1500 Characters Is Not Enough!

Hotels.com asked me for a review of the Camino Real in Saltillo. I labored over it, because it had been formulating in my little brain all last Sunday when we finally made it home. After all that work, they said I’m limited to 1500 characters. Nyet! So I’m posting it here.

Great beds, great view, but bring your own food and a screwdriver.

I have such a love/hate relationship with this hotel. My husband and I have stayed here many times, going and coming between San Miguel de Allende and San Antonio, Texas. It is exactly half way on our journey, perfect to arrive around 4 in the afternoon, rest a while and then enjoy dinner. It is set up on a hill with mature trees, lovely grassy areas and spectacular views of the Sierra Madre. The staff is always welcoming and competent. (Well, this last time, we were sent to a room that was already occupied, but I’m married to Larry and forgive dyslexic tendencies.)  The beds are wonderful, the rooms spacious, and every one we’ve ever stayed in has had either a private patio or some other amenity to recommend it. There is a double security gate, and circuitous roads leading to your particular bungalow. You feel like you’re going to be well taken care of. That’s what works.

What didn’t work on this last trip was the phone in the room, the clock radio (obviously broken, but set up on the nightstand like for decoration), the wardrobe doors which wouldn’t stay shut and we kept running into, the shower head which sprayed in a wide circle and was unadjustable so you had to stand over by the open door to the shower stall in order to get hit with the water, and the electric hairdryer that fell off the wall. There was one tissue left in the dispenser. We just kept laughing. It was like Fawlty Towers.

In times past (and we’ve been staying here off and on for ten years) there was an excellent steakhouse with a panoramic view of the Sierra Madre. That has closed. So we ate in the bar on the trips prior to this one. Going north this time, the desk manager said that the restaurant was open again, and was located up where they have always served breakfast. OK, we said. (once you’re installed there, it’s a pain to get in the car and go elsewhere for dinner.) Both meals were basically inedible. My salmon was still frozen cold in the middle, there was rice instead of the potato listed on the menu, and the “steamed vegetables” was a pile of mushy stuff that looked like it had come from the garbage disposal. Larry’s enchiladas had been microwaved and couldn’t be cut with a fork. We recounted our experience to friends in San Antonio. “Eat in the bar,” they counseled. “It’s great!” So we rebooked and stayed again going south. The bar was being used for a wedding reception. We snacked in the room. “How bad can breakfast be?” we wondered the next morning. We were hungry. The yogurt and granola were nice. Everything else was so salty as to be gag-inducing. I paid the bill, since we were checked out. With tip, 400 pesos. We shoulda gone to McDonalds.

I made one last trip to the ladies room, as Larry was waiting below with the car. The little guy mopping the floor motioned me into a stall. I finished, about the same time he did. No flush. No water at the sink either. The water was shut off. He looked at me and shrugged. I wonder if the only thing that works at this hotel is the staff!

Some Things Are Worth Saving

I’m making friends with a new Mac. I respect its clean lines and uncluttered appearance. I didn’t want to dump a bunch of old docs from my HP laptop into it, so I’ve been going through and doing a lot of deleting. In the process I’ve found a few things I feel good about having written. This is one from May 29, 2004. I’ve made a few tweaks — very few. I’m grateful the country has come so far.

Dear Cousin, Friend, Relative – I’ve been hearing from you all —

RE your e-mail urging I send an electonically generated thank you note to President Bush for his stand against gay marriage. OR urging me to contact my political representative to act immediately. OR whatever else you’ve asked me to do to “save” marriage…….

I write this with love and respect for all you stand for, but I can’t stay silent on this one.

I am a Christian. I acknowledge that I’m saved from hatred, sin and condemnation – from all manner of evil, from hell in every sense of the word – through Christ — through the life lived by Jesus. His is the consumate example, the only way. He is unparalleled in the universe for the love he expressed, the forgiveness he showed, the suffering he endured. I love Jesus.

And I take his charge to follow him very seriously. His most simple and profound counsel was “Love one another.” And he told us how to love: “As I have loved you.”

He loved unconditionally, freely, extravagantly. He loved with everything he had, with total commitment. — inclusively, unselfishly, passionately – so much so that his final earthly act has taken the name “The Passion.”

