About Me

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I'm pretty much a typist for the Holy Spirit. I try to put those things into words in a blog called Jane's Journey. I have another blog for recipes called My Life in Food. Also Really Cool Stuff features Labyrinths and other things like how to fry an egg on the sidewalk.(first step: don't do it on the sidewalk, use a skillet) Come along with me as I careen through life.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Jesus and Jodi

Warning:  laughter ahead:


The day I met Jodi Haun my life changed forever.

I didn't know it at the time. And her friendship was only the tip of the iceberg.  But that day set in motion a whole sequence of events that changed my life.

And now she has left the earth to go live in heaven forever.  And we will have to figure out how to muddle through on our own. But, my goodness, the woman was a Christian Educator by profession, by lifestyle, by hobby and by habit and if she didn't teach us how to be Christians she taught us a whole lot of other stuff along the way that counts as just the same.  They were inseparable, don't you see.  It was her whole identity and you couldn't identify Jodi without seeing Christ. I can't describe the woman without describing Jesus. Her close friends took to forbidding her to talk about work on vacations or wearing church t-shirts.  

I'm not sure there was any daylight between her and Jesus....except for her rabid love of the Oklahoma State football team.  There might not have been anything Christian in there. Yeah, that might be where she parked Jesus at the curb. 

I met Jodi in 1991.  My pastor had asked me to go to the Synod Youth Workshop and serve as a small group leader.  At the time I assumed my entrance to the world of youth leadership was because I drove a station wagon. I walked into the room as someone who went to church every week and did her best to keep her kids quiet.  I had a Girl Scout troop and we had a lot of fun together.  But that's about as deep as my life got.

When I walked into the room for Orientation at Trinity University in 1991 the first person I encountered was Jodi Hahn.  She wrapped me in a hug that was different from any hug I had ever had before.  It was no bigger nor tighter than others, so I can't analyze it.  But it was different.  Definitely different. But I do remember thinking to myself at the time: "these people are different from any sort of people I've ever encountered before."

And the whole week I got the same kind of hugs from total strangers.  Maybe that was the difference:  people I had never met in my life hugged me like I was an old family member they had not seen in a year. I had, in fact, joined a family.  I didn't realize it at the time but would come to realize it through the years.  I had joined the "Synod Family." That hug from Jodi Hahn was my introduction and I will never forget it. 

Jodi was the mistress of Lights Out. Every time I had hall duty after hours, she was there.  If a kid wanted to challenge her to a rule, she was game. And she would beat them at it every time.   She could spot a flaw in your plan a mile away:  if your light was supposed to be out and you stuffed a towel under your door to hide the light she brought a golf club to push the towel away. Don't even think of hiding a friend in the closet; that's the first place she would look.

She also could operated on far less sleep than I required so I never knew how a lot of these power plays evolved; I was fast asleep, I just know Jodi always won and the kids ended up loving her. She had more energy than anyone else.

But, like all the other Christian Educators, she brought a truck load of equipment that could make an amatuer's head spint.  Things like: staplers, copiers, paper cutters and laminators.  A lot of small group leaders during the summertime were teachers out for the summer but I was just an accountant and that was NOT my mindset.  Post-It notes were about as fancy as I got for a long time until I upped my game and began to bring my own accoutrements. 

But it wasn't the equipment that made the event.  It was the conversations.  and here is where Synod was different from anything you've ever seen.

Two things happened here.  Total acceptance.  And total confidentiality. These two basic principals drove everything else and Jodi was a master at them. 

I know without a doubt that Jodi took a lot of secrets to heaven with her.

At Synod Youth Workshop we worked off a covenant that everyone signed.  It assurred the kids confidentiality.  The layering to achieve this was made possible by arranging the small groups so that no one in the group ever knew the people who were in their group.  A Synod in the Presbyterian Church is composed of large areas; in our case it was Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.  Texas alone has five presbyteries.  It was fairly easy to divide the groups up so that nobody in a group of 10 had ever met each other before. The stated rule is that I cannot break confidentiality unless your life is in danger.  And I never have. 

I never found out if Jodi infected Synod with that special sauce or if it was the other way around. She had already been there ten years by then.  But the two fit like hand and glove.  They were made for each other.  People who have been around the country have told me that other youth events in our country do not possess the same spiritual secret that Synod Youth Workshop has.  I could spend a lot of words if you wanted me to explain it or just tell you that it is the most spiritual experience a youth can have.  

There were two things about Jodi the world needs to know:  She never gave up.  And she knew how to laugh.

I don't know when her cancer started or where it started.  The first I heard was that by the time it was diagnosed it had reached stage four.  And that was over ten years ago.  I have no idea how many  surgeries or chemo or radiation treatments she had.  I only know that she never missed a youth retreat or mission trip that I know of.  And those events are physically grueling.  And she kept going even when she was on a scooter whizzing around running errands for folks.  And that's just the cancer.  Then there's the knees.  She had both knees replaced more than once.  The last time I saw her was a couple of months ago when we gathered around a campfire in the cold evening to inaugurate a new fire circle at Camp Gilmont, her favorite camp.  Even with the weak and bum knees she made it over the rough terrain that most of us needed a hiking stick to negotiate.  

Sometimes her cancer faded into the background and I forgot about it until it startled me by coming into the forefront.

In July of 2013 I noticed the cashier in the dining hall at Synod Youth Workship looked really blue and I asked what was wrong.  I found out she was having chemo treatments for breast cancer and it was causing her to lose her hair.  As we talked I realized it wouldn’t take but about five minutes for me to rustle up a support group of cancer survivors just among the Synod small group leaders I knew personally and before the day was out Shalise had her own personal support group.  We met every year after that on the first day of our week.  When Jodi found out she joined the group and found us more survivors.  It became one of our most hallowed traditions every year to take our picture.


 But, how she loved to laugh!

In January of 2014 I went to the Senior High Youth Connection.  It was a weekend retreat held at Austin College.  Very relaxing, low-key, easy.  I took my youth from Winnsboro and just set them loose and was free to do my own thing.

