Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Guardians Have Gone

Oh God, the Guardians have come home to you and I am at a loss.

I found out last week that both of my Guardians at Saint Elizabeth's Friary, who helped me with my religious formation and the establishment of The Community of All Angels, have both passed away and entered into their reward.  Spiritually, I am delighted for them but emotionally I am at a loss.

The first Guardian in 1988 when I moved to Saint Elizabeth's was Brother Patrick who provided a very warm welcome and was very kind to me throughout our time together at Saint Elizabeth's.  Patrick later went back to Little Portion, the Society of Saint Francis' motherhouse here in the United States on Long Island in Mt. Sinai, close to Port Jefferson in New York.  While Patrick was at Little Portion, my friends and I were always welcome when space permitted to come out and make our quiet days and enjoy the hospitality of the brothers.  I went by myself for a Lenten retreat one year and made many trips with Ricardo who lived next door to Saint Elizabeth's and was a close friend to me when I received my HIV positive diagnosis in 1991.  I also made a few trips with friends from Lifespring (The Forum) and friends from Saint Christopher-Ottilie where I was working as a children and families social worker in foster care.  Patrick was very easy-going with me and always fun to be around.  However, he later left the Society of Saint Francis and I lost touch with him altogether.

My second Guardian was also my spiritual guide and mentor, the Rev. Donald Sullivan or at the time, the Rev. Brother Donald Sullivan.  He left the Society of Saint Francis but we stayed in touch for many years.  He was later in Kendall, Florida, as the priest-in-charge at Saint Faith's, where I was part of their faith community until I went to Maine.  Father Donald was also there when I entered the novitiate, through my days at Union Theological Seminary and wrote my letters of introduction to Bishop Chilton Knudsen and Rev. Jean Austen in Maine after I bought the convent in Jay, Maine, for The Community of All Angels.  Donald was in AA and I didn't know it at the time, but I, too, was an alcoholic but didn't come to terms with that until my days in Florida around 2001 and September 11th.  When I moved from the convent to Augusta, Donald also came up to visit me to comfort me in the loss of the convent.  I was extremely brokenhearted and drew into myself after the loss of the convent and threw myself into my work and graduate school and volunteer work and even a bit of gambling.  It was during this "isolation" period that I lost contact with Father Donald and only just learned of his passing.  Donald's nickname for me was "Trixie" and I was fine with that.  He was very, very kind to me and its the little things that matter in the end.  When my grandfather died, I came home to find in my mail slot a note, addressed to Trixie, it just said thinking of you at this time and praying for your loss.

My third Guardian and by far the most influential in my formation and spiritual development was Rev. Brother Derek Ford, S.S.F.  Brother Derek had been a Benedictine at Alton Abbey in England and was directly supervising my formation of The Community of All Angels, which is Benedictine and not Franciscan in those terms.  Derek was also my best friend during those years and was my companion for most major outings and doings and we got along just fine.  Derek was at that time the head of the Protestant Chaplaincy at Goldwater Memorial Hospital (now closed).  Under him, I did my chaplaincy volunteer work and with a tough group up in the secured TB ward.  My times at Goldwater with Brother Derek and the patients were very special to me and I'm very grateful for those experiences and the subsequent memories.

All three of the Guardians were older than me and Donald and Derek being much older, like father or grandfather figures, while Patrick was more like an older brother or fun uncle.  I do miss them and many of the other brothers from those years and I should really find something to say about my memories of those years at some point.

Because, I have been encouraged to make reconciliation, I am returning to Church work and have had my letter of transfer sent to Trinity Episcopal Church in my hometown of Michigan City, Indiana.  I went in search of Brothers Donald and Derek to write a letter of introduction for me to the Bishop and the priest-in-charge and discovered they had both passed away.  Depression, isolation and separation come with their own grief.  Nevertheless, assuming I was doing the best as I could, I have to have enough compassion to say to myself that I would have been more communicative if I had been able (or less selfish).

My stories shape my story and my story is much richer because of my friendships with these men.  I am deeply grateful and simply at a loss.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Vow of Silence

It seems that I have been reduced to silence as the only peaceful thing left to me.  My grandparents used to say, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. For 50 years, I have had to integrate my sexuality in a world that plain and simple doesn't get or refuses to understand what that is like.

On top of that my body has turned against me and now my mind is following suit.  I was very vocal in my opposition to the Republican shame and the disaster of Trump who is not ever going to be my president.  I fear that this means that I have lost my country just like I lost my Church. I was forced to give the Church up because it was resistant to change and my country is following the same narrow path into the grave.

Personally, what this means is that I am now a traitor and/or treasonous.  Not to the America I believe we are called to be, but to the America we are. Some of my friends are of the opinion that we will overcome, and I do believe that Love Trumps Hate, nevertheless, this does little to comfort me in the present moment where I find myself an apostate and a traitor.

