Hero of the Faith - Joss Whedon

Here is Joss Whedon creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one of my favorite theologians. He is receiving an award from Equality Now. You can let it load and slide forward past Meryl to about the 3:30 point if you like. It is the last two minutes where he really cranks it up and preaches! Take your time and listen, turn up the volume the sound quality is not that great, but I could not find another copy.

Joss changed my world and I am proud to share planetary space with him


Alivia goes Bye bye

There is a road in Oregon that is so beautiful that I will not tell you its name or location for fear you would all go there. We traveled on this road for better than 50 miles without seeing another human. Trees, trees and more trees.


Where God Crosses Crazy

Today's UPI column

So There I was...

At the intersection of Mental Health and Spirituality.

It seems like I spend a lot of time there these days.
It’s a busy place.

There is the church on one corner and the Psych Ward on the other. The address of the church is on Spirituality Street, but people track in dust from the Mental Health side all the time. The Hospital’s front door faces Mental Health Boulevard but so many of its windows look out onto Rue Religion.

On the other two corners are a coffee shop and a bar where people can medicate their mood one direction or another. The bartender does a lot of good therapy and the cute little barista sings a sweet little caffeine canticle. Some folks seek the sun at the outside tables of the coffee corner while others cocoon in the cool dark of the tavern. People stand on the corners with signs forecasting the end of the world, others ask for a handout.

The traffic control devices are kind of ambiguous. I have seen some tremendous crashes there. When delusion makes a bad turn and runs up the wrong side of religion, ugly things can happen. If depression happens to meet damnation, look out. But just as often, hope meets imagination and a parade forms.

A while back somebody gave me a whistle and a yellow vest and I take a turn at directing traffic now and then. You want to do that job with a little panache. You need a bit of a dance to get belief and health going in the same direction. You have to have enough of a presence to slow some people down, and get others to pick it up. You have to be able to tell a drunk from a Holy Roller, and both of them need to get across the street. You can’t be timid and you need to give the whistle a workout. But when it works the sun-worshipping coffee people applaud.

There’s always talk in the neighborhood. Lately I’ve heard a lot of talk about what is real and what is good. Every corner has their answer. The church says that God is real and love is good - pray every day. The hospital says that reality is good and that you have to cope in order to hope. The coffee people fill their cups and work up the nerve to do some real work. In the bar they tell a good joke and numb their jangled, overworked nerves. Sometimes they get real and walk from there over to the AA meeting in the church basement, where somebody is always making coffee. Individually, it’s all real, and most of it is good.

But I have noticed some things that are certifiably real and good on every corner. Everybody needs to listen and be listened to. Everybody needs a group of people who know their name. Everybody thinks somebody else is weirder than they are. Everybody needs a laugh. Everybody needs somebody to hold their hand when they cross the street.

And nobody stays on any one corner for very long.


The Ride

Alivia's Birthday ride, which always comes around the longest day of the year, is a highlight of the Motorcycle season. This year she was hoping for a coastal run, but the weather was not looking good, so at the last minute we made a switch and headed east over the Cascade range with a destination of Crater Lake in Southern Oregon. It turned out to be a great choice. It was sunny, but not too hot for both days of the ride.

One of the goals of these rides for me is to ride hard enough long enough to get good and exhausted, crash and then get up the next day and do it again. This takes the starch out of my shorts and helps with my general level of contentment. I took Asfoloth Bucephelous, my big bad boy bike which pretty much guarantees the exhaustion part. He has a six gallon gas tank which means you can get where you are going without thinking about fuel availability.

Last years modifications have made riding this behemouth possible for me, and much of the day, both days, was unmitigated joy. It is still a challenge for me physically. It is clear to me that I have control of the bike, but not mastery. But we have just made it over the 2k mark, so there is time. It is clear that if I want to ride this bike, I need to be in the gym three times a week - no cheating.

Eastern Oregon is fun, the picture below tells you pretty much what you need to know about the culture.

