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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Holy God, Holy People, Holy Love

The first congregation I served as Rector was stunned when it was revealed that the wife of a prominent couple in the parish was the victim of years of domestic abuse. When divorce proceedings started the abuse escalated and threatened to spill into the church itself.  We were forced to be attentive for the safety of everyone, most especially the wife and children. A few years later a colleague at another church experienced a tragic domestic violence episode in her congregation, when a wife tried to have her abusing spouse murdered. He lived and she went to prison. Then the news reported that a woman, who had been kidnapped by her former husband had been found alive but severely beaten, bound and gagged, stuffed in a trash can and locked in a storage unit, not far from my house, where she had been left to die.

A few years later I attended a conference called, “Not In Our Pews” held in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and sponsored by Project SAFE, an organization composed of a number of religious institutions and service provider agencies in Wisconsin. One of the panel speakers at this conference was the woman who had been kidnapped and left to die in that storage unit. She was permanently damaged from the abuse, her legs and back would never fully heal, and walking was painful. She told her story of fear and hope and of her ongoing resistance to violence through the lens of being a person of faith, which connects her story to our scripture readings this morning in both Leviticus and Matthew, because they are often used by people of faith to coerce women into submitting to abusive partners, as if this is their cross to bear. This is a misunderstanding of the readings. 

Leviticus is considered the book of rules for the ancient people of God. It is filled with rules for how to live - what one can and cannot eat, drink, or do. However, if we take the rules literally we miss the point Leviticus is making - that people are holy because God is holy. We are holy when we live in right relationship with God, with our selves, and with other people. Being in right relationship with God is about our integrity as individuals and communities, one’s ability to be centered in one’s values and beliefs, one’s  capacity for introspection and self reflection, and the degree to which one can learn and grow and become a more mature person of faith by loving God, loving self, and loving others.

The Gospel of Matthew builds on the laws of Moses, not just the ten commandments, but all 613 commandments found in the Hebrew Bible, which essentially define how one lives in right relationship with God, self, and others. The focus of the Gospel of Matthew is to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. This point is made clear in Matthew 22 when one of the Pharisees asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest, and Jesus replies, that one should love  God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind and love one’s neighbor as one’s self, thus summarizing all 613 commandments into one. In other words, Jesus claims that there is no justification for violence and abuse, love never demeans or diminishes another.  

So listen carefully to the readings today. Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek and not resist the evildoer points to a different level of resistance, a non-cooperation in hate and violence. The readings this morning formed the foundation for the nonviolent resistance of Gandhi’s strategy against British colonial rule, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement to dismantle racism. Love your enemies is not an instruction to be passive toward cruelty, rather it guides one to defiance, to work against the system and cycle of violence or racism or any other way people are demeaned and diminished by refusing to be part of it.
A scene in the movie 42 helps to illustrate this point. In this scene Branch Rickey is talking to Jackie Robinson, who was to become the first black baseball player in the major leagues and he’s checking out Robinson to see if he has the wherewithal to do what it takes to navigate the challenges of breaking down barriers. 

Jackie Robinson says: You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?

Branch Rickey responds: No. No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse and, uh, they’ll hear only yours. Follow a blow with a blow and they’ll say, “The black man has lost his temper.” That “The black man does not belong.” Your enemy will be out in force… and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding. Only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: That you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior… you gotta have the guts… to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?

To which Jackie Robinson says: You give me a uniform… you give me a, heh, number on my back… and I’ll give you the guts.

Because non-cooperation with hate and violence means we hold people accountable for their behavior and we hold ourselves accountable, too. These readings call for radical transformation of individuals and communities through the simple, yet incredibly challenging commandment to love. These readings speak into and aim to direct one to one’s core sense of self, one’s soul. When the soul of the individual and the corporate soul of faith communities and even the soul of entire cities and countries, live with the guiding principle of love then one will do everything one can to ensure that all people are cared for equally.  People are holy because God is holy and therefore abusing any one, demeaning or diminishing another in any capacity, is as if one is abusing God. People are holy because God is holy.  

As Christians who believe in Jesus, resisting all forms of abuse that demean and diminish human beings is Incarnational, its God’s love in human flesh, God’s love activated in Jesus, in you, in me. Incarnational and holy because it requires one to have a clear understanding of what love actually means and then the capacity to live with that kind of love as one’s foundational value and guiding principle in life.  Incarnational love because God is holy and therefore we are holy too. 