By this time I had reached that wonderful milestone of being in the game long enough that some of the youth I had led were now in positions of leadership themselves.  And this year Leslie Yager was the Director of the event. She may have felt stressed but certainly having Jodi around helped calm her.  So she ask if Jodi and I could help wash the new communion ware.  

Each small group would have communion as a group on the stage.  I had bought new glass goblets for the groups but we felt like we needed to give them a rinse before we used them for the Lord's Supper. But where do you wash the new goblets in an auditorium?  There was no kitchen.  

So Leslie and Jodi and I took it all to an upstairs bathroom.  It was out of the way and quiet.  Nobody probably even knew about this bathroom.  The bathroom like everything else in the building was in pristine condition.  We're not talking about some dingy 13th century dungeon.  As bathrooms go, if you are going to wash out glasses for the one of the most sacred acts on Christianity I would recommend this one highly.  There was even a baby changing table I could use to lay paper towels out for the goblets to sit and dry.  

Once inside, I noticed immediately it was a smallish restroom. We would be tight on space. And then came the comment:  “I’m not sure I’ve ever washed the communion ware in a public restroom before.” And we started laughing.  And we laughed.  We laughed those great gasping spasms that billow from your stomach while tears run down your cheeks.  Yes, we laughed until our sides ached.

 There are just so many times in youth work that you do the imaginative, off the wall thing that no one in a million years would plan but seems to be the perfect answer at the time and indeed ends up a brilliant move.

Whatever logic appeared within that bathroom seemed acceptable to Jodi and me.  By the end of youth retreats you usually settled for just about any kind of logic and the standards usually dipped pretty low.  We commenced to take the new glassware from the box and wash it.

 But the room was small.  There was barely any counter space.  And that’s when it came to me that we could use the baby changing table.  It opened up to provide us with a nice little table at just the right height. I laid out clean paper towels; everything was very sanitary.

The sight of the glasses there only intensified the laughter.  Then we had a hard time getting the price stickers off the plates until I dug deep inside my purse and found a crumpled and tattered envelope with a disposable lens wipe for my glasses. It looked like it had been run over by a car but it held just enough alcohol that took the sticker right off. We were finding resources all over the places.   You do what you gotta do and you keep going.

Jodi was laughing so hard by this time that she was doubled over.  This changed her balance enough that her new knee started to hurt.  So she went into the handicapped stall to sit on the high toilet for a bit.  Apparently this was a technique she had used before because she said height allowed her to dangle her leg.  I finished up the washing and drying.  We laughed more about communion stories.    

When you’ve been around the block as many times and Jodi and I have you’ve seen just about every comical mistake in the book when it comes to communion.  A theological tidbit here to my non-Presbyterian friends:  Our communion does not consider the elements to be literally the body of Christ.  It’s only a symbol. 

I'm not asking you to believe the same way I do but just accept this as my belief. It is merely ordinary bread and ordinary grape juice that becomes something more through prayer during communion.  Until that prayer it’s still just ordinary bread and grape juice.  And so are the plate and goblets and pitcher we were washing there in the bathroom sink on the second floor of the gym at Austin College.  Ordinary for the moment.  Soon to become sacred.  But not just yet. Does this work for you?  Can we relax now?

Communion stories are always ripe for a good laugh.  There is something inherently funny about the most sacred rite in Christianity having some element of simple humanity to it.  And not just that Jesus was a human but that we are such poor imitations of his humanity, such clowns to his humility, such buffoons.  Sometimes it's a pompous cleric leaving the bread wrapper on a loaf of bread, which can be a mild diversion that can be swept away with a quip.  Sometimes it can go down in church lore like the time the pastor noticed his fly was open but compounded the error when he surreptitiously remedied the situation by quietly zipping his fly during a prayer.  However, in this case, he mistakenly included the communion tablecloth in with the zipper so that as he walked away from the table later he carried the entire table contents with him: bread, wine, chalice, platen, the whole megillah as they say in the Holy Script. 
My final story was my personal favorite: the time someone at my church dropped the bread in the choir loft and it rolled under the organist' pedal as he pumped the pedal:  "Get the bread!  Get the bread!," he hissed as the poor loaf became more and more mangled.  My fingers darted in and out underneath his feet until it was safe to grab the bread.  As I looked at what was left of the Body of Christ all I could think of was that it was a good thing we weren't Roman Catholic.  I plopped the bread back on the plate and kept going.  

God sends us laughter to bless us.  To help us relax when things get tense or we get tired.  The laughter bubbles out and takes a lot of bad juju with it.  Laughter is cleansing. I keep a mental picture of Jesus and His disciples laughing around a table.    In my mind’s eye there is a pizza and some bottles of Coke or Seven-Up, maybe a beer or two, depending on who is around the table.  Maybe some grapes or apples.  Definitely some Girl Scout Cookies.  Either Thin Mints or Trefoils.

As our laughter died down and took an intermission of sorts, Leslie and I started organizing the goblets and plates for each group and prepared to leave, that’s when Jodi finally stood up.  We had forgotten where we were until the automatic flusher went off with her movement and a loud WHOOSH!! rang throughout the room.  And we lost it

If our work of oblation in that upper restroom had been an act of worship, Jodi had provided the benediction. 

Thanks be to God for the life and laughter of Jodi Haun.



Thursday, December 07, 2023

Listening to Each Other

I have such a great variety of friends that sometimes it makes my head spin.  I think it boils down to the fact that everybody on earth is really interesting and I was taught all my life to notice that and embrace it and cherish each person I meet.  

However, I touched the Third Rail yesterday.  I posted about politics on Facebook.  I didn't even tell Beaven because I knew he would say, "Oh, for crying outloud, No Politics!"  I was on the phone with a congregant a few weeks ago when she got into politics and I could hear her husband yell in the background, "No politics!"  It's the unwritten rule of American culture in the current divisive times that you are playing with fire if you talk politics.

I think this is a very dangerous situation and I'd like to find a way through this swamp full of alligators.  Of all my friends I happen to know I am able to love each one of them dearly and I would love each one of them to be able to accept each other.  