I didn't take a picture of the place where we ate dinner, which was a combination dinnerhouse and taxidermy museum. They had geese hung from the ceiling over your table, and enoug critters for an ark staring at you from all sides, including, and I am not making this up, a two headed calf, a two headed lamb, a giant anteater and enough road kill to keep the county clean. Made me a little nervous to order the steak, but you know me - reckless!

But we did get to our destination by the middle of the second day. Crater Lake is really up in the air. They have very special West Coast snow that doesn't melt in the summer.

The Lake is a color that is so pretty that it kinda hurts your eyes.
God gets a little intense at times!


Out of the Office

Off for the annual "Longest day of the year - Longest ride of the year - Alivia's Birthday Run"

Heading for Crater Lake!


The Green Mile

Today's UPI column

So There I was...

Walking the green mile.

OK, it wasn’t a mile, it just seemed like it. But the long hall down the empty corridor was a sort of turquoise green. I wasn’t actually condemned to death, though for a second grader I might as well have been. Dead little girl walking, and worse, I had to do it every Tuesday afternoon for all of second grade.

The call came at 2 p.m. every Tuesday, just before all the other kids went to recess. My teacher, Miss Cartier tried to be as subtle as possible, sidling up to my desk and whispering, “Peggy, its time.” But it didn’t matter because all the kids knew where I was going. They snickered behind their hands, and giggled as I got up from my seat and left the room. I was nervous and often managed to kick something or bump into something on the way out. Kids would stick their foot out and try to trip me if the teacher took her eyes off me. Miss Cartier didn’t let them get away with any words, but it didn’t matter, because there was after school, and before school, and other recesses to get the taunts in. I was labeled for the rest of grade school.

I was walking down to what the kids at school called the “retard room.” Even in 1965 nobody was allowed to call it that in from of teachers or staff, it was officially the classroom for the “handicapped” children. But on the playground that is what they called it, and they called me a “retard.”

I actually got to know the kids in that classroom. Some of them spent their whole days there. Some kids assigned to that class spent part of their days in a regular classroom. It was a pretty progressive school district. Some of them had physical difficulties, some had developmental difficulties, and some of them didn’t seem all that different from the kids in the regular classes.

I was pigeon-toed. Really seriously pigeon-toed. I tripped over my own feet all the time. I scuffed my Mary Janes all to death. They tried making me wear those special stiff high shoes, but they didn’t help. So I got sent to Miss Belknapp the physical rehab teacher.

Here’s what the other kids didn’t know. The long walk down the green hall was hell, but heaven was just on the other side of the door to Miss Belknapp’s room. The room was full of giant toys and gymnastics equipment. She wore sneakers and shorts while all the other teachers were in heels and dresses. She was kinda loud, and funny, and she was pretty masculine for a lady. She called me “Girly.” I didn’t know anybody else like her. But she liked me. I think she liked all her kids. When I walked in the door she welcomed me, like a beloved lost lamb. As if she were surprised to see me. As if I was the best part of her day. She was the best part of my week.

She taught me how to walk. How to turn my hips so that my toes would go straight. How to tuck in my tiny little butt so that my hips would open out. We practiced many walks, we walked like ducks, we walked like cowboys. She would have me put my hands behind my back as if they were tied and I would pretend to walk the plank – with plenty of pirate talk to go with it. We laughed a lot. Wednesday mornings during second grade I was always a little sore. I remember one day in the spring when she was pretty pleased with me and she said, “Well, we could quit now, Girly, but as long as we’ve taught you to walk straight, we might as well teach you how to walk pretty.” I did not object. Then I spent a few weeks walking like Miss America with a crown on my head. If they would have let me stay with Miss Belknapp for the three R’s I would have stayed. Miss Belknapp was my secret treasure.

There is a stanza in the Serenity prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr that goes

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship
As the pathway to peace.

I learned the truth of that every Tuesday in second grade. After the mocking there was grace. After the loneliness there was kind attention. After the pain came fun. I could have let the humiliation ruin the joy, but I didn’t. And in my memory the grace is huge and lively and the persecution is ghostly and pale.

Perspective is a choice.

