Art Collectors

We are on a free cruise. A couple of months ago, Dwayne got a call from Park West Gallery asking us if we’d like to go on a free cruise. At first we thought it was a sales scam. What kind of hard sales would we be subject to? After turning down the first offer, they came back with an offer for a VIP cruise out of New York on the NCL Breakaway. Seriously? Had we spent that much on art that we were being offered a free cruise? Clearly, we had.

Our first art purchases were in 1999 on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of San Juan. It was a celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. Some like to play Bingo while sailing, some like to lie in the sun, some like to spend time in the casino, some like to pub crawl … Me and Dwayne? We enjoyed the art auctions. First, we got free champagne. More importantly, we got to hear stories about artists, and we learned about art and art collecting. (A whole lot more interesting than learning to fold towel animals.)

We lived in the Detroit area from 1987 through 1998, so we were familiar with the Park West Gallery name. The original location is in Southfield, Michigan. As avid NPR listeners, we would often hear the gallery owner, Albert Scalione, invite listeners to the gallery. Collectible art at accessible prices. This is art for the middle class … After all, their “audience” was frequent cruisers … Like us.

We’ve cruised almost annually since 1999. Each trip we looked forward to the auctions … and the more we “collected” the more “accessible” the works seemed to be. No, the art wasn’t getting cheaper, but our idea of a “value” changed as we grew into middle-age; as empty nesters working at the height of our careers, we became more and more desensitized to the opening bid … and we were much better able to predict the value of a painting.

A couple weeks ago, as I was telling people about our upcoming cruise, a friend said, “you never told me you were an art collector.” Actually, I had never thought of myself as an art collector. Art collectors have more money, they are more snobbish, they know more about art … then I thought of the paintings hanging on our walls … The sheer number of framed pieces Michael and Terrie helped us uncrate and hang on our walks when we moved to New Jersey. Yes. We are clearly art collectors. We have a style we like, we’ve collected some obscure works as well as some of the masters. And, we are running out of walls.

Last night, one of the other collectors asked if this was our first VIP event. Yes, it is. “Were you intimidated when you first got the invitation?”, he asked. Yes! I remember thinking … I’d be in the wrong class, they don’t understand we’re not in that category, and what would I wear? Now that we’re here, I realize … Art collectors are just like us. Some have more funds available, some less. Some are more pretentious, some less, some have been collecting for decades, some are brand new to the art world. Mostly, we’ve found another group of friends … And this experience has been great so far. We not only have private VIP auctions, but we have presentations about painters, and we get to meet the artists!

The NCL Breakaway is a new ship who’s hull was designed by Peter Max (see the photo above) … Guess who we met the first day? Peter Max!!!! Last night we met the surrealist painter, François Bouchiex. Tomorrow night? It’s still a mystery, but I’m sure hoping for Linda LeKinff … She’s the first artist we started collecting. I’ll let you know.

The Big Deal About My Family

Thirteen family members were sitting in the front row of the 12-step meeting as Cheryl* told her story on the first anniversary of her sobriety. Husband, children, good friends, siblings, aunt and uncles … every one of them shed tears that night.

A year of sobriety is a time for great celebration. We were told only one in thirty addicts make it 365 days, because it takes a whole lot more than showing up to meetings; it takes working the program. If you’ve ever been to a Weight Watchers meeting you know how it goes. We have great motivation at the beginning, but after awhile we start to take short cuts. And we begin to think that we can do it OUR OWN way. Humility is the most crucial characteristic we need to develop in order to help us overcome the addictions in our lives. Humility is, after all, the first step … I am powerless … Cheryl was able to do that … not without acknowledging the higher power she calls God … a God that has been physically present in the love of her family, friends, and the many people God placed in her life.

