Saturday, December 16, 2006

Compassion: Advent 3C sermon

The first time I saw the movie, “The Matrix,” was New Year’s Eve 1999, as we headed into the new millennium. I was struck by the power of this story and its ability to convey a modern day version of salvation and the Messiah. Granted I was less impressed with its use of high powered machine guns despite the fact that those being shot were not real humans but figures playing parts in a computer generated matrix.

The plot is based on the premise that world is no longer real but has been taken over by a form of artificial intelligence, machines. These machines were once human made but eventually became self-sufficient and dominant. took After a long war the artificial intelligence took over the world. An entire species has been spawned by what was once one machine and they have created an alternate reality based on a computer generated world. Having lost the war humans are now born and bred to be the life source, the batteries for the machines. Humans are confined to a weird cocoon kind of space where their energy is tapped for the machines. To keep the human brains occupied the machine has created a computer generated virtual reality; the people think they are living real lives because of the images in their brains, but in reality they are contained and unconscious, their life energy tapped to support the network of artificial intelligence.

Living outside the realm of this matrix, the computer generated virtual reality, is a band of renegade humans who survived the war. These itinerant people see the matrix and have become adept at maneuvering in and out of that virtual reality in an effort to over come the artificial intelligence. These humans believe they are waiting for The One, a human with special powers, who will be the one to overcome the machines. Morpheus, the leader of this band of renegades has seen The One, whose name is Neo (or one spelled backward), and the movie opens with their early attempts to contact this human through the web of the matrix.

The Matrix is in many ways a modern version of the Christian story of the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. Morpheus is a character much like John the Baptist, because he sees and knows who the one is, the one who is greater than he, the one who is the Messiah. And Neo, over time, comes to realize that he is the One. Eventually he dies and then is resurrected with new divine like powers that enable him to see through the machines, they are no longer able to have power over him. And so begins the journey of rescuing human kind from the bondage of the matrix.

Thematically this third Sunday of Advent offers us many different images. First we have this image of John the Baptist. In this reading John conveys some powerful ideas of what he thinks is going on: John knows that he is not The One, he knows who The One is and that this One is more powerful than he. But John anticipates that The One is going to come with a force of power that will destroy all those who do not see and follow The One. John speaks of wrath, fire, and repentance, which much like what happens in the Matrix. And he anticipates that The One who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

And it’s true that in some rare images of Jesus in our Scripture we see him using this kind of force and anger, such as when he overturns the tables of the money changers in the Temple.

But the primary images we have of Jesus from our scripture are of one who loves everyone with deep compassion. Jesus, as The One, sees through humans to their true nature and loves with the kind of love that God offers, a love that welcomes everyone exactly as they are.

We hear John describing Jesus as carrying a winnowing fork with which he will clear out the chaff. Many Christians have interpreted this as a judgmental process whereby the good people are separated from bad people. And while God may one day impose some kind of judgment on humanity, the real problem is that over time humans have taken on this role, humans have assumed the process of judgment, determining on behalf of God, who is good and who is bad.

We see examples of humans judging others all around us, and I don’t mean our legal system. Our legal system is a process intended to keep civil order and maintain civilized societies. The judgment I speak of is seen in the way we humans engage in conflict such as the genocide in Sudan or even the potential for schism in our own denomination as we argue over who has the “right” sense of orthodoxy, of “right” belief. We humans have a tendency to walk a fine line between following our faith and acting like God.

So, perhaps a more helpful way to hear this reading is to see ourselves in that process of winnowing: to see that each human being has aspects of ourselves that can be winnowed away. Each of us has aspects of ourselves that can be worked on and made more whole. None of us is worthy in and of ourselves to ever judge another; each of us can only look at ourselves and ponder how we can be better human beings. Better to ourselves, better to our neighbors, and better in our relationship with God.

This perspective opens the door to the other themes that the Church brings to us on this third Sunday of Advent. As you may notice this is the day we light the pink candle, and you may wonder why we have one pink candle.

This is the Sunday we remember Mary, the mother of Jesus. The pink candle stands for her and for her act of compassion, her willingness to hear God and to take on the call that God gave her, the call to bring forth into the world, The One.

Ultimately the theme for this Sunday is compassion, becoming better people through compassion for self and others. The compassion of God that sought out humanity with a deep desire to be One with us. The compassion of God who loves us so deeply that God comes to us in our lives, in the faces and actions of people who care for us. In the faces and actions of people who challenge us to see ourselves as we are. In the faces and actions of people who reach out to others with compassion. God’s compassion lives in the images we have of Mary, the mother of Jesus – images of both vulnerability and great strength as she took on the challenge to birth God into this world. God’s compassion lives in John the Baptist who calls people to look carefully at their lives and prepare a place for God to come. God’s compassion lives of course in the life of Jesus who shows us the way to love one another with humility not judgment.

On this third Sunday of Advent we are called to make a place in our lives, in our hearts, in our beings, for the love of God to reside. A place where God can come to us in a new way. We are called to take the time to prepare this place in our beings, through prayer, through worship, through our relationships with one another. And when the place in us is ready, God will come.