So there I was ten years later, 1975, in the grocery on an errand for my mother. I whizzed around a corner in my three-inch platform sandals and mini skirt. I heard a loud voice from the back of the store yell, “Stop right there! – is that you Peggy? Peggy Senger? I executed a perfect pivot turn and faced Miss Belknapp, now a retired teacher. I grinned. She whistled a loud wolf whistle as all the patrons of the store turned and looked. “Look at that walk! Look at that pretty, humdinger of a walk! Give me a bit more, Girly!” So I gave her my best strut and then a hug, and we laughed. And she said “Well, Girly, when you walk that plank they are gonna remember the last thing they see! Go get ‘em.”

So I did.


George Fox in Rwanda

Ok Major hat tip to Wess for the slide show thingy. Only took me all afternoon to figure it out, but I am sort of stupid proud of myself at the moment.
Peggy can cut and paste code! yes she can!

This slide show is of George Fox Secondary School in Kigali Rwanda. This school is run by Rwanda Yearly Meeting. I visited there in february and did some research for some Portland Friends about vulnerable students. I will write more about this project later, but for now feel free to look around. If you click on the picture the slide show will stop and give you info. Cool.
(sometimes it doesn't load right on the first try - hit refresh and you may get it)

Created with Paul's flickrSLiDR.

Get a Grip!

Today's UPI column (#64, by the way - when I get to 100 I am going to quit)

So There I was...

Sliding across the Bridge of the Gods.

Spanning the mighty Columbia River a short ride east of Portland, Oregon, this bridge connects the states of Oregon and Washington at the approximate site where Geologists and Native Americans agree there once was a stone land bridge that eventually fell into to the river.

Falling into the river was also a concern of mine that day. I had never motorcycled this route before, so the sign stating that the bridge had a metal grate deck was a surprise to me, and the sign was not visible until it was too late to make any other choice but to cross.

Here is the problem with motorcycles and metal grating. The bike has about four square inches of each tire that contact the road at any time. That is eight square inches of grip altogether. Metal grating reduces those eight inches to a few tiny strips of metal. It is not enough grip. All traction is lost. It is like riding on ice. If all other things are equal and the grating is limited, then inertia is your friend, and if you just hang on, relax and trust, the bike will continue forward without much deviation until you get solid pavement back. You do not dare steer, brake or accelerate.

All things were not equal on the bridge of the Gods that day. I was traveling north to south and the winds coming up the Columbia Gorge from the west were about 30 miles per hour steady, with gusts exceeding that by a good bit. Without traction the winds were steadily pushing me to the left, towards the oncoming traffic. I had just enough warning to enter the grated section at the far right edge of a bridge that is 35 feet wide – 17.5 feet for me, 17.5 feet for the other guys. At that point it was a Hail Mary situation. Would my speed get me across the grate before the wind pushed me into the path of a semi?

That was when I made the mistake of looking down, past my feet, through the grate, and 150 feet down to the water. My head started to swim and I snapped my eyes back up to the road. An oncoming Winnebago was laying on its horn. As my tire touched the centerline, the grate ended and I had enough traction to correct my course. I coasted down to the tollbooth at the foot of this deathtrap. I was shaking badly enough as I tried to fumble into the pockets of my leathers to find the fifty cents required, that the toll taker shook her head and waved me on. I had the feeling she had seen rattled bikers before.

Spiritual lives can also lose traction. We can loose our connection with the ground. We can get all slip slidey. Think about the places where the rubber meets the road in your life. They are not usually the most pleasant places. Friction is implied in traction. But those are the placed that keep you grounded that give you the option of relative control.

I find that if I surround myself only with people who agree with me, that I start to lose my moorings. I feel my connection to God in a very real way when I am around people who don’t share my experience of God. This is spiritual traction.

I need a regular connection with people honest enough to let me know when my spiritual slip is showing or I have spinach in my teeth. We have all seen the hard public lessons of those who surround themselves with sycophants. Honest friends supply traction.

I lose traction when I get disconnected from the real physical needs of the least among us. I have learned that I cannot fix all the problems that I see. But I can do something, every day, every week, every month, to address those problems. Real, fulfilling work increases traction.

