"Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.... Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting."

Frederick Buechner

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Our Spiritual Foremothers of Justice

A radical Islamic militant group moves through Iraq and Syria killing civilians including American journalists, touting an extremist ideology and terrorizing a minority religious group in the region, forcing them to seek safe harbor on a mountain top.

A police officer shoots an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and a week of riots erupt. News reports cite years of conflict between a black community and it’s mostly white police force are coming to the surface.

Hamas and Israel enter into open conflict once again in a fierce and seemingly endless battle over land rights. 

Russia invades the Ukraine in a play for power.

A woman runs into a hotel in Libya, begging for help. Government agents are captured on hotel video hauling her away. Mayhem erupts in Libya. 

Genocide - people killing other people because of race, ethnicity, or religion, from Rwanda to South Africa, to Guatemala and countries in South America. From the Holocaust to the war between Serbia and Croatia, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that it is not only okay, but a right, to kill people who differ from one another. 

Even here, in our country, we have open conflict over race, gun rights, and human sexuality. 

An Egyptian Pharaoh  grew worried about the increasing Hebrew population in his country. He started a campaign of fear and anxiety that soon infected other Egyptians. Before long the misleading information fueled enough fear in the people that Pharaoh garnered support for genocide. The Pharaoh ordered the local midwives to carry out the killings, intending that no baby boy survived the birth process. 

It’s not a far-fetched story. All around us are stories of similar atrocities. 

What is amazing, however, is how the five women in this story all conspire against the Pharaoh, each in their own way and without any preconceived intention of working together. First of all we have the two midwives who recognize that if they follow the Pharaoh’s plan they will lose all credibility in the community of Hebrew and Egyptian women. They will lose their integrity as professionals whose job it is to bring forth new life not end it. So the midwives develop a brilliant plan that saves their reputation and save the lives of the babies being born - they women give birth before the midwives can arrive.

So then Pharaoh insists that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile. One Hebrew mother takes a risk at saving her son, placing him in a basket near the water where Pharaoh’s daughter bathes. The Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and before she knows it the baby’s sister is there offering to find a wet nurse, who ends up being the baby’s real mother. As if that were not enough, Pharaoh’s daughter pays the mother to be the wet nurse. The baby grows up in Pharaoh’s own home, and thus defeats Pharaoh’s plan to rid the nation of Hebrew boys. It’s brilliant! What makes it even more amazing is that because of these five women, the rest of God’s salvation history is possible. The story that began with Abraham and Sarah, continued with Isaac and Rebeca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, is able to continue with Moses - a descendent of Abraham - from a family of Hebrew people living in exile as slaves in Egypt. Moses will grow up to leave Pharaoh’s house and lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and back to the land of their ancestors. 

A number of years ago a group of us in the parish watched the PBS series, “Women, War, and Peace.” The series told the story of women who worked together to bring about justice and peace in war-torn areas of the world: Serbia-Croatia, Liberia, Colombia, and Afghanistan. It was a powerful, eye-opening series that revealed the behind the scenes work and the up front and center civil disobedience that was being done by women in war torn regions of the world to bring forth justice and peace. Much of the work included an interfaith movement of women; Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who joined together as one voice to end the genocide and division.

Likewise, the five women in the story from Exodus all come from very different backgrounds. None of them plotted to work together. But each of them was wiling to do the right thing, they took a risk for justice. In the process they entered into God’s hope and desire for human kind and all creation. 

As Episcopalians we describe God’s desire for us through the words of the Baptismal Covenant, where in with God’s help we will: seek justice, respect the dignity of others, serve Christ in one another, share bread, resist evil, repent and return to God, proclaim the Good News of God’s love in Christ and each other, and strive for peace. 


The women in Exodus exemplify these characteristics of people of faith. They are our spiritual foremothers. May their wisdom, tenacity, courage, and  strength live on in us, fortifying and inspiring us into acts of justice. May we be the living hands and heart of Christ in this broken world of ours. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Five: End of Summer (nooooooooooo)

Deb, over at the RevGals, offers this Friday Five:
There’s no real theme today, just some random topics. Have fun and don’t forget to post your link in the comments!
1. True or False: You can wear white shoes after Labor Day*. (Please explain to me why!) For me the real question is, who wears white shoes anymore? 
2. If “the dog days” are in August, when are “the cat days”? Every other day of the year, and really, cats just give dogs the month of August because it's too hot for cats to care.
3. Share a memory from your life of going back to school. Shopping in the fall for new clothes and school supplies. The beginning of each year filled me with anticipation and hope. I loved school.
4. My dad had a rhyme he used to tell us: “I eat my peas with honey; I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife!” What’s the strangest use for honey you’ve ever heard of? I put raw, uncooked, unfiltered honey produced from the region I live in, in my coffee. I've been told that honey is good for the immune system and helps with seasonal allergies. 
5. Post a picture from this summer that shows us one of your favorite memories. 
My daughter's wedding. It was a fun week getting ready for it and a wonderful celebration.


