NEW YORK — The "October trifecta" that touched my life — my father's death, surgery the next day, and the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Sandy around New York — did what traumatic events often do.
They left me emotionally fatigued and ready for some fresh clarity, fresh perspective, and fresh prioritizing.
When life seems fragile, it's clear some things matter more than others. It reminds us that attention must be paid to family, friends, and the differences we make in our work and our faith. Lesser concerns — like the tablet computer I have been angling to acquire — quickly fall away.
Minnesota, famously, has just rejected a proposed constitutional amendment which would have barred same-sex marriage. The battle raged for a year, with Christians on both sides. The Catholic diocese was a primary proponent of the amendment, but many Catholics posted “Another Catholic Voting No” signs on their lawn. Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists were also found on both sides of the battle, in leadership roles and at phone banks. Rarely did the discussion of the amendment stray too far from a discussion of faith issues, because it was faith that drove so many to either reject same-sex marriage or move to embrace it as a part of our larger community.
There were bruises and scars, of course, within congregations, families, and neighbors. To some, on both sides, it was a deeply personal fight.
Now, though, it is done. The amendment failed. Though my side won, the divisions created trouble me. As an Episcopalian working within a Catholic law school, I saw the pain of those on both sides.
My neighbors signed my report card.
Having had the same conversation countless times in my life, I have learned that one sentence sums up a cacophony of explanations.
It is tricky, I have found, trying to explain why friends are listed as my emergency contacts, why I wake up Christmas morning in the home of people to whom I am not related, and why my parents — both living — have been anything but.
The separation started so long ago that I struggle to remember exactly when it began. When I was starting middle school my mom’s depression hit hard and fast. My dad, who understands love as a finite commodity, could not muster any for me. Loving her meant giving all of it to try to save her. His attempts and inability to do so created a stress that amplified his MS from inconvenient to disabling.
In a moment, it seemed, they were gone.
We were wealthy and Southern and had everything that went along with both: a close-knit community, punctilious social obligations, and money to stay afloat. In the world in which I grew up, everyone surely knew everything about everyone, but damn if they weren’t polite enough to pretend it was all OK. It was a magnificent masquerade.
But the truth remained: I was an orphan.
Car Trouble in Indiana
By Jennifer Grant
We’re happy fools, penniless as the corn
And just as content to watch the trucks barrel by.
The fan belt is jet black and frayed.
It’s chewed licorice.
And we might have to wait here all day.
My little brother's got the two things he needs:
A pack of Black Jack chewing gum
And his guitar.
He points at a billboard ‘cross the highway
And says if we had a dollar twenty-nine
And we were two miles up, we'd be knee-deep in hamburgers....
Forget Wall Street. Today's "best and brightest" are heading to California's Silicon Valley and New York's Silicon Alley, and to a few other tech-startup hot spots.
Thousands of aspiring engineers, web developers, designers and marketers live in dormitories, work in open-floor bullpens, attend coding competitions to enhance their skills, and work hours that defy body chemistry. It sounds like fun.
Some work on projects that make a positive contribution to society; some are coding games, entertainment apps, and schemes to monetize friendships.
They take stock for pay and wait for the magic letters "IPO" to appear. Meanwhile, their employers fight for their loyalty with free food and party-on office cultures.
The brass ring they chase looks like Marissa Mayer, the 37-year-old former Google star who was tapped to lead Yahoo out of its extended doldrums. Like any public person, Mayer is painted in stark colors: as both immensely talented and merely lucky, an inspiring leader and a rude monster, likely to succeed and sure to fail.
Across five states and 20 years, on the couch at the psychoanalyst’s, wadded Kleenex in my hands, and kneeling on the marble floor of the confessional, incense curling through my hair, I sorted through the jagged prisms of experience that, as a child, I did not understand: What it means to be in the constant presence of someone who does not look you in the eye, who lives beyond the bar of constant preoccupation.
I didn’t understand then the tiresome vigilance I’d develop as a result—the almost unconscious, constant mental sorting to see if, at that moment, I was OK, or if others were about to abandon me forever—a reaction I’ve heard is common among children of alcoholics, and which I’ve seen myself in the needy inner-city children I have taught.
Along the way, I discovered that the seed of my mother’s sadness had been there all along, from my earliest memory, well before my father died. And by the time I was a toddler, the seed had germinated in me, too.
Love, we read over and over in the Bible, casts out fear.
The angels to Mary: Do not be afraid. To the shepherds: Do not be afraid. Do a search on that phrase and you’ll find it numerous times from 2 Kings through Revelation. When he appears to humans, our God of love is always prefacing his messages with, “Do not be afraid.”
As a mother, I want to raise brave kids who hear that message and know it to their toes. Everything is going to be all right. Love wins, as they say.
I want them to be people who know that there is a bigger picture, a spiritual promise of hope and redemptive, even when life circumstances feel frightening.
I don’t want them to lose sight of it or fail to see God’s gifts of love around them because they are afraid of what, ultimately, cannot harm them.
It’s not always easy, however, for me to be brave.
The 2012 Wild Goose Festival East wrapped up just under a week ago and I am still trying to process my experience there. As I tweeted as I drove away from the fest, I left feeling exhausted, hopeful, and blessed – that strange combination that reflected the emotional impact of my time there. And it was a truly blessed time.
I was honored with the opportunity to speak on The Hunger Games and the Gospel as well as do a Q&A on everyday justice issues at the Likewise tent. I also was able to join Brett Webb-Mitchell on a panel discussion about living with disabilities in religious communities.