God coming to us is a journey, not something that happens just once. God comes to us anew over and over as we make a place for God in our lives. Advent is a season that reminds us to take the time to make room for God, to find a way to quiet our lives and invite God in, over and over. And each time we do this God will come again and our wounds will be healed, our hope restored, and our lives made whole again.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Make straight the paths, Advent 2C

One of the opening scenes from the movie, “Life or Something Like It,” shows Lanie Kerrigan, played by Angelina Jolie, on her way to work. Every day she passed by a street prophet who stood on a crate, arms in the air, his back arched and head held high while he prophesied, “I see and I say,” proclaimed Jack the street prophet.

One day Lanie, a driven journalist engaged to a football player with the Seattle Seahawks, stopped by the prophet and threw a few coins his basket. She was up for a promotion and really wanted this new job.

Jack the street prophet responded to her coins by telling her that the Seahawks would beat the Broncos 16-13, the next day it would hail in Seattle (a town of mild and temperate weather) and then on the third day she, Lanie, would die.

Of course this kind of prophesy disturbed Lanie. On the other hand she also tried to dismiss it as rubbish.

Still the prophet’s words weighed on her. She found herself examining her life: her comfortable but extremely superficial life focused on money, good looks, and career success.

On the day predicted, the Seahawks beat the broncos 16-13, and Lanie’s world was shaken to the core. She broke up with her fiancĂ©, disturbed by the lack of depth in their relationship and values.

She found herself hanging out with the camera man who worked with her, getting to know this down to earth guy and his committed relationship to his son, even though he was divorced from the boy’s mother.

The next day it hailed in Seattle.

That same day she was offered the job in New York, a real career move from an affiliate station to the head of the network, a position interviewing the most glamorous people in the world. She was to fly out that afternoon and begin her work the next day. On that first day at the job, her dream come true job, she completely blew an interview, refusing to adhere to the strict guidelines of questions for the guest, causing the guest to cry on air, and causing Lanie to be fired.

Lanie realized that she wanted to do work of real substance and meaning, not just the superficial stuff. She left the station content with what she had done, only to walk out on the street and be shot by a random shooter going after some gang member.

Rushed to the hospital Lanie experienced herself dying, and then through the miracle of modern medicine, science, and surgery, as well as the care and love of her camera man, she was revived, survived the surgery and lived. She lived to start a whole new life, transformed in her being by the words of that street prophet.

In some ways Jack the street prophet is similar to the prophets we meet in scripture, like John the Baptist in our Gospel reading this morning. However it’s important to note that the prophets in the bible don’t actually do much predicting of the future, that’s our take on what we think prophesy means.

In the bible these prophets are actually speaking about present times, they are bringing a word of God to God’s people. Like Jack, the biblical prophets are calling people to take a good look at their lives and how they are living in relationship to God, in relationship to themselves, and in relationship to other people. They speak a radical kind of truth that people want to dismiss as ridiculous or incredulous. Sometimes they deliver a word of rebuke, at other times a word of social, political, economic, or religious analysis, and often times a word of hope and encouragement. They ultimately speak a redemptive word, for "prophets don't joke." These prophets are the ones crying out in the wilderness, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord.
We may or may not have prophets in our world and lives today. Not every generation has a prophet from God. That doesn’t mean we don’t need one, it may only mean that God hasn’t found the voice through whom to speak. But whether or not we have a prophet in our lives God still calls us to prepare the way, make straight the paths.

To reflect on this we might begin by wondering what paths in our world need to be made straight? Think of these paths metaphorically: paths that lead to peace, to love, to social justice, versus paths that lead to war, destruction, and the break down of relationships in our personal lives and in the global world.

What valleys, areas that are forgotten or ignored, like perhaps the genocide in the Sudan or the starvation of millions of orphans in Africa whose parents have died from AIDS, what of these valleys do we need to fill in, to work toward caring for these abandoned souls of the world?
What mountains and hills of political abuse, of collusion between nations for power, money, or oil, need to be laid low in order that the real needs of the world can be meet? We need to educate ourselves to understand, as best as possible, the nuances in global politics and to work for a balancing of power and money. We need to strive to move the massive accumulation of wealth which is harbored in only one percent of the worlds population, to move this wealth into more balanced proportions. Clearly some of the wealthy people around the world are actively engaging in this: Bill and Melissa Gates, Warren Buffet, even Angelina Jolie. We too can participate in this, even as we do it on a small, perhaps local scale through buying Bishops Blend coffee or supporting Dorothy Brown and her daughter Shanika with groceries, supplementing the abysmal support our government offers those on disability.