All of these conditions describe places where the road falls below the minimum required grippiness. Sometimes the warning signs are there; sometimes we learn the hard way and mark our own mental maps for the danger.

We have to pay attention to the road because our culture has some prevailing winds: rabid individualism, materialism, affluenza, addiction to addictions. It does not matter how big my spiritual engine is, how strong my personal braking system is, if I am not grounded, the prevailing winds will push me out of my chosen lane, and that oncoming Winnebago will show up, horn blaring.


All the Cool Quaker Babies are Doing This!

This is Calder. He is a brand new resident of the planet. He is a very hip character as you can tell by the robot shirt.
Calder is a lucky kid, He has a great family and all the stuff a baby could want. So when the people in his village decided to have a welcome to the planet party, Calder decided to have them spare the presents and cough up some bucks for some kids in Rwanda who don't have what they need and don't have a family. Calder raised better than 300 buckos at his party!
Way to go dude!
(watch this space for more news about Calder's favorite project)
(disclaimer; Calder reserves the right to rips open packages and beg for cool video games at a later date)


An Open letter to Sarah Silverman

I don't actually want you to click on this video unless you really want to. Sarah Silverman is hosting the MTV Awards show, and she takes the chance to ridicule Paris Hilton, who is sitting in the audience with a camera in her face. Sarah makes a mean and vulgar joke. Then when she finishes she asks "Wow, why do I feel dirty?"

Sarah, Honey, let me answer that question for you. You feel dirty because you made yourself dirty. Poking fun at the powerful is as old as the court jester. It is an honorable power balancing thing. You are good at it.

Making jokes at the expense of hubris and those elevated for no apparent reason is also ancient comedy.

But picking on people who are down, who already have gotten or are getting their comuppence is just mean, and it demeans you. It also opens the door to karma.

You are a smart young woman, I know you can figure this out.

a friend

How to ride a motorcycle with no hands

Today's UPI column

So There I was...

… Going about 85 on two wheels. I was a bit supra-legal, but it was on an empty, straight, flat piece of road on a clear, dry day in the middle of a county that has a population of about one person for every ten square miles – speed appropriate for the conditions.

My bike was big and new and it was not using half of the RPM’s it had available. My back was not used to the forward lean of the sportbike seating configuration, so I would occasionally take one hand off the controls and twist my arm behind me to stretch out the kinks.

Taking your left hand off the controls of the bike has no effect. That hand is holding the clutch, and unless you are in the process of shifting, you can let go. The right hand is on the throttle, so unless your bike is equipped with some sort of cruise control, when you let go with the right hand, you start to slow down. But for the length of a stretch that is fine. Your right foot has a brake and your left foot has the gearshift. Control is diversified – often a good idea.

It was during a round of this back stretching, including twisting in the seat and shifting my weight all around that I came to realize a thing about my bike. It is incredibly stable. It just hums along, rock solid, until you give it a clear and undeniable instruction.

That is when the idea occurred to me. What happens if you take both hands off the bike at the same time? In grade school I used to ride my Schwinn ‘no hands’ all the time. Would it be the same?

Impulse control has never been my deepest suit.

I covered both handles and then just loosened my grip incrementally until my hands were hovering but not touching the handlebars – no change except for the slow deceleration – nothing, nada. I have it more gas and then let go again, this time putting my hands in my lap – like a train on rails. Gas again, and release, and then I pushed a bit with one knee and then the other. I could steer a bit this way, but mostly it just tore on like a bullet. Until I let the deceleration progress too far – instability started to creep back in at about 60. I gave it all four appendages again, exhilarated and thoughtful.

Stability increases with speed. This is true for motorcycles. You are much more likely to drop your bike rolling it around a parking lot than you are at Highway speeds. This is simple physics. It is called inertia. On a bike, go fast and inertia is your friend, go slow and inertia will gladly scratch up your paint. Of course, going too fast, inertia can cause personal aviation, especially if for any reason you forsake traction.

