Love Is An Action Verb

February 26, 2011

See how they love one another.

  —Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD), Apology, Chapter XXXIX

i found god in myself

& i loved her/ i loved her fiercely

  –Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf

I believe love is an action verb

It puts on pants and goes to work. 

  –Patty Ryle Clay

Love isn’t sweet nothins whispered in the ear

Love is sweet somethins, fleshed out, in gear.

  –Patty Ryle Clay

Contexts of Shange and Tertullian quotes:

i waz missin somethin

somethin so important

somethin promised

a layin on of hands

fingers near my forehead

strong

cool

movin

makin me whole

sense

pure

all the gods comin into me

layin me open to myself

 

i waz missin somethin

somethin promised

somethig free

a layin on of hands

i know bout/ layin on bodies/ layin outta man

bringin him alla my fleshy self & some of my pleasure

bein taken full eager wet like i get sometimes

i waz missin something

a layin on of hands

not a man

layin on

not my mama/ holdin me tight/ sayin

i’m always gonna be her girl

not a layin on of bosom & womb

a layin on of hands

the holiness of myself released

 

i sat up one nite walkin a boardin house

screamin/ cryin/ the ghost of another woman

who waz missin what I waz missin

i wanted to jump up outta my bones

& be done wit myself

leave me alone

& go on in the wind

it waz too much

i fell into a numbness

til the only tree i cd see

took me up in her branches

held me in the breeze

made me dawn dew

that chill at daybreak

the sun wrapped me up swingin rose light everywhere

the sky laid over me like a million men

i waz cold/ i was burnin up/ a child

& endlessly weavin garments for the moon

with my tears

 

i found god in myself

& i loved her/ i loved her fiercely

   –Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf

On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. And they are wroth with us, too, because we call each other brethren; for no other reason, as I think, than because among themselves names of consanguinity are assumed in mere pretence of affection (Tertullian).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

At no other time in the history of Christianity did love so characterize the entire church as it did in the first three centuries. And Roman society took note. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!”

Justin Martyr sketched Christian love this way: “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”

Clement, describing the person who has come to know God, wrote, “He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”

When a devastating plague swept across the ancient world in the third century, Christians were the only ones who cared for the sick, which they did at the risk of contracting the plague themselves. Meanwhile, pagans were throwing infected members of their own families into the streets even before they died, in order to protect themselves from the disease….

The love of the early Christians wasn’t limited simply to their fellow believers. Christians also lovingly helped non-believers: the poor, the orphans, the elderly, the sick, the shipwrecked—even their persecutors. Jesus had said, “Love your enemies … and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). The early Christians accepted this statement as a command from their Lord, rather than as an ideal that couldn’t be actually practiced in real life.

Lactantius wrote, “If we all derive our origin from one man, whom God created, we are plainly all of one family. Therefore it must be considered an abomination to hate another human, no matter how guilty he may be. For this reason, God has decreed that we should hate no one, but that we should eliminate hatred. So we can comfort our enemies by reminding them of our mutual relationship. For if we have all been given life from the same God, what else are we but brothers? … Because we are all brothers, God teaches us to never do evil to one another, but only good—giving aid to those who are oppressed and experiencing hardship, and giving food to the hungry” (www.earlychurch.com).

 

One foot in and one foot back.
But it don’t pay to live like that.
So I cut the ties and I jumped the track.
For never to return.

Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.

  —The Avett Brothers

Last night, I watched another video. Videos are a way I can relax right now without TV.

It is a drama about three police officers in the NYPD whose beat is Brooklyn. Each of them is attempting to save their life, or their family’s, in qualitative ways.

The film–Brooklyn’s Finest–is violent, replete with drug trafficking and the dark underworld of one of the worst sections of the City.  The characters are caught in a web which leaves them few choices. The ones they make become fatal.

The main characters are honorable while they face  ethical decisions which are not clearcut.

Ethics are like that. As much as we want them to be simple, spelled out in a manual, they are complicated. The world we live in is so imperfect and we are often faced with “the lesser of the evils” as our best option. The difficult piece is realizing and accepting that we are imperfect too. We are part of the problem.

Recently I’ve had a ‘breakthru’. God has shined the Light of Love into my dark underworld. Parts of my life and heart have been revealed to me and, like the blind man Jesus heals, I can see. The glass is clearer.

Catholic writer Richard Rohr writes: We are hard-hearted and close-minded for years. Then comes a moment of vulnerability and mercy. We break down and break through.

