Everything is a Gift

Another fragment of the mirror ball.

In the early 1980’s I thought I’d found “the one”: Donald, a handsome “almost-former” Jesuit who had left—or taken a break from his preparations for the priesthood—a year or so prior to his ordination. I had never before met a seminarian who, when out of his cassock, dressed like one of the Village People. Needless to say I was smitten. I choreographed a romantic weekend for us in Big Sur, California.

When I say “choreographed”, I mean choreographed.

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Mirror Ball

“In the rabbinic tradition, they talk about scripture having seventy faces. So when you read it, you keep turning it like a gem, letting the light refract through the various faces in and unexpected ways.

“You keep turning the gem turning the gem, seeing something new each time.” 

From What Is the Bible? by Rob Bell

 

 

Before I read Rob Bell’s book, a birthday gift from my wise, dear friend, Lorena (a wonderful book, by the way—funny, challenging, inspiring and insightful), I had begun to think of these essays as the mirror fragments of a disco ball. When the light reflects on one of the fragments, it illuminates a memory of a friend or teacher or family member and I write about it. Each mirror fragment is a piece of the whole of my life. It’s impossible to see the whole at once. The pulsing light that reflects the mirror ball changes rhythm with each new song. Some fragments are illuminated frequently; some are only rarely kissed by the light. The mirror fragments are not illuminated in a linear way, but in a seemingly random way; “seemingly” is the key word, in my soul I know there is nothing random about the illumination of the fragments.

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Mystery School: An Overview

In 1997, as word of my cancer diagnosis spread, the phrases, meant to be encouraging, that I heard most frequently were “You’ve got to fight this” or “you can beat the ‘Big C’”. (Thank you, John Wayne.) The problem is that I did not have then nor do I now have now more than trace amounts of warrior energy. But I tried. I tried really strict eating regimens, even macrobiotic (although not for long), and came to the conclusion that if this is how I was going to eat for the rest of my life, I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to live.

I spared myself the suffering that comes with the question “Why me?” I’d gone through a different version of the question during the worst years of the AIDs epidemic when I found myself asking, “Why not me?” The best answer I could come up with is that God would never give me a disease that has an unexplained weight loss. I kept that conclusion a secret until I let it slip at a dinner with a couple of HIV-infected friends and they howled with laughter at the gallows humor.

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The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met

In the entry hall of my home, in a place of honor, is a lovely, framed, hand-tinted photograph of my paternal great-aunt, Jeanetta (Jean) Hermione Shea. I found it rolled up and bound with a rubber band in the bottom drawer of her dresser when I flew to San Francisco to settle her affairs and clear out her apartment after her death at the age of 99 on Thursday May 28, 1997, the day before my 56th birthday. Written on the back of the rolled-up photograph, lightly, in pencil, were the words, “high school graduation.”  The portrait blesses my home.

Jean died while I was on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco to visit her, which I had been doing every other week for months since she had been moved from her apartment to a hospice. We had said our goodbyes—several times, in fact. At the end of each visit, I would remind her that I loved her and knew that she loved me and that I would return to visit again in a couple of weeks. I also told her that if she felt like leaving before I returned, that was okay, too.

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God Is In The Details

“God is in the details”. -St. Teresa of Avila

At the three way intersection of Vineland, Lankersheim and Camarillo, a five minute walk from my condo in North Hollywood, I noticed that a Chakra Balancing Studio has just opened one door down from the Halal Meat Store. Its neighbors to the south are the Odyssey Video Store (one of the few remaining video rental stores in Los Angeles) and the brand new Black Bottom Southern Café. To the north are Forever Young Pilates, the Fringe No Ho Hair Studio and the Idle Hour Bar and Restaurant which is situated in a two-story wine barrel, that was once home to La Cana, a flamenco bar operated for many years by a neighborhood legend, the reclusive dancer Dolores Fernandez, who lived on the second floor of the barrel.