I might be naive.  But I have to try.  Social media has been a double edged sword:  The potential has never been greater to uncover the truth or spread love. And the danger of what happens if we pretend this will just "go away" has never been greater.  I don't think these things just "go away." 

Why am I posting now? What got me stirred up?

This graphic showed up on Facebook:

I shared it.
I thought it innocent enough.
I was wrong.
We are living in a very divided world right now.
And I decided that ALL the people who were responding to the post
or who were responding to what they thought I said
or who were responding to what they thought somebody else said
ALL the people who had their own opinion
even when they disagreed with me
or disagreed with each other
I decided that each one of those people needed to be heard
so I'm going to read what each one said and listen to them
and see if I can understand what they are saying
THEN if I agree with them I will say so
and if I don't I will still be respectful
AND if one of my friends answers in disrespect I will call them on it
(I have done it here before)
Because every one gets respected here

Let me start with my friend Jane Aslam and tell you how I met her.

In 2015 I was invited to New Orleans to be part of a press panel to discuss the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina.  As usual, I had misjudged my wardrobe and while most people waiting for the event were wearing professional attire I sat in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel wearing jeans and my Presbyterian Disaster Assistance T-Shirt.  It was bright blue and, while most New Orleans folks were familiar with them, I still stuck out like a sore thumb.  I was early so I got a cup of coffee and sat in the lobby waiting for the conference to start.  While I sat there a Muslim woman in black robes and head scarf walked up to me and leaned down to speak to me.  "I just want to thank you for all you did for us after the storm," was all she said to me.  I answered something standard like "You're welcome" or such.  I was so shocked I didn't have much else to say.  I wasn't really shocked that she thanked me-- actually I was used to that because after the storm, people did that all the time in hardware stores.  But this was ten years later and we were in a fancy hotel and this lady didn't seem like your average New Orleanian. 

But once the time came for the press panel came and I went inside the press room I saw the same woman.  It turned out she was on the panel with me.  I had just met Jane Aslam.  And she ended up being one of the Gulf Coast top experts on Disaster Recovery.  In fact, since we were both named Jane the press called her "Sister Jane" as a sign of respect.  I don't think it's a religious designation in the Muslim faith.  I could be wrong.

And out of the five people on the panel she had the best information on the Katrina recovery, the best answers, the most experience.  The press asked her the most questions. 

But I made sure to sign her up as a friend on Facebook and we have been in touch ever since.  I have come to respect her insights, restraint, and wisdom. 

I went home and looked up what ICNA is because I heard about it a lot that weekend.  Islamic Circle of North America is very active in disaster recovery.  When the city gave a banquet for all the faith based agencies one night up at the Catholic church gym they served 300 people and a good chunk of the folks were Muslim.  

Now, in my variety of friends I have several Jewish friends.  You've heard me speak of my friend, Nancy, who was in Jerusalem when this war broke out.  Another one was there last year for her son's Bar Mitzvah. 

I have progressive friends and conservative friends.  And we have fallen into the bad habit of avoiding politics lately.  A while back politics got so divisive that people had to stop talking about it.  I've had people tell me that just had to "agree to disagree" and leave it at that.  And that's OK.  

But at some point can't we agree that war is bad?  That killing non-combatants is wrong? 

I watched a series on TV about evolution and then read a book on the same subject.  All this thinking of evolution reminds me of all the history museums I've been to that show ancient weapons.  It just seems like aggression is hard-wired into our nature.  It is a natural state of animals, too.  Male animals fight each other for dominance.  Is violence inescapable?

Are humans no better?  Have we not yet figured out a better solution? We have a choice to compete or cooperate.  Or could this be our opportunity to take that next step in the evolution of the planet?  We seem on the path to extinction if we fail.

 And we have a lot to say to each other.  We have already started.  Now, Sister Jane Aslam sent me many words to explain her position.  And I think (I hope) you will all want to hear what she has to say.  She wanted to spare you all a lengthy read so sent it in a Google doc.  I didn't want you to have to go off in Googleland so I'm including it here.  I'll just change the font so you'll know when we're back here with my voice. She has written a goldmine of information.  Do yourself a favor and take time to read it.  I plan to re-read it several time in order to really understand it.  

And let me say one more thing about my friendship with most of the people involved here on this conversation.  I know you all through some sort of faith-based relationship.  In some cases I have prayed with you.  We all share Abraham as a forefather to our faith no matter what it is.  I trust each one of you here in this conversation and I hope you will be able to trust each other as well.

Here are Jane's words:

Propaganda is what it is.  It has a biased and misleading nature, used to promote and publicize a particular political cause or point of view. As related to the issue at hand, it seems that there is enough of it to go around, being spread by all parties involved. As normally found, there are some facts contained therein. I call it “a pearl in a cowpie”. Meaning, a little bit of truth surrounded by a bunch of b.s..  God is watching.  He knows the truth and knows the creators of the b.s..  We will probably never know the entire truth and only the truth.

Therefore it is our responsibility to seek knowledge and to seek guidance (an Islamic directive which we find in the Quran* and in the Hadith** of Prophet Mohammed).  Then we must choose what we are willing to do.  Our intentions and choices, and our actions, are known by Our Creator.  Muslims believe that this is included in what we are judged upon on the Day of Judgement.  (*the Quran is the verbatim message given to Mohammed by the Angel Gabrial (as he gave to Mary, Jonah, Jesus, and others); **the Hadith is the common practices and statements of Mohammed, as recited by observers and others)  The Quran and Hadith serve as guidance to the believers of Abraham, and for the common good of society and life on Earth.

Yes Sue, there are many Palestinians that hate Jews.  Especially among those who have directly suffered at the hand of those who occupy the land of their fathers and forefathers, in Palestine.  Especially those who have been displaced and exiled from the land of Palestine, or who are trapped and suffering inside Gaza and the West Bank.