I believe God’s way of getting our attention is often through brokenness. We reach places of pain that are unbearable. Our lives are out of control. Perhaps we are obsessive or self-absorbed. Maybe we’re caught up in unhealthy patterns of behavior which jeapordize our peace, put our life on hold, and prevent us from fulfilling our mission. Maybe we are desperately clinging to people or things out of fear. Maybe we’re a slave to tradition, or have a ‘religious spirit’ which replaces a genuine relationship with God.

Maybe we are so scared of change and our faith is so weak that we are immobilized and cannot do the next best thing. Maybe we forget to pray or don’t have the time to because of preoccupations. Maybe we are consumed by worry or harbor old grudges. Maybe we are idolatrous. Maybe we have forgotten how to love as we have been loved.

We all have our dark interiors, our own underworld, those places deep within us like a hidden well. We fall into them without intention but soon are trapped and need rescue. We are caught up in something like NYPD cops that is bigger than us. We realize we are in trouble and need help.

The Avett Brothers, who recently performed along with Mumford and Sons and Bob Dylan at the Grammy Awards, write of Brooklyn as a mother:

Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.

We all need a Brooklyn, a place where we will be taken in when we’re broken.

This morning I am grateful for pain and for the grace of conviction. For the wakeup moment when our hands shake, our head spins, and we realize we need help. For the cleansing water of conviction which gently washes over us like cool mud until our spiritual eyes can see. Only then, are we able to turn around, to repent and allow God to f ree us.

Ultimately that is the Good News of the Gospel: Liberation.

I know it is not Lent yet, the season of repentance and reflection leading up to Easter, but I believe everday is a type of liturgical calendar–the opportunity to repent and be forgiven, to start fresh, to be taken in.

Vinyl

February 21, 2011

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland

  –Isaiah 43.19

We called them records and later, albums.

First they were 45’s. Little black discs with large holes and grooves. They were  singles, tucked into colorful sleeves and stored in a wire rack. We collected them like baseball cards and turned them over to hear the other side. We played them on small children’s players without stereo. We danced to them in the living room and listened to their stories at night. They were magical.

Next came high school and 33’s. Players with clear covers and needles we would blow and touch to clear away the dust. We could adjust speed and volume. Eight inch box speakers, separated by four feet, produced stereo sound. We stacked the records on top of one another and  the changer would drop a new one automatically. We could listen for an hour without moving from our bed, while talking with our friends into the wee hours of the night.

Things became more sophisticated in college. Speakers grew and stacks went away. All kinds of things could be adjusted like bass and treble, right and left. There were buttons and dials whose purpose I never fully grasped. We would order expensive styluses-no longer needles- and treat them like royalty, never touching them except with a brush and cleaner. Sleek black or brushed silver tuners, receivers, and amplfiers sat on top of one another with red and yellow lights.

We had all sorts of wires and could hang speakers on opposite sides of the room. There was a fancy lever to gently lower the needle. We rose from conversations, from sitting cross-legged on the floor, and sometimes from beds to flip or change them, carefully handling them between palms to leave no fingerprints. We slipped them delicately into sleeves and carefully returned them to their cardboard covers. We read and discussed the lyrics and organized the growing numbers alphabetically or by genre.

Our stereos said something about us–as did our collection– and became a bit of a status symbol as to the seriousness of our musical interest.  

Now, albums are called vinyl and purchased in used stores like vintage clothes. Young people love the old recordings and like the scratchy sounds.  You can purchase a record player at Best Buy and sell your collection online.

I have quite a collection of vinyl myself and have hauled it in sturdy boxes wherever I’ve moved. It  is organic and eclectic and reflects, I think, good taste. The covers are worn. Some of the sleeves are missing and the 12 inch discs bear scuffs and scratches in spite of my care.

When I put them on, I am transported to St. Petersburg or Estes Park, to skinny-dipping in a lake or sitting in a dorm room, to a good friend’s house or the beach or an old boyfriend. I play them with discretion for they are powerful reminders of the past.

Music does that for all of us. It is potent like a smell and invades our senses. It transports us through time and conjures up memories through soundwaves and imagination. We can see ourselves in a particular scene or frame of mind, recall it vividly like it was a landing on the moon. Certan songs can overpower us with raw emotion if we’re not prudent. And like the needle on an old LP, we can get stuck, repeating the same tune again and again.

Cake

February 20, 2011

But it was not your fault but mine

And it was your heart on the line.

I really f_ _ _ed it up this time

Didn’t I my dear?

Didn’t I my dear?