I will take the word and works of Jesus Christ as the example by which to form my social attitudes and opinions.

Not the proscriptive strictures addressed to an ancient middle eastern tribe who, like new born children, had to have everything dictated to them, even to their dietary and clothing practices!

Not the detailed counsel attributed to Paul, who, inspired by his own Christian conversion experience, felt impelled and ordained to tell every other Christian how to conduct themselves in their personal and congregant lives. (Whoever heard of something like that happening! Yeah. Right.) In all fairness, much of what is attributed to Paul is now acknowledged to have come from other sources. This should be evident, in that some of his counsel is at odds with Jesus’ practice and direction.

And what was that?

“Love God. Love one another.” Do it the best you know how. Give your all. Commit to those you love. Be there for them – always and in all ways. Provide for their needs now and their future security. Honor their hopes and dreams. Live in community with one another and in communion with God. Mind your own business. Don’t exclude or reject any honest heart for any reason.

Jesus didn’t see us as sexual beings. He saw us as human beings in every state and stage of progress toward realizing our God-created spiritual identities.

Who on earth, given the persecution, revulsion and exclusion which comes with that state, would choose to be gay? As a Christian Science practitioner I’ve worked long – and fruitlessly – to help individuals who came to me asking for help in “healing” homosexuality. I’ve seen them overcome sensuality through prayer – as much a deterrent to spiritual growth in heterosexuals as in homosexuals. Yet the feeling of being NOT heterosexual has remained. I’ve witnessed their self-hatred, despair and guilt for this. And it’s only within the past five years or so, that I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to “heal” someone of homosexuality is like trying to “heal” a woman of having periods. Some things are just a part of being human – maybe not pleasant or attractive to all sensibilities, but not “abnormal.”

I may not be able to personally comprehend what it is to be homosexual, no more than men can imagine having a period, but God forgive me for adding any weight these dear ones already carry. God forgive me for marginalizing them from “civilized” society, as surely as menstruating women were shunted off as “unclean” to red tents in the desert.

Civilized society benefits from stable relationships and moral commitments in many forms. These commitments also carry responsibility. Some of them include becoming a member of and serving in a church; serving in the military; committing time and effort to a community association board; becoming a regular volunteer for any number of civic organizations. Getting married. Excluding people from the right to participate in these kinds of relationships and commitments – and thus depriving them from responsibility — does not contribute to the stability of society. Rather, it separates and scatters — relegating whole groups to the fringes or hounding them into an underground culture. And then we click our tongues over their irresponsible behavior!

Anyone willing to commit morally and legally to a civilized institution these days – to be willing to say “I’m there for you with all I am and with all I’ve got. I’ll be there for you in sickness and health, for richer and poorer. You can count on me always and in all ways,” — should be encouraged, not vilified.

Mary Baker Eddy might have been addressing this same subject — and many others, as well — when she wrote:

In Christian Science, the law of Love rejoices the heart; and Love is Life and Truth. Whatever manifests aught else in its effects upon mankind, demonstrably is not Love. We should measure our love for God by our love for man; and our sense of Science will be measured by our obedience to God, — fulfilling the law of Love, doing good to all; imparting, so far as we reflect them, Truth, Life, and Love to all within the radius of our atmosphere of thought.

     The only justice of which I feel at present capable, is mercy and charity toward every one, — just so far as one and all permit me to exercise these sentiments toward them, — taking special care to mind my own business.

Fussin’, feudin’ and fightin’ – Being “church” can get messy.

The topic of “church” didn’t come up that often when we lived at the beach. Generally, gringos (I use that term for anyone not born in Mexico) came to Nayarit for vacations and fishing. The “fishers of men” thing wasn’t a high priority for people just visiting.

It’s different here in San Miguel. Here there’s a large ex-pat population who call this town home, and for many of them an important part of putting down roots is finding a spiritual home base. Virgin Territory How I Found My Inner Guadalupe was conceived at the beach, and is my chronicle of personal wrestling and self-perception along the lines of “where does one lodge one’s faith?” Some people opined that my thinking at that time may have been as soggy as the climate. Well, the search continues in this higher, drier, clearer climate. I don’t know that I’ve reached any definitive answer about what I say when asked what I am, but I’ve been open to exploration.