BONUS: Summer gardens! Got one? What are you growing

Our garden this year has been prolific - cucumbers, zucchini, beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, lettuce, tomatoes. Sadly the tomatoes are not ripening so yesterday I picked a ton of green tomatoes, put them through the food processor with jalapeno's, onions, garlic, cumin, cilantro, a small amount of vinegar and sugar, salt and pepper, poured it into a pot and reduced it, making a green tomato enchilada sauce. I poured some of it on homemade chicken and black bean enchiladas for supper last night. I also froze 4 quarts for another time. 



Monday, August 18, 2014

A Tale of Three Churches


One story: The months preceding the formal “New Rector Installation” service were relatively calm and easy. Afterward, a member of the Vestry claiming to have “issues with authority,”  began blatantly opposing every point raised by the Rector in Vestry discussions. The wardens and Rector teamed up to listen to and work with this Vestry member, enabling better communication and more effective Vestry meetings.

Later, another parish conflict arose over human sexuality and whether openly gay and partnered persons should be bishops. The Vestry and Rector along with other community faith leaders organized a series of ecumenical and congregation-wide conversations on human sexuality. Although a few people left the parish because of the Episcopal Church’s stance on partnered gay bishops, most people stayed. The leadership encouraged open conversations which revealed more diversity within the congregation than was previously assumed. Eventually the anxiety eased and the congregation was able to focus on mission and ministries. 

A second story: Six weeks into a new call the new Rector hired a consultant to help navigate complicated interpersonal dynamics, which revealed themselves in the first week of the Rector’s arrival. That week, in separate incidences, three different people closed the Rector’s office door and then proceeded to insist that the Rector fire the Parish Administrator, who had been hired by the interim. Members of the congregation continued to tell the Rector what the Rector could or could not do, in no uncertain terms. Six months later there was open conflict in Vestry meetings. Ten months into the call the Rector arranged for the consultant to meet with the Vestry in an effort to learn more about the conflict. Despite great effort to identify issues and concerns, the “Problem” could not be clearly articulated. A pattern emerged, as soon as one issue was addressed another one reared its head. 

Not long after, following the New Rector installation service, the Bishop had a closed door meeting with the Vestry, without the Rector present, in order that the Vestry could speak “freely.” A few days later the Bishop called and told the Rector how to respond to concerns that were raised by the Vestry. When the conflict continued to rise the Bishop made a second visit with the Vestry, this time with the Rector present, and told the Vestry what to do. Seventeen months into this call the Rector began receiving daily emails, carbon copied to undisclosed recipients,  that were personally and professionally demeaning. The Bishop had a second closed door meeting with the Vestry, again without the Rector present. After that meeting the Bishop told the Rector to resign and laid out a plan for the Rector’s departure. The Bishop stated that the Rector’s leadership style was not a good fit for this parish. 

A third story: The priest was called to a parish that felt like a “perfect fit.” The first two years were filled with enthusiasm and joy.  However, in the third year conflict arose. For the better part of an entire year the leadership team and Rector wrestled with concerns about process, who had authority and how were decisions made. This culminated in two public conversations with representatives from many of the parish committees. The conversation was facilitated by a parishioner and a member of the diocesan staff, both trained mediators. These conversations eased the anxiety in the system by providing an opportunity for everyone to speak and be listened too and a plan was put in place for moving forward.


Conflict is a normal and natural part of human relationships and congregational life. The absence of conflict does not mean that a congregation or a relationship is necessarily healthy. Absence of conflict may indicate a system or relationship that is stuck in patterns of behavior that ensure a false sense of comfort at the expense of interpersonal growth and well-being. This comfort is false because people are suppressing their true feelings in an effort to get along. Christians congregations have a tendency to “be nice,” believing it’s the Christian thing to do. Paradoxically being nice usually means people are quietly tolerating other people who are not being nice to one another. It also manifests as unspoken pressure to accept values, beliefs, and behaviors that are not one’s own.

