Sunday, July 28, 2013

Crazy Ideas & Spontaneity

I think in addition to locking my keys in my car 300 miles from home yesterday and having to give the absolute whole of my budget to a locksmith to spend 8 seconds getting my car open, I lost my fucking mind.  I don't know if Kansas City was very, very good to me as I lost my mind in the comedy of errors, or if it was very, very bad to me.  All I know for sure is I did, indeed, lose my mind at some point yesterday, and as a result....

The drive home took an interesting turn just outside of Bethany, Missouri.

A motorcycle passed me, and then took the exit for the businesses, and since I always fill my tank in Bethany to get home, I took the exit right behind it.  We ended up on opposite sides of the same pump, and the motorcycle rider chatted with me.  And he flirted with me.  And it was nice.

Then, I headed in to use the ladies' room and grab a soda and pay for the gas.  When I left, he had moved his bike away from the pumps and was drinking a soda.  I looked at him and he looked at me, and he smiled at me.  When I got in my car and pulled out, he made eye contact and smiled again.

I was almost to the exit of the gas station parking lot when I hesitated.  "What would it be like to just pull a u-turn, park next to him, get out, and ask if I can kiss him?" I wondered.  "That would be a terrible idea," I thought, glancing in my rear view mirror, and noting that he was watching my car.

I pulled through the exit, onto the roadway, and thought again about turning right and pulling back in, rather than left and out onto the highway again.  In the end, I turned left, and drove away, on my way back to Iowa.

But, I couldn't get him out of my mind.  I can't really explain it.  He just kind of stayed there.  And all I could think for the next couple of exits was going back to see if he was still there.  Foolishness! I told myself.

And then, I did the unthinkable.  I made a promise to myself.  "If I see his headlamp in my rear view mirror on this highway again, I'm going to pray that he recognizes my car, pulls over, and I'm going to kiss that man."  45 minutes and 50 miles later, I gave up.  So much for crazy ideas and spontaneity.

Then, improbably, a few miles behind me and coming up fast, I saw that headlamp.  "It can't be," I told myself.  He had to be doing 90-100 mph to have caught up.  "It has to be someone else."  And then he passed me, and it was the same man, on the same bike.  And he looked intently at the car, but being 10:45 at night, he couldn't see in.

He pulled in front of me, slowed to 80.  I kept pace.  He changed lanes to get around a truck or car, and I changed lanes to keep him in sight.  He'd start to pull ahead, going faster than 80, and I'd drop back.  Then, he'd slow down to let me keep pace.

As we entered Des Moines, I thought surely our paths would diverge.  "Please, just pull over and into a gas station!" I prayed out loud.

He took the Merle Hay exit.  "If he pulls into the first gas station," I thought, "I'll follow and use the ladies' room.  If he skips the gas station and heads to a more residential area, I'll pull into the gas station, use the ladies' room, and head home."

He pulled into the first gas station, and we ended up talking for an hour.  He told me that after I left, he saw me hesitate and hoped I'd turn around.  He told me that when he left, he hoped he'd see my car on the road, but eventually gave up.  He told me that as he passed exit after exit, getting farther and farther from Bethany, he was sure I had pulled off on one of them.  He told that when he saw my Mustang, he thought just maybe it was me, but he couldn't see into the car.

Then, he told me that when I kept pace with him, he knew it couldn't be a cop because it was a Mustang, but he also wasn't sure it was me, but he hoped it might be, and that when he saw me lagging behind, he'd slow down so I could keep pace.

He's 31 and single, though he goes on dates.  He's an electrician.  He lives an hour west of where I work.  He was nervous standing there talking to me on a rather cold July night.

Then, he asked to exchange numbers.  I gave him my number and he sent a text so I'd have his.  Then he told me that he hated to end our time together, but (it was 12:00 am at this point), he had been traveling all day, and he did need to get home.

And I stood there looking at him as he packed up his bike.  He gave me a hug, and as the hug ended, I did not move to step back.

Instead, I very slowly and carefully shifted my head just so, leaned closer, and let him close the gap.  Both my hands were on his chest at this point, I think gripping his jacket.  I ended the kiss, and pulled back slightly, but stopped just at the point where our noses were clear, tilted my head in the other direction and continued the kiss.  Soft and slightly open-mouthed.  I told myself that all I had planned was one kiss and this was clearly morphing into two kisses, and I should stop.  My mouth completely closed, I opened my eyes, and started to pull away; then I closed my eyes and kissed him again.  This time, I know for sure I was clenching his jacket with my left hand, wanting to keep him pulled in and prolong the kiss, my right palm flat against his chest, willing myself to end the kiss -- using my hands as a barrier to any further contact -- and end the night.

