Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Because leaving is the answer to the Lenten riddle

March 15, 2015

This year has been an odd Lenten journey.  With an early Easter and the snowiest winter in Boston history, I know the grey piles of snow will abound on Easter morning when for (I think) the first time in my life, I will not be attending an Easter service.  I’m not sure if I’ll return to the church (that being said, I know I will go with a few people on specific occasions) as a member.  A few reasons, if only to clear my own mind:

  • You asked for membership dues. No, I am not kidding.  I pledged.  My pledge is my offering to the church for the operating budged.  The membership dues should be a fixed line item on the budget.  I understand the need for campaign funds, grant challenge funds; I gave to those as well.
  • I need ritual. Yes, this is a “free” church tradition but free-church does not mean the absence of ritual.  The extended dance version of the passing of the peace is not the only ritual.  Our liturgies are full of rituals.
  • Ok, look, I get gender inclusive language is a thing in the church right now. But like changing the national anthem, the changing of the words of The Lord’s Prayer ranks among one of the “traditions” that will make me scream internally or on social media.  Maybe I just have an advanced degree in feminist thought, but as a lesbian, I am not oppressed by the prayer.  Just don’t ask my Greek professor to relate my translation (it was pretty funny).  There is something sacred and holy about saying the words that your great-great-great grandparents said in worship.
  • I watched you embrace people into your church: you know, the young, married couples with/without kids, the couples, those under 30. I understand that churches (in general) see these as “growth” opportunities.  But I am still me:  I’m not sorry I come without a child, some days I wish I had a partner.
  • Every year, I checked the boxes saying where I was interested in serving in the church. Every year, I’d read about the nominating committee having a hard time finding people to fill positions (often ones I’d learn at the annual meeting, I’d expressed an interest in).  I was never asked to participate.  The one time I did participate, I was not re-appointed.  No reason given.  No feedback.
  • The extended dance version passing of the peace is the singular most hellacious experience I forced myself to endure for over 150 weeks. It is not introvert friendly.  It is not visitor friendly.
  • I have been to church twice maybe in the past six months. The minister called, we set up a time to talk.  The minister cancelled.  We rescheduled.  This went on for a few times.  I gave up: none of the reasons for cancellation were for pastoral or personal emergency.  It might be unfair on my part, but I felt like I was not valued.

I still think you are nice people.  I also think you are a clique.  It is sad.  I had hopes for you.  But as an introvert, you’ve left me with a few scars.  I use a lot of energy to attend church (probably due to number 6 above) and what I’ve found in this year’s Lenten journey is that my faith was not nurtured by your organization.

When Extreme Liberalism Finds the Touching Point of Extreme Conservatism in a Church Function

March 31, 2014

Hopping mad. Like the Easter Bunny had nothing on me. That was how I drove home last night in the pouring rain. I attended a book group meeting. I had not been for the past few months (for obvious reasons). We are reading Saving Jesus from the Church which I happen to like. Like as in I haven’t stopped reading it out of boredom or over reliance on dead German theologians. I left about ready to punch a wall. Preferably brick. Preferably hard.

Why? I was lectured on “white privilege” by a white, heterosexual male who is working on his PhD at a university that starts with H and has a yard you (can’t really) park your car in. Excuse me? If anything defines white privilege MORE than an Ivy (or Chicago or Stanford) degree, I’m a bit surprised. Somehow we wound up on the topic which basically brushed up against a personal example of shibboleth. And that is where the extreme left met the extreme right in the Christian realm. I mostly kept quiet: I’m in that state of having beliefs challenged and rethought. I’ve always questioned the dichotomy of heaven and hell and the idea of forgiveness then mix in my mom dying? I was pressed a bit. I said, I’m not out to question anybody’s religion. I’m Christian because I was born to Christians, raised in a fairly liberal church but if I was Jordanian, I’d probably be Muslim. Shrug.

