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

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Pattern of Faith

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

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

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Moving Mountains...

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

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

The gift of a rabbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

I should have left it at that.

But I did not.

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

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

Yes, I think I lost it.

Like the rabbit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also know that this transformation begins with me.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Detecting God in the mystery of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Clumsy Knitting: lessons in faith, spirituality, integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 13, 2016

True Color

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Broken, healed, renewed, perhaps?

My mother and biological father, circa 1955 

My mother, born seventy-seven years ago today, was a story teller. I remember how restless I could be as I tried to sit through her telling me something. Especially as a teenager and young adult, I often thought, "Just get to the point!" She loved to weave in every detail she could remember, or rather every detail she wanted to remember. Her version of reality was usually not the same version that other people experienced. Although she only had a high school education she was very smart and spent the last years of her life learning about quantum physics. 

My mother was never a healthy person, she had polio as a child and rheumatic fever. She use to tell stories of being five years old and confined to bed for a year, hooked up to machines. Her grandmother was her only joy in those days, visiting her and comforting her. She never found much solace, at least not that she chose to remember, in the care and love of her parents. These illnesses left her with a damaged heart but she could walk. My mother's heart was damaged both physically and spiritually. Forever broken, my mom, was unable to tolerate any kind of criticism of herself. This, the result of her parents leaving her to tend to her younger siblings when she was just three and four years old, while they left for weekend long drinking binges. That wasn't bad enough, when they returned her parents would beat her for not taking good enough care of the house and her younger brother and sister. My uncle, her brother, corroborated these stories. He says that while his parents were always good to him, they were not good to my mother. They broke her in ways that she never recovered from. She was always broken in heart, mind, and body. 

On some level my mother knew she was broken, even though she could not admit this to herself. She would tell me these stories of her life and then remind me that she was trying to give me a different life. I was to go to college and have a job. I don't think she ever thought of me having a career, but at least able to have a job and support myself. 

I graduated from seminary when I was 41. My mom was 59 that year, the same age that I am now. Sometime that summer we went out for lunch and she gave me a framed cross-stitch that I had made some 34 years earlier. The cross stitch, in a hideous baby blue and pink thread reads, "I will bring the light of the gospel into my home." I remember making this and thinking that I was being so creative to alternate the colors. I laugh at that memory, of making this. But I was very touched that my mother had saved it and then framed it to give to me. I had accomplished more than what she ever hoped for me. Growing up, as she and I did, in Salt Lake City, Utah, it was inconceivable that a woman would or could ever acquire a dual degree M.Div/MSW and be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. As former Mormon's I didn't hear of the Episcopal Church until I was 28. The UCC minister, a woman, recommended the Episcopal Church to Dan and I, during our premarital counseling sessions. She had grown up in the Episcopal Church and said it would be a good fit for us, Dan with his former Roman Catholic upbringing, and me with my many questions about faith. Obviously we took that minister up on her recommendation, and to my great surprise, I ended up becoming a priest. My mother was an agnostic, but still she celebrated my accomplishment. 

Then again, my mother tried to live her life through mine. My early years were spent supporting my mother's version of reality, confirming and affirming her. It was my job, my role in the family to do this. When I moved away for college, and in the twenty years that followed, I slowly came to realize that I was not my own person. I did not have a complete grasp on how to make decisions because I could not figure out what I really thought or wanted nor could I trust my judgement. I was very confused and insecure, having spent so much of my life being enmeshed with my mother and making decisions that she led me too. Years of therapy and much hard work in family systems have finally given me a greater capacity to do that, to know who I am and to make decisions I can trust because they are centered in my values, beliefs, and principles, which are grounded in my faith and the teachings I've internalized from the Episcopal Church and family systems. 

My mother died suddenly, of a massive heart attack, when she was 65 years old, September 21, 2004. She always told me that she wanted to be cremated but to not get back her ashes, just leave her be. However, when she died, I called my brothers, my uncle, my dad and my aunt, all people who knew her well. We talked about what to do and how to honor her life, even though she had managed to become estranged from all of us. That was her way. She usually had a lot of people she was angry with, and only a couple of people in her inner circle. But, that circle was fluid, anyone on the inside could quickly find themselves on the outside, without any sense of how or why. She'd just get mad and stop talking to you. It was the dominant feature of her life long brokenness. 