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 7A: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Be Salt, Flavoring the World with Love and Compassion

I finally went to see  the movie “Hidden Figures” on my day off last week. It tells the story of thirty black women, who, in the 1960’s worked for NASA as mathematicians. They were called “computers” because they calculated the trajectory of space flights beginning with John Glen’s first flight into space to the landing on the moon and the space shuttle. These women worked behind the scenes but were absolutely essential to the program. The movie focuses primarily on three of the women: Katharine Johnson who calculated the space flights, Dorothy Vaughn who was the first black female supervisor in NASA and she hired and trained other black women to be computer programers, and Mary Jackson who became the first black female engineer in NASA. The story describes the challenges these women faced from outright racism and sexism, which they met with tenacity and grit and perseverance and confidence in their worth and value. During the day they worked hard to overcome near impossible obstacles. On the weekends and evenings the movie portrayed them as fun loving, respectable, church going, family women who danced, and sang, and hugged their children. The movie is a snapshot into a whole community of black people supporting one another with joy and faith through the challenges of maintaining their integrity even as the world tried to suppress and oppress them.

Our readings this morning from Isaiah and Matthew describe the life of faith, of discipleship, of a people called to live God calls them too. 

In the Isaiah reading the people are not living as God desires. Their faith is superficial, their piety lacks substance. They are going through the motions doing what they think will please God but they are doing it without introspection and thus their actions are meaningless. Isaiah calls them to look deeply at their lives, to take an honest look at them selves. True fasting, he says, is never done to meet one’s own purposes, but rather to connect one’s actions with the deeper desire of God. For example, fasting is not always the absence of food, it may be the forgoing of ego and selfish desires in order to make room for God’s desires to fill one up. Instead of fasting, God calls these Israelites to feed the hungry and cloth the naked, to live an active life of faith.

In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul is saying something similar. Paul calls these people out on their fake piety. He strongly reminds them that when they set aside their egos and open themselves to God, the Holy Spirit enters into them. Paul says when the Holy Spirit moves into one’s being,  then one “will have the mind of Christ.” This is what happens when one sincerely and honestly looks at one’s words and actions and makes the effort to change from self-focused to God-focused. It is realized when one takes on the challenge of respecting the dignity of every human being. 

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is teaching his disciples about their role in bringing forth God’s kingdom. True to form Jesus uses food to make his point, speaking about the importance of salt to bring out the full flavor. Be salt, Jesus tells the disciples, (and therefore he’s telling us, too). Be salt, be the ingredient that brings out the fullness of God in the world. Be the seasoning that enriches the flavor of life. Be salt. 

Then Jesus uses his second favorite image, light. Be light, he says. Be the light that is born in the darkness to lead the way through. Be light, shine forth, be the beacon that lights the way to true life. 

The point of all of our readings today might be summarized in this quote from the Archbishop William Temple, “The Church is the only organization that exists for those who are not its members.” In other words, as disciples, and as a church community, we are not here for ourselves, we are here to do God’s work in the world. We come here, like the people in Isaiah, to practice our faith in order to have an authentic understanding of who we are and what we are to be about. These practices of worship are intended to open one up and instill in one the mind of God, and then to send one out into the world to be the salt, to be the ingredient that transforms a bland reality into its fullness of life.

In an era when anxiety and uncertainty are prevalent, I am tempted to hunker down and withdraw, to just wait it out and hope for the best. I feel a strong urge to just look the other way, losing myself in knitting, or preparing for the birth of my grand daughter, or some other activity that distracts me from life. However, if I am to be the person God is calling me to be, if I am to live fully, if I am to continue to build the kind of world I hope for for my grandchildren, the kind of world that I think God desires, then I need to be engaged in the world as it is in order to work to transform it. I need to be willing to do the hard work of introspection, to examine myself, my words and my actions, and consider how I might live more fully in and through God’s desires. How can I avoid the temptation to shame, name call, or blame others? How can I focus on myself and try to be the best version of myself that I can? How salty can I be?

At Christ Church our mission, our call from God, our discipleship, is to feed people in mind, body, and spirit. It’s a call grounded in scripture, sustained by our baptismal covenant, and one that is authentic to who we are. One might say that by living into this mission we are being salty, flavoring the world around us with love and compassion. 

a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 5A: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20

Saturday, January 28, 2017

God tells 'em outright

What does God require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. 

In 1862, at the age of 24, George W. Haigh responded to the call from Abraham Lincoln to shore up Union troops in the Civil War. He joined the 24th Michigan Infantry Company D, composed of men from Wayne County. The 24th Michigan Infantry participated in several key battles of the Civil War, most notably the battle at Gettysburg. Known as the bloodiest battle, all the troops, on both sides of the conflict, incurred a 73% casualty rate. George survived the war and went on to live another 58 years. He was on the very first Vestry of Christ Church along with his brother Richard. George died in 1920 and in 1923 two parishioners designed and made the stone baptismal font in his memory. When this church was built in 1949 a special nook was created in the entrance way to hold the font. Today it stands as a reminder of who we are as Christ Church, a people with a long history of responding to the needs of the world, living an active faith, grounded in our baptismal identity to do justice, love kindness, and be humble. 

