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:


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.



Christmas Letter 2012

December 2012

Thanksgiving Friday Dinner is becoming a new tradition in our family.  This year we welcomed eleven people and four dogs to our home for a wonderful meal and great memories.  Dinner began with Wendy’s Dad offering the prayer, giving thanks for the presence and support and love of the family throughout Mom’s illness and death.  It’s been a hard year for all of us, but it’s also been a year of growing together and realizing how much love we share.

Mom died on August 23rd after six months of hospitalization and nursing care.

On the drive home to Texas from Wendy’s installation as Regional Presbyter in Princeton the end of January, Mom realized something was seriously wrong.  A stop at the ER in North Carolina, then a visit with her own doctors immediately upon arrival at home, led her to be admitted to St. David’s hospital on February 15th for the treatment of a serious abdominal infection.  I don’t know if it was the stress of the long winter drive to New Jersey, the relief of knowing Mom was cared for, or just the ticking of time for Dad … when he returned home that evening from bringing Mom to St. David’s, Dad noticed he was experiencing chest pains.  The next morning Dad was having an emergency heart catheterization, Mom was in a room down the hall praying for Dad as she was being treated with antibiotics, and Michael and Wendy were on the plane for the first of many trips to Austin this year.

Virginia Berg
b. July 2, 1942
d. August 23, 2012

Dad was recovering well after a few stents were put in when his heart stopped.  Fortunately, he was being monitored and the doctor was on hand to take him immediately back into surgery; he had a pacemaker installed.  He went home the following afternoon.  Mom, on the other hand, was just beginning her long battle.  Her most difficult surgery was a week later.  The doctors worked together to do some abdominal reconstruction and to clean and treat the ongoing infection.  As her body healed from the surgery per se, physical therapy was difficult. After a few months, the stress became too much and her body began shutting down.  She entered hospice care the week of her 70th birthday, July 2, and died about a month and a half later.

Wendy made five trips to Texas over that time.  One of her trips was a surprise for Kate … On May 28, Ben asked Kate to marry him!  Wendy, Dad, Michael and Terrie were able to be there with other friends and family as Ben took her into a replica of the Dr. Who “Tardis” (a time machine) leading into the University planetarium and sang ? “You’re the one I want to go through time with.”?  Yes, it made this proud mother (and Jim Croce fan) cry.  Oh, and Kate said, “YES!”  So we are in the midst of planning a wedding June 22, 2013, in Texas!  One week later, we’ll host a “Meet the Newlywed” gathering at our house in New Jersey.  The Texas event will be a classic garden ceremony and reception at a boutique hotel.  The New Jersey event will be more like a family reunion and barbecue.

Ben and Kate in front of the “Tardis” through which Ben “popped the question.”

Dwayne couldn’t be at the engagement event in Denton because it was opening night for his New Jersey debut as “Peter” in Company at the Kelsey Theater.  It’s been a year now since we moved and Dwayne has been cast in two shows at the Kelsey.  In January he’ll open in another Sondheim show, Sunday in the Park with George.  In addition to the theater, Dwayne has become active in the worship and music team at the Allentown Presbyterian Church, which is the church he joined this spring.

Dwayne is still working for Eyestreet on government contracts. As technology is developing, he has been able to take advantage of training events in NYC, and conferences in Princeton and Denver to keep learning new developer skills.

Wendy is, officially, no longer the “new” Regional Presbyter.  Working with eighty-eight congregations in two presbyteries is both challenging and rewarding.  The year has been christened, so to speak, by “Superstorm” Sandy.  The work in our congregations and in the presbyteries has been a true mark of grace in the communities in which they live.

The recovery from Sandy will take years on the Jersey Shore.  Hopefully, it will not take as long for the two of us.  Our house did have wind damage; now we know why the previous owners named our homestead, “Windy Acres.” The insurance company agrees with us that we need a new roof.  We had four trees down and some minor damage to our shed and deck.  Fortunately, the brand new hot tub was sheltered somewhat miraculously from the tree, which fell around it.

2013 promises to be a year of celebration, particularly as we prepare for Kate and Ben’s wedding in June.  And we hope to see you … remember you are always welcome at “Windy Acres”.  Our thoughts and prayers surround each of you as we are blessed this Holiday season.

Merry Christmas!
Dwayne and Wendy


Christmas Letter 2012

Dreams from my President

from the documentary, “2016: Obama’s America”. Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza interviews Barack Obama’s half-brother, George.