It doesn’t bother me. I lost track of the conversation as it was veering to the point that my lack of interest became apparent to the host. It isn’t fair when the host is a law professor. She asked me what I was thinking. I said the words that REALLY aren’t welcome in a lot of gatherings. I’m not sure it really matters to me if Jesus was a real person or merely an archetype or a narrative of a movement. Silence. What? One person said but the gospels were only written something like thirty years after Jesus died. (Never mind life span, the fact they contradict each other and John I swear was written after drinking some wine). I said it didn’t bother me if Jesus was real: it’s the message. I don’t know about works versus deeds. Or predestination. Or the bazillion interpretations we have all seem to come up with when reading one part of a correspondence and how the structure of the church doesn’t have the entire sacred text read in a 3 year cycle. It doesn’t matter to me. I can very easily profess my faith without having to know that.

You would have thought I had traded David Ortiz.

The PhD in ethics want to be said something like “how can you not feel called to seek justice” (uh, I didn’t say I didn’t) and how can I be ok with not being bothered by religions that are not tolerant to women or LGBTQI people? I said, well, if that bothered me I couldn’t be a Christian.

You really would have thought I had traded David Ortiz to the Yankees.

I pointed out he was ordained Southern Baptist and they don’t allow the ordination of women, let alone non-heterosexual individuals. How could he stay in the church (apparently he’s working for change which since he works for on UCC church and attends the same UCC church I do, I’m NOT really sure how he’s going to change the SBC)? I said it wasn’t my place to call somebody out for being a member of a tradition I disagreed with: maybe that is my deep belief in The Constitution. I don’t care if somebody holds different beliefs than I do: I do care if they seek to harm another. But I’m not going to go up to an Amish person and criticize their beliefs as much as I’m not going to say to a Catholic friend how I don’t see how she can stay with her church to a Muslim friend, you know, your sister shouldn’t have to wear a head scarf. The wide swath of the middle of really almost any faith tradition is fine with me. Fringes cause the problems.
I know I’m cranky. But I don’t need a guy telling me I need to be offended because something oppresses women: I think I can navigate that one on my own. I don’t need to be told I should work for the tolerance of LGBTQI individuals (no, really, I LIKE being a second class citizen with the perks and all).

Madder than a rabid Easter Bunny? Yeah, that is where I was when I left. And I am still irked today: we don’t get anywhere by telling people WHAT to believe. We only get there when we work to removing barriers. And I don’t know of a tradition that call for oppression of people. But then again, I won’t have a degree from that side of the river.

Simply #bostonstrong

May 1, 2013

Along Boylston
Along Boylston

Make shift Memorial at Copley.

Marathon pic2

Marathon pic3

Marathonpic4

Marathonpic5

marathonpic6

Also at Copley.

marathonpic7

Re-glassing of Marathon Sports.
Marthon Sports Reglass

For the first time since the marathon, I had to be in the Copley area.  I snagged a few pictures.  I’ve always thought that make shift memorials were weird.  As I wandered around the one that has sprung up on the Boylston side of Copley,  looking at random pictures, quotes, I understood.  New Englanders in general don’t show a lot of emotion.  There were tears shed.  The ever-present car horns that are Boston were absent, nary a Duck Boat in site and the street musicians were absent. Copley has changed.  We are still struggling.  We need the satellite trucks gone.  Our farmer’s market needs to open on time.  We will heal.  We are changed.  But we are #oneboston.

I’ve lived here longer than anyplace aside from my native Chicago.  I’m proud to call Boston home.  And our city will only be better.  Because, to quote the incident commander, “It’s what we do.  We are better than them.”  We are #bostonstrong.

The Act Bearing Witness: The Campaign for Southern Equality

January 13, 2013

I’m lucky: I live in a state that grants equal rights to all citizens. You know, that little tiny one that has a host of legal benefits called “marriage”. There is an organization that is working in the south try change the laws so that all citizens have the right to marry the person they love. The Campaign for Southern Equality is working to raise awareness, change the laws and bring equality to citizens in one of the most hostile regions of the country.

I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it a thousand more: I don’t care what your religious doctrine says about gay marriage. I truly don’t. My religion, church and congregation affirm marriage of all couples (and was one of the first in the nation to do so). It’s welcoming in the definition of the world welcoming: not the hip/trendy we are for gay rights that seems to permeate many congregations. I really, really, really don’t care what your interpretation of God is when it comes to my rights (but, unless you are willing to live by the entire literal teaching of The Bible, I’m also not interested in a discussion with you on the subject.

