A Lenten Season for All…

Siblings in faith, I deliver these words in the spirit in which I pray they are received; in a spirit of life and love emanating from that which you find most holy.

Growing up Catholic, my family paid close attention to the passing of the seasons. Not just the transition of winter to spring and summer to fall, but the movement of the liturgical seasons of the Christian Church. Like the natural seasons, they moved from birth to death to rebirth. A spiritual cycle marking the steps toward the kingdom of God. One of my favorite holy times, that is, time set apart from the ordinary, is the season of Lent.

Lent is the liturgical season of sacrifice, preparation and repentance. It begins on Ash Wednesday, roughly forty days before Easter Sunday. We would begin this season by coming forward and being marked with the ashes of burned palms gathered the year before. The priest would say the words found in Genesis chapter 3 of the Hebrew scriptures, “Remember, thou art dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Reminding us of our mortality and our origin in and of the earth. He would dip his thumb in soot, and then make a cross on our foreheads.

The ashes were a physical marking of sin and repentance. And tradition calls for Catholics to fast in preparation for the celebration of Easter. As a child this would usually manifest in actions like giving up candy or refraining from TV, and as a teenager I remember giving up swearing or talking-back to my parents. To be honest, I was never good at the fasting.

But as I came into adulthood, I found that Lent called to me in a way that other parts of church life didn’t. It was a time of reflection. Of turning inward. Of apologizing. Of asking for forgiveness. It was an invitation into forty days of intentional transformation.

Womanist theologian and activist bell hooks writes: “Forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” I eventually found Lent to be a seasonal spiritual practice of holding myself accountable for wrongdoing along with the audacious hope that come Easter Sunday, when the community would gather at dawn, I would, like Jesus, share in a kind of death and resurrection. Now an adult, my fasting took the forms of sacrificing time at the food pantry or shelter, or using money I would spend on takeout or happy hour and investing it in organizations like Kiva or Heifer International. But while my sacrifices in Lent had evolved, my idea of sin hadn’t.

It took a long time to move away from my Catholic notion of sin; that of an angry God living into those famous Police lyrics: “Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.” My notion of sin reflected my spiritual anthropology. I was a fallen, broken human being in need of mercy, grace and forgiveness for everything from skipping church on Sunday because I was too lazy to go, to being sexually attracted a woman, or even more egregious, a man. There was nothing I could do to be perfect enough for this god of judgement; but at least Lent gave me a season of trying. Year, after year, after year.

Now in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, I have changed my relationship with god and my notions of sin. The Christian god of my parents was eventually too small for what was calling my spirit. My understanding of sin moved from the acts of disobeying god and His commandments, toward integrating what it means to break covenant with community and creation. My journey into our liberal religion shifted my anthropology toward inherent worth and dignity where I was no longer broken from the time of my conception.

However, in my conversion I still haven’t changed my honoring the tradition of Lent. Unitarian Universalism emerged out of liberal Christianity, I emerged out of Christianity, and I believe we Unitarian Universalists have a right to claim this spiritual season because it holds something we yearn for as a religion: an intentional call to accountability and transformation.

And just as my understanding of sin moved away from god toward community and creation, I also shifted my understanding of accountability. It became more than just the dictionary definition of “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for my actions.” It now comes with a commitment to pay reparations forward. To commit myself to the difficult work of education, relationship and transformation so that my sin, whether it is in my complicit destruction of the holy environment of the Earth or my entrenchment in and support of racist and prejudiced systems like gentrification and police violence.

I understand accountability as not just my willingness to say what I mean and mean what I say in the words “I am sorry.” It requires the painful and abrasive act of conversion of spirit; the sanding down of the cracks and ruptures in relationships that my sin has caused so they may be repaired. The sandpaper being my sacrifice of time and resources, a commitment to listening to and learning from the individuals and communities with who I have broken covenant, and a letting go of comfort and privilege.

And just as accountability works outwardly into the world, it also turns inward in the forms of grief, mercy and healing. The spiritual season of Lent isn’t about sin. It is about repentance. Author and prophet Aldous Huxley writes: “Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

For this season of Lent, the internet actually produced something useful. In a blog by Emma-Claire Martin titled “What Happened When I Gave Up Self-Harm for Lent.” I read about a nuanced kind of repentance. Instead of the old giving up of chocolate, and in addition to doing the outward work of paying it forward, what if Lent was used for letting go of the ways in which I hurt myself?