I watched the documentary, 2016: Obama’s Americathis afternoon.  I know, we live in a polarized society ,and I’m clearly an Obama fan … why would I, Wendy, watch a movie that is bound to make me incensed?

Because my brother and his wife endorsed it on Facebook and I felt I needed to actually watch the film before commenting.  I have to admit, the movie wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it would be based on the hype.  It kept my interest, it showed a sympathetic relationship between the writer/director/narrator and the President in that they share pieces of history.  I thought that was interesting.  (Particularly D’Souza’s assumptions of our nation and his perceptions of us as a child in Mumbai.)  The information in the movie was built on fact; but the interpretations, leaps in logic, and conclusions are largely exaggerated, clearly biased, and at times totally misleading.

There are a few overarching principles in the film, though, that I’d like to address … let’s start with Obama’s relationship with his father.  Not unlike Oliver Stone’s depiction of George W. Bush, Dinesh D’Souza makes great claims about our president’s world view and “agenda” based on his desire to gain love and approval from his father.  Obama’s struggle to understand his identity as a black man growing up with an absent father is, indeed, the angst of the young man portrayed in his autobiography.  D’Souza claims that the man Obama idealized was not the real Barack, Sr.  Of course, that’s true.  The absence of a parent’s human presence in our lives tends to make children either idolize or demonize.  And D’Souza is also on to something when he says that it’s his mother’s view of his father … that mythical story so often shared … which is so influential.  That story of Barack Obama, Sr. was more real and more congruent with the values she hoped to raise up in her son, maybe, than the real facts.  Clearly, the ideals of anti-colonialism shaped our president.  I think that’s a GOOD thing.  And I think it’s a good thing that our leader has not only heard about or studied political revolution, but has, in fact, lived in a place where uprising was real, where poverty was fought against, where social infrastructure was fragile at best.  I’m glad that my president is not one consumed by the “first world problems” that dominate our middle class and affluent lives, but knows the reality of third world problems, and can begin to understand how the two are intertwined.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how D’Souza makes anti-colonialism sound so un-American?  I know, he even articulates the irony when he mentions that America was born in anti-colonialism in our fight for independence from Britain. But our American legends are based on the great stories of colonization.  Every day, here in New Jersey, I’m confronted with our colonial days … the building of churches, of towns, of mills, and farms.  And we are still in denial over the genocide our colonizing waged on the indigenous population.  We can argue, of course, that we brought “civilization” and “progress” and “economic boom” to this land … but is that enough?  is that good?  is that worth the price?  Those are the questions of anti-colonialism.  And the answer is “no.”  Economic growth is not enough of a gain to warrant genocide, slavery, exploitation of labor forces, exploitation of natural resources, and the refusal to treat every man, woman, and child with dignity, respect, and with the ability to decide what’s best for themselves and their community.

We can no longer live in a world in which one nation rules the world.  It is precisely that attitude which breeds anti-American sentiment around the world.  And as our third world brothers and sisters get glimpses of American culture on youtube, Facebook, twitter, and other “world flatteners,”  I can understand how they see ethno-centricism, nationalism, and a consumeristic gluttony which is both intoxicating and infuriating.  This glimpse of “streets lined with gold” is what draws immigrants to our nation; it’s what, no doubt, gave Mr. D’Souza hope.  Our principles and ideologies are, indeed, the “gold” we have.  That all men and women are created equal … and we have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These are to be held high, but should be for ALL people … not just those who have been lucky enough to be born in the United States, or rich enough, or lucky enough, to have been able to migrate here.  We HAVE to work together with other nations and form relationships that are mutual … not dominating.  It is no longer moral to say, “our way or else”.  That is not a strong defense.  It is ignorant of the realities of our world.  We may wish we could return to times of our American imperialism, but we can’t.  In order to be a strong leader, we need to be a strong team player.  It’s true in business, it’s true in family life, it’s true in politics.