True, at St. Hilary’s we are small community. But we strive to do some powerful work in this world, and our efforts are making a difference. We have enabled Dorothy to stay in this area long enough to get her daughter through high school, Shanika will graduate in June.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

December Deep Freeze

Here in the Chicago land area we are knee deep in snow with temperatures in the teens...and it is only early December. Given that I am recovering from this infection and have PICC line in my arm I am disinclined to walk outside (at not much more than from car to building), for fear of slipping and harming the line. So, I hibernate inside. I ride my exercise bike and do chores around the house and take naps. I look outside and appreciate the beauty of the snow and I look at my still undecorated Christmas tree. I'm not sure how or when I will get to any Christmas shopping since I only have a few hours in between IV antibiotic treatments...maybe I need to hurry up and shop on line...and my poor dogs are going a little nutty being cooped up with only brief trips outside (they too know its cold and aren't thrilled, frozen paws and all)...

So Advent this year is all about being quiet and staying indoors. Its about waiting, waiting for the PICC line to come out (maybe Christmas Day?) and to be free of the antibiotic that is both healing my body and filling me with toxins (eat lots of yogurt and kefir). And its about entering a little deeper into some job searches, with a phone interview tonight and paper work due to two other places this week. Three job possibilities all swarming around during this time, while also moving ahead with the church I currently serve, getting them on board with a direction for the future.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Five

1) Do you observe Advent in your church? Yes, observing Advent is a big deal in my church because I love it. We change all the vestments to a deep blue (dark night) and use no flowers. In order to enhance the idea of simplicity we put away our silver and use blue ceramic chalices, paten, and cruets. And we hang a large Advent wreath with three blue and one pink candle.

2) How about at home?When our kids were young we observed Advent at home with the lighting of an Advent wreath and some prayers at dinner time, plus we used an Advent calendar to mark the days until Christmas. This year, because I have been very ill with an infection (and hospitalized for 11 days) I feel that I have been in Advent for three weeks already...dark, anticipation, waiting...and now I mark my days around the doses of IV antibiotic I have to give myself 4 times daily. I have decided to ritualize these IV treatments with music (usually Mozart Sonatas) and praying the daily office. Also three of the four times I give these treatments it is dark outside, enhancing the sense of true Advent.

3) Do you have a favorite Advent text or hymn? O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

4) Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.) Although I use the pink candle I really don't get why? Mostly I just like the color, it breaks up the monotony of blue...but also it adds a little sense of the feminine in all blue season...a sense of new life emerging.

5) What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen? I don't know, I don't pay much attention to them anymore...

Also, let me just add, it soooooo good to feel well enough to play again. I'm back and slowly healing.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Lord, open our lips

These days my life revolves around two things: praying the daily office and IV therapy. The IV therapy takes about 40 minutes start to finish; cleaning and prepping, flushing with saline, connecting the port in my arm to the port carrying the antibiotic, waiting 30 minutes for the antibiotic to be delivered into my body, and then flushing with saline (to keep the line open and clear) again. Although this process is becoming more routine it still fills me with a bit of anxiety, fear of doing something wrong...so I strive to make the whole experience peaceful, reflective.

I begin by playing a CD of soft classical music, maybe Mozart. I do the prep and start the IV. Then I open my Book of Common Prayer and pray the daily office of Morning Prayer (5am), Evening Prayer (5pm), and Compline (11pm). My 11am "treatment" I read some reflective piece from the book, "I Have Called You Friends", essays on reconciliation written to honor the ministry of our newly retired Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold.

I'm not sure what will come of this time, praying the daily office while injecting my body with antibiotics. Seems there must be some good metaphors in there....especially as we enter Advent, a time of waiting, anticipation, and hope for the new life given us in the Incarnation, God with us...This may be especially true since it is dark each of the three times I pray the offices; just as dark at 5am as it is at 5pm and 11pm.

Where is God in this dark time in my life? A time of illness. A time of worry about my little parish which soon will only be able to afford a part time priest. A time of worry about my need to maintain a full time job since my husband is rebuilding his career, post 9-11, and I bring in our only income. A time of worry as I try to prepare to interview for new positions while recovering from this intense illness...A time of worry over mounting debt, (launching our 18 year old into her passion for all things equine equal to a year of college tuition but on my credit cards instead of student loans...yikes), a time of worry over more debt from the hospital and doctor bills...

So I pray, "Lord, open our lips, and our mouths shall proclaim your praise." I pray this and trust that God is with me and somehow these dark days will pass.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Home at last

I have been a healthy person all of my almost 50 years. Yes, I've had the annual cold or flu, but otherwise I've been healthy. Which is why my recent bout with a serious infection from a tooth has given me a whole new perspective on life, health, pain, and grace. Entering into the hospitial nearly two weeks ago via the emergency room I found myself completely at the mercy of the doctors, nurses, and staff. My pain was so great that I was unable to do anything but plead for relief. They cared for me with such compassion, I will be forever grateful. And my husband really stepped up to the plate, both in his care for me and in his multi-tasking to work at his job and are for our house of kids and animals. I was scheduled to be in the hosptial until today, Sunday, while some of the procedures put in place to help me heal did their job. But thankfully this happened faster than anticipated and I was sent home on Friday.