Addiction is a family disease … That’s what I learned when studying and working in a chemical dependency unit of a leading hospital for a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education during the mid 1980’s … I have been aware of this for nearly three decades, and I was keenly aware of it that Sunday night I sat with the family. My family is integrally affected by addiction. On one level we were all affected by Cheryl and her behavior while under the influence, but on a much broader level we all live in the addicted family system, and we had for generations. Those of us who aren’t addicted to chemical use, might be addicted to food, or behaviors such as shopping, gambling, sex, or hoarding. Those who do not identify an addiction are probably still impacted by the “stinking thinkin” … the all or or nothing, right and wrong, black and white thinking. We are all pretty adept at avoiding conflict and seeing the crazy as normal. To be fair to my family … we’re not unusual. We live in a culture which suffers from the same stinkin thinkin. (think Congress)

In my family, we value love and relationships, but we have a difficult time accepting love. We are highly committed to each other, but we rarely talk about our emotional pain, spiritual doubts, or authentic self. Our telephone conversations and family dinners focus outside of ourselves … We share “news” or talk politics (with some trepidation), we poke fun at each other and make jokes … When it comes to sharing what we’re really grateful for, or how we feel about mom’s death, or how difficult it is to work in highly dysfunctional organizations (yeah, that’s a dimly veiled reference to the denominational Church), we fall short. Not only because we don’t know what to say, but because we don’t know how to respond when someone else shares. We try to fix it … we hate seeing each other hurt.

Ok, please realize that I’m projecting my own perspective here. And I’m writing this today because I believe we’re changing. I’m changing. Maybe, in part, as a result of being there for each other during Mom’s illness and death. Also, in part, because of Cheryl’s addiction. In fact, I noticed a huge change in my own heart that night at the twelve-step meeting.

That night I didn’t answer I was “fine” when I was asked if I was ok … I said, “I will be.” This was not just a hope for the future, but an acknowledgement that the evening was difficult for me and all of us. As I sat with the thirteen, surrounded by more than 100 others of various ages, genders, and walks of life who were attending the meeting that night, I had an acute awareness of our common brokenness. Our oneness in our struggles. It was a humbleness, a transforming humility, that rose up in me … that broke me … that is healing me.

The whole group was genuinely grateful for the family’s presence that evening. After the meeting we all stood in a receiving line; each person came forward to congratulate us … including me … for Cheryl’s progress. It took me a long time to make sense out of this. I wasn’t the one working the program, I wasn’t the one coming to meetings, I wasn’t the one calling my sponsor or facing highly difficult emotional barriers. That was Cheryl. When one man mentioned how much he appreciated our presence, “It was nothing,” I thought, “we’d all be there if it had been any one of us.” And I cried. We’d all BE THERE if it had been ANY ONE of us. That’s what families do …

It was not a big deal … No, It WAS a big deal. That is the foundation of unconditional love. As a family, we don’t do a great job being emotionally demonstrative, but we will always be physically and/or spiritually present. We will not see things from the same perspective or worldview; we will not be aligned politically; we will not agree with each other’s choices; we will be Christian and non-Christian and Atheist; we will be traditional and non-traditional families; we will like some of us more or less … But, WE WILL BE THERE. We will sit as family in the front row and support you each other no matter what. That’s what our family does. That’s what I love about my family.

*Most twelve–step groups are “anonymous,” therefore I have changed the name of my family member. This is not meant to be anyone’s story and reflection but mine … However I recognize that we are all intertwined. So, to my family … I love you. You are a big deal in my life.

No Flag at My House

You won’t see an American flag flying in front of my house … not even on July 4th … for the same reason I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag. It’s not because I hate my country or I don’t value or appreciate American ideals … In fact, it’s precisely because I DO. I am passionately supportive of freedom of speech, and freedom of religion … I believe in the right and responsibility to think, act, and speak critically of ourselves, our values and our ideals. I am a proponent of democracy and of the rights of the marginalized to speak and be heard. I believe in a system of governance which is of the people and for the people … I am an American, and I see the world through my USA lenses. I celebrate our gifts as a people and the sacrifice and contributions of so many for the benefit of living in a land in which I am free to speak and write of both our blessings and our faults.