Mary Jo Searles was born in 1936 and raised in Christ Church. She dedicated her life to a variety of social justice causes including education for women and girls in this country and abroad. She served on the Vestry multiple times. Her last tenure on the Vestry ended in 2012. During her life she was active in every aspect of parish life and her impact is still with us, whether we are aware of it or not. Mary Jo fought Non-Hodgkins lymphoma for years, but succumbed to a brain tumor in April of 2014. The funeral liturgy that she created for her service revealed her values: a reading from the Q’ran that honored our interfaith heritage in Dearborn and Christ Church; a pause in the liturgy while Sean played Widor’s Toccata on the organ, because she loved the organ; and a Eucharistic prayer that used expansive language to describe God and human beings revealed her passion for equality and justice. We have created a new baptismal font that lives in the sanctuary in her memory as one who was humble enough to do justice with loving kindness.

These two saints of the church hold up for us the values of our Christian faith and remind us of who are as Christ Church in Dearborn. One could look back through these past 150 years and find many others, then and now, who are just like these two, people who exemplify for us what it means to be the living body of Christ feeding people in mind, body, and spirit because we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. 

Whether one lived in the years surrounded by the unrest of the Civil War and the role slavery played in defining faith, or the challenges to morale following WWW I or post WWW II and the struggles to unify and rebuild this country as well as this new church, or one lived in the 1960’s in the era of civil unrest over racism, or whether one lives now in an era focused on equality for all marginalized people regardless of religion, race, or gender, we here at Christ Church have played an active role in the lives of people of faith and in the Dearborn community. We have a long history of being involved, invested, fearless leaders who take on challenges and over come them. It’s a history we can be proud of. 

Our reading today from Micah supports this understanding of how we are to live as people of faith. This reading is set up as if it were a courtroom with God as the witness and the people are the jury. In this reading God asks a series of rhetorical questions of the people, all aimed at getting them to think about what it means to be a people of faith. In the end God simply tells them outright. God says that God is not expecting a particular type of sacrifice, God is expecting a particular type of person. God is interested in the integrity of one’s personhood. God is looking for people who will do justice, live with humility, and love kindness.

To be a people of justice and to live a life of integrity is defined for us in our baptismal covenant and by Jesus; we are to love God, love self, and love others by respecting the dignity of every human being. This is two-fold. It means we stand up and refute injustices and we work to enable greater justice. But we do this with humility. Humility does not mean being passive, nor does it mean being silent, it means being willing to learn, to grow, to deepen one’s understanding and to do so respectfully, all the while never diminishing the value of another human being.

This too is the heart of the Beatitudes in the Gospel reading. The beatitudes speak to what it means to live as a person of faith. The Beatitude’s describe how life is when one is faithful. 

Dearborn is a unique community. We’ve struggled through a history of deep racism to become a model interfaith community. We are not without our challenges, but we are facing those challenges. We dig deep, we strive to learn, to aim to be a people of faith. We are a community of many faiths. And each faith teaches us the same essentials: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. 

At 150 years old this faith community has risen to the occasion many times and overcome challenge after challenge. We are here today keeping alive the passion of our ancestors who worked to make the world a better place by loving God and one another. The soul of this parish is maturing, growing in wisdom from the lives of those who have come before us, sustained by the kind of humility that encourages wisdom and the ability  to continue to learn and grow, and fortified by an inherent sense of loving kindness. We are here today because of the tenacity and fortitude of our ancestors who never gave up. We are here today because of each of you. We are an amazingly creative vibrant committed community of people who care for one another and for the world around us. We are not just sustaining a church, we are building a future for our children and our children's children. This is the legacy we inherited and the legacy we handing on.

We are, and always have been a community centered church, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 

A reflection on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12 for Epiphany 4A

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hope, the nourishment of life

I have always been interested in the how the body works and fascinated by cellular biology in particular. Perhaps, if I were going to college now, I would study epigenetics, which looks at how life’s stressors change one’s DNA, altering what is passed down to subsequent generations. These are not changes to one’s actual DNA code, but rather they influence how our genetic material functions by triggering what part of one’s gene’s get activated or not to fight off physical or mental disease. For example, scientific evidence shows that people who have been subjected to trauma, like starvation, incur changes in their genetic material which is passed down to later generations, possibly causing obesity.

Instead of becoming a scientist I’ve spent most of my life as a parish priest. However, I think that in many ways this vocation is directly linked to my ancestors. Rooted, perhaps, in some spiritual transference of inspiration from my Mormon pioneer relatives who took great risks crossing oceans and prairies, leaving behind family and friends, to live a life of faith.  Many of my great grands however ended up struggling with divorce, alcoholism and depression because they were isolated and cut off from their families of origin. Likewise, it may be no coincidence that I’ve become a parish priest who studies Murray Bowen’s Family Systems theory, which looks at the emotional processes of intergenerational families and how the stressors of one generation play out in the behavior and health of subsequent generations. One might say that I study an emotional and spiritual form of epigenetics. 

