Thursday, December 19, 2013

Embracing the Darkness

I don't know about you, but right now, my Facebook feed is filled with reminders that This Season Is Supposed To Be A HAPPY One, Dammit!

One friend writes of how she is trying hard to keep in mind all she has to be grateful for while in the midst of personal struggle. Another jokingly insists that her friends be joyful so as not to ruin the season for others. My dear friend and fellow blogger Jordinn has written a lovely post reminding herself to be still and quiet in this season of darkness.

Friends, the winter holidays are the season of joy and peace and love! But as Jordinn finally remembered, it's also the season of darkness and quiet. This is a season of rebirth, yes! But it is also a season of death. And while we often find joy in the new beginning, we must also honor our need to grieve.

So when weariness crashes through you, when you are overwhelmed by all there is to do, give yourself permission and space to experience those feelings for which we are so often shamed by the social contract at this time of year. Rather than pushing through or pushing away your sorrow, let it be a reminder to stop a moment and rest. To breathe.

The dawn is breaking soon, I promise you, but it will come in its own time. When that new and glorious morning finally arrives, it will be clear and bright, and you will recognize its beauty all the more because you've held your darkness close.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Facing discomfort, finding the gifts

On escorting Saturdays, I always find myself driving to the clinic with a sense of dread. I'm going to be yelled at and scowled at. I'm going to feel awkward, never really knowing what to say to the women I'm escorting, but needing to talk to drown out the screamers.

But I have resolve - this is my commitment, and I'm going to do it, no matter how uncomfortable it is. As bad as it is for me, it's so much worse for those women who have to walk past the protestors, and without me, they're alone.

And so I go. And once I'm there, I am washed in the feeling of fighting the good fight. I remember why I do this work, and I feel good for living my values, for walking my talk. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be even a moment of peace and compassion in this tumultuous time in a woman's life - and often in the life of her partner as well. Every week that I escort, I come away with stories, stories of women and families, that touch my heart and sometimes break it.

This week, I had the brilliant idea to play some Unitarian Universalist hymns (warning, these are pretty bad, musically, but that didn't matter this morning) on my headphones to drown out the shouts between patients, and to remind me that escorting is, for me, a spiritual practice. I started with the Meditation on Breathing (When I breathe in, I breathe in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out love), because I had had a rough morning, and I needed to remember. But I let the album play, and you know what? Each song spoke to my heart at that moment, and my spirit was lifted. I felt the strength of my faith behind me as I was reminded that this is my little light shining, everywhere I go, building up the world. I was reminded that I'm standing on the side of love, that I am a Unitarian and a Universalist every day, every week of the year. And especially now, standing here in the sun with the wind on my face, receiving from these women (and even from the protestors), and giving to them as well.

I am immensely grateful for this commitment I've made, even though every week I dread keeping it. Because at the end of my hour-long shift, I feel I've been in worship, I feel strengthened, reminded of my purpose, renewed in my faith, and reconnected to humanity.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Letter to the Unitarians

Mandie's Letter to the Unitarians1

Friends, I want to discuss what you and this community have to offer to one another and the world. Before you found community, you were working in the world alone, but the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

I will come back to that, but before I go on, I want you to understand that there is goodness inside everyone, and those who say and do evil things are not evil but bruised, broken, and in pain; and those who say and do good things are not better than the others, but they have been held and healed with love and understanding. And these two people are sometimes one person and they are always every person.

Now, there are many different talents, but we use them for good because there is goodness within us, and there are many kinds of service, but we all serve each other, and there are many ways to help, but it is that same inner goodness that motivates everyone.

Each person has a different gift that can benefit the common good. One person gives wise advice about life and another shares knowledge about the world - but both are driven by their desire to benefit others. One has deep faith in his heart, and yet another can heal a heart which has been broken - both hearts are good. One does physical labor, another speaks important truths, and another helps others find their gifts. One speaks wisely so that many will listen, and another listens wisely so that many will be heard. The desire to use these various gifts of ours to help others comes from the same place of goodness within us, and each of our talents individually is a manifestation of this goodness in the world.

But let's return to the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Just as your body is one single body but has many parts, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with us. For in our common goodness, we have all come together into this community, no matter what our individual backgrounds, and we all felt pulled to seek, and find the goodness within us and turn it outward, together, in one voice.

