Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Huron Carol

We had a lessons and carols service today, and I was reminded of the beauty of this hymn.

Here's a version with Huron, French, and English lyrics.

And here's one (same graphic, not too surprisingly) with the words in English:


On the Journey IX...

Between the season and chemo, I have just not had much extra time or energy recently. Still, I should have updated this a long time ago!

This round (December 17th) has left me very tired. Well, tired isn't the right word. If you're tired, you can get some sleep and feel better. This is what the doctor calls amount of sleep takes care of it; I can wake up from eight hours of good sleep feeling exhausted. And unliek some of the other side effects, there's nothing to be done about it. So I'm trying to work around it, cut back, reschedule...whatever it takes to get through.

We've had a tough winter already here in River City, too--as many places in the US and Canada have had. Not being able to clear my own sidewalk has been a frustration for some reason. However, I did bake the three Christmas cookies I wanted to make, and the tree was up and decorated.

Our Christmas Eve service was shared with our host church, and went very well--a modified lessons and carols service. Then I went to Big Sister City Church and attended their Christmas Eve services. They were wonderful...the choir is amazing and talented, Boss Pastor was in fine form, Strong Heart glowed with the Spirit, Intensives Friend was so warm and embracing--just glorious worship experiences, both services.

Next day I was off to my family in Capitol City--more good food! My brother-in-law made his special spice rub for the prime rib, and we had the traditional (for us, a German-British family) Yorkshire pudding and gravy, as well as Waldorf salad (AKA apple salad).

We had a lot of conversation, good food (maybe too much!!) and relaxation. The only downside was my mouth sores...timing was terrible! I couldn't enjoy meals as much as I would have liked to, and even conversation was uncomfortable sometimes. They should be better in a day or so, though.

Worship today is lessons and carols, so an easy day for me--I don't know how I would have preached a sermon, as it really is painful to talk for very long.

Another busy week ahead--renewing various official documents, catching up at both churches--but with the oasis of New Year's Eve/Day in the middle. Strong Heart and I plan on a quiet evening in with a good dinner, maybe the Denizens of the Little Yellow House over for a bit, a movie, and munchies, followed by a restful day of sleeping in and relaxing.

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

On the Journey VIII...

I'm amazed at how much less energy I have. I have things to do, things I want and need to do, and yet...there's a lack of oomph! It's a very good thing I cut back my commitments early, before I disappointed someone or let someone down.

I'm feeling very blessed today with friends who care, and who show it in such concrete ways. One friend has become my Friday night delivery service--pasta salad, sushi, butter chicken, whatever my taste buds crave, she brings to me on Friday night and just drops it off. Another pair of friends have permanently loaned me a portable dishwasher. This is a blessing on many levels--I can be sure the dishes are clean (important with the higher risk of infection from chemotherapy), it cuts down on what I have to do around the house, and it just may save my hands, as I tend to have dry hands in the winter anyway (even using rubber gloves for dishes, etc.) and the chemo makes that worse. A few flowers are still hanging on from the arrangement sent by a community organisation that I was active in, but have had to cut back on. My sister sent me a lovely Irish shawl, usable as throw or wrap--she chose the colour, she said, because she thought it would be pretty with my eyes...which are about my only feature that hasn't changed! I was able to participate in Strong Heart's ordination earlier this month--complete with hair! Those photos remind me of her strength and support--she's working some of my hours for me at the other church so I don't fall too far behind, not to mention the tremendous gift of her love, presence and support. Yet another couple have given me an extra TV, so I can set up a TV room upstairs for when I don't even feel up to the stairs. Several people brought hats and scarves for me to the Sinead O'Connor party, ensuring I have quite the hat wardrobe! Other friends have sent cards, thoughtful messages of hope and prayers. My mother brought books and magazines, and the special chewing gum for dry mouth that is such a godsend. My neighbours in the Little Yellow House put out my recycle bins for me, have me over for dinner, and just generally keep an eye out for me. I am surrounded by love and support, and blessed by so many caring people.

I'm doing what I can for the holidays. I've narrowed my usual baking frenzy to three cookie recipes--chocolate chip (because I love them so much), Mexican wedding cakes (because they're traditional for Christmas in my family) and sugar cookies (because I cannot imagine Christmas without them). Last night, I brought down the Christmas decorations and began putting them up. I'd like to do the tree today...we'll see if my energy holds up, I really want to do the cookies and get ahead on the sermon for next week. But even with just some of the decorations out, it's feeling festive--stockings hung on the knobs of the barrister bookcases (now there's an image of a geek Christmas!), the wreath on the door, the Advent calendar, the Christmas mugs in the cupboard, the pine cone and candle runner on the dining room table...Definitely feeling more in the season!

And what a constrast from last year! Then I was beginning to feel a bit desperate, trying to adjust to two jobs and a border crossing every day (two crossings, actually), looking for a roommate (and what a disaster THAT turned into), feeling quite alone as I faced Christmas as a single person for the first time in thirty years. I felt lonely, overwhelmed and sad. And yet I had my health, I did have work, I had many friends, I was doing work I loved, I had a roof over my head and a full cupboard, and I had a loving family to go to on Christmas.

This year, two things have changed. For one, I am no longer single, and Strong Heart is one of the greatest blessings in my life. Her love, intelligence, spiritual strength, giving heart, humour and support are a refuge for me. We share a true partnership--something very new and wonderful to me!

The other thing that has changed is, of course, my health--dealing with breast cancer and chemotherapy--but this is temporary. My oncologist said, "By spring, this will be behind you." Well, it will never be completely behind me, but the worst of it will be. From Christmas to Easter...

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On the Journey VII...

I am now bald.

But you know, it's OK. At some point in the last couple of days, I came to realise that I actually preferred being bald to the annoyance of hair drifting everywhere and my scalp itching.

I gathered with friends, we shared wine and cheese and party mix, and Stylist gradually shaved off my hair.

He was wonderful about it! He clipped my hair into various styles, each time taking some more hair, until I had a Mohawk (note to self: NEVER get a Mohawk), complete with hairspray to stiffen it up! I looked like Foghorn Leghorn, to be honest. And then one more swipe of the clippers and it was all gone.

Then we tried on all the hats, scarves, etc. that I have been gifted with by generous, loving friends. My favourite black velvet bucket with a satin rose; a black beret (both from Strong Heart); a tube scarf (it can be converted into a dozen shapes and ways of wearing it); a green corduroy newsboy-style; and a matching soft scarf.

Afterwards, two of my friends took me out for an Indian dinner--since I have another treatment next week, I won't be able to have spicy food for a couple weeks, and I love the stuff. Mmm, butter chicken, naam, marsala tea--yum.

Since I've taken the plunge, I figured I might as well go out and about--I'll be going to a friend's party tonight, in spite of my stubble. First trip in public--well, besides the Indian restaurant last night, but we were the only ones there, so it was only the waitress...and I was wearing a hat. I'll be interested to see people's reactions!

I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the Journey VI...

I felt well until Sunday the 9th, when I crashed and crashed hard. I made myself go to church, however, as we had a budget meeting. My wonderful deacon led service, however!

I didn't feel myself again until Wednesday the 12th. Tired, headaches, no appetite, etc. And then almost overnight, I felt so much better. Still fatigued, but able to eat and sleep again.

Saturday the 15th was Strong Heart's ordination. What a wonderful service that was! So many people there to support her and celebrate with her, members of the several congregations who have come to know her over the years, the mentors and fellow-students, the friends and congregation members... the spirit of love and celebration and joy filled the space and lifted us all.

The photograph of her in her full vestments (chausable even!) with her ordination certificate is one I will always cherish--she is glowing and radiant, full of joy and pride and the Spirit.

I managed to pace myself through that day--I did not jump up to help or find things, I did not circulate at the reception. I made myself sit quietly and rest, knowing that people who really wanted to talk to me would seek me out--and they did.

