A Girl Plays Football

“Hey, the Packers are going to beat your Cowgirls!” a student said.

And I corrected the student, “Don’t put down a team by calling them girls.” See, I believe in gender equality. I am a follower of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who believed that everyone should have equal access to opportunity.

Last year there was an ad on during the SuperBowl. It was about running like a girl. Did you see it?

The commercial spoofed the stereotype that girls could not run well. But they can. The ad showed that many kids thought the phrase, “run like a girl,” was an insult. But it’s not. It’s the opposite. Run, fight, throw like a girl. That takes courage. We all must do things that require courage. We all must be unconventional.

I’m going to tell you a little story.

This is the story of a girl who played a lot of two-hand touch football with her brothers and cousins. Her Uncle Tom N. was a great coach in Park Ridge, Illinois. One boy who went on to play college football and become a coach himself said Mr. N. was the best coach he ever had. Uncle Tom was patient, kind, smart. But he made one big mistake at a family party.

See, at this big party with lots of cousins, Uncle Tom was throwing a nerf football around the dining room to only the boys. But one girl jumped up and caught it. An interception. Yes. the girl.

“Hey, you’re pretty good. Too bad you’re a girl. And you can’t play football.”

“I can play,” the girl said.

“No you can’t. But just to prove it — If you want to try out tomorrow for the team, you can. But I won’t give you any special consideration because you’re a girl or because you’re my niece,” he said.  “Don’t feel bad if you get cut — Only half of the boys who try out make the cut.”

So this girl showed up with her little brother John to try out for the Mighty Might football team, the Vikings. She was very scared. But she did not let on.

She did her very best. There were tires on the ground and she hiked up her knees and hopped in and out of the tires. And there was a catching practice. And she caught it just like she always did when playing with her brothers or her cousins – one hand on top, one hand on the bottom and she hugged it to herself and ran fast. Faster than the boys.

And during the scrimmage of the touch football – they didn’t have their equipment yet — she was so scared of getting tagged, she ran even faster. She played her heart out. She even got to throw the ball and she jerked it back next to her ear just like she always did. ‘Cause see, she played like a girl – a fast, athletic, capable girl.

After the tryout, when her father picked her and her brother up from the tryout, she told him that she and John had done well. She felt proud. She felt like a winner.

And that night they got a phone call. The girl made the team, but her little brother John didn’t. (In fairness to John, he did not make the age cut off. It had nothing to do with ability.) But she never went on to play in a team. She just wanted to prove that she could make the team. And she did.

And that girl was me. So, never say, a girl can’t play football, because she can. She just might not want to.

When I was a girl, schools did not really implement Title IX yet. You know what it is, right? It’s a law that says public schools have to give equal funding to girls’ sports as boys’. And there were other ways that schools, when I was little, weren’t fair. I loved wood shop, but I could only take shop one quarter of the year and three-quarters of the year, I had to take cooking and sewing.

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That didn’t seem right. So in middle school, I ran for and became the first girl president of Lincoln Junior High. I’m not sure if I made much of a difference. But there was an article in the local newspapers and maybe some minds started to change through my small acts of resistance about what girls could do.

Although women are not represented very well in the government in the U.S., in many countries half of the elected officials are women. In churches too, we have come a long way but we have a ways to go. As a girl, before Third Grade, I attended Saint Joan of Arc school in Skokie, Illinois and I could not be an Altar Boy. In Communion class in Second Grade, I asked the priest, Why can’t women be priests? And I’m still asking that.

So my message is: we must judge one another on the content of our characters and not on the way we look.

We can do better. We must do better.

  1. Girls are just as good as boys.
  2. Do not judge a book by its cover.

In English class we talked about how cool it is when a character is not how they, at first, appear. Take Chewbacca in Star Wars. How does he look? (Wait) Big, scary, mean. But you couldn’t have a better friend — a gentle giant.

Dr. Martin Luther King talked about we need to do in a sermon that is often called “A Tough Mind, A Tender Heart.” He talked about a creative solution to resist inequality. Thank you to Rev. Andrew Stehlik of Rutgers Church for his sermon on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, which inspired me.

Dr. Martin Luther King said:

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the political officials and protectors of the old order.  He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So he said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the mist of wolves.”