The kiss ended.  The whole of it couldn't have taken more than ten seconds.  It was the best kiss I've ever had.  It was phenomenal.  And erotic, and so freaking hot.

I wonder if I've lost my mind to kiss a total stranger in the parking lot of a gas station at midnight in Des Moines.

But he texted me this afternoon, and who knows what, if anything, might happen.  All I know for sure is, it was one seriously amazing kiss.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Who Is My Neighbor?

Luke 10:25-37


A man I know once said, "You cannot fully understand any story in the bible until you have identified with every character in the story." I believe this to be true.

This truth has impacted me in several ways. To start, I almost always know that I have more to learn from any story, no matter how familiar. Secondly, I recognize that when it comes to the gospels, I identify with Jesus way less often than I'd care to admit. Third, the character with whom I most strongly identify at a given time is often a signpost to where I am at spiritually and emotionally.

And, I have a confession to make. In our gospel lesson for today, I identify with the lawyer. More than that, I really like and admire the lawyer. This is probably not the impact the author of this gospel intended to have when he put pen to parchment.

These are tales about Jesus! The miracles he worked, the places he traveled, the people he engaged, the inflammatory comments he made! If anything, we're supposed to identify with him and strive to be more like him.

We're not supposed to identify with and appreciate the villain.

This lawyer, though.... He's crafty. And he's smart. And he uses language well.

I try to be kind to everyone I meet. I strive to love people well. I work to be gracious to and inclusive of others, no matter who they are.

I fail. A lot.

I have, on more than one occasion, been accused of using my intellect as a weapon. A co-worker recently told me that I have a special knack for making people ridiculous and stupid. Let me assure you, this is not often done on purpose. It is, however, a result of my very careful and incredibly intentional use of language.

This is where I identify with the lawyer. This is where I admire his chutzpah. He has the audacity first to challenge Jesus and second to seek to justify his behavior. And he does it with a careful and intentional use of language: And who is my neighbor?

This lawyer is crafty. And craftiness, in the bible, is a long and much admired tradition.

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" the lawyer asks.

"What is written in the law? What do you read there?" Jesus responds.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

And Jesus says, "You have given the right answer; do this and you will live."

What strikes me is that Jesus never gives the man a direct answer. Rather, in response to the lawyer's question, he asks a question. "What is written in the law?"

And he does the same again when asked, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus never gives a direct answer to this lawyer.

In fact in the gospels, Jesus is almost 40 times more likely to ask a question than to give a direct answer.

And who is my neighbor is followed by a story and the question: Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

Answering another question with another question.

So, I would like to take a little time this morning to unpack this parable of The Good Samaritan.

We have four characters in this parable: an injured man, a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. Though we are not told the ethnicity of the injured man, it is probably safe to assume he was Jewish. This is a story told to a Jewish man about how two Jewish religious authorities responded to the needs of an injured man and is contrasted against the way a Samaritan responded to that same injured man's needs.

Priests and Levites had very specific duties that centered on the Temple and worship. Priests performed sacred duties in the temple and entered the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the temple where the ark of the covenant, the very presence of God, resided. Priests were charged with making sacrifices to God and performing rituals.

Levites assisted the priests in the temple in their duties, though they were not permitted beyond the Sanctuary within the Temple -- the antechamber to the Holy of Holies. Their many duties included the basic care of the Temple and the reading of the Torah during worship.

Priest and Levites are incredibly well versed in scripture. They would know beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are called to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

They would also have been well versed in what is now the Talmud -- at the time it was the oral tradition of interpreting the laws of the bible. This oral tradition was passed down in the Temple. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the oral tradition was recorded on parchment as the Talmud.

Spending each day, every day, immersed in this oral tradition within the Temple, they would know the Pikuach Nefesh -- the rule concerning the preservation of life. The rule is simply this: with only three exceptions, the entirety of the Jewish law must be disregarded for the sake of saving a human life.

The three exceptions to this mandate are: 1) Defaming God's name, 2) Murder, and 3) Sacrificing one's own life to save another. It is permissible, however, to risk one's life in an attempt to save an other's. This is the religious tradition in which these men, the priest and the Levite, are steeped.

In this 1st century Palestine culture, however, nothing was more highly prized than ritual purity. Ceremonial purity was an absolute necessity. One could not serve in the Temple if one was not ritually clean. Touching a dead body makes one unclean. Those who are ceremonially unclean cannot perform sacrifices.

While the bible places an unmitigated emphasis on the preservation of life, this priest and Levite are not willing to risk touching a man who may be dying, as doing so will put them at risk of not being able to perform their duties. Knowing this man will die without fairly immediate attention and care, they instead leave him for dead and hurry by, crossing to the other side of the road so as to avoid him.