As I said, the body does not consist of one member, but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would still be part of the body. And if the ear would say, "because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not be less a part of the body having said so. If the whole body were an eye, how would we hear? If the whole body were ears, how would we smell? But as it is, the members of the body are arranged just as they need to be so that it can function properly and be whole. If all parts were a single part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts - many members, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you," nor the head to the feet, "I don't need you." No, we take special care of each part of our body because we need each part, and we note their weaknesses and compensate for them, and each member of the body cares for the other members. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of this community and individually members of it. And here there are some who work with their hands to make the coffee and weed the gardens, those who speak important truths from the pulpit, those who work in the religious education program, those who can always be counted on in crisis, those who light candles and pray, who donate generously to the annual fund, who chair committees, who answer questions at coffee hour and who listen carefully in small groups. Is everyone a laborer? Is everyone a good speaker? Are all teachers? Are all crisis managers? Do all have financial means to donate to good causes? But friends, steep these talents and gifts in your greater goodness. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak elegantly, in many languages, but I do not have love for humanity, I am only noise, and no one benefits. And if I understand science and philosophy and all mysteries of the universe, and have the faith to move mountains but do not have love for my fellow human beings, I am nothing. If I take a vow of poverty, and boast about the simplicity of my life, but do not have love, I have nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.2
Love never ends. One day we will die and all our work will cease, but the echoes of our love will endure.

When I was a child, I thought like a child and behaved like a child; then I began to grow, I became an adult, and I started to understand and to change. For now we only see each other on the surface, but we strive to truly know and understand one another. Now I love imperfectly; but I strive to love fully, and hope to be fully loved.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.3

1 Adapted LIBERALLY from 1 Corinthians 12-13 with deep apologies to St. Paul
2 1 Corinthians 13:4-6
3 1 Corinthians 13:13

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Into the River

The last session of my Domestic Violence Advocacy training course was about preventing and overcoming compassion fatigue, by knowing our limits, and practicing self-care of a broad scope. In the course of conversation, many books, videos, and other resources were suggested. One book from which excerpts were read called out to me, and I bought it at my very next opportunity. It's a bit of a devotional, with short entries divided up by date. Today's started with this story:

It is said a great Zen teacher asked an initiate to sit by a stream until he heard all the water had to teach. After days bending his mind around the scene, a small monkey happened by, and, in one seeming bound of joy, splashed about in the stream. The initiate wept and returned to his teacher, who scolded him lovingly, "The monkey heard. You just listened." ~quoted from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
As I read this passage, my heart began to beat faster. Yes, this, it seemed to be saying. I continued on, reading Mark's analysis of the story, nodding vigorously as I did so, feeling its application to the pull I've been feeling in my own life and faith (which are, in fact, a large part of my reason for undertaking the DVA training that led me to the book), and within my church and religion.

In his reflection, Mark said, "The river, of course, is the ongoing moment of our living. It is the current that calls us to inhabit our lives. And no matter how close we come, no matter how much we get from staying close with a sensitive heart, nothing will open us to joy but entering the stream."

What are we doing with this life we have, UUs? What are we doing with our faith? Are we talking, reflecting, writing our senators, Facebooking and rallying for justice? Are we sitting by the river, analyzing it, considering it, yelling that it is flowing in the wrong direction? 

I wonder what would happen to us if we jumped in and splashed about. What would that look like? 

This song came on my playlist the other day. I had previously appreciated its raw satire, the way it jabs not-so-subtly at organized Christianity (or is it capitalism? Hard to tell, and that says something, too), the commoditization of faith, the way it digs in its claws and squeezes you for more. This time, though, I heard a rebuke of much of the conversation happening in my own religious tradition. 

And as I listened in horror, thinking about all of the conversations I've been privy to lately, about growing our numbers, about getting more pledges, about how we can reach out and make ourselves appealing to families, to singles, to the next generation, in the name of growing membership and concurrently, money. We're thinking about what people can do for us, instead of what we might do for those people.

I know, I KNOW that mission takes money. I know that the core drive behind wanting to grow our membership is to share our joy, and the drive behind wanting more money is to be able to go out and live our mission.

