Friday, May 30, 2014

Unpaid Labor of Love

Put two brilliant people together and let them talk. That's the premise of the Sundance Channel series, Iconoclasts. After dear Dr. Angelou's death the other day, this episode featuring her and Dave Chappelle has been exploding all over the internet. Here's part one to get you started:

My favorite part is when Chappelle explains why he gave up millions of dollars and fame when he walked away from his popular Comedy Channel series, Chappelle's Show:

"What used to be a real connection between me and the audience had become more superficial...I wasn't walking away from money. I was walking away from the perfect storm of bullshit...Maybe corporate America fucks with human beings like they're products and investments. Maybe a motherfucker brings you into a room and says, 'this fifty million dollars, this pile of money, it's all for you' and when you try to grab it, he throws his dick right on top of it." -- Dave Chappelle, on why he walked away from fame and fortune

And this wisdom from Dr. Angelou:

"That's the wonderful thing about the icon: you continue to grow. And you develop courage, the most important of all virtues...If you have the courage to change your way of thinking, to say, 'Hey everybody, you know what I said last week? I don't believe that anymore. A little child just straightened me out'...This is why it's dangerous to make anybody seem larger than life. Because a young person coming up sees this larger than life figure, this outrageously gigantic personality, and has to say, 'I can never be that. I can never do that.'" -- Maya Angelou, on icons

And finally, advice from the wise old activist:

"If you're not angry, you're either a stone or you're too sick to be angry. You should be angry...We must not be bitter. Let me show you why. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn't do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger, yes. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it." -- Maya Angelou, on repurposing our anger

When you're an artist or an activist, or a parent or a caretaker of any kind, whenever you spend your time on unpaid endeavors in our society, it's hard not to feel less-than. Our nation worships the dollar. If you have the money, you have the power. You can win elections. You can sell books. You can get your own cable TV show. You can use your wealth to make your voice sound louder and more convincing.

It's hard not to feel like an outcast in our Capitalistic society when you work hard on things that don't turn a profit.

I often feel down about the fact that my writing, however great it feels and heals my anxious mind, doesn't pay our bills. The time I spend at home writing is time I spend away from paid employment. I keep writing. And the bills keep coming. It's difficult for me to break away from my unpaid labor of love. I think to myself, I should go back "to work" full time. This blog is a waste of time.

It's times like this when I look to my favorite art iconoclasts to guide me out of this tunnel I've dug myself into. Iconoclasts such as Maya Angelou, Dave Chappelle, and Kurt Vonnegut:

God bless you, Kurt Vonnegut! God bless you, Dave Chappelle! God bless you, Maya Angelou! Thank you for reminding me that creating art is worthwhile.

Summer Lunch Bunch: Free Hot Lunch for Kids Ages 1-18

School's out for summer, but hunger doesn't take a summer vacation. Kids ages 1-18 are eligible for a free hot lunch this summer. Funded entirely by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these meals will provide a hot entree with a choice of numerous side dishes. In my community, the Shawnee Mission food services department will prepare and serve these lunches during the summer.

All children are welcome.

June 2 - July 25, 2014
Monday through Friday
11:30AM - 12:30PM
There will be no Summer Lunch Bunch on July 4.


Find other summer lunch bunch sites in Kansas by clicking here.

Not in Kansas? Find free summer meals for children in your community by clicking here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

God Loves Me

I've been in a funk for a few days. We just got slammed with a $3000 car repair bill. There goes any thoughts of a family vacation this summer. I know. I know. First world problems. At least we own a car. It would be a nearly impossible feat to get around this town on foot or by public transit alone.

We're lucky we can afford a car. Two cars!! Two thirteen-year-old cars whose engines are grumbling like an old dog. Like our dog, Good Boy Earl, before he died a couple of weeks ago. It was bad planning on my part to get a dog and two cars that were all made in 2001. Just when the dog dies, the cars begin to fail, and you feel like a total asshole grieving your empty bank account when you should have the luxury of spending your grieve energy on your loyal, furry companion's passing instead.

I don't know where we're going to get three-thousand dollars. It wouldn't be a big deal if I were still working full time. Sure, three-thousand dollars is a lot of money nobody wants to pay for stinkin' car repairs. But it would be less of a worry wondering where it would come from if I worked forty-hours a week rather than twenty-four.

I cut back my hours at work three-years-ago this July. My doctor recommended it to me, after asking if it was possible.

"Oh no!" I protested. "There's no way I could work part-time. Could I?"

I left her office befuddled. I had never once thought of not working for pay outside the home, forty-hours a week. Even after Katie was born. Of course I would go back to work. Full time.

I'm a feminist, I thought. All those feminists throughout history, I owe it to them. They fought so hard for women to be accepted into the workplace. I can't blow it now.

But, when faced with upping my dose of Sertraline or popping Clonazepam daily rather than only in case of a full-blown panic attack, I decided instead of popping more pills to try cutting back my hours at work as a way of reducing the stress in my life that was making my family and me miserable.

I'm not good at working for no pay, though. I grew up in a society where someone's income is one of the major ways you measure a person's worth. So I told myself, and my husband, that I'd publish a novel, or a memoir, within six months.

I know, right?

Delusions of grandeur was never my strong suit. My psychotic episodes involve more anxiety and rage. You can't dwell on your superior abilities while simultaneously being pissed off at yourself and the rest of the world. Yet somehow, I told myself I'd work through it and come out at the end with a paycheck.

I have not.

I have loved every minute I've spent writing these past three years. I regret none of the time I took off work to write. But I do regret having made that goal, to publish something profitable enough to pay our bills in an extraordinarily short amount of time. Now, despite how well my blog is going, and how much I value the words that come with this unpaid work, I feel like a loser.

I'm a lowly unpaid blogger. What is my worth?

