When we tremble and fall down

I was walking to the cafe when I saw the sirens.  Firetruck. Ambulance.  Was someone hurt?  As I neared the entrance they were wheeling him out.  Eyes open, alert, gurney tilted to a seated position.  I didn’t want to stare, I’ve been in similar shoes and I hated the stares.  But as I was looking away, in the corner of my eye I caught the movement.  The trembling shake, the arms not quite settled, and asked myself a question I already knew the answer to.

Walking into the cafe I saw the gawkers still staring out of the window at the ambulance.  Someone asked the waitstaff what happened and the answer to my question was what I guessed: “He had a seizure.”

“Poor thing.”

Yes, it’s a common phrase.  But do people ever stop to think about what they’re saying?

Poor thing.

When did he cease to be a human being and become a thing?  Did he become an object to stare at and to pity the second he fell down convulsing?

I didn’t stay in the cafe.  I didn’t feel comfortable among the pitying gawkers.  I walked around the block, and in my mind I was rushing back to the ambulance to say something.  To tell him, I know what it’s like.  I get it.  Me too.  I see you.  Not as a curiosity, not as an object.  I see you as a person who sometimes trembles, who sometimes falls down, who sometimes needs a hand.

JUST LIKE EVERY ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE STARING AT YOU.  At us.

We epileptics make people uncomfortable when we shake.  We remind people how out of control life is.  We remind them that at any minute they too could fall down, that they’re not as independent as they think they are.  And that reminder, it terrifies them.  We terrify them.  So they distance themselves from us.  We become poor things, Others.

In some cultures the epileptic is honored as a holy person.  Seizures are a sign of connection to the Divine.

In my mind I went back to the cafe and addressed the gawkers.
Can you shift your gaze?
What if, instead of staring in pity and fear, you saw a person having a seizure as your teacher?  As a holy messenger, telling you:
We need one another.
We all tremble, we all fall down, we all need a hand.

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Armchair epilepsy experts

Epilepsy is in the news again in Minnesota, after the head coach of the Minnesota Gopher’s football team, Jerry Kill, had another seizure during a game.  Instead of the typical armchair quarterbacking after a game, commentators and fans are weighing in on a neurological condition most know nothing about and calling for Coach Kill to retire or resign.  The comments follow a pattern familiar to anyone who lives with a disability or chronic illness–not because of what will be said, but because of what won’t be said.

What’s said:

“I just think that for the good of the team he ought to resign.  I mean, he has a duty to the fans!  It would be for his own good to retire.  Really, it’s the best thing to do for everyone involved.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with people with epilepsy!  I’m totally not bothered if people have seizures…”

What’s not said:

“…as long as I don’t have to look at them, or be expected to show compassion when they have a seizure.
…as long as they don’t inconvenience me.
…as long as they are perfect overachievers with inspirational stories of how they overcame all obstacles and never have a bad day.
…as long as they don’t expect me to make accommodations for them.
…as long as they don’t get all “politically correct” and expect me to not make jokes at their expense.
…as long as they don’t expect to make up their own minds about how to live their lives.”

Of course the critics are not going to say any of the above out loud.  They might not even be aware of their own bias, and will vehemently deny any prejudice if you attempt to criticize their words.  But for those of us who live with epilepsy (or pretty much any other disability for that matter), we’ve learned how to translate the language of What’s Said.  We can tell the difference between genuine concern and condescending pity.  Their disguised discomfort from having to coexist with us is not as disguised as they think it is.  And just because they saw a man have a seizure does not mean they’re experts on how he should live his life.

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I’m not defending Michele Bachmann, but…

Michele Bachmann will not be running for another term in Congress.  There will be a lot of celebratory posts online today, and I’m bracing myself for a final round of otherwise thoughtful individuals posting lazy insults based on her appearance, gender, and perceived mental health status.  This happens to a lot of women in politics, regardless of political party,* but it seems to be especially vicious with Bachmann.   There are so many ways one could criticize her Tea Party priorities and her conspiracy theory influenced actions.  Yet when it comes to women we find unreasonable, the quickest route is often to make fun of her appearance (and deliberately publish unflattering photos), to attack using gendered insults (witch, b*tch, c*nt) and to demean by using ableist mental health related slurs (batsh*t crazy, insane, nutjob).  It’s continually disappointing to see people I count as friends and allies so gleefully insult her this way, not realizing that these kinds of insults don’t harm Bachmann, they instead perpetuate stereotypes about women and people with mental health conditions.  It reminds women to keep silent, because women who speak up and say the wrong thing aren’t debated on the merits of their argument, they’re just called a b*tch and told to shut up.  And every time someone says “she’s bats*t crazy” instead of explaining why her beliefs are contrary to basic human decency, that person is feeding the harmful cultural narrative that says that having a mental health diagnosis is shorthand for being dangerous, intellectually inferior, and not worth listening to.

So yay, Michele Bachmann will no longer have the power to pass legislation that harms women, immigrants, and sexual minorities.  Hopefully the rest of us can stop using her as an excuse for making cheap insults and opt for more respectful rhetoric when it comes to talking about how we disagree with someone.

*See also Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, etc.

