“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Broken Love

Our readings this morning in Isaiah and in the Gospel of Luke appear to be sounding a warning. Look out! The times they are a-changing!
But let’s remember that these readings appear every three years and were not designated specifically for today as a response to this presidential election or the times we live in. We are not to read into them more than they are. They are the end of a three year cycle of Bible readings which all combined give us a portrait of what it means to be a people of God and how we are to live as a beloved community, the kingdom of God come near. .
Isaiah is a prophet who lived about 2600 years ago. Isaiah lived during a time of great turmoil for the Hebrew people. The people were divided and cynical about their future. There was hardship and their lives were difficult.
Into this state of despair, Isaiah reminds the people that God is with them. God will turn their heartache into grace, their challenges into new life. Isaiah prophesy’s “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox… They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”
The Gospel of Luke is similarly doom and gloom with a hint of hope. Luke is speaking of events that happened in his world, in his day: war, disease, destruction, earthquakes – all of which preceded the ultimate tragedy – the destruction of the temple by Roman soldiers in the year 70. The temple was where God resided and the Romans pillaged it, tore it down and took the beautiful artifacts and paraded them through Rome.
Luke wrote this Gospel about twenty years after the destruction of the temple. And the message of the Gospel of Luke, with its fabulous parables and stories, is to remind us that God is active in the world and in our lives. The incarnation, the birth of God in the life of Jesus, the love of God manifest in human flesh, is a sign for us that God will act in and through human beings. God acted in and through Jesus. God acted in and through the early Christian communities. God acts in and through us, hoping to bring us together, to restore peace, to build the beloved community.
Somehow God always finds a way to do this.
Because ultimately God desires that chaos be transformed into order and that sorrow be transformed into wisdom. God seeks to console us in our despair and fill us with peace. But God does not accomplish the transformation alone; we must be active participants with God in the transformational process. That’s incarnational love. 
So, whether you are someone who is pleased with the outcome of the election or whether you are someone who is grieving and fearful, remember our primary value as Christians is to respect the dignity of every human being by loving God, love self, and loving others.
Love begins with God and how we treat each other. How we respond to challenges is only a reflection of how fully mature we are in our faith and how capable we are of living our values. Those who are pleased with the outcome of this election have hope that there will be a restoration of order, which brings them comfort. But, there are real people in the world today who fear for their lives as an outcome of the election. The fear and despair feels real, and maybe the risk is real too. Black children and transgender children are dying by suicide because living in this world now feels too risky. Children in schools right here in our area are terrified of deportation. Women wearing hijab's are being attacked.  If you are a woman who has been abused, this election may have opened wounds, resurfacing the violence that was inflicted and leaving women literally shaking and ill from fear. 
In the words of Leonard Cohen, may he rest in peace, let us remember that “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
 All of this points to a huge division in how we live out our values and the unconscious impact of systemic racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia.
We in this church claim to be open, welcome, and affirming, we say that we are a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit. So now the rubber hits the road because if this is really a value for us, a belief we stand behind, then we need to be a safe harbor for everyone. We need to be love, broken, real, solid, in solidarity, for the safety of everyone. As Anne Lamott tweeted recently, “Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent and the valuable, it builds incrementally, to renewal and resurrection.” Love is not a victory, it’s hard work that never ends, regardless of how cold or broken life may be.
In a few minutes we are going to baptize two babies into the body of Christ. The Christian values in our baptismal covenant charge us to respect the dignity of every human being every day all the time. For me this means resisting the temptation to name call, to not say things that demean another person, don’t diagnose others, do not blame others, take responsibility for myself, for my actions, thoughts, and words. I can disagree with something a person says or does without diminishing them as person…loving God, self, and neighbor. 

The Gospel of Luke tells us that by our endurance, we will gain our souls. Let us endure to lift up others. Let us endure to be a safe place. Let us endure to be a beloved community, the kingdom of God now. May we not be afraid to take risks, let us endure. May we be a place of hope, let us endure in love. May we be the beloved community built on God’s transforming grace. May we, broken as we are, be love. Hallelujah. 
a reflection on the readings for Proper 28C: Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19   