When I feel low, I pull down the shades, tucking the sun away, and hunker down, waiting for the rain to pool into a river of reflection. Maya Angelou taught me that. She taught me to sit still and listen to myself.

"I think when we don't know what to do it's wise to do nothing. Sit down quietly; quiet our hearts and minds and breath deeply." -- Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou died yesterday. Another one of my inspirations. No wonder I'm so low. Maya Angelou was 86. She had lived a long and fascinating life. It was her time. But still, I'm not sure I was ready for her to go. Her spirit is filled with wisdom. I greedily beg her to share it more.

Just before she left this earth, she left this comment:

"Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God." -- Maya Angelou, a few days before she died.

So I've been quiet. Sitting still. Waiting for inspiration.

And then it came. Today My pastor shared this video on social media:  

"I think love is that condition in the human spirit--so profound--that it allows us to forgive. And it may be the energy which keeps the stars in the firmament, I'm not sure. It may be the energy which keeps the blood running smoothly through our veins. I'm not sure. But it's something beyond the explanation...It still humbles me that this force which made leaves and fleas and stars and rivers and you, loves me....It's amazing. I can do anything. And do it well. Any good thing I can do it. That's why I am who I am. Yes. Because God loves me, and I'm amazed at it. And grateful for it.  " --Dr. Maya Angelou

Yes! Yes! I needed to hear that, Dr. Angelou! Yes, thank you, Pastor Jonas.

God loves me. My bank account, empty or full. God loves me. On days when I don't feel like facing the world with a smile on my face. God loves me. When I write and when I don't write. God loves me. Whether the work I do makes money or not. God loves me. Even on days when it's hard to love myself. God loves me. Whether my mind is full of delusions of grandeur or depressive ruminations. God loves me.

And what does God want in return?


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou, An Amazing Life

I read Maya Angelou's memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, when I was a teenager. I'll never forget it. A quarter-of-a-century later, I still recall after I finished reading the last line and set the book down thinking,

what an amazing life.

She died today. Here's her obituary. Read it. Hold on to your seats. May she inspire you to live life with courage and compassion. Live so that one day people will read about you and say,

what an amazing life.

I've been following Angelou on Facebook during this last year of her life. Eighty-six years old and she was still teaching til the end. One of my favorite messages she left with us just the other day:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Katie Reading "I Can't Said the Ant" by Polly Cameron

I Can't Said the Ant by Polly Cameron was my favorite book when I was a kid. We checked it out from the library over and over. When I was pregnant with my daughter Katie, my mom found a used copy of the book and gave it to me so I can read it to my daughter.

Katie is seven now. She just finished second grade. She loves to read. She wanted to read this special book to my mom for her birthday, which is today.

Happy birthday, Grandma Bev!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Katie's Last Journal Entry, Second Grade

Today was Katie's last day of second grade. She brought home the writing journal she's kept all year. I love the last entry:

I'm so proud of our girl. She never discussed this idea with me. Came up with it all on her own. Last I'd heard she still wanted to grow up and own a pizza and gaming joint called "Katie's Fun Factory." One common thread between the two careers is charity. When I once asked Katie how much she plans on charging customers to come to Katie's Fun Factory, she said, "Oh, like five dollars. But you don't have to pay if you don't have enough money."

Whether she chooses to be a purveyor of food and fun, or an instrument in health, Katie's got your needs covered. 

I've been kinda mopey these last couple of days, reminiscing over Katie's life and wondering how the time could fly so fast. But moments like this, when I read her last journal entry from second grade, I'm proud of how our girl is growing into such a spectacular person.

Letter to Roeland Park City Council

May 23, 2014

Roeland Park City Council
4600 West 51st Street
Roeland Park, Kansas 66205

Members of the City Council of Roeland Park:

I am writing in support of, and asking you to vote for, the city ordinance which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Even though I am not a resident of your fine city, I spend my tax dollars at your restaurants such as Einstein Bros Bagels, at your gas stations such as QuikTrip, and at your stores such as Price Chopper. Certainly city council members would not want people to decrease tax revenue by boycotting their businesses. If your city council does not pass this anti-discrimination ordinance, I will stop shopping in Roeland Park, and I will encourage my friends and blog readers to boycott your city's businesses as well.

Freedom from discrimination is the right of all people. We should strive to see that everyone in the community is treated with fairness and equality. Roeland Park is a wonderful city. Assuring its LGBT citizens are treated as fairly as all other citizens is the right thing to do. 

I am a member of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Overland Park. I am active in our church's Gay Christian Fellowship. Councilmember Megan England was our guest last week. She discussed with our group information about the upcoming vote and encouraged us to write letters to you, expressing our support of this anti-discrimination ordinance.

As a person of faith, I find no basis from within my faith to condemn or deny the rights of any person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Rather, my faith compels me to embrace the full inclusion of all people regardless of who they love or who they are.

My church is welcoming and inclusive of all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  By welcoming and affirming all persons we bear witness to that spirit of hospitality and love which rests at the core of our religious identity.

My faith further compels me to work for an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person. All laws must include and protect the freedoms, rights, and equal legal standing of all persons.


Becky Carleton
Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church

(Special thanks to Heartland Clergy for Inclusion for tips on how to write an effective letter to city council members:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Katie, Age 2

After tomorrow my daughter will be a third grader. How did that happen? She insists on growing up far faster than I'd like. I know it's a mother-bird's job to teach her chicks how to fly off and find their own worms. I know it's in Katie's best interest that I not coddle her, that I not complain that she's not my baby anymore. I won't always be around to take care of her. I gave birth to her. I must prepare her for life outside the womb, off the breast, and out of my arms, on her own, fending for herself and passing her survival skills onto youngsters who need care. That's the cycle of life. And it's beautiful. 

