I was very moved a few days ago by an article published on-line by my denomination. You can read it (Here). The series of short articles is called Braver/Wiser: “Life is full of hard edges and complicated choices. Braver/Wiser gives you weekly messages of courage and compassion for life as it is. Every Wednesday we deliver an original written reflection by a contemporary religious leader, and brief prayer, grounded in Unitarian Universalism.” How we need both courage and compassion in these times! In the relatively near future, I will be honored by having some words of my own included.
But, oh my! The Reverend Misha Sanders in her article reports an elderly woman, a stranger, saying to her in a store, “You have beautiful hair. If you slim down, Honey, you’ll have to fight off the men.” I’ll let you read the article to find out how she responded, but it made me cry. Read it please.
Her article also made me reflect on some of my own way of being in the world.
Some straight women say they want to be thin in order to be more attractive to men. This objectifies the female body in unhealthy ways, and if a fat women becomes thin and “finds a man” she will always wonder if he would have loved her if she had stayed fat. God, I hate that idea. Fat people are every bit as lovable as thin ones, and to deny that fact is part of the patriarchal rape culture. In that culture, men see women as created for their pleasure, to use, so they can just be “boys being boys.” So many of my sisters are filled with rage right now as rape is being defended by Republicans so desperate to control the Supreme Court that they don’t mind adding (another) sexual predator to that lofty bench.
That rage is almost all-consuming as I listen to as much of the hearings as I can stand. But I am going to try to think of something else for a moment. I have never been a serial dieter. I can laugh that I lost the same 20 pounds twice, but others I know have done the yo-yo thing their whole lives. I never wanted to be thinner in order to attract men, because, as a lesbian, my sense of other women is that they are attracted to the spirit of the person, the personality, not just the surface appearance. I certainly did not want men, “fighting over me.” Why does that phrase remind me of dogs fighting over a bone? Bones have no agency. Meat. It is a frightening and disgusting concept that a woman would want that.
I obviously can’t change the subject today. I can’t even think, because, yes, #metoo, and all survivors are triggered by what is happening. I am stunned, but not surprised, by the callousness of the old white men sitting in judgement today, not really caring. And I am awed by the courage of a woman brave enough to speak the truth.
(My stats for the last week – down 1.2 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 330 minutes. My total weight loss so far is 53 pounds.)
Vengeance will be ours
For every time you did not stop
To ask if it was OK with us
And for every time we said no
And you did not listen
For every cat call and every grope
For every pair of pants
You couldn’t keep zipped.
For every girl-child and woman
Who was afraid to speak
For every female you blamed
And slimed with the shame
That was your own creation
Be afraid for your time is ending
As ours is being born
Our daughters will rise as warriors
Our sons will be steady, kind, and strong.
Judith came with her knife
And Holofernes found his reward
We will all be smiling
When your heads, finally,
Begin to roll.
Feel free to hope
That the knife is only
I have been seriously pissed off since the news of the attempted rape by the current nominee for the Supreme Court. Why am I not surprised that the “groper in chief” would nominate another privileged and entitled white male who thinks the world and women were created for his use and pleasure? Class and race issues abound here as well. Our prisons are full of poor people and people of color who made a mistake when they were young, but this dude is unlikely to be held even marginally accountable. Punk he was then and punk he still is.
Anger and stress are not necessarily great for staying on program, but last night we learned about “eustress” a stress that is experienced as beneficial, for example a challenge that can invigorate an person to engage in meeting and overcoming an obstacle. For a problem to generate eustress, there needs, I think, to be some sense that we have the power within us to meet the challenge. This is why the phrases, “you’ve got this” and “you can do it” are so helpful in support groups and frankly, in parenting. No one makes progress when they are in despair. I am sticking to the program, and to the Resistance, simply because I have to do so. Keeping hope alive is an essential part of living well and fully.
There was a bump in the road this week when I read the following article:
So much was excellent about the article.
The comments about the medical profession rang true:
“Ask almost any fat person about her interactions with the health care system and you will hear a story, sometimes three,…. rolled eyes, skeptical questions, treatments denied or delayed or revoked. Doctors are supposed to be trusted authorities, a patient’s primary gateway to healing. But for fat people, they are a source of unique and persistent trauma. No matter what you go in for or how much you’re hurting, the first thing you will be told is that it would all get better if you could just put down the Cheetos.”
And that may be all you are told. If you are fat, your actual medical condition which may need immediate treatment, is often overlooked and dismissed. It has happened to me.
The article also did a good job of describing the harmful impacts of fat shaming.
“Paradoxically, as the number of larger Americans has risen, the biases against them have become more severe. More than 40 percent of Americans classified as obese now say they experience stigma on a daily basis, a rate far higher than any other minority group.”