In the end we decided to cremate her and inter her ashes in the Salt Lake City cemetery in a plot shared by her mother, father, and sister. There is some irony in this, interring her for ever with the very parents who broke her. But she claimed to love her father and so we put her next to him. I remember wondering if she would hate me for all eternity for doing that. But on the day we buried her the sun was shining and the air was clear. 

I like to think that in the end she found peace with all of it.

View, looking down from the plot where my mother is buried.

And another view, looking out across the tree tops to the mountains that surround the SLC valley

Saturday, July 30, 2016

What a girl wants

A little girl was born in 1939 to parents who were just out of high school. Her life was not an easy one. In quick succession, two more siblings were added to the family, a brother and a sister. When the little girl was three years old her parents started leaving home for the weekend. The little girl was left in charge of tending to her two younger siblings. Imagine the challenges of being three or four years old and having to feed a two year old and an infant. Imagine changing diapers and trying to keep a house clean. Then imagine the fear and horror of that kind of responsibility. Then imagine what it must have felt like when the parents returned and beat you, physically and emotionally, because you did not do a good enough job, the house was a mess and the baby needed a bath. Imagine living in a house that had rodents residing in the basement, adding to your terror when your parents left for the weekend, as they did many times. My mother was this little girl, broken forever by the actions of her parents. She might have been someone else. My mother was smart, beautiful, with a sharp wit, she might have been someone else in life, someone more "successful." What a girl wants is not what my mother achieved in her life.

Imagine my curiosity to learn that Hillary Clinton's mother had a similar childhood. So did my mother in law. Yet my mother in law managed to stay married for almost 50 years and raise four great kids. Hillary's mother managed to raise Hillary. Yes, my mom raised me and my three younger brothers, but her legacy to us was very broken. I understand. She truly did do the best she could, and she did instill in me a desire to be healthier. I've spent my life trying to grow up and become healthier and more mature, to break the pattern in my family. What this girl wants has proven to be a challenge to achieve.

I come frpm a family of Mormon pioneers, people who left their families of origin behind and moved from England to settle in Utah. The women in particular were cut off from the support of families and, in the name of faith, tried to live a new life. They lived hard lives. What a girl wanted was never valued. If there's any truth to the idea that the struggles of one generation show up in the DNA of future generations, I can attest to the pulls and tugs that reside in me. I have worked hard to be aware of these pulls - to cut off and leave people, to choose to not be in relationship instead of working out problems, to feel overly defensive and quick to be the victim. In my family, unlike Hillary's, there was not the strength from my mother, of being told to go outside and figure out how to deal with the bullies. No, in my family we closed the door and pretended they weren't there, licking wounds instead of mending fences. 

Somehow I have found myself living a very different life than the one I might have. This too I think is the result of my broken mother. She managed to instill in me the idea that I was to be better. That is what I have tried to do, be a better wife, mother, and human being. I never, ever, imagined myself living and working in a public, formerly all male role, as an Episcopal priest. Never. I come from Mormon country, where women work in the background not the public. I come from a place where nothing schooled me in how to think or write or talk for the public. What I, as a girl have wanted, I have had to learn all on my own. 

Or maybe not. Perhaps some of what I have in me, as a priest, is also the remnants of ancestral DNA, somewhere far back, when my great grands were priests in the Church of England and lawyers and, yes, even a princess in Scotland. Maybe there's a bit of that DNA coming forward? 

Regardless, here I am living a life I never imagined. When I first heard my call to the priesthood I rejected the idea of being a parish priest. I could say yes to God, but only if I served as a hospital chaplain, in a position a little more out of the public eye. I mean, no preaching on Sunday morning, no Vestry meetings, no search committees, no public scrutiny of worthiness to be hired or fired. It still makes me chuckle to realize that I have in fact served as a parish priest for sixteen years. God surely got a laugh out that one. 

As a woman working in a traditionally male world I have faced a lot of challenges. Granted, not as rough as the first women who did this, although I have been the first female Rector at every church I have served. I have been the one who, for better or worse, set the stage for those who have or will come after me. I have not always done it well, but I have always tried my best. 

I have been aware of Hillary Clinton all of my adult life. At least since she made the public eye in the early 1990's with her universal health care plan. Then I was a stay at home mom with two small kids. Over the years I've been skeptical of Clinton, buying into the media coverage of her and how she's been portrayed. But slowly I've come to not only admire her, but see in her a role model for myself.  