And it's bullshit too. It's so unfair that our babies have to grow up. We spend so much of our energy taking care of them. Giving up our independence, our sanity, and our self-worth. Instead of having fun, partying til 2AM with our beer bottle buddies, we're up til 2AM with another asshole who's screaming for one more bottle. And we give it to them just to shut them up, even though we know we'll be woken up again in an hour to the sound of their puking. On us. Warm and stinky.

How dare babies do this to us? After all we've given up to take care of them--dry clothes, our dignity--when they're helpless and vulnerable, they have the audacity to grow big and strong and smart. To not need us for everything anymore. After we've given up so much just to give to them.

I once read in a book by Dr. Harriet Lerner that the reason babies are so cute is so that we don't chuck them out the window when they start crying. Babies are so needy. So demanding and clingy. Such an energy suck. Why on earth would anyone want to have a baby? And yet, in my experience, there in nothing on this earth more profound. They have to be cute or we'd kill them. On some wide-awake nights as I'd try to rock Katie back to sleep, I'd find myself empathizing with species who eat their young.

But we learn to care for them despite the difficulty of it. And just when we start to feel like we know what we're doing, like our job is pretty easy--bing--job change! Yeah, you're still a parent. You're still needed a little bit. But nothing like when your baby was an actual baby. Parenting a seven-year-old is much easier than parenting a seven-week-old. 

And thank God. All parents need a break. 

I love being a mother. It's the best job I've ever had.  And I understand that even though right now my daughter is pretty easy to parent, the teen years are approaching, so it's not time to rest on my laurels just yet. But as much as I love being a mother, I love being other things too. I love being a wife. I love being a writer. I love being a librarian. I love being a friend. I love being a citizen. I love being an Earthling. And no matter what, whenever Katie needs me, I'll drop whatever I'm doing and help her if I can. But when she's got it, when she's good, when she doesn't need me to hold her hand, that's my cue to take my bow. To pursue my art elsewhere.

Today is my favorite day in social media: Throwback Thursday (#tbt). People share old photos so we can all look back on a time in our life we've outgrown, and yet it's still a part of us. I love looking at old photos. They're good for a laugh, with their dorky haircuts and unforgettable fashions, but Throwback Thursday is also quite meaningful. It's a great day to look back and reflect, to see how much we've grown. 

Here are some good ones from when Katie was two:

Katie with pants on her head

"Don't mind me, I'm just pushing along my Dora chair with my baby doll stroller." 

Pillowcases and empty boxes are the best toys for two year olds.

How do you make a two year old smile for a photo shoot? Fart noises.

"What? You don't carry around your slice of American cheese on your chest? Hmm. That's odd."


Reading the masterpiece, "Everyone Poops" by Taro Gomi

Now do you see my dilemma? Adorable. Thank God I have these photos to look back on when she's a teenager and she's locked me out of her bedroom.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beautiful Imperfection

Last Sunday at church I saw this teenage boy screw up his piano performance. It was beautiful. Like witnessing a miracle.

At first I couldn't tell he was screwing up. What little I know about classical music I've learned from pop culture. The only two classical songs I know well are Barber's "Adagio" from the war movie, "Platoon":

and Ravel's "Bolero" from the sexy movie "10":

Not real churchy stuff, war and adultery. That had been my exposure to classical music before the miraculous mistake at church last Sunday.

The kid looked about sixteen. Maybe older. It's hard to tell how old teenagers are when they're dressed up. This kid had on a dark suit. He looked good. He looked sharp. He looked confident.

He sat down on the piano seat and began to play. At first, everything seemed normal. Then, I started to notice something seemed wrong. Awkward pauses. Hesitations followed by false starts. My first thought was, "Oh, wow. How avant-garde." I don't really know what avant-garde means. It's just something you say when you come across a perplexing piece of art.

Then the kid just...kind...of...stopped. For only a few seconds, but still, even I could tell that wasn't an intentional pause in the song. Soon someone tall and kind looking, I assume his mother, walked up with some sheet music and laid it out for the kid. She returned to her seat, smiling calmly.

I thought, Oh, my! The kid's been playing by memory? How brave!

I'm the first to admit I'm a snob when it comes to rock music and writing, two things I know well. I can pick out specifically what's shitty about a song (usually too much unnecessary guitar solo) and shitty writing (usually too many parentheses). But I'm the complete opposite regarding other art forms. I have the utmost respect for painters and dancers and actors and classical musicians. I have no idea how they do it. My ignorance adds bliss to how I perceive a performance from these art forms.

So when anyone attempts to perform classical music on a piano from memory, I say "Bravo!" Seriously. I have so much admiration for talent in areas I lack. Scientists. House Cleaners. Roofers. These are professions my slack ass holds in high regard.

But I could tell the kid wasn't nearly as impressed with his performance as I was. When he finished, he rose, somberly, and walked back to his seat in the pews. His head hanging low like a scolded puppy.

I felt so bad for him. I wanted to rush over to him, this teenage boy I don't know, and hug him and tell him he's wonderful. It's a bad habit of mine in this stranger-danger world we live in. My instinct when I see kids walking alone is to ask them if they need a ride. Not because I'm a pervert, but because I'm exactly not: I want to see them home safely. I want to hug kids when I see them get hurt. But that's not what we do in our society, and I know that. I don't want to reach out and hug kids I don't know, for fear that they'll come to accept such a thing as normal and then they'll be less vigilant around real sickos offering a hug.

It's sad that we live in such a world. But I wouldn't want a stranger to come up and hug my seven-year-old, Katie. Hands off my kid unless I  know you. That's just how things are in our society, where we routinely interact virtually with our loved ones, and in person at the store, the library, the park with our neighbors who are virtual strangers. I can't tell you what my next-door neighbor's name is. Every time I've seen her outside her house she's had her eyes on her phone on her walk to the car parked in her driveway. I wait for the chance to smile and wave, but it never comes.

I was thinking about all this as I sat in my pew at church. Then someone grabbed my attention. It was the director of music ministries, standing in front of us. She was talking.

