Monday, July 31, 2006

Good Grief!

Good Grief

Everyone who has ever read peanuts has met “good old Charlie brown” and everyone who has ever met the overwrought Charlie Brown has heard him utter the now immortal phrase – “good grief”

Yet stop and think about this phrase for a moment.

Good Grief

Can our grief be good? I don’t ever remember seeing Charlie Brown say this phrase with a happy smile on his face.

Followers of the old television show “Night Gallery” often hear Rod Serling present each show using the phrase – “We offer for your consideration.”

And so…

I offer for your consideration the life of a woman that to many would seem a nightmare in every waking moment – the life of Blessed Saint Margaret of Costello.

“Yes sister,” I hear you ask, “but what has the life of a short Italian woman who has been dead for over 900 years got to do with anything?”

That, my dear friends, is easy to answer. This was a woman born into a wealthy noble Italian family. Normally she might have lived in the lap of luxury as it is said. But God blessed her – she did not.

“How is it then,” you ask, “that she was ‘blessed’ by missing out on the easy life?”

Margaret was born a midget, lame, a hunchback, and blind. All this features where matched by her lack of good looks. She spent the first thirteen years of her life imprisoned by her own parents so they could hide her away from the world so they would not have to be ashamed of their daughter. The last of those thirteen years she was forced to live in a prison in a catacomb. When finally God refused to take away all this from their daughter so her parents would no longer have to feel shame, they abandoned her, blind, and alone, on the church steps of Costello, Italy (and hence Margaret of Costello).

She may not have been a ‘looker’ as they say, but, oh my friends, she had a beautiful soul. She had a wondrous, glorious soul. Even if you discount the time she is said to have levitated 20 inches off the floor of a Costello prison Cell while praying for a prisoner; even if you discount the time, after hear death, after an autopsy where three pearls where found in her heart when it was cut open. Even if you discount that…

After her death, at her funeral, in front of a church full of people, including witnesses from the Vatican, she moved her arm and healed a young girl.

Over 900 years later her body has not decayed. Long after all those who abused her have turned to dust, her body just looks like it has a really, really good tan. She is an incorrupt. Other saints that where so holy that God has kept their bodies from decaying in death include Saint Bernadette Soubiros who looks better more than 100 years after her death, then I do now when I am alive.

Yes, my friends, Margaret had a life that was the living embodiment of the phrase, “life is a bitch and then you die.” Yet was she filled with anguish and hate for the way she was born and the way she was treated? Not a bit of it. When she originally came to Costello, Italy, forced into the life of a blind beggar, she was despised by everyone she met. Yet she walked down the street with a smile on her face.

By the time she died?

By the time she died she was universally loved by everyone in Costello, Italy. Do you know the phrase used in high school when it comes to “girls” like me? They say, ‘but she has a great personality’. Well, my friends, when it comes to having a great personality, Margaret was the proverbial ‘IT’ She is the one for whom the expression was originated.

She spent the later years of her life as a nun. One day one of her sisters came to her in despair. It seems the sister had just found out that she was going blind. Now, mind you, as we have said, Margaret was born blind. So at this point it was very much a case of preaching to the choir.

At first Margaret admonished the sister to accept Gods gift. Margaret was no stranger to suffering. She was, in fact, well acquainted with the concept of redemptive suffering. That is, suffering for the sake of others – as did our dear Lord, Jesus. This is suffering for Christ. In other words – ‘good grief’.

The sister was incredulous that Margaret could view blindness as a gift from God. In the end, Margaret healed the sister of her blindness.

To most people, myself included, Margaret of Costello was one of those rare individuals who set the pole so incredibly high that few people would be able to jump the spiritual hurdle.

There are some of us, such as myself, that God has blessed with being the target of more than the usual amount of bigotry and hatred. The world is full of people who are full of themselves; people who have a set view of the world and how it – and everyone in it – must be. When someone, such as myself, born a hermaphrodite, doesn’t fit into that view of the world, they insist on telling others so. Most often they do so loudly and long. It may be a matter of a total stranger telling me “you need to have a dick shoved up your ass.” It may be a co-worker who screams “I am not going to use the bathroom with that THING”. It may be something as subtle as a co-worker who refuses to ride an elevator that has me on it. I have had a lifetime of such treatment.

Yet, you may ask yourselves at this point how one endures such grief and even consider it “good”? I will tell you, it isn’t easy; especially when it is going on – and continues to go on, on a daily basis. There is a darn good reason why many people born such as I was kill themselves.

So how does one endure such grief? How does it become good grief?

As granddad used to say, “It is hard to remember that your original intent was to drain the swamp when you are up to your ass in alligators” – or in this case, bigots.

It is also something else. It is the subject of my next blog.

© 2006 Sisters of Embracement. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 21, 2006

God's Little Dipstick

“Blazing Saddles,” I said.

“Oh what was the name of the movie with Clevon Little in it? The one where he played a sheriff?”

The second voice came from Bernie, a co-worker who, to this day, will not speak to me nor even ride an elevator with me. I once held a door for Bernie, as he was about to walk through it. Rather than walking through the open doorway, he stopped and stood facing the wall next to the door – nose to the wallpaper.

This time I answered Bernie’s question even louder.

“Blazing Saddles! The name of the movie is Blazing Saddles!”

