Saturday, January 10, 2015

Alcohol and the Episcopal Church

I Never Felt Peer Pressure to Drink Until I Joined the Episcopal Church

The tragic death of Tom Palermo grips me. So sad...and there is no going back. The consequences for his wife and children, family, and friends will be felt and lived every day of their lives. I'm also gripped by complex and, at times, conflicting feelings about Bishop Heather Cook. The consequences for her will also be felt for the rest of her life -- she will probably go to jail for a number of years; she will be disciplined in some way by the Church as our process goes forward -- but more than this, she will live with the reality that she killed someone while drunk. The texting is beside the point. The drinking led to unsafe driving practices.

In news stories and comments that I have read, I'm hearing about the need for accountability, and indeed there is a need. In fact, some are posting audio of a sermon given by Heather Cook, in which she speaks of the need for people to be accountable in a society that often wants to give people "a pass." (Well, that is true if one is white, college-educated, and well-spoken.) But what about accountability for the Episcopal Church? 

Perhaps the Angel in the Alley, the grace to be known in the darkness, will be a serious look at how the Episcopal Church relates to alcohol. And perhaps, Episcopalians and others who struggle with issues of alcohol dependence and alcoholism will seek help, and/or be offered help. 

Sure, we in the Episcopal Church have official policies about having alcohol at Church gatherings. We say that "equally attractive non-alcoholic beverages" be at church events when alcohol is present. There is the official position, but what is the culture in our Church and in our churches?

I never felt peer pressure to drink until I joined the Episcopal Church. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. So many times at church events, when I am offered a glass of wine or a beer, and I decline...immediately the person follows up with, "it's ok, you can have a drink." I usually have to refuse the drink two or three times before the person will let it go. During an interview process for a position in a church, I was offered a drink by a vestry member during the social time before dinner. When I stated that I was "good" with the water I was drinking, this vestry member stated, "We like to drink with our priest." I didn't get that job. 

There is culture in the Episcopal Church of drinking and being proud of it. Now, I'm not saying that drinking is inherently wrong or that no one should drink, but we need to be aware of the messages we are sending by how we act around alcohol and what we say about it. It is easy to drink too much in the Episcopal Church; the over-all culture encourages it. Many times at Diocesan conferences, Council/Convention, I have seen people, leaders in the Church, hungover the next morning. 

The Episcopal Church's culture around drinking did not do Bishop Cook any favors. I pray that those who read this blog, which I acknowledge is just my personal point of view, ...I hope and pray that if you are struggling with alcohol you will consider getting help...and I hope and pray that the Episcopal Church will develop a culture that takes seriously the need to support those who choose not to drink, for whatever reason.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rethinking the Narrative

Why I like Science Fiction and Susan Boyle

I spent many years being ashamed of my childhood. Numerous things happened that embarrassed me, scared me, made me anxious, lonely...alone. I realized recently that I like science fiction, at least in part, because life is not normal in most of the stories. Take the show Falling Skies...after the aliens invaded, there were no more picket fences, lacrosse games, or mom and dad at home for dinner with the family. No, instead the small scrappy band of resistance fighters are on the move, fighting hard, for a good cause --survival; the women don’t spend time putting on makeup because they are working with the men to keep everyone safe. They are in stressful, scary situations, but they work together and they are honorable. Things were so crazy in my childhood that it might as well have been aliens invading, but instead it was alcohol, drugs, broken relationships, and moving all the time. None of this was honorable or for a higher purpose. Until very recently, I thought there were no heroes. But I've been rethinking this...and I've realized that I was the hero of the story...too young to do a lot...but I took care of myself the best I could, and I survived.

I was a really messed-up kid behind all that. I had good moments, especially as I got older, but it is hard to find a picture as a child in which I’m smiling. I learned to stay quiet, not need anything, and get along with whatever was happening. I gained a lot of weight, and by the time I was thirteen I was obese. I also had trouble spelling, which caused my 9th grade social studies teacher to suggest I would be better off in the “basic” classes; the kids in those classes generally did not go to college. And this is why I like Susan Boyle. Whenever I need to smile at the end of the day, I go to youtube and watch the Britain's Got Talent show from 2009 when Susan Boyle walked out on stage, not looking that great and seeming to be anything but talented. And then she starts to sing, and people explode with clapping and positive emotions, even tears of joy for her. Did they see themselves in her? Probably-- that part of themselves that they doubt is worthy...but then she is worthy...and so are they? What a surprise.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Embodied Awareness

Workshops that I recommend. 

This sort of practice has been part of my healing journey.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Still Thinking about Angels in the Alley - the Alley of Depression

The Alley can be Very Dark

With the death of Robin Williams yesterday, I'm thinking about how dark the alley of depression can be. I'm sure angels were there for Robin and for all who have died as a result of the struggles with mental illness. The angels were there, and God shed tears as God embraced him and took him home. Robin's death reminds us that the alley of depression can be very dark - no amount of money or fame provides a way out of the darkness. Even laughter is not enough - sometimes; even faith is not enough - sometimes. In our dark alleys, may we find the angels among us - to be our light - to show us the way. They are there: doctors, therapists, friends, spiritual directors, clergy...who have been yours? Sharing the darkness with even one other person can make some space for light to enter. Sometimes that light takes the form of medication, sometimes on-going therapy, sometimes rehab when self-medication practices become part of the struggle.

The story I've started to tell on this blog, about my childhood, which I described recently in a sermon as featuring divorce, alcoholism, and chaos (and I can add here deep loneliness and fear), it is a story of knowing  God in that alley--some sort of spiritual awareness that gave me strength and hope at the time. I've learned over the years that for me and for many people, when one goes through a dark alley as a child, there is often, perhaps always, work to be done, healing to experience. I'm so thankful for the people who have been my angels, messengers of grace, midwives to grace in my life...grace always there, God's gift to all, but needing an angel to point the way or witness the way forward out of the alley and into the open space.

Three prayers from the healing service offered at my church, Holy Comforter, Richmond, every Wednesday at 12:15pm:

Grant to all who seek your guidance, and to all who are lonely, anxious, or despondent, a knowledge of your will and an awareness of your presence;
Hear us, O Lord of life.

Mend broken relationships, and restore those in emotional distress to soundness of mind and serenity of spirit;
Hear us, O Lord of life. 

Hear us, O Lord of life;
Heal us, and make us whole.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Faithful Followers of this Blog

Dear Friends,

I will post to this blog again! I do want to finish my story of my angel in the alley and reflect upon other experiences of grace in unexpected places. I have also established a Facebook closed group by this name, which I plan to make available in the next month.

Right now I am primarily posting to my new blog for my new church Holy Comforter. You can sign up to follow that blog as well...links to my sermons are found there, along with many interesting reflections and me and others. You can find the blog here

Life Together

I hope that you are well!


Friday, June 28, 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

In God's Time

I am delighted to announce that I have been called to be Priest-in-Charge of Holy Comforter, Richmond, in the Diocese of Virginia. Everything in God's time. I'm coming home to Richmond and to a church I have loved since I was a summer intern there in 1999!