Between the Halal Meat Store and the Chakra Balancing Studio is a building covered entirely by a weird and wonderful mural. If you look very closely you can find a hidden door painted to blend perfectly with the mural. (I’ve never seen anyone going in or coming out of the door so I’ve never had the opportunity to ask, “What’s going on in there?” I really want to know.

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Quality Time

I could easily write “The Idiot’s Guide to Emergency Rooms,” I’ve found myself in so many over the past 20 years.

There was the ER in Cusco, Peru, where I was delivered by helicopter after falling off of the Inca Trail at Machu Pichu, breaking my right ankle and spraining my left.

I was carried out of the jungle on a makeshift stretcher (heavy blankets tossed over what seemed to be a short ladder) by four Peruvian jungle rangers armed with rifles. Peruvians are, in general, short and built close to the ground. The five-foot long stretcher reflected the difference between my 6’1” height and that of the Peruvians. I was unable to stretch out on the stretcher—either my head would fall off of one end or my injured ankles would dangle precariously off the other. I sat erect on the stretcher as I emerged from the jungle and was borne across the ruins. Fellow travelers took pictures of me as I exited from the wilderness; I could think of nothing else to do than to wave at them in the manner of Queen Elizabeth II. A few people formed a ragtag procession and followed the jungle rangers as we made our way to the infirmary. I was, of course, in shock, so I can’t swear to the fact that a weeping Caroline Myss rushed toward me much like St. Veronica encountering Jesus on the road to Calvary. That said, the memory, hallucinatory or not, remains vivid all these years later.

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Meditation Contemplation and Facebook

Fr. John McNeil S.J.

Father John McNeil, S. J. saved my life in the early 1970s and, nearly four decades later, blessed it. He was unaware of our first encounter, but not of the second.

In the late 1960’s—1968 to be exact—my bride Georgia and I moved to New York with visions of Broadway dancing in our heads. Were it not for Georgia I would never have had the courage to leave home (Denver) and pursue my dreams—dreams that I assumed were our dreams. I am indebted to her forever.

In 1973, Georgia asked for a divorce (in our therapist’s office), which completely blindsided me, as I had spent months planning a celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary.

I was left alone in the room with the elephant of my thus far unexpressed homosexual desires. Good Catholic boy that I was, I had never acted on them. Georgia and I lived in the West Village blocks from the Stonewall Inn and adjacent to Greenwich Avenue, at the time, the biggest cruising street in Manhattan. With my hand on a bible I can swear that it never occurred to me that those men were looking at me.

Without the vows I had made to God and Georgia, I was defenseless against my desires and, in no time at all, I was behaving like a kid in a candy store—and Manhattan, in those days before AIDs, was some candy store!

I went to confession and told a priest that I had had intimate relations with another man and I didn’t know what to do.

“It’s too late to do anything,” was his less than compassionate reply, “You’ve already done it!”

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Resentment & Resilience: Two Faces of America

It is impossible not to contrast the mood of the presidential inaugural on January 20 with the world-wide Women’s March that took place a day later.

In Time magazine’s coverage of the inauguration, David Von Drehle wrote, “Trump’s rallying cry was resentment: resentment of foreign governments and industries, resentment of elected leaders and faceless elites, resentment of the empty factories and haunted cities that define the American landscape as rendered by its new leader. ‘American carnage,’ is how he tallied it all up . . . .”

Another Time reporter, Karl Vick, described the Women’s March differently: “(protest) signs were as bawdily exuberant as the crowds, which inevitably skewed activist but included many who had never demonstrated before, and who experienced in the gatherings both a stirring well of fellow feeling and sudden momentum. . .  Many said it was the best they’ve felt since election day.”

signisaboutyou
Conversations, e-mails and Facebook posts from friends, family and clients who attended the marches continue to confirm the exhilaration and fresh hope that were born of this event.