And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

That was what he said. We must have soft hearts. We must give everyone a chance and we must be aware of the potential in everyone. We must encourage everyone. We must ask, Why? Why can’t we all be equal? Why should we put someone down for how they look? Or whether they are a boy or girl?

What can we do? Resist the status quo. Do not become lazy or timid when you hear someone put another person down. Or when you hear a boy call another boy, ‘a girl’ as an insult.

And this goes for ourselves too. Do not put yourselves down.

I tell you:  be more loving. To each other and to ourselves. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that. So did Jesus. Dr. King said we have to love everyone, even those who were hating on us. He said, “Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system.”

In other words, love the hater but reject the system that encourages hate.

At the end of his sermon, Dr. King said,

When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.  When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in God’s nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

I want to end with one more upshot to my brief career as a football player. After that Vikings football season, between fifth and sixth grade, I took a summer school class on newspaper reporting. I wrote about my experience playing football. And a lot of other students, and even teachers and parents, said they saw my article in the school paper and they liked it. It made them think. And that summer school class probably inspired me in high school to work on the school paper, and, years later, to become a professional writer.

I saw that writing might start to change people’s minds –and I would not have not known that, had I not tried out for the football team. So take a risk, try something new. Just because everyone says you’re good at football doesn’t mean you can’t knit too. In fact, when I was a girl, there was a football player named Rosie Grier and he was a writer too, He wrote a book, Needlepoint for Men.

He was unconventional. So was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So was Jesus. You should be unconventional too.

This is a slightly revised version of a chapel talk I gave to elementary school students after Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Health Care for All

I believe in covering children for health care. I believe in health insurance for families of disabled people and those with preexisting conditions, like Parkinson’s. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and he has been on Social Security Disability for years. He has also taken early retirement.

These supports were important to us as a family – they kept us afloat as I changed jobs from writing to teaching. As I started a small business. And as Chris received less work as an actor.

I feel ashamed to see Congress stripping away the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). They voted down support for young people on their parents’ coverage, veteran’s health, and CHIP, Children’s Health Insurance Program. They gutted programs at 1 in the morning when they thought no one is looking.

I am looking.

It is hard to look. I am still in such a state of shock for our country and, these days, I turn away more often than not.


I’m in a pretty hectic job; our daughter is going away to a semester school; my family house, Skenewood, is sold; my son is home from college. And every night I have to help put dinner on the table. I cannot do everything. But I can do some things.

I am going to the women’s march in DC next weekend.

I’m not giving up. I’m saying my piece. My peace. I’m seeking peace.

I believe in Obamacare, in health care for all. I believe in looking out for the marginalized, especially children and people with disabilities. Having health care has helped me and my family survive. I believe it is a right not a privilege. We can do better.

Change is good

It’s bittersweet. The General Board of Global Ministries, (a.k.a. The Board, Global Ministries, and GBGM) closed its New York doors on Friday. When I started working there — at the Women’s Division, which was then conjoined with GBGM, I could not believe my good luck — a beautiful office space, amazing intellectual and faith-based women leaders, and wonderful multilingual coworkers.

I was going through a divorce and this job was a happy distraction from my loss. I threw myself into my work.

My position lasted six months and then I was let go. See, at the time, the staff association prevented any temp from staying longer than half a year. But I came back a few months later, as a consultant, supporting the United Methodist Women by helping write a handbook, policies, and international reports.

When the web was being developed, I became the part-time reporter for GBGM, writing about the agency’s national work . When my daughters were three years old, I started back full time at the Women’s Division. And then within a few years, I was staff writer on the communications team for GBGM.

I was there until 2012 but I never really left. Since I first set foot at 475 Riverside Drive in something like 1991, I have always loved the vibe — the internationalism, the celebration of diversity, the empowerment of women, the concern for the marginalized.

While the office is closed, some staff continue — having moved to a smaller space in Atlanta. United Methodist Women will remain in the New York space. But almost everyone in my beloved Communications team of GBGM has been let go.

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The empty 14th floor at 475 Riverside Drive

It’s sad. I will not be able to stop by and share coffee or tea with colleagues whom I’ve known and loved for decades.

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the view from my old office.