Being home again is such a blessing. Although I have to take it a little easy, I can nonetheless be with my family and do some simple household chores, laundry and cooking. And what a blessing to sleep in my own bed, without the constant beeping, buzzing, and lights of the hospital. I am sleeping so well, comforted in my husbands arms.

The infection was quite serious and I remain on home IV antibiotic therapy, which I need to administer myself. This process of cleaning, prepping, and administerng the antibiotic into the PICC line tends to make me quite anxious. I am, I suspect, overly fearful of doing something wrong and getting an air bubble in the line and then into my vein, or causing the line to become contaminated and bringing on a new infection. This is perhaps a reasonable fear given the infection I am healing from, I know the potential for these things to bloom. (I think of what happened to me as something like an "algea bloom" in an aquarium, all the conditions were ripe and it just happened....).

Anyway, the longer I administer the IV antibiotic, the more confident and comfortable I become. Still fearful, but I'll take that as a good thing, something that will keep me careful and focused on cleanliness.

I think I will be able to see this time as one of grace, and it will help me in my ministry to others. The grace will unfold over time in ways I least expect. But for the time being I see the grace in the presence of those who have cared for me. I am so grateful for their expertise and kindness. I also feel the grace in the care and comfort given my by my clergy colleagues, who have been so wonderful. One of them blessed me with a prayer shawl, which not only kept me warm in the hospital (and at home) but is a source of deep comfort in the midst of fear and uncertainty. Another friend gave me a "palm" cross. Made of wood this cross fits in the palm of ones hand, with the fingers clasping over the the sides of the cross. It too is a source of comfort and holds many of my prayers. I see the grace in the depth of love between my husband and me. While there are many things that could be "better" in our marriage it is grounded in deep love and a commitment to care for the other. He has, I suspect, found a new depth in himself, and knows more of what he is capable of and able to do. But mostly this time scared us, and we are mostly grateful for life and for each other.

I don't believe that God caused this illness nor that God is giving me what I can handle. I think these things happen, they are just a part of the fragility of life, a life that has in all it's forms "free will." We humans have free will to make choices, but creation also has free will, a randomness that causes good and bad to happen to each of us just by virtue of, who knows, place and time? But I do believe that God comes into these situations and works (through grace) to bring forth new life, new hope, new order (the resurrection). As we head into Advent, and as I heal and re-enter my life, I suspect I will find God's presence in new ways enabling this traumatic time in my life to become a source of hope and compassion.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In the hospital...Thanksgiving

Ten days ago I came to the emergency room of a local hospital suffering from an infection. The root cause, a tooth. The infection lodged itself between the bones off my jaw and skull and the massiter muscle of my check and blossomed out distorted my face; causing great pain and fever. The hospital tried IV antibiotic therapy for 36 hours before doing surgery to drain the site. That was one week ago today. I continue to heal well, grateful for the skill and care of the doctors,, nurses, and staff, not to mention my family.

As I write this I am using a hospital computer, thanks to the generosity of the nursing staff and residents. Three drains remain in my face enabling the remaining infection to drain out. These are slowly being "advanced" or pulled down and out to facilitate draining in the rest of my face (the infection spread up from my jawbone to my temple). They anticipate sending me home on Sunday or Monday, which will have been two weeks in the hospital. I will go home with a picc line so I can continue to give myself IV antibiotics for 6 more weeks.

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for all those who have been tending to me and helping me find wholeness and health in mind, body, and spirit.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Five: Red, Blue, and Purple

1. Favorite red food: well, since Thanksgiving is around the corner I'll say homemade cranberry sauce. Otherwise tomato sauce for pasta, all kinds!


2. Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person: the Caribbean from the southern coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Actually it is an amazing blue-green, but so beautiful.

3. It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide? I've only seen the Color Purple.

4. What has you seeing red these days? I've been suffering from a fractured tooth - oh so painful! The dentist filled the fracture, which only caused increased nerve pressure. Yesterday the dentist and I made the tough decision to pull it (YUCK). So while the nerve pain is gone I am left with severe jaw pain from the extraction process. The pain definitely has me seeing red, not to mention my inability to do things like get my sermon written for Sunday. Plus I have to go to our annual Diocesan Convention today and tomorrow (I'm staffing a booth, so I have to go...). They tell me I should be feeling better as this day wears on and into tomorrow.

5. What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue? Taking my dogs to the dog park. Exercise of any form. A glass of very good wine (sometimes that would make me feel more blue, so it's not always a good choice, but sometimes...). A cup of Earl Grey tea and dark chocolates.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Jigsaw Puzzle Life; an All Saints' Day Sermon

Tomorrow we are transferring to Sunday the feast of All Saints, and I am also transferring the lesser feast of All Souls. I think I read somewhere that the ancient church blended these two feasts in one day...but regardless, I am unable to get folks to come out for anything but a Sunday morning, so into one they are.

