Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I live in the space between trust and fear

I live in the space between trust and fear

Between leaning in and pulling back
Between the thrill of vulnerability and the terror of exposure

I fear not getting my words honed to perfection
Not getting things just right for an auspicious occasion like this
And I trust that as still myself, and open my senses, and simply remain present,
The words that are needed will find their way from my heart to my mouth

I trust that I’m allowed to be happy
And fear that I won’t let myself become too happy – just in case

I fear that a second child will be moved away from us
A second death without death
And trust that loving that deeply is worth the risk anyway

I trust that I'm doing the best I can
And fear that it won't be enough

I fear I’ve lost too much time trying to get past my wounds
And I trust that everything that pulled me back was part of a slingshot
Designed to propel me further than I otherwise could have gone

I trust that I'm on my path
And fear that I'm not worthy of it

I trust that if I keep listening to my call, the rest will fall into place

Trust and fear keep each other honest
Keep the boundaries permeable
Teach me different things, each in its own language
About how to sit with fear and trust anyway

That space between is my home



This piece was written for a ritual that took place during Starr King School for the Ministry's Symposium 2012, Living in the Differences.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Experiment in Integration

the talk of fearful men
the determined resistance of reactionary forces
the hard cold facts of racial life
unmatched in the annals of history
an endless reign of meaningless chaos
confronted, exposed, and dealt with

strict enforcement of the “separate,” without the slightest intention to abide by the “equal”
a strange dichotomy of disturbing dualism
they adjust themselves
they very seldom do it voluntarily

a child’s mind is crippled daily
the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible
their own tender souls
tokens of integration
seated behind a curtain in a dining car
an overflowing love
covered up with such niceties of complexity

our deep groans and passionate yearnings for freedom
plagued by rats and roaches
rocks and sticks and eggs and cherry bombs
bricks and bottles
shocked at the venom they poured out
life as a madhouse of violence and degradation
it is pretty difficult to like someone bombing your home

president of the resistance
did not long survive the rejection and condemnation
forced out of his sacred office
because he responded to the human need that he was presented with
entering the area of human rights
a brief period of eminence
projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives

it is more important to get at the cause than to be safe
struggle must never inflict injury upon another

what is needed is a strategy for change

respond to goodness
revolt against the myth of time
adjourn the councils of despair
put an end to the chain of violence in the world
refuse to cooperate with evil
become real and complete
close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love

seek to transform the suffering into a creative force
a strange and possibly nonsensical way
to win freedom from every form of oppression
an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical
rabblerousers and agitators
never assume that anyone understands

this is a tedious task which may take years
solved in the sphere of practical action
make a career of humanity

to walk the streets in dignity
boldly and brazenly
one march is seldom successful
to arouse, to organize, and to educate
to suffer in a creative manner
we can walk and never get weary
the voices, the feet, and the bodies
intermingled like the waters of a river
a turbulent ocean beating great cliffs into fragments of rock
standing amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea
the shores of history are white with the bleached bones
nonviolence or nonexistence
the end is preexistent in the means

there is something unfolding in the universe
some creative force that works for universal wholeness
the hearts and souls of those committed to it
deep faith in the future
no stopping point short of full freedom
all humanity is involved in a single process
virtually every door is open to us
ours is a great time in which to be alive



Each line in the poem comes from Martin Luther King's writings on nonviolence, which I then remixed into this piece. Text fragments taken from Nonviolence and Racial Justice; The Most Durable Power; The Power of Nonviolence; An Experiment in Love,;Speech Before the Youth March for Integrated Schools; My Trip to the Land of Gandhi; The Social Organization of Nonviolence; Suffering and Faith; Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience; Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom; and A Gift of Love.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Marriage as a Daily Practice

This is a fortuitous week for me to talk about marriage because last Monday marked 13 years that Emily and I have been together. AND, today is the seventh anniversary of our second wedding, also known as the One That Got Annulled Without Our Permission. In July, we’ll have our eighth anniversary of our first wedding – the Friends and Family one – and in October will be the third anniversary of our Third Time’s the Charm wedding.

This plethora...overabundance...somewhat ridiculous number of weddings is really ironic, because I definitely was not one of those girls who grew up dreaming about every last detail of my Big Day. And I’m bisexual, so it’s not that I couldn’t picture myself with a guy. The thought just never occurred to me. I didn’t know until I was an adult that hundreds of millions of American women had spent endless hours imagining themselves gliding down the aisle in a satiny gown, or planning the floral arrangements that would grace the tables at the reception. It just wasn’t in my girl lexicon.