We just want you to know...
We all understand...
We've all been there before...
Trying to perform from memory...
In front of a lot of people...
It's hard...
We want you to know that we know...
We love you...
We support you...

And then, she sang. It was that funky version of "Our Father, Which Art in Heaven" that has the West Indian vibe to it. She sings a line and then the congregation together sings "Hallowed be thy name". I had tears the whole time.

Then the music minister returned to her seat in the pews. The pastors spoke again. They walked together down the aisle and out the doors. I knew this was it. I looked down at the church bulletin. There was one last song. This kid was supposed to do another song. Holy shit!

And you know what happened? I'm telling you. It was a miracle. I never had the courage to do what this kid did when I was a teenager. He got up. He walked up to the piano. He played.

And it was beautiful. The way God loves us. Mistakes and all.

Presbyterian-Free Granola Bars

More evidence that Katie is my mom's Mini Me:

This morning, Katie looked at the wrapper on her granola bar and said, "Why does it say no Presbyterians?"

I've seen labels that say "gluten-free" but never "Presbyterian-free." We had a good laugh when I explained it says "no preservatives." Then I told Katie the story of how my mom, when she was a kid, told her parents that the "Pedestrians Crossing" sign in front of a church said "Presbyterians Crossing".

I'm relieved to know there are no ground-up Presbyterians in our granola bars, and that city signs give fair warning when us Presbyterians are crossing. You never know what Presbyterians are going to do when you get us out in the streets.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sawyer's New Collar and Leash

Since Earl died last week, Sawyer and I have become walking buddies. The three of us used to love to go for walks, but we had to slow down these last six months or so as Earl's health was failing. I didn't have the heart to take Sawyer out for a walk, leaving Earl to howl by himself at home. So, as Earl slowly met his end, Sawyer and I grew more and more lethargic.

Add our physical lethargy to our grief, and what we both needed was to get back to our walking routine.

The thing about losing a dog, whether you were that dog's human or his fellow furry friend, is that the house gets super quiet and feels empty. When Will and Katie are at work and school, I usually spend the quiet time focusing on my writing. But this last week I've been forcing myself to take a break. A walking break. Just me and my girl, Sawyer. For the good of both of us. It's good exercise for our bodies, minds, and souls. When I feel anxious or depressed, there are few things that cheer me up more that a brisk walk. Sawyer agrees, although she would add there's nothing better in this world than leaving your pee trail all around the neighborhood.

We haven't made it out every day, but we've made it out enough days to feel like we're back in the swing of things. Each time I'd reach for the leash, though, I'd feel the loss of Earl. Because we had gone everywhere together as a pack, we only had a double-dog leash. At first, I didn't know what to do with the unused part of the double leash. I couldn't let it drag behind us. That would be too depressing, reminding us of who used to be attached to it.

I figured out that I could just hook both ends to Sawyer's collar. And that worked. But each time I'd reach for the double dog leash to walk a single dog, my heart sank. It was time to get Sawyer her very own leash.

Sawyer's a tennis ball nut. We take her to the dog park to swim in the lake. Katie, or Will, or I will throw the ball into the lake, and Sawyer--half Beagle and half Lab--swims out to retrieve it for us. We never had to train her to do this. From the first time I took Sawyer to the dog park as a puppy, she knew instinctively how to play fetch.

I found the perfect collar and leash set for Sawyer: pink with bright neon-yellow tennis balls. Here she is modeling it after our walk today:

She looks pretty fit for an old lady. Sawyer will be twelve this September. I plan on walking her for as long as she'll let me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Two Anybodies Kissing

Warning: I'm new to this whole organized religion thing, and I think football's dumb. So you might not want to read this post if you're a big fan of Biblical Fundamentalism or the NFL.

I'm no authority on The Bible, and I've barely been paying attention to the news of St. Louis Ram's draftee Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV. But I know what I know, and I feel what I feel, so I feel like telling you what I know about this current event.

The cool thing about being a Presbyterian is they teach you to read Scripture and interpret it yourself. The cool thing about not being a football fan is I couldn't care less if Sam got drafted by the NFL. I'm just interested in the story of the kiss.

I'm a kissy person. I whole-heartedly admit one of the main reasons I picked Will as a mate is because of his bright red kissy lips. I kiss my parents and my daughter on the lips. Closed mouth, but still. I know many people who think that's weird. I kiss my dogs and cats like they're my fur kids. I try not to aim for the mouth with Sawyer, since she's one of those dogs who thinks cat poop is a Scooby Snack. I like kissing so much, I don't care if someone I love is sick and I might catch their germs: I kiss them anyway.

When I was a kid, my neighborhood friends and I decided that Stephanie's dad was The Best Dad In the World. Stephanie's dad escaped during the Hungarian Revolution and moved to the United States as a young man. He retained his accent and his Eastern-European-Male's propensity for kissing. It was not uncommon to show up at Stephanie's house to see if she could play and be greeted by a kiss on the cheek from Stephanie's dad. It was weird and wonderful. Sure, I kissed my dad at bedtime every night, but I wasn't used to seeing adult men kiss anyone other than their own wives and kids.

Public displays of affection do not gross me out at all. Not that I'm a voyeur. I don't seek out people kissing so I can spy on them. It's just that if I happen to see two people kissing in front of me, it doesn't make me feel squeamish like it does some people. My mother for one. I remember when she graciously accepted my invitation to accompany me to an Indigo Girls concert (when none of my friends thought they were uncool enough to go with me). She said she enjoyed the music, but she wanted to barf every time she saw two people kissing.

"Two lesbians kissing?" I asked.

"No, two anybodies kissing. Yuck. I do not like public displays of affection," Mom said.

Not to pathologize Mom's preference for stoicism, but I'd like to interject here that my mom was raised mostly by her dad and her nanny until she started school at age five. My grandmother had "nerve problems" and was bedridden much of the time. Mom says she remembers her life as being very quiet and boring when she was a young kid. She was forced to kiss her mother, out of respect, but she didn't like it and only kissed her out of obligation.