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Perfectly Broken

Saints have always been part of my faith reality, in large part because as a child I attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Christian tradition defines saints as people who are more like Jesus than the rest of us, which means they are almost perfect and they perform miracles. The Episcopal Church has a huge book on the saints we recognize and we celebrate one every Tuesday at the weekday Eucharist. 
As a child I wondered what kind of person was so perfect in their faith that they could perform miracles like Jesus did. As an adult I’ve come to realize that being perfect is not the goal and miracles are in the eye of the beholder. I take comfort in Richard Rohr’s saying:
“We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”
The disciple Peter, for example, is a less than perfect saint. He defended his love of Jesus, but then at a critical moment Peter ran away and denied he knew Jesus. Jesus called this broken man “the rock” upon which the church was built. Jesus asked Peter to feed the sheep - which means you and me. So, we are fed by a broken saint who reminds us that even in our broken selves we too are saints. Louise Penny in her spirit-filled but secular detective novels has Inspector Gamache, her lead character, reflect on how “being broken makes one stronger.” 
How is it that the message in our reading this morning from the beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke gives us insight into what it means to be both broken and, perfect just as one is, an ordinary human being and a saint?
For one thing, in the Eucharist, when we tell our Christian story of how God is working in and through Jesus and in and through us, we symbolize God’s action in Jesus, God’s love, when I break the bread and we share pieces of this broken bread with one another. Being broken is holy. In Japanese culture, when a piece of pottery is broken they mend it back together with gold. The gold increases the value of the pottery and creates beautiful patterns along the broken edges. Being broken is an opportunity to be made whole in a new way, a more beautiful way. The bread we break is a sharing in the body of Christ, inviting us to be made whole in God’s love. 
There are many ways that we are broken, as individuals and as a parish with a 150 year history. Take for example our organ - a little over a year ago, this instrument valued at nearly a million dollars, and one of our primary assets, was failing. It was failing from age and in need of its anticipated every fifty years refurbishment. Now, after a creative and engaging campaign, the organ repairs are underway and all of the funds to repair the organ have been acquired. We came together as a congregation to raise the funds to fix the broken organ and make it whole. In the process of repairing this broken instrument we have learned much about the organ and organ music - remember the forty Sundays of mini organ concerts last year? And, the tours to the loft to see the pipes? And all the handouts on the organ? Eventually it will be back in full form and I trust that we will swell with joy when we hear it played again. In a way the refurbishment of the organ stands as another symbol, like the breaking and sharing of the bread, of how we are made better, and extend ourselves more fully, and come together more completely, through our brokenness. 
There are many other ways that we break ourselves open and share ourselves. Like the people in this church who tend to our altar - making bread, setting the table, and washing the dishes. People who sing in the choir, or people who some time in its forty year history have sent their kids to Chapel Day Preschool. People who lead our Christian Formation for kids and youth and the occasional adult forums. People who work with the Evangelism Commission or Ushers, helping people find their way into this community. People who take care of the property and ensure that the building and grounds are maintained and kept beautiful. People who offer and partake in our martial arts, stretching, and dance classes. People who tend to our finances and investments and ensure that we are being good stewards of the money entrusted to this parish for our mission and ministries. People who work with the Stewardship Commission and remind us to think about God, generosity, gratitude, and practicing our faith. People who serve in Parish Life – providing coffee hour and other offerings of hospitality. People who plan our worship and lead our worship and serve on Sunday mornings as acolytes and Lay Eucharistic Ministers, people who read the lessons for us and people who take communion to people in their homes. The Vestry who, along with the clergy, discern, formulate, articulate and hold before us our mission in the world, as a Community Centered Church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes we feed people in literal ways through Blessings in a Backpack that feeds hungry kids, the food pantry that feeds hungry individuals and families, the SCHOOL project in Liberia that feeds hungry minds, the annual Holiday Market to supports local artists, and many other ways we share this building with countless people who come here every week – from AA to Creating Hope International (which is an organization that educates women in Afghanistan) to League of Women Voters to voice lessons, recitals and concerts, and many other groups and events in between.
What I hear in the beatitudes is a reminder that we are broken but we are also all blessed. Our brokenness and our blessing express themselves like gold mending the cracks when we tend to the hungry and the poor – those who are literally hungry and those who are spiritually hungry. Living an active faith does not mean that we will live perfect lives. We will struggle. Struggle with our faith. Struggle with what we believe. Struggle with whom to help and why. Struggle with those who challenge us. Struggle with those who are different. We all struggle. We are all imperfect.
When we walk to the altar in a few minutes we will offer our selves, broken or whole, just as we are, to God. You may also place your pledge card on the altar acknowledging that your gift of money is a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace of God’s love in our lives. Each of us here today contributes what one can in time, talent, and treasure.  
So, bring yourself to this table, where the bread is broken. And in the breaking of the bread and in the offering of one’s self, may each one of us be made whole again, the body of Christ given for the love of the world. 

a reflection for All Saints’ Day: Luke 6:20-31

Thursday, November 03, 2016

CEB Women's Bible

Like other bloggers on the RevGalBlogPal site, I was thrilled to catch the invitation to read and review the Common English Women's Bible. As an Episcopal priest I tend to use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible and am fond of the Oxford Annotated edition, which I purchased while in seminary. As a woman and a priest I have struggled with the dominant male voice in the church, often at the complete exclusion of female voices. So, over the years I have actively sought out all resources and Bible commentaries by women and from a woman's perspective. Thus I was immediately drawn to review this Bible, and have high hopes for its translation, its accuracy and clarity. I am also hopeful that this interpretation will provide new insight into well known texts by lifting up women's stories which may otherwise lie in more obscure positions in the Biblical text. 

Due to some sort of shipping glitch I did not receive the CEB until a few days ago. Unlike some who have had this Bible for a few weeks and have used it for their daily devotions, I have had little chance to engage the text. Still, my focused review and reading of some of the texts, leaves me hopeful that this Bible will become a favorite. Every Tuesday I preside at a weekday Eucharist in the parish. A small handful of elderly women attend. I always lift up a female saint from the official Episcopal book of saints, and speak about the witness of women in the church and the world. I anticipate that this Bible will become an active part of that service and the Bible study that follows. I think the women will appreciate hearing from and studying through a Bible that is focused on both accurate translations and the point of view of women. I especially like the sidebar notes that the Bible contains, unpacking the text in richer detail. 

My only dismay is that, despite the effort to call Jesus "human one" every reference to God (at least those I have read in the Psalms) uses male pronouns. It would have been more helpful to use both male and female pronouns for God, and even occasionally no pronoun - God she, God he, God God. That would have opened up the image of God in a fuller, richer, more expansive, perhaps even provocative way. 

Overall, thank you for this Bible. It is not your typical "woman's Bible." 

The CEB Women’s Bible.  (c) 2016. Abingdon Press.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, October 29, 2016


It’s been said that as Christians we are to live with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Meaning, we are to stay current with the world around us and define our role and response to the world through our faith.

Lately, as a priest, every aspect of my life, from clergy colleagues to Facebook, blogs, and other social media, from newspaper articles, to books I should be reading and books I am reading, to diocesan convention and other diocesan workshops, to my own personal reality as one who was a kid in the 1960’s and in college in the 1970’s, all around me, all the time, there exists an urgency to reconcile racism and diversity.