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Collateral Damage

Some of my Facebook friends may recognize the name Audrey Lockwood. Audrey, a self-proclaimed “male bashing lesbian avenger” and radical feminist, frequently responds to my posts with calls for the destruction of the patriarchy, the absolute rule of women, and the necessity for every woman to know how to efficiently and effectively place a man in a foolproof choke hold. But that’s not all there is to Audrey.

My good friend Audrey Lockwood (she gave me permission to share her photo)

My good friend Audrey Lockwood (she gave me permission to share her photo)

Audrey is a truly gifted poet, a tireless champion to young lesbians and a dedicated patron of the visual arts. She has an unerring eye for beauty—natural and created. She is sentimental about holidays and often wears outfits appropriate to the occasion. Aside from her rants, she posts pictures of octopuses, suffragettes, butterflies, mermaids, exotic birds, female pirates, turtles, and the 18th Century.

Audrey and her spouse, Kittredge Cherry, have been together for 41 years; they met Labor Day weekend freshman year. And that, as they say, was that. They were legally married in 2016. Kitt is an ordained priest and the accomplished author of several books, including Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ and More as well as the editor of the blog, Jesus in Love, which has just moved to qspirit.net.

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Cognitive Dissonance and Conversion

st-teresa

In my last year of college (1963), Father Edward L. Maginnis S. J., the chairman of the theology department offered a seminar for seniors only. I don’t remember how the seminar was listed in the catalogue, but it was popularly known as “Can a Thinking Christian Be a Goldwater Republican.” This class had little to do with Barry Goldwater and everything to do with tweaking Edwin J. Feulner, the student body president who was a zealot and evangelist for the Goldwater brand of Republican conservatism. This was a somewhat quixotic endeavor to undertake on the campus of a Catholic men’s college during the Camelot years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency; the majority of students were resonating with Kennedy’s call to selfless service which aligned so perfectly with the principal raison d’etre of Jesuit education and formation: “to be a man for others.”

The key word in Father Magnnis’s course title is not, Christian, or Republican or even Goldwater; it is “Thinking”! Jesuits take some justified pride in teaching their students how to think thus abdicating forever the power to tell them what to think. Evidence of the Jesuits’ success and, perhaps, the mixed results can be found in the footnote.*

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Artists, Saints and Prophets

hamiltonmusical

In the days immediately following Mike Pence’s attendance at the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” a friend of mine posted an article about the elegance of actor Brandon Victor Dixon’s address to the vice-president elect.

One of her friends replied that the address was inappropriate, rude and disrespectful. Another decried the lack of hospitality toward Pence: “people pay money to attend the theatre to relax and be entertained. They don’t go there to be made to feel uncomfortable.” I have a Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts and no instructor I ever had said anything remotely like that.

I replied to her post: “In the play “Inherit the Wind” a character based on legendary journalist, H. L. Mencken says, ‘It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. This is also the duty of art and artists and saints and martyrs. Early in the week the same friend who posted the article about Hamilton had posted a photo of a birthday card which featured a quote from Pope Francis, “Have courage! Go Forward! Make noise!” I referred to the card in my post, adding “that it seemed to me that this is exactly what the cast of Hamilton did.”

Comfortable art! Even “The Sound of Music” reaches its climax with Captain Von Trapp singing “Edelweiss,” and thereby risking his life to sing truth to power.

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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

JEFFERSON SMITH – “Why don’t you people the truth for a change? People in this country pick up their papers and what do they read?

DIZ MOORE (a reporter) – “Well, this morning they read that an incompetent clown had arrived in Washington parading around like a member of the senate.”

JEFFERSON SMITH – “If you thought as much about being honest as you thought about being smart—“

DIZ MOORE – “Honest! We’re the only ones who can afford to be honest in what we tell the voters. We don’t have to be re-elected like politicians.”

