There are those who know right from the start what their path in life is meant to be. And there are those, like me, who have tried a number of different paths, some successful until they weren’t, some interrupted by crisis or tragedy or failure. I personally got to the point where I stopped thinking about the future, because I couldn’t bear the crushing disappointment.

So when I answered the call to ministry, I was very clear that I couldn’t think all the way to ordination, because I couldn’t bear it if I didn’t make it. Instead, I would just do what was in front of me – apply to seminary, get funding, get through the semester, fill out the forms, write the essays, check off the boxes, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

When I arrived in Southold in August 2015 following seminary and my internship, there were still steps ahead, and I still kept my head down, focusing on just the next step – prepare for the ministerial fellowship committee, complete my clinical pastoral education, fill out the forms, have the conversations, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And now, having been welcomed into preliminary fellowship (with more forms and essays, because I think paperwork will actually be the death of me), there is just one final step.

I am blessed that the Board of Trustees, on behalf of the First Universalist Church of Southold, has agreed to ordain me into Unitarian Universalist ministry.

I realize of course that the ordination is not the start of my ministry. Rather, an ordination is in some ways like a wedding – just as a wedding is in many ways a spiritual and legal affirmation of the existing relationship, so too an ordination is a spiritual and legal affirmation of the existing ministry.

And still, the act of ordination is a big moment – it will be a big service with some great music, great preaching and readings, and some pomp and circumstance. It will also be a party to celebrate the long road I have traveled, which you have traveled with me.

As details emerge, and as more thoughts emerge, I will undoubtedly write more. But for now…

SQUEE!

 

An open letter to Chris Hardwick, founder of The Nerdist and host of The Nerdist Podcast (and @midnight and The Talking Dead and who knows what else because he’s doing so much as he follows his bliss):

Dear Chris,

I want to thank you for the impact The Nerdist Podcast has made on me.

Like many GenXers, I have done several things professionally – retail, teaching, singing, acting and directing, arts management, editing and publishing – always feeling that there was something more I could do, and definitely feeling rather like Salieri in Amadeus, second best, never getting the breaks. Thus it was something of a surprise when I realized I was called to ministry and am now in the first few years of my career as a Unitarian Universalist minister. When I first discerned the call to ministry, I was very clear that I didn’t want to be a congregational minister – I was clear that my call had something to do with the arts. But Salieri syndrome kicked in again, because I am not a great actor, or an instrumentalist, or a composer or playwright – and because others in my denomination are more creative and out there doing amazing things.

I tell you this because about a year ago, having resigned myself to congregational ministry, I started listening to the podcast. Sure, some of them are simply hysterical, and I am so grateful for that – I listened to your first podcast with Wil Wheaton about a week after the election and it was the first time I had laughed since that horrible day, so much so I had to pull off on the side of the road because tears were streaming down my face.

But alongside the humor, especially in the podcasts from the last year or two, you have engaged in incredibly thoughtful conversations with incredibly bright and thoughtful people about creativity, inspiration, temperament, process, and the philosophy of art. Episode after episode, you are tapping into a deep truth about our impulse as humans to create and express ourselves, and the ways in which those impulses define our attitudes and character.

Those conversations have mattered – on a larger scale, of course, but also to me personally. Your call to us to find that thing and do it has helped me realize that I don’t have to be Mozart to be effective, and useful, and needed. Your call to us to find that thing and do it has helped me see that my call to ministry isn’t about being the best artist but rather to inspire others to create, to do, to use the arts to find truth, to understand the world, to connect with others, to let our spirits play. And goodness knows we need it – more than ever, when the political and social landscape seeks to crush us, we need to create art and be inspired by art in order to survive.

And so I thank you – for helping me discern my need to leave the congregation and work as a “freelance” minister working with communities to inspire and enrich their lives with art – for continuing this vital conversation about creativity – and for making us laugh so hard I can’t drive.

Thank you.

Enjoy your burrito…

Image by Jimiyo at Deviant Art – free for use under Creative Commons License

If you have ever visited this site, you will notice the design is radically different. Startlingly so, I suspect.

Yet it is more me than the last iteration (FarFringe 2.0), despite all of my wanting the light loops and soft flowery colors to be me. As a reminder, here’s what the old header looked like:

cropped-nftfflogopink-1200x300.jpg

Before that, I had a much bolder, more colorful header, on the original FarFringe – a design that remained untouched for nearly 4 years:

nftff-header-good

I loved the delicate nature of FarFringe 2.0, much as I like ruffles and lace and pastels. They are beautiful and elegant, something for me to look upon with a little longing. Yet every time I try to incorporate them into my own style, they feel awkward and uncomfortable.