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a plea and a prayer (on hearing of the death of Matthew Warren)

Associated Press, Published: April 6
LAKE FOREST, Calif. — The Southern California church headed by popular evangelical Pastor Rick Warren announced Saturday that Warren’s 27-year-old son has committed suicide.
Warren’s Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement that Matthew Warren had struggled with mental illness and deep depression throughout his life.

Please, please may this news bring greater discernment in how we treat those with mental health struggles in Christian faith communities.

May the talk of automatic hellfire for suicide victims cease.  

May the blaming of the victims who take their lives cease.  May the judging of their moral strength or depth of faith cease.

May the poisonous theology of the prosperity gospel cease to be a driving force of Christianity.  May we stop equating happiness, wealth, and worldly success with evidence of God’s favor.

May we stop equating deep sadness, despair, and strong emotional outbursts with demonic spirits.

May expressed emotion, tears, and vulnerability not be dismissed as “womanly” or “unmanly,” but honored as human traits.

May those who cry “My God, why have you abandoned me?” be recognized for who they are: The Christ in our midst, begging to be taken from the cross of mental anguish and anointed with soothing balms of compassion and understanding.

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An obligatory papal election post

A few random thoughts about the new pope:

  • Symbolically, it’s incredibly significant that a non-European/non-North American was chosen, regardless of his views.  It’s about time that the leader of the Catholic Church is from a part of the world (Africa, Latin America, parts of Asia) where the majority of the world’s Catholics live.
  • It was nice to hear that he’s known to regularly take public transit and is critical of clerical displays of opulence.  Also nice to read his remarks criticizing priests who refused to baptize the babies born to single moms.
  • Not so nice to hear were reports that he was sympathetic to a dictator.  I want to hear more details about his actions (or non-actions) during the military junta in Argentina before I say more about that.  I hope against hope that he will be candid and honest if more questions are raised.
  • I’m not surprised about his vocal opposition to marriage equality and other conservative views.  Not much else to say, I’m exhausted from anger about stuff like this and feel sort of numb with resignation about the sexism and heterosexism in the church.
  • My inner lapsed Catholic geek is curious about how the Jesuit vow of obedience to the pope is going to work, now that the pope is a Jesuit.
  • On a crass note, he’s old.  That could mean surprising things (a la John XXIII) or just plain weird things (if he resigns and Benedict is still alive at the time, there could possibly be 3 living popes at once).  Or it could mean nothing.
  • Did he name himself in honor of Francis Xavier or Francis of Assisi?  His actions will give us the answer.
  • On a personal note… days like this remind me just how much my life has changed in the past few years.  And how much is the same.  The last time a new pope was elected I was sitting in the office of the Catholic youth ministry program I was in charge of.  One of the weekly activities I did with the teens I worked with was a mock conclave, complete with needle and red thread to count the ballots.  I was immersed in a Catholic church that I already knew did not fully accept me and my views, but I was still in denial, still thought that there was a place at the table for me.  Now, I’ve come to terms with my outsider status, I call myself a Catholic in Exile and no longer try to hold space in a church that doesn’t make room for dissent.  And yet, here I am, watching the live feed from Rome, curious about the outcome, and still the “token Catholic” that many of my friends turn to when they have questions about this church and its sometimes bizarre traditions. This being Catholic thing, it’s hard to shake.

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to be ordained

I was asked to perform a wedding.  I had a lot of the qualifications typically associated with ministers.

Four years worth of undergraduate theology studies.  Three years of graduate level theology and pastoral ministry studies.  Numerous years of paid and unpaid ministry work: leading rituals, composing prayers and liturgies, writing sermons and spiritual reflections, praying with people, and hours of informal sessions of spiritual direction with strangers, friends, and anyone else who heard I was into this God thing and wanted to talk about faith, scripture, the problem of evil, the nature of the Divine, or share a story that  more often than not began with “I used to go to church, but…”  And though it is presumptuous for me to say, I had what I felt (and still feel) is a calling to priestly ministry.

But I lacked the proper credentials to perform a wedding (one that is legally recognized).

During most of my education and training in ministry, I was Roman Catholic.  Being a Catholic and a woman doing ministry work means you can do all sorts of things that a priest or soon-to-be priest does, but only up to a point.  And be careful about calling your work priestly, or mentioning the dreaded “o” word (ordination) in the wrong company.  I was to be a lay minister, not an ordained one, not able to conduct weddings.  So when I left the Catholic Church, I left with the academic pieces of paper that signified my level of intellectual expertise, but no formal recognition of my role as a minister.

I have not ruled out finding another denomination to call my spiritual home, and possibly seeking ordination there if I am called (both by the Spirit and the community of faith).  But in the meantime, I had a wedding ceremony to help prepare.

And that’s the story of how I joined the ranks of the minister ordained online via the Universal Life Church.  It took a few minutes of my time (plus a small shipping and handling fee) and I now have the proper credentials to present to the proper officials so that the marriage will be proper and valid.


Say what you will about these online ordination sites, they take the “priesthood of all believers” seriously, and I love the radically equalizing nature of anyone and everyone being able to join the ranks of the ordained.  After so many years of experiencing the many ways the Catholic Church says “no” to women, it was heartening to receive an “of course!” to my desire to serve as a minister.

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an obligatory splatter painting

mixed media on canvas board (magic marker, acrylic paint, paper scraps)

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