Monday, February 26, 2007

February 26: Shiny

There was an e-mail waiting for me when I got to work this morning. It announced the presence of visitors on campus. Signs were posted on doors to conferences rooms and offices. They announced the names of students and committees of three ministers underneath each name.

Students traded their casual clothes for new dresses and suits. One man stood outside my door, tie pulled tightly around his neck. He tugged at his collar several times as he paced the floor outside my door. His hair was freshly cut, each one neatly brushed back and in place. He's shy. We've only spoken in the halls. Today he looks shiny, and handsome, and uncomfortable. After 10 or 15 minutes that lasted a year, he was called into the conference room. When he emerged a few minutes later, he ripped his tie loose as he walked out the door. A smile graced his face, he breathed easy for the first time all day.

It's called in-care, but students dread it. How can the process be caring, they wonder. "Will they ask me about my christology?," I hear a new student ask a veteran. "I'm not sure what to say if they ask me about my christology. I mean, I believe Jesus' teachings point us to the truth, but do they care if I'm skeptical about the miracles?" The older student assures her.

Another woman walked in, dark hair concealing the grey that was peaking through last week. She's lost weight and it shows. I'm accustomed to seeing her in khakis. Today she is wearing a jumper that stops just above her knees. She stands tall and proud. I have to look twice to recognize her and only when she speaks am I sure. I wonder if the confidence she's found in the way she looks comes through in how she presents to the committee.

I met my boss as I left the building. He was in charge of the day's interviews. He wearily mumbled goodbye, and said something about another day of interviews, and loosened his tie as he stepped into the warm sunshine, turning his face to the sky letting it refresh him as we walked to his truck.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

February 13: Context

They sat in the section of chairs to the far right in the "Celebration Center." Ten women dressed in brightly colored dresses with beads and beautiful embroidery spread out in a section that holds forty or fifty people. Some sat in silence, others nervously pulled at their clothes and paced around the front. One looked for a safety pin, calling out to all who gathered early, worried that her apron was hanging too loosely. Another checks to make sure all of them had their song books. One left hers in the hotel room. Her roommate laughs and asks, "What did I tell you this morning? Huh? What did I tell you?"

They are from different tribes, located in a region that spans three states. All of them are pastors, students, mothers, and employees in jobs outside the church and home. They were invited to lead worship for the second day of a conference of clergywomen for their region of the denomination to which they belong.

It snowed five or six inches the night before, so the conference participants were slowly trickling in. I arrived early to tear down my display and load it up to leave as soon as the opening worship is over. One of our students belongs to the group leading worship. I wanted to hear her prayer, to be a supportive presence. She shared with me the night before that she was nervous, that they were all nervous.

They opened with music, nine of them standing like a choir, each dressed in the traditional style for women of her tribe. Another stood in front of them to lead them. They sang several hymns in the different languages of the tribes from which they come. They are Methodist, so they have made a commitment to itineracy. For them, that means learning the languages of new tribes each time they move to a new church. All of them are multi-lingual.

I sat and listened, aware of a growing discomfort. I watched as they stood representing cultures that have been overtaken by western ways and felt sadness for the losses they've experienced. I heard the tunes of hymns so familiar to me that I could sing them in my own language without looking at a hymnal. They are part of my culture, many of them passed down through many generations, and the best way I know to describe the feeling in my gut hearing them sung in the languages of Native American people is disonance.

I wonder what they would sing if Christianity, the faith of a foreign people trying to escape persecution in another world, hadn't been imposed on their ancestors. The host pastor for the conference thanked them as we transitioned from worship to the plenary session. She told them what a blessing it was to have them share their culture with us.

I slipped out and got into my car to begin the long drive home, and as I drove, I was haunted by the questions, "Why does it make us westerners feel so good to hear our story sung in another's language?"

Saturday, February 10, 2007

February 10: Crimson

I stared out the window watching the scene unfold before me like an episode of CSI. Two police cars blocked the path in the park on either side of a concrete barrier. A shiny plastic yellow boundary encircled the space, swaying and stretching in the stiff wind. I saw an officer rub his hands together and stuff them deep into his pockets. It was a cold morning.