The truth is, I am bold and colorful. I am most comfortable in clean, classic cuts – A-line skirts, blouses with clean lines, strong colors. While my home tends toward Early American, clean lines and strong colors still feature prominently. So why should my website be anything less?

My website is a reflection of me – maybe the most modern reflection of me – but still a reflection of me.  FarFringe 3.0 is boldly colored, with clean lines, and an inviting design. Leave the ruffles, lace, and pastels for someone else.

For much of my adult life, I’ve been a consciously sexual being. I recognize in myself an enjoyment of the human body – mine and others – and have had a number of satisfying (and a few unsatisfying) sexual relationships. I love that part of our being human that makes us both sexual and aware of our sexuality. I love that we get, as they say, warm for another’s form. Even when I am single, like I am now, I enjoy flirting, feeling sexual and sensual, dwelling in desire and passion. I love performing with a bit of sexual sparkle (as I did in the UTS drag show last year). And I absolutely love that we teach healthy sexuality to all ages in the Our Whole Lives curriculum.

dragshow2014-closeupIn other words, sex is pretty awesome and a celebrated part of who I am.

Thus I’m finding it awfully unnerving to be in a space where there is no passion, no attraction, no feeling of sensuality or sexuality, no desire to be sensual or sexual. This just isn’t me. I’m not asexual. I’m not cold or unmoved. So it’s been odd.

I’m keenly aware that a number of things may be contributing to this: I’ve been stressed in my work and home life (both of which have just recently released their anxious grip). I am in that wonderful stage of a woman’s life known as peri-menopause (Lord, help me to hold out / until my change comes!). There is a distinct lack of interested parties within 3,200 miles of me – including myself. Before now, I could overcome lack of partner or lack of peace and still get in touch with my sexual core, but right now, I’m feeling like a dud.

This is typically the place where I would spiral into negative self-esteem – no one will ever love me, I’m utterly unattractive, there’s something wrong with me, I’m officially a broken mess. If I can’t be wholly whole, then I am completely broken.

But now, this is where my faith steps in – a faith that says we can never be completely whole, because then we wouldn’t be human. A faith that says its in the cracks where the light gets in. A faith that says there is space for all the ways I am.

Except that for a long time, I wondered if I was too sexual for this path, too expressive with my passion and enjoyment to be the perfect pastor. Even through three OWL training weekends, I wondered if my personal enjoyment was inappropriate despite a clear call for some to be healthy sexuality religious professionals.

And then I met a colleague, Dawn, at General Assembly in Providence, whose energy connected to mine (and we became fast friends), whose queerness of both gender and preference is intriguing and delightful, whose fierce work in sexuality is inextricably connected to their call, which makes them come alive and evoke aliveness in others. Dawn showed me that all the facets of who I am – artist, nerd, extrovert, brain, geek, sexual being – make me the minister I am called to be.

Even now, when I’m not feeling it. And I mean, I’m really not feeling it. I can’t even fake feeling it right now.

But I am still a sexual being. And an artist, and a nerd, and an extrovert, and a brain, and a geek. All at once, and in different measure at different times.

So what if I’m not feeling sexual right now. It’s okay. I’m still whole and healthy and worthy.

 

My memory is a little messed up. In 2007-early 2008, I had severe back problems and was on pretty heavy pain meds for about 18 months. Within that year, I had three surgical procedures, each one requiring general anesthesia. As I came out of that time period feeling much better and reemerging into the world, I noticed that my memory wasn’t nearly as good. My short term memory requires vigilant note taking and reminders, and there are some gaps in my long-term memory. I recall once listening to a recounting of an historical event and breaking down in tears, because I knew I had once known those facts but could no longer reach them. I didn’t lose everything, but I know that the act of remembering takes a little more work.

But there are some memories I wish I didn’t still have.

I wish I didn’t remember what it was like reading names at displays of the AIDS quilt when I read names at the Transgender Day of Remembrance. While others broke down – a reasonable reaction – I found I could, as I learned in the late 1980s, to read with emotion without getting emotional.

I wish I didn’t remember the moment-by-moment experience of the homeless Desert Storm vet running in front of my car that rainy night in 2006 when last week I sat with the family and friends of a young man who was walking on a street and hit by a drunk driver. I know the general circumstances were different, but it triggered something for me and made the week of pastoral care and memorial preparations all the more resonant.

Mom and Dad, 1969
Mom and Dad, 1969

I wish I didn’t remember the horror of finding my beloved partner Tricia almost dead on the sofa when marriage equality is declared legal in yet another state. We were just starting our life together in 1998, and same sex marriage at the time was a pipe dream. I am always so happy when justice reigns and love wins, but I also relive the loss.