Spiritually, I belong to the Community of All Angels, where somewhere beyond this valley of tears, there is peace and serenity.  I have been a monk since I was 10 on the interior. Although I was forced to be a Benedictine in Exile, because the Benedictines aren't very good about their understanding of sexuality either..."watch his psycho-sexual development" is the warning they gave the Jesuits regarding my novitiate application.  The Church protects pedofiles but doesn't have room for gay monks who are celibate or room for people with AIDS even when the communities are so large that it isn't any hardship on them.  It is an unbelievable error in logic and rationality.

Silence allows for many things...and outside of the sound of my keyboard, SILENCE may turn out to be my most sincere application of the deep monastic impulse I have always felt...a call home to be One with my Creator God, in the realm beyond good and evil.  For this "intrinsically evil and morally disordered" person, I think I have said enough.

O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me! In Jesus' name, I pray.  Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2016

NOT MY PRESIDENT - No Reconciliation - Open Dissent and Public Opposition

Let me just preface my thoughts today with a warning to my friends, family and fellow Christians.  I do NOT want to be comforted or counseled.  I am sufficiently mature in the religious life to do my own moral reasoning.  If you want to be peacemakers and work for some united common good, no one is stopping you.  I, however, have drawn my line in the sand.  I will NEVER forgive these fools and will never reconcile with them.  I began my work in social justice at the age of 10 largely due to my own suffering around my gender non-conformity and my sexual orientation.  That gives me 40 years of attempting reconciliation and education and dialogue and the rest of the liberal fence-walking.  I am exhausted and completely debilitated.  As sick as I am and facing my own mortality, the very last thing I needed is for the country I love to publicly shame me.
I have confessed many times, that I am not a good person.  I have constantly fallen short of my own moral standards and am ashamed and accountable for how simply being White I have escaped the scourge of many of my worse battles.  Even my encounters with authority and police have been mitigated by the sheer fact that I am so pasty.  I was already livid about race relations in this country before the election and NOW, I'm quite beside myself.  The last 10 years of my life I have done some small work in the Diversity and Inclusion arena and from my experience, America has a Race and Sex problem of gigantic and immoral proportions.  My own employer of 18 years couldn't even deal with the topic and was entirely pretextual in their lip service to federal laws around race and gender discrimination.  When I went to the EEOC, I discovered they are impartial and that an employee's only real recourse is the courts.  I was horrified.  How in the hell does a private citizen have the resources to take on a corporation?!*!?  Elizabeth Warren is right, the deck is stacked against the average American but while she may take a more financial approach to America's problems, I see the underlying moral problem of selfish, greedy, ignorant asses vs. those who want to live in a better world for everyone.

CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA! You just elected the first openly racist, proven serial liar and sexual predator... not to mention a completely ignorant and unstable fraud. Now we all must reap the havoc of your actions! Be sure he will surround himself with deplorable scum, thugs and fascists. God help us all and God help anyone who voted in this election who did not vote for HRC. To those eligible to vote and who didn't, I hope God is more merciful to you than you have been to me for putting us in this tribulation. Thanks to your dim wits, I am now ashamed to be an American! 

As a casual reader of history, I am absolutely convinced that this past election was a disaster for the progressive cause.  After eight years of wonderful progress, Americans went an about face and drug us through the mud and slime by electing a man unfit for leadership let alone for the highest office in our nation.  I am demoralized and bewildered that this choice was made.  I am angry at those who voted for Trump and Pence the Puke and for those who voted third party.  Except for those who voted for Hillary Clinton, I consider all of them treasonous to my version of the American dream and with or without civil war, I now have enemies.  I will not live in their version of America.  Whether the progressive states openly leave the union or not, I consider myself unable to tolerate this man or his supporters.  It is a moral decision of my conscious that I will not support his government in any way or manner.  In fact, I am openly and publicly opposed to anything or anyone in favor of him or his election. I am ashamed of America and reproachful of the Republican cowards who put us in this state of affairs.

He is NOT MY PRESIDENT! Never! NO Trump (elected or otherwise) or Pence the Puke! That's just the way it is. If we are divided we may fall but as far as I am concerned he has already fallen (lower than the average sinner). I have no intention of ever giving him respect.  I see nothing in him but smug arrogance and no repentance whatsoever. My time is short and and I'm tired of shoring up ignorant people who can't see the wolves in wolves' clothing. I'm not doing it anymore. He has brought low one of the highest offices I can imagine. While I acknowledge that everyone has a right to their own opinions and citizens have a right to vote for whom they choose, morally I hold each of us accountable. I blame each and every voter for anyone other than Hillary for this nightmare. It is between you and G-d...But between you and are now my enemies. I literally cannot wait to get out of here!!! Death, jail, the insane asylum or exile, I really couldn't give a damn. One way or another, I'm through with your ignorant asses! God help me, but here I stand defiant and pissed the f..k off!