  —Mumford and Sons, Little Lion Man

I need your arms around me,
I need to feel your touch,
I need your understanding, I need your love,
So much.

You tell me that you love me so,
You tell me that you care,
But when I need you, (BABY)
Baby, (You’re never there).

Cake, Never There

We all know the expression: Have one’s cake and eat it too.

It is derived from a Middle English proverb as “wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?” A French equivalent expression is: vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre, meaning literally wanting the butter and the money for the butter. The expression vuoi la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca (“you want your bottle full of wine and your wife drunk”) is used in Italy with an equivalent meaning. The Italians would have such an expression.

I believe we understand the meaning. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t own something and also receive all the benefits from it. It’s just not right.

Marie Antoinette is famous for her line about cake at the start of the French Revolution, when she was told that the impoverished peasants were starving and didn’t even have bread to eat. “Then let them eat cake” was supposedly her response.

Somehow, I think these expressions are connected and together reveal a selfish unjust spirit, even gluttony. A gluttony which grows rich while others are famished and underfed.

I think of the banks and finanial industry over the past two years and how they have had their cake and eaten it too. They have been bailed out by the very people they screwed. We can see it clearly in others, a lack of basic human decency, the sin of wanting more than our share and blatant disrespect, disregard for the needs of others. This can only be construed as unfair and cruel. One wonders how the CEO’s and decision makers can sleep at night.

I have a friend who has given me a nickname, Pattycakes. I don’t know why no one has called me this before. It is obvious. She sometimes just calls me Cakes.

I’ve decided if I ever become an exotic dancer, Pattycakes will be my stagename. But God, I hope I never stoop so low as to have my cake and eat it too.

The heart is an organ but it is made of muscle. It is a mighty machine that pumps life blood like iron.

What happens when it grows sore from too much exercise?

I thought of this question last night as I worked out at the Y. I  lifted weights, pushed biceps and pecs to their limit in three sets of reps.

My legs were already tired. Quads ached from cycling on The Silver Comet Trail. They could do no more.

Sore has many meanings as an adjective: It describes something that causes pain or distress as in a sore subject;  something that is painfully sensitive and tender like the sore muscles I experience this morning. It describes the condition of being hurt or inflamed so as to be or seem painful, as in sore eyes from reading in a dim light. Sore modifies a noun that is attended by difficulties, hardship, or exertion and sore can refer to a person who is angry or irked, as in a sore loser.

This morning, I am sore. I am all of the above. The adjective describes me.

I watched last night as others worked out. Lean calves and meaty arms pushed and pulled pulleys, bench pressed, strained and exerted. Occasionally, one could hear the sound of arrest when muscles could do no more and weights fell with a loud metal clang. No amount of grunting and labored breathing could lift another pound or do another rep, never mind a set.

I think we all reach our limits. Our muscles meet their match and are defeated.

I believe the heart is no different. When it is sore enough from the weight of love, strained and weary from exertion, the muscle ceases to contract. The heart stops beating.

 It is referred to as cardiac arrest.

Dessert

February 18, 2011

Life is short. Eat dessert first.

Yesterday, I helped my mother with a Sunday School party that she and Dad hosted in their home. Some twenty-three people in their late 70’s and early 80’s gathered to eat pound cake with toppings, drink coffee, and celebrate the marriage of two people in their class.

They are newlyweds.

It is an awesome thing to find love late in life. They never expected it.

‘Late’ is a relative term, but for these two people, it is really late. They may live only a few more years.

We teased as I was serving the coffee. I shared with them a story about Jay.

Jay was a member of the second church I served in Augusta. He was eighty-something also when he married. He went after a younger woman in the church who was in her seventies. I performed the wedding ceremony.

They wanted the whole church to be there since we had witnessed their courtship after both of their spouses had died. They were so cute and dressed to the nines for the occasion. They stood before me at the altar. I read the familiar words.

What threw me off, and all of us, is that at every pause in the liturgy, Jay would lean over and start to kiss his beloved. I kept whispering, “Not now Jay.”  People snickered in the pews.

Finally, it was time. The vows had been exchanged. The blessing given. And then I said, “Now”.

Jay leaned over and gave his wife a kiss and everyone clapped. It was beautiul and sweet.

As I shared this story yesterday with the Marietta newlyweds, they were eating dessert. “Life is short” I said. The husband looked at me and said “Yes it is.” He knows what he’s talking about; his words hold water.

Last night, my son shared a video link with me. He is in the video with one of his friends, Emily Hearn. She is a rising singer/songwriter and I invite you to view it on youtube. The song is called “Rooftop”. Bill Murray plays the drums in it and my son Sam can be seen dancing and on the roof.

