Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sin embargo, ella persistió

I have appreciated the many memes and posts these past few days lifting up the words, "Nevertheless, she persisted." Yet, I cannot think of women's fierce persistence without reflecting on the matriarchs who came before. 



In my family, I think of the persistence of that generation of women who, as jovencitas in the old country, left school early in order to help support their families; who as mujeres y madres jóvenes in the face of oppression, left behind their homes, possessions, and all they had, llevando sus niños y niñas de la mano as they made their way to a strange new country. I am awed by the persistence of our mothers, who worked as seamstresses, caretakers, who took in all kinds of odd jobs for the few extra dollars it would bring. I look at my generation - the daughters and sons of those persistent women - knowing the large measure to which we are indebted to them for what we have been able to accomplish and become.

In my maternal line, only two women are left from that persistent generation. We, their children, carry on their story, and we, their daughters and nieces and granddaughters and great-granddaughters, their sons and nephews and grandsons and great-grandsons, and all whose lives were made possible by their refusal to be silenced...We persist, in their honor and for the sake of those who will come after us. 

#SinEmbargoPersistieron 
#NoPareSigueSigue

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Gimme Mystery

January 7, 1962.

Fifty-five years ago today, I made my First Communion at Saint Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan.

My understanding of communion has changed/continues to change through the years of my eclectic spiritual sojourn... Sacrament or ordinance? Open or closed? Transsubstantiation, symbol, or real presence?

Not sure my answers today would be any clearer or more theologically sound than they were as a precocious seven-year old making my way up to the altar rail in my white dress and veil, gloved hands folded and pointing heavenward. And, as the expressions in these First Communion pictures reveal, there's always room in faith and spirituality for a doubtful smirk.

I'll take mystery...then, and now.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What Next? A Post-Election Day Sabbath Reflection

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19


I’m quite certain my hair has gotten whiter over the past week. A few months ago my mother, a striking nearly 90-something matriarch, pondered aloud about the strangeness of having a daughter who was blanca en canas – roughly translated, a gray-haired old woman. Now, she makes certain I understand that gray hair comes from my father’s side of the family, and not hers…But without arguing the genetics of hair color, I think it’s safe to say that the past few days have been enough to make anyone’s hair turn white, or stand up on end, or fall out in fistfuls.

As a nation, we witnessed the conclusion of the most contentious presidential election cycle that many of us can remember. Roughly half of the people who cast votes on Tuesday were elated with the result, while the other half were disappointed. Among those of us here, this morning, some of us put our hopes in the lady in the pantsuit and some in the gentleman with the hair. Unless this is someone’s first time voting, it’s something we’ve all experienced before, every four years, and the world keeps on spinning. And we go on with our lives.

Aaron Sorkin, the creator and writer of hit television shows like The West Wing (which featured perhaps the greatest president of all time, but hey, he was fictional) and The Newsroom described our democratic process well. We get to “drive to the fire station and overthrow the government and there isn’t a policeman on the street.” As an immigrant, that’s a duty and privilege I value – the country of my birth only enjoyed something remotely resembling free and fair elections for eight years in its entire history.

But the ugliness of this particular campaign has left a bitter taste. Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the Roman Catholic group NETWORK and one of the “Nuns on the Bus” that travelled the country during the 2012 and 2016 campaigns, notes that “More often our politics are about policies. This election was about feelings.”

The truth is, people are hurting. On all sides. For a long time. David Brooks, a Republican op-ed columnist for The New York Times, points out that the terror attacks of September 11 were really what delineated the start of the 21st century. We have lived with a pervasive national feeling of anxiety and fear, with suspicion and distrust, of grief and loss.

The prophet Isaiah spoke God’s message to a community that had been living with these same emotions. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians, a significant segment of the population was forcibly resettled, and Jerusalem – the Holy City – while not conquered had nonetheless come under siege. Isaiah’s listeners were people who felt uprooted, unmoored, threatened.

Like many in our current world. And when human beings feel threatened, they seek security, wherever they think they can find it, from whomever they believe will make things right.

And in the midst of their anxiety and uncertainty, they heard the prophet proclaim the promise of a future in which God would set things right:

No more shall the sound of weeping be heard…or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime…They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.

What a beautiful vision! Filled with hope – not all that different from what we hope for, long for, in our own time. But there’s one important difference. Our hope must rest in God, and in God alone. Not in our elected leaders, no matter how qualified, no matter how eloquent, no matter what the specifics of their legislative agendas. Our hope is in the Holy One, who – regardless of claims made by the opposing sides – doesn’t hold membership in any political party.