The part that threw me off for awhile, however, was this:
“For 60 years, doctors and researchers have known two things that could have improved, or even saved, millions of lives. The first is that diets do not work. Not just paleo or Atkins or Weight Watchers or Goop, but all diets. Since 1959, research has shown that 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and that two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost. The reasons are biological and irreversible. As early as 1969, research showed that losing just 3 percent of your body weight resulted in a 17 percent slowdown in your metabolism—a body-wide starvation response that blasts you with hunger hormones and drops your internal temperature until you rise back to your highest weight. Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.”
This isn’t something I wanted to hear while I am in the middle of a weight management program that seems to be working. I really question the statistics in the highlighted sentence, however, especially since no reference was given and I could not find that statistic on-line. The last sentence also doesn’t ring true. I have not felt hunger while on this program, cravings for certain foods, yes, but not actual hunger. I really don’t expect to be battling hunger for the rest of my life. Paying attention, yes, being careful about what and how much I eat, yes, prioritizing exercise, yes, but I am now seeing significant improvements in my health as a result of the weight I have already lost. That is a incredible motivator as is the awesome support of the other members of my group.
And this week I made another milestone – over 50 pounds down! I can see the changes when I look in the mirror, but even better, I can feel the changes when I need to climb some stairs.
May 16 September 19
(My stats for the last week – down 3.1 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 310 minutes. My total weight loss so far is 51.8 pounds.)
This scale is my friend. The other one is just OK, although we were told last night that weighing ourselves daily isn’t a bad idea. It will get us used to daily fluctuations and ultimately reduce our stress levels about weight loss or gain. The weekly weight losses are slowing down now, and while that is OK and to be expected, it can be a bit depressing.
This program is so much harder now with real food. At 1250-1350 calories I am still not hungry, so that part isn’t hard. But it is so complicated! I try to get enough protein and not too much, and to keep drinking water which will help protect my kidneys with this relatively high protein diet. And vitamins and minerals matter too. Weighing and measuring everything takes time and concentration. How did I survive simply eating all those years and I never got scurvy or any other vitamin deficiency disease? It must have been a miracle, or maybe it was because I ate a lot of almost everything, and some empty calories don’t matter if you are eating a lot. So, protein, veggies, a lot of water, and a few slices a week of a whole grain bread is what I am doing now to try and stay healthy. I am sometimes find it hard enough to eat enough to keep my metabolism humming along and out of starvation mode. I haven’t really dieted much in the past so hopefully I haven’t slowed my metabolism over the years the way frequent dieters seem to do. Another reason to stick with the program. It just gets harder every time you try,
We learned some simple strength-building exercises to go along with more aerobic ones a few weeks ago, and I am trying to do at least 15 minutes of them daily. Ever hear of wall push-ups? Sort of easy, and sort of not. The wall doesn’t move, but my arms get a good workout. As the weather gets cooler, I won’t be able to swim every day so it will be time to hop on the exercise bike again.
Some folks have dropped out of the program recently. I hate that. Another thing I hate is listening to people who have never weighed more than 140 pounds talk about their struggles with weight. Give it a rest, please. You really don’t understand. Just be supportive.
We also talked about lapses, relapses, and drifting this week. The definitions are kind of complicated. Lapses are to be expected, and planned ones are in fact just fine. There will be times that I get to eat cake. Relapses are when you eat cake for several days in a row. Drifting is when you think eating cake everyday will not cause you to gain weight again. It doesn’t have to be cake. It can be wine, a martini, or pasta. It can be forgetting to exercise for a month. Get back on the bike!
Like I said, this stuff is hard.
(My stats for the last week – down .5 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 330 minutes. My total weight loss so far is 48.7 pounds.)
Will the roof hold through the howling wind?
Will the flames stay behind the firebreak, the highways?
How fragile life is
And human structures
How easy to hate
The blame spreading
How vicious the destruction
We have wrought
And our children
And our planet.
When our own small lives
Are finally at stake
It may be much too late
I have been reflecting about ministry differently these days, something that I suppose is natural as I have retired relatively recently from serving a congregation. I had health issues to deal with, and it was increasingly difficult to do ministry the way I felt it needed to be done. My health is now improving, but I will not serve a congregation again in the role of parish minister. I am still a minister, however, fellowshipped and ordained, and I will carry a stole on my shoulders for the rest of my days. It isn’t always a stole made of cloth, but is always one of both tradition and commitment. It is sometimes visible to the eye, but it is also woven into my bones. I can feel it on my shoulders, a weight that can be heavy, but also gives me strength.
When I supervised intern ministers, I often told them that ministry is not about the minister, but about the people being served. I also said it is not really just about the individuals in the congregation or other setting, although they are precious, but it is more importantly about the church or institution as a whole. Underneath all of that is the mission of the larger faith tradition, and finally, what is the most important of all, is being true to the faith that called you, to serve God if you will, however one defines that Holy Mystery that surrounds us.
Being someone’s minister is an incredible honor. To sit by a bedside when a beloved soul draws their last breath, to listen to the anguish of a mother worried about a child who is ill or in trouble, to hold someone in your arms while they sob with grief, or to see the light in a child’s eyes as they are blessed and dedicated in the midst of gathered community – those moments are particularly precious and holy, and I miss being that conduit through which the Spirit sometimes shine through.