A normal aspect of congregational life, conflict can play out in healthy and unhealthy ways. Typically conflict manifests as anxiety over seemingly random issues or an insistence that a particular person is the problem. Successful resolution can happen when individuals in the leadership team (Bishop, priest, Vestry, Commission Chairpersons, etc) are able to navigate the situation by monitoring their own feelings, choosing to respond thoughtfully instead of impulsively by separating feelings from action and recognizing their particular role in the conflict. A group of mature leaders, not just the clergy person, need to be willing to seek reconciliation rather than blame, confront, by meeting face to face, the unhealthy behaviors, and strive to create and maintain boundaries for healthy behaviors.

In the parish in which the conflict ended with a forced pastoral exit, the underlying anxiety over congregational and cultural changes in leadership were similar to what other churches face in the world today. However this congregational system exhibited symptoms of unhealthy behavior well documented by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and numerous books written on church conflict. The symptoms included an unwillingness to adapt. This manifested as inflexible and insistent behaviors intended to protect a few and hurt others. The instigators used scare tactics and anger to spread and increase anxiety. There was an expectation that the female Rector would “behave like the obedient daughter and do what she was told,” a typical experience of women in leadership. The Rector’s efforts to hold open conversations among the leadership team in order for the members to grow in understanding of one another failed because certain members would not publicly speak about their feelings and intentions. Instead they circulated emails undermining the leadership with distorted information intended to raise anxiety. Meetings of the Vestry and other groups, without the Rector present, perpetuated a pattern of covert behavior and silencing of the Rector. The ensuing “flight-pattern” of people leaving or threatening to leave the parish added to the anxiety. This was exacerbated by a tendency to look after self-interests and not the good of the whole. There was the presence of demeaning verbal and non-verbal communication. The destructive behavior was marked by domination and subordination patterns. The parish had a history of alcoholism and a long history of conflict with previous Rector’s in which people left the church rather than reconcile. The conflict escalated so quickly that the Rector was unable to establish and maintain trusting relationships with key leaders.

Underlying the behaviors were significant cultural shifts. During the months in which the conflict was elevating the country fell into an economic depression which impacted this congregation of predominantly retired people. Incidents of undocumented people crossing the border increased the tension in local neighborhoods. The first black President of the United States was elected, a challenge for even the most liberal members of this community. And, the parish was experiencing leadership from its first female Rector. These cultural and systemic-wide changes aroused anxiety in people who, as is typical, played out their anxiety through congregational life. Within eighteen months the conflict in this parish had reached an “intractable” level of intensity, the stated objective of at least one person was to humiliate the Rector and punish her by getting her fired. Arbitration was necessary and the end result was a forced pastoral exit. Intervention from professional church mediators may not have salvaged the relationship but it would have enlightened all parties to the unhealthy dynamics at play. 

Forced clergy exits have a tendency to focus on “cause and effect” - who did what or what caused the conflict. In church settings the Rector or lead pastor, the most vulnerable person in the system, is usually determined to be at “fault.” (See Lombard Mennonite Peace Center Mediation training.) Focusing on cause and effect fails to recognize that the set of circumstances that force an exit in one congregation will not have the same end result in another. Unhealthy responses to conflict seek places outside the self to lay blame, thus moving the anxiety from self to other. Navigating conflict toward a resolution that retains the clergy-congregation relationship requires each person involved to recognize their role in the conflict.

As human beings grow from infancy to adulthood we learn patterns of behavior that influence how we respond to challenges and differences of opinion, personalities, cultures and societal norms. Because individuals have emotional connections to other people we are all affected by the behavior of others'. Our ability to recognize how we feel as we experience other people informs our options for responding. When we are able to understand that a behavior causes us to respond in a certain way we can intentionally choose to respond in a different way.

When responding to congregational conflict and anxiety, leadership needs to remember that an emotional system has been activated, one that resides beneath the issues being raised. The issues are symptoms of the underlying emotional system. Recognizing the underlying emotional dynamic requires making constructive decisions to separate feelings from actions. Feelings are natural, but nurturing hurt feelings and acting destructively from hurt feelings perpetuates unhealthy conflict. This can be accomplished by: stepping outside of one’s own subjective responses to what one “feels" is happening; actively listening to others, with the intent of learning, rather than reacting to emotions or positions; staying clear about one’s own goals, values, and beliefs while simultaneously being a non-anxious presence; and remaining in relationship with all the people involved. Being willing to change, adjust, and compromise can lead to healthier conflict transformation. Healthy communication practices rely on direct conversation with the individuals involved instead of gossiping about others. No one person holds the whole truth of a situation, it takes enormous effort to honor everyone’s perspective. Compassion, empathy, and a desire to stay in relationship are key factors in reconciling conflict.