The song has these lyrics: Most days, we spent together ’cause we realized, they go so fast.

What’s amazing to me about the song is that it is written by a twenty-year-old who has already gotten it: that life is short. We better eat dessert first.

A Patty Hug

February 16, 2011

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,

  –Hebrews 12.12

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees.

  –Isaiah 35.3

But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it.  Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set.

  —Exodus 17.12

I dreamed the other night that I was hugging people.

This isn’t a far stretch, as hugs were one of the things I offered people in the church.

Each Sunday, as parishioners filed out the front door after worship, we would exchange a brief word and usually a hug.  I didn’t plan this ministry, it just happened and before long in each congregation I served, members would say, “I need a Patty hug.”

It was as much a gift to me as to them. For one thing, it provided me with information about them–a kind of physical insight. I could feel their tension or their trembling, their loneliness or broken hearts. As I drew them into my arms, I was greeted with their frail bones or strong muscles, their own strength or joy or pain. It was a reading, although that was never the intent.

The intent was warmth and encouragement, a way to connect as people of God and to love them. So many were starved for touch–widows and widowers who went all week without any human contact; children whose parents were not capable of a nurturing embrace; young people struggling to be accepted and reassured in a non-sexual way. Single and divorced women, men who had to put up a macho front. Those who mourned.

We read in Hebrews,  to lift up our drooping hands and strenthen our weary knees, but sometimes we need a little help. We need someone like Aaron and Hur to hold up our weary arms for us.

Today I have a job interview and am struggling to fight back tears.

I need a Patty hug.

Protein

February 15, 2011

Proteins are essential parts of organisms and participate in virtually every process within cells…Proteins are also necessary in animals’ diets, since animals cannot synthesize all the amino acids they need and must obtain essential amino aids from food (Wikipedia).

I wish I knew more about cellular biology, especially as I have been recently diagnosed as mildly bipolar (Type 2). I’d like to know more about neurotransmitters and protein synthesis, amino acids and their relationship to mental health.

I know, at least, my doctor told me I need to be eating more protein. Now, I drink a protein shake for breakfast.

For years, I was diagnosed as ‘depressed’. I was fed Prozac and later, its children. When I lost my job from the college– which can only be described as major trauma–it pushed me into a manic state and is when my shrink rediagnosed me. I am thankful, really, that I was ‘severed’ for many reasons, not the least of which was a more accurate reading on my mental health.

I have now been prescribed a different medication which works so much better and does not make me sleepy. I have mostly good days.

I am so thankful for science and research and people who look through microscopes and see the wonder of the cells, who separate important components through centrifuges which whir at high speeds, for those who read DNA like it was a novel and make pictures and graphs. And who are on the cutting edge of a relatively new area in scientific research: the biochemistry of mental health.

My daughter in law is in the neuroscience department as a PhD student at Vanderbilt. Her research involves how increased stress on cells affects the uptake of sugar in persons diagnosed as bipolar. Our cells simply don’t work like others do. They don’t have the ability to weather changes through their own adaptations and the cell’s response.

I am sure I am not describing her work adequately or even accurately, but what I have gathered through her patient explanations to me, through seeing her lab and presentations, through reading one of her published articles is that something is different about our cells and the way they function. They seem to be limited.

Dern. I don’t like the idea of being limited, but at some level, I know we all are. It is just manifested in various ways.

However, on another level, it is freeing.

I recall when years ago, my therapist first told me that I was clinically depressed and thought I needed to go on medication. I cried. I felt defeated but also relieved. relieved that I didn’t have to keep trying so hard. I could acknowledge what was real and admit my own weakness.

Now I see that my mental health condition is not weakness as much as the flaws of my body, my biochemistry, my cells. I am not perfect.

Yea!

And neither are you. Another yea!

We can live in an imperfect world together and know that God–our perfect Lover–covers us with grace and helps the neurotransmitters of our souls to make the synaptic leap into well-being.

God is our protein.

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

    —Jefferson Airplane, Stop Children, What’s That Sound?

Once upon a time, I saw Jefferson Airplane in concert. It was an amazing night of listening to one of the most influential rock bands of their era. The powerful vocalist, Grace Slick, and the band’s edgy, improvisational style, electrified the air. The lights of the stage and clouds of marijuana hovered in the air. One could get high just by breathing.