I am grateful for my riding experiences. I never fail to find spiritual application from the mindfulness that a bike requires of you. I have decided that I believe in the principle of Spiritual Inertia.

I have written about the need to sometimes slow down, way down, emotionally and spiritually in Retreat. You have to fight the inertia of busyness to do it. But you reap rewards from it.

Yet, sometimes, positive inertia can also be your friend.

When I am feeling emotionally and spiritually unstable, if rest doesn’t fix it, then I probably need to give the engine some gas and get moving. Fight the inertia that would keep me stuck. I need to do the things in front of me; invest, engage, proceed. Sometimes I just need to trust the forward motion of my life to carry me across the occasional pothole to better road on the other side.

Probably might as well hang on, though.

Today's very public Quaker

Well, that was fun!

I was the designated invocationalist this morning at the Oregon State Senate.
The first question of the day was, mercy, what to wear? My standard personal choice on this matter is to look as NOT like the guy on the Oatmeal box as possible and be very vocal about being a Quaker and this almost never fails to elicit questions. The motorcycle leathers are very useful for this purpose, but it seemed like a little more decorum was called for.
I had used my favorite 'Not oatmeal' outfit, which involves black lace a knee high red snakeskin boots last month at the legislative prayer breakfast - so I improvised. Three inch heels and a flattering dress, and I'm sorry, but it just doesn't feel like the "full armor of God" without hose, and my grandmothers silver and abalone cross. Good enough.
I arrived on time, which is apparently a problem for the Senators. I was briefed that after a Quorum arrived, and the colors marched, that it was my podium for three minutes - please be ecumenical and non-political. I was joined on the platform on time by the Senate President Mr. Peter Courtney who happens to be my representative, though he didn't know that. He informed me that we had to round up 20 of the 30 to start.
After ten minutes, he got cranky and sent out the Sargent of arms to chase them down. He said to me " I can have these guys arrested, you know!" Pete's an old school Pol, a style I happen to appreciate.
At last a Quorum and then the colors. Yikes, I had forgotten about this part. Pete says to me as we stood "American flag coming to your immediate right", and he slapped his hand on his chest and nodded to me. Well, then here comes old glory, and me alone on the platform with Pete, me with my hands behind my back, me not saying the pledge. I just can't do it. It's just to creepy to pledge myself to an inanimate object and then there is all the not true stuff in that thing. If we ever really are one nation, under God indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, I will reconsider. Till then... well all eyes on the ... "what kinda wacky invocationalist do we have today?"
My turn: (everybody has to stay standing until I am done)
"Good Morning Friends,
My name is Peggy Parsons and I am a Quaker. I represent a people who were some of the first settlers of this state founding the towns of Newberg and Scotts Mills among others. We are not usually a people of big fancy prayers. Often we just sit quietly, but I am happy to join you today. I am going to ask you to join me in a silence where we will center down, be present, and listen to the Divine and prepare to listen to that of God in each other. After our group listening, I will pray. Then I closed my eyes and stood there. so did they. For a long thirty seconds. Then I did what we do at Freedom Friends, I spoke to God and gave thanks for the Senators and their work, for our safety and freedom, and for all the goodness that we enjoyed and then I asked God to be with these people and to give them courage and hope and wisdom while they did their work today - Thank you for everything - we have no complaint - amen."
Sorry friends, but there is no picture of me doing this. My girl reporter self wanted to bring the camera, I am sure the Sargent of arms would have obliged, but it just seemed a bit vain. Quaker trumps journalist after all.
One of the Senators, Avel Gordly, IND, portland, left the floor to thank me for my words. She said she had worked with the AFSC and that Quakers were a "small but mighty people" and she was glad to see one of us in the Capitol.
Have a great Day
God Bless America.