Conflict is a normal aspect of human relationships, reminding us that we are vibrant and alive. When our motivation to resolve conflict is toward relationship building instead of self-preservation, bullying, or power and control, conflict can be transformational, building trust and deepening our awareness of ourselves and others. Scripture provides us with examples of how to do this as we grow up in every way into the body of Christ. 

(See in particular 1 Corinthians 13Ephesians 4, and Matthew18).

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski serves as the Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, MI and as the Convener of the Episcopal Women's Caucus. She holds a dual degree M.Div/MSW with an emphasis in Family Systems for Congregations and is trained in Mediation for Congregations and Healthy Congregations by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and Appreciative Inquiry with Rob Voyle. In addition to serving on the board for the EWC she previously served on the boards of OMNI Youth Services in Chicago and the RevGalBlogPals, as a regional Dean in the Diocese of Chicago, and as a regional liaison for Episcopal Migration Ministries. 


The above essay was written out of a partnership between The Episcopal Women’s Caucus (EWC) and The Network of Episcopal Clergy (NECA.) This project developed following  a watershed moment when in January 2014 the Diocese of Newark passed a resolution seeking that their Bishop appoint a task force to explore Dignity of Work issues related to clergy and workplace bullying.  This essay was written as part of a collection of essays written to begin to address the challenge of challenging calls and the issue of workplace bullying. While the views in this essays are the authors own and we acknowledge that no one essay will be able to identify all the issues involved, our hope is that in and  through the collection of pieces we might support what has begun locally in the Diocese of Newark and more importantly, further the conversation in the wider Episcopal church. As these essays are both sponsored and being released jointly by both NECA and The EWC please read all the essays at The Episcopal Women’s Caucus blog and  The Care for Clergy in Difficult Calls Writing Project.




If you are a clergy person in the midst of a challenging call or you have gone through it and would like to see the beginnings of a set of resources that might support you, please see the  NECA Resource Page

Monday, August 11, 2014

One Bread Broken Open

Ordained fourteen years, I have gathered around the table with a community of the faithful three or four times a week. “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”

Into countless open hands I’ve placed a piece of bread, broken off of a larger loaf. “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life.”

 

communion rail hands


A holy and sacred moment shared. “One bread, one body.”

We become this body through baptism, partaking of meals together, sacred and ordinary, opportunities to connect with our friends and colleagues, and as we care for friend and stranger. We share our lives and find ministries in common that help make life more meaningful. We serve on committees and commissions, boards and teams, striving for vibrant and transformational relationships with God and our neighbor.

Scripture, such as Matthew 18, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 13, remind us that we are called to be in relationship with one another. This means we are to lead a life worthy of that to which we have been called; to build up the body, be mature, speak the truth in love, and don’t let the sun go down on our anger.

In truth, following the wisdom of scripture can be challenging. Broken human beings, we gossip and speak behind the back of the one who hurt us. We point fingers and lay blame. We tend to blame someone else for how we feel, project our hurt onto another person, but fail to see our role in the breakdown of the relationship. Instead of gossiping, blaming, and projecting we might focus on the self and wonder, “Why am I so anxious? Why am I so hurt? Why am I so angry?”

Then, you might also ponder “How might I have responded differently? What could I do to stay in relationship? Am I brave enough to really embrace the notion that the only person I can change is myself?”

Jesus reminds us to first explore the log in our own eye. Then, go to the person with whom we feel hurt and have a conversation, with the intention of learning more, instead of blaming. This is how we love God, and love others as ourselves as mature people building up the body instead of breaking it.

May the Body of Christ be broken open, not apart, and shared with love, that we might be made whole.

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski serves as the Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, MI and as the Convenor of the Episcopal Women's Caucus. She holds a dual degree M.Div/MSW with an emphasis in Family Systems for Congregations and is trained in Mediation for Congregations and Healthy Congregations by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and Appreciative Inquiry with Rob Voyle. In addition to serving on the board for the EWC she previously served on the boards of OMNI Youth Services in Chicago and the RevGalBlogPals, as a regional Dean in the Diocese of Chicago, and as the regional liaison for Episcopal Migration Ministries.