But beyond those conversations I was able to help initiate, I also found a generous and safe space to connect with friends, wrestle with difficult questions, and dream of a better world. Such spaces are so rare in my life these days, that finding such at Wild Goose was a precious gift.
There are, of course, the expected complaints about the festival. It was brutally hot (and that is coming from a Texan). I never ceased to be sticky, sweaty, and stinky and there were bugs everywhere. Camping in a field where every action (and parenting attempt) is on constant display is stressful and uncomfortable. And, as with many religious gatherings, there could have been greater diversity.
For the first hour I was there as I nearly passed out trying to set up a tent in the sweltering heat, I was in a panic mode wondering why I was stupid enough to subject myself to the discomfort and imperfection of it all again this year. Yet as I entered into the experience of being a part of this crazy wonderful gathering, those issues (although ever-present) faded in significance as I found myself fitting into a place where I felt I belonged.
We headed west toward Las Vegas this morning; chasing daylight toward the coast, leaving the kids in the care of grandma and grandpa.
I’ll give you one guess to figure out which one of us had a harder time leaving.
Personally, I know they’re safe at the farm, and they’ll have a lot more fun there than they would with us, driving a couple thousand miles over the next two weeks. Of course I’ll miss them, but I’ve also been looking forward to some “grown-up” time for a while. More specifically, this trip is not something most people ever get to do, let alone parents of two young kids.
And before we get to Portland and take our positions in the Big Kid Church, this is our chance to be a little bit irresponsible and childish. We can stay up late if we want. I can eat 12 Slim Jims for lunch if the mood strikes— though to be honest, the white stuff you squeeze out of those things turned me off of Slim Jims decades ago.
But I could if I wanted.
It turns out that packing all the belongings you need for at least three months into the back of a Prius is a challenge. Of course, being a guy it’s the kind of challenge that makes life worth living. Anyone who has ever been a Tetris junkie can appreciate the exhilaration of fitting forty-seven differently shaped items into a space made for about half the volume. Yes, I had to jump up and down on the back hatch, and several keepsakes are undoubtedly smashed beyond recognition. But by God, I got it all in there.
While I was basking in the glory of being a master packer, my family was busy feeling. Amy kept up her “four cries an hour” regimen, while three-year-old Zoe melted down whenever she realized this toy or that piece of furniture was not going with us after all. It’s a strange feeling, leaving most of our valuables behind, but for me, it’s kind of liberating. I love the idea of grabbing what I can carry and heading west until I reach the edge of the earth.
Apparently my family doesn’t share the same romantic bug. They like stability.
“This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” said Amy, wiping tears aside. “This is home.”
“Yeah, but we’re taking home with us,” I said, trying in vain to employ the typically male strategy of emotional deflection.
“Taking it where?”
Most of the first punditry around Rick Santorum suspending his quest for the Republican presidential nomination focuses on his drop in the Pennsylvania opinion polls and his difficulty in fundraising. Those were no doubt part of the decision. But there’s a deeper reason more important than political considerations.
As has been frequently reported, Sen. Santorum and his wife Karen’s youngest child Bella, was born with a rare and usually fatal chromosomal condition known as Trisomy 18. Bella, 3-years old, has been hospitalized twice already this year with pneumonia, most recently this past weekend. Santorum took two days from campaigning to be with her.
When Marilyn and Larry Johnson sold their computer business in suburban Detroit about a decade ago, they figured they'd settle into the next phase of their lives with ease. Retirement meant more freedom, fewer pressures and ample time on the golf course. But a life of leisure turned out to feel terribly hollow for the Christian couple.
"I remember coming in from a golf game and Larry asking me how my game was, and I just started crying," Marilyn told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom recently. "I said, 'My life has no purpose.' "
So the Johnsons began volunteering at shelters, treatment programs and soup kitchens. On Thanksgiving eight years ago, they wound up serving turkey dinner to the homeless. It was a turning point. An epiphany.
Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.
We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.
Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on God’s Politics.
~ Cathleen Falsani
In fact, President Obama, himself, had a puzzled look as he said, “Hello Eugene.” So, I had to introduce myself to him and explained to him that I was a pastor here in Seattle and involved with some other work. We chit-chatted briefly about stuff but there is something I very specifically remember and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget this portion of our conversation.
I shared with President Obama that I occasionally but regularly prayed for him and this is how he responded:
“Thank you, Eugene. I really appreciate that. Can you also please pray for my wife and children? Pray for their protection.”
His demeanor changed. Perhaps, this is just me. Perhaps, I’m reading and analyzing too much into all the non-verbal cues but then again, I’m a pastor and after 21 years of doing ministry, you develop a “pastoral sense” and I genuinely sensed his gratitude for prayer and his request for prayer for his family.
Usually when I hear people talk about finding the good in the midst of a difficult situation, my cynical radar goes up. I picture the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian and the two thieves are being crucified while whistling and singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”
I reminds me a girl named Cathy that I knew in high school who already lived on her own before she had even graduated. At school she was the perpetual ray of sunshine, always offering warm smiles and hugs, but hardly concealing a deeper undercurrent of sadness that you could nearly taste.
But once in a while, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of grace in the middle of the worst humanity has to offer. And it’s in those moments that I tend to recognize God in our midst.
This is so horrendous it's almost too awful to type.
Early this morning at a welfare office in Laredo, Texas, a mother, desperate after months of being denied food stamps for her family, pulled a gun and shot her two young children, before killing herself.