An Open Letter to my LGBTQ friends

I will protect you.

I am only one person, but I will protect you – and here is how I will do it.

I will use my vote to make certain I never elect a public official that will not advocate for and protect you by every means available through our legal system.

I will use my voice to speak out if someone makes a joke in my presence about any member of the LGBTQ community or someone struggling with sexuality issues.

I will use my feet to walk up to anyone who rolls an eyeball, smirks, or engages in similarly disrespectful behavior as you and your husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend are walking hand-in-hand or kissing.

I will use my faith to proclaim the same Gospel proclaimed by my church – that God loves all of His children.

I will use my love to teach younger people the stories of Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, and countless throngs of LGBTQ individuals. I will teach them that labels like “gender” and “sexuality” mean nothing compared to “compassionate” and “accepting of others.”

That is not much, but it is all I can do.

To honor of those of you who feel vulnerable to the world during these dark days…I will protect you. You can always count on me.2050411201-quote-harvey-milk

Birthday Wish to all of you

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it’s not what ships are built for.”

Today is my birthday. In the past 10 years of my life, I cannot believe the “outside of the harbor” choices I’ve made. Ironically enough, given the quote’s nautical nature, I do not consider “moving across an ocean” to be one of the most trans-formative choices.

I learned a new language (something one can do anywhere). I changed my career path (you can also do this where you are, and consider that applicable to all below). Together, my parents and I mended conflicts well before it was too late (today, they are two of my closest, most treasured relationships). I maintained a healthy physical lifestyle and weight, which wasn’t easy when I couldn’t walk. I published a book. I became “Aunt LaLa” to the Ayres Little Men and added a new family (my “Henry” carries their family name). I gave my hair to make wigs for children with cancer…four times. I faced, and continue to face, my fears (crippling stage fright and fear of heights). I watched marvelous sunrises in gratitude and walked through challenging sunsets in humility. On this day in 2011, I converted to Catholicism, which was the single-most authentic decision I have ever made.

Perhaps, some of the most trans-formative trips out of the harbor are those we simultaneously fear and welcome? Though we are afraid, we know we truly have to go – into the vast, seemingly-unending expanse. Someone calls and says, “I have the perfect job for you, but it’s in Lichtenstein” or someone writes you an email and begs, “Can you please take in this rescue dog?” or even “Marry me, my love?” Life changes in one … Augenblick.

One of mine happened on January 22, 2016 when I saw and heard a strong heartbeat from a machine in Bern, Switzerland. It took me about a second to process that was his (Christopher Henry) heartbeat. Sometimes, I guess, that second is all it takes to pick up the anchor and set sail. Fear be damned. Best decision I ever made, pulling up that anchor.

I know it’s tough and scary. Many times in the past 10 years, my ship has ventured out into the sea only to return battered and bruised. Heartbroken. Sea voyages can be treacherous and arduous. There are literal ups and downs that either propel you forward or crush you. It’s difficult to leave the comforts of a tranquil and serene harbor. Ah…but, that’s not what ships are built for.

I like to imagine wisdom from my four grandparents, as I push away from the harbor each time. They have four simple rules for each journey.

“Be bold, Lulabelle.”

                                                                 “Be authentic, Sweet Girl.”

                                    “Be brave, Granddotta!”

                             “Be peaceful, Princess Wawie.”

 You can do it, too.

Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave! Be peaceful.

Last Concert of 2015

I sang my final concert of 2015 last night.

Last night’s concert was  bittersweet. It ends a year of major transition for me, personally, and I believe last weekend began a new transition for us all, globally. This global transition has changed every time I connect to the internet. As Thomas Paine observed centuries ago, “These are the days that try men’s souls.”

As I sat in my dressing room, there was a knock at my door and a dear friend appeared to be with me before the concert. He remarked about the very same things (both)  I previously mentioned and said there was a very interesting “look” happening for me last night.

“It’s as if there is darkness around you, but there is light inside. Chiaroscuro.”