Never, ever, have I watched an entire political convention from start to finish, live streaming on my mini-iPad. I doubt I'll ever do it again. But I watched all of the DNC, arranging my time to start watching at 4pm every day with headphones plugged in to my iPad, watching Cspan to avoid the commentators, but also to watch uninterrupted coverage of ALL the speakers. And wow. Just wow. 

The speeches and music, and artists, and video clips at the DNC left me feeling excited, hopeful. I've been hook, line, and sinkered. Call me what you will, a neoliberal, exceptionalism, centrist embracer of the DNC propaganda (Time Magazine). Yup. That's me. Actually, I agree with the Time article that God does not endorse these values. However,  I think one needs to walk very carefully when one presumes that Clinton agrees with neoliberal exceptionalism for to do so means that one fails to grasp the nuance of her life's work - working within the system to change it. 

I actually wrote to Clinton a couple of weeks ago. I was concerned about whether or not she'd have the capacity to overturn some of the very policies her husband put in place: NAFTA, welfare reform, the war of drugs and the mass incarceration of black men that's happened as a result, the entire trajectory that Michelle Alexander outlines in the first chapter of her book, The New Jim Crow. I wrote to her via an online contact form and did not hear back from her. 

However, everything I mentioned in my letter was addressed in the DNC convention and in her acceptance speech. Okay, maybe not NAFTA directly. But its pretty clear to me that she sees the unfortunate outcome of both NAFTA and welfare reform. 

So, this last week has been, I think, what I've lived my whole life for. As a woman and Episcopal priest, I live in a fairly public, formerly all male, role. That means I know just a tiny bit about what Hillary Clinton has faced. I understand how hard it is to be criticized for, well, every thing, to never, ever, catch a break, to be damned if you do and damned if you don't. 

To learn how to work within a system, even as my very presence as a woman, is changing it.

Here's the thing, I'm going to bask in the beauty that was the DNC, from the women who told their stories, to the people of color who told their stories, to the military Generals who told their stories, to the LGBTQ people who told their stories, to the musicians and actors who told their stories. 

To Hillary's story told by President Obama, her husband, her daughter, and in film. For the first time EVER I saw on Hillary's face, the look of a girl who is getting what she wants. It was her face, but it was my face and the face of millions of women around this country and the world. 

When, ever, has there been such a public telling of a woman's story, told by men? When has a woman ever had that level of public support from men, women, politicians, people of faith, people in the military, social justice groups, all walks of life?


So yes, I have hope. We need more time spent being optimistic and hopeful. 

We need to reserve our criticism for key moments, like that letter I wrote. Yes, I'm already thinking of what I'll say in my next one. But I'm not writing it for awhile. 

For now, I'll rest a bit in hope for our future. Hope that the movement that calls for us to be stronger together is a movement that catches all. And in catching us all we can set down the critical voice, the one that always wants to tear at a woman, and instead, get to work. I will defend her and do everything I can to get her elected as President. I will do this for me and for my daughter and for every girl and boy to come. I will do this for our present and for our future. 

That's what this girl wants. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

This is my song

It's become a bit too routine, my tossing and turning and waking up at 3:30am on the night that follows a particular meeting. Why I toss and turn is more about me and my reaction to the dynamic in the meeting, than it is about anything that is actually said or done. Still, my reaction speaks to a reality of being a woman in leadership. It acknowledges a general sense that resides within me, one I don't appreciate and wish would go away or resolve itself, or at the very least, I wish I weren't so aware of the dynamic and the ongoing slights that happen in the meeting, the way a woman is treated, me and others.

No, it's never my intention to wake up fretful, but still I do. This morning I gave in to the insomnia and headache, and got up at 4:30. I fed the dogs, and made coffee. Thunder and lightning ignited the tropical-like air outside and finally released the rain, a gentle soaking to quench the dry and dusty earth of my backyard. I opened the sliding glass door and closed the screen, so I could hear the rain fall. This is wasteful, the air conditioner is running. Yet, this hot dry summer and my fretful night of sleep were soothed by the sound of rain, and now, afterward, the chirp of crickets. I've always loved the song of crickets, they remind me of open windows, summer nights, and the rare moments of peace in my childhood.

My fretful, insomniac state is the result of a longing that goes unfulfilled. I long to live a life transformed, to be the best version of myself that I can be. I long to be an agent of transformation for others as well. Isn't that part of the calling of a parish priest, to be transformational?

Yet, I find that rather then be transformational, I feel confined, limited, minimized, and devalued. Is this not how many women feel? The subtle words and behavior that diminish the work a woman does. It becomes a daily, an hourly, struggle to believe in my worth and keep going.