I wish I didn’t remember that my mother died on November 21, 2007, when the reminder of my sister’s birthday pops up. While we justified it as fitting, it still is a hard day, and I pray each year that my sister dwells on the joy of her life and the celebration she richly deserves rather than marking it as simply a day of loss.

On the Sunday before Memorial Day in 2013, I was privileged to step into Sam Trumbore’s pulpit at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany. As we led up to a candle lighting ritual, I talked about our need for memorials:

In memorial, the act of remembering is a physical act, that connects us with the past, that connects us with life, that alters time so that past and present can meet, even for a short while. And we find strength in the remembering. Director Anne Bogart says “As a result of a partnership with memory and the consequent journeys through the past, I feel nourished, encouraged, and energized. I feel more profoundly connected to and inspired by those who came before.”

Connected and inspired.

While it would be easier some days to have the pain of some of my memories much more faded than the crisp images that come to mind, when they do come, they connect me to life – my own, those who have died, and those still living. The pain of these memories informs who I am, how I enter the world, and how I interact with others. And yes, the pain of these memories inspires me to keep living, keep loving, keep remembering.

This is a post I should have written a month ago, when Rev. Jennifer Slade took her life – a beautiful, brilliant, humanity-affirming life. Her death was shocking and jarring. But I didn’t write then, perhaps because while she was a colleague, I didn’t know her personally and didn’t know how to parse it. I didn’t know what to say then.

It’s been a couple of days now since Robin Williams took his own life – also a beautiful, brilliant, humanity-affirming life. And while I didn’t know him personally either, somehow I think we all did on one level – we knew him through his antic comedy and his moving drama. He came into our living rooms and our movie theatres and we knew him. After hearing the news, my cousin wrote, “if he only knew how we felt… really felt.”

And suddenly, I know what to say – to those who loved Jennifer, to those who loved Robin, and to those who love anyone.

It might not have been enough, knowing how people really felt. I know, because I have lived it.

I have lived that moment when, despite having some success and security, I could see no way out.

I have lived that moment when, despite knowing that there were people who would miss me, I thought they would be better off without me.

I have lived that moment when, despite being knowledgeable about mental illness and the tragedies of suicide, it just didn’t matter.

Now obviously, I didn’t commit suicide. Instead, like a robot, I went to work, and thankfully the better angels in my head compelled me to say something to someone. They got me to a doctor, who got me to a psychiatrist, who got me treatment, which helped me get well. I now know better how to manage the sadness, how to reach out, what to look for in my own life so that I won’t go down that road again.

But I have lived that moment, when a decision is made. For me, the delay was largely because I couldn’t come up with a method that I thought would work. But I had made a decision.

There’s a scene in an episode of M*A*S*H, where psychiatrist Sidney Freedman spends some time at the 4077th because he had lost a patient. He explains the moment to Hawkeye:

Actually, the straw that broke my back was a kid who was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. After some time with him, he got very quiet, sometimes that’s a sign they’ve made up their minds. Only somehow, I missed it. And then that night, after we all went to sleep, that sweet, innocent, troubled kid… listened to the voices.

I know that moment of quiet. And I imagine Jennifer and Robin probably seemed calmer to family and friends in those last days than they had leading up to it. It’s impossible to know exactly what was in their mind, but I can imagine, because I’ve lived it.

So what do we do? If I hadn’t said something to a coworker, I might not be here today. The truth is, no one asked me. I put up a front of being very together, very self-assured, very competent and confident. I was (and still am) the person others came to for problems.

What we do is engage.

What we do is talk to people, not about their accomplishments, but about their lives.

What we do is ask “how are you” and stay present as we hear the answer.

What we do is not assume the confident person has a busy schedule and wouldn’t possibly be interested in going to lunch or a movie or helping with a project.

What we do is be present to those who otherwise might be outside our close circle.

What we do is be in covenant.

“Love is the doctrine of this church,” we recite, “to the end that all shall grow into harmony… thus do we covenant with one another.” Not contract, not promise, not lawfully abide. Covenant. Be in right relation. With everyone.

It’s possible that Jennifer had good, strong people in covenant with her and like Sidney Freedman, they still missed the signs. It’s possible Robin was surrounded by people who genuinely loved him, not his celebrity or his genius, and they still missed the signs.

But then I remember the viral stories of the men – one a police officer at the Golden Gate Bridge, one an Irishman who lives near a cliff – who talk to people who look like they’ve made a decision, and encourage them to keep living. They have an unspoken covenant with these people – to know them. To relate to them. To care for them. To listen when no one else will. Sometimes it isn’t the people closest to us that make the difference but simply the people who take seriously the care of being in covenant with one another.