I agree. (Side note – that made me think of The Grant and Durd. Had to completely redo my makeup.)

“See how there is just a small amount of shadow on the wall? That’s manageable. Easy to overcome with your smile.”

A little Swiss man, who would show up to hear me sing if I opened a grocery store, talked to me after the concert and said the same thing. He told me my smile after the last note, which was something I did quite purposely, made him feel like everything would be okay.

Light. We need light. I was given a Texas-size serving at birth.

(Your pictures are below. Thank you for being with me before that concert. You have remained one of my dearest friends throughout some times when the dark and the light weren’t in such great balance.)

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There is a great deal of darkness around those of us who are trying to process the current events in a compassionate, concerned, humanitarian way. What do we do? How do we help? Also, how to we protect – ourselves, our children, and our future?

The answer is not to be found in contributing hate speech, bigotry, racism, or darkness. That is unproductive, unnecessary, and inhumane.  As history has shown us, hate feeds on such answers.

Thoughtful, well-educated, serious people sitting together and creating appropriate, targeted, short and  long-term solutions to the problems we face – that is a solution. Marrying prudence with compassion – that is a solution. When force is necessary, tempering such action with a strong eye on the innocents affected by such force and a plan to deal with their future, which we will directly effect. For every child with which I am concerned, there is an aunt/Godmother/LaLa version of me in Syria who is equally concerned with the child she loves.

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Farewell to 2015 – what a wonderful year of some beautiful music. Jackson, I believe my favorite moment of the entire year happened at Transfiguration when we performed “Blackbird.”

Politics and Church – what could go wrong? Not much. Just everything.

The worst threat to any denomination has always been “the church will fracture due to political maneuverings.” I find this a hollow fear.

A door may close. A program may be slashed. Real estate may be sold. As long as there is one creature that declares a loving God created and resides in his or her heart? The church is alive.

Oddly enough, the ones worried about the fracture are the same in political circles and religious ones – the liberals. The conservatives aren’t worrying about the fracture(s). They are too busy protecting their immediate needs.

Liberals worry about keeping families together and pointing faces toward the future. Conservative focus on defining their “version” of family and pointing fingers in faces.

Conservatives scream about how right and righteous they are. Liberals cower away from declaring themselves “right” or righteous.

Conservatives plot and liberals ponder. It’s always the same. In the end? Conservatives are nodding their heads and liberals are shaking theirs. It’s frustrating to watch.

And it’s painful to watch ugly, old politics come into the walls of sanctuaries. A sanctuary is no place for politics. So much can go wrong during that distraction.

Today’s sermon was a great sermon. Father Paul baptized me 35 years ago and those same big hands gave me communion today. Sure, they call him Bishop today, but I know that smile, those rosy cheeks, and those glittering eyes. He’s TOTALLY my Father Paul.

One thing he said today will stick with me for a long time. I’m paraphrasing the context, but wrote down the quote to be exact.

He talked to us about what exactly it means to receive baptism, confirmation, reception, etc. into the Christian body. He reminded us how important it is to take that grace we are given through the Great Thanksgiving and share it abundantly, unconditionally, and without regard to self. He said it was our duty to take that “into the troubled and broken world – a world that doesn’t have a chance without Him.”

I agree. That is exactly why the plots, schemes, fractures, tears, failures, exhausting and crippling disappointments have no place in God’s churches.

Love one another and within “love” should also be respect, treasure, adore, admire, listen to, comfort, embrace, accept. It’s the very least we can do with what we’ve been given. And we must. The world needs it and it “doesn’t have a chance without Him.”

Focus. The world doesn’t need you to define love. It needs you to show it.

Bishop Paul Lambert and I at Angry Dog (where we unabashedly said grace, by the way).
Bishop Paul Lambert and I at Angry Dog (where we unabashedly said grace, by the way)

Guest blogger: the one, the only Mark Manson “Love is Not Enough”

The blog was written by Mark Manson (original blog post and tons of other amazing posts can be found through this link)  Mark, I’m so appreciative you’d let me share your post with my peeps.

