Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Friday, November 21, 2014

It's not Kinky

Yesterday was the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It utterly amazes me that people have so much fear of sexual diversity. More specifically, it shocks and disgusts me when weekly you read about another gay bashing or assault if not murder of a transgender person.

On top of that, I found it ironic and embarrassing that an individual who made the news yesterday was called a "former man". The person, made famous because of a purported relationship with Olympic athlete Michael Phelps, apparently was born intersex, but even today half the media reported that she was born male. The lack of understanding not only runs deep, but it almost smacks of resistance to understand biology and denial of the existence of intersex people.

Even in supposedly progressive times and communities, such errors are widespread. How do we ask people to understand that it's not a sin to be born a certain way, that it's not a sin to be raised a certain way by your parents and family, that it's not a sin to discover that God's plans for you are to live your life as intended, not in a false, error-laden, bullied way? We do so by reminding them that life is diverse and multi-hued.

My clothes, shoes, music, and books vary tremendously. I gain so much more when the things that inform me and the items that represent me are as varied as my moods and my interests. Likewise, we as a people are so much better off if we respect the variety around us and not try to pigeon hole people into shoes that don't fit.

Tonight, I watch the play Kinky Boots at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I first saw the musical on the big screen and then on stage on Broadway. It was delightful and magical. It showed that all people can make assumptions about others, both good and bad, something that we all can do on any given day. What makes the show so enjoyable is that what is superficially considered kinky and unusual does in fact offer appealing attributes that are both challenges and opportunities for those who look beyond the surface.

That's what makes life so special to me. If we look beyond our own limitations, our own blinders and biases, we can find a world out there that enriches, and a world inside of us that enlivens. It's knowing that we can be both unusual AND essential that allows us to express our humanity in a more honest and purposeful way.

Those of us born with unusual characteristics can't choose the cross they've been given, but all of us can choose to affirm so-called kinky if that's what it means to be honest and alive.

Monday, November 17, 2014


This week's gospel reading from the common lectionary reminds me, as it does every three years, why I share with people how I feel about my spiritual direction. I may not be giving direct instructions or sermons, but I do like to discuss my journey, my growth, and my offerings as a way to see how I'm slowly grasping greater meaning and purpose in life.

The reading involves the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. It's the one about the master giving his servants sacks of talents (money). The ones who used those talents to create more were rewarded. The servant who buried his talents was cast out.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This passage is often used by the wealthy to justify their wealth and the preservation of their wealth. I think, as all good parables do, that the money is just a way to help us understand the story better. I don't see it as a justification for the 1% hoarding 22% of the country's wealth (up from 10% in 1970, and that's according to Fortune Magazine). Whatever our gifts might be and in whatever quantities, it's important that we create more from those gifts. We can't just sit on them. It's why I think the preservation of wealth argument fails. If you're creating wealth that only you can enjoy, you really aren't creating wealth for the master. You're making the wealth and hiding the benefits from everyone. In other words, you're doing it for yourself and not the glory of God.

I was born into a middle class immigrant family, where my parents worked 2 or 3 jobs to get us educated. I didn't understand what a gift this was until I got older, but now appreciate with enormous gratitude their sacrifice. I also know I was granted some skills that can be useful to others. Though I'll be the first to admit that I sometimes waste these gifts, it doesn't take long for me to remember how important it is to share back in whatever way possible. I feel responsible to use these gifts as granted to me.

One point that I didn't realize until this year was that a bag of talents isn't chump change. It was 6000 dinari. A dinari was equal to a day's labor. In other words, even the third individual received a bag of money equal to 20 years of labor. That's like winning the lottery. We all are winners of the lottery then. We've been given enormous, unbelievable gifts, like my parents gave to me when they brought me to this country to be educated. These gifts are almost inconceivable and we are all the fools for not using them. Worse, we're cast out as lazy and worthy of tears for wasting them.

As Thanksgiving comes, I recognize that I have much to be thankful for and much to share. May we share our joys and gifts, whatever they might be, with others so that these gifts may grow, be fruitful, and multiply. It might be re-gifting, but anything less would be squandering our inheritance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Crushing Leaves

I gave a devotion at the Millbrook Baptist Church Sunday night in Raleigh, North Carolina. A friend of mine is a minister there and she leads the labyrinth services with the church members. I met Carolyn McClendon last year while dropping by to visit the labyrinth. She and other members were gardening the areas around the it. I chatted, exchanged Facebook info, and then returned later. Lo and behold, one year later, I'm leading the walk with a devotion (sort of a homily).

I wasn't sure what to talk about, other than to reference the Camino. So, as with anything, I took a walk in the forest. It's fall in North Carolina and the kaleidoscope of colorful leaves lie below your feet wherever you turn. I usually stay in hotels at the Crabtree so Umstead Park is a favorite of mine. But despite the visual glory of the park, it was oddly quiet, oddly still.

No birds.

No squirrels.

No copperhead snakes.

Just sound of the leaves crushed underfoot.

It's fall and the animals seem to know it's time to slow down or move on. The leaves are coming down and time tick tocks its way toward winter.

The various lakes and ponds and streams shimmered with the hazy sunshine. The crisp air, not yet biting, filled my lungs with power and fuel. It fed me for my talk.

Later that afternoon, I gave a probably longer than normal talk about the Camino with an explanation of how it works and some of my favorite vignettes. In the setting light, I offered my devotion to the people there among the birds and flowers. I was pleasantly surprised when I had several questions asking me to elaborate on points about the walk or resources to learn more.

And then we walked in silence around the labyrinth. We walked, in the fading light, until you could barely discern the path that seemed so clear just moments before. We walked and prayed.

Most of the time, I don't understand why people are interested in listening to me blather on about this topic or that. But something caught my attention this morning. One of my Camino friends from Austria chatted me on Facebook and told me that my comments and stories affected him. He's still processing and learning from the things I shared and the values that I carried with me on my journey.

And so, despite the silence of my walks, hearing neither bird nor squirrel, I still hear the crunching of the leaves as I move forward in my life. Whether I follow the path or meander away at times, I appreciate that my trail of crushed leaves may yet guide someone I do not know or see.

May you always remember that your journey guides those who follow you.