Yes, there is biblical precedent for remaining clean. Yes, there is biblical precedent for sacrifice. But when it comes to the preservation of life, an act of justice, in light of sacrifices, this is what God says: I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.

And again: With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings and calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, o mortal, what is good! And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Yes these men, a priest and a Levite, choose to keep their hands clean rather than show mercy to a beaten and dying man.

And what of the Samaritan?

Jews and Samaritans despised one another. They were enemies. Born of a common ancestor, they disagreed about many things, but it was their religious differences that most clearly distinguished them. Samaritans are the hated half-siblings of the Jews.

Again, ritual purity was at stake. Jews did not engage with Samaritans. Nor did Samaritans engage with Jews. They had their own separate territories and neither crossed into the land of the other lightly. They did not speak to one another, and the most certainly did not touch one another. They would not even touch a common object. To do would make them unclean.

And yet, it is a Samaritan who, upon seeing the man, went to him, bandaged his wounds, poured oil and wine on them, put him on his own animal, took care of him, and paid for his continued care at an inn.

What made the Samaritan's response so different from the response of the priest or the Levite?

What was different about the Samaritan himself?

The Jewish lawyer in today's gospel lesson would surely have identified himself with the priest and the Levite. The Jewish lawyer who sought to test Jesus and to justify himself.

It is the Samaritan, however, who was first moved with compassion.

Not bound by notions of ritual purity and a sense of self-righteous justification for keeping his hands clean, the Samaritan saw a man in need, and feeling compassion, was compelled to acts of mercy. Moved with compassion, he does not turn away.

Despised by the Jews, rather than permit one of them to perish, this Samaritan is moved with compassion, risks his own life, sacrifices his own comfort, spends his own wealth with no expectation of repayment, and seeks to meet the needs of an injured and dying man. The one who is despised and hated chooses to show love and mercy and to bring healing.

The Samaritan reminds me of Jesus.

Much as I identify with the crafty lawyer in this story, I want to identify with Jesus. I want to be more loving. I want to be more compassionate.

But it goes beyond that. For as crafty as this lawyer is, Jesus is craftier! He allows the lawyer to use his self-righteous justifications to lead him to a place where his craftiness fails him.

"What do you read in the law?"

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.' And who is my neighbor?"

And this is the brilliance of Jesus's answer: he makes it clear that in seeking to justify himself, the lawyer has asked the wrong question. Love your neighbor as yourself. "Who is my neighbor?" is the wrong question. "Which of these men, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The question is not "Who is our neighbor?" The question is, "To whom will we be a neighbor?"

The question is not "What must we do to inherit eternal life?" The question is, "How will we choose to live today?"

Are we going to choose to keep our hands clean? Are we going to ignore those in need, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual? Are we going to justify our inaction by claim self-righteously, "They are not my neighbor, it's not my job?" Are we going to ask "Who is my neighbor?"

Or will we choose mercy? Will we choose compassion? Will we seek to meet the needs of those we know? Will we intentionally seek opportunities to meet others who have needs? Will we be a people who asks instead, "How can I be a neighbor to those in need?"

My hope is that more and more we are the ones who put aside our pride and self-righteous justifications and choose instead to show mercy. In doing so, we will not only inherit eternal life; we will truly learn what it means to live today.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

PTSD Related Body Issues of a Slightly Thinner Fat Girl

Things have been hard. And I was managing beautifully until Tuesday. Then, I took my dog for a walk in the morning. I started a weight routine. I looked in the mirror as I was getting ready for work when I got back.

What I saw there sent me into a panic. An overwhelming sense of "I can't...." What, precisely, I cannot, I do not know. I just know that I can't...something.

I went to work and cried for the first two hours as I steadily plugged away at my duties. Just before 9:00, I called my former therapist to make an appointment. I left a message for a callback.

On my first break, I tried again, but got voicemail again. This is not particularly surprising. I called TB. "Tell me everything will be okay?" I asked him. "I called my therapist to make an appointment, but I thought, in the meantime, what with you being a formerly fat kid, maybe you'd have a minute...."

"Yeah, I mean, I can't talk because I'm on my way to OKC with a group of sleeping high schoolers in the back of my van, but you're doing great. You'll get through this. And, you know, if you need to talk, I can certainly listen right now."

So, I cried, because I needed to and because I felt safe and it was good. And then we chatted about his trip to OKC and his impending week as a camp counselor, and he teased me about my use of gender neutral language, and just as I was about to ask my classic question ("Why are you so mean to me?"), I realized what he had done and I said, "Thank you for being mean to me."

My timer went off and I headed back to work.