One final overarching theme related to all of these issues … racism.  I’m glad we elected our first African American president in 2008, and I hope we re-elect him.  I had no idea how deep the wounds of racism run in our African American brothers and sisters, until I watched my black co-workers cry, literally, sob, in joy on the day of his election and his inauguration.  We’ve come a long way … but we cannot allow ourselves to be convinced that racism is a thing of our past and not still very real today.  It IS real.  It is part of an overt minority who still openly make racist comments, jokes, or violence against people of color.  And it’s a subversive and systemic part of all of our lives.  There is an inter-relationship between racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia.  It’s not enough to look at one man of color in a prominent position and say, “if he could become president,” or “if he could become a writer and movie director,” then “why can’t anyone make it?”  That kind of logic is flawed.  The reality is that we have a huge problem of poverty among blacks in this country, we have a drug war that unduly targets the African American community, we still only pay women 70 cents for every dollar we pay men.  The American dream is still that … a dream … for African Americans, for women, for Latino Americans, etc.  At the end of the documentary, D’Souza implies that Barack Obama’s dream is contrary to the dream of most Americans … it’s not.  It may be contrary to the dreams of most wealthy, white male Americans … for those in power, keeping power is important.  For those in marginalized positions, Obama’s dream is our dream.


In Memory of Mom: Obituary

The Rev. Virginia (Ginnie) Joan Koepke Berg, made her transition to “Summerland” on Thursday, August 23, in Pflugerville, Texas, at the age of 70.

Virginia was born on July 2, 1942 in Jamaica, Queens, New York, to Gertrude and Henry Koepke.  She was the oldest of four children.  The family moved to Uniondale and then to Middle Island, NY.  It was at a Lutheran youth rally in Patchogue on March 10, 1956, that she met the love of her life.  She married Peter Berg three years later on October 4, 1959, in Ridge, NY.

Virginia and Peter built a house in Holbrook, NY, in 1962 where they raised their three children.  She was a dedicated wife and mother who volunteered with the Ladies Auxiliary of the Holbrook Fire Department, as a Sunday School teacher and leader at St. John’s Lutheran Church, and both a Girl Scout and Cub Scout leader.  With a high value on education, Virginia worked hard to finish her GED, and entered college as a mother with three young children.  After persevering many years, she received her BA and MA (1980) from C.W. Post College in Speech Pathology.  She worked for over twenty years as a Speech and Language teacher in Sachem School District.  In addition to teaching she had a private practice as a Speech Pathologist.

Serving people, being a healer and teacher were core to Virginia’s character and life.  Her spiritual journey eventually led her to the Spiritualist Church, and she was ordained as a minister in the National Spiritualist Association of Churches November 30, 1985.  She served as a minister to the following churches: A Temple of Metaphysical Science (Patchogue, NY), A Sanctuary of Infinite Spirit (Smithtown, NY), and the First Spiritualist Church of Austin (Austin, TX).   Under her leadership and vision, the Sanctuary of Infinite Spirit began meeting in her basement in Holbrook, before moving to the Masonic Temple in Smithtown. She was a Trustee and Secretary of the Pine Grove Spiritualist Camp in Niantic, CT, and served there faithfully as a spiritualist worker every summer giving readings, teaching, healing and preaching.  As a missionary on the national level she has also served dozens of churches throughout the country.  In addition to her church work, she was a member of the Eastern Star, Rosicrucians, White Eagle, and Lucis Trust.

In 2006, Virginia and Peter, built their dream house in Pflugerville, TX, complete with a swimming pool, hot tub and waterfall, and moved with their menagerie of parrots to the great state of Texas.

She is survived by: her husband, Peter (Pflugerville, TX); her children, Wendy and her husband Dwayne Bailey (Hamilton, NJ), Michael and his wife Terrie Berg (Holbrook, NY), and Matthew Berg (Chicago, IL); her grandchildren, Michael and his wife Amanda Berg (Medford, NY), Brandon Berg (St. Paul, NC), and Kathryn Bailey and her fiancé Ben Farmer (Denton, TX); her sister Marjorie and her husband Dan Maceda (Washington, DC), and her brother Richard Koepke (Amherst, NY).  She was preceded in death by her parents, and her brother Robert Koepke.

Memorial Services for Virginia will be held both in Texas and New York as follows:

Saturday, September 1, 2012, 2:30 PM at the First Spiritualist Church of Austin, 4200 Avenue D, Austin, TX, 78751.  The Rev. Shirley Williams of the Spirit Lights NSAC, Houston, TX, will be presiding.  A potluck reception will follow the service.

Sunday, September 23, 2012, 2:30 PM at the Masonic Temple, 34 Nissequogue River Road, Smithtown, NY 11787.  The Rev. Patricia Duffield of the Sanctuary of Infinite Spirit NSAC, Ronkonkoma, NY, will be presiding.  A reception with light refreshments will follow the service.