There are many people who need this blog (not that I would know anything about that because I am the poster child for “I seek out only healthy, meaningful relationships focused on respectful reciprocity at all times”) because it does bring the truth into the light. It’s not about shaming anyone, anything, or any previously-held notion of how-to. It’s raw, honest, and real.

So, read. Enjoy. Go to Mark’s website and tell him how fabulous he is (both as a man and as a writer). Then find him on FB Twitter and anything else for which he rightfully deserves followers.

As is usually the case, I probably won’t publish your comments, but I’m happy to pass them along to Mark (or you can, on the original post).

Love is Not Enough

In 1967, John Lennon wrote a song called, “All You Need is Love.” He also beat both of his wives, abandoned one of his children, verbally abused his gay Jewish manager with homophobic and anti-semitic slurs, and once had a camera crew film him lying naked in his bed for an entire day.

Thirty-five years later, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails wrote a song called “Love is Not Enough.” Reznor, despite being famous for his shocking stage performances and his grotesque and disturbing videos, got clean from all drugs and alcohol, married one woman, had two children with her, and then cancelled entire albums and tours so that he could stay home and be a good husband and father.

One of these two men had a clear and realistic understanding of love. One of them did not. One of these men idealized love as the solution to all of his problems. One of them did not. One of these men was probably a narcissistic asshole. One of them was not.

In our culture, many of us idealize love. We see it as some lofty cure-all for all of life’s problems. Our movies and our stories and our history all celebrate it as life’s ultimate goal, the final solution for all of our pain and struggle. And because we idealize love, we overestimate it. As a result, our relationships pay a price.

When we believe that “all we need is love,” then like Lennon, we’re more likely to ignore fundamental values such as respect, humility and commitment towards the people we care about. After all, if love solves everything, then why bother with all the other stuff — all of the hard stuff?

But if, like Reznor, we believe that “love is not enough,” then we understand that healthy relationships require more than pure emotion or lofty passions. We understand that there are things more important in our lives and our relationships than simply being in love. And the success of our relationships hinges on these deeper and more important values.

Three Harsh Truths About Love

The problem with idealizing love is that it causes us to develop unrealistic expectations about what love actually is and what it can do for us. These unrealistic expectations then sabotage the very relationships we hold dear in the first place. Allow me to illustrate:

1. Love does not equal compatibility. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner for you to be with over the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two don’t bleed into one another very well.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who doesn’t treat us well, who makes us feel worse about ourselves, who doesn’t hold the same respect for us as we do for them, or who has such a dysfunctional life themselves that they threaten to bring us down with them.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who has different ambitions or life goals that are contradictory to our own, who holds different philosophical beliefs or worldviews that clash with our own sense of reality.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who sucks for us and our happiness.

That may sound paradoxical, but it’s true.

When I think of all of the disastrous relationships I’ve seen or people have emailed me about, many (or most) of them were entered into on the basis of emotion — they felt that “spark” and so they just dove in head first. Forget that he was a born-again Christian alcoholic and she was an acid-dropping bisexual necrophiliac. It just felt right.

And then six months later, when she’s throwing his shit out onto the lawn and he’s praying to Jesus twelve times a day for her salvation, they look around and wonder, “Gee, where did it go wrong?”

The truth is, it went wrong before it even began.

When dating and looking for a partner, you must use not only your heart, but your mind. Yes, you want to find someone who makes your heart flutter and your farts smell like cherry popsicles. But you also need to evaluate a person’s values, how they treat themselves, how they treat those close to them, their ambitions and their worldviews in general. Because if you fall in love with someone who is incompatible with you…well, as the ski instructor from South Park once said, you’re going to have a bad time.

2. Love does not solve your relationship problems. My first girlfriend and I were madly in love with each other. We also lived in different cities, had no money to see each other, had families who hated each other, and went through weekly bouts of meaningless drama and fighting.