 

This reflection was written for <a href="https://readymag.com/mwm/36339/">Fresh Day</a>. Check it and consider subscribing!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Friday Five: Randomly Ramblin'

RevKarla, over at the RevGals, reminds us to live our weekends instead of pushing through so inspired by this, here is a Ramblin’ Friday Five.

1. First, take a moment to pray. No words? Here is Julia’s timely prayer.
Can I get an Amen? I walked to yoga class this morning where I had some lovely time to pray, meditate, sit quietly, be grateful.

2. What is one thing you have been thinking about doing this summer? Well, can you still take an hour/afternoon/day/overnight to still make it happen? My need for this summer is to find as much time to just "be" as I can possibly manage. I have had some time, but need more. I have sat and read novels. I have sat and knitted. I have sat and had fun conversations. I have sat quietly and done nothing. I have sat and written. It's been good. But I still need a little more time to just "be" before the fall hits and life takes off at a rapid pace.

3. Give a shout-out to someone who has been a blessing/kick in your pants/good friend/joy/a great silliness in your life lately. My dogs are an endless source of delight. My husband is amazing, too, as well as my kids. And, I am blessed to have a group of wonderful clergy girlfriends, especially a couple here, who regularly help me recharge with their great company.

4. Leaf-blowers or vacuum cleaners? Which is the most annoying sound to you? I hate leaf blowers. The worst invention, ever! At least in terms of the NOISE they make. Also, I have a neighbor who uses a power washer to clean her pool and the concrete deck around the pool. She does this every Saturday in the summer and it takes her several hours. I have to close the windows or leave the house. It is agitating and aggregating. I hates it, precious, I hates it!

5. Is there a song of the summer this year? Last year it was Happy, right? Do you have a song of your summer? Or mix? Or just a great recommendation? Wait, Happy came out last summer? I only recall hearing it for the first time this spring....lol. That means, whatever song is from this summer that I'll like, I won't hear until next spring? Is that my cycle? sigh. I have no idea - mostly I just get ear worms from stuff we are singing in church. sigh, again.

 

 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Emergence of Self, Journey of Faith

A reflection on Proper 13A Genesis 32:22-31 

Murray Stein, a prominent Jungian writer and analyst, wrote a book called, “Transformation: Emergence of the Self.”  He writes about a very profound transition that most human beings go through, usually in our mid to late forties, which takes about a decade to complete, sometimes known as a mid-life crisis. He uses the life stories of Carl Jung, Rembrandt, Rilke, and Picasso to describe the struggle and the creative result. The process begins with a sense of being unsettled in life, something is amiss. We then experience years of doubt, confusion, unsettledness, where everything we thought we knew and understood about ourselves, or our hopes and dreams, our expectations, our life goals, even our faith, comes into question.

This is the place where we find Jacob in our readings this morning. We have moved through the Genesis story from Abraham and Sarah, who are Jacob’s grandparents. We’ve heard their story of struggle and transformation. We have moved through the story of Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob’s parents. And we have heard most of the story of Jacob himself – how he tricked his brother into giving him the birthright of inheritance, how he had to flee his homeland to escape the wrath of his brother, how he worked for 14 years to win the hand of Rachel from her father Laban. And now our reading today points us to a place late in Jacob’s life, a time when he has become successful and wealthy. He has a large family, 12 sons, and many possessions, he ought to feel settled. But despite all of his success he still struggles with what he did to his brother all those years before. And so he sets out with his family to see his brother and ask his forgiveness.

As he nears the end of his journey to meet his brother, Jacob pauses for some time of sleep, prayer, contemplation. He sends his family on ahead, to a place of safety, while he prepares. It is in this night of preparation that Jacob has an amazing dream. He is wrestling with an angel! All night long he wrestles, getting no sleep, and ending up wounded.

This story of Jacob wrestling with the angel invites us to look at the ways we may wrestle with faith. Each one of us at some point in time argues, debates, struggles with God. It is part of the process of faith. It is part of the process of becoming fully who we are called to be.

Jewish Midrash views this story from two dimensions - one is the break-down in human relationships, symbolized by the rivalry between Jacob and his brother Esau. Jacob’s life long struggle over inheritance and birth right has broken him. Now he seeks reconciliation and healing with his brother, an effort that is never simple, but always comes with grace. The work of healing a relationship leaves us vulnerable and raw, it’s scary, but it is also a blessing.