Sunday was my congregation's annual meeting. We're hanging in there, for the time being. But it was emotional and difficult. on top of an emotional day the day before.

And this week I have felt mostly back to normal. Appetite back, no headaches, mouth not so dry.

However....yesterday my hair began falling out. And today it's worse. I have my Sinead O'Connor party on Friday for a clipping. Several friends will be there to support me, hold my hands if needed, while Stylist trims me close.

I think the hair falling gently all over the vanity this morning really brought it all home. It's real. this is not a bad dream, this is not something I am overdramatising. And it's not something I can skate through--I am not Ali McGraw in Love Story miraculously looking lovely all the way through treatment.

Reality sucks.

I'll keep you posted!

Friday, November 07, 2008

On the Journey V

Continuing to feel good. I know that over time this may well change--the body can fight off a one or two time dousing of poison (which is what chemotherapy is, after all) but after a while it gets tired. But so far so good!

Slept very well last night, which is a relief after the couple previous nights! My appetite is doing odd things...the vegetable lasagna I had loved over the weekend and saved myself a bit of for lunch yesterday turned my stomach when I even looked at it yesterday...maybe the tomatoes? So I'm doing the bland thing--pudding, tuna, crackers, applesauce, cottage cheese, etc.

But otherwise no complaints. I'm working my semi-secular job today (which I had better get to) and then perhaps to a friend's band's gig tonight. Have to see how I feel, but I'm pretty much free tomorrow and no sermon to write (house church on Sunday).

I'll keep you posted!

Friday Five--Comics!

The RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is for yuks today! Good idea, Presby Gal!

Here’s my play:

1. What was your favourite comic strip as a child?
Peanuts, hands down. I realise in retrospect that I didn’t always understand all the nuances of the jokes, but that’s part of the genius of good comedy (whether an essay, an animated movie or comic strip)—being able communicate on several levels at once.

2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?
For Better or Worse. L love the Canadian setting, the way the characters grow and change and deal with real issues that most folks face. It’s written honestly—bad things do happen to good people and not all the endings are happy, but things do work out. She’s dealt with the widely diverse topics of child abuse, small business ownership, censorship, gay teens, Alzheimers, and pet loss without (in my opinion) a miss-step.
It’s not that it’s funny, so much, as that it reflects my reality in many ways, in ways that help me deal with the reality.
Funny? Doonesbury, absolutely.

3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?
Probably Snoopy; living in a world of my own imagination, looking for the food bowl to be filled, trying to write the Great American Novel...

4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?
I think so, for the best of them . Here you have folks thinking about the world as it is, and trying to sum up the current situation of the day in four panels of line drawings. What else can they do but philosophise?

5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?
It must be familiarity. I haven’t read Dennis in years, but I know that FC has tried to update a bit with minivans and cell phones, but the humour is still 70’s…if not 60’s. Same with Gasoline Alley, Blondie, etc.

Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?
Bloom County. I loved the original, when it first started way back when—it was still good when he came back from sabbatical, but didn’t have quite the same edginess and he had dropped some of the characters I liked most.

Bonus bonus:
My favourite strip not widely known?
Liberty Meadows, by Frank Cho. He started at University of Maryland (one of my many alma maters) drawing for the student paper The Diamondback (the school mascot is the terrapin turtle, AKA diamondback). Many of his strips have insider references to the campus, the town, town establishments, etc. It’s based on the lives of animals at a sanctuary, run by a veterinarian, Frank, who has a mad crush on the counsellor, Brandy, a long-suffering caretaker, a bullfrog, a randy pig, a dachshund, a duck, and a creature of an unknown species (groundhog? Gopher? Weasel?). Slightly off-center humour, great art, just all-around fun. Find it here .

Thanks again, Presby Gal!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

On the Journey, IV...etc.

Wow, lots to blog about.

First, I was not accepted into the clinical trial. The central lab that re-tests all the tissue samples says that my cancer is estrogen receptor positive, so I am not eligible for the triple-negative trial. My oncologist says I am borderline (you just knew these things weren't clear-cut, didn't you?) and I am more to the negative side than the positive. He's asked the cancer centre pathologist to look at my samples again, but he thinks it's still negative, and we'v decided to proceed on that assumption.

He also told me all my heart test results came back in the excellent range! Apparently my heart is functioning as well as that of an athlete--and he wasn't being ironic! I have no idea how it got to that state--as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am pretty far from an athlete! Wow...three exclamation points in one paragraph--time to move on.

So today was my first chemotherapy session. It went well. I got there way too early--anxiety makes you do odd things--but they took me in right away anyway. They gave me steroids to fight nausea (along with a couple of other meds to do the same thing), and the 'roids are making me a bit hyper (see exclamation points above!). The first med was given IV, and slowly (since it was my first time). The second and third meds were given via injection in the IV line. My port looks good, and the nurse changed the dressing for me. I can't get the stitches out until Friday, but they look fine too. And as usual, the staff were amazing! Caring, expert, funny, even. And Butterfly Nurse (who was my nurse today) liked my tat...

Strong Heart was with me the entire time, we prayed beforehand, she held my hand at the ouchy parts, she talked to me, made me laugh, and took me to Windy's for lunch after (possibly a dumb idea, but I had a craving for a cheezburger). Last night when she arrived home, I was crying--before she even said hello, she asked what was wrong. It was nerves and over-thinking things--but she listened, she calmed me. Strong Heart continues to be a blessing to me.

So far, no nausea, no headaches or funny tastes or any of that (just red pee, as I was warned, from one of the meds...sorry if that's TMI). Of course, it's the first time, but this bodes well. We'll see how I feel tomorrow.

And one of the best things about today was the election results! Not only the national ones (my greatest relief and hope), but two statewide initiatives where Strong Heart lives too. Medical marijuana and stem cell research...both hot button issues, and some complex ethical questions in the latter case.

So now I'm feeling a bit wired still, but tired at the same time, if that makes sense. I'm off to bed with a cup of hot tea, my iPod and a good book (The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong, about fundamentalism in Judaism, Islam and Chrsitianity--great reading, folks, and highly reccomended).
All in all, as Tony would say, "I'm greeeaat!"
I'll keep you posted....

Saturday, November 01, 2008

On the Journey....III

The whole thing is becoming more concrete.

Thursday I had a port (stent/cath/shunt) placed, so that I don't have to get a needle everytime I get chemo. It's about the size of a quarter (although it feels much larger), with a tube running to a large vein in my neck. It just makes the whole process of chemotherapy easier for me and the staff sdministering it. They can also draw blood through it. As I apparently have "small veins" (which means "difficult to stick") minimizing the number of needle sticks is important!

I was back at work yesterday, although I did not stir out of the house last night. There were several events I wanted to attend. Band Named After a Household Appliance had a gig, there were two art shows opening, and of course the usual Halloween fun. I thought of last year when Man About Town and I went to a local bar and watched the people in costume going into the local "young people's bar" and picking our favourite costumes--I liked the light-up Christmas tree. That was also the night Man About Town was asked by a stranger if the stranger could ask me to dance...MAT was not only not my partner, but gay. He told the stranger, "You'll have to ask her!" We still chuckle about that one...

Anyway, next week--yeah. Monday I meet with the nurse running the clnical trial, then my oncologist, to be sure everything's on track for Wednesday. Then Tuesday morning I meet with a possible spiritual director. Tuesday night Strong Heart comes over, and Wednesday afternoon is my first round of chemo.

There's an election in there somewhere too...

Seriously, I have already voted by absentee ballot, and while I am working on Tuesday night, I will have one of the election sites up on the work computer. I doubt we'll stay up late waiting for the results, but I do plan to watch for a while after I get home (c.8:30). Not many results until then anyway.

For my US readers--have you or will you vote? This election feels critical to me. We all need to take advantage of our ability to make our wishes and opinion known--so vote!