Recently I listened to an interview from “On Being” with Krista Tippett, who was speaking with Ruby Sales. (First broadcast on September 15, 2016). Ruby is known as a “public theologian,” she’s a civil rights activist from the 1960’s, working to make meaning out of the world we live in and reconcile our lives with a loving God who calls us to love one another. In this interview Ruby said that black people, rooted in black folk religion,  have a theology of love that anchors them in the world, one that assures black people of their goodness and worthiness and necessity in the United States today. Black folk religion has its roots in the tobacco fields and among neighborhoods but not in the structure of a church building. It is a theology that resonates in the spirituals that are sung, the very spirituals that we are singing this morning and in these final weeks of the Season after Pentecost. Ruby said that she grew up being taught to love everybody, and they would sing, “I love everybody, I love everybody, I love everybody in my heart.”  Hate was not a word or sentiment that she was taught. 

But, what Ruby said, which spun me on my heels to hear her articulate it so clearly and with such love, is that white people have lost their meaning and purpose in our society, as if being white is no longer good. She says that its as if white people feel like they are being eradicated because whiteness is so much smaller today than it was yesterday. 

This, she says is seen in the tension that plays out in our society, in the news, in our politics, and in how people speak to one another. The harsh rhetoric and angry behavior stems from feeling diminished and devalued as white people. This wise black woman asks, where is the theology, the understanding of God and our relationship with God, that redefines for white people what it means to be fully human? The problem, Ruby says, is not that one is white, but rather how one lives as a white person and actualizes the history of being white in this country, of our inheritance of unreconciled guilt from slavery,  but more than that, of our misperception of what it means to be white and poor and therefore the challenge to develop an understanding of what it means to be white and to be fully human.

This is the challenge I face in my very own family and the conversations we have. For some it may be the challenge of  affirmative action - where in the effort to equalize opportunities for people of color, means that white people, usually poor white people who are also struggling, are passed over for educational opportunities or jobs. The point that Ruby Sales is making, the point that is made in the first chapter of the New Jim Crow which some of us in this parish are reading, is that we need to reconcile the hurt and pain and divisions that have been inflicted on both people of color and poor white people in the United States. We need to reconcile the fracture between wealthy white people who hold all the power and poor white people whose needs are ignored and whose very personhood is devalued. Family Systems Theory, which I have studied and practiced for twenty years, says the same thing, which is why I found Ruby Sales’ statement so startling. Two completely different sources pointing to the same phenomena. 

And I suggest that our reading this morning from Habakkuk is speaking directly into these challenges. This reading is a lament, a cry for God to take action in the world and heal the broken places with God’s presence and love. But what both Habakkuk and the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel reading tell us is that God does not come into the world and fix the circumstances of our lives. Rather God is in the world with us, in our struggles and pain and sorrow and confusion, God is with us. God being with us is an invitation to deeper relationships, to risk trusting one another with our stories, our lives, our very being. Zacchaeus didn’t let his limitations stop him from trying to see Jesus, he forged his way through the crowd and climbed a tree to see Jesus. Jesus in turn called Zacchaeus down from the tree and called him right into the heart of the matter, because Zacchaeus, this despised tax collector belongs in the beloved community. 

There are a couple of things we each can do right now to live in and through these times, to make our way through the crowded tensions and climb down from the tree of anxiety and enter the beloved community. One, in singing these spirituals in worship we can internalize the words of love. Originally these words were sung to and by a people who were in need of liberation, in need of being free of that which oppressed them, sung with the expectation that they would be set free because God was with them, God loves them, and God reminds them that they are worthy. We are loved. We are worthy. We are valuable members of this world, valuable members of this beloved community, the kingdom of God here and now. 

Secondly, we can strive to embrace the idea that we live in a diverse world in which there is no one single story that describes who we are as a people, regardless of the color of our skin or our ethnicity or our gender or our religion. Rather, it is the combination of each of our stories that make us who are. And so on those days when I feel like I’m going to explode from overload or when I just want to crawl in a hole, when I feel like I can never do enough, I remember that the world is bigger than me and that all of this is about building the beloved community. A community that embraces the kingdom of God now, a community of love. So, my story, your story, are stories of hope, or for the hope for hope, of the yearning to be loved, and the need to be valued, expressing a yearning to be understood and embraced as worthy for being exactly who one is. 

That’s the hope in the reading from Habbakuk and the message that Jesus offers to Zacchaeus when he calls him down from that tree of anxiety. It’s the message Jesus offers to us, too. Let us unlearn what it means to hate, and instead sing as Ruby Sales does in that interview, I love everybody, I love everybody, I love everybody in my heart. 

a reflection on Proper 26C: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Luke 19:1-10