But that still leaves us with work to do. The Christ whom we confess as Lord and Savior calls us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to forgive as we have been forgiven. That is the task before us, now more than ever. And it won’t be an easy task.

Dr. Arthur Cribbs, a United Church of Christ pastor and well-known leader in the global faith community, talks about the “polarization produced by the politicos’ pontifications and patronizing promotion of paranoia.” The goes on to say that, “deep wounds have been opened…The genie has popped the cork and cannot be easily contained or placed back in the bottle.”

The genie that has been let loose is seen in the increase in hate and bias incidents over the past few days – by one estimate, over 200 incidents of harassment and intimidation reported since last Tuesday alone.

The genie that has been let loose is evidenced in incidents where Muslim women have had their hijabs pulled off.

The genie that has been let loose is at work when students of color are psychologically taunted and physically threatened.

The genie that has been let loose can be seen in the protests have erupted in New York and other cities, and that are planned in the weeks and months ahead.

The genie that has been let loose is seen in the tense climate that feels like it might erupt into violence at any moment.

This isn’t a partisan issue. No one group is solely complicit, and all sides share in the problem. As a society, we have lost the ability to engage in civil discourse, in the public square, even around our kitchen tables, and perhaps even in our communities of faith. And, as difficult as it may be to acknowledge in a world that prefers to see people in terms of heroes/villains, good guys/bad guys, our God equally loves the president-elect and his followers AND the lady in the pantsuit and hers,

And, if anything, the Gospels tell us time and again that Jesus had a particular soft spot for those who society painted with a negative brush – the sinners, the tax collectors, women, the disabled, the Samaritans, those caught in the act. And because he has a soft spot, his love doesn’t distinguish between the person who traces her or his roots to the Mayflower and the undocumented day laborer who mows that same person’s lawn or minds their kids. And because all of us have fallen short of God’s glory, that non-discriminating, all-encompassing love is something we should celebrate. Something to shout “Hallelujah” about. It is taking seriously the verses that we learned to sing as children, Jesus loves me, this I know. Jesus loves US, all of us, this we know...Red and yellow, black and white…ALL are precious in his sight.

And when God take does take sides, the side God is on is the side of love, of mercy, of compassion, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of justice.

So, in these contentious and overwhelming times, what are we as the Church – as followers of Jesus Christ – called to do?

We are called to hold on to faith. Even when we feel like we’re holding on by a thread, hold on to that which the author of the epistle to the Hebrews described as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hold on to faith.

We are called to persistence even when the going gets tough. As we heard in the epistle to the Thessalonians: Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. Keep on doing the work of discipleship: proclaim the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger. (And yeah, “stranger” by nature means someone who will quite possibly seem strange to all you hold to be normal. Show welcome.) Share Christ’s love – even to those we consider nasty and the deplorable. Especially to those we consider nasty and the deplorable. Because, no matter what we were or are, Christ didn’t hold back love from us.

Remember that there is no “me,” no “them,” only “us.” Together. We are all created in the image of our God, we are all beloved of God, loved and cherished beyond belief, and because of that, we are intricately, intimately, and intrinsically a part of each other.

As we live into whatever the future may hold, let us not forget what really defines us – we are God’s people. We belong to God. We belong to each other. And we are called and sent forth into the world as God’s laborers, in the name of divine, redeeming, saving love. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Richard Rohr notes, "God and goodness offer both the first and final words to history." May the peace of the Lord be with us all, today and always. Amen.




Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Old Hippie Behind the Curtain


Vinick:      “Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?”
Bartlet:      “It’s hanging in there, but I’m afraid the constitution doesn’t say anything about the separation of church and politics.” 

Vinick:      “You saying that’s a good thing?” 

Bartlet:      “I’m saying that’s the way it is: always has been.”
President Josiah (“Jed”) Bartlet and Senator Arnold Vinick
TheWest Wing
Season 6, Episode 20, “In God We Trust”

“Every two years, we drive to the fire station and overthrow the government…”
Will McAvoy
The Newsroom 
Season 1, Episode 3, “The 112th Congress”

I usually don’t drive our 14-year old minivan to the churches where I’m invited as a guest preacher.