And every time we fought, we’d come back to each other the next day and make up and remind each other how crazy we were about one another and that none of those little things matter because we’re omg sooooooo in love and we’ll find a way to work it out and everything will be great, just you wait and see. Our love made us feel like we were overcoming our issues, when on a practical level, absolutely nothing had changed.

As you can imagine, none of our problems got resolved. The fights repeated themselves. The arguments got worse. Our inability to ever see each other hung around our necks like an albatross. We were both self-absorbed to the point where we couldn’t even communicate that effectively. Hours and hours talking on the phone with nothing actually said. Looking back, there was no hope that it was going to last. Yet we kept it up for three fucking years!

After all, love conquers all, right?

Unsurprisingly, that relationship burst into flames and crashed like the Hindenburg being doused in jet fuel. The break up was ugly. And the big lesson I took away from it was this: while love may make you feel better about your relationship problems, it doesn’t actually solve any of your relationship problems.

The roller coaster of emotions can be intoxicating, each high feeling even more important and more valid than the one before, but unless there’s a stable and practical foundation beneath your feet, that rising tide of emotion will eventually come and wash it all away.

3. Love is not always worth sacrificing yourself. One of the defining characteristics of loving someone is that you are able to think outside of yourself and your own needs to help care for another person and their needs as well.

But the question that doesn’t get asked often enough is exactly what are you sacrificing, and is it worth it?

In loving relationships, it’s normal for both people to occasionally sacrifice their own desires, their own needs, and their own time for one another. I would argue that this is normal and healthy and a big part of what makes a relationship so great.

But when it comes to sacrificing one’s self-respect, one’s dignity, one’s physical body, one’s ambitions and life purpose, just to be with someone, then that same love becomes problematic. A loving relationship is supposed to supplement our individual identity, not damage it or replace it. If we find ourselves in situations where we’re tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior, then that’s essentially what we’re doing: we’re allowing our love to consume us and negate us, and if we’re not careful, it will leave us as a shell of the person we once were.

The Friendship Test

One of the oldest pieces of relationship advice in the book is, “You and your partner should be best friends.” Most people look at that piece of advice in the positive: I should spend time with my partner like I do my best friend; I should communicate openly with my partner like I do with my best friend; I should have fun with my partner like I do with my best friend.

But people should also look at it in the negative: Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviors in your best friend?

Amazingly, when we ask ourselves this question honestly, in most unhealthy and codependent relationships, the answer is “no.”

I know a young woman who just got married. She was madly in love with her husband. And despite the fact that he had been “between jobs” for more than a year, showed no interest in planning the wedding, often ditched her to take surfing trips with his friends, and her friends and family raised not-so-subtle concerns about him, she happily married him anyway.

But once the emotional high of the wedding wore off, reality set in. A year into their marriage, he’s still “between jobs,” he trashes the house while she’s at work, gets angry if she doesn’t cook dinner for him, and any time she complains he tells her that she’s “spoiled” and “arrogant.” Oh, and he still ditches her to take surfing trips with his friends.

And she got into this situation because she ignored all three of the harsh truths above. She idealized love. Despite being slapped in the face by all of the red flags he raised while dating him, she believed that their love signaled relationship compatibility. It didn’t. When her friends and family raised concerns leading up to the wedding, she believed that their love would solve their problems eventually. It didn’t. And now that everything had fallen into a steaming shit heap, she approached her friends for advice on how she could sacrifice herself even more to make it work.

And the truth is, it won’t.

Why do we tolerate behavior in our romantic relationships that we would never ever, ever tolerate in our friendships?

Imagine if your best friend moved in with you, trashed your place, refused to get a job or pay rent, demanded you cook dinner for them, and got angry and yelled at you any time you complained. That friendship would be over faster than Paris Hilton’s acting career.

