Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ministry and More Changes and Growth

There's more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line
--Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine

Third and final installation in my Conversion Plus story

When we moved to San Francisco, we were worn from all the scandal in the church, but still optimistic and hopeful. Scandal--I already wrote about the Spyridon era (which ended, thankfully, soon after we moved to San Francisco) but there was also the Ben Lomond scandal. We had been visiting Ben Lomond since the days leading up to our conversion, and talking with Fr. David about church issues and lots of other stuff. We really enjoyed his company, along with Sergius Halvorson (before he went off to seminary and got married and got ordained....if anyone knows where Fr. Sergius Halvorsen is, let me know! We'd love to hear from him). But then scandal hit the Ben Lomond parish, and almost all of it's clergymen were defrocked. Fr. David avoided it initially, only to be defrocked later on. He made the painful (for us and I'm sure him, too) decision to return to the Catholic church in which he was raised, where he could continue his priestly ministry. He continues in Ukiah, with a small Ukrainian Catholic parish there.

With Paul working at the diocese, we saw more and more politics. We saw things that made us say "huh, I thought the church was for spirituality; what's all this stuff doing here?" But there was good there, too. Working at the diocese really gave Paul a great overview as to how the diocese works.

As for living in San Francisco. I found it to be a very exciting place, though I was still quite wary of it's lifestyle and politics. I had a laugh when visiting my parents' church in central California, and someone asked how we liked San Francisco. I suppose he was expecting us to bemoan all the debauchery, because he seemed genuinely surprised when I answered that we really loved living in San Francisco!

Early on, when we were driving on Market St. in the Castro, Hibi asked, "Mom, what are all those rainbow flags for?" She was five at the time. I was a bit hesitant to delve into the issues of homosexuality, but I have always wanted to be as honest as possible with my children, and Hibi has always been a very precocious child who makes you forget that she's still so young. So, I began explaining that they represented homosexuality and that's when two men or two women get married, instead of a man and a woman, and that God doesn't want anyone to do this and it's a sin. Paul muttered to me that he was having some questions about that, but I said "this is what we believe now." (She doesn't even remember that conversation now....)

We got involved in a homeschool group that I loved. There were all kinds of different homeschoolers: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, secular, those who were sympathetic to religion, those who hated religion. We all were more or less tolerant to each other's beliefs. I got to know one mom who had a daughter who was Hibi's age. I liked both of them a lot, and we both enjoyed their company. I don't remember when I met Melanie, but we joined in September of 1999, and I'm sure I met her sometime soon after that. It wasn't until I was sending out invitations to Hibi's birthday party in March, when I was looking at the group's roster to write out addresses, that I saw that there was a woman's name along with Melanie's name listed as the parents. Hmm??? Melanie brought her daughter to Hibi's party, and my mother was also there. My mom told me later that the little girl had come to her and said, out of the blue, "I don't have a daddy, but I have two mommies!"

So, that made me think. If Melanie was a lesbian, that meant that at least some lesbians were normal people, not freaks as I had thought of homosexuals who were out of the closet, parading their sexuality. Melanie was a wonderful mom. Did she have any less right than me to mother a child? Did she have any less right to be treated as a normal human being than I did? Did she have any less right than I do to live in the companionship of the partner of her choice? Melanie was just another mom, with a great kid and a long-term partner with whom she was sharing life and parenthood. I did a lot of thinking in the months to come. I ultimately decided that what I was taught about homosexuals just seeking more and different kinds of pleasure had to be bogus. Why would they choose this lifestyle where they were ostrasized and treated as freaks? Paul had done some study into the issue of homosexuality, from the church fathers' point of view, and found, to his surprise, that when they addressed the issue they were talking about something totally different than what we call "homosexuality." They were talking about married men who were at an intellectual level far above their wives, because women didn't study back then--they were for cooking and having babies. These men wanted a connection with someone of their own status in life, and therefore took male lovers. This is a lot different from a couple of men or a couple of women sharing life together.