It’s not because the car has seen better days (it has) or because it’s not a fuel efficient-enough vehicle to take on long drives (oddly enough, it is). Rather, it’s because over the past three presidential election cycles, the van has become a political billboard of sorts, boldly proclaiming that we are “Old Hippies Against __________.” And, while this will no doubt come as a surprise to family and friends who have endured my political rants (not to mention the steady stream of debate-inspired memes on Facebook), for the most part, when I don the robe on a Sunday morning, I have tended to keep my decidedly partisan convictions to myself. So instead, it’s our other car that transports me on my itinerant preaching journeys – the one whose sole political statement is a small sticker on the rear windshield that reads: “Jed Bartlet Is My President.”

In a perfect (or at least, more interesting) world, presidential candidates would be more like Jed Bartlet – brilliant, witty, with deep moral convictions, and capable of bridging the great partisan divide. In the interests of full disclosure, let me say that there have been election cycles in which I’ve done my small part to span the partisan chasm. I have voted Socialist and Libertarian (before my frontal lobe was fully formed) and even voted for the other party in a gubernatorial election as a fully-lobed, middle-aged adult for no reason other than the incumbent’s having presented the championship trophy to the Port Chester High School Marching Band the year my son was a senior in the trumpet section.

This year, election day falls on the 29th anniversary of my ordination. Today as I drive, not to the local fire station but rather to a former Masonic temple-turned-Orthodox church to exercise my right as a citizen to participate in the peaceful and orderly overthrow of the government, I will vote for the candidate whom I believe will accomplish the most for the common good and who most shares the core values that have been shaped by my faith and by half a lifetime of ministry. That said, here, in no particular order, is a very short list of what will be on my mind as I step behind the curtain into the voting booth:

1.    I will cast my vote mindful that I am the daughter, the mother and the spouse of persons counted among the “47%.”
2.    I will cast my vote as an immigrant for whom the phrase “…take back America…” is all too reminiscent of  “…why don’t you go back to…”
3.    I will cast my vote as a mother of a multiethnic, multicultural family that believes that diversity is a gift and not a threat; as the mother of an adult child with a disability who depends on government programs to provide essential services; as the mother of daughters who have a right to unrestricted women’s health care.
4.    I will cast my vote as one who believes in and affirms the sacredness of all life and all love.
5.    I will cast my vote knowing that for all those whose convictions will lead them to vote along these same lines, there will be as many others (or maybe even more), equally led by their deeply-held beliefs to vote for the other guy.

Who knows – perhaps in another four years, you’ll spot me driving to church some Sunday. I’ll be the one in the ancient minivan held together with bumper stickers. And maybe by then, the newest one will read: “Old Hippies For __________.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ch-Ch-Changes



It wasn’t all that long ago that she was leaping out of her crib, fearlessly scaling a chest of drawers and turning our lives inside out and upside down. Today, my youngest daughter graduates from college, cum laude, ready to take on the world.

The celebration of a milestone invokes nostalgic memories. And so, to mark this occasion, I’m dusting off a piece that Victoria inspired a long time ago (and in what seems now like a galaxy far, far away), when her mother was a freelance writer and columnist for a widely-respected – at least in our household – and now long-defunct, denominational magazine. 

Change, Frightening Change first appeared as a Christmas meditation in the column, In the Word, in December 1990 issue of The American Baptist:

Victoria Lindsay Cruz-Griffith will soon be a year old. Unlike our first two children – who are much closer in age than we had ever anticipated – there is a three-year difference between Victoria and her older sister, Katherine. Three years is just long enough for parents to selectively forget some of the realities of parenting. With good reason! While you always remember how cuddly newborns are, how nice and fuzzy their heads feel, and how soft their skin, you tend to block out the memories of such things as 2 a.m. feedings, colic, diapers, spit-up, and feeling like a pack mule every time you venture out of the house. Babies have an uncanny way of altering their families’ lifestyles.

No wonder Gabriel scared the living daylights out of Mary with his strange message. Even under normal circumstances, a child would have meant change and upheaval in her life…To say that Mary was perplexed is probably an understatement. From the moment the angel Gabriel arrived at Mary’s doorstep, the predictability of her life was shattered once and for all.

That’s what happens when a baby comes into the world. Everything changes. It is also what happens at that moment when God in Christ enters our lives…

Change disrupts the comfort we find in the routines and patterns in life. It often means dealing with the unexpected and relinquishing some of the control we may have grown accustomed to. Change involves taking things as they come, without always having the ability to arrange them to our convenience or liking. Change often leads us on a course of troubling uncertainty.

