Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Revisionist history

My favorite picture from last year's NAMIWalk is now historically inaccurate, but grammatically correct. Thanks to Diana for taking the picture and Adam for fixing it. And, for those of you who don't know or remember, the shirt was printed (printer's error, not mine!): "Because mental illness is to tough a road to walk alone." And yes, I got free replacements, but not until after the walk. A grammatically-sensitive person's nightmare!

And no, it's not too early to sign up for this year's walk. The walk is scheduled for the morning of Saturday, October 2nd, in Roger Williams Park. You can join the team here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hard but good

I spent the past weekend in St. Louis doing a training that will allow me to train other people to teach in NAMI's Family to Family program. I blogged about some of my experiences of teaching in this program before. I'll tell you what I've been telling folks for the past couple of days: it was a hard but good weekend. Spending a weekend with people who have a family member with a serious mental illness is never easy. Every family has its own story of unpredictable behavior, difficulty understanding what is going on, struggle to get a clear diagnosis, more struggle for treatment, and a hundred little dark moments along the way. And did I mention the suicide attempts? And, worse, in some cases those were successful. So much pain and loss and grief.

It is hard to hear story after story, and hard to tell your own. It is also incredibly good. I saw and experienced in sort of a compressed way what I have seen and experienced in my Family to Family classes. It is an amazing thing to watch families with these particular kinds of stories find one another, share their frustrations and their losses and somehow discover two very basic truths. (1) We are not alone. (2) There is hope.

Somehow, the goodness of the community and the hope seem to outweigh the pain and the tragedy. Our presence in the room and our commitment to the program testify to that. Everyone in that room was going to go home and keep telling their stories, keep teaching others, keep reaching out to try to give other families a few more resources, a few more skills to get them through. And, probably much more important, the reminder that they are not alone, that there is hope. It isn't easy, but it is good.

(If you want to donate to NAMI, one great way to do that is to support our team for NAMIwalks here.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Good fences?

I've been thinking a lot about fencing in my backyard. I think of it mostly as a way to allow my dog to run around off-leash. But lately, I've been thinking about privacy.

There are two brothers who live in the house behind mine, probably about 13 and 11. I happened to look out my back window the other day and I saw the two of them running around playing soccer. Catch number 1: the older brother mostly stayed in his own yard, but the younger kept following the ball into my yard and running around a bit. Not really a big deal, until the second catch.

Second catch: both brothers were rockin' the oh-so-cool jeans-at-a-level-that-you-show-about-6- inches-of-your-underwear look. The older one wasn't so bad. But the younger one simply could not keep his pants at that level. He kept adjusting them back there when there was a break in the action, but most of the time, he was running around in off-white briefs with his pants around his knees or ankles. Not really a good look on anyone.

So, anyone up for a fence-building party?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Widow's Mite

I know, the story of the widow who gives more than all the rest in giving her two cents is not really a story you hear on the second Sunday of Easter, but here's why this story is on my mind today.

I generally write one check a month for my "tithe" to my church. I put that in quotes because I don't want to imply that I actually manage 10%. But I do manage regular giving, most of the time. I aim for the first Sunday of the month, but many months (like this one), I don't quite manage to remember until a week or two later. Ah well....

So today, I had my envelope ready to go. At the offertory, I handed it to my brother with two thoughts in mind. The first was simple logistics: he was closer to the end of the pew; it just seemed easier. But, secondly, it did cross my mind that it might help him feel like he was giving something. A perhaps overstatedly evil, but not unfair, way to put it: I thought I'd give him the illusion of making a real contribution by letting him hand mine in.

He took the envelope from me but he also dug into his own pocket and pulled out a quarter. I actually almost stopped him. I mean, that quarter means a lot more to him on his fixed income (with his nicotine addiction!) than it does to the parish. I almost told him to keep it.

I'm really glad I didn't. He gave far more than I did, and who am I to stop that? I often find myself wondering what sort of calculus God will use to judge Paul. (Okay, really, it is more primary for me to wonder what battles I should fight with Paul, what to hold him accountable to and what to let go, and only by extension wonder the divine calculus of such things.) But, suddenly it seems clear that the story of the widow's mite must loom large here.

I don't just mean that in terms of financial donations. The widow did not have much, yet she gave all she had. When I pause and think about the way Paul's illness deforms and distorts his own intellectual gifts, even his personality, let alone his finances, I think that surely he is giving all he has. And surely God, who knows Paul and his illness in their fullness, sees his challenges and what he gives in their fullness. And like the widow, may Paul be judged not on how much he puts in the collection basket, but on how he manages to give "all his living" (to twist one translation of the widow's story). For surely Paul gives "all his living" just getting through the day.

And still, somehow, a quarter for the church.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


No, I didn't get my feet washed tonight, and I didn't wash any feet. But I did go to Mass of the Lord's Supper and watched my pastor wash feet. And I found myself thinking about a couple of footwashing experiences I've had, and I thought I'd tell you two stories.

About 10 years ago, I spent Holy Week (which was also my spring break that year) at Andre House in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, Andre House was feeding about 800 people every night. I helped all week. But on Holy Thursday, they did something pretty special. They set up about 8-10 chairs. Anyone who came through the line and who wanted to could sit down and get their feet washed, their nails trimmed, and a new pair of socks.

I didn't end up getting to wash any feet that night. My job, pretty much the whole night long, was dumping dirty water and bringing fresh water so that those who were washing could keep at it. It was a pretty amazing thing to see the folks (at least one priest, some staff, some volunteers) sit people down and treat them with care and compassion. It was actually a very, very profound moment where you saw something that was pretty efficient, and yet everyone was also treated with profound dignity and respect. It was really amazing to watch.

At the end of the night, there was finally no one else waiting, but I had brought more fresh water, and one of the footwashers invited me to sit down and have my feet washed. I gently refused. Funny thing: I have never had so much sympathy for St. Peter! I really didn't feel worthy: not to sit in the same seat that "the least of these" had occupied all night, not to have this young volunteer wash my own smelly feet. He insisted; gently, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. I remember feeling vulnerable, exposed. I remember also feeling soothed, comforted, cared for. It was powerful.

A few years later, I had been drafted into some pretty serious volunteer work at a parish. And the priest and I had a few issues along the way. Quite a few. It was hard. And somehow--I forget how--I was asked to have my feet washed on Holy Thursday. Actually, truth be told, I was pretty much told I was expected. Typical, really. And then, somehow, there he was: humbly washing feet. My feet.

There is an intimacy in this act, and it is hard to be angry at someone who does this for you. It makes forgiveness that had seemed impossible seem possible. It can change everything. It is no wonder that Jesus did this. For Peter. For Judas. For all of us.