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Pattern of Faith

I’m knitting a lot these days because, as you know, I have a granddaughter on the way. Currently I’m working on a sweater using a pattern I used a few years ago to make sweaters for my goddaughters, who were 5 at the time. This time I’m knitting the pattern in a size for a newborn. Unfortunately I don’t have the correct size needles so I had to recalculate the pattern, adjusting it to accommodate the yarn I’m using. The first time I started to knit this sweater I realized it was going to be too big for a newborn, so I ripped it out, reduced the number of stitches,  and started again. A few days later I was about half way finished when I realized that I had misread the pattern and made a serious mistake. The kind of mistake that could not be fixed. The only thing I could do was rip it out and start again. In the meantime I came down with this cold - this mind numbing, stop all movement and rest crud - that totally incapacitated me. Somehow in my head congested haze I thought I could still knit. That is until, again, about half way through the pattern I realized that I had made another serious mistake. No fixing it, all I could do was rip it out and start again. Now, finally, a little over half way for the fourth time I think I am reading the pattern correctly and thoroughly and knitting this as it should be. I mean remember, I’ve knit this same pattern twice before, it’s not new to me. But in its familiarity and with my illness I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing and the end result was silly mistakes. It’s a good thing it’s a newborn sweater, so tiny that ripping it out and starting over is only the loss of a few hours of work, not days and days of knitting. 
This has me thinking about what it means to follow along in life and faith, thinking one knows what one is doing but not really being mindful in the process. The end result is often mistakes or at the very least a lack of deep awareness and a loss of potential. Both the reading from Jeremiah and Luke are pointing to a similar challenge - being obedient but without thought or insight, without being truly, deeply, aware. Both readings are asking people to be intensely aware of how one is living life and the relationships one is cultivating with God, self, and others, relationships formed and informed by love. Love is a profound motivator. Love can inspire one to do things one never thought possible. This love leaves one vulnerable to transformation and change, open to new life. 
Like ripping out a sweater and starting over again three times because I am already deeply in love with this little baby girl who isn't even born. Love, like the love that God shows for God’s people, which is what Jeremiah is talking about. These people are miserable, forced into exile from Israel to Babylon because they lost the war with the Babylonians. In exile the people are unhappy. One false prophet is trying to cheer them and naively proclaims that they’ll be back home in two years. Jeremiah makes no such false promises. Instead he tells them that this is going to take some time, so go on with your lives, marry, have children, stay faithful, and eventually you will be restored to your homeland. No one likes Jeremiah. He doesn’t comfort them. But he tells them the truth and he tells it with love because his words come from the assurance of God and God’s faithfulness. 
Likewise in the Gospel, Jesus encounters ten lepers, sick with a highly contagious skin disease, which has made them all outcasts. The lepers ask Jesus to heal them and he does. One of the lepers is an outcast of outcasts because he is both a leper and a Samaritan. The Samaritans are related to the people Jeremiah is speaking to in our first reading and related to Jesus and his followers. But the reason the Samaritans are outcasts is because when the exile to Babylon happened the Samaritans were not forced to leave. They were a lower class of people in Israel not even worthy enough to be exiled. So they remained in Israel under the rule of the Babylonians and tried to continue, as best they were able, their faith and practices as Jewish people. But when those exiled elite members of Jewish society returned to Israel, many generation later, they rejected the Samaritans and reinforced their outcast status. 
So, Jesus heals ten lepers, and nine of them are “proper” members of Jewish society and can go to the temple to finish the purification rites that will allow them to return to full membership. And, they think nothing of it, just doing what they are supposed to do. But the Samaritan is a double outcast. As a Samaritan he cannot go to the temple to be purified and reinstated to society, instead he comes back to Jesus and thanks him Moved by love this Samaritan broke ranks with the standard expectation of being a double outcast and spoke directly to Jesus. Unheard of! Jesus, moved by the love of God that resides in him and is manifest though him, loves this leper back. In love Jesus and this Samaritan “outcast” break down all the barriers of expectations, all the thoughtless patterns of rote behavior. In love Jesus reveals God’s true nature, loving all people for being exactly who they are. The Samaritan was wildly excited at being loved and healed and restored to his fullness of self, and could not contain himself.
I am expanding my knitting skills in leaps and bounds as I take on new knitting projects for this yet to be born baby. I am buying yarn and needles and patterns with an abandon and an enthusiasm that is out of bounds. The people at the knitting store  now recognize me and are laughing along with me at my joy and excitement. 
How might this same kind of joy, love, enthusiasm, be part of my faith life as well, so that I may become fully aware of myself? How might I prevent getting stuck in the same ole same ole patterns of worship and practice of faith because they are comfortable patterns? How might I recognize the Samaritan, the outcast, in my life and welcome them with love and grace?
How might I become more vulnerable, more real, more authentic and true to the real pattern of a life of faith, and thus inspired, how might I be healed, and become something totally new? 

These are questions I’m asking myself, provoked by today’s readings. Perhaps they are questions you are considering as well?
a reflection on the readings for Proper 23C:  Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Luke 17:11-19

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Moving Mountains...