Not all Palestinians hate Jews.  Some do.  I know both.  Although, most Palestinians (there are always exceptions in everything) hate Zionism*.  (*a movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann.) This political movement has caused suffering for Palestinian families, their land and livelihood, and the land, homes, and gardens of their forefathers for a very long time.  Generational trauma, forced immigration, military occupation, and strong attempts to annihilate their culture and their religion have had an extremely detrimental impact on their wellbeing.  Unfortunately, these actions have been used by evil forces (in Islam we attribute evil to Satan) to cause many to succumb to hate.  Alhumdulillah (Praise God, in Arabic), there are more believers who are relying on their faith in Allah/God to bring them through these struggles (tests of this life) than those who have succumbed to hatred. They are being strengthened and are witnessing miracles. We are seeing many evidences of this in our daily reports coming in from Gaza and the West Bank. (It reminds me of going through the pangs of labor, while zoning out and being strengthened in the embrace of The One who creates us.) My heart aches for them, is almost jealous of them, and prays for them continually.

“From the river to the sea” is the term used by Palestinians to describe the geographical outline of the land of their fathers and forefathers, from which they have been exiled and is now occupied by the Zionist political party of the state of Israel.  This statement is being propagandized to mean “death to all Jews” by those who want to diminish the actual meaning and stir hatred.  Although I have been familiar with this statement and its meaning for many years, I first heard of this degrading interpretation recently.

Hamas is the political party of Gaza. Like the political party of Israel, it is a democracy and has elected officials.  Like the political party of Israel the officials are tasked to support the citizens who live where they live. Even though it is long known and fully recognized that citizens living in the area of Gaza (and in the West Bank) suffer from the military and ruling of the well-supported Israeli occupiers who walk freely in their streets and evict them from their homes, while controlling their resources for daily living and self-governance.  Like the Zionist Israeli government, Hamas has the responsibility for the safety and protection of their citizens.

There are well known bomb shelters and the Iron Dome protecting the Israeli citizens, supported by U.S. taxation and legislation, and elected officials.  There are no bomb shelters (per say) nor defense domes in Palestine.  Hamas supports mass shelters in what we normally call “neutral zones”, such as hospitals, schools, churches/mosques/synagogues, and community centers.  Contrary to propaganda statements that Hammas stores their munitions in neutral zones and thereby uses Palestinian citizens as “human shields”, it is well known that their storage of food, fuel, emergency supplies, defense armory, etc. are to be found in the well known tunnels, underground and protected.  The same place that housed recently released prisoners of war.  This is one of the fundamental evidences of the complaints against the Zionist regime of committing genocide. Neither substantial weapons storage or commanders of war were to be found in any neutral zones.  The basement of the hospital, which was propagandized as being Hammas headquarters were the Administrative offices of hospital operations. The Arabic written “plans” found in the hospital was a calendar of trash pick up.  These are facts according to Doctors Without Borders staff and those who read Arabic. These are facts.  Not propaganda.

Based on ongoing and recent reports from our local (Baton Rouge) community members, friends across the country (U.S), and extended family who were visiting family in Palestine when Israel began bombing, Hamas has assisted (not prevented) in evacuations. When the first bombs fell, there was a minutes-only warning by word of mouth in the neighborhood.  No flyers, texts, television, radio, online warnings as has been mentioned in mainstream media.  Our (extended-) family member’s apartment complex was fully destroyed.  We saw it happen on television.  She is 81-years old, being cared for by her wheelchair bound cancer-stricken daughter.  They heard the panic filled rumors from their neighbors.  Having a premonition, they left her apartment 5-10 minutes before the bombing.  Although, her daughter’s apartment was destroyed within 48-hours, leaving them to seek shelter in a furniture store for several extremely difficult days.  With medicine, food and water running low, they were then forced to evacuate to the south on roads that had been made rubble by Israeli bombs, while bombs were being dropped on the prescribed evacuation path, and with the sounds of snipers' bullets along the way.  They weren’t prevented evacuation by Hamas, they were prevented/deterred by the Israeli government.  (Many more stories and much too much to mention here and now.)

I was privileged to be the Principal of Louisiana's only state-approved Islamic school (at that time) for several years. The majority of our student body was Palestinian when I first started. I have worshipped with the same community for 25-years.  I do not know of any children who were taught songs that reflected hating Jews.  I never heard any songs of such at any cultural gathering where traditional songs are sung.  My son-in-law’s parents were forced to immigrate, leaving their families in Gaza (still there; still suffering while shoved up against the Egyptian border)*.  My grandchild is not taught any such hateful songs. Their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, none, sing such songs.  None of them are taught to hate anyone.  Islam teaches us to overcome hardship through faith and righteous actions. We are taught that suffering is part of life on Earth. We are born to be tested, so that perchance we may be found grateful.  Are they angry at the Zionist political party of Israel and those who support their agenda?  Surely.  Maybe the belief that Muslims/Palestinians hate all Jews is established by propaganda?

*They met in Kuwait, while attending college. - Yes, Muslim women are among the most highly educated women in the world. Islam encourages continued education for both genders throughout their lives.  In Islam, women are prescribed a wide scope of rights, roles and responsibilities: including the right of education, the right to own her own business, the right to work and keep her own money, the right to buy and sell her own property, the right of inheritance, the right to vote, the right of sustenance, and many more.  Of course, cultural machismo common in many cultures and religions can and does impair religious guidance.  Especially among communities who are restricted in travel and limited in educational opportunities.

The whole of Palestine/Israel is currently inhabited by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  It is true that some Arabs live in areas where Jews also live. Although the large majority of them are Christian-Arabs. They staff the hotels, wait on tables, and clean up behind others.  Some Christians and Muslims own their own small businesses in the bazaar.  The second most “holiest” mosque, according to Islam, is located in Jerusalem.  Muslims are commonly attacked by the Israeli military while attending prayer services there, and as recent as this week.  If a Jewish citizen of Israel marries a Palestinian the couple is not permitted to live together in Israel proper (i.e. only in Gaza or the West Bank).  Of course Jews do not live freely in Gaza, as neither do Muslims while under Zionist occupation.