I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old the first time my parents took me to see Frank Capra’s great film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The film was originally released in 1939, two years before I was born. We didn’t yet have television, let alone VHS, DVRs or Turner Classic Movies, but each year The Rocky Mountain News in collaboration with the Vogue, a small theatre in South Denver, sponsored a sort of film festival. The newspaper published ballots and readers could vote for the films they most wanted to see: the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, W. C. Fields (with Mae West) and Frank Capra’s movies (Mr. Smith, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and You Can’t Take it with You) always received enough votes to be screened. And my parents took me to see them.

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Hightlights For Children, Melania Trump and my Sister Judie

highlightsThe magazine, Highlights for Children was ever-present in the doctors’ and dentists’ offices of my childhood. The magazine was filled with games and puzzles. One of my favorites was a puzzle called “What doesn’t belong?” There would be, for example, pictures of a car, a boat, a giraffe, a train and a plane. Which one doesn’t belong? Easy, the giraffe! This wasn’t a condemnation about the giraffe, simply recognition that a giraffe wasn’t a suitable vehicle for long-distance travel.

Shortly after the election, I re-posted another puzzle I saw on Facebook: Who doesn’t belong?” which showed pictures of three previous First Ladies—Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, a picture of the current First Lady, Michelle Obama, and the next First Lady, Melania Trump. The photo of Mrs. Trump was a nude photo. This was a judgment of Mrs. Trump, meant to ridicule and shame her and her husband and call attention to her unsuitability for the responsibilities of First Lady.

Almost immediately, I received this FB message from my middle sister, Judie. Judie, like Mary Poppins, is practically perfect in every way. (That’s neither a joke nor sarcasm, Judie really is practically perfect in every way; anyone who is lucky enough to know her will vouch for this.) Among her talents is an uncanny ability to channel our late mother. She wrote:

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Finding God in All Things (Even this election)

This message was originally sent out to my newsletter subscribers but I was asked to post it as a blog as an introduction to this new section of my blog. 


A long overdue message in two parts.

finding-god-in-all-things

 

 

PART 1

I was fortunate to have an appointment scheduled with my spiritual director, on the afternoon of November 9, the day after the election. I had lost my grounding. I told my director that I needed guidance in how to accept and respond to what I view as a national tragedy.

I was a mess of feelings: heartbreak, disbelief, grief, anger, fear and disillusionment, to name a few.

My spiritual director is Jesuit-trained, as am I; St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, guides his followers to see God in all things. A profound spiritual experience I had in the 1980’s showed me without doubt that everything is a gift, everything is grace.

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Life Beyond A Crisis: Uncovering the Secret Next Chapter of our Lives

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected, love and beauty at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link

My first workshop of the year is sponsored by Stillpoint Center for Christian Spirituality and will be held at All Saints Church in Pasadena, one of the most beautiful venues in Southern California. I taught a workshop there last year about Pilgrimage using the film, The Way. We subsequently produced a self guided workshop based on that day long pilgrimage.

BEstI’m delighted to have been invited back for another workshop this year and I’ve chosen to focus on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Part of my inspiration for the course came from something a good friend said to me while we were having lunch about ten years ago. He was a few days shy of his 80th birthday and while we were sipping wine and waiting for our entrees to arrive he leaned in close to me and said, “You know the mid-life crisis? You have another one to look forward to.” I’ve never forgotten his remark and as I approach the half-way mark of my eighth decade, I’ve begun to watch for signs.

“When old words dies on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders. “
– Rabindranath Tagore

I believe that’s why the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been so popular with viewers—so unexpectedly popular, in fact, that a sequel is set to be released the first week in March. The film captures its main characters deep in the throes of this crisis. It’s most marked characteristic is the shocking revelation that their identities, the life narratives they’ve carefully crafted for themselves are way past their “sell-by” date and they find themselves confronted by the need to discover new meaning, new purpose for their lives.

I hope you will be able to join me. Please do share this information with your friends in the LA area or those who might want to escape the cold to enjoy some Southern California sunshine next month. There is even a Facebook Event created to make it easier to share with your friends.

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected and beauty and love at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link