The Spiritual Discipline of Retreat

Last Tuesday's upi - I am going to catch up - really I am

So There I was...
In the convent chapel. Listening to the sisters of the Queens of Angels Monastery singing the evening praise. Tonight I was just listening. This is hard to do because the sisters are so hospitable that if you do not take a book of prayer out of the rack, they will assume that you don’t know where they are and will get you one. If you have a book and do not open it, they will assume that you cannot find the right page and they will try and help you. As a Quaker, a severely unliturgical heathen, I do have trouble with the book. Sometimes, the seasons, the days, songs and psalms and magnificats, get a little overwhelming. I do ok with the “Our Father,” I have even picked up the “Hail Mary” although they don’t seem to use that one so much in group worship. I once said a full Novena, just to see if I could do it, and to see how it felt.

But sometimes I just like to close my eyes and listen. The sisters read a piece of the Book of Psalms out loud every day. The service has a brief reading from somewhere in the New Testament, but a big chunk of King David’s lyrics daily. I wonder what he thinks of their rendition. I wonder if he wishes he was getting residuals – well maybe he is.

There is something eerie about the voices of a couple of dozen gentle, kind, often elderly women, intoning the imprecatory psalms. They put very little emotion into the words. David used many of his words to curse his enemies; swords in their hearts, destruction, wrath, revenge. The sisters give voice to these sentiments rather unsentimentally. I have never seen them flinch at even the most embarrassing parts – smashing the heads of the enemies’ babies on rocks, etc. To their credit they do not seem very inflated when they read David’s words making the tenuous case for his own righteousness, either. They just speak these words out into the air, a display of the best and worst of the human condition, as if to say “Hey, God, look at us – this is what we are – what are you going to do with us?”

Due to a trip to Africa, an illness, and a few other things I have not been out to the monastery for six months. This has been the longest lapse in ten years of mostly monthly visits. I try and get out for a 24-hour retreat. I spend an hour or two with a Benedictine Spiritual Director, trying to take an honest look at my own spiritual condition and whatever notion God is attempting to squeeze into my feeble heart, brain and soul at any given time. Then I spend the rest of the time resting, or praying, or doing anything except my normal work and worry. It is good for me.

They don’t like to let me work, although there is work to do out there, and they all work as part of the Benedictine Rule. My Spiritual Director thinks that I am rather bad at Sabbath, and she is right, so I rest. She also doesn’t ask me to keep silence as often as some. She thinks that as a Quaker I am probably good that this – which is not quite so true. But some of the sisters enjoy my dinner table tales of modest adventure, so I serve in my own way.

This trip out, after such a break, I was itchy. The American allergy to stillness and disconnect had me all but in hives. No ipod, no computer, no phone, no TV. No to-do lists, no calendar book, no demands on my time or attention. It is exactly what I wanted and needed and it about drove me crazy. What happened next was predictable. I crashed. Right after dinner I laid down on my bed for a minute and fell asleep, in my clothes on top of the bedcovers, and I slept like that for fourteen hours. I was not sleep deprived, I am a good sleeper – nine hours almost nightly, but My brain just couldn’t stay conscious and do nothing. It was a shock to my system. My dreams were vivid, and many, but confused and mildly disturbing.

I woke up, had coffee and did some praying and writing. Then with my Spiritual director’s blessing, I took off a couple of hours early. I got back on my motorcycle and tripled the miles between the Monastery and home. The sisters like it when I bring the bike. They get a kick out of seeing it parked in front of their home, makes people wonder, I guess.

I left so much better than I came. It is kind of a Roto-rooter for my soul. Sometimes I fly out there desperate for the break. Sometime I have to pull myself away and make myself go. It is a discipline. The Spiritual Discipline of Retreat. I have found that no matter how good I get at listening to God’s Spirit in everyday life, that I regularly need to completely disconnect in order to reboot my hard drive. Stuff just runs better.

I recommend disengagement. You cannot spiritually advance without some kind of regular retreat. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is true. It can take many forms, and you don’t need the vocational religious,

fun though they are.

But you need it. Ask your soul.


A call out of the blue (or red)

I was having one of those days where I was wondering if I was really making good choices for my life. And my phone rang and it was the reading clerk of the Oregon Senate and he wondered if I could come down on Tuesday and say the opening prayer for them. It is a small thing, but felt very confirming at the time. I wonder how many seconds of Quaker silence I can get out of them.