Another thing we were beginning to focus on in San Francisco was the homeless problem. There are a lot of homeless people in San Francisco. We were still pretty clueless about what to do about it. But when it started bothering our children, we knew we couldn't just give them pat answers and try to quell their concern. Their concern was legitimate. It was just something that we started thinking about, for the most part. Paul did organize a group from the church to volunteer a morning at the food bank, and I can remember trying to think of a way to volunteer somewhere along with my children. I had not the desire, nor the money, to leave them with someone else so that I could go volunteer by myself. But I couldn't figure anything out.

And then 9/11 happened. I experienced massive shock, just like everyone else. But what really shocked me, after I had some time to think about it, was the fact that my ideas of pacifism had really progressed, and a few days after 9/11 when people started talking about "getting them" I was even more shocked and horrified. How could we even think of bringing more violence to the world, after we'd just seen this carnage? Why would we want other people's children and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters to have to experience this? It just made me sick, and even sicker to realize that I was in the minority on this. I spun into a deep depression over it. And if I'd hoped for comfort, or at least a different message, from the church, I was sorely disappointed. A week and a half later I walked out of church while the choir sang "God Bless America." It was NOT the message I needed right then--we're great, they're terrible, we're right, they're wrong. We have the right to kill as many or more of them than they did to us. Later, when I was trying to emerge from the gloom that had settled in and my disgust with the church's response, Paul reminded me of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. I gladly got in touch with Jim Forest and became a member of OPF. I was instrumental in getting him out to conduct a retreat at St. Nicholas Ranch, later, when we lived there.

I want to move back to the seminary days....I mentioned a correlation between the revelation on "wives submit to your husbands" and my response to 9/11. I hadn't even thought of the connection until I started writing this out, but I do think they are connected. Submission has to do with violence. It isn't physical violence, but not all violence is physical. I also wanted to bring into this the fact that when I first had a child, I thought that I'd bring her up in the same kind of discipline as my parents did--that is, using punishments, which included spankings if necessary. Thank God for Hibiscus! She totally thwarted that plan. She is a very strong little girl (not so little anymore!) and when she wanted to do something, my telling her not to was not going to stop her. I did spank her, but all it did was make her mad. It did nothing to make her do what I wanted her to do. I finally quit spanking her, just because it didn't work with her. After I stopped, and thought about it, I realized how barbaric it is to hit another human being because they won't do what you want. I'm sure that Hibi has some scars from my treatment of her (she does remember it, even though I quit when she was two) but I hope that it will also help her to see that even mommies make mistakes.

I mention this in correlation with my response to 9/11 because I think it is definitely related. When I stopped dealing with problems with my children in a violent way, I realized I had to look for other solutions. I think our society deals with problems in a violent way, because that's how we've all been dealt with and we can't see outside of the use of violence as a means to control behaviour. The submission thing, along with deciding to look for other solutions besides spanking, took me on a road to seeking out other solutions for bigger problems including global problems.

In October of 2001 Paul was ordained to the priesthood. At his ordination this time, Metropolitan Anthony announced to everyone that as a gift, he was going to take our whole family to Crete with him! I didn't believe I'd heard him right. But yes, he took us to Crete, only a little over a month later, and right after Paul was transferred to work as the director of St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center in Dunlap, CA--an hour east of Fresno. We moved on Dec. 1, and then went back to San Francisco on the 3rd and took off for Crete with Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Anthimos. Wow, what a trip. I mean that in good ways and bad ways! I wouldn't have given up the experience, but it proved a bit difficult to travel with the Met. At the end, Paul told us we had to all go and thank him for the trip. I forced myself to say thank you, because it had been a very difficult time at the end. His response to me was "and thank you for all the aggravation!" Well, the same to you! Honestly, the man could be quite difficult, but I think he (sometimes) had a good heart. It was good of him to give us such an extravagant gift, and the chance to see Crete was wonderful.