My reflection for this Sunday will use an image of a jigsaw puzzle, beginning with how much my family and I enjoy putting them together. Recently my cottage mates at the IMAGINE conference in Kanuga put together a puzzle. This puzzle was a picture of a North Carolina covered bridge, very pretty. But it really seemed that many of the pieces of the puzzle were missing, we almost gave up on it. Over time, and with diligence we put found all the pieces, many were very odd in shape, not at all what the empty space would lend you to think it looked like.

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle: sometimes feeling like a jumbled pile of pieces that seem unrelated and disconnected. Putting the pieces together, over time takes diligence and work and desire. Often we only understand the full meaning of our lives as they are relate to the lives of those who have gone before us and how they become connected to the lives that come after us (our children, grandchildren...).

On All Saints' we traditionally baptize new members of the community, merging the past with the present and with the future. If we have no one to baptize we still renew our baptismal covenant, reminding ourselves of that connection, that web of life, the runs through out all time. The gospel reading for All Saints' is from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes. So, I will connect the image of the puzzle of life, connected to the past, present, future, with the image of all the ways we are blessed, a time to be thankful for the gift of life.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

From Nomads to Pilgrims

Last week I attended a presentation by Diana Butler Bass on her research and study of churches today. She sees a phenomenon happening in some churches as they emerge from the depths of almost dying to being renewed. She calls this process a journey of moving people from being Nomads to being Pilgrims.

I have read her books, so some of what she presented was not new. But at the presentation she offered a "model" using tinker toys (so funny, so good!) to describe the three-pole socio-cultural-religious movement in our country today; unpacking liberal to conservative, established church to intentional church, and modern world view to post modern world view, and how they all interconnect. This model really gave me language for understanding how some churches are dying and others are growing or re-growing through reconnecting with Christian practices and tradition in a new way. She gave me language to articulate what I have been struggling to describe for years. She helped me understand where the church I serve is stuck.

Now I am so excited. I have a way of framing what is going on and can unpack it for the people in my church. We have a way of looking at who we are and determining our future. This does not mean that the folks are going to choose to become unstuck, they may prefer to remain as they are and die a slow (or fast) death. But at least what ever they do, it will be a conscious choice.

To help folks understand this I am going to present it in small groups: first the vestry, then some select small group dinners with key leaders, then to the entire parish. Hoping to build momentum and excitement. Or maybe just a way to frame who and what we are right now.

I am also using the concepts to frame my sermons so that the ideas begin to resonant in many ways. Folks have to hear or read something 6 times before it registers....I have a lot of work to do in very little time...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Five Halloween Scary

1. Do you enjoy a good fright? No, I really don't. I refuse to see scary movies. When I watched Silence of the Lambs I saw on video at home so I could walk out of the room when my anxiety got too high....I don't like watching people being hurt, I guess.

2. Scariest movie you've ever seen. Probably Silence of the Lambs, since I won't go see any of scary movies my teenagers like to see.

3. Bobbing for apples: choose one and discuss:a) Nothing scary about that! Good wholesome fun.b) Are you *kidding* me?!? The germs, the germs! I've only bobbed for apples once, when I was a kid...it was fun, but who thought of germs back then...at least not the way we do now.

4. Real-life phobia...messing up, not being "smart enough"...yikes, the "girl" self esteem stuff that I still work on sometimes.

5. Favorite "ghost story"...loved to tell and hear ghost stories at camp as a kid, sadly I can't remember any of them. But I could tell you a few experiences I've had of people after they've died....would that be a "ghost" story???

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Five Random Thoughts

Whirlwind - my life some days
Foundation - my faith most days
Lightening - speed of life, summer storms in the mountains
Den - woodchuck then red fox under my deck
Prey - coyote, look out

Approaching 50: reflections on body

Lately I've had to learn to live in a body I do not recognize. This body of mine has always been on the slight side, tending to be chilly at all times. But these days I lean more to being warm and often hot. The other day the "heat" began in my ear lobes and cheeks and moved through out my body. That initial flush eased, but I remained warm for the rest of the night.

I never know how to dress, will I be hot, warm, or cool? Especially with the changing seasons, with fall upon us and winter around the corner....It is just so strange.

But in addition to body temperature I've noticed other changes...like flab in places I never knew a body could be flabby, perpetual stiffness, finger nails and toe nails that turn soft yet lined with ridges, worsening allergies, and like I've already said, chin stubble.

I don't really mind all these changes. I knew they'd happen some day. But mostly I feel too young, not at all the almost 50 year old I am. My mother and mother in law were both winding down in life when they hit 50: kids long raised, work done, retirement on the horizon.

But me, I'm still raising kids, 18 and 14.... And I'm only 6 years into the work and ministry as an Episcopal priest, work I will do for another 20 odd years. I don't even own a house but I have a mountain of debt; car payments, student loans, launching my daughter into a career with horses...

I'm not really complaining, nor even lamenting, mostly just observing the way this body of mine is living through life...and the disparity between mind (still young, but not as naive nor impulsive) and body (aging)....