The town offers a lot of choices. I’ve mentioned before that one of the places I’ve “lit” from time to time is the San Miguel Community Church, but though I recently acquired a name tag to wear at services, I’m still loath to put my name on any dotted line. It does seem that just as I am in search of self-definition, the Community Church is, too. Who knows? Maybe that’s what attracted me in the first place.

My friend Al wrote about this church recently on his blog. His remarks are in response to a “wisdom offering” and ensuing discussion that I led last week at the early service. Not everyone, I am assured, would agree totally with his account of church history. All of this was before my time, but I’m seeing the various stories still inform current perceptions.  If you’re interested, read what I said last Sunday, read what he wrote, and then read the comments after his blog entry. Yeah, I know. It’s messy. But that’s what I titled this piece in the first place!

My remarks at the early service, San Miguel Community Church, March 22, 2015.

“What Kind of Church?”

I’m presenting these categories in reverse order, with an eye toward Easter and resurrection – from the slightly moribund, to the vital and transcendent. Any church can have elements of all four categories. The question is What is the foremost characteristic of an organization? I need to give Leonard Sweet credit for the concept of these categories.

Monument church – we recognize them often by their landmark buildings. We also know exactly what to expect when we enter the door. I think of these churches the same way I think of McDonald’s. I don’t mean that as a disparagement. This is from someone whose car automatically veers to the right when I see those golden arches just this side of Leon. Breakfast at McDonald’s is a ritual when my husband and I drive to the coast. It’s not inspirational, but it is definitely comforting. We don’t have to make a lot of decisions. We are simply given a meal in familiar form to sustain us on our way. That is a good thing, but not transformative.

Maintenance church – This church may well be located in a landmark building, or it may be in search of a place to erect one. A maintenance church is identified by place – whether an actual physical structure or a place within a denomination. Questions at business meetings revolve around how to maintain that place and identity. I’ve heard churches like these referred to as having an “edifice complex.”

Ministry church – This is a church which is all about people – helping them out, comforting them, feeding them, praying for them. The purpose of lifting and enlightening human lives unites the members of a ministry church as much as or more than any particular denominational elements. The primary motivation of a ministry church is service, both to the community and to one another. The Church at Jerusalem, led by the disciple Peter, was a good example. It drew members because of the love they felt expressed there, the individual sense of fulfillment when working as a group.

Peter is the one who Jesus appointed as “the rock,” on which he would build his church. Jesus had asked the question “Who do people say I am?” and after receiving various responses from the disciples, he asked another question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, who was then known as Simon bar Jonah, is the one who blurts out the answer: “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”

The response of Jesus is infused with relief. Somebody gets it! And the “it” is a big enough and solid enough concept that Jesus says

“God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”

(That passage above is from The Message, a translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson.)

Peter’s recognition of who Jesus really was, the embodiment, the incarnation of divine power, the Messiah or Christ, the tangible evidence of divinity embracing humanity, was the foundation stone, the rock, on which the human organization of Christianity was based. Peter’s glimpse of the coincidence of, that is “the being in the same place at the same time” of God and man, the living evidence of “God with us,” this Christ-power is what lay behind the good works, the healing work that he and members of the Jerusalem church went on to do. They ministered. They healed in the name – that is in the nature — of Christ Jesus.

But still they carried a limited sense of what the life of Christ Jesus meant. They referred to themselves at that time as “people of the way,” a distinct sect of Judaism, limited to those who followed the laws of the prophets and whose men were circumcised. It was Paul, the former Saul whose reputation was made on the many Christians whom he had persecuted, who got an even deeper meaning of Jesus’ message. As Paul he carried that message to the far corners of the Roman empire, including not only Jews, but gentiles, slaves, and even pagans. He trained, educated and inspired others to do the same.

That brings us to the last category, the Message Church. We might even consider it as the Messiah Church. Both words begin with “Me.” This is the church which emphasizes what Jesus said in his response to Peter, “And now I’m going to tell you who you are, who you really are.”