I, on the other hand, grew up sleeping in the same bedroom with two of my sisters. I was hugged and kissed like real live doll. Plus, it was the 70s, and society as a whole was getting much more affectionate.

So I understand why Mom's not all that into kissing. She thinks there is a time and a place. I, on the other hand, get tiny little butterflies in my stomach when I see two people so happy, so in love, no matter the time or the place.

OK, maybe I am a little bit of a voyeur. But I'm not a perv. OK, maybe a little. I do admit, similar to how some men like to look at, *ahem*, prurient images of two women together, I think it's hot to see two men kiss. And you thought I used to like to go clubbing for the dance music--ha!

No, seriously, I do not have any problem seeing two anybodies kiss, so I don't get what the big deal is about Michael Sims kissing his boyfriend when he received the news that he was drafted into the NFL. It seems like a reasonable time to express your feelings to me.

I've read some comments from people who express concern that seeing two men kiss is "not Christian" and "not good for kids to see". I disagree. From my interpretation of Scripture, I think Jesus is very pro-kissing. Between two anybodies. Here's why. Read the bold print:

Luke 7:36-50
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Sinful Woman Forgiven

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Sounds to me like Jesus welcomes kisses from harlots, from men, from everybody. Dear God, my friends. What is wrong with a kiss? What's wrong with our country that people get upset about their kids seeing two men engaged in a kiss on TV but they don't make a fuss when their kids see two men engaged in war?

Like this guy, Conservative lobbyist Jack Burkman. His panties are all in a bunch over this Sam-kisses-his-boyfriend-on-TV event. He wants people to start boycotting the Rams who drafted Sam, and Visa who gave Sam his first sponsorship.

I like how the writer points our the hypocrisy of Burkman's concern:

"Despite his focus on religious values, Burkman appears to be focusing his boycott only on the NFL team that drafted a gay man, not on the teams that hire players who kill pedestrians while drunk, assault police officers, rape women, bully teammates or otherwise break the Ten Commandments."

Love People. Love God. It's as simple as that, my friends. Stop using Christianity as an excuse to judge people.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Do We Love Our Neighbors?: Snail Mail and Showing Up

Last night's Gay Christian Fellowship was the best yet. I hope you will join us next week when we resume our meetings on Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8:15 at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. We encourage all people to attend. Not just LGBT people, but also our allies.

We had a good turnout last night. Roeland Park City Councilmember Megan England was our guest. I was impressed with how eloquent and yet down-to-earth she is. She sat at the tables with us, ate dinner with us, and listened as we participated in our Bible discussion of John 8--the great Cast the First Stone chapter.

Finally, when it was Councilmember England's turn to speak, she informed us about this important issue in the community:

On June 16th the Roeland Park City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance to "add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes."

In other words, if you are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender, right now it's completely legal for a business in Roeland Park to turn you down for a job because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Landlords can tell you straight up, "we don't rent to your kind" and you have no legal recourse against such discrimination.

I know. It seems crazy in this day and age to not protect LGBT from such discrimination. Our society in 2014 is much more accepting of LGBT people than it was when some of the old city codes were first written, some forty years ago. Our society in 2014 has changed enormously since even the early 1990s, when my ex-girlfriend and I were turned down for an apartment in a neighboring city in the same county as Roeland Park.

Cindy and I were young--early twenties. We'd been dating for a couple of years and living together almost since day one. We were looking for an affordable apartment in Johnson County where I was attending the community college. We found an ad for a one-bedroom apartment that fit our budget.

From the moment we arrived for a tour of the apartment, the manager gave us the stink eye. As we opened the closet doors and flushed the toilet to check the water pressure, she eyed us suspiciously. As we headed toward the door, we said we were interested in filling out an application. The manager put a stop to it at once.

"We don't have any two-bedroom apartments for rent right now," she said, sternly.

"That's OK. We just want a one-bedroom," I said.

After an awkward pause, the manager said, "We have a policy that we don't rent one-bedroom apartments out to two people of the same sex." She looked at Cindy's tattoos, her nose ring, her short hair.

Cindy looked at me in disbelief.

"So if we were a man and a woman, you'd rent out a one-bedroom apartment to us?" I asked.

The manager held up her hand as if to say, I'm not arguing with you, Little Missy. "All I'm saying is the owners don't allow two people of the same sex to share a one-bedroom apartment. That's our policy."

We left without a fuss. What else could we do? There were no city ordinances to protect us.

Councilmember England and a couple of others on the Roeland Park City Council want to modernize their city codes to reflect how society has evolved. Nowadays we think it's absurd that two young broke-ass college women could be prevented from sharing a bedroom without the landlord butting into their business. But not everyone on the Roeland Park City Council is ready to vote in favor of updating their ordinance.

That's where we come in. Councilmember England said the best two ways to encourage the Roeland Park City Council to pass this anti-discrimination ordinance is snail mail and showing up to city council meetings.

Write a letter to the city council members. Express to them why you think it's important that Roeland Park pass an ordinance that protects LGBT people from discrimination. Even if you're not a resident of Roeland Park, if you live within the Greater Kansas City area, you've probably spent your tax dollars at local restaurants Einstein Bros Bagels or China Star, gas stations like QuikTrip, stores like Price Chopper and Lowe's. Certainly the city council members would not want people to boycott their businesses and decrease tax revenue. But that's what we can tell them we'll do--stop shopping in Roeland Park--if they don't update their city ordinance to protect LGBT people.

Here's a list of the Roeland Park City Council Members. Councilmember England suggests using snail mail. She said it's much more effective than email, since it shows more effort than just quickly sending an email. Here's where you can mail your letters:

Roeland Park City Council
4600 West 51st Street
Roeland Park, Kansas 66205

Councilmember England also recommends showing up to the city council meetings. You don't have to talk if you don't want to. Just your physical presence shows you're concerned about the issue. But if you do want to voice your opinion, it's a great opportunity to do so.