While I never fantasized about a wedding, I did dream about my marriage. Or to be more precise, I thought about what it would be like to share my life with someone I loved. I’d daydream about modest things, like snuggling on the couch while watching TV, reading books side by side, or making stupid jokes in the grocery store. The devil gets lots of credit for being in the details, but there’s a lot of divinity them, too.

What both of these daydream worlds leave out, though, is that relationships take a lot of work. They need ongoing care and maintenance. You don’t just say some vows once and POOF! you’re all set for the rest of your lives.

A life built day by day wound up being central to our wedding vows. I knew til death do us part wouldn’t work, because life is too uncertain for me to make a promise like that in good conscience. I’d heard the alternative as long as love shall last, but to me, that sounds like a couple is waiting for things to blow up. So I started from scratch: what was I willing to promise?

The words came quickly, and I still think it’s a pretty good list:

I promised to start each day with an action that is loving.
I promised to treat her with kindness and respect.
I promised to cherish her gifts and support her dreams.
I promised to remember, even when things are hard, that first and foremost, she’s my friend.
I promised to take care of myself, because my wholeness is a necessary part of our wholeness.
I promised to communicate clearly and lovingly, and to listen carefully with both my ears and my heart.
I promised to keep a sense of humor with me at all times.
I promised to do everything in my power to nurture our bond.
I made these promises freely, willingly, and joyfully, and I vowed to do my best to live them every day.

I knew that if we paid attention to these things daily, we’d also be attending to the long-term health of our relationship. There’s no need to promise 50 years into the future when a series of single days is the only way to get there anyway.

Even though those three weddings grew out of an injustice, they also made it explicit that we’re making an ongoing choice to be together. They gave us the chance to make those promises over and over. Plus, now we have anniversaries woven throughout the fabric of the year.

In the end, maintaining a healthy relationship requires a daily practice of love, patience, kindness, and acceptance. And if my marriage is any indication, a little chocolate never hurts.



I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the February 13, 2011, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Force for Healing

In 2008, Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to San Francisco to speak at an event for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. I didn't know this at the time, but it was his first direct address to a large LGBT gathering in the U.S.

I had waffled about whether or not to go. It was a weeknight, and I'd been busy and exhausted at work. The idea of schlepping up to Grace Cathedral from my office, and then schlepping home afterwards on transit, felt like a lot of effort. But almost all of my colleagues were going, and I wasn't sure I'd ever get another opportunity like this. In the end, I just couldn't pass up the chance to hear him in person.

When Paul Loeb was here [as a guest speaker] a few weeks ago, he mentioned Desmond Tutu's amazing humor and joy, and I couldn't agree more. As we waited for the evening's program to begin, someone I was sitting near mentioned that the Archbishop hadn't been feeling well that day. Yet when he came out on the dais, he had such a sense of delight about him. Elfin, laughing, down-to-earth, a little mischievous – I could see the twinkle in his eye even from my pew halfway back in the crowd.

The most astonishing moment, though, came when he asked for our forgiveness for the way the church had treated LGBT people. Time stopped. I thought, "Desmond Tutu? One of the world's most renowned moral leaders – is asking for MY forgiveness?"

Looking back, I think, "Yeah, he was. Which is what makes him one of the world's great moral leaders."

In that moment, it didn't matter that we didn't share the same religion. What mattered was that he saw the spiritual and emotional wounds inflicted in the name of religion. What mattered was that as a religious leader, he put his faith into action as a force for healing, not as a weapon.

As Unitarian Universalists, I think we have a responsibility to examine the ways we're putting our faith into action. Not just in terms of organizing for social justice or environmental issues, because in some ways, that's the easy part. It takes a lot of time and dedication, for sure, but it doesn't require us to risk being transformed. The really grueling work of a faith community is in how we treat each other, day in and day out.

For example, there was a time when Unitarians who didn't call themselves Christian were met with opposition and ridicule. Yet today, I know many UUs who speak dismissively of Christianity, as though anyone who follows that tradition is automatically a tool of oppression or just not very advanced. Any religion, even our liberal one, can be used as a force for good or ill.

Unitarian Universalism gives each of us the freedom to decide for ourselves what we believe, rather than being asked to subscribe to a particular dogma. But that also means we need to choose wisely. If we're going to live out the principles and values that bring us together as a faith community, then it matters very much what we believe, because those beliefs will drive our action in the world.

