Stalwarts of the Twentieth Century

A former boss always told me I was great at writing eulogies. Perhaps it is because I have had so many chances. At times, it has seemed as if my wife and I have been to more wakes than dates. The deaths often come in groups. Many people say they come in threes, but it seems like for me the groups are often larger.

A few weeks ago, the former head of human resources at CHC passed away. Here is Mark Masselli’s post about David Landsberg. I went to the wake and hoped, maybe this time, it wouldn’t be the beginning of a new group of deaths. However, I knew better. I knew of others in hospice.

Things remained relatively quiet until Friday of last weekend. The grandfather a young girl at church passed away. One of her friends told me that her friend was said about her grandfather dying. The following day, the grandmother of my two oldest daughters passed away.

I was never very close to my first wife’s mother. She was very strong willed, as am I, and often those wills clashed. She came from a very different world than I did, the upper middle class Midwest. She did a lot in her community and was loved by many. Her obituary describes many of her accomplishments. In many ways, it seems, hers was the life of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt, a novel he published the year after her birth, hers was the world that predated Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone”.

Then, on Sunday morning, George Wildman passed away. George was the father of a friend from church. He was an artist who drew Popeye and the hidden pictures I looked for as kid in Highlights magazine. George served in the Navy. He was an Elk and a Mason and played the saxophone. He also symbolized mid twentieth century America.

On Wednesday, I learned that Marcia Moody had died. I first met Marcia in 2004 during Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. John Nichols summed up Marcia’s politics this way:

While she delighted in discourse and befriended Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Greens, Marcia was a passionate progressive. And she had a sense of right and wrong that made her an ardent foe of big-money in politics, lobbyist abuses, and influence peddling.

She embodied the ideal of American politics, something those longing for mid twentieth century America think might have been the case looking back through rosy colored glasses at earlier times.

Thursday. I got to a midday Eucharist which is attended mostly by the Episcopal Church Women stalwarts who serve on the altar guild and similar ministries. I was planning on going to the wake for George in the evening so I vacillated about whether to go to the midday service. I ended up going, and when I got there, I was informed that Joan had died unexpectedly. Joan was one of the regulars at the midday service. She was always there helping, preparing food for events making sure the linens for the altar were clean. Mostly, we sat around and talked about the great things she had done for the church.

It has been a few days since I learned of the death of all these stalwarts of the mid twentieth century. The other crises in my life also seem to be ebbing, so I’m hoping for a little quiet time of reflection before life’s next set of surprises come.

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It must be difficult,
he thought to himself
as he walked down the street
past the park
where he saw
chasing one another,
to have ones attention
to a single thought.

As he found himself
at the flecks of sunlight,
bright and shiny,
in the splashing water
of the fountain
he wondered
how those
too busy
to see
these jewels
managed to keep going.

He stepped up his pace
to that of a New Yorker
late for a meeting
at the young mother
who watched the world
through red rimmed eyes
and the old homeless man
whose hand
every so slightly
with each drink he took.

As he weaved
in and out
of the crowd
in his quickened pace
he wondered
how best
to address
the needs of underserved students
with ADHD,
the topic
of the coming meeting.

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The Social Construction of Disorder

A few years ago, I was welcomed into an online community of differently abled activists, even though I didn’t identify as differently abled, and perhaps I might even have been perceived as being challenged in my understanding of what “differently abled” really means.

There are two particular things that I remember from that group. One was a quote from a person in a wheelchair who said, “I can’t remember your name, but your belt buckle sure looks familiar”. Ever since then, I’ve sought to be on the same level as those around me as much as possible. A second phrase that has stuck with me was about how some members of the community referred to “temporarily able bodied” peopled. I think this is an important perspective.

All of these things come to my mind as I think about disabilities, disorders, and all the other ways we “diss” people. It comes to mind as I think about the social construction of disorder.

One disorder that comes to mind is ADHD, and particularly Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms. He suggests that much of the epidemic of ADHD related prescriptions is really related to issues of school being boring to kids in this highly stimulated internet age. How many kids diagnosed with ADHD are really just bored and are being medicated to keep the classroom under control? I know I was bored in school and probably would have been diagnosed with ADHD. To borrow language from Robinson, I’m not saying there is no such thing as ADHD, I’m simply suggesting that perhaps some of the times that it is thought of as a disorder is really a social construction based on some questionable social norms about order in the classroom.

Likewise, is having a sexual orientation or gender identity different from the norm a disorder, or is that too, a social construct? From the 1970s to the 1990s various health organizations stopped considering homosexuality a disorder and in DSM-V, “Gender Identity Disorder” has been replaced with “Gender Dysphoria”. It is now generally frowned upon to suggest that homosexuals seek therapy to be cured of their homosexuality.

All of this comes up in relation to some recent discussions about ‘the spectrum’. Some refer to this as Autism Spectrum Disorder while others use words like syndrome and neurodiversity.

I was recently reading some of the signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, as described by the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Having unusual behaviors” – This sure sounds like a social construct to me. Which behaviors are deemed ‘usual’ and which behaviors are ‘unusual’. Does this depend on the culture or other social norms?

‘Having overly focused interests’ – I find this one particularly interesting in contrast to ADHD and not being focused enough.

‘Having a lasting, intense interest in certain topics, such as … facts.’ Perhaps this is one of the biggest concerns right now. Having a lasting interest in facts is considered a disorder? Perhaps this says something about where we are as a nation politically right now.

‘Making little or inconsistent eye contact’ - This is another one that jumps out at me. In my readings about cultural competency in health care the role of eye contact is regularly mentioned as varying by culture. As an example, one (of many) courses on cultural competency in health care notes, “Eye contact with a health care professional may be avoided as a sign of respect.”