As a Christian and a monastic, I should be more conciliatory and compassionate.  I am not!  If people would have resisted Hitler openly and publicly we may never have seen the Holocaust and I'll be damned if I keep silent about this atrocity to our Lady Liberty and the dreams of my immigrant ancestors.  Over the centuries, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, we have divided ourselves.  This time, my division stands firm.  I no longer care what my enemies think nor do I ask for their forgiveness. Today, my prayers are that God punish them according to his justice and somehow organize the March for the Saints to come home.  My bags are ready for the pilgrimage...

Monday, October 24, 2016

All in the Name of...

My reflection on the name of things, including myself.  My name is Brother Stephen Bernard. I am very pleased to meet you if you are a new reader.  Brother is the title I use in place of Mister because I am a monk in The Community of All Angels, Benedictines in Exile.

Christ, The Divine Physician
Stephen is my baptismal name from my baptism by Father Doody at Saint Mary Immaculate Conception Church, Michigan City, Indiana, Diocese of Gary, on Pentecost Sunday, 1966, after Saint Stephen the Protomartyr. Stephen is also the name of the King of Poland who turned back the Muslim invasion of Europe. Historically, if not for Saint Stephen, Europe may have gone the way of North Africa and Asia Minor and we'd all be speaking Arabic today. Such are the powers of names in history!

Bernard is my confirmation name taken at my confirmation at Saint Patrick Church, Terre Haute, Indiana, Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and the name I was given when I first entered religious life with the Brigettines at 16 in Woodside, California.

Due to my disability, I now live with with mother and sister at All Angels Priory (our condo) in Kings Point in Tamarac, Florida.  As to Tamarac and Florida, I'll have to do some more research.  As to Kings Point, it is quite royal residence oriented.  We live in Fairfax but have a view of Southampton and Clairmont across the water from which I can see Queen Eleanor of Acquitane easily in my imagination approaching around the bend in her barge to the tune of "Eleanorae Regina, Adorae, Regina..." from Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.  Given the distance in the days from our independence from the crown, I doubt there are any loyalists here.  If there are, they are likely quiet about their treason.

We live in Building I.  "I" for Israel, "I" for Incarnation, "I" for Immaculata, "I" for the Holy Innocents, etc.

Terese's Dream - The Lion and I

A few weeks ago, I thought I was dying with a heart attack.  The pain in my left chest was unbearable and I was alone at the time.  As I am already preparing to die, there was no need to call 911.  I called my sister to come because I didn't want to be alone but they lived about 40 minutes away and I was completely panicked.  I was texting my friend, Yahnia, earlier in the day, and when I grabbed by cell phone I was able to text her back and forth.  The pain was such that I really couldn't talk but texting seemed to work okay.  About 20 minutes into that conversation, it dawned on me to call The Nuns in Indiana.  Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to talk much and they were startled at first because of the distress I was in, however, they quickly assessed the situation and started soothing me with beautiful memories and lots of tender words.  Just then my sister and mother arrived.  

As it turns out, it wasn't a heart attack (such a drama queen but I never had a heart attack before and the pain was unbearable).  We first put it to pleurisy but later determined it was a herniated thoracic disc, not high on the list of medical priorities given my other health issues and the pain subsided within the week with a trip to the hospital and some muscle relaxants and pain pills.  After the hospital, I had to call The Nuns to let them know it wasn't a heart attack (much to my embarrassment).  The good news and the point of this blog post is that the conversation gave The Dreamer in Terese a dream of me as a young blond child in a field with a grown male lion.  In the dream, I walked over to the lion and placed my hand on his forehead.  My immediate Jungian associations were my inner child and the Lion of Judah (Jewish Scripture) but Terese went Gospel with Aslan from CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.  Reflecting on the dream further, I was also thinking about the inner child and the lion as psychosis and rage.  The child trying to comfort the lion.  In the end, I look at the dream as a signpost for peace in my journey home.  The great Prophet Jeremiah said, the “lion and the lamb shall lay down together” - a prophecy speaking of a literal utopia on earth to come or my eventual requiescat in pace. My own Dreamer has begun a series of navigational dreams, both moral decisions and physical directional choices...good or moral, evil or immoral, North or South, East or West, etc.  Like the journey of the mythological heroes (the realm of the archetypes), my Dreamer is preparing the road map for my return to Zion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Don McLean - Vincent ( Starry, Starry Night) With Lyrics

This song was dedicated to me by Rev. Walter Zebrowski, my Champion against the straight boys and the gay boys with extreme internalized homophobic ideation at Saint Mary's College, Orchard Lake, Michigan.