My allegiance, though, is not to a government or a people … its to ideals … Ideals that I know as signs of the kingdom of God … Ideals which I believe are rights of ALL people, of all faiths and of no faith, of all races and nationalities and tribes. On this Fourth of July, I celebrate the liberation of a people and pray for the liberation of all people. I smile at photographs posted on Facebook and appreciate every nook and corner of our land from sea to shining sea. And I pray … i pray that we learn to live symbiotically with our natural environment … that we find ways to live sustainably, and that we will have glaciers and waterfalls, meadows, mountains, farmlands, rainbows and sunsets to photograph for generations to come. I love our people … and our diversity … I love that we have welcomed the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee … and I pray that as my ancestors arrived on this continent both before this nation was birthed and through this last century, we continue to be a blessing to all those with dreams beyond themselves.

On this “independence day” though … I also lament the non-kingdom-like values our nation holds. Our independence has grown into an avid individualism that puts personal freedoms above “the common good.” Our freedom has led us to a capitalistic “survival of the fittest” which is creating a huge gap in income and wealth and is marginalizing our majority … the middle class. Our morality seems to be based solely on economic gains and our consumerism is a cancer that will devour us, if we don’t take intentional steps to fight it. Our laws and policies are biased by our polarities and political platforms … This will be our demise if we cannot find a way to work together for the common good.

July 4th, though, is a day on which we hold high our dreams … Not just our American Dream, but our human dream of prosperity which reaches beyond the borders of the USA and to every tribe and people of all continents. A dream of human fulfillment … More than the pursuit of happiness, a realization of purpose, of work, of contribution, of health, of education, of community, of diversity and hope …

You won’t see a flag flying in front of my house today … because I am afraid of an empty nationalism that is blind to our imperfections. Because I won’t sing “God Bless America” as if God’s blessing shouldn’t also be with the Egyptians and Syrians and Afghans and Russians and Brazilians and Iraqis and Kenyans and Chinese. I love my people, I love all people. On this day and all days …

Rose Colored Glasses?

My cousin Norman and I often have political diatribes on facebook … Well, not only Norman; I have these conversations regularly with quite a few of my relatives (on all sides of the family) and friends … I feel it’s kind of my duty to represent the other side. And then we get caught up in polarized thinking, the “you’re with us or against us” kind of thinking which is dividng us into camps instead of uniting us in common mission. I usually … At least I try to remain calm and rational in my comments, to avoid demeaning the one or two or group that has another opinion, and to back up my opinions with facts, my faith, and a glimpse into my world view. Today, I was baited again by this re-post of Norman’s … a Republican meme:

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I commented that in “those days” I, too, may have been a Republican … I’m not against the party or the people but I cant get behind the platform. His response prompted me to write this blogpost … Since answering in a Facebook comment would be woefully insufficient. He wrote:

I have to wonder what it is you cant get behind. Are you aganist the idea that people should be self reliant, that you help the ones that need help but its NOT a cradle to grave entitlement. Are you against keeping the country safe. Are you against affordable energy. Are you against the Consitution and the idea of limited Govnt. Are you against the idea that we should NOT have reckless spending and should have our elected officials held responsible. Doing what you do for a living I know your not against religous freedom and I have to believe your way too smart to actually believe Obama and the Dem rhetoric about Republicans wanting dirty air and water, and they want to push Grandma off a cliff. Can you really believe that Obama had NOTHING to do with the IRS scandal? That he has held a transparent administration. Really, are the rose colored glasses that strong?

I admit, I do have rose colored glasses … I like them … I consciously choose to err on the side of grace, of trust, of generosity, of optimism. I also, no doubt, never fully grew out of a certain childlike naïveté or adolescent idealism. I have been more than blessed by people and opportunity in my life. I’ve had almost all the benefits of the privileged class. My greatest problems are definitely “first world” problems. So I do my best to approach my political principles from the perspective of the other … the poor, the shunned, the ill, and all those who are non-white, non-Christian, and of non-European decent. I don’t claim to succeed, but I try … Just as I try to understand the other side.

So, Norman, it’s more important for me to be “on the side” of the marginalized than those who have the power and privilege. I will continually fight for help for the poor … Especially those caught in the generational cycles of poverty, those who suffer food insecurity, those who are mentally and physically ill. There is a way out of poverty, but it is not self-reliance; it is we reliance. Only the recognition of the interdependency of us all, will make a dent in fighting poverty. We have all “made it” only because others have helped us along the way. Education, I believe, is another major force here. Not just knowledge, but the ability to reason, to think outside the box, to be exposed to others and new ideas, to form mentor relationships with teachers and older peers … these are the keys to moving out of what you call “cradle to grave entitlement.”