But folks, we've got it backward. We're listening, but we're not hearing.

I've been in marketing off and on for years. In fact, that background is part of what landed me almost immediately on a committee - Publicity. When I walked through the doors of my congregation, my biggest fire was how we could reach out and get other people to do the same (sound familiar?).

One of the lessons that most stuck with me from a former marketing director is that bad promotional materials talk about features and good promotional materials talk about benefits. People don't care about Gorilla Glass, they care that when they drop their phone, it won't shatter into a $200 repair bill. People don't care about state-of-the-art security algorithms, they care about resting easily after shopping online, instead of worrying about identity theft. No one cares if your online store carries everything from books to jewelry to groceries, they care that they can have back to spend with their families time and money that would otherwise have been spent running from store to store.

People don't care that your church or your denomination needs more members. They don't even care that much that if only they'd give you more money, you could do amazing things. We should not be asking one another how we can attract young people or families or single people to our congregations (I've taken to cringing every time I hear this question). We should be asking how we can reach out and help those people get their spiritual needs met, to take care of themselves (and maybe someday, that self-care will allow them to offer help to others. Maybe not.), even if they never walk through our doors or give us a dime.

So I feel a bit out of sorts in our publicity committee right now, because I'm not living my faith at church. Not in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, nor in committee meetings, not even teaching religious education classes.  I'm living my faith on the sidewalk of the women's health clinic on Saturday mornings, and training to advocate for domestic violence survivors. I go to church as a matter of self-care, because singing and meditation and the company of others who also want to heal the world fill my bucket. I go for the reminder of what it is I want to do for the world and why, and the push and energy to keep doing it.

But those moments on Sunday are me staring at the beauty of the stream, and listening to it babble. The moments I jump in are the raw moments when I'm reaching out to another in their vulnerability.

We as UUs need to get off of our contemplative river bank and JUMP INto that river with both feet. That's the missional, rather than commoditized faith I want to belong to. And if dwindling membership and giving kills us as a denomination? Well, I'd rather we die on a cross saving the world, tearing the curtain of the temple separating us from one another, and leaving something a little more healed and whole behind, than to continue plodding along, storing up the cold treasure of membership numbers or pledges on earth. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My 48-hour training begins

Click to enlarge.
Family Shelter Service DVA training booklet
Note 1: I extend deep gratitude to my lovely friend Amy, who sponsored my training. Though modest, the cost exceeded our budget, and this important work I'm doing would not be possible without her contribution. ♥

Note 2: While I will usually refer to the victims and survivors of domestic violence as female (most are), I recognize, as do the training materials, that many victims are GBT men, and some are heterosexual men. 

My state mandated Domestic Violence Advocacy training (in order to volunteer at the local shelter) began this morning, and already, I'm learning so much. The training is comprised of eight 6-hour sessions, each jam-packed with lectures, notes, role-play, videos, and more. I filled four pages with notes today, even on top of what I was given in handout form. I've made some of the more pithy statements into graphics. Feel free to share/pin/etc if you feel so moved. More below.

I thought ahead and packed a lunch, but after the morning's discussion and in particular the viewing of "Violence: An American Tradition," I found myself too nauseous to eat, which almost never happens to me. Three hours into this 48 hour training, I can tell that it is going to be a hard on me, emotionally and physically. I pre-emptively grabbed tissues after the first hour.

I wonder if maybe this is affecting me too much. How will I be able to hold myself in enough of a calm and professional space to help people if I am so affected by their plight? Then again, how can a compassionate person not be affected by such horrors? Is complete clinical detachment really necessary? If so, I may not be cut out for this work - or maybe the training will help me develop it.

I think it might not be a bad idea to make a standing appointment with a therapist and/or my minister to process this training. It is personal and emotional for me, having grown up for a time in an abusive household. But the experience is also powerfully spiritual. My desire to help the world heal, to be a force for good, is what drew me to Unitarian Universalism in the first place - it's why the principles resonate with me.