I believe that we're all connected, and that we need each other. I believe that each of us is integral to the richness of existence. I believe that as human beings, we share a capacity for deep awe, whether we find it in the experience of a divine being or a jaw-dropping sunset. I believe that when we act from a place of justice, compassion, and love, we align ourselves with forces that make our souls sing.

When Desmond Tutu asked for my forgiveness, he recognized the way his church was impoverishing the world by depriving it of the beauty and potential of humans who happened to be queer. His sincerity and humility opened doors to new possibilities for reconciliation. Because humility isn't about making yourself small. It's about understanding that each of us can grow our spirits beyond our wildest dreams – and the universe will still have infinite capacity to hold us in all our fullness.

It's about a diminutive 79-year old with a sparkle in his eye looming larger than any cathedral.



I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the December 5, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

The Quality of Mercy

In middle school, I got teased mercilessly. Not only was I a fat girl, I was a fat girl who'd had the audacity to tell a boy that I liked him. I mostly tried to ignore the venom that David and his friends sent my way. I almost grew used to the mooing in the halls, being called a sphere, and allusions to my special gravitational field. Such creative cruelty was one of the down sides of having a lot of smart peers.

There was one lunch period, though, that was just too much. That day, David went past viciousness into pure hatred. I remember being stunned, and knowing that however much I believed in my unworthiness, this was beyond anything I deserved.

At our lockers before our next class, I turned to him and said, "Oh, by the way..." SLAP! and walked away without looking back. It's the only time I've ever hit someone in anger.

We were called into the principal's office — something that had never happened to me before. I wasn't sure how I felt about the red mark on David's cheek, but I think I was a little surprised and a little impressed with myself. Still, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect.

Fortunately, the principal knew me well enough to know that I had to have been pushed hard to do what I'd done. In fact, Mr. Rennie held both of us responsible for what had transpired because he understood that my punishment had preceded my crime.

The consequences of hitting David could've been quite serious. But I didn't even get detention because Mr. Rennie knew there was no chance I'd do something like that again. His understanding that day kept a terrible situation from being compounded.

I'm a Shakespeare nerd, so any discussion of mercy automatically makes me think of a well-known speech from The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.

The opening lines are the most famous, but the final lines point the way for us as people of faith, whether or not we believe in god.

Several years ago, I wrote a piece in the form of an open letter to David that I'd hoped to publish somewhere. I talked about unlearning his lesson that there's nothing more hateful than being loved by the fat girl, and how I'd come to see that my love is a gift. The piece was filled with sadness and righteous anger and transformation and empowerment. It was powerful writing, with a potentially life-saving message for other women.

And then one day, a funny thing happened: I got an email from him. There are few things in this life that could have shocked me more. He told me about living in our hometown again after years of globetrotting, caught me up on his family, and passed along some sad news about a beloved English teacher — news that he'd heard, ironically enough, through Mr. Rennie.

His note was lovely, and reminded me of the friendship that had prompted my crush in the first place.

All of a sudden, just like that, I wasn't angry any more. I'd needed the anger to help regain my self-respect, but it could only carry me so far. I can look back now with compassion for both of us, because I wonder what spiritual price he might have paid for his cruelty back then. Perhaps he has suffered, too, though I'd take no joy in it.

I don't want to measure my life by the scores that have been evened, or define people by the wrongs they've inflicted. Justice might ask me to publish that open letter, but mercy just isn't having it. I'd much rather remember the other lessons I learned from David: that boldness makes me immune to regret. That I know how to be content in my own company. And that I'm a person who values living from my heart more than I fear being wounded.



I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the November 14, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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Come, Whoever You Are

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come yet again, come


I've loved that song since the first time I heard it. I love its wide embrace. I love that despair isn't allowed center stage. I love that a 20th-century American took the words of a 13th-century Persian Sufi and set them to music that speaks to me, a shamanic Unitarian Universalist. I love that a line of the poem that the composer left out – "Even if you have broken your vow a hundred times" – only makes it more radically welcoming.

There's something in particular about the phrase "lover of leaving" that I find heartbreaking and beautiful. Who are these people who feel the need to leave, not just once but over and over? And do they actually enjoy leaving, or are they driven to it?

I tend to be a lover of staying. I've only had about nine home addresses in my entire life, and that includes my year as an exchange student and a month-long sublet when I first moved to San Francisco. I'm a fiercely loyal friend, though more than once I've remained committed to a friendship long after it would have been healthier to let it go. I much prefer vacations where I can get to know one place for a solid amount of time rather than alighting briefly in one city before moving on to the next.