I don’t want to idealize my experience. It was not always sunshine and roses. Like in any job, there were some tough times — when I felt I was not paid as well or respected as much as my male colleagues. I was bypassed for promotion.

But, all in all, I learned a lot. I grew a lot. And it seems like a lifetime ago that I went to GBGM for the first time — I had taken the 2 or 3 train, instead of the 1 train to the wrong stop, arriving all sweaty and out of breath to report to Sister Mary Louise Head, the office manager at the Women’s Division.

I’m proud of my work at GBGM. And now, over these few years, I’m amazed I’ve been able to reinvent myself as a teacher, also work I am challenged by and love. It’s meaningful. I like making a positive difference.

There is no substitute to good, purposeful work in contributing to a sense of happiness. I’ve been blessed and continue to be blessed with good work. This makes me happy.

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Communicate Happiness

I was off and running and wanted everyone to do exactly what I said. Wait. Pause. I downshifted. I sat in my favorite chair and read the New York Times.

I have tried this gear shifting, simply letting others be, this whole week. With my son Hayden around the house only for another couple of days before college, I have thought, Screw it! Don’t pester him to load or unload the dishwasher. Let him “beach out,” as he calls it.

Beach out.

Let go.

Quit trying so hard, I tell myself. Life is not a contest. It doesn’t matter who works the hardest or struggles the most.

Make yourself a simple life.

Although.

My three children had been planted in front of televisions, laptops, iphones, screens for HOURS! I finally said, That’s it! Outside! I threw a big bouncey ball at them. They took the frisbee.

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We never had so much fun as we did on the nearby field of Riverside Park. We played Monkey in the Middle and the Witch in the Well and yes, Tag.

I hope that when they look back at their childhoods they remember playing in the field of grass. I hope I too remember laying in the grass and staring at the blue blue sky.

A few days ago, when I met my bf Jolain in Central Park, I could not get two words out of my head – Ample. Sunshine.

Last month when I was in Dublin for ten days, I had a beautiful time, but I never had days upon days of ample sunshine. Many days we had a bright blue sky with white-grey clouds. And a sprinkling of rain.

Now I have days and days of sunshine. That’s New York for you.

Growing up in Chicago, it was more like Dublin. I remember the winters — if it was grey, it was grey the whole day. When I was Hayden’s age, I moved to New York for college. I could not believe the light. Growing up in the suburbs I needed more light.

In the Presbyterian faith, churches that support the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, trans, bi families and partnerships are called more light churches. I like that.

Yesterday I was looking through my TimeHop app which captures my tweets, posts, updates from my past. I read something I had written a year ago.

Praise more. Complain less.

I think I had been inspired by skimming a book called A Complaint-Free World. I vowed to live complaint-free for one day.

Today, too, I vow to beach out, let go, have fun, find the places of ample sunshine, more light.

So far, so good.

Incidentally, a wave of joy and pride has come over me about my son heading off to college on Tuesday this week. I do not feel sad, I feel happy for him and for us as a family.

We have had a good week, shopping for his dorm room, going to Coney Island, being extras in a Greg Kinnear film. We are making memories. And we are beaching out.

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This post was written at the Ecumenical Library Writing Group. We were asked by Regina to meditate on two words, Communicate and Happiness. Then we sat silently for one minute silently as if we were in the midst of Lectio Divina, a spiritual practice of deep connection with the word. Our writing group meets next on September 14th at the Interchurch Center for 45 minutes at lunch time.  

Love Your Neighbor

Today I wanted to do something different. So I went to Unity Church. John Shelby Spong, a retired Epicopal bishop, preached on the Gospel of John.

Basically, he said, the gospel was made up. He said – how can you trust something written three generations after a person lived? The John Gospel, he said, was written 70 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.

The bishop told the story of the woman at the well. She was not judged. The conversation at the well was a metaphor for peaceful coexistence. (This is my interpretation of the sermon). Although the two at the well had different faiths, they shared the same god. And god does not belong to any one faith. The sermon inspired me to love without judging.

Spong concluded the sermon,
“It’s not that Christianity has failed, it’s that it hasn’t been tried yet.” I agree – we have not tried a radical love of neighbor and a deep tolerance for difference.