Gifts may be made to the First Spiritualist Church of Austin in memory of Virginia.


Health Care Rights

So today the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Healthcare Act and allowed the individual mandate that all people of the United States must have health care insurance or they will be “fined” or taxed.  And, like I expected, there has been lots of discussion, applauding and complaining on Facebook and Twitter, and, no doubt, around water coolers and coffee pots all day.

If I listen carefully to the criticisms of the decision, I hear a few major themes.  The first is about the requirement to have health insurance or be penalized; the second is about the huge debt this plan will create for us.  Some are focussed pretty myopically on the anti-obama rhetoric that he “lied” about not taxing the working class.  And others don’t think it’s their responsibility to be forced to give “charity” through government health plans.

I’m intrigued by the notion of independence in this country and its connection with freedom and “the American dream.”  I realize we were born with a DNA of rebellion and individual rights.  And I can relate to the “you can’t make me” kind of mentality around how we spend our money and the choices we make in our lives.  I remember when my husband had to register for the draft in the early 1980’s, and I thought, how can this be fair?  I wondered why women weren’t also required to register, and, at the same time, whether I would ever allow myself to be drafted into a militaristic mentality that I believed was at its root sinful.  Yet, being a member of society means we have to require sacrifice for the common good.  I’m still an idealist, but doesn’t age also make us more pragmatic?

The health care issue is intriguing because there are some pragmatic realities.  The medications, the surgeries, the “cures” and the “cares”, are relatively recent technological innovations.  The routine care that my insurance company helps provide for me didn’t exist 100 years ago … daily thyroid replacement hormones, medications to counter high blood pressure or high cholesterol or arthritis pain or pre-diabetes … is providing this care for me my right?  a privilege of class or financial status?  What about cancer or end of life issues?  As the pharmaceutical industry continues to advertise newer medications to correct medical issues we didn’t even have a name for 10 years ago, how much of this is basic care and compassion for human life?  Am I entitled to a $100 cream for the rosacea on my face? what about the psoriasis on my ankle that keeps me awake at night?  Or are these mere “comforts” of the privileged class?   In end of life care, are we entitled to nursing home care through government subsidies?  What about hospice?  Is everyone, no matter their age or mental capacity, entitled to medical subsidies for wheelchairs, power chairs, c-pap machines?  Do we continue to pay for X-rays or blood tests or other expensive tests when we expect a patient is dying?  And in the beginning of life, are young parents of premature babies entitled to government aid when their child amasses hundreds of thousands of dollars of bills for neonatal care?  These are the hard questions we still have to deal with.  And it’s tough for a society to work through these tough questions; it’s easier to say, well, we all have the right to choose for ourselves and we can only choose what we can pay for.  Yet, the compassionate  side of me says everyone should have equal access to the care that will allow a level of human comfort, health, and wellness that we all dream possible for ourselves, especially if the technology and medical treatment exists.

The pragmatic and compassionate side of me is mostly in favor of the health care act and its principles:  that all boys, girls, women and men are entitled to basic health care, and that it’s our responsibility as fellow human beings to participate in the system which provides for it.  Some people say they have “paid” into medicare all their working lives and deserve its benefits.  Yet, most of us have not paid in nearly the amount Medicare will likely pay out on our behalf.  I have been observing my mother’s medical bills as she has spent the past four and a half months being supported by Medicare in an intensive care unit, hospital rooms, operating rooms, imaging labs, rehab units, ambulances, and skilled nursing centers; I don’t know how much money she “put in” to Medicare, but I’m sure it wasn’t close to what the government is paying on her behalf.  It’s the contributions of the younger workers today that are paying for my mother’s care, and I’m grateful.  We couldn’t do it ourselves.

None of us know if we’ll be one of those in skilled care for years or die quickly in our sleep at home, if we’ll slip off a ridge while hiking or sneeze while changing lanes on a highway, if we’ll be one of those who develops MS or a rare cancer.  We can’t plan for it or save for it.  We can’t pay for it ourselves; we have to rely on the mutuality of our civilized society.  We have to rely on each other … and that means we have to give and sacrifice for each other.

A mandate for insurance is a vote for responsibility and for everyone giving our share so that we can rely on each other as we find ourselves in need.  Personally, it seems much easier to me if we had one system in which we all participated … expand medicare to cover everyone … create a new single payer system … but that goes against our capitalistic priorities and belief that economic competition holds us all accountable.  So we have the system we have … a hybrid system  of socialism and capitalism … my hope is that it’s compassionate, just, and accessible to all who need it.