Growing up in Salt Lake City, the child of Mormon pioneers, faith was the bedrock of my life. Some of my family members were active practicing Mormons, my paternal grandfather was a high priest in the church and my uncles went on missionary trips. They practiced, among other teachings of the church, that our bodies are temples. As temples, our bodies are a gift from God and are to be treated with utmost dignity and respect. Therefore they never drank alcohol or any caffeinated beverage, and never smoked cigarettes. 
Other family members stopped practicing their faith. These members drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, and drank alcohol, frequently in excess. 
One side my family taught me the rules of our faith, which guaranteed my salvation. The other side of my family taught me that faith was irrelevant. Many aspects of my childhood were confusing and sad, so perhaps for this  reason I developed my own sense of faith and a prayer life that lead me to feel close to God. 
One teaching of the church that stuck with me was the parable of the mustard seed. The Gospel of Luke, which we heard this morning, tells us that a tiny bit of faith could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it elsewhere.  I remember the version of this parable from the Gospel of Matthew which says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains.
In Salt Lake City I lived on the side of a mountain and in a valley surrounded by mountains. The parable took on a literal sense for me. As a child I actually tried to imagine what that kind of faith would be like, so strong it could  lift up a mountain and relocate it. 
My childhood understanding of the parable of the mustard seed asked, “How much faith is enough?”
The thing is, if you really read the parable you hear that Jesus actually frames if differently. It is not, “How much faith is enough?”  Rather, Jesus asks, “What is faith for?”  Jesus asks the disciples, and us, to consider how we are living as people of faith?
Luke uses a common analogy for his era, that of a slave being obedient to the master, as an example of how one lives one’s faith - fully dependent on God, who is master of all. 
Given the history of slavery and racism in this country, and the rise of violent racism, I am terribly uncomfortable with metaphors about slaves and masters. The Vestry and I are reading Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow.” Her thesis is that racism, manifesting now through the war on drugs and mass incarceration, is an intentional effort to undermine people of color in this country. Statistics tell us that people of color are penalized at a more severe rate than white people and most of the people in our prison system are people of color.  Alexander writes: “Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal.” Accordingly, our prison system is not designed to rehabilitate people and bring forth reconciliation. Rather, it is intended to punish and forever demonize non-violent felons, many of them African American men, as if they were the same as a worst violent offender. 
Then on Wednesday of this week I attended a diocesan sponsored presentation by Stephanie Spellers, who has been appointed by Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, as the Canon for Evangelism and Reconciliation. Spellers spoke about the Grace of Race, Celebrating the Presence of God in the Presence of Difference. Stephanie reminded us that the mission of the Episcopal Church, stated clearly in The Book of Common Prayer, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
So how does one reconcile the mission of the Episcopal Church to restore unity in the context of today’s reading wherein Jesus uses the first century institution of slavery as an example of our being in a faithful relationship with God?
I struggle with the idea that being faithful means I am to be a slave to God. I struggle to unpack this metaphor in the context of our mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. I understand restoration and unity as relationships of mutuality - each accountable to the other and to the self - in love, respect, and dignity. That is not what slavery is about. 
However, elsewhere in scripture Jesus reminds us that our responsibility as people of faith is two-fold: we are to love and we are to forgive. 
So is it a paradox that Jesus uses this word, “slave,” so aligned with abuse and oppression, in this parable, to point toward love, forgiveness, and reconciliation? And if so, how are we supposed to transpose slavery from the baggage it carries in the world today? 
Today’s reading pushes me to consider what faith really means and how, in faith, I am dependent upon God. Not like a submissive slave to one’s master, but as a maturing Christian who is willing to be held accountable and responsible for relationships of love. 
As an adult I have come to understand that the rules for living a faith life are much more basic than my family understood them. I do not think that Jesus cares about WHAT we eat or drink. Jesus cares about WHO we eat and drink WITH. Jesus cares that all are treated equally with dignity and respect. Jesus cares that we work to reconcile our differences. Jesus cares that we seek to forgive and be forgiven, that we strive to mend broken relationships, and that we love one another and work for a just society.
Jesus teaches us that we are to work to reconcile the ordinary misunderstandings of every-day life. Jesus also intends for us to work toward reconciling the mountains of broken places in the world-  lives broken from war, poverty, famine, racism, sexism, genderism, human slave and sex trafficking, and genocide -  just to name a few. I think he means that we really have no choice in this matter, and in that regard we are like slaves to our faith -  we must do the hard work of growing up and becoming mature Christians who do the very difficult work of restoring all people to unity with God and one another. Thus, a faith life centered on this kind of relationship building, transforms the geography of our lives. 
That’s what faith is for and perhaps, when lived this way, it is just like moving mountains.

a reflection on Proper 22C: Luke 17:5-10

Monday, September 26, 2016

The gift of a rabbit

Saturday, in the midst of sermon writing and Sunday morning preparations, a parishioner showed up at my door. I live in the Rectory which is on church property, but it is unusual for parishioners to come to the door without being invited. I was on my way out to walk my dogs, so I met the parishioner outside. She told me that we have a rabbit in the community garden. This might not seem unusual, a rabbit in a garden. However, a couple of years ago we installed a high fence including a rabbit guard and we haven't had many critters in the garden since. We wondered if the rabbit had somehow snuck in when someone left the gate open? We decided to open the gate and let the rabbit out. Later, after my walk, I saw the rabbit outside the garden, nibbling on grass. I presumed it would find its way home. However, Sunday morning the rabbit was in front of the church, eating grass. That was when I was certain that this rabbit was not wild, but a pet that someone had abandoned in the garden. With the help of my husband and a few other people, we caught the rabbit and put him in one of our cat carriers. We gave him a soft towel to nestle in and a bowl of water.

All morning we checked in on the rabbit, petting him (it is a boy) and giving him love and affection. We even found a home for him and made announcements that if anyone heard of a lost rabbit to let us know. He went home, snuggled in the arms of a young woman who was already in love with him. I am fairly certain that we will never know who this rabbit belonged too. I imagine he was intentionally abandoned in the church community garden by someone who wanted the rabbit to have food and perhaps be found and cared for.

Still, how sad to just leave him there. Was he terrified to be left? Was he afraid being outside all night? What if the hawk had come around, as it does from time to time? Or the stray cat that roams the property, or the coyotes? Not wanting to contain a wild rabbit we left a vulnerable domestic rabbit outside all day and night. It's amazing he survived.

As the rabbit left for his new home, in the loving arms of his new caretaker, I the Vestry meeting to order. I prayed as I always do in thanksgiving for all the blessings of this parish and for the care and wisdom of the Vestry members in their stewardship of this church and its members. The meeting continued with a discussion on the book, "The New Jim Crow," by Michelle Alexander. Its been my practice to begin Vestry meetings with something - a meditation or a Bible Study - that sets the tone for our meetings, reminding us that our work has a spiritual dimension and is not just a methodical process of doing the business of the church.