Perhaps that is one reason why I respect Hillary Clinton so much. God knows she is devalued and diminished and maligned in ways I have never been nor could imagine. She's a woman in leadership and how she is treated exemplifies how all women are treated. I wonder if she has sleepless nights? I wonder how she manages to keep going? Clearly she has a call to be transformational, and the stamina to live into that call. She gives me hope.

On this hot summer morning, the dawn of the Democratic National Convention, I am restless, headachy, and fretful. I am also just a little excited and hopeful. I plan to watch this convention, although I did my best to ignore all the news about the Republican one last week. Usually I try to watch some of both, but this year I wanted nothing to do with the RNC. There is no hope in the GOP, just more angst. I don't need anymore of that.

I'm almost sixty years old, and like this summer I am getting dry and dusty. My opportunities to make a difference are waning. Part of me would love to just retire and live in the background, and perhaps I will one day. For now, I have another decade of work. I have to work, I am still paying off student loans, loans that afforded me the education to do the very job that sometimes leaves me fretful and sleepless. How ironic. Considering I have another ten years to work, it leaves me wondering how I will get along? Will I just hang in there and do what needs to be done, but nothing more? (That's tempting!). Will I find some kind of inspiration? Or, rather, will inspiration find me? Will I finally retire with a sense of satisfaction, well done good and faithful servant?

I have no idea.

All I know is that on this steamy morning I am taking some small pleasure in the sound of the rain and the song of crickets.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Five - light

Julie over at the RevGalBlogPals offers this Friday Five meme:

Friends, the times may be dark, the days uncertain, but this we know – God is light and life and love and together we can overcome. 
Today for your Friday Five contributions – share your favourite bible verses, photos, times of day and poetry – in any combination you choose in order to shed light on our darkened world.
1. Favorite Bible verse: I really can't choose just one. I could use the same verse Julie selected, from the prologue to the Gospel of John. That verse, and the idea of God expressing God's self as "word" into the world, word that took human flesh, has really formed my understanding of faith, who I am and who God is. But this morning I'm choosing this one:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them* with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii* and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it* so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ 
I was a massage therapist for many years and I know the healing power of touch, appropriate, compassionate, Spirit filled touch. In times like these, with so much violence all around us, it helps to lift up people who are kind. But not only is Mary kind, but she's brave, radical in her bravery to enter the room and do this act of kindness. Kindness, brave acts of kindness in a world that promotes and publishes violence more than love.


Sunrise: I love to wake up early and watch the sun rise, lighting up the world. This is especially lovely when the windows are open and I can hear the birds chattering. Oh! They can be so loud, and of such variety, it makes me chuckle. Waking up to laughter is a good thing, even when it's something as small as the sounds of nature.


This is the view from my kitchen, it's the labyrinth and pet memorial garden in the back area of the church property. I brought the idea of the pet memorial garden to this parish and we built it with some memorial gift monies that we had in reserve, we also added the benches and flower pots and three new trees, in order to really make this a place of prayer and respite. It's open to the public. I also interred the ashes of many of our beloved pets in the memorial garden, grateful to have a beautiful home for them. Many people come and walk the labyrinth or sit on the benches, and it's always a reminder that the church offers so much more than just Sunday morning worship, much of which may go unnoticed. 


Here is where I sit, on the deck in the backyard, to look out over the labyrinth. I like to fill it with flowers. Lots of birds feed at the feeder and squirrels and rabbits eat the seed that drops on the ground. We laugh a lot at the wildlife that shows up, offering us a simple reprieve from the angst that prevails in much of the news and world around us. This is a favorite spot of mine for coffee in the morning or iced tea in the afternoon.


In times of sorrow, in times of joy, friends are a gift. I am blessed to have some really wonderful friends. 

The last two photos: a Baltimore Oriole showed up at our hummingbird feeder! And, our dogs are a constant source of delight. This one is our newest, one year old Lila, with her buddy, Oliver, our daughter's dog. Olive comes to visit several times a year. 

Life is full of strife. The world is particularly violent and anxious. Human beings are often on edge and reactive instead of thoughtful and responsive. When we are able to be a little less anxious we are able to tap into more creative and interesting responses. 

I pray for peace, for creativity, for hope. I trust that love, God's love, will prevail, will find a way through the limitations of human nature, and restore the kind of world that God desires.