The second view is that the confrontation between Jacob and the angel describes the dynamic of a tormented soul struggling for insight and understanding in the face of life’s challenges. It is the struggle to remain a person of faith in a world of violence, disease, despair, and bad things happening to good people. It’s literally an emotional and spiritual tug-of- war. It is easier for Jacob to make peace with his brother Esau than for him to reconcile his inner struggles of identity and faith. Wrestling with the angel reveals the nature of Jacob’s inner struggle - he wants to know who he is, what his purpose is. Jacob insists that the angel give him a blessing. The angel does more than that, the angel gives Jacob a new name and his true identity is revealed, he is Israel, a people of God.

The paradox of this story is that even though Jacob comes out of the dream wounded from this struggle, he is also more mature and whole. He’s become a wiser human being who finds peace in his life, content with it as it is. Genesis 32 uses the word “Shaleim” to describe Jacob when he awakens. Shaleim has two meanings “wholeness” and “peace.” Jacob emerges from the struggle,  whole and at peace, despite being physically wounded.

Our spiritual journey toward a mature faith often includes doubt and struggle followed eventually by reconciliation within one’s self, and a sense of wholeness and peace. Along the way God calls us by name, “Beloved,” and blesses our journey with God’s abiding presence, love, and grace. May we trust in God’s presence though the wrestling feels endless for the dawn will come, the sun will rise, and love will prevail.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Friday Five: What's in a name?

3dogmom, over at the RevGals, offers this Friday Five:
Lately I’ve been a bit obsessed with tracking some genealogical mysteries in my family. I’m reaching back through generations into the past, but I’m also moving from the past toward the present in an effort to locate cousins descended from the same ancestor. Naming patterns prove to be useful clues in these endeavors, and in turn, lead me to today’s Friday Five theme.

Share with us:

1. Is there a story behind your name? My mother use to say that she wanted to name me something other than the typical names for that era, which were Debbie and Mary. One day she saw in the birth announcements in the paper, the name Terry and decided on that name for me, but changed the spelling to Terri. I've never really liked my name. Too simple, too plain, and no one knows how to spell it. But it is what is.

2. If you have children, how did you choose his/her/their name(s)? If you don’t have children, how about a pet? My husband and I made lists for each of our pregnancies with boy and girl names, first and middle. We wrestled over what sounded right together, what could have a reasonable nickname, and what might avoid teasing. We played around with family names but in the end settled on names that were not family. I think we did a pretty good job, although my daughter ended up with a very popular name (Jessica) and lots of other girls with the same name....oh well.

3. I named the stand mixer in my kitchen Ethel, and a friend of mine names her plants. Do you ever name household items, and what inspires the names behind them? no. I've never named inanimate objects....I not very playful that way.

4. Do you daydream about what you might name a boat, a novel, a business, or something else that begs for a title? No, not really. I have thought about what to name a new blog if I start one, or rename the one I have...but in the end I just stay with the name I have had since 2006.

5. If you were to write under a pseudonym, what might that be, and is there a story behind that name? When I first started blogging I used the pseudonym "Mompriest" - because I had kids in middle school, felt very much the mom, and was also a parish priest. The two really consumed my energy and my identity. Now that my children are in their twenties I feel less the mom, but very much the priest. I just use my real name now. I don't know what I would use if I went with a pseudonym? Yogapriest? Yogipriest? Priestyogi? (reminds me of Yogi bear, the old cartoon....LOL).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Living the Call

In the summer of 1974 I was seventeen years old and preparing to start college in the fall. My family had left the Mormon Church, the church of my ancestors and my childhood, when I was fifteen. I had no desire or intention of ever returning to an institutional church. Therefore I had no idea of what transpired in a church in Philadelphia on July 29th  when Bishops in the Episcopal Church ordained, out of order, eleven women to the priesthood. Although the church did not specifically deny women ordination, neither did it endorse women’s ordination to the priesthood. That endorsement came several years later at General Convention. Then I had never even heard of the Episcopal Church, let alone ever considered what it would take to be ordained in the church.

Twenty years later I was an active member of the Episcopal Church, having found my way back to the institution in 1989. My husband and I bought our first house in a little neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago. Nearby was a little stucco church with red doors and a lovely rose garden. My desire to return to church was strong enough that I had considered joining the Roman Catholic church, in which my husband had been raised. But I simply could not abide by their practices, beliefs, and requirements to join. After some conversation my husband and I decided to consider the Episcopal Church, recommended to us by the United Church of Christ minister who had married us a few years prior. That this lovely little neighborhood church was an Episcopal Church seemed fortuitous to me. I called and left a message for the priest, letting him know that we’d be coming on Sunday. My husband, one year old daughter, and I were embraced by the church. To this day it remains our “home church,” even though we have long since moved away.