We live in the United States of America.  We have a constitution that allows each of us the freedom to practice our religion, congregate with like-minded people, and the opportunity to share our beliefs with others.  We have laws that attempt to protect us from hate, safeguard our homes and property, and establish a peaceful environment.  Although they are not perfect nor fully adhered to, we each have the opportunity to change them via prescribed processes, and punishments are prescribed for convicted offenders.  Muslims and Jews sometimes suffer from religious persecution in our country (and Christians too). Although abhorrent behavior, it is not a daily or commonly accepted occurrence as it is in Palestine.  It is usually perpetuated by propaganda influenced lobbyists to elected officials, those who are financially invested into warmongering, and/or misled media and social influencers.  It is normally perpetrated by extremely troubled and/or mentally unstable individuals, or by elected officials with extremist/corrupt views within the context of their boundaries. (May God keep us from being among those who are misled and protect us from evil. - Ameen) Most individual Christians and Muslims, and many Orthodox Jews, consider this country to be our united-country.  Most are not looking to establish any new country in the name of their religion.*  Muslims immigrate and integrate.  This is historically part of our religion and why Islam is found all over the world.

* This is why Muslims all over the world created the slogan “Not in Our Name” when ISIS tried to call themselves the Islamic State. The same slogan is now being used all over the world by (non-Zionist) Orthodox Jews and allies of Palestine.

Similar to all prophets, the followers of Prophet Mohammed were persecuted for their beliefs.  Their homes and businesses were seized, their people imprisoned, tortured, and killed, and their caravans were continually under attack.  They were forced to migrate.  They did not fight-back until permission was received by Gabriel, to do so.  They were also given the “rules of war” which include how to treat their prisoners of war, and other guidance. This is why the recently released videos of prisoners of war (“hostages” by agitprop) being released exhibit the kindness and protections that they received while imprisoned.  The complaints of Hamas soldiers raping women and killing babies were debunked by mainstream media, while reporters were being shot and killed.  The possibilities of beheading are a bit higher, due to knives being the primary weapon of war and due to the lack of guns. Though more probable that the jugular vein and windpipe were cut, with an accidental beheading.                  

The current assault between Palestine and Israel is being embraced by Muslims all over the world, due to the long-standing oppression of Palestine by Israel.

Palestine is not being supported by the rich Arab countries in the Middle East because of their economic ties with the United States, which is perpetuating the anger of Muslims all over the world.  Palestine is being supported in the rhetoric of the religious countries of the Middle East that have no economic ties to the U.S. and being hailed as heroes by many.

In Islam, when we see something that is “wrong” we are supposed to try to stop it with our hand.  Else with our voice.  If not possible, then know in our heart that it is wrong: and this is the least of these.  Only God knows the future and only He knows how.  I lift my hands to express my voice, and I pray for justice and peace for all.

Sincere “Salams”,  ✌️

Sister Jane Aslam

Here's Little Old Me, Jane, again............

 I'm going to start out calling this post Listening to Each Other because I believe deep in my heart and soul that this is what we need right now.  We need it individually and as a country and the whole world needs to listen to each other.  Just as I finally figured out that every single religion is based on Love at its core the whole world's most basic need has always been communication. Love and Listening feed off each other.  Each requires the other, each gives to the other.  Love requires Listening.  At the same time Listening requires Love. 


Friday, November 17, 2023

Patience and Percerverance, Part Two

 Here is a a blog I first posted in 2011 and I thought I would update it for 2023.  

The reason I need to update it is because 12 years have passed yet very little has little has changed and I take that as a good sign and I want to thank God for a few things.  

Three days ago, on November 12th, we attended another wedding much like the one I mention here.  Again, it was a wedding of two kids we feel really good about: I knew the bride years ago as a counselor at Camp Gilmont where she has now returned to be the Program Director, Beaven works with the groom at camp on the staff. So both of us know both bride and groom.  I like these kinds of weddings.  I'm starting to think November is a good month to get married.

Yesterday we had a great dinner at our favorite restaurant but instead of an evening meal we had one of those mid-day meals old people have at around 3:30 or 4 o'clock.  It's a small place where the owner knows us and will stop by to talk.  He makes the Creme Brulee' himself and if we go early enough I can have coffee with dessert and it won't keep me awake.  We have officially gotten old. 

Just to give you a flavor of how time has passed here's what I wrote 11 years ago about our anniversary. It's kind of interesting to rummage through our little time capsule once in a while. 

Forty-three years ago I married a man I thought was a dead ringer for Superman, albeit a shorter version of him. Last night I ate dinner with a balding, overweight version of that guy and we spent most of the meal talking about how all the people at our wedding are dead now.

The best man died ten years ago. My bridesmaid became schizophrenic and the maid of honor became a Tea Party Republican. All of the uncles and most of our aunts are gone as well as a good chunk of the guests. About the only ones left from our wedding are the younger cousins and one or two friends.

We spent most of our day apart yesterday and met for dinner at our favorite restaurant in separate cars. We left the restaurant and went to see a movie at the only theatre in town where the popcorn was better than the movie then came home and argued about what we would watch on TV.

In years since I first met Beaven Els we’ve watched about four or five wars play out, depending on what you call a war. As we matured our politics have done an about-turn.  We watched the first man step on the moon together. On November 15, 1969 personal computers didn’t exist and you could walk right onto a commercial plane with no questions asked.

We raised two decent kids and weathered alcoholism, cancer and menopause together. We’ve buried four parents and taken some awesome vacations. We’ve accomplished things we never even thought to dream of and we’ve visited countries we never thought we would find exciting. We’ve remodeled houses with our own hands and learned that we don’t know a damned thing about carpentry but we keep doing it ourselves anyway. About the only technique we’ve really mastered is running wires through walls.

We survived two teenagers and they survived us and we will eat Thanksgiving together without much dread.

I vividly remember my thoughts as we left on our honeymoon: “I know nothing about this guy.” And, compared to what I know now, I didn’t. We quite frankly lucked out. Probably the greatest thing we’ve learned in 42 years of marriage is to have patience and to endure.