But the certainty that God is with us allows us to look past our troubles to see the joyous upheaval that God has in store for us. Witness the certain faith of Mary, the peasant teenager who looked the angel square in the eye when all was said and done and announced, “Let it be.” Witness also the certain faith of her kinswoman, Elizabeth, whose own baby leaped for joy in her womb in the presence of the Messiah; or Joseph, who trusted a message delivered to him in a dream; or the shepherds who dropped everything to rush off to the manger; or the wise men who knew that a King even greater than themselves had come into the world; or all those – then and now – who believe in the outrageous promise that has already come true in Bethlehem’s child.

Victoria is at the age where she is discovering the world around her. That means most of the time she amuses herself by pulling things out of drawers and off shelves and otherwise rearranging what little order there is in our home.

Christs presence in us brings some reordering and reshuffling. Some things will be moved around, some tossed out and some turned topsy-turvy. But the you that emerges from his rearranging will be stronger, better, renewed and reborn.

May God always turn your world inside out and upside down.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sister Act

And as a sister and a friend, 
I’ll be a sister ‘til the end,
-->
and no one on this earth can
change that fact –
I’m part of one terrific sister act.
  Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence
Sister Act – the Musical

It was a nun who first suggested that I might have a knack for writing.

Granted, she was not speaking ex cathedra. And while the ability to string words together rhythmically is a handy skill, I need only look across the dinner table at my spouse and children to find far superior wordsmiths.

But even if that particular pronouncement didn’t carry the same weight as, say, Sister’s teachings on important doctrinal matters like the fate of souls consigned to Limbo, her word was not something to be taken lightly.

Sister ruled.

John XXIII had not yet “open[ed] wide the windows of the Church” when I entered parochial school as a first grader in 1960. Saint Michael’s was a typical New York City parish that had been home to successive waves of immigrants – Irish, Italian, Polish, Puerto Rican, Cuban. In a strange new place, they entrusted the education and care of their children to Sister. 

The nuns of my early childhood were a formidable presence, otherworldly creatures whose human forms were hidden under yards of black cloth and starched wimples. They taught me inglés and the now-lost art of diagramming sentences, how to write in elegant longhand and the proper way to curtsy when the principal or one of the parish priests paid a visit to the classroom. From Sister Mary Thomasine, I first learned to pray, while Sister Mary Josephine taught me how to recite multiplication tables to the beat of her wooden pointer striking a desk. With Sister Mary Marguerite and Sister Mary Teresita, I discovered it was possible to be both a nun and a latina.  

They were also capable of instilling fear. More than a few smart-mouthed 10-year olds experienced the sting of Sister Mary Sheila’s slap across their faces. Sister Mary Daniel, built like a defensive lineman, towered over the pre-adolescent sixth grade males in her charge, striking terror with the combination of her size and temper. When it came to discipline, there was also no doubt that Sister ruled.

By the time I started high school in 1968, nuns had traded in their 18th century garb for more contemporary, albeit modest, attire, and they had names like Sharon, Mary Anne, Rita and Dolores. For the most part, they approached the daunting mission of teaching 500-plus adolescent girls with good humor and remarkable patience, as evidenced when my best friend and I auditioned for chorus by singing a duet of Country Joe and the Fish’s Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die. (For the record, we omitted the opening call-and-response, “Give me an F…” Enough said.) But by then their numbers were beginning to dwindle. And by the time I went off to college, they seemed like quaint anachronisms, reminders of an identity I was eager to shed. 

But even now, forty years since I walked away from the Roman Catholic church and sought another spiritual path, I cannot deny the influence of that terrific sister act upon my life. The Sisters of my childhood were my first real models of women in ministry. Women religious were among my seminary classmates and have been my colleagues in ministry. In a time of personal crisis, a pastoral counseling center run by a community of nuns helped bring about emotional and psychological healing. Sisters have been my spiritual companions as I seek to deepen my relationship with the Holy. And the best massage therapist I’ve ever had is an octogenarian Ursuline. The Sisters I am blessed to know bear prophetic witness to extravagant, divine love – they feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, give sanctuary to the marginalized, work for peace, speak truth to power and still teach new generations how to solve multiplication problems and write grammatically correct sentences.

All of which makes the recent doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious by the Vatican's Congregation for the Defense of the Faith and subsequent disciplinary actions puzzling to me, if not incomprehensible.    

Presumably, Sister has gone rogue and its up to the ecclesiastical hierarchy to rein her in.