Friday, October 24, 2008

On the Journey, II

My sleep has gotten more regular, thank you Jebus!

Really having ups and downs though--feeling a hundred different things. Sometimes I feel so needy, and I hate that, but part of me says, "Hey you have cancer, you have a right to be needy," and another part of me says, "No, I can't give in to the weakness and wimpiness..." and then yet another part of me just gets tired of my life being about cancer, but then I think I need to know something else, or I have tests scheduled...etc.

So at the moment (8:20 pm on October 24, 2008), I'm trying to strike a balance between sucking it up and pushing it down on the one hand and on the other hand, knowing my limits, knowing what I need and asking for help. Tough times. I'm the sort who doesn't like to ask for help, who thinks I shouldn't need help, that it's a sign of failure or weakness--I don't want to look needy, above all. I know--of all times, this is when I should ask for help, and it's not because I've failed or because I'm weak. It's simply how life is right now--I have cancer, I'm going to have chemotherapy and be fatigued and have mouth sores and probably lose my hair and need help with stuff (from getting groceries to cleaning the house to running Board meetings to preaching). But as Strong Heart keeps reminding me, this isn't forever, it's a sabbatical, it's a time out to kick cancer's butt the hell out of my life, and then get back to pastoring the way I want to. I know life will be different after treatment--I don't know how, exactly, but it will--but there will be life after treatment. This is temporary, and I want to find the juice in it, like any other experience. There is good in this--I've seen some of it already, and I need to remind myself of that sometimes.

I've felt frustrated recently that Strong Heart and I always seem to be doing thing around the church or my cancer. So Monday (we both have a day off) we're declaring a cancer-free zone (in spite of a mammogram I have in the morning--that's the only cancer thing that will happen or be spoken of that day). Shopping, a movie, lunch...but no cancer. Just she and I and our relationship and a day off.

Today was a clinic day. I had an EKG and then a MUGA scan--a heart test in which radioactive material was injected into my vein, then my heart was scanned to test for function, to see how well it's working. It's meant as a baseline, because some of the chemo drugs are hard on the heart. I also had a "chemo class," in which I learned a lot more about possible side effects and how to deal with them, as well as nutrition and diet while on chemo--which I found very helpful. Monday is mammogram (baseline for the clinical trial), then on Thursday the port placement. The week after. Monday I see the oncologist again and Wednesday (the 5th) is my first chemo.

Wonderful Social Worker thinks she's located a spiritual director for me. I'm supposed to speak with her (the SD) next week. We'll see--I hope so!

I'll keep you posted...

Friday Five...places I've lived!

Funny Singing Owl should use this meme...I've had to think about all the places I've lived since I was 18 for some immigration paperwork. Let's just say 18 was a long time ago and in another galaxy far far away!

I didn't count them up, but there are probably 16 places I've lived in my life...some just across town from each other, and some moves were transAtlantic.

1. Charlottesville, VA
Military Guy and I lived in a teeny-tiny duplex half that looked like it had been built out of war surplus (World War II, that is...). No insulation in the walls, and even in Virginia, you need it! That was the year I got adult-sized footie PJs for Christmas... Charlottesville was just beginning its comeback then--the regentrification of the downtown, the rebuilding of stores and homes and movie theatres. We really only lived there for about 10 months, but it was a favourite place to revisit on weekends, once we moved to the big city, AKA...

2. Washington DC
I love, love, love DC. Yes, the crime rate is higher than it ought to be in the capitol city of the US, and yes, it's expensive, and absolutely it's a pain to drive it...but I love the sense of things happening, and the museums, and all the universities with all their plays and art shows and movie groups, and the vibrancy of Dupont Circle, and the parks, and.... We lived several places in the area--Northern Virginia twice, but mostly suburban Maryland (I prefer the latter). It's also where I went to seminary, as well as my OTHER graduate degree (in library science). My son was born here too, and many of my friends still live in the area. Of course, it's also where I was told I wasn't welcome in my denomination of origin, and many of my former friends (those who haven't spoken to me since I came out) also live here. So I love DC, but I'm not sure I'd want to live here again. But never say never! From DC, the military moved us to...

3. Munich, Germany
We lived in Munich twice. It is a lovely city, as close to a village as a big city can get--in terms of atmosphere and attitude. At least, that was how I felt the first time I lived there. It was still a wonderful place. Military Guy and I lived there for three years, back to DC, then back to Munich for two years, and we visited again several years later. I don't know. Maybe my memory had misted things, but Munich in the 80's seemed a quieter, gentler place. The architecture and food and friends and cultural events were still there; but something had changed. Maybe we had built it up too much in our minds; maybe the less-favourable exchange rate had something to do with it; maybe it was because we were older, or because we were parents with a toddler in tow. But somehow it wasn't as magical. Still a wonderful, wonderful place--highly recommended!

4. Baltimore, MD
Charm City! Man do I miss the seafood! Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are the real thing. Here in River City they try to give me crab legs from the Pacific...NOT the same! Those sweet meaty crabs, cracked on a picnic table in the back yard, washed down with a pale ale...Mmmm. Balto is a bit rough-and-tumble, but a neat place nonetheless. I'd live there again. Note: the original Washington Monument is in Baltimore. Oh, and they have the best baseball stadium in the US, right across the street from the best seafood restaurant in the world.

5. River City
But of course, there's no place like home! River City has so much to offer. I love it here. We get some abuse from the rest of Ontario (we are sometimes called the "armpit of Ontario," due to our image and geographical location), and we do seem to have a higher cancer rate, but overall, I wouldn't trade it. I like that I can be pretty sure of running into friends when I take a walk downtown; and that half the people I know are connected through family, or work, or school, or a sports team, or community work, or... The other day I met a friend for tea, and as we were getting ready to leave the cafe, two friends of ours showed up purely by chance--so we sat back down and talked for another hour! I just love that! And there's a ton of good music here, and the river, and Sister City is a nice view, and so many ethnic restaurants (what you want? Thai, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese--several varieties, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, BBQ.... I'm sure we have one, whatever it might be). Yeah, I'm a booster. Oh and did I mention the health care system? Of course, you'd get that anywhere in Canada, but still.

Five great places to live!

Monday, October 13, 2008

On the Journey....

I haven't really slept well on a regular basis for a while now--probably since I learned I had cancer and would need the lumpectomy. Not that I've been dwelling on things or that I've been thinking things over and unable to sleep. More that I don't stay asleep. I'll wake up a couple times a night and just stare at the ceiling, sleepy, but unable to sleep.

And then when I do sleep, it's not a restful sleep. I've been having very vivid dreams, mostly of the anxiety sort, but not all--some very good ones--but so vivid that they aren't restful. I would love to fall asleep and not wake up until morning. I'm very tired a lot of the time...or else I'm OK for a few hours and then crash after four or five hours. If I'm like this now (residual surgical effects? psychological weariness?) what in the world will I be like after a round of chemo?

Still some soreness and tenderness in my arm and along my ribs and shoulder....and some numbness still as well--but I understand that can take months to resolve.

Otherwise in a pretty good place--Strong Heart and I had some quality time this weekend (i.e., it didn't involve either of the churches we serve, medical issues, or running errands), which was wonderful. I'm making plans and preparing for when I may be too tired to lift my head, much less plan worship or write a sermon or lead a Bible study; and there's tons of paperwork and phone calls and organising to be done. It's giving me something to do!

One thing I am thinking about, and that is locating a spiritual director. This really isn't something we're taught about in seminary, and there aren't any resources out there that I can find--leading a church while you have a serious illness... More than the practical stuff--or in addition to it--I want to be able to address the spiritual dimension of this, for myself, for myself and Strong Heart, for myself and the rest of my family, and for myself and the congregation. So there's another phone call for tomorrow! I'm hoping the social worker (a former clergy person) will have some resources and possibly even know of some SD's in town here.

I'll keep you posted!

Friday, October 10, 2008

It is What It is...