Another man walked away from a plain white van. He ducked under the tape, a measuring device with a long handle in his hand. He walked around to the other side of the barrier. My eyes followed him and for the first time I saw the object of their concern. The top of a grey, balding head encircled by a crimson halo that spread from one ear around the top of his head to the other side was barely visible behind the white concrete. A man lay motionless. The officer joined the man who was preparing to take measurements. Pages from a legal pad blew up in the wind. He laid it down on the barrier, just above the carefully stenciled words: "Honor," "Dependability." I watched as one of Tulsa's finest placed a coffee cup on top of the notepad to keep the pages from blowing.

I took in the scene like I did the countless hours of crime shows that blared on hour after hour when I lived with my ex. A man's life became an object, a curiosity. I felt ashamed, yet deeply aware of my disconnection from what was just yards from my window. I stepped away, poured some coffee, and tried to go about my morning like I do any other morning. I picked up my journal, and stared at the blank page. The cat jumped in my lap and rubbed her head against my stomach. I pulled her in close, clung to her. With her in my arms, I got up and walked to the window again. Two men dressed in black suits, ties blowing in the wind, black gloves covering their hands, stood outside the boundary, waiting, their heads turned toward the river. They paced around nervously. A black hearse had replaced one of the police cars on the path. The back door was open, waiting.

Was it suicide? Was he murdered? I squinted to see the words on another side of the barrier: "Decisiveness," "Faith." The two men in suits turned quickly and slid under the boundary. I walked away.

I turned on the water for my shower, and slowly undressed. I wondered about his life. Was he one of the homeless men I see everyday in the park? Did he stop there after driving around in the middle of the night? Did he have a family? Friends? Tears streamed down my cheeks. He was no longer an object to me. He was a person, a man who lost his life, whether at his own hands or the hands of another, a man who spent his last moments in anguish. I thought of my own days of anguish and torment, days not so far gone, days when all it would have taken for me to be that man was one small decisive step around a dark corner of despair. I shivered and stepped into the shower.

I poured the last cup of coffee into a travel mug and grabbed my car keys. I walked to the window to look again, one last distant glance. A fire truck was parked on the street near the path. Three firefighters busied themselves with a rake and a shovel and a bright red plastic bag. The life force of a man that once pulsed through his veins is now hazardous waste. I watched as they spread a grey powdery substance. They walked back to the truck and climbed in. I put on my coat and gathered my things.

I walked down the stairs and out the door. When I got to my car, I looked up. The scene was like any other morning. The emergency vehicles were all gone. The yellow boundary was removed. The crimson halo no longer glistened in the bright sunlight. A group of runners breezed by the barrier, their conversation light, their eyes fixed on the path in front of them. The space is sacred now; their actions seemed blasphemous. I walked across the street and stood on the path. I stared quietly at the place where the crimson halo encircled the man's head. Just above it was the word "Enthusiasm."

Rest in peace, my brother.

Monday, January 29, 2007

January 29: Square

Anne Lamott says to write enough to fill a box that is one-square inch. Even that has been a chore for the past few days. For some reason, I manage to resist even the bare minimum of goals when I can't focus, and I'm worried about not writing to meet my standards, and I'm busy, and I... Just excuses really. The busyness takes over and all discipline flies out the window. Prayer/meditation, journaling, running, and evening writing have been sporadic for a couple of weeks now.

I know the difference the disciplines make, though. I feel better, function better, and that's motivation enough to get back on track. No shame. No beating myself up.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

January 24: Officer

My neighborhood is safe, from what I can tell. I haven't had any need to be overly concerned about anything or anyone. I live on a quiet section of a busy road, about a block south of a major highway. From my sunporch, I can see the traffic traveling across the bridge over the river that runs in front of my building. When it's quiet, I can hear the roar of the cars passing by in the distance.

This morning I awoke to the sound of helicopters overhead. They were high up, I could tell, and it's not unusual to hear them. I live just a few blocks from a major trauma center, and with the highway close by, the morning traffic copters fly overhead frequently. This morning was different though. They seemed to hover overhead for a long time. I got out of bed, made the coffee, fed the cat and sat down to journal. My attention focused on the paper, I lost track of the noise outside.