About this time every year, I become angry as I’m reminded I’m not a full citizen in the eyes of my government. I find it odd since apparently I qualify as a “Daughter of the American Revolution” (yeah, something about leaving Massachusetts for Ohio in the 18th century) and have some indigenous heritage as well (talk about not having the energy for apologist history). Every year when I complete my Massachusetts return, I’m reminded how in the eyes of the federal government, I don’t have the same rights. I don’t have the right to survivor benefits (Sally Ride’s wife doesn’t; Neil Armstrong’s wife does), I am not automatically given the right to make medical decisions for my spouse, don’t even go there with what can happen to inheritance issues in states that don’t recognize marital equality.

I’ll never understand how anybody can think my (non-existent) marriage can be a detriment to their marriages. This is civil rights: this is the equality of all citizens.

Tomorrow, two friends of mine will apply to have their legally obtained marriage license registered in the state of their current residence. It will be denied. They know it will. It won’t make it hurt less. It doesn’t make it less wrong. All it means is that in the 21st century, two people who I’m honored to call friends will be denied the rights that straight people take for granted. They both hold advanced degrees; they both work for justice. One likes basketball, one likes the Oscar Ceremonies the point of obsession. They are both normal women who love each other. And tomorrow, in the land of the ‘free’, they will be told and all of us who love them will be reminded of how they are oppressed by the state they live in and by the federal government. Yes, we’ve come a long way in under a decade, but we have so further to go. And until then, people like my friends will be told to their faces “their kind” (my kind) isn’t welcome in our country. And that is nothing short of shameful.

The Silence Requested by Andover Newton and What It Says About Theological Education and Failing Academic Institutions.

September 13, 2012

I am not going to pretend to be unbiased regarding this situation.  I have stated my disgust in more private forms of social media for about a year.  Much of the facts are shrouded in the silence that comes with a cover-up, a disgrace and most of all an attempt to preserve a reputation of what was national and is now mostly regional mid-tier academic institution.

 What I know is that last fall; Dr. Mark S. Burrows was dismissed from Andover-Newton Theological School.  In a letter dated on 10/21/2011 from school president, Rev. Nick Carter, it was stated that Dr. Burrows was dismissed for “due to unprofessional, unethical and immoral behavior involving failure to maintain professional boundaries with students.”  As an alumna, I did not receive the letter sent to the Andover Newton Community and “close friends”; I received several copies via e-mail from alumni/alumnae.

 At the close of the letter, Rev. Carter asks that “you appreciate the sensitivity of this and limit what you say to others.”

 Here is the response I should have sent last year:

Go to hell.  Rev. Carter is asking for silence to save the reputation of the professor involved and the institution that employed him for many years.  Rev. Carter, instead of using this as an opportunity to say that the reasons for Dr. Burrows’ termination were wholly unacceptable in a public manner (asking community for silence is something that has been vilified by criticizers of Penn State, the Roman Catholic Church and other organizations that have dealt with “immoral behavior” issues.)  At the time, or shortly before, Dr. Burrows was Rev. Dr. Burrows.  He is no longer an ordained minister according to his personal web site.  He has accepted another teaching position in Germany to begin in 2013 (his wife is German).  Does this institution know of the reasons behind Dr. Burrows’ dismissal? Or has the wider community of Andover-Newton (this author included) conspired in duplicitous behavior to save an institution?

 ANTS is just as much as an institution as Penn State Football.  Is there a difference between “immoral behavior” between adults and children: perhaps.  The underlying tenant is the same: a person in power (real or perceived) demanded something causing harm to another.  The difference is in the legal aspect: ANTS did not break a law, some at PSU did.

 Rev. Carter and ANTS did not use this as an opportunity to have open and real discussions on the abuse of power, the damage to the reputation this can cause.  Instead, they swept the matter under the rug.  Any institution that has faced a situation (a family, an organization, a football program or a university) often gives the first response of “I had no idea”.  This is not an act solely out of ignorance: but lack of awareness, lack of a safe environment for discussions without fear of retribution and the inherent power dynamic that tends to present itself in all structures.

 Instead of saying “what can we learn, how can we educate ourselves as supposed moral/ethical/religious leaders”, the president of the nation’s oldest theological school, Rev. Nick Carter, requested silence.