Racism is alive and well in this parish despite the heart-felt notion that we welcome everyone. People will acknowledge that racism is in us but getting us to talk about it and look at it and wrestle with it and begin to reconcile it is whole other matter. So, we're reading the book, my hope being that it leads to some deeper insight. The discussion was decent for our first go at it.

Three hours later, after haggling over Bylaw revisions, budget deficit, organ refurbishments, our 150th anniversary year plans, and other items, we were about to conclude the meeting. It had been a long, tiresome day, and like most Sundays with Vestry meetings, I had a headache and was worn thin. It was then that a Vestry member went back to our book discussion and wondered why, with all that we had to do, and considering that our meeting had run an hour over time, we were using time to discuss this book? Not that the book was a bad book for discussion, but perhaps the time used for that discussion could be better spent? How was this book discussion informing us in our mission, in our budget deficit? Some of the members of the Vestry spoke up saying that the book and the discussion were important to them, that it was feeding them spiritually.

I should have left it at that.

But I did not.

A nerve was struck in me. No. A nerve had been sliced open in me and words tumbled out with a passion and vehemence that I rarely show in leadership.

I spoke about the need for us, the Vestry, to engage in spiritual work, that meetings cannot be all about business. We need to be doing work that invites us into a deeper level of transformation. I said that I am doing this kind of work all the time, including in the sermons I preach. I don't want to do this work by myself. I am inviting us to look at the racism and prejudice within us, at the ways we live narrow lives and contain the Good News of the Gospel rather than taking risks. Instead of following Jesus to the table, to the mountain, to the garden, to the cross, we prefer to talk about "business." As if that is the real work we are supposed to be about. I said if this is what the Vestry wants to do, all it wants to do, then they can do it, but I will do not want to come to that kind of a Vestry meeting. They can do it with out me.

Yes, I think I lost it.

Like the rabbit.

It was one thing when he was snug and safe in the garden, at least there he was contained and had a rich garden to feed him. But put outside the fence and left to fend for himself throughout the night, put him at great risk. As these words poured out of me, unbound, I felt myself cut open, the nerve severed. Vulnerable. On the cross.

I aim to be a voice of reason. I strive to listen carefully and speak clearly and concisely and logically. I hate it when I lose it and words pour out of me like they did yesterday. I don't like being that out of control, that impassioned, speaking without thinking first about the words I was saying.

I worry that someone, because I was so emotive, will take offense at what I said or how I said it. I worry because that's what has happened in the past. People get mad at me, even leave the church over things like this.

Women cannot lose it. We are supposed to be nice, thoughtful, smile,  take it lying down, stay confined with the fence of what is socially appropriate.

You know how it is, as a woman, to speak this way? It gets distorted and all kinds of other unrelated emotions get attached to what was said and how it was said.

By the time I got home the headache included my jaw and my neck. I ached all over from words said and words left unspoken. I took two ibuprofen, walked my dogs, did some yoga and meditated.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening reading, drinking tea, or knitting. I worked to soothe my soul. But I also thought about why I was feeling, still hours after the meeting, as if I were sliced open and raw, with tears welling behind my eyes, but never spent.

And this is why. Transformation is hard work. It requires deconstructing everything we know about ourselves and then having the courage to build again, anew. With new insight and information and trust. Transformation is not always reasonable or thought through. It certainly isn't cautious. Its perilous.

I do hope that the work I am about as a parish priest is transformational, that the people I serve grow in faith and maturity as Christians, that their lives are changed for the better.

I also know that this transformation begins with me.

Raw, vulnerable, real, and outside the gate of security.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Detecting God in the mystery of life

Most days you’ll find me spending an hour on the treadmill or the exercise bike reading a novel. Reading while exercising is for me accomplishing two goals simultaneously - both good for my health - exercise and reading. I also aim to spend a little time in the late afternoon with a cup of tea and whatever novel I am reading. Usually I am reading a murder mystery. Currently I am making my way through Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, which take place in Quebec, usually in a fictional town called Three Pines. Previously I read the entire Maise Dobbs series, written by Jacqueline Winspear, which takes place in London. Both series’s have a lead character, the detective, who is complicated, thoughtful, insightful. In particular, if one starts with the first novel in the Maise Dobbs series and moves through them in order one experiences the development of Maisies’ character as she grows through life’s challenges that include the death of her mother, her survival as field nurse during WWI, the loss of her fiancĂ©, her effort to gain an education and the wise people who mentor her and help her develop her strengths, wisdom, and insight. Whenever she is working a case she listens carefully, observes closely, sets aside all judgment of people and their motivations until all the pieces of the mystery are revealed and she solves the case. Ultimately, her primary motivation is not about punishment, but in bringing forth reconciliation between characters in the story who have hurt one another. This motivation toward reconciliation creates a more complex story and shows a depth of character in Maisie Dobbs, as she learns from her own life experiences. 

I remember when I was in my mid-twenties becoming aware that I had no insight into myself. Lacking self-awareness is fairly common. Unraveling my family system dynamic and developing an authentic sense of my self that allowed for me to claim my values, beliefs, and perspectives and have those be a conscious source of motivation in my thoughts, words, and actions, took decades of work. This work on myself is intentional and ongoing, for one is never fully complete, fully developed, a finished product. Life is forever giving us challenges that, if one engages them with the intent to learn about one’s self and others, will provoke deeper growth and new insight. 

Our readings this morning from Jeremiah and from Luke are a challenge to understand. Luke, in particular, is confusing. Jesus tells a story about a man who looks out for his own interests, makes deals to save his own skin, his own position and job, and Jesus approves. What’s up with that? 