A decade ago, Jeannie Gagne wrote an incredible, haunting piece (available to all of us in Singing the Journey) called “In My Quiet Sorrow,” written to honor those times when we carry “sorrows in our hearts that sometimes go unexpressed—with a prayer for support, love, and guidance. We all have times in our lives that are challenging; sometimes we need to ask for help, but we don’t know quite how or when.” (from the UUA’s song information page) Our covenant to one another is to hold each other and be present for each other in these times:

I am worn,
I am tired,
in my quiet sorrow.
Hopelessness will not let me be.
Help me

I won’t speak
of this ache
inside, light eludes me.
In the silence of my heart,
I’m praying.

I keep on,
day by day,
trusting light will guide me.
Will you be with me through this time,
holding me?

You’re my hope
when I fear
holding on, believing.
Deep inside I pray I’m strong.
Blessed be.

You may not know what to say exactly. But say something. And genuinely listen.

You never know, and you still may miss some of the signs, but you may also make all the difference.

No real reason for this post, except that I haven’t written in a while and I don’t like to leave my imaginary readers hanging. Just some random thoughts…

Speaking in Albany

I made the mistake of suggesting a topic I wasn’t very interested in when Sam Trumbore and I talked about my speaking in Albany this summer. “Well…I guess that’s around the summer solstice” I mused. “That would be perfect!” Sam exclaimed.

Summer solstice? Oy. I have no idea where I’m going to go with this topic. I do know, however, there have to be lessons in there somewhere… so much to  muse about.

CRUUNY Joint Service

I love love LOVE putting together big ritual! Year three, and I think I have my arms around it pretty well. I realized today, however, that my replacement will have to have theater background, as a service of this scale is as much theater as worship. Staging, choreography, music, lights, sound, set. Is it any wonder one came out of the other?

I know that wherever my ministry takes me, my ability to do worship will help, and maybe shine.

Missing Erik

It’s been a while since Erik and I spoke… he missed our spiritual direction appointment in early May, and I can’t seem to connect with him via email or phone. I hope he’s all right.

 

Forgive the distracted nature of this diary… for I am feeling distracted.

Distracted by descisions…

Distracted by feelings…

Distracted by overanalysis…

I seem to be thinking rather than experiencing. And it’s affected my relationships, my work, my spiritual practice, and my choices.

I need to simply Be In my relationship, Do my work, Be Open to spiritual practice, and allow the signposts to appear rather than search for them. It’s easier said than done… the bane of an NF’s existence, I fear.

Sigh.

I got the confirmation of my visit to Union Theological Seminary today, and after Carl noted that I’d be attending a class with James Cone, I looked him up – he’s quite well known in theological circles for his work on liberation theology. Carl was jealous, and it made me happy to know I was going someplace where such a significant person was going to be speaking – to me.

I spent some time again at the site, viewing videos, reading bios and syllabi, and the more I look, the more I want to be part of this.

I just don’t konw if I’m MEANT to be part of this. And that, my friends, is the big question.

Last Monday evening, I had one of those odd days that ended in tearful,  lamentful, “I am a worm” prayers… long wails about how horrible I am, how no one could love me, how unworthy I am. but as the tears subsided, I was led to find the old Methodist hymnal I have kicking around here. I opened it to find this hymn:

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.

Refrain

Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.

Refrain

Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.

Refrain

Now for me, this meant I needed to listen, maybe, more than lament. I needed to stop complaining and pleading, and simply contemplate. So I started listening.

Listening led me to realize I had to at the very least explain to my sister what’s going on. So on Tuesday, I told my sister I was considering a formal path to ministry. She was loving and supportive, and it led me to think that I needed to concentrate a day on this.

Wednesday, after assuring myself I had no definite deadlines to meet, no work I HAD to do, I spent the day considering the question of formal pursuit.

I read the websites of several seminaries. I made first steps to actually take a course – online, at Starr-King in Berkeley. I made an appointment to visit Union Theological in Manhattan.

And I prayed… rolling over and over in my head the words “I fear the knowledge that if I romance you / I may lose what I hold dear. Be compassionate with my hesitation / as I measure the cost of loving you.”

What is the cost? Losing my preconceived notions? Losing the beliefs I think I have? Losing love? I did determine that if I lose the man I love over this, he wasn’t the right man at all. I would miss him, but it gave me a bit of solace.


It’s now a week later. A session with my spiritual director leads me to understand that the other lesson in “Open Mine Eyes” may be that God’s pointing me to, at the very least, speak about my faith, speak and share the love I know to be at the heart of it all.

I talked with Carl about the choices before me, and determined that while the decision to go the path of formal ministry is mine alone, where/how/when is a question that involves the people most important to me.

I don’t know what the answer is. I am still searching. I am scared to death, about all I might lose. I am scared that if I don’t do this, I’ll regret it. I am scared on a practical level. And mostly, I am scared of what God might really be calling me to do.