We began our tenure at St. Nicholas Ranch on December 20, when we got back, and we began it with a non-functional water heater and oven/stove. And an hour out of town! I didn't get a new range until after Christmas. Thank goodness we could go over to the retreat center to take showers!

When people ask how our time was out at the retreat center, I answer truthfully that we really took advantage of our time out in the country. We had cats, chickens, and ducks. I had a large garden. The kids loved just taking off without even telling me they were leaving, and exploring and climbing hills. I did love it, for a time. But it was so isolated. I enjoyed seeing people who came for retreats, but almost no one came often enough to really see them with any regularity. Zachary didn't mind being isolated, but Hibi did. We had a homeschool group in Fresno, but she just couldn't ever meet any kids out in Dunlap. Seemed the only place to meet kids out there was school. I offered her the option of attending school in the Fall of 2004, just so she'd meet kids and have more structure to her day, and I think she would have done it. But, Met. Anthony decided to ask Paul to come back to the metropolis (same as the diocese, just with a different title now) as chancellor to help him wrap things up for his retirement. He was planning to retire in a year, and it would be only a year in San Francisco and then the Met would assign Paul to a parish (finally! after 6 years out of seminary, a parish assignment!) just before he retired. So, Hibi didn't go to school after all.

I jumped at the chance to move back to San Francisco. I still think there is no place quite like it! We moved back at the end of August of 2004. However, the neat little plans for the Met's retirement began to unravel in November, when he was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma, a particularly aggressive cancer. And it hadn't been caught early enough. Very soon it became apparent that he was not going to live until his retirement. He died on Christmas day.

Now, none of this is what we bargained was a lot of work for Paul and a lot of stress to care for him while he was sick, try to keep the hordes out of his hospital room, deal with wrapping up everything that needed to be wrapped up before his death, and then plan his funeral, take charge over the metropolis in the interim until a new bishop was chosen, and then plan the enthronement of the new bishop and get him up to speed on how things work in this metropolis. I had a couple of people say to me "what a blessing for the Metropolitan to die on Christmas day!" and I think huh, if only you knew....Paul says he doesn't ever want to bury another bishop. There were so many protocol things that he had to learn, because neither he nor anyone else working with him had ever done this before.

And one more thing to deal with, but I'm glad he got his wish, was that permission was finally granted from Fresno county to bury him at the monastery at St. Nicholas Ranch. He had been interred at the Colma cemetary, pending permission, and his coffin was brought to the ranch and we had his funeral there on March 2, 2005, which would have been his 70th birthday.

Things have settle down around here since the new Metropolitan, Gerasimos has settled in. Paul even comes home on time most days! We continue to enjoy homeschooling, basking in the many choices for activities and classes in San Francisco. The kids and I are taking a clay class this semester, and both kids are in scouts--Hibi is in a Girl Scout troop just for homeschoolers, and Zac just started as a charter member of the Sun Scouts, a club for boys started by two dads in the homeschool group. We've pared down our activities to just those two things, because we are expecting to be transferred soon. Hopefully very soon I'll have an announcement up!

I'll back up to our days at St. Nicholas Ranch. I was still trying to think of some way that I could do volunteer work and help bring some change about in the world, and not figuring out what to do. And then Paul started a food distribution, through the Fresno Food Bank. He would go to Fresno and pick up the food, and then we'd sort it into bags of food for each family who came. People would come to the ranch and pick up their food. It was a good start, but somehow didn't feel satisfying to us. We didn't get a chance to talk with anyone--they didn't really want to talk, just wanted to take their food and go. Then we did a Thanksgiving dinner, and they came and sat and ate, and then we had a chance to talk. Soon after that, Poverello House in Fresno, a large homeless shelter, offered to make meals for us to serve. Then we had a meal every month for people to eat when they came to pick up their shares. Then the community building really began. We started to get to know people. Buck was the first--an old-before-his-time veteran of the Korean war. He'd been shot in the hip, and was still wounded. He was trying to get surgery, but not having any luck with the VA. Through a long process where he found out more than he ever wanted to know about bureaucracy, Paul helped him obtain surgery at the VA hospital. We met Tammy, who was a recovering alcoholic, who had had an abusive husband but was now with a good man. She was the only one to ever come to church from the community, and that same week she died and her children were sent back to live with the abusive ex-husband. We met Shonda, who lived on Buck's property. They all lived in tiny, dirty trailers. Shonda lived there with two of her children (she had three others, but they were in foster care). Her boyfriend was in jail, and if her story is right, I'm even more against the patriot act than before....she says he threatened to kill someone, just verbally, while drunk, and that they wanted to lock him up for good because he was a "terrorist threat."