About an hour later, my phone rang. My therapist was calling back. I high-tailed it off the floor and answered. "Do you do work with or can you recommend someone who does work with anxiety and body issues?" I asked.

She could work with that.

This is what is hard: My body feels different. It moves differently. It takes up less space. It requires less force. My legs literally move in a different way and my foot falls more softly as I walk. It feels foreign, alien to me. I am not at home in my body and this is terrifying.

Even this I might have been okay with. Even this I might have managed to handle. But....

I look in the mirror and I cannot see any changes, though others tell me it's obvious.

I know that I am a smaller size because I've had to purchase or dig out of my closet smaller articles of clothing. But when I look in the mirror, I still see myself as I was 86 pounds ago.

Except.... On Tuesday, my collar bones showed up. And I panicked. At work, I avoid looking at my hands because I know the changes in them are prominent as well.

I was already upset and frustrated and struggling, oh Lord, struggling with the way people treat me. "What did you do? Stop eating altogether?" one woman at church asked. "What do you eat?" inquired another. "Do you ever bother to eat all?" asked a woman at work.

"I eat every day!" I tell them. "I eat vegetables and legumes and lean protein every single day." I turned to another co-worker, pleading for an ally. "She sees meet eat regularly! We share meals a few times a week! She can tell you I eat!" I declared.

"Hmmmmm.... Yeah, I can only say that I see you eat about once a week," she replied.

Completely alone to justify my weight loss. Why!? Why do I have to justify my weight loss to anyone? I eat fresh vegetables. I eat hummus. I eat baked fish and chicken. On occasion, I eat steak, medium-rare with sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onion and blue cheese. I eat real food. And I walk at least 6 miles a day, at least 6 days a week, at a moderate level of intensity. I walk because it helps reduce anxiety. And in the last week, I've added a 25 minute weight routine 3 days a week.

Yes, the weight loss may appear significant to others, but I do not see it at all. But 86 pounds in more than 9 months is not that much. It's about 2lbs a week. And recommendations for healthy and effective weight loss is 1-2 lbs a week. I'm right there.

The constant interrogations would have sent me to therapy eventually, but it was the mirror. Those collarbones. I just.... I looked at my reflection, and I began to cry. "I can't...." I do not know what I cannot. I only know I can't.

The next night, Wednesday as I awaited my appointment the following morning, I began to question things.

What happens if I get down to my goal weight and I'm still not enough? What happens if I never do any better at work than what I'm doing now? What if I can't perform? What if I can't meet someone's expectations?

What does it mean that my sense of accomplishment is currently tied to my weight in a very loose fashion such that I see the two as linked, but recognize that they might not be linked the way I want them to be?

What does it mean that when I worry I won't be enough, what I'm asking is, "What if being thin isn't sufficient to make me good enough for the love and validation of a man generally, and probably of a particular man specifically?"

What does it say about my relationship with a particular man and my emotional boundaries that my weight loss at times is linked more to a desire win him over than about my desire to be healthier and to run again?  Even if my primary motivation is health, even if 98% of the time it's about being able to do the things, physically, I want to do (because I really want to run again), what about that 2%?

What if no man ever loves or validates me as a woman no matter how thin I get?

What if 129 isn't enough? What happens if 126 becomes the next best thing? They say when it comes to weight loss people should set an unrealistic goal because people become lazy and settle for "good enough." What if I don't settle for "good enough" at 150 or 162? What if I truly do become determined to beat my fucking body into submission if it's the last God damned thing I do?

What if, no longer made invisible by my fat, I really do strive to become thin enough to disappear entirely?

With a history of abuse: verbal, physical, emotional, sexual; with so many people who have so abusively used my body; with so many instances of being robbed of bodily integrity and the right to body autonomy; with so many moments in which someone who did not have a right to know my body, chose to steal that knowledge of my body, at the very fucking least, I should know my body. I have should have that. I should be able to know my own body. And I don't. And it's terrifying.

And with a history of witnessing profound abuse during my childhood from those who used their physical size to intimidate and attack those weaker than themselves, I have a sense of being more physically vulnerable the smaller I become.

With so much else going on in my life: six deaths in six months in the past year, changing roles and inconsistent expectations at work, interrogations by congregants and co-workers, changes to my body that are terrifying as my own physicality feels like a stranger to me.... Is it any wonder that I am so rigidly controlling of my diet and exercise?

But.... With food and exercise being the only things I can control, what if, at some point, they start controlling me?

On Friday, another co-worker engaged me about my weight loss. It was done in a safe way. She and I have discussed the trauma of body changes and she understands.

"Oh, hey!" she exclaimed. "You have collarbones!"

"Yep," I told her. "They showed up three days ago and became fairly prominent this morning."

And when I got home, I went for a walk.