 The time for silence surrounding the abuse of power is long gone.  If an organization wants to be a leader, wants to mold leaders, wants to demonstrate how to answer the hard questions, then speaking up is the action: not a plea for silence.

 I know I will offend people with this: I don’t care.  Read that again: I don’t care.  I am embarrassed by my actions of a year ago: I should have spoken up then.  I am embarrassed to hold a degree from this institution that publically touts itself as liberal and forward thinking, but in one of its darkest hours returned to the traditional response of get the offender out the door and ask for silence to preserve the institution.

Pentecost and Cory Booker: an odd duo.

May 26, 2012

There is a passage in Acts that describes a gathering of individuals (hardly even the ultra-early church) where individuals spoke in his/her native language and was understood by the recipient in his/her native language (think text predictor gone right).  I’ve been to enough church services on enough continents to pick out some of the more ritual aspects of the services (some always confuse me: The Apostles Creed descending to hell or not, trespass/debts/sin variations on the Lord’s Prayer) that I can intellectually understand that passage to mean an understanding due to ritual, body language and common ideals.  Of course, I’m always bemused by Peter saying people aren’t drunk because it’s 9:00 am, clearly, the man had never tailgated in the SEC/Big 10 areas of the world: especially when it’s coupled with the German peasant phrase popularized by Goethe of strawberries by Pentecost mean a good wine crop.  (Note, there were ripe strawberries at the farmers market today in the Boston ‘burbs so I’m thinking it’s going to be a good wine crop. . . ).

As I drove around today making stops at various farmers markets, I couldn’t help but notice all the flags flying at half-mast (an oddly enduring Massachusetts tradition) and think about Memorial Day in the context of those gathered during the first Pentecost and wondering what we would collectively say to each other if what we were saying would be understood.  It would probably come very close to what has landed Cory Booker in hot water for saying what many of us believe: as Andrew Rosenthal wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed

“Cory Booker, the young, dynamic and often unpredictable mayor of Newark, got himself into hot water over the weekend by likening Republican attacks on President Obama’s former relationship with Jeremiah Wright to Democratic attacks on private equity. “This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “It’s nauseating to the American public.”

He also touted the president’s pro-business record (“over 90% of Americans have seen tax cuts under this president”), and said that Mitt Romney “would have let the auto industry fail,” but the media focused on his apparent defense of Mr. Romney’s work at Bain Capital. “I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses.”

The sad thing? Booker has spent the week apologizing for his comments.  Booker spoke in a language everybody – right, left, center – understood.  We are tired of the finger pointing, hatred, vilification of opposition.  Discuss your plans, the concrete ones and how you are going to pay for them.  Show us how you will improve our systems.  If the only way you can win is by trashing your opponents, you aren’t worthy of the position.  Booker is right, it is nauseating.  We as a country are better than this: and when an individual feels he has to apologize for heartfelt, probably dead on accurate comments, there is one thing I’m pretty certain of: we all agreed on the message from Mr. Booker, it just hit some on the campaign trail a bit too close to home.

Grey’s Anatomy the Evening Before Easter

April 7, 2012

I think I’m one of a dozen people who has watched Grey’s Anatomy. I’m not sure HOW I missed it when if first came out (thank you Netflix) but I caught the first 3 episodes today.

If you surf back in my blog, I think there is an entry about Maude Thursday and Holy Week from last year complete with an edited version of what happened. This week was the opposite. I’m not sure where I stand about my role in the church, that’s a different battle for a different day. I know now I feel safe (emotionally) where I worship which is a far cry from last year.

One of the early episodes of Grey’s dealt with organ donation and the resident reminding the intern that it wasn’t “skin”, “eyes” when speaking to the family, it was the person’s skin that could help others. I’ve sat in these meetings, I’ve heard the surgeons try to explain what would happen, the stunned families still trying to process the death of a loved one being asked to give parts so another person may live. Nobody likes these conversations. The doctors try to be clinical, afterwards some are lost in thought, others are snarky – no matter the outcome. The families grapple with the decision because in essence, the grief process is condensed to the finality of yes, my loved one is gone. And the social workers/chaplains won’t ever say it aloud but are silently cursing over what was probably a senseless death and trying to gather enough about the person to speak to the family afterwards.

