Thursday, November 21, 2019

Transgender Awareness

Yesterday was the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  I decided not to post yesterday, since I haven't known anyone killed because of their transgender status.  I was struck by how many clergy folk I know either in person or by way of social media took part in some sort of service or ritual.

Until recently, I believed that we lived in a world of increasing tolerance, a live and let live kind of world, at least in industrialized nations of the northern hemispheres--by which I really mean Europe and the U.S. and Canada.  But now, we see this tolerance being swept out into seas of hate.

Our transgender friends would likely tell us that they've never experienced this golden time of increasing tolerance.  There's something about the idea of gender fluidity that the mass of humans have found truly threatening.

There are researchers that would tell us that the younger generations are more likely to be tolerant, but when it comes to transgender humans, I'm not sure.  I only have anecdotal evidence.  Last week, I was part of a conversation about past colleagues who may or may not have been transgendered--the flimsiest of evidence was offered (that person was taller than most women so that person must have been trans--really?).  From the conversation, it was clear to me that these younger people were not at all comfortable with any difference at all.

And yet, that's not exactly true either.  We have some colleagues who are not heterosexual, and they seem accepting of these colleagues.

I tried to be a voice of tolerance, but it became clear to me that perhaps we should have done more during Transgender Awareness Week, the week that lead up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Perhaps attitudes won't change until we have a transgender colleague or two.

I think of my own journey.  Once I'd have said that I didn't know any transgender people, but that's simply not true.  I've had students who were making transitions of some sort, and some of them were open about their transgender status.  One of those students went on to grad school, and I was happy to be part of her dissertation writing process.  We've had a transgender person at our church who was early in the transition process, and I was happy to see how accepting our congregation was.

Now I'm old enough that I have had at least one friend who has a transgender child who came out as transgender when he was finishing high school.  That friend loaned me a book by Austen Harke, Transforming:  The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.  It didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, but it would be a good resource for those who are new to this topic and who are desperate for some open-hearted approaches.

Once I would not have predicted that the nation would make the kind of progress that it has on other social justice issues--like the possibility of having an African-American president or the legalizing of same gender marriage.  That progress seemed to go nowhere and then we seemed to make changes at a much quicker pace.

Let it be so with these issues that affect the transgender population too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Good Books: "Figuring" and "Deaf Republic"

The National Book Awards are given tonight.  We've had announcements of the long list and the short list, and tonight, we find out who won.

I am not one of those readers who reads every book on the list, although I will often refer to these kinds of lists when I'm casting about for something good to read.  This year, I'm surprised by some of the books that aren't on the list.  Last year, I would have included Jill Lepore's These Truths.  This year, I'd have included Maria Popova's Figuring.

I took that book with me a few weeks ago when I went to the women's retreat.  I knew I would likely have time to read, so I decided to focus on making progress on that book.  I knew that if I wasn't intentional, I'd never get around to a nonfiction book that's longer than 500 pages.

Even though it's a book of nonfiction, it was riveting.  It's an amazing exploration of science and creativity and creating an authentic life. The book focuses most of its time on amazing women throughout history.  I had heard of some of the women, particularly the writers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson.  But many of the early female scientists I had never heard of--what revelations!

The book is an amazing accomplishment because it weaves so many storylines together, moving back and forth in time, never losing the reader.  And Popova offers interesting insights along the way.  Here's an example, from page 184:  "One of the greatest betrayals of our illusion of permanence, one of the sharpest daggers of loss, is the retroactive recognition of lasts--the last time you sat across from a person you now know you will never see again, the last touch of a hand, the last carefree laugh over something spoken in the secret language that binds two people in intimacy--lasts the finality of which we can never comprehend in the moment, lasts we experience with sundering shock in hindsight."

I was able to make so much progress on that book because I had an unplugged week-end at the retreat.  Yesterday, I had an unplanned unplugged morning, when my computer was sluggish after an automatic update.  So I read Ilya Kaminsky's Deaf Republic, a book which in on the shortlist for tonight's National Book Award.

I'd heard so much about it that I included it in an Amazon order when I needed to get to the minimum purchase to get free shipping.  Yesterday, I reached for it first, knowing that it might get the award tonight.

It's a curious book, a combination of many things, like a play, sign language (real?  made up?), poems that can stand alone, a sort of history of Eastern Europe.  The last poem in the collection is what makes the whole thing brilliant, the way it connects this history recounted in the poems, a history that seems from a remote village in the 20th century, to events--particularly involving police brutality--in recent years.

I've had the kind of reading month, and the kind of reading year, that I lately have to work hard to achieve.  I have to be intentional about seeking out good books--I no longer read enough books to have them tumble across my path.  I'll say more about this year as we get to the end of the year.  Now I need to get ready for the day.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Sermon Notes: Worry and Gratitude

On Wednesday, my pastor asked me if I wanted to preach on Sunday.  I said sure.  Then he asked if I would do the whole service.  I said sure.  He's been going at high speed, as pastors do, and fighting off a cold, and the holidays are coming.