...And what it is, is an aggressive form of breast cancer--a "triple negative," in fact. There are three forms of hormones, as I understand it, to which it might be receptive or sensitive. Any one of them could be used for treatment (Clarification: the hormones "feed" the cancer/tumour--assuming there are any cancer cells left or, possibly, unidentified tumours elsewhere--so by eliminating those hormones from the patient's body, the tumour/cancer is "starved" and dies). Unfortunately, mine isn't sensitive to any of the three (and so eliminating them or stopping my body's production of them, will not affect the cancer). Therefore, it will be treated aggressively.

I'll be getting a total of six cycles of chemo, each of three weeks. During week 1, I'll get the chemo. Then I have week 2 and 3 off, then the next cycle starts with week 1 and chemo again. That repeats for six cycles. I'll be getting two kinds of chemo, one is a "cocktail" that goes by FEC for short--I get that the first three cycles--and then docetaxol for the second three cycles. Once that's all done, there will be radiation therapy.

This is going to be complicated. When people talked about needing energy and time to cope with chemotherapy, I thought simply of the physical side of things. But, wow! I have to have blood tests drawn at the clinic the week before chemo, then see the doctor a couple days before chemo. Then a week-10 days after chemo, I have to have blood tests again. And then it's about time for the pre-doctor's visit blood draw again. Periodically I will also have to have heart tests. Before I can even begin, I have to be sure my vaccines are up to date, be tested for Hepatitis and HIV, and have a stent placed. Luckily, my surgeon already had me get a bone scan and some baseline ultrasounds.

It will probably get more complicated, as I hope to be accepted into a clinical trial for a drug under development for the "triple negative" tumours. That will require more tests; but at least they can give it at the same time as the other chemo.

So now I'm doing what I can to get ready--from the medical stuff to planning worship for the next few months to making sure my car is in running order to replacing my wonky stove (I know its quirks, but I'll probably have friends and family cooking on it and they don't know the tricks...).

I do plan on a "shaving party," as most of those chemo drugs have hair loss listed as a "usual" side effect; the other one says "frequently." I'd say the odds are pretty good I'll lose some! So my plan to crop it very close (and Stylist and I have been working so hard on growing it out! Oh well...) and then I won't notice it so much.

Strong Heart and I are very pleased with my medical oncologist. It took him a few minutes to adjust to the fact that SH was my partner, not simply a good friend (it's a cultural thing), but once he did, he carried on just fine. He's patient, clear, willing to explain, to discuss (instead of decree), and genuininely caring. For that matter, all the staff (and I mean everyone--social workers, pharmacy techs, nurses, volunteers, lab techs, etc.) in the cancer centre seem to be the same way--caring, focused on what will make life easiest for the patients and their families, supportive of what the patient needs, etc. A very positive experience--as positive as possible, anyway, given the circumstances.

And I'm going to need some positive experiences! The church is still struggling, looking for solutions to the financial crisis. One consolation--we are not alone in our struggles. Most non-profits here in River City are facing similar issues. It's not just our short-comings--it's the economy!

My plan at this point to post about my progress in treatment--detailed but not graphic, partly as an update on how I'm doing, but also partly as a document of what this journey was like for me. Everyone has a different story (see last post) but this will be one woman's story, in any case. I'm committing to be as honest and as open as I feel comfortable--maybe pushing that comfort envelope a bit--so that this is a true account, not simplified or glossed over so that it doesn't worry anyone. It is what it is; and I'm getting wonderful treatment, and an amazing amount of support from all sides.

I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008 be continued...

Strong Heart and I visited the surgeon again yesterday.

The cancer is at Stage 2, which means that it was found in my lymph nodes, besides the tumour.

The usual treatment is radiation and chemo combined. We'll know more about scheduling and timing after we meet with the care team tomorrow (Wednesday the 8th).

It's not what I wanted to hear, but after wallowing in negativity for a couple of weeks, I got angry this weekend, and that got me out of it and now I'm in a positive place.

What got me out of that boo-hiss place? Well-meaning people who want to 1) treat me like glass and coddle me; or 2)tell me they know exactly how I feel because their sister/cousin/co-worker had breast cancer; or 3)tell me how I should be eating/sleeping/treating it, because of what worked for their sister's best friend's cousin's daughter-in-law.

I know they mean well, and so I do my best to respond graciously. SH gave me a great phrase to use--"Everyone's story is different"--and I embellish on it.

Sample: "Well, everyone has a different story. We really like my surgeon and we're going to see what she recommends. I'll remember what you said; but we really trust my surgeon."

So why does it make me angry?

  • Because I'm still healthy--don't treat me as if I'm suddenly unable to do anything. I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can. I appreciate the support and love that people are trying to express, but I don't want to let go of what I CAN do until I have to.
  • Because they DON'T know how I feel! The people who have survived cancer have simply told me that; "I'm a survivor," and nothing more. They understand.
  • Because I need to trust my surgeon, myself, Strong Heart and my care team. The advice-proffering folks have no idea what my health status is like, my life circumstances, my options. I personally plan to fight this tooth and nail. I have a 19-year-old son I want to see graduate from university, get married, etc.; a partner I love and plan to spend the rest of my (long) life with; work to which I am called and love passionately; family I want to be with; friends; experiences I haven't had that I want to have--I am going to do what it takes to be there for all of that. That's my decision, and mine alone, and I want to be free to make it without any suggestion that what I'm doing may be OK in the short term but ruinous in the long term, or vice versa--or harder on SH than it needs to be, or bad for my health in other ways, etc.

I know they are all well-intentioned. So I smile politely and repeat, "We're very happy with the surgeon. Everyone's story is different. I'm fine for now--if and when I need help I will be sure to call on you."

(Note: I do intend to ask for and accept help when I need it, which won't be easy for me to do; but I don't just yet!)

Tuesday Morning Giggle

Why does this make me smile every time I see it? Am I just sick?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sunday Morning Reading

In my Sunday morning procrastination reading, I came across this article by Nathanial Frank, on the religious-not-so-right's stance on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (the US military's policy on gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender servic members, for my two or three global readers).

Frank has a book coming out which I can't wait to read--"Unfriendly Fire"--about GLBT servicemembers. He has several excellent points to make.

We are wasting human lives and resources and actually undermining our troop morale (try living without being able to be honest about who you love, having to monitor your conversation, having your deepest relationship ignored--or not even being permitted to mention it--and living in fear of being "found out").

My ex-husband was in the US military--yes, I was an Army wife (although I don't recall those 17 years being nearly as dramatic as the TV show...), and I have some understanding about what is needed for troop cohesion, morale, etc. It's about trust. And trust goes both ways--trust that each individual is the unit can be accepted (perhaps with some teasing, that's par for the course) as long as s/he does his/her part. That's called professionalism, and how dare those who would enforce DADT inply that our troops, on a mass scale, are less than professional and well-trained?

Thing is, most of the military leaders of 15-20 years ago were of a generation when it wasn't acceptable to be out; and so their prejudices ruled, as Frank points out. Today, with leaders and troops of a different generation, same-gender-loving mostly gets a shrug--as it should. Of course there are prejudices among the troops--but there were to African-American servicemembers, to Latino servicemembers, and to Asian servicemembers as well--not to mention women. Part of the military experience is learning to simply get the job done without allowing personal issues to get in the way--personal prejudices. That's called professionalism.

I love the Huffington Post...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Back to Normal?

Yeah, well, first define normal!

I led worship last Sunday, and will do so again this week. I started back to my semi-secular job (it's at another church of my denomination) this week, just two days, to ease myself back into it.

It's been hard, though, to get through a certain lethargy...I know there's a sermon to be written for tomorrow, and I want to write it, and I have ideas and plans for how I want it to go, but I can't seem to muster up the oomph to actually do it. I don't know if I'm still recovering from the surgery or if it's psychological or sheer inability to shift gears from enforced laziness.