The Messiah words of Jesus are central to the Message Church, and just as most of his deep messages were uttered to individuals or to small groups, his words apply specifically to me, and to you, and to you, and to that guy over there. In essence (and this is what I as an individual hear) Jesus says:

“Search the Scriptures. They tell you about me. Remember my words. I tell you about your potential for good, the power you possess as you abide in me, as you follow me. Take up your cross. Give up your former identity. Be made new, be born of Spirit. You have potential for change, redemption. The precious substance of your God-made being has never been touched. This is who you really are. You are more than a servant; you are a child of God.”

The Message was powerful to grow the Christian church throughout the Western world. It still is effective when spoken with heart to those whose hearts are yearning.

What if you had to be strip searched before you attended a church service? Strip searched once more when you left? Anyone who has conducted church services in a jail or prison knows that the essential elements of effective “church” are rudimentary and few. “I just want to hear the word,” explained one inmate to me. “That’s all.”

Monument, Maintenance, Ministry – ultimately it is the Message that moves individuals forward. And it is only as individuals hear and respond to that message that church moves forward as well.

Going Off Her Meds and Heading for Mexico

“Breaking Up With My Meds” is the first post of a new series of incredibly brave articles drolly titled “Going Off.”  Diana Spechler is the writer, and her column appears in The New York Times, under the category Anxiety. The last two paragraphs grabbed me. They talk about our modern society’s yearning “to become spotless on the inside,” a flute tune that resonates with the drum I’ve been beating for some time — our need to reclaim the original definition of virginity.

“I wish I could meet that young woman,” I thought at the time. “She is a real live virgin.” I promptly forgot her name.

It is the magic of the Writers Conference of San Miguel de Allende that Sunday afternoon, yesterday, standing in the gardens of the Hotel Real de Minas, I asked a new acquaintance what she wrote. “I’ve just begun a series for The New York Times,” she answered, “about going off my meds for depression.”

And so begins a friendship, Facebook and otherwise. Diana Spechler. You should remember her name.

What do we call ourselves?

Last night at the 10th Annual San Miguel Writers’ Conference, Alice Walker bemoaned the fact that women still refer to each other in groups as “guys.” Thinking in the shower this morning, what’s an alternative? Gals? Ladies? Women? Think about it. Can you hear yourselves, hum, Ladies, using any feminine term of address that doesn’t have just a smidge or an echo of diminution in it. Diminution? Is that a good word? Maybe I’m thinking “a tone of condescension.”  Maybe I’ll come up with some better term for calling out to a group of my, (oh dear, shall I say it?) gal pals, when I want to get their attention. Gal pals? Yech. That tasted awful on my tongue. Help me come up with something better!

A New Way to Look at Mexico

C.M. Mayo’s “Marfa Mondays” podcast interview with Georgetown University professor John Tutino gives a fascinating new perspective on an old and shared history between the United States and Mexico. Give a listen. It’s an hour and fourteen minutes, so download it for a road trip or have your knitting or Spider Solitaire game handy.


What Are We Really Supposed To Be Doing?

I gave the “wisdom offering” today at the sweet little church that lets me drift in and out. Since I actually wrote something down, I thought I’d post it on my badly neglected blog. Besides, it’s about a Mary. You know I can’t resist a MARY story. Here ’tis:

Most women, if they’ve had any exposure to the New Testament, are familiar with the story of the sisters Mary and Martha and a party in Martha’s house. Luke tells the story. He was a Greek gentile who put together a long account about the life of Jesus, and much of it focuses on the women surrounding Jesus. That is literally true, because it’s in Luke’s gospel we get the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, how she got the news of her pregnancy, and what she thought about it. A physician, Luke must have been a good listener, a guy women could talk to. So it may have been that this other Mary, Martha’s sister, told him about what happened at the party. I doubt if Martha would have told him.

Jesus is the guest, and he’s talking and sharing his ideas. The guys are sitting around listening, asking questions. The women are in the kitchen, doing what women were supposed to do, all except one. That would be Mary, the sister of the hostess. She’s sitting right down there with the guys, listening and learning. She’s not giving a thought to what’s going on any place else. This is not what she’s supposed to be doing!