Instead of getting up in the morning and looking in the mirror and thinking “I’m too fat” or “I look horrible,” thanking my body for giving me another day to live and move and breathe in the way I am able. Instead of giving into destructive thoughts of being an imposter, and fearing the discovery of my actual incompetence, I begin practicing a gentleness? Of seeing myself as wonderful and fabulous and beautiful and worthy of friendship and love. A living into an idea of myself as “enough.”

Lent could be forty-plus days of eating enough food, getting enough sleep, and learning how to say “no.” Of actually practicing self-care, and committing to learning healthy boundaries in work, school and family. This spiritual season could be set aside for learning how to listen to my body, with all its aches and pains, and remembering what it was like before “imperfect” became part of my vocabulary. A catalyst for a true conversion of heart; healing my brokenness so that it is transformed before it is transmitted out into the world. The act of repentance and redemption is not just outward works, but truly is also an inward grace.

Which is why I believe the season of Lent can speak even to Unitarian Universalists. It is a special time set aside for doing the hard work of transformation. It asks for an engagement with the self and with the world. It demands accountability. And it inspires action. Which is everything I fell in love with when I first learned about this faith. With its powerful love and principled freedom, its constant call to holy covenant with each other and with creation, where we believe in one love, and that nobody is left behind in this love.

Siblings in spirit, we are still a few weeks away from Easter Sunday. I invite you all to consider in these last days of lent, how you might live into this season of repentance and transformation? What are the ways of love and justice that call you to live in gratitude, into the world and into your heart? For those who come from Christianity, I invite you to reclaim this time if you are called. If this is not your tradition, do not be afraid, for it is part of our communal inheritance as human beings. Lent is certainly a most holy season, a time set apart, that only asks that we cultivate our most authentic human selves; to ourselves, to each other, to creation, and to that which we find most holy. Amen.

Man in motion

All I need is a pair of wheels…

Part of my graduate degree involves classes in psychology and therapy. These skills are important for working with people who are in psychospiritual distress. I’m not of the notion that human beings are inherently broken. I also experience my own woundedness. I am not someone who needs to be fixed. I am looking for support.

The path through psychospiritual trauma is an individual journey made in the context of caravan. My father is dead. My heart is broken. For now I am engaged in grief. Nobody else can do this for me. And I am not alone.

There is a dynamic tension between my need for growth and my taking time with my transition toward wellbeing. I come to church because I want community: nurturing, support, a sense of mutuality and interconnectivity that inspires me to live into the best of my humanness. And I hope that I am held, in the moment, as I am. Which for now means fragility.

I do not sit with woundedness easily. I don’t know too many people who would describe me this way. For the last six weeks I’ve shown strength, love, and resilience. And I secretly know that I am holding it all together with masking tape. I am internally distracted. I have two papers due that I haven’t been able to start. I look back to before November 27th, and wonder where that person is, because it’s not who I see in the mirror.

Two schools of thought: “Just get over it,” and “Just be who you need to be right now.” They both feel insufficient. How do I just get over losing somebody who I loved deeply, who was here one day and gone the next? I am not so heartless. And I don’t want to sit with this pain any longer than I have to; my life has to continue because that is what life does – it moves on.

I am left with just living well in this tension. Which means being broken and being strong. In community. I find comfort with Rumi’s wisdom:

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”

Perhaps in this caravan, I can safely experiment with release.

Closing time…

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Last call aside, 2019 will be a year of transitions. My last year of classes. My last year working at the church. A year of challenge and growth; receptive to newness. A chance to really love into my vocation as minister and chaplain.

My 2018 word for the year was “enough.” It was appropriate. I struggled to be enough: of a father, a friend, a partner, a student, a human being. Most of those received passing grades. It has been a journey coming to terms with realistic agency. Prayers helped.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. ~Reinhold Niebuhr

I also had enough of 2018. I resisted as my country plunged deeper into fascism. I chose to be the person who answers the call of the dead and dying. My father was taken from me without warning. I have been stretched thin. My heart broken six ways for Sunday.

My word for 2019 is “release.” Because enough is enough.

Eulogy for my Father

Today, we celebrate the life of my father, William Almeida, who died on Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 at 82 years old. What more could be said, other than he was a man who “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life?” We celebrate him for his dancing. We celebrate him for his hospitality. We celebrate him for his generosity. We celebrate him for his love. And we celebrate him for his faith; in people and in God.