The next Roeland Park City Council meeting will be at 7:00PM on Monday, May 19, 2014. Here's the address (same as where you can mail your letters):

Roeland Park City Council
4600 West 51st Street
Roeland Park, Kansas 66205

Here's the rest of the information I picked up from the flier handed out before this week's Gay Christian Fellowship:

On June 16th the Roeland Park City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance to "add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes."

For several weeks this ordinance has been on the agenda of the Roeland Park City Council, and it has generated considerable public debate. At one of the early meetings Equality Kansas made a presentation favoring the ordinance, and last Monday an attorney who is in litigation in the State of Washington for the Alliance Defending Freedom came to speak against it.

We are aware that other municipalities are closely watching the process in Roeland Park.

Let me know if you have any questions. This is an exciting opportunity to show that we truly love our neighbors, as Jesus teaches us to do.

Sawyer and Thatcher: Napping Buddies

Sawyer and Earl were not just life-long playmates, but good ole napping buddies. Now that Earl has gone to Doggie Heaven, who's Sawyer supposed to snuggle up with?

You guessed it! Thatcher. See, even asshole cats can sometimes be good for something:

Boko Haram Is a Joke: #BringBackOurGirls

Here's another awesome episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Once again, it's the court jester telling the truth.

Go ahead, Rush Limbaugh. Make fun of Mrs. Obama and activists such as Malala Yousafzai who have joined the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. As these hashtag activists do the important work of raising awareness of the kidnapping of over 200 girls by religious extremists in Nigeria, Limbaugh can just keep on doing his thing, making himself look like an asshole. Jon Stewart suggests we retaliate with this hashtag:


"See, that's the thing about hashtag activism. It cannot force a crazy person to do something, but it can shame a less crazy person into not doing nothing." -- Jon Stewart

"You guys are trying so hard to convince everybody that you're such badasses, but all you've done with this kidnapping is highlight who the real badasses are: the kids you kidnapped. Compared to a teenager who knows that her desire for an education can get her dragged into a snake infested jungle to be sold as a bride by some demented stick-chewing cartoon villain but still gets up and goes to class every day, fully aware of that danger. Compared to their courage, I'd say Boko Haram is a bunch of little girls, but you know what? They don't deserve that compliment." -- Jon Stewart


Badass Girl Malala Yousafzai 
image source Twitter

I pray for the safe return of these girls to their homes so they can get back to school, get an education, and keep fighting for the rights of women and girls around the globe.

Monday, May 12, 2014

LGBT Discrimination in Johnson County?


Roeland Park City Council Ward 3 Councilmember Megan England will be speaking at Gay Christian Fellowship this Tuesday evening:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
11100 College Boulevard
Overland Park, KS 66210
Room 26

Gay Christian Fellowship is for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people and those who love us. As an outreach to many who have been wounded by church doctrine in other places, this group will emphasize the welcoming, inclusive love of God as expressed in the gospels and lived at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. Please invite friends who would be blessed by this experience of Grace.

Please join us for the usual food, faith, and fellowship, but also to listen to special guest Councilmember England speak about this important issue in the community:

On June 16th the Roeland Park City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance to "add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes."

For several weeks this ordinance has been on the agenda of the Roeland Park City Council, and it has generated considerable public debate. At one of the early meetings Equality Kansas made a presentation favoring the ordinance, and last Monday an attorney who is in litigation in the State of Washington for the Alliance Defending Freedom came to speak against it.

We are aware that other municipalities are closely watching the process in Roeland Park.

Come join us and be informed!

Mothering Love to Others

I attended church yesterday with my mom, my daughter, and my friend Linda. Linda and I have worked together at the library for over twenty-one years. She's twenty years older than me, so technically she could be my mom, but her youthful personality makes her seem more like a sister to me.

It was a special service in honor of Mother's Day. I was worried about how the brouhaha would affect Linda, who herself was unable to have human children, although she's been a doting mother to numerous furry kids over time. Also, both Linda's mom and aunt passed away in recent years. An only child, Linda has no nieces or nephews to fawn over. I can see how she might resent those around her who can celebrate the Mother's Day holiday with living people. But instead of complaining about her lot in life, she chooses to celebrate with us. She even brought me this beautiful plant as a Mother's Day gift:

I'm not a big holiday person. I don't like to plan things in advance, so I often forget to buy cards and gifts. I rarely even dust the run-of-the-mill decorations we have out in our house, let alone bother to decorate with special holiday items. I think every day should be celebrated instead of making a big deal out of one day of the year. But I understand I'm in the minority, and especially since I had Katie almost eight years ago, I've gotten with the program and mostly manage to at least fake some enthusiasm for holidays. 

As we sat in the pew, I looked around at all the mothers sitting with their families and I wondered what Linda was thinking. I didn't want to make an issue out of it, so I didn't say anything. Fortunately, Linda's an extrovert, so it's not too hard to know what's going on inside her mind.

"You know," she said, "I was thinking about how I never had kids, and I just think God must have planned it that way."

It makes me sad when people say such things. How is it fair that some women pop out litters of unwanted and neglected children, and yet other women, who would make wonderful, devoted mothers, are unable to have any? I know, I know. Life isn't fair. That pisses me off.

"I'm just glad I have Katie for a Godchild," she said smiling wistfully.

"Katie's lucky to have you," I said. "I know what you mean, though. Will and I wanted six kids and my body was only able to produce one. But we're so lucky to have our special girl." I regretted what I said as soon as it came out of my mouth. How insensitive to complain to someone with no kids that you wish you could have more than one.