I’ve been on the receiving side. It’s strange. Each time the redo one of my hips they put in more bone grafts. I was watching Grey’s, and the wife of the organ donor said something along the lines of how do I hold a funeral when my husband doesn’t have any skin? (reality, they take the skin from the back and thighs but that is an aside). I thought about the dozen families who wondered and still gave the bones for my grafts. It is hard to receive that gift: knowing it was because of a death. I rarely think about the giving (ok, I rarely think about it period, it’s not exactly laced with happy memories, just a lot of scars of varying sorts) and the courage it takes to let a part of a loved one live even when s/he is no longer with his/her family.

Many of us owe a lot to strangers who in a period of great darkness and sorrow, found the compassion and strength to give. As I sit the night before Easter, I can’t help but give thanks.

Lenten Ramblings

February 26, 2012

People who know me … and have known me for more than 4 years, probably know the issues I’ve had around going to church. There is enough fodder there for a good-bad reality television show. Seminary, for many reasons, lead me away from the church. And by away, I mean only-when-visiting-my-sister-and-can’t-fake-food-posioning-again away. There are many complex layers that really are not fit for a public discussion (read, I’m not the only one involved and part of it, I flat out don’t want flying about the interwebs). There has always been a sense of missing the collective gathering (probably more of a Jungian archetype than I’d care to admit) for ritual.

I am sure that part of the need for ritual for me has been how ingrained church has been in my life for many years. My grandmother’s memorial service was held at the church my parents were married in. People at my sister’s church still tell the story of when my sister conned me into dressing up as an angel to hold the baby Jesus (that would have been a now 13 year old niece) while trying to keep a 2 year old from removing all the ornaments off the tree. Her wise words to a friend “my sister is going to kill me.”

Somewhere, I think, in this blog is about how most of that was taken away: not the memories. But the sense of belonging. The sense of being able to sit in community. Part of the training in seminary is a collection of mostly unpaid internships. One place noted that they would have not offered me the position had they known I was gay. Because the church is exempt from most hiring practices, this is not an uncommon stance. Hearing that comment, as part of a performance review, in an exceptionally liberal Christian denomination to this day remains one of the more painful aspects of my journey. In the span of 2 weeks, I went from a contract renewal to a concern of “deceptive” behavior because I did not tell somebody I was gay. During my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Experience) (read, unsupervised chaplain), during the discussion on human sexuality, I wound up being prayed over by 4 very conservative students from a different seminary that I might find “God’s grace and forgiveness”. When I tried to discuss this during supervision (the time when you met with the people who “supervise” (word used very casually) you), I was told I needed to bring it up with the entire group: that it was my job to educate them on equality. Huh?

After I graduated, the last place I wanted to see, be seen, hear, think, ever go to again was a church. Despite trying to bring attention to what happened to me, I received a clear message from the seminary, the CPE program and others: being gay was an issue.

And yet, the yearning for collective ritual remained. Some times, the pull was stronger than others. The Lenten pool is always the strongest. For me, Lent is a period of reflection: individual, collective over who we are as people. It’s that selfish period for me where I can reflect on where do I need to be. Where I can struggle with the questions of meaning in my life, where I can find a pause to think, reflect and try to find the balance.

I made a promise to somebody that I would attempt to attend church during Lent. I *like* Lent. I went today. A straight male minister criticizing one of the denominations in the federated church for upholding the excommunication of a minister for performing legal same sex unions (tied back to the promise of the rainbow). a congregant voicing concern over the burning of Koran in Afghanistan by members of the US military and stating that all religions have sacred texts and none is more sacred than another (and for the record, no, I was not in a UUA church!) and a singing bowl.

Healing words. It’s ok to be who you are here. We recognize different traditions or no tradition. We stand together in trying to make this crazy backwards world a better place.

Red Tents, Lowe’s & Tebow . . . . thoughts from mid December

December 13, 2011

Two stories seemed to populate my twitter feed yesterday: The Houston Police arresting the OWS protestors under tents, outside of the view of others.  And Lowe’s decision to pull its advertising dollars from All-American Muslim on TLC (in fairness, supposedly BOA, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and GM also pulled their ads but those companies said they didn’t have any additional ads scheduled).  Facebook seemed to be teeming with Tebow.