I thought it would be easy to preach the last Sunday of our gratitude series:  Luke 12:22-34.  But as I looked at the text, it seemed filled with peril.  There's the first part telling us not to worry--but we've all got plenty to worry about, and some of us need some professional help, and I don't want people to feel bad about that.

And then there's the end that warns us about the danger of possessions and wealth.  But I know that many of our parishioners are quite poor and barely hanging onto the edge of being able to sustain what they have.  It feels wrong to preach about letting go of our attachment to stuff to people who might genuinely not have what they need.

I thought about going the "God will provide" route, but that worried me too.  If God doesn't provide, and we find ourselves without a way to pay the light bill or we find ourselves homeless or the welfare people take our kids, does that mean we didn't pray well?  That God doesn't really love us?  It's shoddy theology, in the way that praying for a cure to illness leads to problems if the cure doesn't come.

In the end, I talked about all the issues with the text and how to preach it--and then I recommended gratitude as a cure for all sorts of ills--the rest of the liturgy stressed gratitude so it fit.  I recommended a gratitude journal as a way to help us notice all the blessings that God sends our way, and I recommended that we say a prayer of thanks as we keep our journals.  I suggested that we also post our gratitude to our social media sites to counter the ugliness that we find there.

It wasn't my best sermon, but I suspect that the sermons I feel are my best are not the ones that the parishioners might choose.  And it's good to have a voice that's different from my pastor's.  We are still a very white, very male, very straight church (ELCA Lutheran).  I'm not real different from the standard pastor, but I am female, and we still have too few females.

It was a good way to spend a Sunday morning:  baking communion bread, writing a poem, and then heading to church to do my co-treasurer duties and then lead service.

And now it's off to get bread and treats for the students and then to spin class.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Hildegard of Bingen's Mantle

Today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Next Sunday will be Christ the King Sunday, which takes us out of Ordinary Time--and after that, we plunge into the season of Advent.

When I was a child, I thought of the time between Pentecost and Advent as the long, green, boring season.  Truth be told, I still do.  I love the possibilities for observing and celebrating the time between Advent and Pentecost--the season of Ordinary Time often feels arid. 

In many ways, I think that the challenges of Ordinary Time mimic the challenges of a regular life.  We've got lots of highs and lows early on (until about age 25-35), and then we've got a long middle ground where we need to do more work to make meaning of it all.

Some of us will do this through the highs and lows of family members.  Some of us will make meaning by our involvement with larger communities.  Some of us will turn to art.

This morning, I wrote a poem.  I'd like to say that I wrote a poem, as I do every morning.  But I don't do that every morning.  I wonder if I would wrest more meaning from life if I did write a poem every morning.  I suspect I would have a similar reaction as I do to liturgical seasons.  Some of my poetry writing mornings would feel important and significant, but many more would leave me wondering about the larger meaning of it all and reflecting on drudgery.

This morning I baked the gluten free communion bread.  It needs to be made on the day of the worship service because of the nature of gluten free bread; I know from experience that it doesn't freeze well.  As I stirred together the ingredients, this line came to me:  On the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, I bake the communion bread.  Once I got the bread in the oven, I sat down to write.

I played with the line--should it be bake or create?  The idea of Hildegard of Bingen bubbled up in my brain--a creative woman of her time, a woman I see as subversive, although I don't know that she saw herself that way.  I wanted to hear some of her music, and we live in a wonderful age where the Internet can provide.  I spent some time writing my poem and listening to this group sing the medieval music of Hildegard of Bingen.

I was struck by the woman with the green swoosh in her auburn hair and the chunky boots visible from the slit of her formal gown singing the music written by a monastic woman centuries earlier.  What would Hildegard have said?

I like to think of Hildegard of Bingen smiling at the many ways we've seized her legacy and taken up her mantle.  Some of us do that by writing, the way that she did.  Some of us have seized her mantle by singing the music that she left us.  Some of us tend our gardens, the ones we grow for food, the ones we grow for herbs, the ones we grow for the beauty of the flowers, the interior gardens that we may or may not share.  Some of us take on the Hildegard's mantle when we scold bishops and legislators and remind them of the obligation of creating a more just society.  We wear Hildegard's mantle as we care for the next generations, some of whom we're related to biologically, some of whom we will never meet.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday Spaciousness

I usually write blog posts much earlier.  You might be thinking that I managed to sleep in, but you would be wrong.  I fell asleep fairly early Friday night, toddler bedtime early, like 7:30.  So when I woke up at 2:30 and stayed awake, it wasn't as horrible as it would have been if I had gone to sleep at a normal adult bedtime.

I've had a lovely morning.  I wrote what may or may not become a poem.  I decided that I really wanted cinnamon rolls, when I realized that the cold front had finally come through--so I made them!  I did some online shopping--my spouse and I are both in need of tennis shoes.  I did some online research to know what I'll buy when I go to Target later and to help my spouse find the shelving hardware that he'll need when he creates the floating shelves for the front bedroom.  My spouse and I got started on the lamb stew that we'll have later.  I did some other chores, like laundry.