One evening in the men's dorm, I was down the hall visiting a friend in his room doing homework and talking.  We heard this huge banging noise and the yelling of several people down the hallway of the 3rd floor.  We both rolled our eyes (as good queens are want to do) because we thought it was the basketball team out of control again.  We shrugged it off and went back to our studies.  When I went back to my dorm room, I found a huge hole right through the middle of my wooden door to my room.  Now, I don't know if they punched their fists through the door but it was kind of thick, so maybe they used something else to do it.  In any case, when I open the door, there was a white piece of ruled paper with the three-hole binder holes.  In red ink (magic marker), it read, "NO FAGGOTS AT SAINT MARY'S!"

I was horrified!  My dorm room was the only home I had at the time.  I was also in priestly formation, so I was afraid the faculty would find out that the boys thought I was a faggot (which of course any reasonable person should be able to discern about me since the age of 4).  Let's just say I never really had to come out because I don't pass for straight!  A butch, I am not.  I went back to my friends room and the high drama really started!  My friend was indignant and wanted them all caught and expelled (of course he was my friend).  He marched me right down to the Dean of Men's room with the note.  We escorted the dean of men to my room on the third floor, told him we found the note inside, and what we had heard while we were studying down the hall.  The Dean said he would take care of it and that I was not to be afraid because nothing else like this would ever happen again.  I was immediately incredulous because the Dean of Men was very young and was also the Coach of the basketball team.  I don't think I slept that night at all.  I slept on my mattress on the floor in my friend's room.

The next day, I was called to the College President's office.  The President said there was nothing wrong with the boys or Saint Mary's and it was my fault because of my effeminate mannerisms.  His advise to me was "to act more manly" and he said that it was a lesson he, himself, had had to learn.  I kept my composure till I got outside the Administration building and then I went fetal.  I, in my keen sense of justice, felt utterly abandoned.  Furthermore, when I got back to the men's dorm, my room was empty of all its contents.  I panicked, thinking I had been expelled for being a queen! That sort of thing happened in seminary and religious life not all the time but it DID happen enough to terrorize most of us.  "Here today, gone to hell tomorrow!"  And without even the simple courtesy of a goodbye to their friends.

I went down to the Dean's office, completely demoralized, and he said don't worry you haven't not been expelled and you are not even going to be disciplined.  He had the basketball team players move the contents of my dorm room down to a room on the first floor where he lived for "my protection". To my knowledge, none of the boys were ever identified and no one was disciplined.

Later, that afternoon, I had my World Literature Class, which was taught by Father Walter Zebrowski but it was obvious to him that I had been crying.  He asked me what was going on and I told him the story.  He put a note on the blackboard for the other students that class had been cancelled for the day and that I should go back to my room and try to rest.

I later found out he marched down to the Administration building, into the President's Office.  I'm not sure what the exchange was but my friend's who worked on the switchboard later told me there had been a huge fight between Father Zebrowski and the President....yelling and shooting and the like. So loud that other people left the building and were standing on the lawn.

When I went to the College Cafeteria for dinner that night, as I entered, the whole place when dead silent and my heart sand and my stomach came up into my throat.  I tried to hold my head up and just go into the line for dinner.  I did it, talk about GRIT!  After dinner, when I was leaving the Cafeteria, Father Zebrowski, was also just leaving the Faculty Dinning room (across the hall) and he greeted me and asked me to go for a walk.   On that walk, he told me that if anything remotely like this happened again that I was to go to him immediately.  He then told me to ignore the President.  He said if he had been President, he would have expelled the Basketball Team from campus if not from the college altogether because no one would come forward.  Young Republicans!  He told me that he could imagine how I must be feeling inside and that far from believing that I did anything wrong, what I should embrace about myself were the lyrics to Don McClean's song "Starry, Starry Night" which he said he was dedicating to me and that for the rest of his life, he would remember me when he heard that song.  I didn't know the song but I thanked him all the same for being so kind to me.

Somebody must have said something to the College boys because I never had a problem again.  The two RA's on the 1st Floor, Matt Piwowar and Jay Faught (one of the most handsome men I have ever seen in my life!) used to keep a close eye on me and nothing like what happened ever happened to me again.   Well, at least from the college students and the basketball team players.  The teasing and taunting, however, continued throughout my days on the Orchard Lake Campus because we had the three schools.   The endless chorus of Faggot! from the prep students used to force we to walk only in certain areas of campus (but we've all seen the Lord of the Flies and boys will be boys!).  The other smirks and looks of disapproval came from the Polish Seminarians.  Being Polish myself, I know for a fact that the majority of Polish people struggle with their understanding of homosexuality let alone tolerance of homosexuals.

In any case, this song was dedicated to me by the sweetest champion a little 18 year old gay boy could hope for.  One year later, my champion was killed in a freak boating accident on Orchard Lake. Such is the general tenor of my luck in life!