Keeping Positive in the Age of Trump

Someone asked me recently how, in the face of so much negativity abroad in the world, I seem to stay positive all the time.
First of all, I said, I am not always positive—I have good days and bad days like everyone else, and the daily news makes me angry with a fury I have never known in my life to this point.(But of course, anger in the name of God’s compassion is not negative at all!}
But then I share the real secret of my positive outlook: God and God’s gifts. Let’s start with the gifts. Two in particular, alcoholism and bipolar.
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Did I say gifts? Yes, gifts which like all gifts, can become poison if we do not accept them humbly and joyfully and use for the further glory of God. But if we do, and it has taken me many years to do so, even these heavy-weight gifts can become sources of great joy. Now of course I am well aware that these two gifts can also kill—both alcoholism and bipolar are gifts whose very nature is to feed off of negative energy. The number of hours I have wasted in my life by giving in to the soul-crushing negativity of deep depression and the enervating mix of shame, guilt, and ego trips that is alcoholism’s particular cocktail is countless. So I know negativity.
And I know that for me, giving in to these negative sides of my gifts can kill me, literally, and has on occasion gotten me quite close. I have discovered that in order to live, I must not give in to negativity, not give it even an inch. When I have been wronged, or even (wrongly) perceive that I have been wronged, I cannot indulge in resentment or self-pity even for a little bit, or it can kill me. When I see the mess of the world and give in to despair or think why bother doing anything at all given the massive evil abroad and its seeming triumph over good, my bipolar and my alcoholic demons can grab this little thought and take me, willy nilly, down a dizzying labyrinth of further negative thoughts and land me in a pit of despair so deep that there too I am literally at death’s door. Suicidal ideations are for me a real threat and so I simply cannot afford to indulge in despair over the world. Plus, there is God at work each day to remind me that love created the world, love sustains it, and that my very flesh is suffused with  God’s desire that I be free to love and to sing praise.
What it comes down to for  me, given my ‘special’ gifts of bipolar and alcoholism, is that there is only one choice, a choice I must make every day, every minute, when it would be especially easy for me to go negative.
I must choose life, and I must choose to trust God and God’s desire of good for me. I learned this many years ago from  Sister Cecilia who quoted to me  Deuteronomy 30:19:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
And so I make the choice, and I have learned  that the secret of life is to choose life, the way to God’s glory is to choose to see God’s glory in every moment, even in every shadow of death. God loves us beyond compare, and that is a positive energy that is simply no match for the ‘devil and his pomps,’ as the old prayer book puts it. God reigns and so for me every day is joy at this victory. That’s my story because it is God’s story, and I for one am sticking to it!

For great is your love toward me; *

you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.  –Ps 86:13

 

Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *

and the years in which we suffered adversity. –Ps. 90:15

Audio of Friendship, Forgiveness, and Fun: A wedding Homily

bishop guerry

Bishop Guerry, who was killed in office by a priest for Guerry’s insistence on the full inclusion of African Americans in the diocese of South Carolina.

 

Preached at  Grace Cathedral in the Diocese of South Carolina for the wedding of Tom and Elizabeth Daniel, my two dear friends who I met in the green pastures of Cornell University. In the sermon I mention Eliza’s maid of honor Bella Cain, one of the most knowledgeable oyster shuckers in the country and a remarkable person who has broken barriers as a transgender woman in the tight knit world of oyster shucking. An article about her journey can be read here.

postscript: among other errata, I had a delightful conversation at the reception afterwards where one friend of Tom’s family reminded me that there is one quite significant reference to dogs in the Hebrew Bible.  The name Caleb, whose courage helps lead the people of Israel into the promised land, means dog. Courageous and steadfast. Amen.

Leaping and Dancing as Jesus Heals Us

This sermon was preached at The Church of the Epiphany on Third Easter, just a little over a year after Gurdon’s death. His vision of Jesus’ triumphant love in the midst of loss inspires us day after day.

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Audio Sermon: Jonah and the call

Preached at Church of the Epiphany Trumansburg on January 21, 2018

Here I am Lord

Fire in the belly of the fish

 

 

Christmas Eve 2017: Giving Birth to Christ

Press Release: Cornell University Scientists Collaborate with NSA to Identify Mr. Jasper H. McGillicuddy of 64 Snossberry Lane in Ithaca as Perpetrator of Unclaimed Dog Poop Bag Left in Cornell’s Otherwise Lovely Botanic Gardens

November 18, 2017

In a remarkable breakthrough, Cornell University scientists working in collaboration with the NSA as well as loyal Botanic Garden volunteers have discovered a new way to identify the rightful wrongful owners of dog poop left in unmarked bags alongside the majestic walking paths of Cornell’s Botanic Gardens. Cornell Professor Dr. Penelope “Peeny” Foshills of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics describes the situation and what led to the breakthrough.

