like Dr. Who, reading fantasy books by authors like Neil Gaiman, and playing games like Dragon Age. They might enjoy going to the Renaissance Festival or Comic-Con. They might even like spending time of Facebook. They also pick up and wash their dirty dishes. They love, take care of, and support their children, if they have any. They interact with others with respect, even if the other disagrees with them about…well, anything. They say “please” and “thank you” and they do their best to be the best kind of person they can think of. They try to curtail negative behavior because they don't want the people they love to be hurt by what they do. They use their “response-abilities” to respond appropriately to what happens in their lives.

I’m doing my best to be a woman instead of a woman-child. It takes some doing. It’s easier to feel sorry for myself and wait for others to give me what I need, even when I am able to do for myself. Lots of people do it. I give thanks every day that I am empowered by the feeling I get from doing for myself, so I can be available to do for others who are unable to do for themselves. I know a lot of man-children and woman-children. For them, I hope that one day soon they become aware of their situation, and learn to stand on their own two feet. When they do, may they reach out to others and find the power of giving.

Though men and women do for themselves, they don’t do it all alone. They just do their part. When everyone does their own part, the world is a much easier place to navigate.


Being a full grown adult doesn't mean you don't get to have fun.
You just have to take care of the business too!




Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Redemption of Food



Food.

It seems like we obsess over food. I know I do. For all of my adult life, I have been in a love/hate relationship with food. I love to cook. I hate being overweight. I went on diets. I didn’t have time to cook properly, so I bought packaged foods. When I was on food stamps, the first day they came in my kids and I shared a giant meal of steaks and baked potatoes. My children went in and out of dietary phases with me throughout their childhood years. I went in and out of dietary phases as I felt more comfortable or less comfortable with my life. When I felt out of control of my finances, for some reason I would spend money at the grocery store and cook one of those giant steak-and-baked-potato meals. Attempting to become a better person, I tried to act on small convictions: vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian. I tried to treat my physical ailments with food choices: sugar free, gluten free, soda free.

More recently, in an effort (successful, I might add) to lose weight and become healthier and stronger, I went on an almost solid-food-free diet. Two shakes or smoothies*, a couple of “smart” snacks and one actual meal a day – small portions only – along with some heavy duty boot camp style exercise brought me to a manageable weight. I feel good about how my clothes fit. I don’t want to gain back my weight, but I’ve also decided I don’t want to avoid great food anymore.


There has been a lot of talk around diet and the way we use food to connect with one another. Much of this talk has been negative – like using food as a vehicle to social interaction is a bad thing.

It isn’t.

Friends Gather To Enjoy
Good Food & Good Fun
In fact, breaking bread together is one of the oldest ways of connecting with one another. It is a means of communication, of conveying love, and of supporting and nurturing one another. In one of the most famous bread breaking events in history, Jesus, son of Mary, fed over 5,000 people on a hillside. He broke unwritten rules of law by breaking grain to feed his disciples on the Sabbath. He shared meals and drink with the people others loved to hate – tax collectors, sinners, resident aliens, people in other cultures, women, prostitutes. According to some, Jesus "ate his way through the Gospels." There’s the wedding where he made the water into the best wine, the gathering of disciples where Martha flitted about, the dinner in the house of a Pharisee, and the feast at the home of a descriptively short tax collector who climbed a tree just to see Jesus. Finally, Jesus joined with his closest friends, the Apostles, and probably a few more disciples and family to celebrate the Passover meal one last time. When sharing that meal, Jesus literally broke the bread to share it with his followers. In doing so, he invited them to remember him every time they ate. “Whenever you do this,” he said, “remember me.”

In his teachings, Jesus told his disciples that “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. Whenever you feed the least of these, you are feeding me.” “When two or more are gathered, there I will be also.” Whenever we gather with others to share a meal, we are gathered with Jesus. We need not be in a religious setting; the Christ is with us always. When we break bread together, we invited the best of who we are to connect with the best of who our companions are. We meet as equals, sharing the same food and drink, sitting at the same table. It doesn’t matter if we believe the same things. What matters is that we are sharing a good meal, good conversation, and laughter.