Monday, October 09, 2006

IMAGINE

From Sunday Oct. 1 through Friday Oct. 6, 177 women, deacons, priests, and bishops, gathered at Kanuga, a retreat center in Hendersonville, NC, to reflect on the role of ordained women's leadership in the Episcopal Church. The week was filled with panel presentations on various leadership themes, including one with our newly elected Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori who spoke about qualities of leadership:
1. Courage - a quality that can be learned and is a process of spiritual training with the possibility of producing wisdom. A leader needs to have courage.
2. Risk - when you have risked enough and failed enough you learn something about yourself as a leader.
3. Creativity - we are made in the image of God, the creative process can lead to common ground.
4. Playful - a leader needs to be playful
5. Interconnection - a leader recognizes we are all part of a larger whole, all of creation is made by God, God is present in all that is (mystery), creating the Body of Christ.
6. Curiosity - willing to explore and consider possibility; if we've always done it this way, why? A leader will, at times, be dissatisfied with "conventional wisdom."
7. Dream big dreams - imagine and dream big dreams, focus on the "essentials" but consider the big picture.
8. Vision - one needs to go right to the "edge" to gain perspective and get something central to the "vision" (which is also about taking risks).

Katharine Jefferts Schori also said that in a unique way women are 'bodied" beings, incarnational, because of how we feel, how we know pain and feeling in our bodies.

It was very powerful to be in a place with 177 ordained women all worshiping, praying, talking, reflecting, and imagining church. I have been blessed by the time we spent together and am very hopeful for the future of the Episcopal Church.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hiding on Sunday morning

I have taken the day off in order to rest from the family wedding last night (nephew) and pack for my trip to Kanuga for a week long leadership conference for women clergy (leaving for the airport at 2pm). But, because I live next door to the church in the rectory I end up "hiding" out until everyone has left church for the day. Soon they will all be gone and I can take my dogs out for a walk. It is a beautiful day. So far I have spent the morning reading blogs, making breakfast (pancakes and sausage) and reading the paper. (Oh, not mention instead of getting up at 5am, I got up at 8...of course I went to bed after midnight...).

The one thing I don't want is for the members of my church to see me loafing....they know I am going out of town, but if I'm still here during service times then shouldn't I be there leading??? After all I asked one of our lay folks to lead the service...to do a "Morning Prayer" service with no Holy Communion. Someone is bound to feel slighted..."What no Eucharist??" And if they knew I was at home having pancakes and coffee....oh, dear.... So, I hide out, stay away from the windows. Keep the curtains closed. Go out for a walk later...it is a very strange feeling to be captive in one's home.

Well, like I said, I'll be gone for a week to the mountains of North Carolina - Yippeee!! Now, off to finish my packing and walk the dogs.
This morning I am taking a day off. This is my first Sunday off since mid-March. Otherwise I have preached and presided at two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday. I am taking this day off, in part, because we had a family wedding last night and I am leaving this afternoon to go out of town, and it felt that trying to preside and preach at two services would be too much.

Usually I do not go out on Saturday night. Saturday night is a kind of Sabbath time for me, I have dinner, maybe a glass of wine. I watch a little television (usually British comedy or a good movie), and go to bed early. I aim to be rested and prepared for the long Sunday.

So, having a family wedding on Saturday night throws off my whole Sabbath. Actually we did not go the ceremony, only the reception...but that's another reflection...Nonetheless by the time we were ready to leave the reception, and drive my mother-in-law home, it was late. I finally went to bed around midnight. Yes, we had a nice time. But since I scheduled this day off from church I was able to sleep until 8am!

Now I will make breakfast, sausage and pancakes, read the paper, and walk my dogs. Then I will finish packing and leave for the airport around 2pm.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Approaching 50: Reflections on Grey

Recently I started watching Grey's Anatomy. This comes after a long time of refusing to watch it based on commercials that emphasize the sexual exploits of these "medical professionals." I am just tired of watching violence and sexual infidelity on TV, not to mention the reality shows (OK, I've never actually watched a reality TV show, except the dancing ones...). So, most of the summer I watched "Whose line is it anyway?" But somehow one night I found myself watching Grey's Anatomy, and for a while I was hooked. Now, I don't know???

One night last week the episode ended with the main character, Meredith Grey, literally standing between the two men she is involved with, one a married doctor and her passion, the other a widowed veterinarian for whom she is his passion. Both were asking her to take her home from this pseudo-prom (you had see the show), and she stood there unable to decide.
The next night continues the story, who knows how she got home, maybe she drove herself? In this episode both men tell her they love her and that she has choice to make. The still-married doctor says, "take all the time you need." Which is charming and fair, except he still apparently hasn't told his wife nor brought that relationship to a just conclusion....(granted he was wounded by his wife when he caught her in bed with his "best" friend, which is the background to all of this, but two wrongs don't make a right)...

The idea of having an affair is clearly tempting in our world, and nothing new. Lately, I think, it really comes down to our world losing its ability to articulate what sin is. No one wants to talk about it, sin has become that big, misused term for labeling out dated expectations for behavior. Or, at least that is my brief assessment of our inability to acknowledge sin.