My father was a Christian in the best of ways; a human being who, despite his failings, would return again and again in love to the altar of God to find refuge in his faith. The way he lived taught me that what the Spirit of life and love craves is not perfection, but a relationship of covenantal love rooted in recognizing the worth and dignity of all people. He taught me that what makes a human being righteous before creation went beyond just claiming Jesus as his savior, but extending a spirit of charity toward every person who walked through the door of our home.

I remember my father opening the door for anybody; and especially for the missionaries who would come by our house. While I’m sure these men and women found many unanswered doorbells or maybe sharp words and slammed doors, when they came to my house, they would find not only a conversation at the threshold, but an invitation inside for food, water, and scripture. I am also sure none of them knew who they were about to deal with.

Missionaries and proselytizers would sit with my father, share food and drink, and he would ask them about their faith. Then, from under the coffee table, he would pull out his own bible with its notes and bookmarks and finger-worn pages, and give his own testament. There were many times when I returned home from school, where wide eyed missionaries would be sitting in my living room, unsure of what they had gotten themselves into.

My father modeled qualities of hospitality and mutuality – he never asked people to share his views, but he would argue his from the depth of his heart. And that when people come to my door, my response should be one of abundance; to share what I have, because the only response to grace is generosity paid forward.

I remember my father having an uncanny ability to predict trends twenty or thirty years before his time. I’ll be honest; I always thought that the aloe-vera juice, the copper tubing, the granola and all his other eccentric health behaviors were just leftovers from a wild time in the 1960s. But as I grew older, I found myself eating crow, as products now appear on shelves touting the healing properties of aloe-vera, and expensive sports clothing is being woven with copper thread. I am happy that he lived long enough to be vindicated in this way; which makes sense, because my father was also one of the healthiest people I’ve ever known.

My father modeled that it was important to take care of my body; and into his 80s he lifted weights, played tennis, and against our better judgement would climb the trees of our property to prune the branches with his chainsaw. In my own gym in Seattle, there is a sign which reads: “You don’t stop exercising when you get old; you get old when you stop exercising.” Which for my father was the secret to staying young; in heart and in body.

I remember that my house was where friends would come and be guaranteed to receive love and comfort. I suspect that for many, coming over to see me was just an excuse to come over and see my father. Which is not what a teenager or young adult wants; to admit that their own father is cooler than they are. I confess I rolled my eyes and cringed more than once at my father dancing in the living room to speakers blaring David Bowie or Queen when my friends showed up. Or wished that my father was “normal” when he would laugh so deeply that the walls would shake, or modeled the new copper tubing he had fashioned around his arm.

But my father loved to dance and loved to laugh and loved my friends. And I know for some, the love they received at my house was sometimes more love than they received in their own. Over this last week, one friend told me that Bill was more of a father to them than their own. And for many others, we was possibly a second father.

My father modeled his calling to love his neighbors as his God loved him; which from what I understand of Christian faith and scripture, is part of gaining eternal life. My father taught me that love was the most transformative part of being human, and for all those who have been touched by his love, I say do not grieve as other do who have no hope. Because my father continues to live, in our hearts and memories, just as he continues to live in reunion with God and with all of creation. Let us encourage one another with these memories.

I remember my father as someone who lived his faith through his politics. Given his social location, as a first generation Mexican American growing up in pre-civil rights United States, and coming of age during the height of the cold-war, he lived first hand the effects of poverty, racism, and militarization. He also reaped the rewards of the American dream, working hard, working smart, and building a life for himself and his family that he never had growing up. Because of my father, I am privileged with abundance: education, stability, food, water, housing, clothing, I’ve never known the pain of desperation. And I am deeply grateful.

My father modeled a liberal politic that didn’t look into his neighbor’s yard to covet what they had, but to make sure that his neighbors had enough, and if they didn’t, he would help. He would give of his time and money to care for people, and believed the country he loved and served should model the beatitudes he lived by: acknowledging the blessedness of the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. He taught me that not only did I have a religious duty in the world, but a civic one as well. His politics moved my heart just as much as his religion. He was a deep believer, in people, in God, in love rooted in justice.