Or another situation: a man’s girlfriend who was so jealous that she demanded passwords to all of his accounts and insisted on accompanying him on his business trips to make sure he wasn’t tempted by other women. His life was practically under 24/7 surveillance and you could see it wearing on his self-esteem. His self-worth dropped to nothing. She didn’t trust him to do anything. So he quit trusting himself to do anything.

Yet he stays with her! Why? Because he’s in love!

Remember this: The only way you can fully enjoy the love in your life is to choose to make something else more important in your life than love.

You can fall in love with a wide variety of people throughout the course of your life. You can fall in love with people who are good for you and people who are bad for you. You can fall in love in healthy ways and unhealthy ways. You can fall in love when you’re young and when you’re old. Love is not unique. Love is not special. Love is not scarce.

But your self-respect is. So is your dignity. So is your ability to trust. There can potentially be many loves throughout your life, but once you lose your self-respect, your dignity or your ability to trust, they are very hard to get back.

Love is a wonderful experience. It’s one of the greatest experiences life has to offer. And it is something everyone should aspire to feel and enjoy.

But like any other experience, it can be healthy or unhealthy. Like any other experience, it cannot be allowed to define us, our identities or our life purpose. We cannot let it consume us. We cannot sacrifice our identities and self-worth to it. Because the moment we do that, we lose love and we lose ourselves.

Because you need more in life than love. Love is great. Love is necessary. Love is beautiful. But love is not enough.

Apples and faith

How very Swiss the sermon was on Christmas eve/day. “Brothers and sisters in Christ, faith is like an apple.”

Father Luzzatto’s sermon was powerful, as is usually the case when someone stands at the pulpit at Franziskanerkirche. Apples and candles adorned our Christmas trees in my loving, liberal, Luzern church.

Ah, the apple. We love our apples here: raw, cinnamon-dusted, on a train, in a car, while walking. We love apples. There are well over 7,000 varieties of apples. Some are sweet and others are almost sour.  Certain “perfect” apples appear absolutely blemish-less, whilst others are picked from a tree and might have not only bruises, but possibly a plump worm hiding within. Apples used to be a sign of wealth. Countries have their own national favorites. It’s easily one of the top 3 most consumed fruits. Even Switzerland’s hero Wilhelm Tell was linked with the apple, which demonstrated his bravery, accuracy, and resilience under pressure (three rather important universal strengths).

But, the apple’s also an apt metaphor for faith.

There’s a small layer of a “shell” protecting it as it grows, matures, and thrives. Once past the fragile, but firm, exterior, one reaches the sought-after flesh. Interestingly enough, the true legacy each apple holds is far from that which is immediately seen or tasted. Buried underneath the peel, past the yummy inside, there it is: the core. We say, “das Kernhaus eines Apfels” in German. The core of each apple has the potential to bring literal life.

Even the proportions are similar. The outer layer is thin, but sturdy. The inner flesh definitely contains the majority of what makes an apple have its well-known taste. The core is similar to the outer layer because it is limited in size (and circumference, by nature).

There we have our proportions (those of us who are faith seekers). Our “faith” or outer armor is not so thick, but it is substantial. The inner stuff makes us who we are. The core (a purity of heart I believe we are all born with) is small, but drives everything from birth to death and then the next step…if it is protected.

Today I did a bit of research. There is a group in Asia trying to create an apple without a peel. Why? Because people don’t like the taste of the peel. “It’s bitter,” they say, “I just want the inside part.” There are hundreds of products created to help us get rid of our apple peel, including one of my favorite products, which is apple juice. We wish it was easier to get directly to and enjoy the delicious flavors of the apple. Who cares about that pesky peel layer, I want the good stuff!

Hell, we all do.

News Flash: the good stuff isn’t in the flesh – it’s in the peel. In particular, that area just between the peel and the flesh. You get a healthy dose of potassium, Vitamins A, C, & K, fiber, not to mention possible cancer-fighting elements and antioxidants. Eat only the flesh? You don’t.