I didn’t know about protests then except from pictures in Look Magazine and the evening news. Viet Nam was not my battle. Or Watergate. Or Civil Rights. Or Equal Rights. I guess you could say I was non-political and also young during the heat of the revolution happening on the streets and acoss college campuses in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

But I liked good music.

In addition to White Rabbit, Volunteers, and Somebody to Love, Jefferson Airplane played Stop Children, What’s That Sound that evening. You may recall the lyrics of the fourth verse:

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

I understand those lyrics now. I’ve been stopped by police four times in the past year.

The first time, I  was on my way back to my parents’ after a long day of painting at the Little House. When the police officer walked up to my window, I was genuinely befuddled and said “Why’d you stop me?” He responded, “You ran the stop sign.” I said, “No I didn’t.” It went downhill from there.

The second time, I had just finished a nice walk on a beautiful afternoon in Acworth. I had that feeling of contentment following exercise and was headed home down Main Street in a slow line of traffic that looked like a funeral. The police officer was on foot, stopped all the cars, and motioned me over. When he came over to the window, he said, “You were going above the speed limit in a school zone.” I said, “Really? Iwas just toodling along.” As he handed me the ticket, he said, “You might want to pay more attention next time you’re ‘toodling’ along.” He emphasized ‘toodling’.

The third time, it was a State Trooper. He did a U-turn and turned on his lights. Apparently, one of my headlights was burned out.

The fourth time was just last week.

I was driving home from a delightful evening of knitting at a friend’s house. Knitting, for heaven’s sake. Up ahead I saw flashing lights and a car pulled over on the right side of US41. I continued along my journey, thankful it wasn’t me, when all of a sudden, I heard a siren and saw blue lights reflected in my rearview mirror.

The young police officer asked, “Do you know why I stopped you?” I fought back the urge to say, “Because Cobb County is a police state and there are apparently no rapists, child molesters, wife beaters or white-collar criminals here. and by the way, where’s the closest donought shop?” I said, “No”.

He said, “Because it’s a law that when you come up on an emergency situation with a police vehicle on the right shoulder of the road, you are required to move over to the left lane.” I am not making this up.

I sighed and said, “I’m sorry.” He gave me a warning.

Now, I’m scared to leave my house, which is a shame because I like driving around, drinking diet cokes and listening to music on the radio. I  know it’s not green, but is one of the few pleasures I have in my life right now, not to mention the fact that there is no public transportation out my way.

I’ve thought about getting a horse and buggy or pulling out my road bike. I need to be training for the century anyway.

But this is what I mainly want to say today: Be careful, for sometimes the lives of people who are connecred run parallel.

And, keep telling me your stories. I love hearing them.

Tease

February 12, 2011

Hey soul sister,

ain’t that mister mister on the radio, stereo,

the way you move ain’t fair, you know.

Hey soul sister,

I don’t wanna miss a single thing you do,

tonight.

  —Train, Hey Soul Sister

 

For the beauty of each hour

of the day and of the night,

hill and vale, and tree and flower,

sun and moon, and stars of light;

Lord of all, to thee we raise

this our hymn of grateful praise.

  —Folliot S. Pierpoint, For the Beauty of the Earth

We all know what it means. Tease.

Let’s be honest, maybe we have been one or followed one or been seduced by one…and it’s fun!

We know it is. There is something in all of us which likes the interplay of desire, of curiosity, of  the chase.

Think back to highschool, to mini skirts and sweaters, to the guys lined up to watch the girls go by. It was always a two way street, this dance of the universe. A playful interchange as ancient as the Redwoods.

And just because we’re older or married or half-dead in our lives, doesn’t mean there isn’t part of us that is still alive. That can be woken in a moment, animated by a look, a word, a shared silence. Or in Sleeping Beauty’s case, a kiss.

I believe we all want to be kissed, really kissed, nice and slow and deep with desire. We want to be wanted. We like the chase.

Well, the Good News is, I believe God does as well.

I believe God is in the seduction business and is one big tease, the Tease of the Universe. I believe God enjoys the flirting, the playful exchange between willing partners who are attracted and smitten. The joy of the chase.

Why else would God have created such an incredibly sensuous universe? Filled with pink petals and the plush of rabbit’s fur. With trees which sway and grass fields which beckon. With stars that wink and breezes which caress. I could go on and on but don’t want to embarass myself–or you–with language. Words can be seductive themselves.

All I know is that the Universe God created is erotic with a capital ‘E’! It is sexual. It is fun. It calls us into its beauty like a siren into the waters, into all that is wet.

God may just be a nymphomaniac.

And that is my heresy today.