Ack. I’d rather swallow cyanide.  The arrests out of public eye disturb me.  I’m not saying the Houston police did anything wrong.  It is the perception of arresting individuals outside of the public view when the individual is being arrested at a public assembly.  I really don’t have enough vested in the entire OWS movement (aside to think it’s hopelessly organized without goals for first order change) to even think it’s going to make a difference (ok, let’s shut down ports for day labors to protest imports?).  What does disturb me is the keeping the press away from arrests, breaking up camps and events in general: it happened in Boston (in our pretty liberal city with a Mayor For Life).  I’m also bemused in that ironic way that defines me that the only time various cities can seem to act together is in arresting citizens who really aren’t breaking any major laws.  Heaven forbid cities work together for something like, oh, job creation, sustainable development or crazy things like that.  Let’s face it, the OWS protestors/campers really didn’t do a lot of damage compared to winning say, the World Series and a good Nor’Easter or such event would have sent many scurrying.

Oh Lowe’s.  Once again, a company caves to the views of a few.  First, the group that managed to get Lowe’s to stop ads managed to raise the profile of a so-so cable show (brought to you by the network of the pro-creating crazies in Arkansas (what are they at? 20 now?), the objectification of children as beauty pageant contestants and the whacko kate/jon/children drama).  The sad reality is that Lowe’s is (compared to Home Depot) a low activist company: very few dollars donated in the past election cycles.  Seriously? You are going to go after Lowe’s for advertising against the trumped-up right-wing ‘values’.  Um, while you are at it .  . . how about going after Delta and Expeida for supporting the LGBT community? Or Goya for daring to sell food that is traditional found in Latin American cuisine? And Lowe’s? Seriously? You are running from a fringe group.  I’d say boycott Lowe’s but most would run to Home Depot … and well, Home Depot has a worse record since buying local is “more expensive”.  Rolls eyes.

Which brings me to number 3.  Tim Tebow.  Ok, look, he is probably a nice kid.  He is a Florida Gator so…that’s a strike.  I don’t believe in a view of any faith that starts off with “Let me first give thanks. . . ” (I’m pretty sure there is a part in The Bible about praying in private….which makes that weird pose he does annoying).  My thought (and in all fairness, I’m suspect of any born again anything) on Tebow is this: he’s what 23? Who isn’t dumb at 23?  I’m bemused at best by his comments on marital relationships when he is admittedly an unmarried virgin who has already published his autobiography!  Look, I get that he is a PK missionary kid: he is a good quarterback.  He hasn’t done something to fall from grace like Lance, Tiger or Maguire.  I hope he doesn’t: not because OF his faith but because I hope he is a decent person.  I don’t believe he has a “divine talent”, it cracks me up the amount of time people have spent talking about Tebow (ok, this week Boston plays Denver so…).  Maybe Tebow became “hot” because of Penn State and people wanting to believe in football again (for those of us who follow the SEC, we’ve seen this annoying pose for y-e-a-r-s).  Maybe Tebow became hot because of the insane 4th quarter comebacks (note to Tim: don’t try it against New England or in the playoffs).  Who knows. But there are a lot of devout football players: the difference, most of them are not white quarterbacks.  Maybe why that is Tebowmania drives me nuts (that and his gator heritage).

But if you are going to boycott Lowe’s please don’t go to Home Depot. . . .

A meal that tells your story

October 30, 2011

I watched Top ChefAll-Stars while the weird October Nor’easter blew through the Bay State last night.  One of the challenges that I loved from the All-Star season was the Ellis Island challenge.  Part of it is the romanticized myth of being a welcoming nation to immigrants personified (see Irish need not apply to realize that one is a creation of our communal, idealized national persona).  The challenge was to make a dish that represented your familial history in the United States.

Once, in grad school somebody was ultra snarkish to me and stated “that I was ‘new to the area and didn’t understand”’ whatever drama was being discussed.  I flung back I’m not a transplant, I’m a replant.  True, my dad’sfamily DID leave Massachusetts after the Revolutionary War for their reward of a chunk of Ohio but they are only half my family narrative.  I’ve always felt a somewhat complicated relationship with immigration/opportunity and the narrative that is woven by so many people.  Yes, my dad’s family has this wild and strange pedigree (a signer to the Declaration of Independence (see, it comes naturally!), the person who surrendered Ft. Sumter, a long line of Quaker farmers, a longer line of people who stand up for beliefs even if they are unpopular or can cost jobs.   In short, a family that probably was at the 1% at some time in the story of the nation (put it this way, my dad’s side of the family could always vote).  My grandmother received her MBA from The Ohio State University in an era when most men didn’t graduate from high school let alone college.  And yes, I qualify as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I have the paperwork, somewhere.  My paternal grandfather’s family (in addition to giving me my weird name), collects PhDs. There are a few university buildings name after them; long tenures at Nebraska, Wyoming and Oregon.