And many of the women who enter into the service of this shelter are in need of spiritual care. Religion is often a factor in a woman's hesitancy to leave her abusive spouse. Sometimes the horrors faced in a violent relationship can shatter the faith of a victim. I asked the facilitator whether there are chaplaincy services or spiritual advisers available to the clients. This is something they are working on and I wonder how I can be a part of it. Just like Faith Aloud became very important to me in my work as a clinic escort, because of the affirmative faith-based support they offer to women facing the decision to have an abortion (in fact, that's how I found them - by wondering aloud, to Google, if anyone was providing that service), I can see that domestic violence victims need similar care. They need to hear authoritatively that this treatment of them is not ok, not part of a higher purpose, not their cross to bear. At the very least, they need to be heard by someone who can hold their spiritual selves gently.

I frequently find myself wishing I could fix the world. I'm a fixer - a common thread in domestic violence victims and survivors, as a matter of fact, and likely the case for survivors of direct and indirect childhood violence as well. And, as our facilitator mentioned, it does so often go hand in hand with being a woman. But I need to overcome that desire, to a point. I can't make decisions for people. I can't fix them. I can only support them and empower them, advocate for them, listen to them, be present and knowledgeable. I can be on their side.

So here I am, once again, working toward a lay-ministry of presence, of showing marginalized people that yes, there are others who care, who value you and your life.

In DuPage county, if you, or someone you know, are living in fear of someone you love, please contact Family Shelter Service. Call the 24-hour hotline at (630) 469-5650 to receive critical information and services.

Scroll down for the rest of my graphics from this week's class.

Photo by flickr user SalFalko, used with Creative Commons licensing

All graphic designs made by Mandie McGlynn (me).
Photos were obtained copyright-free from unless otherwise noted.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Our children are "just" themselves

When my oldest child, Quentin, was younger, we knew he was a little different. He was precocious, talked like an adult, and while he loved people, he didn't seem to have any sense of social graces. Since he was only about two, we didn't think too much of it. 

Sometime between ages 2 and 7, my husband and I came across a description of Asperger Syndrome, and it was like a lightbulb went off. "Ohhhh," we thought. "That explains so much about our kid." In what may be typical confirmation bias style, we continued to notice more and more about him that seemed to fit the AS profile. But it was never a big deal, just a way for us to understand him, and we didn't seek a diagnosis because we didn't need one. 

During his seventh year of life, we started to notice that his speech patterns (particularly a "reverse stutter" and halting speech) were starting to interfere in his ability to effectively communicate his thoughts. He seemed anxious, and was having trouble connecting to kids his own age, even though he desperately wanted friends. So we took him to the pediatrician, who referred us to a neurologist (to rule out seizures) and a psychologist (to evaluate for Aspergers or other psychological "disorders"). We came away with an entirely unsurprising diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. 

Never during this process did we use our suspicions or diagnosis of Quentin's differences to shame him or put a limiting box around him. Even before having him evaluated, knowing how parents with AS were handling some of the more challenging aspects of parenting kids on the spectrum helped us frame our interactions with Quentin in a healthier and more positive way. Once he received a diagnosis, we were able to enroll him in social group therapy which allowed him to begin to understand social expectations and develop skills that helped him form relationships. When we enrolled him in school, his diagnosis was the foundation of an individualized education plan that provided him further social training and tools to alleviate much of his anxiety around the environment.

In short, Quentin's diagnosis was a tool for us as his parents to understand him and his needs, so that we could in turn provide him with the tools he would need to be a functioning, happy person. He's been known to introduce himself to people by saying, "Hi! I'm Quentin. I have Asperger's!" with the same pride another child might say they'd just won a pony at the fair. Sometimes he even follows that up with, "I think I'm the next step in human evolution."

When I wrote earlier this week about our thoughts on my younger child's gender nonconformance, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Yet some people seemed concerned. Maybe we're pushing him into a box in which he doesn't belong. Maybe Jude is just Jude. After all, lots of boys like pink. Lots of boys like to wear long hair, or develop close relationships with male friends. 