It’s trendy now to eliminate that “armor.” But, when we eliminate the armor of “faith,” we lose a lot.  Not everything, we still get a delicious, wonderful, beautiful apple. But, picture an apple without a peel. How that would really be? It would be exposed to every storm, susceptible to every pest. The peel, the armor – they protect the flesh. Both the outer layer and the inner layer do something extremely important. They both protect the core. The inner layer cannot do it alone, that’s why the outer layer is crucial. Get it?

I struggle to imagine myself with the armor that has protected me. The armor I choose willingly and happily to wear fully aware of what makes it my faith and my armor. No one told me, “put this on just because.” No. I made the decision. Certainly, it would have been a lovely life without some of the doubts and anger that come with wearing the “armor.” The many times I felt my strong faith did not protect me or the ones I loved…or even the ones I saw who needed protection.

The church services on Christmas eve and day ended with everyone taking home an apple for him or herself. I am still thinking about this comparison and loving it more and more. Before we left, Father Luzzatto joked about our favorite apple.

Mine is definitely the Pink Lady apple. I loved them when I lived in Manhattan (my grocer carried them). They are a bit tart, but mainly sweet. The peel is tough, rugged.

Apples and faith. Such a beautiful pairing.

Amen.

.Apples and ChristmasApple and Advent candles

 

The Pilgrim and the Politician

A man begins a pilgrimage to Rome in Canterbury, England, and eventually arrives at the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard. As he walks, he carries 88 years of joy, sorrow, and a rather large backpack on his back.

Traveling from Bern to the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard is another man, who is also on a journey. As he makes his way, he carries the arrival of a new baby and the weight of his country’s future on his back.

Pilgrims walk for different reasons. Our pilgrim walked, but he did not know why. He only knew he was called to walk and was uninterested in “why.” Politicians attend events for a myriad of reasons. Our politician attended an event in late June because he knew he should be there. He didn’t pay much attention to “why.” Both men were answering a call.

Nationality separated them. Language separated them. Normal, everyday differences separated them.

Why did Brian walk? Why did Christophe attend that concert?

Perhaps one of the many reasons Brian walked and Christophe attended that concert could be this blog post and the mere fact that you are reading it.

It’s 2014 and we can be jaded and cynical. Most of us see politicians as untouchable and most of us do not pay any attention to pilgrims. A politician would never waste his time talking to a pilgrim and they certainly would not be at the same event because politicians go to fancy places and pilgrims do not.

Wrong.

There are still places in this world that transcend language, nationality, age, religious beliefs, socio-economic differences. There are still places that bring people together for a common purpose, known or yet unknown. There are still places where two men from completely different walks of life can be brought together to share things – ideas, music, Raclette. There are places where the sting of cynicism is made weak.

We have to treasure these places and nourish them. We must feed them with our time, with our resources, and with our very best intentions. We have to look at these places as true sanctuaries because that is what they are.

They are places where the shoes on your feet do not matter. They are places where the color of your hair, your skin, your coat…none of it matters. They are places where a pilgrim and a politician are both seen as exactly what they are:  God’s children – truly equal and worthy of unconditional love and acceptance.

We must give our best to these places and the people walking into them. Both are deserving of our adoration.

I could say many things about the pilgrim and the politician. They are two of the finest men I have met in a very long time. It is not the point. The point is much simpler than that.

There is a place on the border between Switzerland and Italy where a pilgrim and a politician sat together and shared an important life moment.

That place is the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard.

You should go there and give it your best. If you cannot go there, you can still give it your best.

Donate 5 dollars, 10 Euro, 20 CHF, or 100,000£. What is your best? Give that.

Hospice du Gd-St-Bernard – 1946 Bourg-St-Pierre – Suisse
Union de Banque Suisse – 1920 Martigny
IBAN        CH50 0026 4264 6946 8001 X
BIC          UBSWCHZH80A

If we don’t give these places our best, how can this happen?

The Pilgrim and the Politician
The Pilgrim and the Politician