“I’m an inveterate walker,” Dr. Foshills said. “Any number of my most important scientific breakthroughs have come when I have left the cramped quarters of my laboratory and headed out past Beebe Lake and into the incredible beauty of the York Herb Garden. Usually a sniff or two of  the many herbs at the York garden will awaken my creative senses and I’ll double back to the lab and have my problem solved. On occasion, when the problem is particularly challenging, I’ll need to make my way through the Mundy Wildflower Garden, cross Caldwell Road and amble up to Newman Overlook. One look at the light dancing on the ponds down below and my mind relaxes and the inspiration I need comes almost immediately. So you can imagine my dismay when the other day as I was deep in thought, I stepped into the most prodigious pile of dog poop imaginable. Some ninny  dropped it on the path in one of those biodegradable doggie poop bags the Botanic Gardens are so nice enough to provide our many dog walkers. The smell, let us say, was no bed of petunias.”

poop bag

Mr. McGillicuddy’s dog Pickles could not be reached for comment

Dr. Fosshils then went into considerable detail about the dog poop extraction process she followed and which we will spare our reader.
The unfortunate event inspired her rather unusual scientific mission. “I was telling my horror story to one of my colleagues, Dr. Clatterpop in Veterinary Science,” Dr. Foshills added, “and Sylvia began telling me about the most remarkable breakthrough in her own lab. It seems that dogs, of which I am not terribly familiar, have an irresistible need to lick the faces of their humans.” The Nobel Prize winning geneticist made a scrunchy face. “Dr. Clatterpop shared with me that minute traces of the facial skin cells removed by such behavior can be detected even in the… “ Dr. Foshills paused and proceeded to smile like the Cheshire cat. “I didn’t let her finish the sentence.”

Back in the lab, Dr. Foshills ran the specimen through her Licor 4200 and soon enough had extracted the human DNA from her smelly sample. This is where the NSA came in. “So I had the perpetrator of the dastardly deed’s DNA,” Dr. Foshills said, “but no way to identify it.” That’s when her other friend, Professor Gregor Blazanov in Poly Sci came to her rescue. “Gregor is a real card, but he’s got a few friends in the Trump Administration.   “”Peeny!’ he exclaimed, ‘Peeny, don’t you know the NSA has all of us on file?’ Well, Gregor owed me one and before I’d even finished my daily stretch break in the Minns Garden, he’d called me back on my cell with the positive ID.” Mr. Jasper H. McGillicuddy was subsequently contacted and is now doing community service picking up poop bags on the Treman Woodland Walk for a month of Sundays.

Reached for comment, Mr. McGillicuddy offered the following thoughts in addition to his heartfelt apology to Dr. Foshills for his bad behavior. “I had no idea the gardens were so beautiful! I’ve been walking these trails with my dog for years, mostly talking and texting on my cell phone. If this is punishment, give me more. Did you know about the Japanese primroses??”

Dr. Foshills, pleased to learn of Mr. McGillicuddy’s new leaf, offered one final thought. “Dog walkers, enjoy the gardens, keep your dogs on their leashes, and their poop on your person. Oh, and consider yourselves warned.” She smiled impishly and then turned and headed off with deliberate speed down the Kienzle Overlook trail.

Dr. Foshills declined to be photographed for this piece. Instead she offered this snapshot of her twin kitty cats Helix and Felix

Suicidal Ideations and fighting like Wild Bill

I don’t mind admitting that I have suicidal ideations. Have had them for years. Many mornings they greet me with the dawn and hound me for quite awhile until I get out of bed. On good days they dissipate with the worries of the day. On bad ones they hound me at every turn hatching plots and drawing plans.

I am told this is normal for one suffering with clinical depression, or in my case, a diagnosis of Type I Bipolar. I don’t mind admitting to having been given this diagnosis. I’m an alcoholic, fifteen years sober, so I’ve learned that shame is my greatest enemy and that being open is at the heart of my recovery. If it makes others uncomfortable to have me speak so openly about my afflictions, so be it. And I do I try not to make it the regular topic of conversation 🙂

But I also know that for centuries, these thoughts went by other names. Demonic thoughts, devilish inclinations, the serpents’s tail, in one of my favorite poetic ways of putting the matter by Ignatius Loyola, whom I suspect had in spades what we today call bipolar. And I have come to rely upon the spiritual wisdom of the psalms more than anything else in dealing with these demons. Today we read Psalm 55 in our morning prayer lectionary and it, more than any other, describes the turmoil that is my heart on many days—a city full of strife and violence—not an external adversary or enemy, but my own familiar friend—thoughts that are hard to separate from my own voice.

But they mean me harm, as Wild Bill Hickok said in one of my favorite episodes of my favorite tv show, Deadwood. And you have to shoot ‘em down quick, or they can kill you. This is serious business. So, like Wild Bill, I keep guard over the city of my heart, and when I see one of these gunslingers coming my way, I shoot—but now my weapon is the sword, the pistol of the Spirit, the word of truth—the God of my understanding. The thoughts? They come and go. This is as sure as anything. ‘They shall not live out half their days,’ the psalmist writes. God’s aim is true because the aim is love for me and all of creation.

Today, I vow, I will pull the trigger of God’s love whenever warfare breaks out in my heart. And I will trust in this word:

God will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me; * for there are many who fight me. God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me and bring them down;

The Episcopal Church. (2007). The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 (Ps 55:19–20). New York: Church Publishing Incorporated.

Addendum: I have also found that even if I sometimes pay a price for being open, like having people think I am always on the verge of coming unglued, the naming of the thoughts gives them a lot less power. But its taken years to feel safe enough in my life to do so. I know many folks who don’t share because of what it can do to their careers. I know that even in the church, which I have served for over 20 years as a priest, it is not necessarily safe to share this information. You get stigmatized, labelled, dismissed or overlooked for jobs, even as others labor on in hiding or in denial. Its a challenge and one has to discern carefully when to share and with whom. But at this point in my life, it feels like its what God is calling me to do, and at the moment I don’t have a job to protect anyway. And I’ve never been healthier, or more full of joy, including the joy of naming the powers as theologian Walter Wink describes it.

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Catalpa trees and sky at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus Ohio

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