One thing I have learned is that who one is and how one behaves is not predetermined by the past. One can decide how one lives and the influences on my physical and mental health. If I do the work to take care of my self, exercise, meditate and pray, eat well, and learn about the kinds of influences that trigger unhealthy reactions in me, I can find greater balance and not succumb to the impulsive remnants of my ancestors trauma that trigger disease.

All of this reminds me of a class I took in seminary called “The Plunge.” In this class groups of people went off to churches around the country, worshiped with them, studied their history and reflected on their current attitudes and behaviors and then reported back to the class as a whole. We were asked to think about and reflect on the idea that each parish has a “soul.” The parish’s soul reveals the defining character of the congregation, it’s practices and behavior, the stories it remembers about its history and the emotional tone of the congregation. Its kind of like looking at the epigenetics of a parish - how does the past influence the present? 

Christ Church has a relatively long history, compared to other Episcopal Churches in this country, many of which were started in the 1950’s. With our long history we have lived through good times and challenges. In the first fifty years parishioners struggle to find a priest, to have enough families, to have enough money, to have a place to worship. Then we stabilized with the growth of the automobile industry and with an influx of people moving here for jobs. The 1950’s and 1960’s are seen as glory days, when the church was booming with people, when Christ Church was the center of the community. Here men came to help grow their careers by forming business relationships and working to literally build a church. Here women came to find social connections, joining committees, doing fundraising, making friendships that have lasted a lifetime. And children grew up here, serving as acolytes, attending dances and socials and making friends. Christ Church was the hub of community life.

Now Christ Church is smaller, like almost every other church in this country. But we are still a bustling community centered church with our doors open every day and our halls lively with people coming and going. 

Through out our history our strength has always been feeding people. We are called Christ Church for a reason. We are part of the living body of Christ in our world today - doing the work that Jesus did to feed people in mind, body, and spirit. Jesus was always eating and feeding, he was always tending to the hunger’s of this world, the physical hungers and the spiritual hungers. 

In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus calls the first of his disciples. These fishermen drop everything to come and follow him. Jesus speaks into their deepest spiritual hunger and invites them to consider what it will take for them to thrive. These fishermen know about hunger and feeding people. Because despite literally feeding people with fish, all of them are still hungry for something more. Jesus calls into that hunger within, into that deep place of yearning. Following Jesus is not a comfortable thing to do. Following him does not take these disciples into a place of ease and plenty. Following Jesus takes them, and us, into a place of risk and challenge, to break out of the patterns of the past that could determine one’s future and into a new place of hope and vitality.

Each of our readings this morning speak in a similar way - that following God takes one into a new place. Not an easy place, but even in the challenges, it is a place that feeds people with hope and light and life. Our outgoing President, a man who often leaned into his faith to guide his work, said, “Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, to work for it, and to fight for it.” (Barak Obama)

I think the primary DNA material of Christ Church, of this church, is hope. Its in our DNA because of our ancestors built this place to be big and strong so it could have a vibrant future. They were not deterred by the muddy roads and economic challenges of 19th century Dearborn. No, they had a vision. 

Hope is in our spiritual bones and blood because of the name our ancestors chose for this church. We are Christ Church, the living hands and heart of Jesus, God’s hope for the world. We are not a people of blind optimism. We are a people of faith, built on the faith of our ancestors, built on the love of God in Jesus. Our heart beats with courage and vision and the willingness to work. We are Christ Church. It’s who we are because we are a community centered church. Its how we live because we feed people. 

And as Christ Church we can be the light that forges into the darkness of uncertainty, leading the way once again, like our ancestors did, building a brighter future, while feeding the world with the love of God.

a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 3A

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hearts Wide Open

The night sky, over an abandoned field outside of Ft. Worth, Texas, seemed to go on forever, the darkness broken only by the twinkling stars above and the distant glow from a large white tent. Several hundred people, more or less, filtered into the tent and sat down on wooden folding chairs. The dais, a makeshift wooden platform only a few inches high, focused our attention in one direction. I have no idea who the speaker was, some itinerant Christian preacher man who railed about Jesus and the need to be saved. Come up now, he cried at one point, come with me, make Jesus your personal savior. Who knows why, but I went with him, along with some other people, to a smaller tent where we sat again. I remember sitting with my eyes closed, listening, trying to be present to a place deep inside myself. And there, in the far recesses of my being, I had the comforting awareness that I didn’t need to be there. Jesus was already part of me and I was already part of Jesus and I did not need this moment to make that fact real. While others around me appeared to be healed, one person suddenly able to walk again, praise the Lord! Another apparently cured of an illness, praise Jesus! I sat still and knew that God was with me, had always been with me, and would always be with me. 

Come and see, Jesus says. Come and see. 

I’ve forgotten lots of things in my life, especially things I did when I was a teenager. But some memories remain, indelible, even though their impression, their impact changes as time goes on. This experience use to tell me that Christianity was just a bunch of narrow minded hypocrites, and altar calls were phony stage pranks manipulating people who were desperate for hope. But over time its come to mean something else, an awareness that God works in every moment of life, even something that one might shun as ridiculously phony, seeking to transform us and invite us to bring forth God’s purposes.