At this point I could have been heard in the next county let alone the next cubicle , or by Bernie who is not hard of hearing. Still Bernie’s questioning continued unabated, blatantly ignoring my response.

“It had Mel Brooks in it,” Bernie asked the woman who sits in the cubicle behind mine, “What was the name of that movie?”

At this point I came to the conclusion that one of two things have happened. First possibility – The laws of physics have suddenly and inexplicably become suspended and sound will no longer carry more than three inches from my lips.

Second possibility – and this one far more likely – Bernie, like so many other of my co-workers has come to consider me with such disdain that they are aghast that I have had the effrontery to exist. In other words…

Nun non-grata

Scenes such as the one able have repeated themselves throughout my entire life. They play themselves over and over again as people pass through my life. I have had a lifetime of watching people laughing amongst themselves only to see the smile rapidly run away from their face when they see me. Yet this are amongst the “kinder, gentler” moments I endure. There have been times, such as when a female co-worker, headed for the ladies room herself, saw me walk in to it first. She took the opportunity to yell after me, “I am not going in their with that THING!” Interestingly enough, to this day she considers herself a “good Christian woman.” Even passers by in the street have taken time from their busy day to heap abuse upon me as I pass. One fine sunny day, not long ago I was walking down the street near my office. I passed a man, as is often the case in larger cities, seeking alms for the poor, among whose ranks he placed himself. I doubted the man’s sincerity in this case, not because of the look on his face, but rather by the look of the suite he wore, which would easily have cost upwards of $300.00. I did not turn a deaf ear on him, as so many others did around him. Instead I spoke with him as I passed and he started walking next to me down the street. When he realized he wasn’t going to get money from me, where he at first addressed me politely as sister, he now shouted at me “You’re really a man aren’t you! You need to have a dick shoved up your ass!”

Welcome to one of my average days.

What have I done, you may ask yourself, to warrant such treatment? Have I committed some heinous crime? Do I kick babies as a hobby? Do I advocate the overturn of the United States by force of arms? No…

I have had the simple fortune of having been born both genders. In more proper terms, a hermaphrodite. Unlike some of the others like me in the country (and there are more than the average person realizes) I had the chance to decide for myself “which gender” later in life.

Wait a minute. Think back. Re-read the last paragraph. Did I say “misfortune” or “fortune”? That’s right. I said I had the FORTUNE to be born a hermaphrodite. Why? Think of the quote by Marshall Mcluhan in the footer - "A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.” Being born as I was has given me the opportunity to gain insights and understanding that most people will never have, nor even understand. Still you may ask yourself, how does this make me fortunate? Why would anyone want to suffer so on a daily basis?

Well, “Want” has nothing to do with it.

Why would I welcome such abuse? I don’t always. But as grandmother used to say, “It’s like hitting yourself in the head with a rock. You can get used to anything if you do it long enough.” Still of what benefit can such abuse be? For the answer to that. You will have to read my next blog.

Sister Julie.

© 2006 Sisters of Embracement. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Why Virtual?

A Virtual Nun…

Why “The Virtual Nun”? First, to answer the question I am often asked, I really am a nun. Am I a Buddhist nun who happens to be a Christian or a Christian nun who happens to be a Buddhist? The question is like “which came first the chicken or the egg?” The important part of the answer is that Buddhism and Christianity are not, as many assume (and some of my co-workers have screamed at me), mutually exclusive. I am not the first person to follow both Buddhism and Christianity and I certainly will not be the last.

So why “Virtual”?

Marshall McLuhan, the author who wrote so much about mass media, would speak of the world becoming a global village – no part of it not being instantly accessible by the flow of electrons. This is certainly the case today, whether those electrons be in the form of television, radio, internet, or cell phone. The world is becoming an increasingly smaller place.

We live in a world where I can sit in a room with a friend in New Zealand, and another friend in Florida, USA at the same time – all the while I am sitting in my room in Illinois. Yet we can all see and hear each other, real time and in three dimensions. What we see may be a collections of pixels called an avatar, a virtual representation of the self. But we still see each other. We still talk to each other. This is the world of the global village. This is the internet.

William Gibson, the author who first coined the term “cyberspace” described it as an alternate reality in his books. A large part of the global village has become just what the author envisioned – an alternate reality. Massively multiplayer online games (mmo) like “World of Warcraft” are just such alternate realties. How real? Ask the 6.5 million subscribers that consist of everyone from grandmothers to five year olds to movie stars. This is just one small corner of the global village.

Sister Can I talk to you?

Yet too often we forget these collections of pixels are the intrusions into cyberspace of a real person.

One evening a virtual neighbor leaned over the virtual railing of her virtual front porch and spoke these words to me – “Sister can I talk to you?” The porch may have been a collection of pixels in the mmo “Ultima Online” but the woman speaking to me was very real. She was a woman stuck in a marriage with a physically abusive husband. Ultimately she had to take her children and flee for her life.

Whether it is a virtual front porch, an instant message, an email or a telephone call, many is the time I have spoken to troubled residents of the global village. I have never met them. Not in person. But they have met me, the virtual me – The Virtual Nun.

© 2006 Sisters of Embracement. All rights reserved.

The Virtual Nun

I am a nun in the Sisters of Embracement, a Buddhist, a Christian and an MMO Gamer. I will be writing a blog here about all of these things in the days to come.

Sister Julie