Wandering? I'm a big fan of meandering my way through neighborhoods.
Worshiping Well, I'm up on a chancel, so it must hold some attraction.
But leaving...time and again, by necessity or inclination...that holds sadness.

Many of us in this room have had to do a lot of leaving, by inclination or necessity. Jobs, relationships, schools, apartments, religions, our bodies, our families, our dignity. Even when leaving is the sane choice, even when it's done of our own free will, even when it's connected to a joyous occasion like a graduation, leaving marks us. We're riddled with exit wounds.

The question then becomes, What will fill the spaces thus created? One way to make sure that no caravan of despair rushes in is to fill the space with community.

A day or two after September 11, Emily and I came to a special service here. We weren't members then, but we instinctively wanted to gather with others as we tried to comprehend what had happened. I don't remember what was said, and even the emotions seem muted. But I remember a sense of relaxing, just a bit, because we didn't have to carry the burden alone.

I also know we came here, specifically, because we knew the people sitting nearby wouldn't limit their connectedness and compassion to the people in the twin towers and Pentagon, or the airline passengers, or emergency workers, or New York City, or the United States. The difficult truth of that day is that it reflected years of tragedies played out all over the world.

The awareness of how we're connected to those beyond our immediate circle is why I keep coming to this church – because no one's humanity is worth less than someone else's. Even those whose actions we condemn, whose policies we abhor, are fundamentally worthy of love. The way I see it, the people whose wounds make them strike out most viciously are the ones most in need of love, even if I can't always be the one to muster it for them.

On the way into the church this morning, I passed members of the Faithful Fools and others gathered to bear witness to the humanity of those living on the streets – the people who would be most directly affected by a law to limit their right to take up space in public. Their silent presence on our steps reminds us that when Unitarian Universalists gather and invite others to join us – whoever they are – we're also bearing witness to our own humanity. Even when we're imperfect, even when we've broken our vows a hundred times, still the invitation remains: Come yet again, come.



I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the October 17, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Must Be Present to Win

Out the back and up on the ceiling. That’s how I would leave my body when I got too overwhelmed.

Until I started working with Dana, a somatic counselor, I might not have been able to map my escape route so specifically. I certainly couldn’t have to told you why it was important to map it. I was often perplexed during a session when I’d describe a sudden realization or the release of some old wound, and Dana would ask, “So how did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” I’d think. “I just did.” But eventually, I learned to slow the observation process down. I started to notice other signs that I was going away, like my vision getting a little unfocused. I’d have trouble forming sentences, and I’d feel fuzzy around the edges. I grew to see just how often I dissociated, spending most of my time absent from my own life.

As a survival mechanism, dissociation is brilliant. Your spirit leaves to minimize the impact of trauma, whether a car crash or abuse. The problem comes when you can’t find your way back, even after the situation is over.

This is fundamental to soul retrieval, a powerful form of shamanic healing that works on a spiritual level to bring you back to yourself. It’s no coincidence that after someone did a soul retrieval for me, I felt physically full up – all of me was there for the first time since I was a toddler. My soul was home.

Sometimes, though, it takes the body longer to catch up – our physical forms are slower than our spirits or intellects or emotions. Our bodies may not realize that it’s 2010, so they react like they did in 1994, or 1976. Maybe that more measured pace is why we can’t always hear the wisdom they’re trying to give us. That’s why we need to slow things down. That’s why Dana keeps asking me, “How did you do that?”

Because paying attention to how I come back means I can do it again. More often than not, I start by sitting up, with my feet flat on the floor. I clench and unclench my toes inside my shoes. Sometimes, I ground myself further by naming objects and their colors: red carpet, brown wood, white wall.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the somatic work I’ve done over the last three and half years has been revolutionary. I’m literally showing up in my life in a way I couldn’t before. I’ve discovered that here – in this body, in this room, on this day – is a beautiful place to be. It makes me think of that statement you often see on raffle tickets: “You must be present to win.”

When Emily, Genesis, and I went to Minneapolis for General Assembly last month, we stayed with friends I’ve known for over 20 years. While we were there, one of our hosts had a particularly tough day. She’d felt underprepared for a writing workshop she’d agreed to teach. She’d had to scramble for childcare because her daughter didn’t have summer camp that day. She’d arrived at the gig for her string trio only to open her violin case and discover that her instrument was still sitting on the piano at home. Worst of all, each setback was tangled up in other bigger knots of shame and fear. As a downpour cut the thick midwest humidity, this amazing woman cried as she confessed that she felt like an utter disappointment to all the people around her. Her despair and suffering raged more violently than the thunderstorm outside.