Still, living a life of faith is not always easy. Despite what I felt that night, so clear and sure, I have had many doubts in the 45 years since. I have suffered so deeply and known others who suffered so intensely that I have truly wondered if there is a God. How could there be a God when there is all this pain and evil and anger all around? How could there be a God when everything seems to collapse and the world as one knows it seems to be disintegrating? How could there be a God in the midst of the blatant injustices that prevail through out time? How could there be a God that allows the horrors of this world to exist?

And yet, how could there not be a God? A God who suffers with. A God who weeps. A God who never gives up. A God who is always searching for the person, the community, the place through which God can work and God can change the world. Not control it, nor punish it, nor narrowly define it, but transform it, over and over.

The servant in Isaiah sings a song. In four verses this servant sings about being an obedient follower of God who becomes lost, a failure, and then becomes renewed; with a greater understanding of what it means to be the vessel through which God seeks to change the world, to be God’s hope.

Come and see, the goodness of the Lord. 

God sings to each of us in our time and place, reminding us that every act we take to make a difference in the world can have larger, deeper implications than we will ever know. One small act of kindness may trigger a chain reaction around the world, because the potential for transformation is real. 

On this weekend when we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. we are reminded of his call to become a beloved community. To live with an awareness, the potential everything one says and does may reveal God’s love and hope in the world. To avoid angry reactive language, to avoid name calling, blaming, and shaming. To speak the truth in love. To respect the dignity of every human being. To be clear that the values and the principles that guide one’s life are built solidly on nonviolence grounded in the love of God. The arc toward justice doesn’t bend by itself, we bend it, shape it, direct it. 

We bend the arc by feeding hungry children with Blessings in a Backpack, providing a space for food to be stored and backpacks to be filled and people to gather and do this work together, building the beloved community. We offer the space and in so doing we are making a difference in the world. 

Feeding hungry families with good food, providing the substances for daily meals as well as all the ingredients for healthy holiday meals, we are changing lives, feeding bodies, helping our sisters and brothers. Every item you bring to church to feed people contributes to making a difference. 

Knitting or crocheting prayer shawls and lap blankets makes a difference. This year we gave away 13 prayer shawls at Christmas time to people who would otherwise have no other Christmas gift. Five went to women and men at Henry Ford Village at the Wednesday Eucharist and 8 were given away on Christmas morning, here at Christ Church. Each stitch, each shawl, each prayer, makes a difference, lifting someone’s morale, gifting them with love and hope.

The plaza that offers water to humans and dogs, and a place to sit in peace, a respite for thirsty people, hungering for nourishment in mind, body, and spirit. Our property, building and land, is one way we reach out to the world around us journeying with those who say to us, come and see. Come and see what the League of Women Voters is doing. Come and see what Creating Hope International is doing. Come and see what is happening with the SCHOOL project in Liberia. It is not just about waiting for someone to come to us, but to follow Jesus it’s mostly about how we go out into the world around us. Come and see Jesus says.

Supporting the ministries of Mariner’s Inn to help alcoholic men sustain sobriety and regain their purpose in life, makes a difference for individuals and families and even whole communities. Sobriety is not possible without faith and the moment to moment awareness that there is a higher power that has one’s back. Our prayers and our time and resources support this ministry. Come and listen to what David Sampson, CEO of Mariner’s Inn has to say at the adult forum this morning.

Because our purpose as a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit, is formed in baptism, named and called to be Gods love; and with hands and hearts wide open, helping God save the world with hope. 

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 2A: Isiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Choosing Hope

Bill and Jody were a parishioner couple in the first church I served as a Rector. Bill was perpetually grumpy in a charming kind of way and Jody was consistently cheerful. They had been married a long time, raised four kids. Jody was the chair of the altar guild so she and I spent a lot of time together, not just preparing for worship, but outside of church as well. I knew her kids and her grandkids. Bill was diagnosed with lung cancer but it was slow progressing and he was managing okay. So it came as quite a shock when I got a call one day that Jody had suffered an aneurism and was in the ICU. I rushed to the hospital and learned that she was on life support and the doctors were certain that she was brain dead. Bill was devastated. Over the next week their children and grandchildren came in to town. One granddaughter had to be flown in from Iraq and a grandson had to come from Afghanistan, but thankfully the military gave them both leaves to come home. We gathered more than once around Jody’s bed and prayed. I baptized a grand baby in Jody’s hospital room so she could be “present” for that baptism. We planned her funeral and prayerfully prepared to take her off life support. 

The oddest experience of that week however was a dream I had the night after Jody’s aneurism. In that dream my phone rang and when I answered it Jody was on the other end. I still remember how clear her voice was, how absolutely Jody like it was in its inflection and in her laughter. She said to me, “Pastor Terri, I just wanted to let you know that I am okay. I’m fine.” 