Will it put us in debt?  probably yes … but the rising cost of healthcare will put us all in debt with or without it.  How do we reduce that cost?  Many suggestions are in the health care act … centralized records reducing paperwork and mistakes, birth control for all women (and men) who desire it to reduce unplanned pregnancies and childbirth, a focus on preventative health care and healthy lifestyles.  I would add a cap on corporate profits from health related industries (including pharmaceutical and insurance companies) … I don’t deny anyone the right to make money, but I do think that exploitation of the aging and diseased populations by corporate executives whose moral obligation to next quarters profits takes priority over compassionate care is not the ideal we hold dear as a people or nation.  And if we’re not going to offer one single payer system, then require insurance companies to act more like co-ops … sharing whatever profits with members/customers by reducing premiums.

Then again, we’re going to have to come back to the big questions … the more we advance medically, technologically, pharmaceutically, we need to advance ethically, spiritually, and socially … why is the cost of medical care so high? because we can do so much and we believe that if we know how to cure, we should … that’s the right thing to do … and that requires us all to give.

A Good Choice

I remember the day.  Despite being only three or four years old (it was about the same time in my life that I was having regular play dates with the imaginary “Ding Dong” colony that “lived” with us), I distinctly remember telling my mother that I chose her and Dad.  I was mad at the time, and I was clearly second-guessing my choice.   “I don’t know WHY I chose YOU!” I cried as I stomped my feet and tantrummed off to my room.

The thing is that, just like the Ding Dongs, I actually remember remembering.  I don’t remember talking with one of my imaginary friends, but I remember trying hard to show my dad what they looked like.  I remember drawing a picture.  I can practically smell the Manila paper and feel the chunky Crayolas as I recall that afternoon.  I was attempting to draw my favorite of the “Ding Dongs” … I was so frustrated, because no matter how hard I tried, whatever I drew didn’t look anything like the image in my mind.  I remember remembering.  And, while I still can’t draw a picture of the ding dongs, I do remember how colorful they were and how it felt being around them.

My “parent shopping” recollection is similar.  It wasn’t really shopping, like at a grocery store; my second-hand memory involves something akin to looking at profiles, much like we did when we chose the girls we hosted from AFS.  And I remember talking it over with someone … more like a group of people … who acted like placement counselors, teachers or mentors.  To my three or four year old self, it wasn’t that my parents chose me, so much, as I chose them.  I chose them, not because of DNA, not because we’d be living on Long Island or in the USA, but because of their character, because of the love and opportunity they’d give me, because of what I’d likely learn from them and how I’d be shaped by them.

Now a half-century later, I still remember, and I’m no longer second-guessing my choice.  My parents made me who I am today.

The pile of books my mother brought home from our weekly trip to the public library were always stacked high next to the recliner in the living room.  Mom checked out as many as she was allowed.  She read avidly and most of the books were non-fiction.  She was always learning something, or studying something.  My love of learning and intellectual curiosity definitely comes from my mother.

Mom expected a lot from me.  Sometimes I wish she hadn’t, but she held herself to the same standard. She entered college as an adult with three young children, and she would never settle for mediocrity.  She was on the deans list; she got all A’s.  Some would call it perfectionism; nevertheless, she shaped the part of me that is continually striving for excellence in my work and relationships.

Dad would play as hard as he worked.  He not only passed along the value of working hard and being wholly committed to the tasks and people in our lives, but he was just as committed to fun and play.  Whether it was pretending to be puppy dogs running around the house, building a house with refrigerator boxes and cartons from the mill, playing marathon games of Monopoly, or taking daylong bike hikes through the woods and over streams to get an ice cream cone, Dad taught me the value and appropriateness of play and leisure in our lives.  Even now, I look forward to playing a round of Draw Something with Dad before I fall asleep each night.

Mom’s fun comes in the form of travel.  We didn’t get many vacations when I was young, but we did visit museums and take factory tours, stop at state parks and get away to visit relatives in far off places every chance we got.  As a tween and teen, it was trips to Florida or Boston or Canada that we all looked forward to, and Mom would be the one to research where to go and how to get the most out of our trips.  After we kids were grown, Mom and Dad started doing more international travel … and we had a few shared vacations: running into each other in front of Buckingham Palace and a cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean that fill us with memories.  More than just a love of travel, though, Mom shaped in me an appreciation of culture, places, and people who were different from us.