Photo from https://www.pinterest.com/
100acrefriends/old-cook-stoves/
In a not so distant past, the kitchen was the heart of the home. Spirit flowed around the stove, where those who cooked kept a soup pot bubbling and the family gathered to review their days and make plans for future times. Friends were invited to cocktail parties, dances, bonfires, and barbeques. As good food filled the stomach, good Spirit filled the soul.

Recently, as I sat with a close friend over an excellent meal at a wonderful Middle Eastern café next to the local mosque, it occurred to me that too much time has been wasted on worrying about food. Too much of my time was wasted on weighing the bites and assessing the calories. My friend and I began to discuss the idea that perhaps if we simply lived our lives, finding the places where happiness touches our hearts, and sharing those times with others, the calorie content of the food we ate would no longer matter. What if we simply enjoyed our meals, punctuated with forks raised to illustrate points, stopped eating when the holes in our stomachs were filled, and continued the conversation over a good cup of tea? Would we find ourselves sated by the combination of food and friendship?

What if I had a smoothie for lunch not because it’s part of a “nutrition plan,” but because it’s delicious and I feel good about it? Believe me, I can make pretty good smoothies from scratch! I think that letting go of the obsession with food comes with a side effect, at least for me. Once I begin to let go of the need to control food to the point of obsession, it becomes less likely that I will crave the “bad” foods and the giant servings. If I eat good, real food, I no longer crave unnecessary foods. If I enjoy good meals with good friends and relatives, I will so look forward to those times together that I will no longer find the need for the shallower sustenance of unnecessary snacks.

The Reagan Family at Dinner
Image from biggerthanyourhead.ne
t
There is a television show I like to watch sometimes, called "Blue Bloods." It's about a family of New York City police officers and attorneys whose jobs often intersect with one another. My favorite part of this show is the ending, in which the family gathers together with all generations at the dinner table. They begin with prayer that we in my family call "grace;" that is, a thanksgiving for family, the food we eat, and those who prepared that meal. In my family, this grace is an invitation for the Grace of God to be with us, for the Christ, Lord Jesus, to join us at the meal. The family on this show, the Reagans, are people whose integrity and strength are worthy of emulation. The culmination of their trials and troubles around the breaking of bread is a beautiful symbol of something that is passing away in our culture. It is sad to lose this tradition of family, friends, and food. Perhaps, it is a tradition worthy of resurrection.

I look forward to many excellent meals in the future; not just food, but exquisite moments, shared with good people. Bon appetite!

Image from www.anthropologyinpractice.com


*I used Herbalife products to kick off that weight loss. If you're interested, contact my sister Jane Rogers at janerogers6444@gmail.com

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Playlist to Freedom

It's Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It might seem unnecessary to have a month dedicated to something like this, but the reality is that there is more to Domestic Violence (DV) than the obvious physical abuse suffered by married women. DV includes emotional abuse, psychological abuse, gaslighting, verbal abuse, and control. DV is perpetrated by husbands against wives, wives against husbands, girlfriends against boyfriends, adult children against parents, and parents against children. It occurs in heterosexual relationships and it occurs in same sex relationships. In fact, any regular emotional relationship that can be thought of can be touched by abuse.

I'm not here to give you statistics, but you can get them at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website. Today, I want to share something with you. If you know me in person, you are likely to know already that I am a survivor of DV. I met and married my abuser when I was in the Air Force. We were married for eight years, during which I suffered treatment I had never known could happen between people who professed to love one another. That's why a month like this month is so important. It is possible for a person to come out of such a loving and supportive childhood that they are unaware that DV exists. I am sure there are many others who, like me, were innocent until their partner broke them down. I had no idea I was being broken until he threw the first punch. I wrote a little bit about my story in my first book, Phoenix from the Ashes. It took years to write the book. The first chapters were slammed out on a manual typewriter, keys flying off with the heavy strikes of anger. The anger was at him, for putting me through what he did, but it was also at myself for allowing myself to fall victim to him.