I realize it may not sound like a lovely morning, but it was--and along the way, I read some great blog posts, did some thinking about other writing projects, updated the list of books I've read in 2019, looked at photos from past Thanksgivings, looked at my friends' Facebook posts, wrote a blog post for my theology blog--the stuff that keeps me rooted.

And I got some grading done.  Because I was completely offline last week-end, I am not as caught up with my grading as I need to be.  This week-end, I need to power through it.

I also have an eye to the next 6 weeks.  It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is almost here.  I won't have many free Saturdays in the next 6 weeks, so it was even more lovely to have time to do such a variety of tasks.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Early Thanksgiving

Yesterday, we had the annual Thanksgiving potluck for our school faculty and staff.  Yes, it's 2 weeks before Thanksgiving--I see that as a good thing. We can enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner, and 2 weeks later, we'll be ready to enjoy another Thanksgiving dinner.

But it was also a practical choice.  My boss is on vacation next week, and we don't want to have an additional Thanksgiving dinner the week of Thanksgiving.

When we ordered the turkeys and a ham, we thought about having it delivered, as we've done in past years.  I said, "I'll save the school the $30 plus tip delivery fee.  I'll go pick them up."

Yesterday I rued that choice.  We had steady, steady rain--not torrential, but soaking.  I came back from picking up the turkeys and the ham, and I was soaking wet.  By the end of the day, my sweater was still damp.

But we had a delightful meal together.  Unlike some places I've worked, where we're lucky if people bring a half-eaten box of crackers and a hunk of cheese, or a tired veggie platter, we have all sorts of deliciousness:  several kinds of mac and cheese, several kinds of stuffing/dressing, a beautiful salad, a queso bean dip (homemade, not just an opened can), the old-fashioned sweet potato casserole with a brown sugar and pecan topping, a homemade cranberry and pecan relish, a corn casserole, and a variety of desserts.

It's the kind of meal I could eat every day with no complaints--although I would gain a significant amount of weight if I ate that way every day.

It reminded me of the best potlucks of the churches of my youth:  lots of yummy food, lots of chances to talk, the proclamations of how wonderful it was to eat such delicious food together, a warm glow that will last for many months.

And also, thoughts of who isn't there (faculty on field trips, people no longer working at our school, people away traveling)--both at my current school, and all the people I'm missing from past workplaces.  And the wondering where we will all be this time next year--a habit from my family of origin.

I wonder if anyone else felt a spiritual tingle during our time together.  I know that I'm often the only one.  I said a silent prayer of thanks--and as we all pitched in to clean up (yes, almost all of us, regardless of gender or position), I continued to say thanks--both verbally, to my colleagues, and silently, to the one who prepares a table for us all.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Can Theology Speak to Management Issues in the Contemporary Office?

It has been a long several months of discussion about management issues.  We discuss them at work, and then I often come home to process the discussions with my spouse.  In addition to his graduate degree in Philosophy, he has a Master's of Public Administration, which means he knows as much about management theory as many of the MBA's I know.

But does the management theory that many of us are taught serve us well?

I've been thinking about the different approaches to management, and how understanding them can help us talk to each other.  In much the same way that discussing our theological stance, instead of assuming we're coming from the same space, can help us understand each other, maybe thinking about the differences in management theory can help us understand.

Here's an essential item that is often unspoken:  are we managing people or are we managing a budget?  I know that the answer might be "Both."  But diving a bit deeper into the question might help us focus our efforts.

If we're managing people, are we managing those who report to us?  Or our customers?  And how do we define customers?

If we've delegated some of our management to a different level of managers, do we trust those managers?

And lately, I've been wondering if people's theology might be influencing our management styles more than we would suspect--certainly, for me, more comfortable than I feel articulating in my secular workplace.

But in this blog post, a single blog post in a sea of social media waves much bigger than mine, let me begin to think about this idea.

I'm an ELCA Lutheran, steeped in the doctrine of grace.  I suspect that I approach my management tasks by wanting to extend grace instead of punishment.  I truly do believe that almost every person is doing the best that they can do.  If I act out of that position, it's distinctly different than many management approaches.

I have noticed how many managers act out of a fear of being ripped off and taken advantage of.  It's a theology of damnation, of a sort.  Those managers tend to manage/rule by fear, similar to a preacher offering a view of hellfire and brimstone to inspire right behavior.

From my elementary school years, I've been haunted by the question of unforgivable sin, even though my denomination doesn't really stress unforgivable sin.  As someone being managed, that question still haunts me.  As a manager, I try to believe that there is no unforgivable sin, although I know that there are--inappropriate activities with students, for example.

I could expand this idea, if only I had more time.  Does a Hindu theology change the way we manage?  Do Buddhists make better managers?

But time is short, and I have a coffee date with a friend.  I suspect I will continue to write about this topic.