My experience of church in this congregation was formative in ways I never anticipated. I found friends and community and good priests who answered my questions and helped me feel welcome. Before long my husband was on the Vestry and I was a reader and served on the altar guild. In time I began to discern a call to ordained ministry, but not to parish ministry. It was clear to me that being a female priest working in parish ministry was a path I did not want to travel. My beloved home parish had rejected a highly competent female candidate for rector, stating that she did not have enough experience. They spoke poorly of their experience with a female seminary student, calling her “strident.” I was not interested in trail blazing a dominant male domain. I wanted a simple path. I thought hospital ministry was my calling and had solid female mentors already in hospital ministry to guide me along the way.

Then, my very first day at seminary a woman priest presided at the service and preached. She was the first woman I had ever seen in this role, the chaplain at Northwestern University in Evanston, affiliated with Seabury-Western Seminary. I remember her confidence and presence and the power of her sermon. I wondered if I could ever be like her?

The last year of seminary I worked at an internship in a large urban church. Paradoxically the Rector was the same female priest my home parish had “rejected” for her “lack of experience.” She and her male associate treated me like an equal part of a leadership team. I began to feel the pull of parish ministry, the gift of being with people through all stages of life and the rhythm of congregational leadership. The Rector was smart, mentored me well. She wore lipstick and had regular manicures, and loved to have a glass of wine with dinner, she was a woman, a wife, a mother, and a priest.  A new vision of ministry opened up for me, and I began to see the potential for me to be a parish priest as well. Ten years after we joined that little neighborhood church I became the first person, in its 150 year history, to be ordained in the building.

I’d like to say that these fourteen years of serving as a parish priest have all been fabulous. (Don’t laugh). We all know that when one works in ministry one works with real people and that means there will be times when work is messy.  I have experienced the challenges of being a woman priest, challenges that come in many forms, subtle and sometimes blatant. I have also experienced the blessings of being a woman in ministry, an affirmation of what is possible for all women and girls.

My ordination came twenty-five years after the first eleven were ordained in the Episcopal Church. Due in part to the risk they took, I  have been able to serve three congregations as the first woman Rector. Each call has been a gift in its own right, teaching me about myself and deepening my relationship with God as I strive to be the kind of priest God is calling me to be.

Now, on this 40th anniversary of the ordination of the Philadelphia 11, as the first women priests are remembered, I give thanks for the true trailblazers. Their courage and conviction and willingness to take this gigantic risk paved the way for so many of us who followed. I wish, all those years ago, in the summer when I was seventeen, that I had known of this event and that I could have celebrated it. Nonetheless I am grateful for their witness and for the women who followed, especially those who mentored me - Mollie Williams, Linda Packard, Jacqueline Schmitt, and Ruth Meyers - and offered me a vision of a life I could not have imagined when I was seventeen.

 

[caption id="attachment_2859" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Presiding Bishop Katharine at the 40th Anniversary The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preaching at the 40th anniversary celebration in Philadelphia, Sat. July 26, 2014.[/caption]

 

[caption id="attachment_2860" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The congregation gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary. The congregation gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary.[/caption]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Life is hard.

A reflection on the readings for Proper 12A: Genesis 29:15-28 and Romans 8:26-39

Jacob, grandson of Abraham, son of Isaac, brother of Esau, falls in love with a woman at a well, a typical place for love to begin in the Bible. The woman’s name is Rachel. Jacob wants to marry Rachel, but her father, Laban, insists that Jacob work for him for seven years and then he can marry Rachel. So Jacob does.

Life is hard.

After seven years Jacob prepares to marry Rachel, but Laban tricks Jacob and sends his older daughter, Leah, to the marriage bed. Rachel learns of the deceit, but rather than disgrace her older sister, she conspires with Leah to let this happen. Jacob decides to work seven more years for Rachel.

Life is hard.

Jacob works for Laban, and the years pass, but he finally gets to marry Rachel. Rachel has a difficult time with pregnancy and eventually dies in childbirth, but not before she gives birth to the child who becomes the ancestor of King David, and Jesus.

Life is so very hard.

Rachel is buried on the side of the road. It is said that her tears and prayers washed over the Jewish people on their way to exile.

Life. Is hard.