As I rode my bike from the church at Symphony Space along Broadway, I thought, yes, but if we are all sisters and brothers, why are we so divided? This message of brotherhood has not been the prevailing message of mainstream Christianity.

I went to Unity because I didn’t want to hear about the historical Jesus. I needed a spiritual boost – a personal empowerment. I am in a transitional mode (will let you know more as it develops!) and I wanted something personal, inspirational, and self help-y.

The last time I was at Unity, pastor Paul Tenaglia offered these affirmations:

“God has the right and perfect well-paying work as a New York artist for me.”

“I believe I have a natural abundance;
prosperity is mine;
I have unlimited success in my creativity.”

“Divine love blesses and increases in me.”

I liked those affirmations – and today’s sermon too. God is there – in love for self and neighbor.

Then, I went and bought a Christmas tree on Broadway.

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The Bible Left Behind

Packing up to leave Quinipet, I overheard Pastor K. “This belongs to Mary Beth Coudal.”

He handed me a bible. Indeed, inside the bible was my name. I remember receiving this bible when I joined Marble Collegiate Church so long ago.

But I had not brought a bible on this retreat.

It must’ve been left by one of my kids when they went to Quinipet camp more than five years ago.

What to do? I like the Message version of the bible way better than this old NRSV.

Should I see this bible as a gift? Once lost, now found?

Funnily enough, at lunchtime, we had been talking about how many books we had — and how we had too many. I chose to leave that old bible behind.

So I could find it — and be found — sometime again.

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My friend Hillary

I was just in Louisville, Kentucky for the once-every-four-event of Assembly for United Methodist Women, April 24 to 27. I was doing reporting for Response magazine. And I was thrilled to be there with 6,500 women of faith, including Hillary Clinton.

Now, many people who know me know I love Hillary Rodham Clinton. After all, we are both from Park Ridge, Illinois. We went to the same high school. At this point in the conversation, someone might ask me, “Did you know her?”

Puh-lease! She was a few years older than me! Still, I am her comrade and sister nonetheless.

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I was so proud and moved by her speech I was bawling.

I was first blown away by her concern for women and children when I heard her speak at the UN Conference of Women — what that 20 years ago? oh my god! — in Beijing, China. I was at this conference performing comedy near the technology tent with fellow stand-up Emmy Gay. It was at this conference Emmy and I first learned how to email! And look, now we know how to blog.

It was also at that UN conference that Hillary coined (or maybe coopted?) the phrase ‘women’s rights are human rights.’ And she and I are still going strong advocating for women and children. She’s involved in an effort to advance maternal health internationally. And I’m encouraging women to share their stories of transformation through writing. (shameless promotion: come to our writing workshop May 29 to June 1 Adridondack Writers’ Weekend)

Hillary knows the power of women of faith by her own experience in church, Sunday School and from her parents. A youth group leader took her from “lily white” Park Ridge into the beautifully diverse city to learn about the world.

This is one reason I love Methodism — their concern for neighbors outside of their own backyard. But when Hillary grew up, that was the radical ’60s (love, love, love). Since then, religion’s gotten a bad rap. Maybe, deservedly so. Maybe some religious leaders have chosen to played it safe — instead of loving neighbors outside of their church, they loved only those in their own church.

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The teleprompter says it all!

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Being a member of the press has its privileges. I schmoozed with fellow press. I learned that Hillary discouraged the Louisville Democratic Party and Democratic mayor from attending this United Methodist Women gathering, telling them, “This is not for you. It’s something I’m doing for my faith.”

Also, the press noted that she paid her own way and declined the honorarium – you know those United Methodist Women, good stewards of their funds, appreciated that show of frugality.

I have never met Hillary in person although my husband did. He met her backstage after a Broadway show, Democracy, that he was in. Hillary and Bill had come back to congratulate the actors.

“My wife is from Park Ridge, Illinois, too,” Chris told Hill.

“Really?” He said her eyes lit up — that she was excited to learn of the connection.

He told me later. “She’s really beautiful in person.”

“More beautiful than me?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “She’s more beautiful than you.”

I’ve never let him forget that. I’ve never forgiven him either.

But we are all beautiful women, each in our way. This weekend, United Methodist Women and Hillary reminded me of that.

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