Well, of course Jude is just Jude. But in the same way that "just Quentin" includes his Asperger's, "just Jude" includes gender nonconformity that may or may not turn out to be a long term part of his personality, that may or may not turn out to be a precursor to his being gay or transgender. I am not trying to put my kid into a box. I'm trying to understand him, so that I can be the best parent possible, so that I can shower him with love he can recognize no matter who he decides to be or love, so that he can grow up happy and secure. Knowing that there are words for this part of his personality (gender fluid, princess boy, pink boy, gender variant) helps me seek out other parents who have experience raising such children. It helps me Google, ok? :) 

And just like Quentin often treats his Asperger's as the gift it mostly is, Jude will often introduce himself to new people by asking, "Did you know I'm a girlboy?" He has no sense of shame in his explorations of personality and gender. And I'm going to do my best to keep it that way, which is what my previous post is all about.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The story of my "cause"

Yesterday morning, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across this post, "An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation," pleading with the (Christian) church to be more progressive on LGBTQ issues. I admit that I guffawed a little at the idea that *that* would ever happen, growing up as I did in an extremely conservative Lutheran Church.

When I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade, the pastor of my church taught my co-ed confirmation class, and I have a powerful memory of the class in which he taught that homosexual men and women defecate and urinate on one another to derive sexual pleasure. On Confirmation Sunday, when there were many guests come to see this right of passage, he chose to preach not the gospel, but hellfire and damnation for Gays.

At seventeen, I discovered the Original Soundtrack of the musical RENT, and the culture shock I experienced cannot be overstated. I think I listened twice before I realized that Angel (my favorite character, by far) was, in fact, a cross-dressing gay man. It (along with greater exposure to the World At Large) was a step in my slow transition from conservative-minded to open-minded and eventually, in my adulthood, to what I like to call pinko-hippie-liberal (and, not coincidentally, a Unitarian Universalist).

In the midst of coffee and conversation with a friend last week, it came out that the LGBTQ fight for equality and acceptance is one of my personal "causes." She asked why, I'm sure expecting a story of gay friends or family. But you know, I didn't really have such a story. When I became a surrogate, I decided that I would choose to work exclusively with gay couples, because many surrogates outright refuse to work with anyone but a straight couple or individual, and I felt gay couples deserved as much as anyone else the chance for biological family. But at that point, I already felt strongly about LGBTQ equality.

Regardless of its cause, I'm coming to see my seemingly random change of heart about LGBTQ people and their lives as nothing short of grace. I describe myself as agnostic or at the very least nontheist, but sometimes I DO feel like there is an invisible hand guiding my life. Maybe it's just luck.


As I continued reading the Open Letter blog post, I came to the music video of Macklemore's song, "Same Love." About halfway through, my youngest child, J, climbed into my lap and asked me to start it over. As I watched it again, with J on my lap - this child who is so sweet and good and full of hope and love and all of the good things in the world - I cried. I cried for J's innocence. I cried imagining MY CHILD bullied and tormented and 8.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than other children. I cried and I kissed my baby's face and hair and told my child "I love you. I love you. I love you."

This wasn't just random imaginings on my part. You see, J is extremely gender nonconforming. I would even go so far as to call J gender fluid (before I knew there was such a term - thank you, Google - I made up my own word and described J as flex-gendered). It's not just that my kid likes wearing
cross-gender hairstyles and fashion. It's not that J's play is particularly gender-variant (actually, J's play is pretty gender-stereotypical). It's not even just that J has "married" a same-sex church-friend. It's more that J self-identifies as a "girlboy... or a boygirl" in addition to gender-variant tastes and preferences.

Could this be a phase? Sure. But given the length of time this has been going on, and that it's gotten more and not less pronounced over time, it's unlikely that J will grow up to be both cisgender and straight. In fact, studies show that between 60-85% of boys (specifically, there is less correlation for girls) who exhibit this sort of gender variant behavior grow up to be bisexual, gay, or transgendered.
"Green (1974, 1987) has conducted the most comprehensive prospective study of boys with marked patterns of childhood cross-gender behavior. This study contained a sample of 66 feminine and 56 control boys assessed initially at a mean age of 7.1 years (range = 4–12 years). About two thirds of the boys in each group were followed long enough so that their sexual orientation could be assessed in late adolescence (M = 18.9 years; range = 14–24 years). Data from a semistructured clinical interview were used to rate sexual orientation in fantasy and behavior on Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin's (1948, pp. 636–641) 7-point sexual orientation continuum, where 0 = exclusive heterosexuality and 6 = exclusive homosexuality. Depending on the measure (fantasy or behavior), 75%–80% of the previously feminine boys were either bisexual or homosexual (Kinsey ratings of 2–6) at follow- up as compared with 0%–4% of the control boys.
"Green's (1987) results were similar to those of six other follow-up reports of boys who displayed marked cross- gender behavior (Bakwin, 1968; Davenport, 1986; Kosky, 1987; Lebovitz, 1972; Money & Russo, 1979; Zuger, 1984)...Because a strong empirical link between childhood sex-typed behavior and sexual orientation has been established for men in both prospective and retrospective studies, it is likely to be genuine."