I slept 12 hours last night--I haven't slept that long in years.

Well, Monday Strong Heart and I go in for the pathology results. Wednesday is the "intake" appointment at the cancer centre here in River City--that's when we'll get some idea of a schedule for treatments.

I continue to be amazed and touched by the support and caring of my friends, both here in River City, across the continent and around the world. Simply knowing people are holding me in prayer is powerful and humbling. Thank you for those prayers...and keep 'em coming!

And keep SH in your prayers too--she does so much for me and yet feels she isn't doing enough. Her love and strength have held me up many times these last few weeks--her presence in my life has been a blessing. If she had not been present, of course I still would be fine. But because she is here with me in this, everything is that much easier to bear.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mood: Grumpy

Can I just vent for a moment?

I'm tired, I'm bored, I'm uncomfortable. I want this drain out, I want to be able to drive, I want to be able to go to work (!!!), I want to be able to take a decent shower!

OK. I'm over it for the moment.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Evening Update

Not quite the "60 Minutes" of my childhood, but the news around our house, anyway!

The surgery went well on Tuesday. Mom, Strong Heart and Boss Pastor were all there--BP anointed me and we prayed together before they wheeled me off to the OR. Woke up in the Recovery Room (actually very pleasant, it has skylights and the sun was beaming in on Tuesday morning--a wonderful way to wake from surgery!). I'm still uncomfortable, but "1-800 WAH" as Strong Heart said, when she was in a similar situation. I loved that my surgeon, anaesthesiologist, and both scrub nurses were all women! Sorry, guys--I just thought the female energy was very appropriate for breast surgery.

I've been taking it easy--reading, talking, computer games--just wish I could sleep better. I overdid it a bit yesterday (an interment and a wedding rehearsal), but am trying to make up for it today. I will do some work tomorrow--but light things like research for the sermon next week and some paperwork.

Tuesday I go back to the surgeon's office for the pathology report and plan of action. Sadly, SH can't be with me--she's even more upset about it than I am--but her work is inflexible. However, Mom will be there, so I shan't be alone. I'm writing questions as I think of them, so I wont forget to ask them Tuesday.

How am I feeling? Odd--physically not up to my usual workload and yet very aware of what needs to be done and can't be put off another week. My mind is willing but my body is weak...

And again, the blessings I mentioned last Friday are once again surrounding me--the support and love of friends; the grace of the sunshine through those skylights; the skill of the surgeon; the skills of the nurses, both in hospital and the visiting nurses; the nectar of my first sip of ginger ale (even if it did return fifteen minutes later); the care and tenderness of SH helping into and out of the car and up the steps into the house; Mom's loving hands settling me for a nap.

Truly, this may be no picnic, but I am certainly learning just how blessed I really am!

Friday, September 12, 2008

My Personal Friday Five

Mother Laura's Friday Five looks great, but today I have my own personal Friday Five I need to share.

The lump I mentioned last month? Well, I had a biopsy last week, and the pathology report came back positive--I have breast cancer. I am scheduled for a lumpectomy on Tuesday the 16th, and then radiation later on. Prayers are coveted...

So--What's my Friday Five? Five things I am grateful for, that are blessing my life in this moment of fear and uncertainty.

1. First and foremost, the love and support of Strong Heart. I could not ask for more than she has given me--she knows what I need when I need it, by some miracle. She also isn't afraid to shake me up a bit when I get stuck in the fear and forget the faith.

2. The love and support of my family and friends--from my sisters, son and mother to co-workers to people I work with on community projects to my dearest friends--all offering love, encouragement, positive vibes and everything from lawn mowing to meals.

3. My confidence in my surgeon. Simply put, she is awesome--I like, trust, and respect her very much. She's not only a nice person, but is a great surgeon. The ultrasound technician and a friend who works at the hospital both had very positive things to say about her, too, so it isn't just me!

4. The medical researchers and the fundraisers who have contributed to the advances in medicine that allow me to have this done as an outpatient surgery and to know, unlike women of my grandmother's generation, that this not a death sentence or necessarily even a painful long, drawn-out process ahead of me.

5. That it was found early on--I do self-examination (because my sister is a survivor), I was taken seriously by the surgeon, I had an ultrasound and biopsy quickly, she got me into the office and then scheduled for surgery immediately. No messing about here!

And a bonus--I also recognise that I am especially blessed to be living in Canada and covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (because I am working here and most certainly paying taxes!). I don't have to worry about paying for the ultrasound or the surgeon's office visit or for the surgery or radiation treatments--not even a co-pay. If I were at a similar pulpit in the States, I would be on my own--which is to say, no coverage. Thus, this is a huge blessing!

So--Tuesday, I would crave your prayers. We are thinking positively!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Update and Gone For a Bit...

Thanks to all of you (you know who you are) who sent good vibes and prayers and suggestions my way before the debate last month--they were felt and appreciated!

We're struggling here in River City. Finances at the church are very tight--this is a factory town, and our main product is cars and car parts, and they aren't selling well these days. The trickle-down effect here is that people get laid off, or they fear getting laid off, and so they spend less. They don't buy clothes as much, they stay in the old house instead of buying a new one, they order pizza in instead of going out to dinner, they rent a movie instead of going to a know how it goes. They also, unfortunately, tithe less. Things need to pick up very soon.

Strong Heart is back to work! Too soon, in my humble-and-not-medical opinion, but then I'm not the one in charge of when she goes back (nor is she, unfortunately).

We're checking out another health issue for me--lump on the other side, probably a cysy but uncertain. I felt a bit stupid and hypochondriac for even bringing it up, but the doc reassured me. Between my family history and plain prudence, it needs to be checked out. No word on the date for that yet.

I'm still missing Mr. M. From time to time, something will remind me of him--a photo of a corgi at I Can Has Cheezburger (my new favourite time-wasting site, BTW), or the biscuit bar at Mega-Pet when Strong Heart and I stop by for fish supplies; or his crate, still in the corner of my living room. It was time to let him go, but I still miss him...

Next week is vacation time! Well, clergy-vacation...I think a lot of people wouldn't see it as vacation, but Strong Heart and I do. We're off on a retreat for a few days, to my fav retreat place EVAH...GilChrist Retreat Center.

Wow, two links in one post--better quit here before I hurt something! I hope to check in to the Friday Five and the Preacher Party (even though I'm not preaching this Sunday), but if I don't, y'all have a good week!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dogs and Crumbs

(Sermon draft for August 17, 2008)
Isaiah 56:1-8 (New Revised Standard)

Thus says God. Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil. Do not let the foreigner joined to the Holy One say, “God will surely separate me from God’s people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says God: “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to God, to minister to the Holy One, to love the name of God, and to be God’s servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those

already gathered.

Matthew 15:21-28 (New Revised Standard)

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Teacher, Descendent of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Teacher, help me.” Jesus answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Teacher, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


Will you pray with me? Holy One, bless this time, hallow the words spoken and heard, open our hearts and spirits to what you want us to hear. May I be a channel of your truth, your peace, your love. In all your names, amen.

This is an interesting pairing of readings. The Isaiah passage is one of my favourites in the Bible—poetic and hopeful, so welcoming and inclusive. The Matthew passage, on the other hand, is very painful and difficult to hear.

Jesus, the Jesus I worship and love, here is insulting, rude, and even brutal to this woman who is looking for healing for her ill daughter. He calls her a “Canaanite woman,” but there was no Canaan at the time Jesus lived on earth. The Canaanites were the ones the Hebrews kicked out, conquered, after they left Egypt. He’s insulting her, reminding her that her people are conquered, even as the Jews were conquered by the Romans. And then he gets even more offensive, when he compares her to a dog—an animal that was unclean to the Jews of the day. In other words, he’s calling her dirty, unfit to speak to a religious teacher, outcast, lowest of the low. She is frightened for her daughter, and goes to the only source of healing she has available to her—Jesus. And he turns up his nose at her.