So, yes, I am pro-effective-government … I believe it’s the only institution with the wherewithal to actually fight poverty and uphold the rights of all the people. I honor the Constitution, but just like scripture I realize its interpretation is not as cut and dry as it appears. And it changes as times change. I am disgusted by the corruption, by the idiocy of so many of our bureaucratic policies and procedures, and by the incredible incompetence of both Republicans and Democrats. We need reform, but the reform doesn’t need to shrink the scope of government, just to make it more efficient and effective.

I believe we should hold people … all people … responsible for their actions … Elected, appointed, hired or volunteer. But our government is not separate from every one of us. It is OUR responsibility to deal with the brokenness of our politics, our laws, our systems. Democracy is good … IF voters think more deeply than sound bites or Facebook memes, if every voter is well educated, and if every voter seeks to elect women and men who understand that public service is not about exploiting power for the benefit of contributors, rather its about serving the common good of ALL people.

I am passionate about freedom of religion (or non-religion), and I believe in the separation of church and state … which leads me to advocate for those who’s faith (or lack of it) is ostracized … Muslims, Hindi, Atheists, New Agers, etc. Therefore, I don’t fight for prayer in school or the teaching of creationism. And I don’t believe the state has the right to debate the “sanctity” of marriage … that is a discussion for faith communities; the legality of recognizing family in legal and civil matters is the realm of government.

I do think we are raping the earth in our consumption of fossil fuels. We are not considering the impact we have for generations to come. I am an advocate for alternative and renewable sources of energy … I don’t think that Republicans all want dirty air and water, but I am convinced that our energy policies are more about the bottom line of big oil in the short term than in leading us to a place of sustainability in the long term.

All in all, I would characterize myself as leaning more pro big government and anti big business. I trust the ideology of democracy a whole lot more than capitalism. I am suspect of a system that values economic advantages for stockholders over the quality of life for poor and working classes. Every worker deserves a livable wage, and our minimum wage doesn’t cut it. And those who cannot find work, need counseling, education, apprenticeships, etc. to learn new skills in a highly dynamic market.

I value the safety of all people. I am a self-avowed pacifist … there is never a justifiable use of violence or war. While I understand the reasons for some physical resistance and defense, harming another is always an act of our own corporate brokenness. I think the way we treat “the stranger” in this country is at times diabolical. To deport young people who were raised in the USA to countries which they cannot even remember to break up families who love and depend on each other because one hadn’t filed the right papers or paid the right price is cruel and unusual punishment. We need to understand the Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans and more who risk everything to sneak into our nation are the entrepreneurial (ambitious and motivated) men and women this nation was founded on.

I will support our president … Even when I don’t agree with his tactics. I don’t know if Obama had a hand in the IRS debacle. As an executive leader of the church, I know that those with more responsibility can only work efficiently through delegation of tasks and responsibilities … And when we do that right, we often are not in the loop until the media questions us … That his supporters were aware of it, I’m sure, that Obama, himself, was calling the shots, I doubt it.

The concept of transparency in leadership is a goal, but we cannot ever achieve it … Because we also believe in privacy and upholding confidentiality, there are many time when the line between transparency and over sharing is a fine line to see … Sometimes we only see it after we’ve made the step over and tripped up.

I love this country, I’m an American, and a Christian ( of the Presbyterian variety), I am a libertarian in some things, an activist in others, I’m a socialist in the areas of health care, public utilities, roads (and rest areas) and other infrastructure, transportation, and education.

My rose colored glasses do color the way I see the world. But I can see, and I can challenge and question, and state other opinion and ideas. I know I can only see dimly, but I’m watching and praying, and doing my part. It is later that we see without our rose glasses, without our blinders, with our new glasses ready to see the kingdom. Hindsight may be 20/20, but as long as we’re moving forward, we see only in the shadow of what’s yet to be.