This appreciation of those who are different is the core of liberal-mindedness I share with my mother.  While some kids are raised to preserve the way things are, my mother shared a vision of a better way – a peaceful and more just world, a love and compassion for those living with poverty or disease or disability.  With Mom, I could always ask my questions, critique the way things are, and work toward a peaceful and holistic future in which all things are good.  Mom gave me a glimpse of heaven, an idealism that I am loath to lose, and a conviction that “with God all things work together for good.”

While Mom’s gifts are the big picture ideals, Dad encouraged a life of day-to-day service.  As a volunteer fireman and EMT, Dad fashioned a pride in me for working through the messy and difficult things of life and for offering up your own safety and security for the well being of others.  There is nothing we cannot face together; we are duty bound to be active in the civic life of our community; we take risks for what is right and good.  These are the qualities and values I gained from my father.  And, yes, even now as we face very difficult times together, our mutual strength and willingness to face the messy parts of life, give us comfort and support.

It wasn’t spoken often, but it was clear, too, that the comfort and support we enjoy while working for good, is clearly a gift of God.  My parents are both people of faith.  I have watched them grow over the years in their love and commitment to a life and hope far beyond the here and now.  Sitting next to my Dad during worship at St. John’s as a child, I remember hearing the passion in his singing, the love of Christ in his prayers, and solidness in his faith.  Even when his belief was challenged and the doctrines of religion were shifting for him, his underlying conviction and love of a God who is both here and beyond, who loves and is good, who forgives and builds up … these are his foundation … and they are mine as well.

From Mom I also received the ability to think theologically, to critique the doctrines of our faith community, to question and to search.  And because of my mom, I will always be searching … in a good way … because whenever we search we are led to new and deeper and richer understandings of Truth, of Spirit, of Love, of the World, and of each other.

I clearly remember that day I screamed in frustration about choosing my parents. I won’t even begin to speculate how real my memory is. The memory is good, though.  It allows me to approach each day with a foundation of intentionality that is life-giving.  Yes, I undoubtedly remember second-guessing my choice, but that was nearly fifty years ago … now there are no doubts.  I am sure I would choose them all over again.  They have made me who I am.  They have made the world a better place.  A good choice.

holding hands

Two People, One Flesh

I’m getting ready to pack up for our trip to Texas.  First we’re heading to Houston for Maegan and Jonathan’s wedding.  I had agreed to officiate at their wedding long before we knew we were moving to New Jersey.  Now I am looking forward to visiting with “old” friends and being present and part of such a special day.

In preparation for the wedding, I wrote a retelling of the creation story we read in Genesis 2.  I’m sharing a copy of that with you here …

In the beginning of time, the story goes,

God spoke,

“Let us make human beings in our image,
make them reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.
And so God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
And God blessed them.[i]

These are verses from the creation story preserved in the first chapter of Genesis.  In the second chapter another story is told that is believed by Biblical scholars to be considerably older than the first.  In this story, God is more personal and intimate.  Man and woman are created not from the cosmic boom of the voice of creation, but by the hands of God himself.

The first person, we’re told, is “hand made,” uniquely inspired, shaped, and formed from the earth.  adamah.[ii] God names the personality after “adamah”, a lump of earth.  The first human being is named “Dust” or “Red” or “Clay.”  Yes, God created the first human being with a name … with personality, ego, conscience, self-awareness, and the same longing for companionship that God, himself, had suffered.  And, although this being is given life and soul by the very breath of God, Clay is alone.

“It is not good for the human to be alone.”  And, so, God seeks to design a suitable companion for Clay. God creates every species of animal on earth and presents them one by one to the human.   One by one Clay accepts them and labels them, but none of them fill the longing in the heart for a friend, a sympathizer and a partner in life.

So God puts Clay to sleep … and takes a piece of flesh, not another lump of earth, but the very flesh and blood of “Clay” … and from that first piece of humanity, God fashions another being … separate, distinct, unique, yet born of the same essence … the same spirit and flesh.  And God introduces this one to Clay.

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

And so it is, that we grow independent of the parents who raised us, and embrace our life[iii] partner … wife, husband, companion, friend, lover … two people, one flesh.

[i] Genesis 1:26-28 paraphrased in The Message

[ii] Hebrew word upon which the proper noun Adam (?????) is based.

[iii] In Genesis 3, the second person is named “Eve,” which is a Hebraic allusion to the word for “living”.