This isn’t to say that my father was a perfect man. While William Almeida liked to be right, he never, or perhaps very rarely, claimed to be perfect. And he relied on our love, and in God’s love, to get him through his dark nights of the soul. It was his wife, Judie, daughter Brianna, his son-in-law Matt, daughter-in-law Heather, grandsons Jason and Toby, and his chosen community, all of you gathered here and so many more who join us in spirit, who helped save him from himself. And when I find myself succumbing to the pressures of a full and overwhelming life, it is my father who reminds me that nothing is impossible for the Spirit of life and love; that it bends the arc of history toward justice and it transforms sinners into saints.

My father is a testament to the power of humility, forgiveness, and redemption that is only found in the depths of relationships rooted in love. My father modeled that I didn’t have to be a perfect man to be a good man; that integrity and compassion and gratitude would reap abundance – not in wealth or power, but in family and in friendship. My father, William Almeida, lived the words of his prophets: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Friends and family, we are gathered here to remember William Almeida. Not a perfect man. But at least to me, one of the best of men. My father’s life taught me the importance of family. My father’s life taught me the importance of friendship. My father’s life taught me the importance of love. My father’s life taught me the importance of service. My father’s life taught me the importance of faith. Most of all, my father’s life taught me the importance of living well in the dynamic tensions of life: to play music loudly, to dance like nobody is watching, to laugh with my whole body, and to love like I’ve never been hurt. Today, we celebrate a life that lived the holy covenant of love. May his love continue to bless us all. Amen.

If we’re going to be friends, your vote really does matter…

45485641_1746095872183715_6350298731287412736_oNow that we’re in an election cycle, there’s an image floating around the interwebs advocating for friendship across politics. On the surface, this is a great idea when candidates relatively agree on similar end goals: like freedom or upward mobility, but perhaps not in the means – progressive vs regressive taxes. I may not like the other candidate, or their political party. But we’re all trying to build a better society for ourselves and our children. We’re both adults. We can agree to disagree and still be friends, because our friendship is more important than politics.

Except when your candidate wants to, say, remove my citizenship because my grandmother was from Mexico. Or wants to deport my uncle because he’s Muslim. Or wants to take away my sister’s right of choice. Or wants to erase my partner because they’re transgender. Or wants to disenfranchise my brother because he’s Native American. Or wants to segregate my father because he’s African American. Or wants to kill my cousin because they’re Jewish.

When your vote comes at the cost of significant human life, we’re not friends anymore.

“But I don’t believe in any of that! I’m not racist! We’ve been friends for years and you’re brown!” you say. “I just voted for the guy because I agree with his economic policy. You’re being really petty and judgmental.”

Sure friend. I hear what you’re saying. We can totally agree to disagree on economic policy. But you also voted for a racist/fearmonger/bigot/misogynist/homophobe. Which is a deal breaker. What you just demonstrated was that you put politics ahead of our friendship, and that while you may not be any of those hateful qualities, you’re willing to let them slide because they benefit you. If we’re going to be friends, and adults, then we are supposed to have a relationship that supports one another. That cares for one another. That will show up for one another when we really need help. And you voted for the guy who wants to kill people like me, all because you wanted lower taxes. Which tells me that we were never friends in the first place.

You see, friend, how you vote doesn’t just tell me about your politics. It tells me about what kind of person you are. What the foundation of your ethics and morals looks like. And when you vote “pro-life” and at the same time ignore the racism, the hate, the bigotry, the violence, and the death, you tell me all I need to know. That we were never friends. Because politics and party really were more important to you than my wellbeing; and my actual life.

Being an adult means having healthy boundaries which sometimes requires removing people from my life who are toxic and destructive. It means having firm ethics and morality rooted in empathy and compassion. It means choosing to hold people’s worth and dignity above petty politics and disagreements; in seeing your humanity and loving you and showing up for you when things get hard. Being an adult is having the courage to say: “No more!” to evil, even at great cost. Being an adult means making hard choices, like say, voting against your party when their candidate supports putting immigrant children in cages at internment camps.

But I don’t hate you. I’ll still show up for you if you need help. I’ll say hello at work and if we run into each other during the holidays. I’ll still uphold your dignity and worth, even when you don’t uphold mine. Because that is what myself, as an adult, am called to do; be kind to the people who hate me. And to know when to walk away.

I believe you, Dr. Ford

42611806_10155713091546179_3403158727585431552_oI believe you, Dr. Ford.