MOB: 10, 9 days and Counting

In a week Dwayne and I will be heading to Texas for the wedding of the century … well, for us, anyway. Our daughter, Kate, is getting married on June 22.

I told my staff, “no crises in churches are allowed now, not until after the wedding.” I told the chair of the Committee on Ministry when she wanted to talk to me about a church last night, “there’s nothing you can tell me that will take this smile off my face.” Right now, all I want is to wallow in the excitement and in the joy. I want to feel the happiness I share with my daughter and son-in-law from my head to my toes … and I want to dwell in it.

I can’t imagine a more perfect partner for my daughter. Ben and Kate share many interests and activities … performing, gaming, rock climbing, movies, bicycling, comedy, music … yet their personalities complement each other, and their character challenges each other to be and become all they hope and dream together. They bring out the best in each other; and they support each other. In researching our family histories for “the book”, I learned that our ancestors are of the same mind and heart, the families reach back to Ireland, Italy and Germany, the religious foundations are Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Atheist, Agnostic, Spiritualist and Jewish, but the people are the same: hard workers, good (and, dare I say, some quite prolific) parents, and dreamers. They come from a long line of lasting marriages. It’sñ a good match, as Yenta, the matchmaker, would say.

I have been dwelling in memories by looking through photos of Kate throughout her childhood, I’ve been reminded of the days she played in the piles of raked leaves, the day she learned to ride her bike and was heard screaming down our street “We’re going to Macinaw!” I remember her dance recitals and band concerts, her first time on stage at the BLT auditioning for “Secret Garden”, her wondering when she’d ever have a boyfriend, her memorable season playing soccer, her science fair and history fair projects, her Halloween costumes, her stuffed animal weddings, our vacations together … And the list goes on. I smile when I remember, and I smile when I see Kate and Ben together …

To appreciate the fullness of emotion that fills this mother of the bride, though, I have to acknowledge the sorrow as well … like her first day of school, her first date, her high school graduation, the day we moved her to UNT … there is a sadness in letting go. Though Kate has been a responsible adult for years (Kate was always older than her years), until her wedding day there is still a primacy in the mother/daughter bond. Her father and I are her “closest” family. We will never stop being mom and dad, but on June 22 we will yield our primary place in her life to her husband. It’s the culmination of parenthood, in many ways … this letting go. It’s a day of great joy, of course, but it is tinged with loss as well.

I’ve been practicing saying “son-in-law” and thinking of her as Kate Farmer instead of Katie Bailey … It’s getting easier, sounding more right than wrong. I’m glad we’re able to welcome Ben to the family as well … I have liked him since the first day I realized Kate was “twitterpated” by him, the night we spent hours talking about our shared desire for time travel, and seeing his face light up when Kate’s around. And over the past year he has moved from like to love … From Kate’s boyfriend to my son-in-law, from friend to family.

Nine days now … Nine days to enjoy, to soak in the celebration, to smile, and to shed those tears of both joy and sadness … As we prepare for a new stage of life together.

Don’t Call “An Abomination” What I have Called “Love”

What is God up to now?  I love the story of Peter’s vision in Joppa, told in Acts 10.  It shows how following the principals of Christ, the values of Christ and the Good News of Christ, stretches us beyond the law, beyond the accepted and the assumed, and into new and sometimes seemingly unholy places.  “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

It seems to me, this is the vision God is giving the Church and society these days … don’t call “diseased” what I have called “beautiful.”  Don’t call “immoral” what I have deemed “faithful”.  Don’t call “an abomination” what I have called “love.”  As Christians we have a long history of “killing and eating” things that have been previous thought of as immoral.  We have reversed our stance on slavery, dancing, interracial marriage, divorce.  We have constantly been a church that is reformed and always being reformed — not as a “giving in” to societal and secular standards  — but being challenged by them and called further to define the deepness and broadness of Christ’s love.

Now we come to same sex marriage.  Is it God’s intention that the bond of human heart, flesh and soul be reserved only for those of “opposite” or complimentary gender?  I don’t think so.  Gender-based roles and identities have been expanding for decades.  As women work outside the home, as we have the ability to make decisions about child-bearing, as we gain political influence … the masculine and feminine are less defined … and I believe that’s a good thing.  It allows us each to find and explore the male and the female within each of us, and grow into the full human compliment God imagines for us.