I was completely taken aback. How could this brilliant, beautiful person so thoroughly doubt her own inherent worth? I enfolded her in a gigantic hug and told her that she might’ve had a disappointing day, but that’s just human. She’s far from a disappointment as a friend, and wife, and mother, and writer, and musician, and a million other ways. As the deluge pummeled the house, I put my hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “There’s nothing wrong with you.” The phrase felt like it started deep in the earth, coming up through the soles of my feet and hitting her squarely in the chest. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

Even as I said it, I knew the only way such a statement was possible was that I believed it about myself. I’d finally spent enough time in my own company – rather than up on the ceiling – to know that I’m not fundamentally flawed. After decades of my own suffering, I finally knew, in my body, that even when I make mistakes or forget to follow through or let people down, I’m whole. No caveats. No asterisks. Just me. Present, and holding the prize.



I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the July 25, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Billion Stars

I think it's fair to say that for me, turning 40 was...big.

Let me give you a quick synopsis: just after my 40th birthday last year, I put out my second album, which was the culmination of two and a half years of planning and work. We had the CD release party at Cafe Du Nord, a venue I'd always dreamed of playing. Then, over the course of the fall, I realized I was being called to become a UU minister, and in February I received an acceptance letter from Starr King School for the Ministry. And, as many of you know, a month later Emily and I got the call we'd been waiting a long time for: our foster-adopt agency had a six-week-old baby girl for us, a life-altering little bundle named Genesis. There were other major developments as well, but when releasing an album is already the third headline below the fold, you get the point.

My life is looking radically different from the way it did not that long ago. And while that's exciting, it's also kind of scary because my life was already quite good.

I have a loving, supportive partner whom I've been with for over 12 years. We have our own little house, with a dog, a cat, and super sweet neighbors. I work at a nonprofit that makes a difference in the world and where my talents are both stretched and appreciated. And I'm more at home and at peace in my body than ever before.

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself, "Am I insane?" Why would I mess with all that? It's been 17 years since I stepped into a classroom. And starting a new program when I just became a new parent? Am I so sleep-deprived that I think I can just knock out a term paper during my morning commute?

I'm risking an enormous amount by upending my life. Just dealing with homework and a job would be majorly stressful, but we've got an infant who's already practicing her crawling moves. Even parenting would seem more manageable without the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching uncertainty inherent in the foster-adopt process. At some point, we may have to uproot our lives from San Francisco so I can pursue my ministry. I also know that all the demands on my time and energy have the potential to affect my marriage, which by now is one Jenga piece too many for my poor brain to handle.

The stakes are so high that only one thing could justify putting all my blessings on the line like this: the integrity of my soul.

When I was trying to decide whether to apply to seminary, I felt filled with life and joy when I thought about going, but I felt shriveled and desiccated when I considered staying with the status quo. Ultimately, that's what dealing with change comes down to: the choice between listening to that voice "still and small," or agreeing to the slow erosion of my soul. The latter is always a bigger risk to me, because over time, the waves of regret lapping at my spirit would eat away at my core.

I watched it happen to my mom.

"What does it matter?" became her relationship to life. All she could do was tread water in the ocean of old hurts she carried with her, with no hope of relief. One by one, she pushed people away until she was almost completely isolated. She certainly didn't have a faith community to draw on: she was convinced that one communion wafer she'd had as a girl while attending mass with a friend — she didn't know you were supposed to be Catholic — meant that her spirituality was forever compromised. Perhaps most importantly, when she looked at the night sky above her ocean of pain, she couldn't see any stars to guide her forward. For her, the fog didn't just obscure their light: it erased the very existence of a billion suns. I asked her once what she was passionate about, or even just to name some activities she enjoyed. She admitted that she used to write poetry, but then sighed in resignation, "It's too late for that."

And then one day, she was right. It was too late. On December 16, 2004, it was too late. But she'd given up on her life years before her heart stopped beating.

Seismic shifts like the ones I've experienced over the last year aren't the only way to keep the landscape of your soul vital and alive. Sometimes, it's a matter of nurturing seeds planted years ago, or finding new wonder in gardens that are already flourishing. Sometimes, it's just lying in the grass, looking up at the night sky, and trusting that above even the thickest fog, a billion stars shine on.



I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the June 13, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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