Later I went out to run. I crossed the street and walked across the grass to the path in the park. After I stretched a bit, I headed south down the path, turning around to head back after 15 minutes.

When I got within sight of my apartment, I noticed the trash truck had arrived. I silently congratulated myself for remembering to take down the trash on my way out this morning. Then my eye caught the sight of a police car traveling south. The blinker went on just before it approached my driveway. I watched as it turned in, and parked in front of the garage in my building.

I wondered why the police were there. My imagination went wild. I remembered the helicopter. I had thoughts of a criminal running loose, holed up in the basement of my building. It's nice there. I spent the night on the floor of the laundry room once. I know.

I finished my run and stopped next to a concrete barrier to stretch a little. My eyes were fixed on the car, looking for any clue to tell me why the police were there. I glanced at the front door to see if there was a cop waiting on the porch, gun drawn, leaning back, ready to kick in the front door. Nothing. I crossed the street and started up the driveway. I could see someone in the car. Perhaps the officer was checking a computer to get information before approaching the door. Just then, I noticed a blonde head turn from the passenger's side and lean across the middle of the seat. A pony tail sprung from the back of the head. I recognized the face. It was my neighbor. As she reached across, the head of a policeman leaned in to meet her lips.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

January 23: Students

It was the last class of the day on the first day of classes in the first week of the first semester. My first, their first. Their faces showed a mixture of fatigue and excitement. Smiles met droopy eyes. I nervously picked at my fingers and made small talk while I waited for break to end and group time to begin. The room was warm, no need to break the ice.

I studied their faces while they talked, each one sharing the story of their journey to seminary. There is the mother of three grown children, widowed now. Greying hair is pulled loosely behind her head. Her bangs fall freely over her wire frame glasses. She leans forward when she talks. She's been in class since 8:30 this morning, but her excitement adds a freshness to her voice. She lets the eagerness overtake her fear. She is following her husband's legacy. A stranger in her city stopped her the other day, said, "I hear you're going to seminary." She's known by the powerful ministry of a justice-loving husband who died in August. She feels the weight of his legacy, yet she's buoyed by his love.

Another works a full-time job. He's the principal of an alternative school in town. His days are filled with the administrativa of education and kids whose lives are seldom ever easy. He talks about his name, mysteriously hidden in the initials he gave on his application which now stand out on his id badge. He prefers it that way. He took a new name after a spiritual experience years ago. The name is personal. He shares it only with those who will walk with him, truly walk with him in relationship. He makes it clear to us what it means for him to tell us his name, and then he shares it. I feel the responsibility of knowing it in my gut.

There are others, their stories etched into their faces. We will spend a semester together. I wonder where we will go.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

January 20: Men

I walked down the stairs from my apartment and knocked on the door to the apartment below me. I nervously checked my watch and adjusted the bottle of wine in my hand as I waited for an answer. I heard my neighbor yell, "Come in," so I opened the door and walked into his living room. He told me the party was for his cousin, whose 40th birthday was on Wednesday. He also said that his priest and his partner would be there. He has wanted me to meet them since I moved here, so when the invitation to the cocktail party came, and I had no other plans, I told him I'd be there.

The apartment was full, everywhere I turned there were men standing, drinks in hand, laughing and talking with each other. The dining room table was filled with hors d'oeurve, and a small birthday cake. I spotted the sausage rolls, and reached for one. I'd smelled them all afternoon. The scent of pastry shell baking rose through the vents to my apartment, reinforcing my decision to go to the party. The first bite melted in my mouth.

My neighbor introduced me to everyone, explaining that I live upstairs. One by one, I shook their hands and said their names aloud hoping to remember them. There was Bob who is Craig's partner, and Greg who is Mike's partner, and Robert and Andy, and John and Rick, and Mark the cowboy, and Mark the dentist, and another two or three whose names I don't remember. Scooter the schnauzer, dressed in a handsome black sweater, walked amongst us, carefully making his way through the maze of legs, looking for crumbs that were dropped as we ate.

And I was the lone woman. You must understand this is an odd experience for a lesbian.