My mom’s family is the other side of the American coin.  Little is known about her family history.  She was the first person in her family to graduate from college.  She worked full time at a grocery store while taking a full load of classes and graduated in 4 years with a double major: including student teaching.   My maternal grandmother was raised in the coal towns of rural Kentucky.  Her mother was (probably) illiterate.  Her father wandered away one day and never returned (he had been gassed during WW I).  She had a hard life: moving where the jobs were at the time, eventually ending up in Indiana where she and my grandfather were high school sweethearts. His was an equally difficult childhood: neither of my grandparents knew the world “play”.  My grandfather carried ice on his back during the depression as a child to support his mother and brother.  I know little about his side of the family.  Both of my maternal grandparents knew going to bed hungry as a child.

My maternal grandmother’s family has a colorful past: they were run out of Virginia into Kentucky over an issue of horse thievery.  The hazy legend of an Uncle Scarface released
from the penitentiary with several notches in his belt: the type that suggested he killed that many people. There is Cherokee blood in my mother’s side of the family (you can see it in the pictures of her grandmother, my sister).  One of my mother’s uncles and his wife had the most education of their generation: 8th and 6th grades.  They moved with the TVA and helped to construct the Hoover Dam.  My mother tells of her relatives struggling with Civil Rights: including one line from a family member “I know I’m not better than a black man, I just wasn’t raised that way”: a startling, truthful admission of an insanely complex issue (the man in question? Martin Luther King, Jr.). I bristle when individuals broad brush southerners as uneducated, racist or backwards.  That is part of my family: and really, it’s the more interesting side of my family, I mean, what kid doesn’t want an Uncle Scarface?

The two people I’d love to have dinner with together were both named Mary.  One, my dad’s mom, you always had to tell her what you learned.  When she died a few years ago, I realized that how I traveled was so influenced by her: what is new, what is different, what did you learn.  There is more to the world than the national boundaries.  She always hosted students studying at Ohio State from all over the world.  There is complexity and beauty in the world.

The other Mary was my mother’s great aunt by marriage.  She called every male Bud and every female Sis.  She was a tiny feisty woman who travelled her husband building dams all over this country.  She lost siblings and friends in the dangerous coal mines of eastern Kentucky. She turned cards (as in a fortuneteller) but stopped shortly after I was born: my mom says she thinks she saw her husband’s death. She also never stopped learning.  She always sought a variety of opinions on an issue.  She didn’t know a stranger.  She was a character: she attended
a very strict non-denominational church.  She didn’t like the “new” preacher but liked his father.  One Easter, she announced she’d heard enough of the son’s “fool preaching” and walked out.  In the middle of the sermon: she stood up, said she heard enough and we were leaving.  The town she lived in was dry.  We used to bring her a bottle of Jack Daniels every summer.  One year, we had to run an errand, she told my mother to speed through town so nobody could smell her breath (through rolled up windows). Everybody in the town knew that if times were hard, you could get a mealwith her: there wasn’t a lot, but there was always enough.

So I started thinking, if I had to make a meal to represent both of these women, both powerful driving forces in how I think, what would it be? First, I’d have to cook: both were horrific cooks.  I know there would be copious amounts of coffee.  The protein would have to be chicken.  Part of me thinks, that for the hodge-podge American mutt genealogy that I own, I’d want nothing more than a roasted chicken, root veggies and pie and a bit of Jack in that coffee.  And a really interesting conversation between two Marys who grew up vastly different, both would bristle at being called a feminist but both were amazing pioneers and never stopped learning.

Perhaps it’s just me and my weird and wonderful family history: I’m uncomfortable with broadbrushing any group.  My family has taught me better and both sides come from very different parts of the American story.