That’s hard…very hard to hear.

But she’s brave—she doesn’t let him get away with that bigotry. At some level, she knows she deserves to be heard, and reminds Jesus that while he may view her as an outcast—a dog—she is still one of God’s children, made in God’s image, part of the household of God, and that God cares for her, too—even if it’s just to give her crumbs.

Big City Church
collects food for the Youth Center in River City which offers meals, safe space and shelter to GLBT youth. With the worsening economy, many of the kids are losing their jobs, having to move out of their apartments because they can’t pay the rent, facing a choice of paying their rent or buying groceries—needing help of all kinds. So BCC collects food every week. As the office administrator, I bag it all up and meet the folks from YC who come to pick it up. The last few weeks I’ve noticed something that bothered me at first. The baskets were full of cans of fruit and vegetables, boxes of cereal, jars of pasta sauce and bottles of juice. There were bags of rice, boxes of granola bars—even some bags of chips! But I also saw that someone had apparently cleaned out their cupboard of food they didn’t eat anymore, they had purchased by mistake, or had been given to them and they didn’t want it. There were bags of holiday-shaped pasta—red and green Christmas trees and stars and candy canes—of fancy salsa dips and salad dressings, cans of artichoke hearts and lima beans.

My first thought was sarcastic, I’m sorry to say. “How generous—giving away stuff you don’t want anyway!” And then I thought again. Those folks were giving food, after all; it might not be the kids’ favourite, or mine; it might not be terribly practical for a food program; but it was good food and edible. The cooks at YC are ingenious, as the executive director told me when she picked up the latest batch of food. They can use just about anything, one way or another, even a single can of artichoke hearts and some lima beans.

Those cans of lima beans and artichoke hearts may be crumbs—but they are food for the hungry.

The woman who insisted on healing for her daughter didn’t get crumbs, though, did she? Jesus gave her exactly what she had asked for—healing for her daughter. Not crumbs, but a full meal.

Later in Jesus' life, when he’s at the Temple in Jerusalem, he becomes angered by the profiteering he sees there, and overturns the tables, and says that God’s temple should be a house of prayer—and everyone who heard him would have known the rest of the verse—A house of prayer for all nations. He took the woman’s words fully to heart, and made them part of his mission.

Jesus learned. Jesus learned! Some people might think that’s a bit blasphemous or wrong—that Jesus was perfect, that he had nothing to learn. But I believe that Jesus was human—human and divine—but while on earth, human. And therefore he could learn, and change and grow.

Who do we think of as dogs? Who do we begrudgingly pray for, knowing we “ought” to, when we really feel that those persons don’t deserve our prayers or our time? Is it the Fred Phelps of the world, who blames the ills of Canada on the fact that same-gender love is recognised and accepted here? Parenthetically—Phelps says that God is allowing lawlessness in Canada and such events as the horrific murder of Tim McLean on the Greyhound bus because Canada legalised same-gender marriage. Is it the homeless person we see in same bus shelter day after day whom we think could surely find someplace to live if she only looked hard enough? Is it the man with depression—surely he can just snap out of it? Or perhaps it’s the radical feminist, unwilling to compromise her principles; or the Muslim—of whatever sect—whom we feel is simply wrong. Is it the co-worker who always has something negative to say? Who do we see as dogs?

If Jesus opened his eyes, widened his vision, can’t we too? Can’t we get to know them, listen to their story, hear them out? We may not like them as individuals, we may disagree with their politics or religious views, but if we know them as people, if we can talk with them, then we can learn to see them, too, as children of God, worthy of our acceptance and help. And we can also understand that we can learn from them. I do not accept anything Fred Phelps says; I do not believe in a God who hates anyone, much less a God who hates me. I cannot accept any of his statements or beliefs. And yet I am impressed by the strength with which he clings to his convictions, wrong as I think they are, and I have to wonder—faced with the derision and laughter and resistance he faces, would I be able to continue as strongly as he does? As someone once said, in another context, “I may not agree with what you say; but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Over and over, I have found that people I thought I didn’t like, or people I feared, turned out to be people I could like, or accept, or even be friends with. When I accepted the invitation to speak at Conservative Church a couple weeks ago, I was, I’ll admit, a bit scared. I assumed that the congregation would not be very welcoming, that the pastor was setting me up just to knock me down and make the congregation feel all right about their beliefs on same-gender love. I was afraid of the person I was opposing in the debate—he’s a journalist, experienced with words and media, how could I hope to appear as informed and glib?

The reality was far different. The pastor was very welcoming, wanting to be educated, wanting to understand. He told his congregation several times that he was not going to tell them what to think—they should listen to me and to my opponent in the debate, and then make up their own minds. They were the ones who had to answer to God for how they resolved their beliefs, he said—so they had to use their own God-given reason, understanding, and compassion. I had expected cold politeness; and instead received a warm welcome. The congregation was wonderful; attentive, respectful, responsive. And my opponent turned out to be a relatively young man whose skill lies in writing, who, I think, is still struggling with his identity.

They were not dogs. Nor was I. We did not share crumbs, but a meal of conversation and honest exchange. We got to know each other, to really see each other.

Can we do that? You and I, every day? Can we open our eyes to those around us, and offer them a willingness to understand, to share, to get to know them?

That’s what Jesus learned that day—that are no limits to God’s love and bounty and grace; all of us are part of God’s household and welcome there. No one should be getting only crumbs, but everyone deserves a share in the rich meal of God’s plenty.

Next time we are faced with someone we think is outside that circle of God’s love, can we open up and allow ourselves to learn from them? Can we come to see those “others” whom we fear or distrust as a part of God’s people, not as outcast dogs? That’s our task—difficult as it sometimes is—to see God in every person, to learn from them, to hear their story and try to understand them.

Be warned, though—just because you are willing to be open and learn from them doesn’t mean they will be willing to be open in return. You may only get hostility, mistrust and dishonesty in return. But I guarantee you that if you don’t reach out, you won’t gain any understanding, and they won’t either. All you can do is make the attempt—try to learn from them—and if they are not willing to teach, at least you know you attempted.

Next time we are faced with someone we don’t like or trust or understand—can we agree to talk to them? Try to understand their beliefs, try to find out why and how they think and feel and act the way they do. What barriers have they faced? What do they believe? What is lacking in their lives—or what is there too much of in their lives?

Once we learn something about them as individuals, whether we come to like them or not, we can see them as truly God’s people, as we are. And then indeed, in the words of the Psalmist, how pleasant it is when families live together in harmony! I might add, especially when the family of God lives together in harmony.

In all God’s names, amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Debate Debrief!

Long time no blog!

Let’s see—updates. Strong Heart was approved for ordination! I ended up traveling with her, through a complicated series of events… It was all for the good, because then I got to be there to celebrate with her.

Pride went very well here in River City. We had some rain on Saturday, and early Sunday morning, which may have pulled the numbers for the worship service down. Still, we had the service, with the chair of the Pride Board in attendance…trying to get the community here to be supportive, and we’re making some progress.

But I barely had time to recover from Pride when I had to finish preparing for my debate on the next Sunday—this past Sunday, as those of you who attended the Preacher’s Party know!

What happened was this—the pastor of a local Presbyterian church contacted Pride about someone willing to debate the topic of homosexuality in a church setting. Monsieur passed it on to me, and I contacted the pastor. Now, the Presbyterian church in Canada is more conservative, historically, than its US counterpart, because the more progressive congregations tended to join up with the United Church when that merger took place in the 40s or 50s, not sure—I know one of my United Church colleagues out there will correct me on the date—Gord?

Of course, over time, many of those congregations have shifted a bit. Also, don’t forget that this is Canada, after all…

So I read Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, by Jack Rogers, who is a former Moderator (head) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Great book, addresses the evangelical audience, and is very readable. I also got some talking points from my “bishop,” and talked things over with United Church colleagues and, of course, Strong Heart.