This coming Saturday we’ll attend the wedding of a girl we watched grow up in our church. She’s marrying a guy she met on a mission trip who reminds me a lot of a younger Beaven. Forty-two years from now most of the guests at this week's wedding, including Beaven and I, will assuredly be gone. Things Elizabeth and John have never dreamed of will have been invented. They will go places and do things they can’t imagine now.

Life always surprises us. Here’s to Happy Surprises. Here’s to Patience and Endurance. The future is uncertain at its very best but it is never boring. He may not look much like Superman to other people but he still does to me.
What do I thank God for in 2023? For sticking with us when we were busy raising kids and didn't put much thought into our relationship with our Creator.  I thank God for it all, every last minute of it, every single iota from each cloud and ray of sunshine, each smile on my daughters' faces, each tiny victory in our lives, each tiny step in the right direction, for holding my hand when things got overwhelming, for those bursts of inspiration and confidence when it all seemed so improbable.  

Monday, November 13, 2023

You've Got Mail


I sat down to write a note to a friend this morning and the project soon grew.  Now I realized I have much more to say than one small greeting card would hold.

The friend recently moved and the house came with a rotted and dying mailbox.  So when she and her son built a new one it seemed fitting to send her mail.  I didn’t want the mailbox to sit empty and feel lonesome and cold.  Nobody sends mail anymore.  You don’t even get bills by mail anymore.  Everything is electronic.  About the only thing we’ve gotten lately have been ads from guys running for political office out here in the woods.  I think they are the only ones who still believe in mail.

But last night Beaven and I went to a wedding of two young people we both have grown to love through working with them at Camp Gilmont. I have known the bride since she was a counselor at the camp.  At the reception each guest found an envelope at our seat with a note hand written by both the bride and groom.  Guests spent the first few minutes of the reception practically in tears as we read the touching notes that captured our relationship with the couple in a very moving way.  For Beaven and I, the notes touched on what they had learned from us as a married couple on what marriage would be like based on what they had seen in our own marriage.  Given that the wedding was three days before our 54th anniversary it was like receiving an anniversary gift.  We decided our gift to ourselves this year would be to re-read them on our anniversary.

These two coinciding writing events reminds me what a lost art writing anything by hand has become.  I have no idea how many iterations our notes from the bride and groom went through but there were no mistakes in them; nothing struck through or second-guessed, yet they were eloquent while simple.  And this couple wrote probably 100 of these notes. 

I have heard that there were only three or four versions of the Declaration of Independence.  Paper was scarce in 1776.  You didn’t just wad it up and toss it in the trash if you made a mistake or didn't like what you had written.  Once you sat down to write you needed to know what you were going to say.  The changes to the Declaration of Independence were mostly difference of political opinion between Thomas Jefferson,  John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.

I've been de-cluttering our storage spaces.  I ran across the letters my parents wrote each other during their courtship and also the ones they wrote during the war.  I guess Mother packed them.  They are organized by date with a string tying them in packets.  Once in a while I'll pick one out to read and it really captures their personality.  The gift is especially poignant since my mother died when I was young and I never really knew her.  The details are astonishing:  prices they paid for things, slang terms, movies they watched, places they went and relatives they spent time with.  I feel like I'm reading a special kind of history story: my own history.  

Facebook has replaced journaling.  Our lives are lived in paragraphs instead of pages. Because we have the ability to backspace and fix anything we want, sometimes there is far less thought put into what we say before we say it.  Three sentences later we forget an insensitive thought and it is sent to the world for display.

However, because of this same ability, I am now able to easily compose exactly what I want to say to my friend with the new mailbox, then print it in whatever font I choose and size the font as large as I want (the older the friend, the larger the print—my friends are increasingly graduating from 12 point to 14 and sometimes even 16 point print)

I’ve also started stealing graphics from the internet and saving them to use for cards—the same cards that I never actually send since I usually just communicate via Facebook.  The only exception being the friend with the new mailbox.  I think I’m going to need to alert her on Facebook to check her mailbox now. As soon as I mail it.

I know this sounds like a lot of trouble.  Eventually, the paper greeting card will get thrown into the trash or recycled. There is simply not enough room on the planet. Electronic communications really is the wave of the future.  But, for now, for me, sometimes Old School is the Best School.  

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Kin*dom Camp

I had one more camp left in me for the Great Summer of 2022 and it was the best one of all.  It was held at my favorite camp of all, "my" camp, the one I am most proud of, where I spend so much of my time; where my passion lies.  

It would be easy to reel you in by starting off saying that we had drag queens at summer camp.  And I could even post an eye-popping photo that would get your attention.  I might do that later but it would be a cheap trick to get your attention when the camp was so much more than that.  

In fact, when I think of it, in the thirty years I've been hanging around youth ministry there was far less drama or deep anxiety at this camp than any I've seen.  And I really do think it was because the focus of the whole camp was on honesty and acceptance and the kids were more at peace.  And I'll get to that in a minute. But, when all is said and done, this was just summer camp.  That's all it was-- just camp.  Except it happened to be a camp designed for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning kids from the ages of 12 to 17.

One of the most amazing things I've seen in my life was one time years ago I saw a teenager run down the hall and when he got to the end of the hall he jumped up and just flung his body up in the air against the wall.  For no reason.  For the sheer joy of being alive. And that's what camp is for, folks: to celebrate life. 

Kids should have fun. At the end of the day we should all celebrate the joy of being alive.  

I love watching kids have fun.  

There was one camp missing from the universe until this summer.  And then my good friends fixed it.  And I am honored to call these folks my friends:  

Andy, Pepa and Garrett

I knew Rev. Pepa Paniaugua before she was ordained as a minister of the word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).  She was an intern and the Youth Director at our church in Garland. I met Garrett deGaffenreid at one of those youth camps where they have shaving cream fights and kids fling themselves against the wall just for fun.  I met Andy Hackett about three years ago but he's been coming to Gilmont for the Great Gluten Escape longer than that. I think Andy was the one who came up with the idea.  He talked to Garrett, who was a counselor at Gilmont, who talked to Pepa who was busy founding a dynamic new ministry called the Kindom Community.  And here we are.