I believe my friends on my Facebook feed who have broken their silence, relived their trauma and shared their pain.

I believe you and every other woman who comes forward that says #metoo.

Because in Alaska, a man named Justin Schneider was given no prison sentence for kidnapping, strangling and sexually assaulting an indigenous woman.

Because in California, a man named Brock Turner only spent three months in jail for raping an unconscious woman.

Because in Massachusetts, a man named David Becker sexually assaulted two girls at a party while they were unconscious and received probation.

Because in Colorado, a man named Austin Wilkerson raped a woman and got probation.

Because in Illinois, a man named John Enochs raped two women, but got probation for “battery”.

Because Harvey Weinstein got away with over three decades of sexual abuse.

Because Donald Trump, despite his saying on record “Grab ‘em by the pussy” and being accused of sexual assault by numerous women, was elected president of the United States.

For too long the price of toxic masculinity, with its power and privilege and violence, has been paid for with the blood of women, girls, boys, queer siblings, and siblings of color. And as the Arc of history bends towards justice, its shadow is finally beginning to fall on the powerful white man. The man who would rape. The man who would molest. The man who would enslave. The man who would abuse. The man who would murder.

It is up to me, as the brown father of a boy who will grow up to be a white man, to make a difference for his sake and for the sake of the other human beings in his life. It is my responsibility to teach him the morals and ethics of consent and respect. He will learn from me how to recognize his own privilege and to check his own bias. He will look to me as a model; how to be angry, how to be mindful, how to be just, how to love, how to forgive, how to listen. I must commit to the hard work of helping my son be a better man than I will ever be.

Because toxic masculinity demands a human sacrifice. And there are no angels that will wrest the stone knife from my hand. It’s up to me to stop the cycle; to tear down the altar, to deny the beast its blood. My son is not your Isaac. Men, we have a choice.

There are voices in the shadow of the Arc, and they are getting louder. I hear you. I believe you.

****CORRECTION**** Originally, I wrote: “Because in Iowa, a man named Nicholas Fifield raped a woman with mental illness and received no jail time.” In an article dated March 9, 2017, charges were dismissed against Nicholas Fifield. Nicholas Fifield’s father reached out to me to list this correction to my blog post. I take full responsibility, and apologize, for not adequately investigating Nicholas Fifield’s case further and for disseminating dated and imperfect information. I am committed to doing better. Please see Mr. Fifield’s medium page for more information.

For me, this only shows how important the issue of active, repeated consent and respect is; and how it impacts not only survivors, but the families and communities of all involved. In our United States “justice system” some people are falsely accused (a majority of them people of color). And we also live in a world where my son has more of a chance of being raped than he does of being falsely accused of rape.

It was Valentine’s Day. I was wearing ashes.

Parkland school shooting
Parents in Parkland, FL (Photo/Joel Auerbach/Associated Press)

Yesterday I went to church. It was Ash Wednesday. I didn’t go because it was an obligation. I certainly felt out of place. It’s been a while since I was in a Catholic church. But I needed a place to mourn. To grieve. To put on ashes and say to god or the universe or to whoever really is listening: I’m sorry. I repent. I am broken.

Yesterday I needed church, because another seventeen people were gunned down in a school. By an angry and broken young man with a Make America Great Again hat. I sit with a lot of young men like that. At our local juvenile detention center. Young men who are angry. And broken. Many who never knew their fathers. Many who have mental health issues. Many who have experienced death in their lives. Many who have found family and safety in groups dedicated to violence. Many who we have failed.

Yesterday, I needed church because it was Valentine’s Day. And instead of swapping candy hearts, the earth soaked up blood. Children’s hearts were broken; torn apart by unregulated bullets and unregulated weapons. Parent’s hearts were shattered with the news that their flesh and blood were trending on Twitter. I hope the victims were told “I love you” at least once before their lives were cut short. I want to believe that some of them received ashes before they were murdered. Just to remember: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Yesterday, I needed to be marked. I needed a reminder. That there is good news; that people really do believe in a message of loving one’s neighbor. That people are willing to lay down their arms and turn their cheeks. Certainly, god weeps along with saints and sinners at such a notion as a “right to bear arms.” Ancestors, pray for us. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. You would think one child would be enough?

It was Valentine’s day. I was wearing ashes. Another day in America.