Maybe I didn't have a story, a "why" to go along with my strong feelings about LGBTQ rights and equality, but I do now.  When you speak, or even think, about gay men or transgender women, there is every possibility that you are speaking of the hopeful future of this sweet little person in my lap. That if you feel hate or disgust, these eyes are the ones that will fill with tears. That if you try to keep away basic human rights, to prevent sanctioned love and connection, that it is MY BABY whose heart you are breaking. That when you speak words of hate that filter down to the next generation, my child will bear the abuse that flows from them.

If my son grows up to be my daughter, or if my little boy grows up to be a man who loves men, will you think less of him, of me? Will you try to change his beautiful heart?

Addendum: If you think I'm jumping to conclusions or otherwise boxing my child in, please read this follow-up.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Broken

"Cars break down and people break down and other things break down, too, so let's go down together." ~The Refreshments

This week's five minute friday prompt - Broken - doesn't bring to mind cars or material items or even promises. It brings to mind people. 

Five Minute FridayThe world is broken. It is shattered into a million (billion) pieces, and all I want with my heart and soul right now is to put it back together again. Like the ever present egg, though, I'm afraid that if all the king's horses and all the king's men can't do it - well, how could I? 

But I need to begin. I need to wash out some wounds with water and peroxide. I need to put on a soothing salve and bandage. Even if it's just a paper cut on the finger of this world, it's something. 

Because there is one thing I know about this word - Broken. It didn't make me think of myself, and there was a time, not so long ago, when it would have. I am not broken, not any more. 

I took a psychological inventory test thingy this week (MMPI-2), and the result came back almost painfully normal. I was shocked beyond reckoning. I call myself a little crazy, a little nuts, not quite all together. But as it turns out, just knowing my weaknesses (and my strengths) makes me NOT crazy, not nuts, not pathologically afflicted. 

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see."

I made this in 2011 - not so very long ago.

No, that's not a reference to the grace of God or Christian faith. At one point, I sang it bitterly, as a reference to how lost I was *in* the conservative Christian faith of my upbringing. But now...

I've been saved from brokenness, by the grace of good people. If it works for you, you can say that those people are the hands of God working in the world. I'm healed enough, now, that I can grant you that with no reticence. For me, I think, those hands and that grace ARE divinity, whatever you may call it.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Remember

Remember. Remember things you never knew. Remember what's deep inside the Universal Consciousness, those primal things that we know before we can know. Reflexes. Crawling to our mother's breast to eat. Crying, breathing, sucking. Is there something spiritual in there to be remembered? Should we remember those things? Do we have a choice?

Remember. Remember these moments. You always hear people talk about how happy they were when they were young, and they didn't know it. I know it. And I need to remember. This is why I take pictures, why I blog, why I Facebook the funny things my kids say and the sweet things they do. I heard  someone complain recently about how fake their friends' Facebook pages are - how they only ever post the good, happy, cheerful moments, and never the real, raw ones. Well, who the hell wants to remember those?! 

Granted, sometimes I think it would be nice if grandmothers and mothers and mothers-in-law would remember more about how hard it is to be a mother to young children, a wife in a new marriage, someone learning to keep a house and a job and a family. Not that all of those apply to me, but they apply to a lot of people with mothers, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers who don't seem to ever remember having had to really TRY to make those things work. 

But I don't want to remember that, except inasmuch as it brings me compassion. I just want to remember these moments of love and pure joy that my family bring to me. Because they do, and often. And so that's what I put on the Internet for posterity - even if no one is reading, because *I* can go back and read it, when my kids are grown, and have kids of their own. 