Saturday night I had dinner with Presby Pastor, his wife, an elder from the church and her husband, and my opponent. He’s a layperson from Large Canadian City, who believes that while he is gay and indeed made that way, he must remain celibate—in other words, it’s acting on his desires that he feels is sinful. We had some conversation, got to know each other a bit better, and had a good dinner.

I felt much relieved—I had feared that he would be someone who had been active for a long time, who was practised at this sort of debate, who had soundbites at his fingertips…but he wasn’t.

I don’t mean to disparage his belief—it’s what works for him, apparently (although I have my doubts). But he simply wasn’t prepared, and it showed.

We had two debates, one at the early service and one at the later service. The structure was that after an introduction and set up by Presby Pastor, we each had ten minutes to make our statement. Then we each had five minutes for rebuttal, and five more for a final summary. Not a lot of time to make complicated arguments about how we read the Bible or dissecting 1st century Greek!

My basic points were these:

  • Christ is the centre of Christianity, not the Bible; to whom do we give ultimate authority?
  • Christ never turned anyone away, in fact when people were dissuaded from coming to him, he insisted they be allowed to come (the children, the woman who wiped his feet with her hair, etc.)
  • God and the Bible do not change, but our understanding and interpretation of them do; over time, the circle of inclusion has enlarged to bring in Gentiles, slaves, women, people of colour, divorced persons, and so on, as we have changed our understanding of what the Bible is saying to us
  • I asked two questions (really the same one): “What would Jesus do?” and “Would Jesus discriminate?”
  • For you United Church of Christ pastors, I borrowed your denomination’s wonderful phrase: “Never put a period where God has placed a comma.”

I didn’t try to address the individual verses (the “clobber passages) partly for lack of time and partly because I didn’t want to get too technical and complicated. I did talk about them briefly but in the larger context of not being able to examine modern relationships in 1st century terms—context, in other words.

It was curious for me—I did not feel nervous. I was keyed up, but not scared or nervous. I could actually feel the prayers and positive thoughts and feelings of so many of you surrounding me, I knew it would be OK. No matter what the end result was, I knew it was in God’s hands.

There was no declared winner or loser; Presby Pastor told his congregation that they were responsible for their own consciences, their own opinions—he wasn’t going to tell them how to think. It was their duty to do the reading and research and make up their own minds, and then hold to that opinion with commitment and compassion.

All in all, a better experience than I had thought it might be. Wonderful conversations with members afterwards too, mostly supportive.

So what’s up in your world?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Where's the Fire?"

Please pray with me. God, your child Jesus taught us that we should love one another; your Spirit teaches us your truth and love; give us now the strength to love each other—not just the people we know, but each person who needs our love, even those who hate us. Give us the wisdom to speak your truth, the fire in our bones that Jeremiah felt. Open us to you guidance in our lives, to the ways you want us to show that love and speak that truth.

We’ve heard a reading from the Jewish prophet Jeremiah today, and the testimony of the New Testament gospel writer called Matthew. Hear now from a modern prophet, someone who has gone into danger bearing the truth of God’s love for all God’s children, and who spoke that truth to power, who did not leave those longing for God’s word to hunger and thirst in vain.

Our bishop wrote of her trip to Moldova:

"I am battle weary, bone tired, emotionally wasted and I could cry so easily. Not for myself but for those who must exist in this place of so much fear and hatred. I am profoundly sad."

The security guards were pushed further and further away from the bus, and the bus had begun to rock from the press of the people outside. I was sitting at the back of the bus and heard noises coming from the rear. I looked out the rear window and saw people ripping pieces out of the engine of the bus. I passed the information forward, and the bus driver got out to investigate. As he got to the back of the bus, the protestors began hitting him and pushing him away. People were raising crosses and icons, and they were yelling; anger and hate made them look less than human. A group of young men, who had decided that I was particularly evil, were waving crosses and moved to the back of the bus with lighters raised, passing the flame closer and closer to the engine, taunting me and laughing.

On the bus people were trying to stay calm, and those of us with phones were calling embassies and the police. A couple of people panicked, wanting off the bus to take their chances with the crowd. We talked calmly to them, trying to ease their anxiety. Nine times we contacted the police, and nothing. We could see they were in the crowd in plain clothes but doing nothing. We had observers in the crowd who told us there were armed police officers between buildings, leaning against their cars, talking on cell phones but not responding. We could see the chief of police in the crowd, and we were told that he was telling the protestors what to do, colluding with the crowd. The Swedish embassy had spoken with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who contacted the police and was told that they would not respond even if there was violence. The mayor's office had set us up.

I was on my phone the entire time, calling the embassy and emailing back and forth with our communications minister, who had stayed up into the wee hours of the morning in LA so that he could be available if anything happened. I sent hurried messages back and forth. I wanted there to be some record of what was happening on the bus. I know that he would get word out quickly and that he understood what it could be like. He had travelled to Eastern Europe for pride two years ago and had seen what hate-filled crowds were like. He became my lifeline. I know that sounds dramatic, but I knew that he was there at the other end of the phone and it helped. It was a light in the midst of darkness, a tether to everything that was whole. Our moderator sent me a quick note saying that she was praying, and I felt it and knew, "Okay, MCC is here with us". I don't know if I will ever be able to convey just how much that tenuous connection meant to me,
but it was MCC at its best.

The tension was thick, we had been sitting like this, being shaken and taunted for 30 minutes. The crowd had grown, and they were getting more and more riled up. Two protestors broke onto the bus. They were religious leaders who said they could keep the crowd from killing us if we handed over all of our banners and the Moldovan Flag and destroy the balloons. Hand over hand, the banners moved forward. "Tolerance", "Would Jesus discriminate?", "Would God hate?", "For God so loved the world", "Love your neighbor as you love yourself", "Stop Discrimination", "Human Rights for ALL" - each banner was lovingly passed forward and taken by the religious leaders who threw them to the crowd, as you would throw meat to a pack of hungry dogs. The crowd fell on them and shredded them. The driver was allowed back onto the bus, and we edged our way forward.

As we gained speed, the crowd surged after us - older women running with icons raised and fists clenched, young people running, yelling and pounding on the sides of the bus. The bus driver was supposed to take us out of town but instead took us back to the Gender-doc offices, exactly where the crowd would look for us. He was too traumatized to take us from the city. People from the bus scattered; only ten of us remained, trying to decide what we should do next. Police cars were at the corner. Then security people arrived; they said the crowd was on its way. They had received a message from the police telling them where we were.

Ten people braved the police presence and gathered to study together. It took such courage for them to arrive and participate. There is such a hunger for God and for understanding, and I wonder what would happen if we had to fight in North America, Western Europe, and Australia to express our faith. I hope that we would be just as courageous. It made me think of what the early Christians had to do to come together. This is the "why," the reason our work around the world is so important. It is in these gatherings that we are "Tearing down walls, building up hope". It is here the teachings of Jesus and the work of MCC is so critically important.

As we met, the landlady came to the apartment to see if we were having a worship service. The police had visited her and told her we were holding illegal worship services. Moldova claims to have freedom of religion but only if you are with the Orthodox Church. Apparently I was being investigated for hosting and presiding over worship. People left in groups of two and three as taxis arrived. We were so conscious that the actions of this community were revolutionary, and we wanted as much as possible for them to be safe.

I cried when I read this for the first time. Besides the obvious danger to our bishop, who has been an amazing leader and pastoral presence in my life, and to my friend with her, with whom I went through pastoral intensive training, the tragedy of the violence and hatred taking place tore my heart. So many people lost to hatred, so many people suffering for what they believe, so many people trapped in a web of lies and deceit.