The stole above was given to me by the UU Church of Ogden, who named me Minister Emerita as I left them after seven sweet years together. Some of the cloth in that stole is also in the banners that hang in that sanctuary where I often felt the Spirit moving as we worshiped together. On the back of the stole are words that I wrote when I felt the call to go there to be their minister.
Every time I put on that stole, I feel the love of the congregation that really made me a minister. Grace, I still believe, awaits us all.
All change involves some loss, of course. I miss being an active minister. But just this week, I realized that in my ten or so years of active ministry, I did not have a minister of my own. Yes, I had friends and colleagues, all of whom ministered to me at times. There were also denominational leaders who sometimes fulfilled a pastoral role for me. But it just wasn’t the same. Before I entered seminary and while I was studying for the ministry, I was close to almost all of the ministers who served my home congregation. It was a closeness that had boundaries, we were not friends, but minister and congregant, a particular type of closeness.
I have lived that ministerial relationship from both sides now, and I know that it can be an incredible and special gift, a bond of tenderness, trust, and love. I have missed being in the congregant side of that kind of relationship, and I was not really aware of how much. But now, somewhat miraculously, I am feeling what it is like to have a minister again.
We rejoined our home congregation recently while there was an interim minister who was about to leave in a few months. I enjoyed her services, but I saw her more as a colleague and not really as my minister. And now, we have welcomed a new minister at our church. I don’t know him very well yet, our previous relationship consisted of relatively brief encounters at denominational meetings. But suddenly it seems, my heart is full to overflowing because I can literally feel his pastoral presence and caring attitude toward me and toward the congregation as a whole. His service this morning was beyond simple competence and clarity of message; it was spirit filled and a delightful combination of warmth, humor, and challenge. I really went to church this morning.
I will remain a colleague of this minister, but he will also be my minister, a relationship that to me is is infused with elements of the Holy. The very idea makes me weep with gratitude. I will continue to miss the active ministry, and I hope to preach once in awhile, and to do some minor ministry in the role of a congregant who is retired clergy. But it is good, so good, to have a minister again. “And within it all, the precious beat of human hearts, of hopes and fears, and dreams, open now in anticipation, live with patience, Grace I must believe, awaits us all.” Hallelujah!
(My stats for the last week – down .9 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 290 minutes. My total weight loss so far is 48.2 pounds.)
In ministry, we talk a lot about having healthy boundaries. We try to maintain a “non-anxious” presence in the midst of grief, despair, conflict, and crises of all sorts. Therapists and other professionals are aware of boundaries too, a clear bright line that they should never cross. Boundaries are more complex for clergy, however. We counsel congregants, holding some of their most intimate secrets in the strictest of confidence. But we also work and socialize with them. We go to meetings and potlucks together. We play, we laugh, and we strategize for justice. They find out about our personal lives because we live and work among them, Sexual relationships with those we serve are (now at least, thank God) strictly forbidden. If that line is crossed it does so much damage, not only to the vulnerable congregant whose trust has been betrayed, but also to the community as a whole. It can take generations to recover, and even then recovery may not be possible, particularly if the secret is kept and the impact remains unexamined.
But there are less serious boundary violations. We are also counseled not to make friends with congregants, but to always hold solid the space and stance of being their minister. How I have interpreted that is to never lean on a congregant emotionally, to share with them only the parts of my life that are under reasonably well emotional control. We don’t want them worried about taking care of us. While it is fine to accept meals or physical help when the need arises, and being friendly is always good, if we are falling apart emotionally, we need to get our support from somewhere else, from family, friends, colleagues, or therapists. The relationship between minister and congregant is never one of equality, and ministry can be very lonely work as a result.
I am retired now and that changes things some, but it is still complicated. I am now a member of a church, and although I have never served as a minister there, I was an active lay leader before attending seminary and they are the congregation that ordained me. While I am now free to make friends and to share my private life and emotional stresses with other congregation members, I will always need to remember that as ordained clergy, my voice can carry more weight, especially in any discussion about church issues. It is a voice that must be used with care, and always in support of the current ministry of the church. I really do know how hard the job of a minister is, and to undermine another minister for any petty reason or simple disagreement, would feel like a serious sin to me. Only serious misconduct would compel me to speak out in protest, and then I would first approach the colleague directly, and then through collegial and/or denominational channels. We have just gotten a talented new minister at our church, and I expect him do the work very well indeed. I will definitely cheer him on, but I also know there are still boundaries I need to observe in my church community. I am still not and never will be, “just another member.”
All of which makes me, among other reasons, still value so much the other parts of my life where I can just be me, where I can vent, question, and let “my hair down” in ways I have not been able to do in years in a setting larger than my family and closest friends and colleagues. My medical weight loss group is such a place. We meet once a week in person and connect on Facebook in between. I am so grateful to them. They are in fact, another family circle, one of love, compassion and trust. I can let at least some of my boundaries bounce away on their own when I am with them. Huzzah!