The music started and the service began. The entire congregation sang at first, and then Katie sang with three other girls her age in the Celebration! Choir. It was beautiful. When their song was over the girls sat down on the chancel steps and other children in the congregation joined them for "Come As a Child" in which Pastor Kimby, herself child-free, talked to the kiddos about the commandment to honor your father and mother. The children were then released to go back and sit with their families in the pews. Katie snuggled in between Linda and me. 

It was time for the whole congregation to stand and say the "Unison Prayer". It was just perfect for the occasion:

Dear God, we pray today for all who share in the joys and demands of motherhood. We pray for mothers in third-world countries who watch their children perish in hunger and who have nothing to give them. We pray for mothers who live with regrets for misplaced priorities, lost opportunities, and alienation born of neglect. We pray today God for mothers who need to work, and who must entrust their children to the care of others. We pray for mothers who are chronically tired. We pray today for mothers, whose children are far away, busy or preoccupied, and who may forget to act on life's gentle nudges. Loving God, we pray for mothers whose best years have been spent parenting, and who now must reassemble their skills for the years ahead. Living God, we pray for all who wish they could be mothers and who give their mothering love to others. Lord Jesus Christ, who in your hour of trial tried to provide for your mother, send your Spirit to bless the world's mothers, and use our hearts and hands to make the blessing real...and all for your love's sake. Amen. (written by Ernest T. Campbell)

When we got to the part about "mothering love to others" I looked over at Linda, put my hand on her shoulder, and we shared a smile. She patted Katie on the knee and kept on praying. We are blessed to have Linda in our lives.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day at the Dog Park

Will, Katie, and I took Sawyer to the dog park for a fun afternoon of sun and swimming. Happy Mother's Day to mothers of all children--furry and bald:

Sawyer doesn't seem to be concerned that Will drives with his eyes shut.

Walking to the lake.

Katie to Sawyer: "I'll beat you there!"

Me and my two girls, Katie and Sawyer.

Sawyer: "Where's the ball?"

Katie loves to jump in the lake.

Sawyer shaking dry.

Katie loves to throw the tennis ball into the lake for Sawyer to retrieve. 

Sawyer fetching the ball in the lake.

We are so grateful for the Shawnee Mission Park off-lease dog area.

Sawyer: "Come on, Bald Puppy. Throw the ball!"

Sawyer is half Beagle and half Labrador Retriever. She's a natural swimmer who loves to fetch.

Time to head toward the woods.

Katie: "Let's go on an adventure!"

Will explaining to Katie something about interrupting convoys with trees.

"You could really slow down your enemy this way..."

Sawyer stays close to Katie, the ball holder.

It was a beautiful spring day. Warm and sunny at the lake. The shady woods felt good.

We reached the end of the trail and stopped to cool off in the breeze.

Back home, ready for a big nap.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Earl's Paw Print

If you live in the Greater Kansas City area, have I got a vet clinic for you. Dr. Elizabeth Wilcox and the whole team at Great Plains SPCA are amazing. Since June 2011 these fine people have been providing medical services for pets in families that might not otherwise be able to afford veterinary care.

We get our pets' annual vaccinations and checkups at the Merriam campus. They also provided the surgery our dog Sawyer needed when a benign tumor on her toe became inflamed. We couldn't have afforded to pay a for-profit vet. Not only did the surgery cost less at the GPSPCA, but, as they state on their website, "all revenue received from clients at the Great Plains SPCA Veterinary Care Center goes back to support our mission to give hope and promise to the homeless and needy pets in our community."

When Earl had a seizure on Wednesday, at first we thought he was going to die at home, but when we realized it might be a prolonged, agonizing death, we decided to have him euthanized. Trouble is, it was already about 3:30 in the afternoon. Many vet clinics would be closing soon, and who knew if they'd have an opening for an emergency euthanasia.

I called the GPSPCA and they assured me that they could fit us in.

Earl got to die quickly and in much less pain than if we hadn't gotten help. I can't tell you how grateful I am to the clinic staff for helping our sweet Earl leave this plane in the most peaceful way possible.

Then today I got home from work, and inside our mailbox was this card from Dr. Wilcox and the GPSPCA family:

Carleton Family,

Earl was obviously much-loved and a big part of the family. I know he enjoyed a rich, long life with you. We are thinking of you as you mourn his loss.

Elizabeth Wilcox, DVM and the GPSPCA family

She even included Earl's paw print for us to keep:

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sawyer, My Walking Companion

I admit, Earl was my favorite. You're not supposed to have favorites, but he was. I never said it in front of Sawyer, or if I did I'd cover her big, floppy ears and whisper out the side of my mouth, sometimes even spelling the words:

"E-A-R-L-Y B-I-R-D I-S T-H-E B-E-S-T D-O-G I-N T-H-E W-O-R-L-D!"

Not that Sawyer is a bad dog. Not at all. She's one of the sweetest, gentlest, most loving creatures I've had the pleasure of knowing. But Earl was my first puppy-to-death dog. The firstborn of our pack. He was my special joy.

In fact, I got Sawyer more for Earl than for me. I'd recently broken up with my ex-girlfriend. She took with her the two dogs she brought into our relationship. I took Earl, who had just turned one. I had picked Earl out from the three puppies available at the St. Joseph shelter. His brother and sister were mostly white, so they looked more like a purebred Great Pyrenees, which is what their mother was. No one new what the father was, which is why these three puppies ended up in the shelter at seven-weeks-old: their owner didn't want to tarnish his bitch's good rep.

I picked Earl precisely because he was the oddball. He had a fluffy mostly-white body, but his head was almost solid black. He was adorable.

Sawyer was also an adorable puppy:

I didn't actually pick Sawyer. She picked me. I got her for free from an ad in the paper. I wanted a puppy companion for Earl, who was lonely in the house all day by himself while I was at work. He had been raised from 7 weeks old around other dogs. He needed a playmate. But also, I decided to get another dog when I saw the ad for free puppies. I was afraid if I didn't adopt one someone else would use it for dog fighting bait. 