And then I turned to my other emails, to my work here in River City. And I began to get angry. Where is our fire here in River City, in Canada? Are we too comfortable, “fat, dumb and happy,” in the popular phrase? Are we complacent because we can marry whomever we love; because our rights are codified in law? I have had a couple people tell me they feel Pride is irrelevant, not needed anymore, and that it does a disservice to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, two-spirited and allied community to parade down Main St., to have the young men show off their bare chests, the young women their tats and piercings, to have floats with drag queens and leather people, let alone the abomination that we, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirited and transgendered Christians are to many people from other religious traditions; that we “alienate” people when we are honest about who we really are. These folks would rather we just shut up now that we have what we wanted.

Where is our fire?

Sometimes I just don’t know what to do…we as a community have so much to be grateful for, and it seems to me that we waste these good things, we take them for granted. People complain about Pride—“The men are running everything,” or “the women don’t want the men at their events” or “There’s nothing for kids,” or “those crazy drag queens are just too bizarre.” We are spoiled!! As our elder would say, we need to get over our own damned selves! We can have Pride, openly, freely. The elder was in danger of her life—but she could leave Moldava. The Moldavians cannot…and they are still in danger. That’s not talking a few insults on the street or graffiti on the garage or even individuals being beat up, horrific as that is. In Moldova and other places around the world, it’s gangs, violence, the name of a loving God being taken in vain to promote hatred and murder. We’re talking about governments, including the police forces, that do not see LGBT rights as something to be protected, nor do they believe in free speech. That is what the LGBT Moldavians have to live with every day.

Jeremiah had a fire in his bones…yes, he got tired, yes, he was literally burned out, but he could not deny the truth, the call God had on his life. He had to speak up—he could not be silent, not even when people laughed at him, scorned him, when he was exhausted and tired and didn’t think he could move forward. Jeremiah had the fire of God’s truth in his very bones, in his marrow—and he had to speak it.

How can we be silent? How can we act as if things are well for us, for our sisters and brothers around the world, when they are not? Not only in Moldova, but in Russia, in Nigeria, in Egypt, in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia, in the Philippines? Where is our fire?

Do you feel the fire, church? Do you feel that divine flame in your heart and soul and bones? Yes, we have most of our rights and the law on our side—but there’s still education needed, even here in Canada. Being in a border town, we have to talk about the US too—and in the US, things are improving, but they aren’t where they should be. Too many states have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, too many hospitals are denying people visits and a voice in the care of their same sex partners, the US military hierarchy is still acting as though gay men, lesbians, bisexual people and transgender people are a threat to “good order, discipline and morale”—just as they said about African-Americans fifty years ago; and too many bigoted foster care and adoption agencies are allowed to get away with denying same-sex couples children solely on the basis of their sexual orientation—and not-so-incidentally, denying those children a safe, loving home. There’s obviously room for improvement, and LGBT people face violence and discrimination on an individual basis.

In the States and Canada and Great Britain and Brazil and many other places, LGBTT communities have to have a clear voice and must continue to speak up for their rights, but they may speak; and the law is on their side. In Nigeria, in Egypt, in Iraq—LGBTT people are threaten with being put to death. In Moldova, they are threatened by gangs, their danger ignored by the police, they are followed and watched and investigated as if they were criminals—which they are, according to Moldavian law.

Where is the fire, church?! Where is your fire? Yes, we’re small in River City, but Jesus himself started with only 12 people, and one of them betrayed him! The truth cannot be defeated, cannot be silenced.

I don’t know what speaking the truth might look like for you as individuals. Each of us has to hear God’s direction for ourselves. I don’t know what it might look like for the church—I have some ideas, but we as a congregation, as a church, must listen for that guidance together.

It is not enough to sit in church on Sunday, to feel good about ourselves because we have been to church, sung a couple of hymns, heard some scripture and a sermon, put our loonie in the plate, shared Communion, had some coffee afterwards and gone home to a BBQ with the neighbours.

That’s lazy Christianity—it’s not what we are called to. Jesus never said it would be easy to follow him, to carry that truth, that fire, within us. Yes, he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light—“ but there’s still a yoke and a burden. In the gospel reading, Jesus warns us that it won’t be easy. He tells us there will be bullies, there will be conflict and pain and struggle. Some of us will lose our families, some of us will lose our jobs, some of us will lose our lives. But if we believe in the truth God has spoken to us, if we hold to the truth Jesus taught us and the truth the Holy Spirit renews in us every day, then we don’t have a choice.

God’s eye is on the sparrow, and on us. Do you think the one who put that truth in our hearts will abandon us when we speak that truth, when we live it out in the world!? Of course not! Jesus knew what it was to be hated and scorned, to be condemned for the company he kept, to be mocked and teased and bullied—and to be killed, ultimately, for the truth he knew in his bones.

We will not be abandoned. We who speak truth to power—whether it is political power or economic power or religious power—we who speak truth from the fire in our souls will not be alone. God will be with us to strengthen and encourage us, to give us words to say and courage to lift us up when we are terrified. Our elder had a line to the communications minister and to our moderator; their presence, even through text messaging, was a source of encouragement, God’s strength flowing through other humans as our elder spoke God’s truth to power in Moldova.

Sometimes I feel like I’m preaching to the choir—usually the folks I see on Sundays are the ones who do feel God’s truth. But do we get tired sometimes, and want to stop telling that truth? Do we get weary of being scorned, of having our concerns politely shunted aside or ignored or condescended to? Do we get so tired of it that we quit, and say, “Forget it. I’ll go to church, because I should and because I need the presence of my sisters and brothers in Christ, but enough of this working for God’s realm. I’m tired, I need a break.”

We cannot rest, we cannot set it aside, we cannot quit, we who feel God’s truth life fire in our souls and hearts and spirits. We cannot be silent, and we cry out that truth in spite of the scorn, the anger, the ignorance, the hatred and violence. We will not become complacent and rest on what we have—because until all our sisters and brothers are free, we are not truly free.

Feel that fire—and speak that truth.

In all God’s names, amen.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Up and Down in May

Well, yes, it’s been a while. Literally no time to journal, let alone blog.

Mid-May, Strong Heart was told she needed surgery. So three days later, there we were—me in the waiting room, her in surgery. The staff was marvellous—again! I had some real reservations, since this time we were in a medical facility in the States, in a relatively small town. But they were accepting and even affirming of our relationship (one of the aides came running in to tell us the good news about California), and took wonderful care of Strong Heart. To be honest, they were some of the best medical staff I have ever seen, and I have worked in more than one hospital. They were cheerful, helpful, upbeat, and friendly—it almost seemed as if they LIKED working there!

So Strong Heart is now staying with me while she recuperates, which is an experience all in itself! I’ve learned to drive her car (it’s easier for her to get in and out of), we’re catching up on all those DVDs we’ve always wanted to see, and she’s resting—more or less. The surgery seems to have done what it was supposed to, and given her relief from pain.

But on top of that good news, we had bad news. This past weekend, we had to say goodbye to Mr. M. He had been having more and more trouble navigating stairs and controlling his back legs; and there were other signs of possible kidney failure. So the vet was honest with us, but clear and kind—we could keep Mr. M. around for a while, but he would be in pain. So, remembering how good he had been to us, we were good to him, and gave him release. The staff was great—we have been surrounded recently with wonderful medical people, for which thank God!—and allowed us all the time we needed to say goodbye.

Mr. M. was my best friend and companion for the last 14 years—he saw TO from first grade through his first year of college; me through seminary, a divorce, coming out, denominational transfer, ordination, an international move, the end of one relationship, and the beginning of another. He had many friends, both human and animal—best of all was his buddy Teddy, another Corgi who is waiting for him on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. One of my recent joys was watching him and Strong Heart become good buddies—bonding over time spent on the porch, drinking coffee and having a smoke (Strong Heart), sprawling on the floor (Mr. M.), and watching the world go by (both of them).

It’s been a roller coaster of a month, May has—to be capped (pardon the pun) by Strong Heart’s seminary graduation this coming Saturday!

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...