A plane disappears, thousands of miles off course, and months later, has yet to be found. A plane is shot down out of the sky, a mistake of war, killing hundreds of innocent people. Another plane goes missing over Africa.

Life is hard.

Violence escalates in lands torn apart by war, poverty, famine, prejudice, or the drug trade. Mothers and fathers send their children away, with just a glimmer of hope that they might find a better life in a strange country, assuming they survive the journey. But the children arrive in the foreign land, a place torn apart by its own struggles with politics, finances, poverty, and years of violent weather - tornados, landslides, earthquakes, wild fires, and draught. The children are caught in a tangled web of conflict.

Life is hard. Life is hard everywhere.

Illness strikes. An accident takes the life of a loved one. Innocent people are shot and killed for money or fear. A job is lost. The cost of living increases.

Life is fragile. Life is unpredictable. Life is hard.

Who among us has not suffered, has not experienced sighs too deep for words?

Paul’s letter to the Roman’s offers hope and assurance to a people who are suffering.

For into our suffering, the Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words.

I have leaned into this phrase countless times in my own prayer life, especially during times when I am suffocating in sadness  - overwhelmed by the circumstances of my life or injustices in the world….

The Spirit interceding enables us to catch our breath and gather the strength to meet the day ahead, providing the stamina to carry on. Life is hard.

And, God does not prevent these things from happening— even Paul living in the first century knew this. God does not magically saves us from the tumult’s of life.

And yet, Paul reminds us that the  “love of Christ” is working in us, whether we know it or not. Nothing can separate us from it—not “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” Not oil prices, climate change, nor economic collapse. Not violence or injury or illness. Not fear or hate.

God does not abandon us, no matter what we do or what gets thrown at us. God is present. God’s love is unwavering. God’s love is like yeast - seemingly small and yet it, somehow, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s love rises to the occasion, working to transform random ingredients into nourishment for body and soul.

Life is hard.

Eventually, life gets better.

Even still, life is hard.

And yet, somehow, God’s love in Christ, God’s love for us prevails. Subtle, simple. But, it’s the air that softens our sighs, the hand that wipes our tears, the grace that gives us breath, the strength that gives us stamina to face the day.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Morning Musings: Random thoughts

Yesterday was my first Sunday back in the pulpit, so to speak. We have three services in the summer (one being a popular out-door service that is short and lively). The services in the summer are all casual, I don't use the pulpit.

It was the first time in awhile that I have preached and presided at all three services, the Curate being on a much needed vacation. Fourteen years of doing this work, and still I was unbelievable tapped out Sunday afternoon. It amazes me to realize, from time to time, just how much energy is spent leading and preaching worship. Following the services I took the dogs for a walk and then went to two hours of yoga. One was a regular yoga class, the other was a "restorative" yoga class. I have done this many times in the past, but yesterday I was particularly struck by how hard it was to move. All I really wanted to do was go to sleep. So I went to bed early and slept for nine hours.

My seventeen year old cat seemed to be in distress last week. I called to make an appointment to put her down. The next day she rallied forth so I cancelled the appointment. She's not doing great, but she still seems to enjoy her life well enough. Maybe this is like hospice care for cats? There is definitely a change in her but for now she is not manifesting the signs or symptoms of a cat in pain.

Our garden is flourishing this year - it's really amazingly beautiful. I'm particularly enjoying the lettuce, kale, zucchini and cucumbers! I do hope we have some warm sunny days to push the green tomatoes and ripen them. Everything else is coming along.

Monday's are my day for washing bed linens and hanging them on the line to dry. It's so wonderful to climb into bed on Monday nights with fresh linens.

Recently I've managed to lose seven pounds, maybe a bit more. I don't have a scale so I don't really know. I did check my weight at my daughter's house a few weeks ago, indicating seven pounds lost. I don't think I've really lost any more since then, wedding festivities and all. Losing seven pounds though may be good enough. I did it by eliminating most of the sugar and refined carbs in my diet, which were making me feel fatigued and irritable. My clothes fit better and I feel better about myself.  My hair is basically its natural color. I'm wearing it longer, loose and natural, allowing the curl to pop. I'm using some sunless tanner so my skin looks slightly healthier, less pasty white. I feel good.

Today, in addition to laundry, I'll do some work in the garden and clean the house. We'll walk the dogs. I plan to read, rest, and knit. It's Monday, my day off, and this is what I'm musing on.

You? What does your day hold for you? Something pleasant, I hope.