Remember the life that has brought us here, to this joy, in all its ups and downs. Maybe don't remember the specific sorrows of that life past, but remember their depths. Know that those moments, in all their pain, were steps on the path that brought you here. Here to this moment, which is worth remembering. 

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Greek Civilization and UU Governance

When we officially return to homeschooling next fall, Quentin (my 8 year old) will begin reading age-appropriate translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Despite a few attempts, I have never read these myself, but was hoping to learn along with or a little ahead of my son. So when the opportunity presented itself to take a free online course through HarvardX this semester, entitled "The Ancient Greek Hero" and largely composed of the study of those two Homeric epics (come join me if you like, the class only started today, and is semi self-paced), I jumped at the chance.

The introduction to the course involves some discussion of the Ancient Greek world, political structures, and civilization in general. As I read, my brain was quick to make associations between the writing and the topics marinating deeper in my brain (about religion and Unitarian Universalism, in particular).

In The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Professor Gregory Nagy begins to explain the Greek "city-state" and what that meant to the citizens.
The ancient Greeks would agree that they shared the same language, despite the staggering variety of local dialects. They would even agree that they shared a civilization, though they would be intensely contentious about what exactly their shared civilization would be. Each city-state had its own institutions, that is, its own government, constitution, laws, calendars, religious practices, and so on. Both the sharing and the contentiousness lie at the root of the very essence of the city-state. What I am translating here as 'city-state' is the Greek word polis. This is the word from which our words political and politics are derived.

Read this paragraph again, replacing "Greek" with "UU," "civilization" with "religion," and "city-state" with "congregation." Sounds just about right, doesn't it? And the word for UU governance is polity (a word that confounded me for far too long - why do we UUs, who claim to be a religion for the huddled masses, who want to expand, insist on using language that turns us into a secret society, an old boys' club that, even when you attend, seems impossible to break into linguistically? Another post for another day, I suppose), from the same root, and in fact is its own political structure in Ancient Greek civilization. I'd like to explore that in more depth some day as well.

Nagy goes on to clarify Aristotle's discussion of polis and humanity.
Here is the original Greek wording, ho anthrōpos phusei politikon zōion (Aristotle Politics I 1253a2–3), which can be translated literally this way: 'A human [anthrōpos] is by nature an organism of the polis [politikon zōion]'. [2] We see in this wording the basis for a distinctly Greek concept of civilization. What Aristotle is really saying here is that humans achieve their ultimate potential within a society that is the polis. From this point of view, the ultimate in human potential is achieved politically.
Eventually, the few consistencies amongst the Greek city-states are described, including festivals, knowledge bases, and poetry. Continuing the UU analogy (we do have some things in common, after all, don't we?), one could argue that we UUs can best reach our own human (and spiritual?) potential within the societal structure that is affiliation - society, a congregation- in all its benefits and struggles. This seems a profound statement, and I'm interested to learn more. Unfortunately, this topic is only tangential to my coursework, and indeed, I have much more to read before I've finished the week's assignment.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Homeschoolers at Heart

Lately, I've taken to tagging many of my Instagram pictures with #homeschoolersatheart. After all, we didn't stop being life-learners just because Quentin started attending public school. Both boys continue to ask fascinating questions, and we keep helping them learn to find answers.

This morning, around 7:45, after Luke had left for work but before it was time for Quentin to walk to school, Jude and I started talking about sex and gender. He has taken to calling boys "XY" and girls "XX" lately, after having watched a Bill Nye the Science Guy episode about genetics (or was it probability?). Jude, who sometimes decides he's a girl, thought that maybe his chromosomes change periodically. Quentin wondered what would happen if someone had two Y chromosomes, either together with an X or without any X. Then he wondered about having three Xs or just one.

Ask me how much I know about genetics. The answer is only the most basic jr. high level information. So how on earth could I answer a question like that? How can parents be teachers after all?

Enter Google. If schools in the cloud aren't a reality, learning in the cloud certainly is. We tried asking Siri, but she struggles with voice recognition when the boys are the ones speaking to her. So I typed in Quentin's question ("What happens if your dad gives you two Y chromosomes?") and off we went to explore genetics and DNA replication.

Together, Quentin and I discovered how Trisomy X, Down's Syndrome, and Turner's Syndrome manifest genetically and physically. We learned that there are key developmental triggers on the X chromosome, and so no embryo can survive without at least one copy.