The whole camp was alive with rainbow flags. They were over door frames.  Ribbons on nametags.  Stickers on t-shirts.  Necklaces.  The kids were allowed to express themselves and be proud in ways they couldn't at school or sometimes even with their family.  Barriers fell almost immediately.  What was interesting to me is that I expected to see romances blossom but it was the same atmosphere of siblings that I saw at every other camp I've been to. We became a family.

It took only a few minutes for me to give up on trying to figure out whether a kid was gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or whatever. It sounds silly to say the obvious: you can't tell by looking and it's a waste of time to worry about it.  The bottom line is that it's just really none of my business. 

There were a few adjustments to make for this camp:

Nametags.  Every morning we made a new nametag as a means of providing the space for campers and staff to explore facets of their identity.  I had to think this one over a bit.  I was used to getting a sturdy name tag when I checked in and using that same name tag all week long.  However, at this camp every morning, everybody made a new nametag. And if it was the same one every day, fine.  If it was the name you were born with, fine.  But if you wanted people to call you something different, they could look at your name tag and know what that name would be. I decided I like this idea.  Camp is the perfect place to test the water for a new identity:  you are somewhere that nobody knows you from your school or hometown, not even your family. You can be whoever you want to be. 

I found comfort that, upon reflection, I realized I really like my name.  I always have. I can't think what I would change it to. But when parents name a baby they have no idea, actually, who they will end up with.  They make a ballpark guess based on anatomy and sometimes, things work out.  However, we are learning this isn't a black and white world and sometimes Dick and Jane names just don't work. And it's not just about anatomy.  Someone soft and gentle could end up with a really loud and boisterous name.  It really is the respectful thing to let a person decide what to call themselves based on who THEY decide they are. Maybe this should be a rite of passage at adolescence, a naming ceremony--kind of like a bar mitzvah. 

Pronouns were the subject of conversation with the staff one meal.  We realized pronouns really have no use in society and will probably fall from use someday.  Pronouns only get in the way.  The older staff, gave up on trying to figure out who was straight and who was gay or trans and even with the pronouns on nametags we found it easier to use "they" and "them". I can't always read nametags without my glasses. Pronouns are really kind of Boomer.

Then we had the bathrooms.  That part was the easiest:

Bathrooms were a lot more relaxed, too.  And a lot simplier.  Every single bathroom was gender neutral. You were expected to go into a stall to do your business in private.  Just like you were instructed to change clothes in private. We only had to tell them this once.  It was pretty obvious. Easy.

Security was tight for this camp. We couldn't take photos of the kids' faces.  This is a standard rule when working with children.  I was used to this rule.  They even have this rule for Alzheimer's patients; I know not to photograph anyone who is not able to consent on their own behalf for permission to publish their picture.   But, in this case, the camp added the request to not geo-tag the location of where we were.  You are seeing this blog only after the camp is over when the rule has been lifted. To my knowledge nobody had made any threats to disrupt the camp but we were in a small town in a red state in a weird time and sometimes the devil just gets bored and goes looking for mischief.  We were the first LGBT camp for kids in the state of Texas.  Nobody had any idea what to expect. 

And, thanks be to God, nothing did happen.  Not so much as a raindrop nor an out-of-sorts honeybee showed up at the camp. I'm not even sure the nurse had to open up a box of Band-Aids.  The raindrop would have been welcomed.  It was hot as blue blazes.

We had about 60 kids and 35 staff.  The staff consisted of counselors, a nurse, a media guy, a mental health specialist, a sensory processing specialist (more on that later), two wise elders, and several pastors sprinkled into the mix by virtue of being parents to the kids or youth sponsors. 

Wise elders?  That's a job title?  That's what they decided to call me and my buddy, Armel, for lack of any actual skills we possessed.  It's certainly better than "Old Farts."  

Armel Crocker is my brother in Christ who used to go to church with me, who went through the commissioned pastor program with me, my study partner and now co-pastor at two different churches in North Texas. When I say that we co-pastor churches together I need to explain a little.  

Most co-pastors are married to each other. And that makes things easy.  However, Armel and I don't even live in the same town anymore. This makes co-pastoring a lot harder. We can't call across the room, "which page was that quote on?"  And the two churches we pastor have two different orders of worship on Sundays thirty minutes apart. In preaching circles this is called a "double-header." We alternate weeks because each of us has another church on the other Sundays as well.  So, we consult each other almost daily during the week to keep up with what scriptures and hymns we're using as well as which congregant has what ailment. Fortunately, Armel has a master's degree in Gerontology to go with his big heart. 

However, Armel is anything but an old fart.  He is a survivor of the San Francisco AIDS Epidemic of the 1980's. I am forever in awe that he is alive. He owned a gay bar and witnessed the worst the disease brought to gay men.  When I asked him how many friends he lost he told me it was too many to count. He has a unique story to tell. He had a front road seat to LGBT history.  So, Garrett invited him to talk to the kids about his time in San Francisco and a little bit about history and the AIDS outbreak.   

Possessing no special talents other than a big heart, I ended up declaring myself in charge of hugs and announced to the kids that if anybody needed a hug I gave really good hugs and would be happy to oblige them.  A little while later a kid came up to me and asked me for a "Non-Homophobic Grandma Hug."  It took me a while to think through what she had asked me because the phrase is a real mouthful.  We had a great hug.  Then the next kid behind her said the same thing.  And by this time it had sunk in.  A Non-Homophobic Grandma Hug.  These kids weren't getting hugs from their very own grandmothers??!!  Their Grandmothers!!  There are More Than One Grandmother out there (actually three because there was a third kid) who are not hugging their granddaughters because the kid is gay.  I have no words. 

But I have hugs. 

Now:  The Actual "Free Mom Hugs" woman; the woman who started the Free Mom Hugs movement is Sara Cunningham and she came to talk to the kids.   She started in 2015 by going to an LGBT pride festival wearing a homemade button that read "Free Mom Hugs."   She just stood around and held out her arms just like I was doing.  It's so simple.  And she got the same reaction I did.  Her first hug was from a woman whose mother hadn't hugged her in the four years since she had come out as gay.  