I relayed this dream to Bill and to her family. None of us interpreted that dream to mean that she was going to revive and live. We all knew that the dream meant that wherever Jody was, she was fine. And, that in true Jody form she wanted all of us to know that she was fine and for us to be comforted by her once again.

Consciousness is an interesting concept, informing how we perceive the world around us and how we behave as a result. Dr. Robert Lanza, a stem-cell researcher, has created a theory called biocentrism. One aspect of the theory states that consciousness does not die when the physical body dies. Consciousness exists before the body and continues to exist after the body dies. Consciousness is an integral part of the universe, existed before there was a universe, and may be the means by which the universe was created and holds together. Some people use this theory to explain the existence of God.

Certainly Genesis, Isaiah, and the Prologue to the Gospel of John all speak of a consciousness that existed before creation.  Genesis describes it as God meets the formless void and through God’s imagination God structures the void into order:  night and day, animals and humans. Isaiah calls this consciousness  “the servant.”  In Isaiah the servant of God is a concept of justice that God reveals to humankind as our “calling.” Being a servant means being one who enables God’s justice to manifest in time and place. In the prologue to the Gospel of John this consciousness is called “the Word.” In the incarnation the Word has taken on human flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus, and now the Word lives in each of us.

In our reading this morning from the Gospel of Matthew we hear that in John’s time baptism was for forgiveness of sin. With Jesus’s baptism, God is doing a new thing. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh is called “beloved.” Through the Word Incarnate, through the word in human flesh, God is transforming all creation through love and grace using human beings to be the agents of transformation.  Experiences and opportunities that transform us are always a matter of perception and how we allow them shape our conscious understanding of ourselves and the world. 

So, in this Season after the Epiphany, in an era when fear is being thrust about as if it should be the dominant state of being, I can choose to be otherwise. I can choose how to center my being and where to focus my conscious state of mind. I can focus on trusting in the ongoing action of God’s living Word, expressing itself in and through people who are willing to speak about a reality that is motivated by love. I can engage with people who will challenge fear by witnessing to hope.  I can choose to be creative instead of stuck. I can choose to be playful instead of staid. I can choose that which is generative instead of that which is deadening. I can choose to believe in mystery.

Did Jody really speak to me in that dream? Did her conscious state of being reach into my unconscious state with the intention of assuring me and her family that she was okay? I choose to understand the dream this way, that Jody was literally speaking to me. Which opens up for me a reality that exists in dimensions beyond what I can literally see or feel or even fully understand, a mystery in grace and love.

If there’s any truth to the biocentrist theory and any substance to our faith and belief in God, then it may mean that we have more influence on our lives and the future of the world than we think we do. It means that how we choose to see the world can literally influence how the world is.

It means that if one prays for peace, for grace, for God’s justice, then those prayers will influence the world and move creation a little closer to that reality. There is the potential that the actions of just one person can impact the lives of many others. Just one person, the servant in our reading from Isaiah, Jesus in our Gospel reading, you or me, just one person becoming the living Word of God can shift the universe and everything can change. That idea centers me, anchors my anxiety, leaves me hopeful. Because the transformational work of God, begun before time, continues to speak into our world, calling human beings to rise up in love, tending to the broken places, loving one's neighbor, and building the beloved community. Choosing hope means feeding people in mind, body, and spirit; it's transformative, relieving the world of its hunger and filling it with love. 

a reflection on the readings for the Baptism of Jesus, Epiphany 1: Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Seventeen Years

This day, seventeen years ago, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate in the Episcopal Church. That year the church had transferred the Feast of St. John, which in my estimation was better than a feast day of martyrs.

I had graduated from Seabury Western Theological Seminary AND Loyola's Graduate School of Social Work with a dual degree M.Div/MSW. This seemed to me to be no small feat because my undergraduate degree was not "academic," whereas the M.Div was sophisticated education in true Episcopal style and the MSW was gridlocked in accreditation requirements. I was naive entering into this dual degree program and faced a huge learning curve to rise to the challenge of writing at the level required to earn these degrees. To say that my professors were generous in their understanding of each student's life experience and grading accordingly, is to be grateful that these institutions appreciated diversity on many levels.

My BA was in dance, a special major,  Technical Theater for Dance, which I designed with my advisors at Columbia College in Chicago, so I could design lights and run shows for dance. It was interesting work and landed me a job right out of college. However, there was nothing academic about my BA nor about the work I did in those early years. Four hard years of climbing ladders to hang heavy lights, dirty nails and a wrench in my back pocket, lighting and running shows was followed by a year off working retail at Eddie Bauer, and then four years of working in Interior Design. I left the "working world" when my daughter was born and took nine years off to be a stay at home mom. In those nine years I earned a certificate in massage therapy and started a small private practice including volunteering in the hospital to give massages to parents of sick children. All of that eventually led me to discern a call to hospital ministry and to enter into the dual degree program. I envisioned a holistic ministry, working in hospitals to offer parents, or patients, a mind/body/spirit approach to their care and wellbeing. My last year in the dual degree program I ended up having two internships, one working for Jewish Family and Social Services doing individual and group therapy and one working for a church overseeing the children's ministries and working as a team with the rector and associate. I found that I didn't really love being a therapist but I was drawn to parish ministry, the day to day, in and out, years and years of being with people through the cycles of life from birth to marriage to death. I ended up in parish ministry, the one area I had refused to consider. Now, seventeen years later, I think back on these years and what I've learned.