The topic already has been written about much more eloquently by countless others, among them Sojourners’ Jim Wallis and The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristof, and author-historian-academic Gary Wills and there are no signs of it quieting down anytime soon.

Perhaps the bishops reprimand is motivated by the desire to preserve doctrinal orthodoxy; perhaps it’s just sexism and power dynamics at work.

And it may very well be that, having chosen another way, it’s a subject on which I no longer have a right to comment.

But nearly a half century ago, someone far wiser than I will ever be suggested I had a knack for this kind of thing. And with that simple affirmation, she started me on the path toward discovering my creative voice.

This one’s for her. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gleefully Yours

May 27, 2010

Coach Sue Sylvester
William McKinley High School
Lima, Ohio

Dear Ms. Sylvester,

First let me say that I agree with you that Will Schuester looks like he spends an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror, armed with hair grooming products. And his dimpled chin really does look like a baby’s bottom, depending on the angle and lighting.

And, as one fabulously amazing woman to another, let me add that I’m one of your greatest admirers. You show tough love when you need to, like your decision to oust Quinn from the Cheerios (that spandex uniform wasn’t going to hide her baby bump forever), and your determination to bring down New Directions demonstrates that you’re a force to be reckoned with – a gale force.

(Now, I don’t want to sound discouraging but that battle may not be as easy as you think – I, for one, already have 79 Glee Club songs on my little red iPod Nano and the school year isn’t even over in the Lima district – but there’s something to be said about your dogged persistence, peppered with a dash of manipulation and blackmail. Threatening to post that airline safety video on YouTube – you know, the one with Principal Figgins showing passengers the proper way to put on support hose to prevent leg embolisms on long flights – was sheer brilliance.)

And what can I say about your Vogue video? You put Madonna to shame. Beauty’s where you find it.

But it’s not those qualities – impressive though they may be – that have made me your devoted supporter. It’s because, like you, I have a family member with a developmental disability. My daughter Katie, now a young adult, has autism.

The diagnosis was a stunning blow, at first. There wasn’t all that much information about autism back then and all I could see were the limitations. We’ve spent much of the last 20 years trying to find the right school placement, the right recreational activities, the right adult program that would help Katie develop to her fullest potential. And along the way, we as a family learned that her life held way more possibilities than limits.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As challenging as it is to be a parent of a child of any age with special needs, I imagine it was especially difficult for you to grow up in a family where one member was so...different – your sister Jean.

Did having a sibling with Down Syndrome feel overwhelming? Did you feel that you always had to look out for her? Did you secretly wish that you could just wake up one day in a new – more normal – family? What was school like? Were you embarrassed or angry – or both – when you heard kids snickering on the school bus, or in the hallways, calling your sister a “retard”? Do you worry now about who will take care of her – who will read her stories and lie on the bed laughing with her – if you’re not around?

Now, I know what you think of the kids in Glee, and it’s not pretty. But did you hear that, just a few days ago, Kurt’s father Burt put that overgrown jock Finn in his place when he heard him call Kurt the “F” word (not to be confused with the “F” bomb)? Did you know that gruff old Burt said that using a hurtful epithet to describe gay men was like using the “N” word or referring to that adorable little girl Becky in your cheerleading squad as “retarded”?

Way to go, Burt!

He sure got the ball rolling about the power of words. But the job isn’t finished. And you’re the only person I can think of who can bring it home.

You’re the only one who can take on the “R” word.

Retard. Retarded.

I bet those words make you cringe, like they do me. When did it become acceptable to toss them around with such abandon? You probably still hear those words used around the corridors at McKinley High. And from what I’ve seen, you’re not a woman who’s going to take that lying down.

It won’t be easy. In fact, it may prove to be a task even more daunting than bringing down Will Schuester. Because if McKinley High is anything like most of the schools I’ve known, it’s not just the kids that will need to be set straight about the “R” word. You’ll have to stand up to parents who’ve incorporated it into their lexicon and send a message to their kids that it’s okay. You may even have to confront some of your fellow teachers, but you’ve already shown that you’re more than up to that.

You, Ms. Sylvester, are the only one with the authority and the ‘tude to take on, and take out, the “R” word, once and for all.

It’s time for you to take a stand, as only you can – for Jean, for Becky, for Katie.

With best wishes for success as nationals approach, I remain,

Most Gleefully Yours,

Martha

P.S. If you’re not doing anything on Sunday, June 6, maybe you and Jean can join Team Kate’s Mates at the Westchester-Fairfield Autism Walk. We’ll look for you there.