We had a social lesson, about the ways people can look and act differently, from those who choose to personify a gender different from what their chromosomes have determined for them, to those who have extra chromosomes or not enough and might have unusual features or be slower to understand, and we faced the sad truth that not everyone is as kind and compassionate as our family strives to be - even adults sometimes mistreat people who are different ("They should know better!" said Q).

We are life learners, full of curiosity. In June, we'll be more than homeschoolers at heart; we'll be homeschoolers in reality once more. I can't wait to see what we continue to learn when we have more than four hours together each day to explore. (and I'm thinking again about starting ANOTHER genre blog... stay tuned)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Afraid

Like Baby in Dirty Dancing, I so often feel like I'm afraid of everything. Not afraid of losing the love of my life, but afraid of losing myself, or never finding the me that has been sitting inside waiting for me to discover her my whole life, or maybe the me I could be if I looked hard enough.

Five Minute FridayI'm afraid of being worthless. I'm afraid that being "just" a mom is not enough. I usually feel like a pretty good mom - except when I don't - but I'm a terrible housewife. I'm lazy. I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of STUFF that is supposed to be done, and who has the energy to even begin when the task is so very unconquerable?

I'm afraid to take time for myself. Because usually what that means in another bath, or another hour or two on the computer, doing absolutely nothing - or working - neither of which really feed my soul. That's something I realized today - that "me time" doesn't just mean time to do whatever you please. I'm lazy, so "whatever I please" doesn't usually amount to something that will enrich me. I'm not saying I think I have to be actively working during my downtime but, well, yes, I guess I am.

I need to strip away my doing-nothing time and find some time FOR me. Not self-indulgently for me, but self-discovering, self-creating, self-enriching. I need to use my time more wisely, to meditate, to journal, to find some kind of peace.

Because I am afraid.

I am afraid that I am raising my children without the knowledge of what inner peace can be. I'm raising them in a happy home, but I wouldn't call it a particularly peaceful home. I need to find myself so I can give myself to them. I need to put on my oxygen mask - not just sit around lazily while the plane crashes - and then help them learn how to put theirs on, too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

my Self.

When I started this blog, I thought it would be a typical photographer's blog, with samples of my work and my commentary on that work. But then I thought, "why not make this blog that is named after me BE about me?"

This is my art.

This is my religion.

This is my family.

This is my SELF.

I hope you've been enjoying it, even though I tend to go on tangents, even though I tend to post again and again about a subject for awhile, even though I have three photo sessions I haven't yet blogged and another to shoot tomorrow that will be added to the queue.

I have something for you today that is a combination of my photography, some design work (what?!) - FB banners and photos, and my faith, my spirituality, my religion. All but the last two are made with my own photos. Enjoy.
edited to add: All of these designs are free to use for noncommerical purposes. They can shared on Facebook from the UU Media Collaborative Works FB page (lots of other great work there, too!). Credit is much appreciated and high-res versions are available upon request. 

Composite of photos by Flickr users
Stan Dalone, Barbara LN, and Leonard John Matthews
Used with Creative Commons Licensing
Photo by Flickr user avl42,
 used with Creative Commons license

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In observance of Roe v Wade

If you've been reading this blog, you know I volunteer as an escort at a local women's health clinic that twice a week provides abortions. My job is to shepherd women into the clinic -- walking them from their cars to the door and making small talk to help drown out the shouts of the protestors.

On this 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which led to the right of women to a safe and legal abortion, I've written a guest post for a fantastic new Unitarian Universalist blog, Raising Faith.
Who will respect her decision and her pain?
Graphic by Mandie McGlynn
photo used with Creative Commons licensing
from Flickr user M. Angel Herrero

The story begins like this:

One cold Saturday morning, I arrived at the clinic before the doors were unlocked. The protesters were already setting up with their thermoses full of coffee and rosaries at the ready. Idling in the pull-up driveway was an old, boxy sedan full of people.

In the front seat were a man and woman looking to be in their 40s, heads bent toward each other, talking softly. Crammed in across the bench seat in the back were four exuberant children, who appeared to range in age from about 3 to 9.

Read the rest at Raising Faith.

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