1.) I've enjoyed working with couples preparing to marry. I've developed my own approach to premarital counseling and have found most, not all, but most couples readily engage in learning how to communicate in more effective ways. Our work has been to build a toolbox of resources for the couple to utilize when their communication breaks down and to recognize in each other where their challenges are and how to be supportive of one another while staying solid in one's self. The two do not become one flesh, they remain two people who are creating a marriage.

2.) Baptisms are great fun for me. I love to work with the families and godparents as we prepare for the baptism. Using the baptismal covenant we talk through the three renunciations and three affirmations and clarify for each person what they believe and what they are agreeing to. I don't enforce a particular view from the Church, although I do give examples that may broaden and deepen the beliefs around sin, evil, and satan.

3.) Funerals are always hard. Thank goodness the Episcopal liturgy is fabulous and gives me, over and over, words to lean into and an order of worship that gives me a solid foundation to support the emotions, mine and the family. Funerals can bring out the most chaotic natures in families but more often they just bring out the love.

4.) I am always clear about what I will and will not do, grounding myself in the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgy. I rarely have issues with baptisms, weddings, or funerals. I do have odd requests from time to time but even those we manage to figure out.

5.) Weekly liturgy is now in my bones and my muscles. I have a memory of all the years I've proclaimed particular Gospel readings and the sermons I've preached on the texts. I've created new liturgy and repeated the same liturgies year after year. It's not that I go on automatic pilot but when I have a brain freeze or am distracted by something I've just heard or some other distraction, the muscle memory pulls me through.

6.) Most Sundays I still come home exhausted after leading and preaching at two worship services. I'm an introvert and need to go home and regroup after being public and leading worship. It's also why I take Monday as a day off. It can take me a full 24 hours to recover, longer on the once a month when Sunday includes a Vestry meeting.

Mostly I have learned that ministry is nothing like what I thought it would be. And, it's everything I thought it would be. It's been a lot more about conflict and testing boundaries and questioning who has power and authority to do what. It's been a lot less about shaping spiritual lives, often with very little real interest in personal transformation or in congregational change. It's been about navigating politics and human sexuality. It's been about how much energy the congregation has, or more often how tired everyone is and how little energy they have. It's been about trying on mission-focused ministries and hoping something catches and energizes people while also addressing a need in the wider community. It's been knowing when to step in and lead and when to step back and let others lead. It's been about taking risks. It's been about doing my own work to be healthy, to not over identify with the congregation but to stay clear on who I am and what I value and believe in. It's been about learning how to not work and finding balance. It's been about learning how to not personalize what is said and done or not done. It's been about working on my own holistic health in mind, body, and spirit, not always doing it well. It's been about failing over and over and rising up again. It's been about learning to love people who have pissed me off, people I have to work with and pastor too. It's been about being able to say I'm sorry with integrity even though no one ever says it back. It's been about learning to not say I'm sorry, to not always do the expected good girl thing, just because it will make others "feel better" but will leave me feeling compromised. It's been about learning how to negotiate my feelings when I am subjected to misogyny, often "unintended" and always "unrecognized" in people who think they are not sexist. It's been about mentoring other clergy and always checking myself to ensure I am doing so with integrity, working to help new clergy grow their strengths and their growing edges stronger.

Seventeen years ordained. I came to this call because of my deep faith in God, a presence of love and hope that sustained me through many of life's challenges. Now, I don't always believe in God and I wrestle with that. I do, however, always believe in hope and love, and through them I usually find my way back to God, incarnate in human flesh, calling me to do the hard work of ministry, to be the best version of myself that I can be.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Great Darkness

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. These ancient words have brought hope to countless people through the ages. These words speak to me tonight/today as I wonder where or how the light will shine, for once again, it seems, we live in an age of great darkness.

Where, how, will it shine for the refugees fleeing Syria and through the haunting images like that of a little girl covered in the dust of bombed and fallen buildings as she tries to comfort her younger brother? Where, how, will it shine through families like the husband, carrying his small child and supporting the arm of his wife who is attached to an IV pole? Where, how, will the love of God come into this darkness, this despair, this fear? 

In the bombed out buildings in Germany, the destruction of a Christmas market, will Jesus come again into this trail of death? How is God’s love shining forth for the families of those who died? 

Around this country, Canada and France, churches are finding cards, from unsubstantiated sources, threatening a disaster will befall them between now and New Year’s Day. Churches everywhere are tightening up security. Will Jesus come into this fear? Will God’s love bring peace?