Marriage norms have changed over the centuries.  The age of first marriage is higher now than it ever has been.  And sociologists see it as changing from being the beginning of adulthood, to the “crowning” of adulthood.  Marriage, in our western culture, is no longer tied to childbirth or to cohabitation or to sexual activity.  The norm has shifted … so, what is God up to now?

I have a vision in which God’s intention is based more around the strength of the relationship … the respect, the commitment, the love, the self-sacrifice, the faithfulness … than it is around one’s physical gender.  Marriage is a gift … a tool … to help deepen a commitment between two people … to build a foundation of family and community.  God has given us a vision … so get up and go to Ceasarea … God is doing a new thing.

I pray for my state, for our country, and mostly for my Church as we discern what God is doing with marriage in our communities.  “Let no one separate, what God has joined together.”

The painting above of Peter’s vision was painted by Doug Jacques of Austin, TX.  You can read about Doug in his obituary; he died this past spring.

Love changed our minds …

I’m delighted and fascinated by the huge shifts in support of Gay Marriage.  58% of Americans now favor marriage equality.  The shift to over 50% wasn’t that long ago … and in 1988 only 13% approved!  That is a huge shift in a relatively short period of time.  NPR reports that this kind of change is not due to generational shifts; that is, those against Gay marriage didn’t all get old and die.  Demographics in population cannot explain this much of a change in a relatively short span of time.  The truth is that people actually changed their minds.  That’s what I find fascinating. We changed our minds.  At a time when we are so polarized on political issues and it seems as if there’s no negotiation, when we define ourselves as pro-this or anti-that,  when our Facebook statuses and shares are more about telling our friends what we think and supporting our stance than it is about discussion and dialogue … we changed our minds!  Wow!

I hesitate to use the inclusive “we” here, though … because … I’m one of the 1988 13%.  I didn’t change my mind.  In fact, I my greatest hope is that I have the courage of character to change my mind on important human issues when called upon.  I didn’t change my mind, but I did come to my opinion quite like everyone else.  I knew and loved people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Questioning (GLBTQ).

In High School my best friend was bisexual.  We didn’t talk about it openly much.  But, I figured it out, despite my conservative religious upbringing and reputation for naiveté.  We were best friends, after all, and we talked about religion, about our futures, about right and wrong, about what mattered most in life.  We shared our pains and our struggles (most of them) over love and loss.   I was curiously naive, though, I questioned … even in my spiritual journey I questioned “why?” all the time.  I’m sure it drove my pastor crazy.  “Because the Bible says so.” was never a good enough answer for me.  It caused a lot of guilt and pain, but I kept struggling.  God is bigger than our human existence, God is loving, God cares deeply for us and we should care deeply for others.

This is the picture that brings to mind all the love I have for my brother, Matt.

This is the picture that brings to mind all the love I have for my brother, Matt.

 

All of this led me to know in my heart … that God cares about people who are GLBTQ …  their pain is often caused by the hostility of the church, by the shame that becomes internalized in them, by the anger that they cannot share the kind of relationship that is as fully committed in the eyes of the law and of God as heterosexual men and women can.   That pain and the awesome possibilities is what God responds to.  I saw pain and frustration and fullness and imagination in my good friend.  And a few years later,  I saw all of that in my own brother.

Loving someone, knowing their pain and frustrations, longing with them and seeing the world a little more from their perspective us what changes us. Seeing their goodness and knowing their beauty is all part of love.  This kind of dramatic shift of opinion doesn’t come from academic studies or rational debates; it comes from relationships.  It’s not something we decide to change, but it’s something that changes us.  Love changes our mind.

In the late 1980’s I made the commitment to my brother that if he ever found a man to commit his life to, I would be willing to risk my career to perform that wedding.  I meant it … and I mean it … I hope and pray that one day my “little” brother will be able to share the same fullness of love and commitment as I do with Dwayne.   I will continually pray for wisdom and for rationality for our supreme court justices this week … but I also pray for love.  Let them allow their love to change the law … just as it changes us.