Her situation was similar to Earl's. Sawyer's mother was a purebred Beagle. The neighbor's black Lab jumped the fence. That fall, five black little mini-Labs were born. I called the number in the paper. An elderly man answered the phone and told me to come over and pick one out.

I knocked on his door. He had a nasal cannula transporting oxygen to his lungs and he looked about 100 years old. He told me to go out to the back yard and "pick any pup you want."

I walked to the side of the house to enter through the gate. As soon as the lock hit the chain-link fence, five black little mini-Labs and their Beagle mother all ran toward me. Cuteness overload! I sat on the ground and let them crawl all over me. Each one of them, the puppies and the mother, were starved for human attention. I couldn't imagine their owner got out to the back yard very often.

After about twenty minutes of sitting there, soaking up some puppy love, I gave up trying to decide. I stood and announced, "OK, who wants to go home with me?"

I walked toward the gate. When I got there, I looked down and there was one puppy. I picked it up and took it to the owner's front door. I called through the screen, "I'll take this one."

He used a walker to inch toward the door. "Come inside. D'ya git a girl or a boy?"

"I don't know," I said, laughing.

He looked at me like I was strange and took a peek at the puppy's bottom. "Ya got a girl," he said in babytalk to the puppy's face. It was funny to hear this gruff old man talk to her like that. He pet underneath her chin and said, "Hold on a minute."

He came back with some dog nail clippers and proceeded to slowly clip each one of her nails as he leaned on his walker. "Now, watch her nails. You gotta trim them often."

It was sweet that he seemed concerned about her welfare and not anxious to get rid of her.

If only he'd known he was giving away a "designer dog". Who knew? I certainly didn't. I just wanted a free puppy, but I've since found out that evidently Beagle-Lab mixes are a thing. This description sounds just like her.

She was the perfect companion for Earl. I could go to work each day and leave them alone to play together. And as they got older, and lazier, to nap together.

Now Earl's gone. What's Sawyer's job now that she's not Earl's companion?

This morning I took a look at Sawyer, lying on the couch snoring. She'd made a "Hrmph" noise that sounded to me like she was trying to say, "Mom, I'm sad."

"Come on Girl, let's go for a walk!" I announced. She perked right up.

We haven't been able to take long walks for many months due to Earl's failing health. It was great to walk around the neighborhood with an energetic dog. We took our time and soaked up the sun, smelled the smells, and enjoyed our walk. Just the two of us. Walking Companions.

Sawyer, back home after our good, long walk

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Katie's Vlog Review - Matilda by Roald Dahl

"I Will Allways Miss Him" by Katie Carleton, Age 7

Katie sat slumped over her Morning Round, which was buttery and warm and awaiting her first bite.

"Take a bite, Sweetie. I don't want you to be late for school," I prodded. 

Like me, Katie is not a morning person. It's a struggle to get her to eat first thing in the morning. I suspected nothing.

"I feel sad, Mom," Katie said, starring at her Morning Round as if it were a vat of emptiness and not her favorite breakfast, full of warm, chewy goodness like it is.

"About Earl," I said, pulling up a chair beside her.

"Yes," she said, still starring at her Morning Round.

"Yeah, me too," I sighed.

Katie looked up. I smiled at her.

"Why are you smiling?" she asked.

"Well, it's about time you're sad," I said.

Katie's eyes got big. It was obvious she hadn't expected that reply.

"Daddy and I were starting to wonder what was up with you," I explained. "It didn't seem to bother you very much when we took Earl to get euthanized yesterday."

"Yeah, but today I feel sad. The house feels empty," Katie sighed.

"Yes. It does. And it's completely normal to feel sad about our dog dying. It's going to take time for us to feel better about it. But we gave him a good life." I patted Katie's hand. "And you know what, Punk? We gave him a good death too. There aren't too many dogs in the world lucky enough to get to die surrounded by family who love them."

Katie smiled, but her eyes still looked sad. Thank goodness.

Yesterday at the SPCA I was really starting to worry about what a freaky child we have. Katie had been a little teary while she petted Earl and told him goodbye while we were still home. But once we got to the vet clinic, she perked up. She poked around inside the office asking, "What's that?" "What does this do?" "Is this shot just for dogs?" Seemingly more interested in the gadgets in the room than her dying dog.

The worst was when the wonderfully compassionate vet asked us if any of had any questions. She meant about the procedure. She'd just finished explaining it to us. But Katie raised her hand like she was at Science Camp and asked, "Can we see his brain?"

The vet turned and looked at me as if to search for something appropriate to say, but all she could say was, "Uhhhh."

Will piped up, "No, Punkin. We don't want to see Earl's brain."

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because he's too close to us, Punk," I explained. I turned back to look at the vet, shrugged my shoulders, and said, "Sorry. She's very curious. About science especially."

"I love science!" Katie said.

The vet exhaled deeply, smiled awkwardly, and said, "Uh huh."

Later that night, after Katie was asleep in her bed, Will and I retreated to the kitchen to split a six-pack of beer.

"I can't believe how insensitive Katie was being," Will complained.

"Yeah, I know. I couldn't believe it when she asked the vet if we could see Earl's brain!" I said.

"I know, right? I guess she really loves science," Will said.

"Yeah, and I guess we really prepared her well for Earl's death. I mean, she knew it was coming and we'd said our goodbyes to him," I suggested.

"Yeah, I guess."

We left it at that, hoping Katie's fascination with dead dog brains means she has a healthy amount of curiosity and not that she has the developing brain of a sociopath.

My fears were allayed this morning, not just when Katie confessed her sadness about losing Earl to me, but when I entered the bathroom and saw that Katie had added Earl to her mural on our bathroom wall:

"I Will Allways Miss Him" by Katie Carleton, age 7