Sara passed out all sorts of bling to the kids.  And hugs. 

If you want to join her movement, here's the website:  Free Mom Hugs   Visit them later.  Stay here for now.  I have lots more to say. 

Pepa was very clear that she would be treading a fine line with faith.  She made it clear that she understood that some of the kids came from families where faith in a divine being was not part of the family life.  And she addressed it with respect.  But she was also plain that we would be talking a little bit about the bible because she was a pastor and that was her background.  The first day she used the story of Abram and Sarai as examples of people who changed their names.  Kindom Community has a new intern with a Methodist background and the next day she   told the kids one of the best adaptations of the Joseph story that I've ever heard where Joseph has the cool rainbow coat that his brothers are jealous of and his brother Reuben is his ally who takes up for him and prevents the other brothers from killing him. 

There was no escaping the cross, however.  It was everywhere we looked at camp.

They had all sorts of resources for the kids that camp doesn't usually have:  haircuts.  Billed as "gender affirming" haircuts, I found out that they did check with the parents to make sure we wouldn't have any upset parents if someone had their long locks turned into a buzz cut at camp.  And I was actually expecting that to happen but it didn't.  Nobody really changed their appearance too much.  But the two hairdressers who came to cut hair did a really good job. 

They are from the Abstra(kt) Studio in Frisco where they have a Gender Free Haircut Club.

The Gender Free Haircut Club is part of The Dress Code Project, an initiative to provide spaces for lbgtqia+ to find places in their context where they can shop and be safe.... and Abstra(kt) Studio was the first salon in Texas to be part of that program. 

Their stylists, Sarah and Brian, visited us at kin•dom camp 2022. 

Sarah Mendoza (who was one of our stylists at camp) is an official ambassador for the Gender Free Haircut Club. 

To learn more, visit https://www.abstrakt.studio/genderfreehaircutclub

They have my eternal respect for a couple of reasons:  they worked outside in the heat all day so they didn't have to worry about leaving hair on the floor inside the building and because the couple of times I walked past while they worked and overheard snippets of conversations I was reminded of the two great confidants of culture everywhere:  bartenders and hairdressers.  

They had a room set up for kids with sensory processing difficulties. And, now that I've seen it and how successful it's been I have a feeling the camp might make this kind of room a permanent feature.  It added just the right touch and was indispensable for the kids who used it.  My granddaughter has been telling me for the last five years or so that she has a sensory processing disorder that she diagnosed herself during college taking elementary ed classes. We knew she had problems with loud noises and crowds all her life.  The coming attractions for movies were hard for her because they are loud.  We went to a big youth event once and we ended up in the girls' restroom in a stall trying to find a quiet spot where she could find relief from the noise and crowd. So, in that respect, I did have some experience with kids with sensory processing problems.  I wasn't an expert but I had respect for their difficulties.  


And it never clicked until I saw the room. To explain it in simple terms, the sensory room is set up to be a calm place when the world gets too loud and too busy.  And doesn't everybody feel this way once in a while?  For some kids this happens more often than for others.  ...the lights were turned off and it was lit by small LED twinkle lights. They had things of varied texture to touch, each in a separate box: beans, sand, beads..... green plants in the window.  pillows to sit on on the floor.  ....paper to draw on... 

I volunteered to help out in the room and sometimes there could be as many as six kids in the room or sometimes only one.  They seldom talked to each other, whispering if they did; preferring to stay quiet. 

And I'm convinced the room helped.  Because when it came time to get loud, just knowing the room was there, those kids were able to be in the thick of the loud.  And, boy did it get loud on the last night.

Yeah.  OK, Now, I'll tell you about the drag queens. 

 Yes, they really did a drag show.  At church camp.  And nobody died.  And it was the most tasteful, sweet...gentle....loving.......two drag queens and one drag king I've ever seen.

The kids loved it.  Especially when they had a Question and Answer session and gave their questions serious answers:  What is their preferred pronouns?  She and Her when in drag and He and His out of drag.  Is drag their main living or do they have other jobs?  One works as an airline attendant and the other one supports herself in entertainment.  She does voice work in video games.  So the kids asked her which games and which characters, then they asked her to voice the character, and then they went nuts.  Apparently that character is well-known in video games.  We had a Rock Star Drag Queen here.

AND the show ended with one of them telling the kids a bedtime story.  The book was "My Shadow is Pink"  by Scott Stuart. I am not kidding. 

And the message was:  don't let anybody else tell you who you are.  Be yourself. Be who God created you to be. 

Because who are we to doubt the Creator of the Universe, who made the moon and flung the stars into the heavens? 

As I was walking to my room on the last night with my hands still burning from all the clapping, I looked up into the pines and could see the waning quarter moon shining through the trees.  It startled me to hold the two opposites of the artificial world of drag queens with their glitter and sequins and thick makeup in stark contrast to the pine needles and deep sky of the unknown.  How does God hold both at the same time? I was more convinced than ever of God's amazing power and love because I had seen it shine through the rainbow colors of the banners with the promise of God's love.  

God has promised not to destroy the world ever again and gave us a rainbow to remind us of that promise.  We are worth salvaging even when a small minority of us are cruel and hateful.  God came down in person and now I've seen the rainbow banner hanging on an empty cross.  God is here.  Here to stay.  I've seen the Holy Spirit moving all over Camp Gilmont hugging and holding.  

Also, I can't leave without a plug for the group responsible for all of this:  Kindom Community.  Pepa is their founding pastor.  It's a multi-denominational, queer-led, spiritual community that is fully affirming.  Led by the Holy Spirit, the vision of kin.dom community is to be an example of what is possible when

  • all people in the margins are seen, heard and nurtured
  • all people are safe bring their whole selves
  • all questions are celebrated as much as answers
  • inclusion, integration and love are the norm
You can find out more at their website:  www.kindomcommunity

They usually have an invigorating discussion once a month online as well as a treasure trove of recorded videos of past conversations.