But really, sin is very much a part of our lives. My working definition of sin: broken relationship in all its forms; broken between the people in our lives, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, strangers, and broken relationship between us and God. And one cannot fix that broken-ness with more broken-ness.

I guess being nearly 50 and married for 21 years I just see things differently than someone in their 20's or 30's. Certainly waaaay back when I had my fair share of trying to figure out relationships, and not always with the highest degree of integrity (for self or others)....I've lived the pain and heartache of being impulsive and following my libido into those momentary passions....(Ok, sometimes I had a lot of fun doing so, but in the end it was all short lived)....
And the reality is I'm still trying to figure out relationships, only now I struggle with how to effectively parent teen age kids, how to effectively respond to the pastoral needs of a congregation, how to grow old (do I color my hair or is grey ok?), how to find any passion in a comfortable long term marriage, how to balance time for self and others, etc. etc. etc....
I like the idea of the TV show "Grey's Anatomy" based on the premise of looking at those grey areas of life...and I like that it is a successful show created by a woman. I'll just have to see if the nuances and plot lines hold my attention, probably based on the degree to which those grey areas move toward integrity and not just exploitation of self and others; which for TV would be very refreshing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Spirituality of Dog Park

One of my favorite things to do is walk my dogs in the dog park. We have two dogs, a lab-mix about 70lbs and a vizsla, about 50 lbs. At first we had only the lab-mix, whom I dutifully walked everyday, until I became a full time priest at this little church. Then her best form of exercise became sitting in the back yard watching the birds and bunnies. About four years later we decided it was time to add to our household (as if two parents and two kids, two cats, 5 birds, and a frog, were not enough). So, we went looking for a puppy and came home one day with a 16 week old Vizsla. She, this new pup, now a dog, is a bundle of joy. If a dog can express "HAPPY" she oozes joyfulness. Walking her, because she is bred to hunt birds (which we do not do), she is prone to springing straight up in the air and spinning in circles. Now, this is a great skill when she is in the tall grasses of an open field, I can see her and she can see me, but it is a bit disconcerting walking down the sidewalk. For the first year of this pup's life with us I walked the two dogs for an hour a day six days a week. Once I was walking 120lbs of dog I realized something else was needed before I injured my shoulder and neck muscles. That's when we found "Dog Park!"

Dog park, which has an official name but is always called "dog park," are two words my dogs understand. That means I need to spell out the words whenever we are planning a trip, "Are you ready to go to D-0-g p-a-r-k?....Dog park is a wonderful place...it takes at least 40 minutes to walk the perimeter through a fenced area of fields, grasses, woods, and a small lake. Well actually I walk, the dogs run and leap and play. We arrive home muddy and smelling swampy, and tired; the dogs are actually worn out. (At least for a little while). We make a trip to dog park about 4 times a week, a true blessing in a city where off-lead walking is otherwise challenging.

But dog park is more than just a place for me to exercise my dogs and myself. Dog park is a place where I can walk and be with God. Dog park offers up nature in all its finest through all the seasons of the year; trees, water, birds and all living creatures, sky and sun and misty air. Dog park is where I go to ponder my sermons for Sunday. Dog park reminds me that my problems are not so big nor so demanding; there is life outside my head. Dog park moves into the realm of my heart. Even as I ponder Sunday sermons I do so with a sense of awe, the beauty of God's creation in this microcosm of a dog park. That, combined with watching my dogs run with sheer glee, complete abandon, total joy, makes life worth living on even the bluest of days.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Not the one called