As a poet, I had always wanted to perform my works rather than just read them off the paper at public readings. My memory isn't equal to such a task, nor am I as dramatically developed as I'd like! Still, one day a few years ago, I finally got up the courage and the insistence to speak a piece about my experience in DV and the power I have claimed as I moved from victim to survivor. I was slated to speak at a workshop on Domestic Violence for pastors and other church people, and I decided that would be a good time to perform the piece. I rolled it out at a local open reading for practice, and I videotaped myself doing the poem, which I called Regret.

It was art that saved me. Poetry and music became my refuge. The poetry was my own, and through writing I found myself, the self that had disappeared over the years. The music...well, it was the 1980's and MTV was playing videos. The music encouraged me. It gave me power. Today, I want to share a playlist with you. This is a list of the songs that gave me the power to leave. They opened the door for me to step out into a new world. 

The Eurythmics - Would I Like to You?
Til Tuesday - Voices Carry
Pat Benatar - Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Madonna - Into The Groove
Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock-n-Roll

There were many more, but this handful of songs are the foundation of the strength that took me out the door.  The road was not an easy one, but these songs inspired me to reclaim my life. Perhaps they can inspire someone else. Maybe, they can inspire you.

 


Saturday, September 19, 2015

A "Christian, and..."

A few days ago, I saw one of those video posts from Buzzfeed. This one had a handful of people who said "I'm a Christian, but I'm not..."

Generally, the idea is that even though these people claim that they ARE Christians, they are NOT any of the things the media tends to present Christianity to be: hateful, judgmental, etc.

Yet, it seems to me that it comes across as judgmental against other Christians.

Not long ago, I was a "Christian But," too. The problem is that I began to realize two things. First, that by differentiating myself from those "other" Christians - the stereotypical "anti-everything-fun" Christians, I was busy judging instead of being the person I was proclaiming myself to be.

This hit home with the Buzzfeed video. Upon reflection, I realized that I am no longer a "Christian But." Here's what I posted to my Facebook page as soon as it hit me:

I think I'm growing out of my "I'm a Christian, but..." phase. I hereby take my stand to reclaim the title "Christian." I am a Christian. I try my best to be the best follower of Jesus that I can be. Spirituality is so much deeper than the title we claim, and so much more satisfying than tossing about epithets and platitudes.

If I've grown out of being a "Christian But," I'm growing into a new phase - I'm a "Christian AND..."

I'm a Christian AND...

I think everyone should be able to marry the person they love.

I'm a Christian AND...

I think there are many ways of coming to God.

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe that God loves everyone.

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe that Jesus invites everyone to the table.

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe there are many ways to follow Christ

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe there are many ways of being spiritual

I'm a Christian AND...

I dance in the moonlight, lift up a mug of mead, hail the Folk (ALL the Folk!), pour libation to the ancestors, Meditate, practice Yoga, and pray every day with the help of my ancestral mothers

I'm a Christian AND


  • I believe that Jesus the man was the perfect revelation of the lives we are created to live while on this earth
  • I believe that Jesus the Christ is the living reminder that there is more beyond this world that we cannot understand
  • I believe that Holy Spirit is the inspiration and the muse for all faith, hope, and love that manifests in this world

I'm a Christian AND

I believe that God is the Process through which all things come into Being;


God Is

One ultimate Truth,
sought by all people
in some way and found
through the spirituality
of individuals and of cultures;
the revelation of scientific discoveries;
the beauty of the rising and setting sun,
the depth of the forests,
the rushing of the rivers,
the grandest colors of the canyons,
and the wondrous detail
of the tiniest living thing;
and most of all,
God is found
through the tenderness of touch,
the gaze of desire,
the wistful smile,
the communion of humanity
in the moment we see
the light of love reflected
in the faces one another.


No, I am longer a "Christian, But..."

From this day forward, I am "Christian, and..."