Jeremiah makes a little more sense as he continues his lament about the faithlessness of God’s people who have become self-focused and greedy. They have forgotten all about God and God’s desire for them. Jeremiah warns the people of impending doom if they continue to be so thoughtless and self-centered, they will self-destruct from their own actions. Be aware, he says, consider your motivations and what provokes you to do what you do and say what you say. Aim to have the foundation of who you are focused on God’s desire; that you love God, love self, and love others - this is the warning from Jeremiah. His frustration is that people ignore his warnings and instead ridicule him as if he is the problem.

And, what’s the deal with this parable in Luke? What might we take away from this reading that could offer up some food for thought? How might this reading inspire one to focus on God when the story is focused on the self serving actions of one person to save his own behind? 

It’s going to take a little detective work to reveal some meaning in this text. 

Although fictional detectives both Maisie Dobbs and Inspector Ganache’s characters listen closely and observe people carefully in order to discern deeper emotions and unconscious motivations. This parable provokes one to consider a similar process of character development. The unjust steward gets caught in his laziness and greed and resolves the problem by making deals with other people, which provides them with some relief, satisfies the needs of the steward’s boss and gains the steward accolades for his business dealings, unscrupulous though they are. The steward comes off looking like a savvy deal maker and Jesus says, well done. What the heck?!?

From this one might deduce two things: God loves us just exactly as we are, in all of our imperfections. And, Jesus, who is God’s love revealed in human flesh, tells the story with the hope of inspiring people to grow in maturity and wisdom, and become better human beings. Its intended to be provocative. 

So, this parable is like me when I was in my twenties, getting by with responses learned from my childhood that helped me get along in my family. Those learned responses were challenged when I realized that what had worked in my family were unsatisfying as an adult out in the world. People in the world are not trained to respond as one’s family does, and so the veneer of that old behavior cracks until one wonders what the problem is. When that crack in my self-awareness finally broke open I began to look deeper and wondered how I might live a more whole and satisfying life. What might I do to be happier and healthier? 

The parable commends the person for where they are in life, getting by on old survival mechanisms, but its intent is to provoke one to go deeper. This parable is provocative. It offers a sharp contrast to what is known about Jesus and God. It spins on its head the values, beliefs, and perspectives that Christians have been taught to hold dear.

Dig deeper. Listen closely. Observe. Ponder. Consider all the variables of what one might do in the same situation as this steward. 

Is it ever, really satisfying to protect one’s self at the expense of one’s integrity, and at the cost of the dignity and respect of others? 

How much more satisfying might it be to do the right thing, the God thing?

How much more fulfilling would it be to become motivated by God’s desire, even though it could be difficult, instead of the same old self-centered protection? 

a reflection on the readings from Proper 20C: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Luke 16:1-13

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Clumsy Knitting: lessons in faith, spirituality, integrity

I never thought I’d have grandkids and so I am very excited that my first grand-daughter is due in February. Now, I am knitting up a storm - all kinds of cute baby patterns. But with these new patterns I am also learning new stitches. Every time I have to learn a new pattern and a new stitch I get frustrated. I make mistakes and have to pull out my knitting and start over at least three times. Eventually, if I stick with it, I began to understand the pattern and my hands develop the coordination to knit the stitch. I internalize the pattern and it becomes much more natural to knit. It takes effort but in the end, if I can manage my frustration through the clumsy phase, I end up with a sense of satisfaction and something new has been learned. 

Jeremiah is calling people to a similar process in their faith lives, of being open to learning something new even though it means tearing down something old first. The people are stuck in a view of the world that is focused on greed and fear and anxiety instead of focusing on God. Jeremiah calls them to look at their lives, review their lives, change their lives and refocus on God - but not in the ways they use to focus on God, not by following the rules and going through the motions. No, this new way is about changing them selves at a deep core level so that God resides inside and God works from the inside out.

This is less about mechanically following rules and more about seeking to internalize the love of God so that that love is what informs who one is and what one does and how one thinks and feels. This love is not that warm and fuzzy love of romance. But it is a love that is freely given, God loves us just exactly as we are right now, no questions asked.  God’s love is a love of justice, compassion, and its focus is on making sure that all people are treated with dignity and respect - its focus is on each one of us to become more self aware of the true depth of God’s love - and other aware, of the potency of God’s love for everyone, and of the challenge for us to love likewise.

Take for example the recent Commander in Chief forum that was held this week on NBC. Matt Lauer was the moderator who interviewed first Hillary Clinton and then Donald Trump. During the forum and in the days following a huge furor erupted on Facebook and Twitter over the way Lauer conducted the interviews, particularly how different he was with each candidate. The accusations claim that he was rude to Clinton and passive with Trump and over all exhibited poor journalistic integrity. Regardless of what any one of us might think about that forum, the point is that we live in a society that is increasing aware of the subtle forms of racism and sexism that manifest in public and political arenas and social media won’t let anyone off the hook. Social media may be a little like the Jeremiah of today - calling people to be more aware of the unconscious ways that each of us promote the ills of our society, the institutional and systemic forms of oppression that work to lift up one segment of society at the demise of another: men over women; whites over people of color; straights over gays…to name just a few. 

Some suggest that when history looks back at this year what will be remembered is that journalism was forced to grow, to become more aware and acquire a greater sense of integrity. Only time will tell if this actually happens. 

As harsh as the words of our reading from Jeremiah seem, they speak right into the world we are living in, calling each person to examine their thoughts and actions in the context of what God desires for all people: loving God, self, and others as acts of integrity, respect, and dignity. In Jeremiah’s day, and perhaps our own, this means tearing down what was and building a new paradigm that reveals these core values at our deepest sense of self. 