In the angry and hurt people of this country who have a legitimate fear of racial profiling and of loss of liberty just for being who one is: gay, lesbian, or transgender, black, female, or an immigrant?

Planes are hijacked. People are dying. The world is in chaos. The rise of fear is real and palpable. We live in great darkness and wonder if there is any light at all.

Will Jesus come into our lives this year? Will God’s love shine forth and bring peace to a world overwhelmed by the atrocities of human beings, one to another? 

And yet….if there is one thing that has always been true, it is that into every great darkness, even now in these times which are reminiscent of the darkest times in human history, something is already gestating, preparing to be born. Because all life begins in darkness. Deep in the womb of creation, new life is being formed. Darkness is the beginning of life and light. Darkness and light are both the same, the fertile seed where life, hope, and love reside.

Fear tries to stop life and put out the light and smother the darkness. Fear thrives on chaos, it seeks to stir up both light and dark and tries to choke out creative generativity. Fear shuts down one’s vision, one’s hope, one’s ability to be playful, it diminishes one’s imagination. To live in fear is to live small, to live life rigid, stuck, frozen, incapable of taking risks. 

But, new life is always a risk, just ask any woman who has had a miscarriage and then carried a pregnancy to term. Life feels risky. Just ask the first person in one’s family who goes to college and tries to break out of the pattern of systemic poverty. Just ask the man who lost his job, fears he’s aging out of opportunities, but finds employment when he least expects it. Just ask the person of color who takes a risk every time he or she leaves their house. Just ask the person who has come out and told the truth about their sexuality. Ask anyone who is trying to live an authentic life. Taking risks, not giving in to fear, having the capacity to walk in and through darkness is what creates the great light. In every age, in every time, there are people who shine, who carry within the vision, the love of God, who enlighten the way for others. 

Tonight/today for Christians the one who brings the light is Emmanuel, Jesus. And we celebrate the coming forth of this light just as the earth turns from the longest night toward the sun, toward light and warmth, and hope. This hope begins small, like a helpless babe. But hope grows and ignites within others a deeper hope and gradually one small glimmer becomes the light for a nation. 

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light, a light for all the nations. Tonight/today may that great light shine in and through us. Even if it is only the hope for hope, a small glimmer within, may it be birthed in and through us as God is revealed in human flesh. For if there is a God, we will know God’s presence in the love that shines forth in one another.

Will Christ come into the world this year? 

As a new born babe?
As a stranger? An immigrant? A refugee? 

Will it be you?

Will it be me?

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom us from all that holds us captive, exiled in fear
O come thou Wisdom from on high and teach us in her ways to go
O come thou desire of all nations and bind in one the hearts of human kind

Rejoice, rejoice, this Christmas tide, rise up rejoice 
for the darkest day will give birth to light 
A light to shine, extinguishing fear 
Hope will prevail and God’s love 
will transform all human flesh.

Merry Christmas.

A reflection on the readings for Christmas from the RCL.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Let us call forth the divine presence in what ever form one embraces, the higher power of all creation that instills wisdom and knowledge, patience and compassion, a calm presence that listens and learns, and the agitating presence that brings forth justice for all people. In the Christian tradition this presence is the Holy Spirit and she is the breath, the wind, and the fire of God, moving in and through all human life, all creation.

Holy One, come forth this night and descend upon us, and especially upon Abdullah as he prepares to take on the responsibility of serving these people as our elected representative to the State legislature. 

Fill him with the grace to listen carefully. Help him to recognize when he has been wrong and to have the maturity to make amends. Inspire him to take action, working for justice for all people. Guide him with compassion and the ability to respect the dignity of every human being. Give him with the courage and fortitude to continue bending the arc of hope. 

May he work as our State Representative to ensure that all people have a warm home, earn a living wage, know the security of having plenty of food; affordable, safe health care; quality affordable education; and clean water and air. Help him to build bridges across the chasm of divisiveness that seeks to break us apart. 

Guide and strengthen us, the citizens of this state, to work with him to be one people, united by a common concern for the wellbeing of all people. Give us the capacity for effective communication, that with integrity we can share our hopes, expectations, and disappointments, encouraging Abdullah in his work for us. 

We pray also for our state and federal government and  all of our elected officials that they will have a renewed sense of justice and goodness: 

seeking to lift up the most vulnerable; sustain and secure those of us who live in a fragile and tenuous middle between poverty and wealth. Open the hearts and minds of those who have much and with new compassion guide them to share, maximizing our resources.

Lastly, bless this Dearborn community that we can be light to the nation and a beacon of hope through our diversity. May our differences in culture, religion, ethnicity, and gender be the foundation that enriches our lives, enabling us to be mature and wise, a people united by what each one of us brings to the common cause of human life. May we each do our part for the good of all. And, may we do all this with the help of the one God, creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all. Amen.