I was very concerned for Shonda's kids, as they really seemed much too docile to me. They didn't move around very much at all, and I could just barely get the baby to engage in a small smile, but no other facial or bodily interaction. I got involved in Shonda's life, both to help her and to keep an eye on the kids. I drove Shonda into Fresno a couple of times so she could visit her boyfriend. I never did figure out what to do about the kids. Call CPS and have them taken away from her? I didn't think there was actual abuse going on, and I don't believe in taking kids away from parents just for being poor.

And then there was Rebecca, who just showed up at our door one day asking for help because she was trying to get away from her abusive boyfriend who had threatened to kill her. She wanted to park her car at our place, so he wouldn't know where she was. We did that, and hoped it wasn't stolen or anything.....Rebecca lived on Buck's property for a time, too, with the boyfriend. She went back to him, then came back to us.....I once picked her up between somewhere on the long road between the ranch and Fresno because he'd dragged her into Fresno and beaten her within an inch of her life, raped her, etc. and she was trying to *walk* back. We brought her to the ranch and she stayed there for a couple of days while we got a shelter bed lined up for her in a safe house. I don't think she ever made it there, though, and I don't remember what she did in the interim, but about a week later the sheriff showed up at our door asking if we knew where she was. We told him to the best of our knowledge she was in this shelter, and by the way did they know anything about this boyfriend whom they'd been looking for? Yeah, he's dead. Problem solved....he had been murdered, and we worried for awhile that Rebecca was a suspect (and that perhaps she had done it, out of self-defense) but it turned out they just wanted to talk to her and find out what she knew.

So, this is what happens when you open your life to others! You find out about a lot of stuff under the surface.

On our second day living back in San Francisco, we were walking to the Muni train, and Paul walked up to Sheri, who was sitting on the ground panhandling, and said "Hi, I'm Paul. What's your name?" and that got us started on opening up our lives and hearts and sharing our food and other resources with the homeless folks on our corner. I won't go into all our experiences here, since I've shared many of them already on my blog.

I suppose that brings us to the current. Where does all this take us? Well, I think I'm a lot more interested in the welfare of real people now, rather than ideals and dogma. We're a family that's interested in living in community with humanity, not just in our own social class. We are interested in global peace through working together and destroying power structures that only hinder relations. And now you know how we got here!

Thanks for reading....I know this has been very long. But I appreciated the opportunity to write all this out, because it's been very clarifying for me. I've seen connections much more clearly from this exercise. And if anyone else finds it interesting, that's just icing on the cake!

And as for growth and change....I hope I never stop growing and changing. I want to be a person who is always willing to consider new things and not grow stagnant and static.


Dawn said...

Thank you for sharing!

Mimi said...

Wow! You put so much into words that I struggle with reconciling - submission, pacificity, parenting, love.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

it sounds like you've adopted a social and politically correct gospel over the clear truth. I never read about you delving in to the Word of God--the bible. It's like it's secondary for you. It seems like your faith isn't so much about a realtionship with the living Christ, transforming you, etc, but more so just adopting whatever you personally want to aspire to.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Sergius Halvorsen is now a priest at Ss. Peter & Paul (OCA) in Meriden, CT.

Molly said...

Elizabeth--what a beautiful and moving story, and one that demonstrates the transcendental nature of compassion. Thank you so much for sharing it!