Jesus is saying this, too, in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these parables we are the lost ones and, God as shepherd and, God as woman, searches for us. In these parables, “to be lost” is a metaphor, a commentary on the core nature of one’s life - lost spiritually, lost because one’s values and perspectives have drifted from God, lost, for example, in the “breaking-news fear-mongering" pulls and tugs of the world as television portrays it. 

The parables are a reminder that when I am lost, God seeks me out. What might I do to prepare myself, to convey a desire, a hope, a willingness to be found? Well, that can happen in any number of ways: coming to church, taking time to pray, examining my thoughts and actions with the intention of learning, growing, changing, and becoming more self aware and other aware, listening to others as they tell their stories of abuse, oppression, hope -  and allowing those stories to shape me into a wiser person. 

It means ripping out the pattern of unconscious racism and sexism that reside in me. Patterns of how I view myself and others, and ripping them out time and time again, until I understand that the patterns are broken. Then, having the courage to replace them with creative, solid patterns of justice and love, patterns that hold together with integrity. Doing this, ripping and starting over and learning a new pattern, until this pattern becomes natural and authentic, until I truly get that God is doing something new, knitting together a better world for all of us. 

a reflection on the readings for Proper 19C: Jeremiah  4:11-12, 22-28  and Luke 15:1-10 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

True Color

Six years. Well, I've lived in this house for almost six years and it was only recently that I noticed that the wall color in the living room did not work with the fireplace. The fireplace surround is a white marble with gray and black swirls and the hearth is black tile. However the walls were painted a dark brown/green, a trendy color six or more years ago. Before I moved into the rectory it was freshly painted. Some of the colors are really lovely even today: the pale yellow in the kitchen is a cheery color and works well with the dark granite on the counter tops; a warm white in all the halls and up the the stairs is gentle, neutral, easy on the eye. But the dark brownish-green in the living room and dining room was just too dark, the pea soup green in one of the bedrooms was really bad, and the sea foam green in two of the bathrooms reminded me of doctor's offices. So this summer I decided to use some of my vacation time to repaint the rooms.

Five rooms in five days, that's what I did. Removed curtains and curtain rods, and old and rusty metal blinds that we never used came down. I painted the powder room first, which was a huge challenge because it is so small! Then I painted my son's room. Those two are the same greige color, which looks more tan than gray, but is a nicer color than before. That took two days. On the third day I painted the bathroom - icky old oak cabinets and all. Cabinets are painted in a glossy gray, the walls in an eggshell gray, the same shade. On the fourth day I tackled the living room, the largest room in the house. It took me over 6 hours to edge, trim, and paint that room. I thought it would never end. The fifth day I painted the dining room, relatively easy, compared to the other rooms. The living room and dining room are in the same shade of gray as the bathroom.

The sixth day I put everything back in order. I hung new curtains in all the rooms, and I have to admit, I felt pretty darn proud of myself for measuring and hanging curtain rods. True it was made a lot easier because my husband has a drill with the screwdriver bit on it, so hanging curtain rods took seconds.

When it was all done I felt an immense sense of satisfaction. The look is new, fresh, calming, lovely, and makes sense.

Now I ask you, when, ever, does a transformation happen like this? In just a few days of work, granted hard, exhausting work, but one in which in the end, everything is different? Not only different but exceedingly satisfyingly different.

I've worked as a parish priest for sixteen years. My hope, always, is to journey with congregations as they encounter and come through their own transformation, becoming the congregation that is most authentic to them. Rarely, ever, has this actually happened. All work, not a lot to show for it, and little satisfaction for the effort.

I suppose that isn't really the point though, feeling satisfied with parish ministry? Or is it?

Certainly I thought, when I entered parish ministry with my new, shiny, optimistic M.Div and MSW (emphasis in Family Systems for Congregations no less) and ordained self, that journeying with people and whole congregations as they revealed their true strengths and were supported in that process, would afford some satisfaction. Who wouldn't want to become their most authentic self? (OMG, don't laugh at me! I know I was more than a little naive).

Yes, seminary taught me that parish ministry is about incremental change, tiny steps forward and giant steps back into homeostasis. Still, I thought that parish ministry is about revealing the inherent strengths, the true colors of congregations, and enabling them to come forth. It means the priest and leaders are talking about the strengths and colors over and over and over because it takes eleven times of hearing something before the general population acknowledges that they've heard it once. Yeah, yeah, I know a lot about the "technique" of leadership. I've read all the books and taken many continuing ed courses on it and been part of clergy group after clergy group. I did it all so that I could be the best possible parish priest, a wise, insightful, skilled leader.

Parish ministry has taught me a lot about patience and going slow and repeating the parish story over and over and over, and allowing for years to unfold while only little steps forward take place. Then, when it all gets reviewed, and people have some small amount of satisfaction, to hear that no one credits the female priest with any of the changes and support that has taken place.  It's a demanding dynamic to be a parish priest, particularly when female, to hold on to one's sense of purpose even when so very often one is actually diminished by the things others say and how one is treated. It's the reality of women every where in every position, even the female athletes in the Olympics know this reality.

The biggest lesson I've had in parish ministry is what I've learned about me.  The lessons have helped me become a better person and priest and how to understand how I can more effectively guide and support the congregation so that they too might grow.

Unlike painting five rooms in five days and ending up with a whole new look and feel, the transformation God is calling us to be about is not as immediate. Transforming ourselves into the best version of who we can be, the person God sees, requires a willingness to do that kind of inner work. It's about gaining self awareness and other awareness and being willing to grow in maturity and change. It is sacred work, good work, hard work, but rarely do we see the fullness of our efforts, for those can take a lifetime.

Yet, in the end, when we do this holy work, we find our true selves, our truest colors, and at last, perhaps, we find peace.