Another that especially grabs my attention is ‘Repeating words or phrases that they hear, a behavior called echolalia’ Those of us who call ourselves poets have a different word for repeating words or phrases: anaphora. Anaphora is an important rhetorical device.

Immediately after that sign or symptom comes, “Using words that seem odd, out of place, or have a special meaning known only to those familiar with that person’s way of communicating” I have to wonder if some of those words include echolalia, anaphora, or perhaps rhizome or performativity .

‘Having facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said’ – Here we are back to our cultural competency ideas. Facial expressions are a function of one’s culture, one’s social context.

Again, I will return to Sir Ken Robinson’s disclaimer. I am not saying that there is no such thing as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or even disorders around sexual orientation and gender identity. I am simply suggesting that we need to look very closely at when these are truly disorders and when they are social constructs.

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Recent Facebook Discussions

The Fragmented Society

Last Saturday on Facebook, a friend posted a link to the Op-Ed The Fragmented Society by David Brooks

Here is the comment I shared:

It is interesting to read this after watching the United Methodist Church struggle with many issues at their General Conference. At one point I watched a live video stream of 'worship at the margins'. This came to mind when I read your comment about moving to the margins.

It sounds like Brooks and Levin have strange views about the nature of identity, cohesion, and the restrictions placed on people whose identity is at the margins. It sounds like Brooks and Levin focus too much on economic and geographic identity.

It seems like we as Christians, need to follow Jesus to the margins of society, eat with tax collectors or their modern day equivalents, no matter what marginalizes them, listen and learn from those at the margins so that we can truly welcome them and show them God's Love.

Online Sacraments

In a discussion in a religious group on Facebook, the topic of online sacraments came up. It was quickly dismissed as “Worst. Idea. Ever.” by many of the participants and one person asked, “doesn't an ‘online sacrament’ limit the concept of a community of faith”?

I added several comments:
When we talk about an outward and visible sign, perhaps we should be asking if that sign needs to be face to face, or if being visible online counts. Perhaps we need to ask if inward grace can be communicated electronically as well as in the spoken voice or in a silent prayer.

A friend of mine is being ordained to the Diaconate soon. The service will take place a couple thousand miles away. As much as I would like to be, I will not be there in person, but I will be there in spirit. If I could join in electronically, that would be wonderful.

Another friend of mine is mourning the death of her grandmother. I talked with her sister about whether she could join in via Skype.

As a professional online community builder, it feels the other way around to me. an online sacrament broadens the concept of a community of faith. As a person who prays for many of the people in this group and for whom many people in this group have prayed, this online group is an important part of my community of faith.

I think another aspect of this, which is why I think it may be important not to dismiss to quickly or easily, is that it helps get church out of the box. I view online sacraments similar to how I think of #AshesToGo and #FlashCompline

Sons of Confederate Veterans

In one group a person expressed concern about allowing the Sons of Confederate Veterans to use the church he attends. I responded,

I don't think there is an easy answer. I like the sign, The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. I like the mission of the church as it is described in our Catechism, "The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ."

How do we welcome the descendants of Confederate soliders? How do we wecome the descendants of Union soldiers? How do we welcome the descendants of slaves? How do we welcome pacificists?

The Confederate soldiers and their descendants are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, created in God's image, and loved by God.

How do we show God's love to them and to descendants of slaves at the same time? It seems bigger than something I can do, but then again, so does God's love.

Ember Days

Four times throughout the year, the church celebrates Ember Days, the days when postulants to the priesthood write letters to their bishops talking about their journey. The latest ember days were last week. I am not a postulant and I am not writing this to my bishops, but instead I am writing about those parts of my journey that I can share publicly.

One thing I’ve been writing a bit about recently, is the idea of countering the negative messages online with something different, something positive. I’ve been trying to do this with poetry, and a few other people have been taking this up. I’ve been trying to do this with focusing on sharing God’s love with one another as opposed to the ever present advertising encouraging us to get more stuff. Perhaps I can get more people to write about their spiritual journeys, and not just their latest trip to some resort as well.

For me, the past three months have been all over the place. During Lent, my devotions were strong. During April, I managed to write a poem a day. Holy Week and Easter were very special times for me, and I strongly felt God’s love during the time of Easter, and gained a deeper sense of mystery as I visited a Greek Orthodox Church during their Holy Week.

My sense of mission and ministry has grown during the past three months as I went to the Missional Voices Conference in Virginia, and various events related to Ministry Networks and a Regional Convocation in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

Recently, however, things have gotten incredibly difficult. There have been several deaths recently; friends and parents of friends. There have been people in incredibly painful damaged relationships. The news seems to be all the more filled with victories of greed over compassion. Respecting people’s privacy, I won’t say any more than that.

There has been too much work to do and too little time to recuperate. As I think of songs and hymns, they aren’t songs of joy, they are songs of endurance. “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go”… “When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll”.

At other times, the songs that have played in song track of my mind have been joyful hymns of praise. It is easy to seek to serve God and love one’s neighbor during such times, but in the midst of pain and sadness I have serious doubts about my abilities.

As I think of the pains and sadness of those who wrote the hymns I mentioned, of people struggling to get by, homeless in America, refugees from Syria who no longer have a country to call home, to the sufferings of Christ on cross, I know that my own pains and sadness are small, but to me, they still hurt and feel large.

I’ve always loved the phrase, “Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread”. Yet at a recent event a priest made a comment about how Christ made himself known to his disciples by showing his wounds. My wounds do not heal, like the wounds of Christ. They don’t even compare. Yet the priest was suggesting it is showing vulnerability that is important, and I feel horribly vulnerable right now.

This isn’t a positive message countering negative messages. This is a painfully real message countering the unaware messages.

“As the deer pants for streams of water…”

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