Martha finally has enough. “Why don’t you tell her to get up and come help me?” she demands of Jesus. He answers her, “Martha, Martha, you are troubled and careful about many things, but Mary has chosen the good part, and it shall not be taken away from her.” See? I doubt Martha would have shared that.

Kathleen Norris comments in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith:

I can hear Martha muttering, her housewife’s meter running, as she is so overrun with the work of hospitality—the cleaning to be done, the food to be prepared and served—that she risks becoming inhospitable. She’s my Type-A side, rushing to get the job done, but at too great a cost. Mary is pure Type-B, the procrastinator and dreamer, the person who knows that no small part of welcoming a guest is the ability to settle down and listen. She is my better self, the one I have to strive for.

I’m drawn to the fact that this author recognizes that each of us has both Martha and Mary elements. I know I do.

A large part of this summer, settling in after a cross-country move, I’ve spent going through files, trying to consolidate a vast amount of paper down to a few file drawers. I am in awe at the meticulous records I once kept. Both my husband and I were always self-employed, as well as owning jointly some rental property. We lived in the litigious and exigent state of California, so we kept each entity separate from the other, separate bank accounts, separate sets of books. I was the Master Record Keeper, the Martha of the two of us. I dutifully filed and retained every tax return and all the material to support them. We kept it all, at least records dating back to the requisite 2003, hauling the whole load with us when we moved to Mexico in 2006. We stored  them in a line of formidable gray filing cabinets.

Over the last seven plus years, I’ve subtracted nothing and added more records from our life in Mexico, a paper-loving bureaucracy if ever there was one. If you are an immigrant, there’s even more paper to keep track of than “normal.” Did I mention electric bills? In Mexico you are nothing, no one, without proof that you are plugged in and are paying for it. For good measure I’ve kept every statement, as well as records from Telmex, Telcel, SIAPA (that’s water and sewer), and even Global Gas.

This summer all this emerged. The documents had rippled edges from coastal humidity. Rusty paperclips and staples were embedded in bundles of statements and receipts, each page containing information you don’t just chunk in the garbage. To burn or to shred? Environmentally responsible, I’ve been shredding. It is rote work. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full. No, five. No, six. More. Evidently I have channeled Martha big-time for a long time, doing what I was supposed to do.

But what I’ve also found in those filing cabinets are records of my many Mary moments – journals and correspondence kept from the late 70’s, mid 80’s, longer entries from the early 90’s. They are introspective, inquisitive, seeking and searching. Sometimes woefully dense or painfully naive, but at other times, dare I say, poetic? These are my “good part.” They tell me much more of who I am and how I’ve progressed than the many bags of now confetti-ed financial records. Here I find letters exchanged with a wise woman mentor as I struggled through the challenges of early marriage. There, I come upon reflections about overcoming cynicism in the face of one war after another. Those are a welcome resource given current headlines! I find thank you letters written to me, when I myself have been the mentor. Oh, those are nice. And here, a long letter to my parents I wrote after their Christmas visit with us in 1991. It is filled with a litany of gratitude for all that they have done, not just for Christmas, but for all my life, for how I have been raised, for the values they have instilled.

My mom saved it! I find it now in a folder marked “SUSAN,” retrieved from her filing cabinets and sent on to me by my faithful sister-in-law, the one who ended up with the brunt of settling Mom’s estate a couple of years ago. Writing that letter was perhaps the best use of time I ever spent. It blesses me now, as I re-evaluate what seems a life time emerging from these ancient Penda-flex files. Could I have ever spent moments more valuable than listening and writing down my Mary moments?

Oh, I will still keep financial records and file returns. I’ve just finished and filed the required one for 2013, in time to swear to myself that this year will be different. I will have records for 2014 in order, and I won’t be waiting until the last minute – again. But somehow, after this cathartic cleaning out, I’m not feeling the mantle of heavy guilt that my silently raging Martha part would impose on me. My “good part,” my Mary part, will probably keep on doing what she’s always done, even if she’s supposed to be doing something else. And that’s a good thing. I have it on the best authority.