Last night I learned that a friend of mine, who has been active in a job search, was not the one called. She, a young woman in her mid thirties with two kids, was so excited about this church. I understand, having been in her shoes a few times myself. First you invest so much of yourself into the process, learning all about the people and their ministries. Working hard to make sure you express yourself and your gifts; revealing the depth of your integrity, skill, and compassion. You fall in love. Discerning a call to a church is like entering into a long term relationship, and oh, the heart ache when it doesn't turn out the way you hope....
Those of us in the Episcopal tradition consider a job search to be a call of the Holy Spirit...maybe others think this way as well? So, what is the Holy Spirit conveying when one person is called and another is not? I think that God, given the impact of free-will (oh, what a precious gift!), I think God invests God's self in these searches hopeful for all the candidates...by the time a parish narrows its search to two or three candidates they have focused on those they deem best for them. It then comes down to some nuance of criteria: "who has the most (or the best, or the most impressive) experience." One always (often? usually?) loses to the one deemed to "have more experience." So, it is experience that drives these decisions, and perceptions of what "experience" is.
Many times the perception of experience breaks down along gender lines: given two people of about the same age and of comparable "experience" people, if one is male and the other female, it is usually the male who will be hired. This is not a critique of men, it is a statement about our culture and world, we perceive men and women differently, and men always appear to have "more experience." So, the task is, how do we as a people lift up the voices of women so that our voices can be heard with equal weight and authority? This is a challenge for our church leaders: Bishops especially (or whatever your denominational heads are titled).
And likewise, if we say we want to lift up the voices of young people and bring in younger clergy, how do we encourage churches to take this "risk?" It seems to me that what a person may "lack" in experience, they will make up for in excitement and determination to do a "good" job. Which will bring a creative energy to the position, one that may be infectious to the congregation. Generally speaking, us working moms will go out of our way to learn what we don't know; to build a team of leadership that fills in any gaps of "experience" and builds on strengths. We have a history of multi-tasking and creative decision making (consider simultaneously raising children, paying bills and living on a budget, cleaning a house, doing laundry, sleeping, caring for a spouse, encouraging others while feeling devalued, planning and preparing meals, etc. etc. etc...) - all of which transfer directly into church leadership...just a bigger household and a larger "family."
So, back to the idea of the Holy Spirit...I guess whenever one is called and the other is not, the Holy Spirit blesses each. The one called is blessed with a direction and hope and guidance for a new start. The one not called is blessed by the Holy Spirit comforting us in our grief, giving us a sense of purpose wherever we are, and then going about the business of seeking out that next place to be considered. Hopefully the one not called is graced with the gift of good friends and family who care for and support she/he during the time of grieving, not so much to ease the sorrow, but to hold up the gifts and honor the person for who she/he is; a beloved of God. I'm not so sure that there is "one" right way, call, or direction that God plans for us. Rather I think there are many forks in the road and which ever way we humans choose (or not...) God goes with. In this we are invited into a kind of co-creation with God wherein all things do work out for the good that God desires for all creation.
That being said, it still sucks to be the one-not-called....

Friday, September 15, 2006

Approaching 50: reflection on chin stubble

Ok, I won't actually be 50 until February. But I am already thinking about it. My husband, who is younger than I by10 months, will turn 49 in Dec., and then wammo, I turn 50. At this moment, the aspect about turning 50 that most consumes me: those hairs, the coarse stubble growing on my chin.

Eleven years ago, when I started seminary, I first noticed these hairs. One here or there, usually under my chin, an area approaching my neck - almost impossible to pluck those hairs out....Now they grow in clusters on one side of my chin. Coarse and sharp and a bunch of them all at once. I could wax them off, but first I'd have to tolerate their growth until they were long enough to wax....And when I pluck them out more are just waiting to grow in...plucking these determined little hairs is harder than one would imagine. They cling to their little follicles, or what ever it is they "grow" in, and refuse to give up that space. Tenancious little hairs mocking the fact that the rest of my skin is becoming soft and losing the firmness of youth. I don't mind the wrinkles on my face, I earned them all. But the hairs serve no purpose I can discern except to annoy me. And of course I am further annoyed by the fact that my eyesight is going, so, while I can feel these hairs, I usually can't see them. OK, I could go out any buy a magnifying mirror, that might help. However another aspect of turning 50 is increasing forgetfulness...I simply don't remember that I want a magnifying mirror when I am out working or running errands. I'd worry about this forgetfulness being something more serious, but all the women's web-med sites assure me that it is a common symptom of menopause (or in my case perimenopause)....

Someday, maybe, I will remember to add "magnifying mirror" to my shopping list and I'll get one. Or I'll be in the mood for some impulse shopping and just happen to be in a store that sells magnifying mirrors and see one, then I'll buy it. Or maybe I'll see it and remember, but decide that spending money on a magnifying mirror is too vain, then I'll just continue plucking-by-feel.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

September 12

Another rainy, foggy, morning. In some ways I am grateful for the rain, it gives me permission to lay low. After two intense weeks of work, burying a beloved parishioner, and living through our first major parish fundraiser, (what FUN there is in fundraisers, especially when the proceeds are going to help others), life has taken on a slower pace. Time to think. I really enjoyed the fast pace of pulling together the church and parish for these two events. I thrive on having lots of good work to take care of. It can be challenging to me, serving a small parish, where not a lot happens on normal basis. I know I tend to get things going and make myself busy, I could get away with doing a lot less for the church. Maybe then I would clean my house more (yes, that's good work too, most days it just doesn't really interest me)...

Back before all this busyness began, in early August, I was in a job search, a finalist for a BIG place, "The Bigger Pulpit" as the NY Times article put it. Needless to say, I was not the one called. They called a man with, as they said, "a bit more expereince than me." My issue is not with who they called, but with the struggle for women to make their way into churches other than the small and often dying....places where our gifts and talents can be fully utilized. I know that bigger is not always better. My desire for that job was not necessarily because it was bigger, but because they had the ability and desire to do ministry - to really make a difference in the world. It was exciting to think of the possibilities.

Now our son has started high school. In some ways the window of opportunity for moving has closed. And yet, the small parish I serve may not be able to retain me as a full time priest, I may need to look elsewhere. This fall will tell. It is a painful struggle, living in the in-between.

Seeking my authentic voice is all about discerning these things. Where am I called to serve? If I am to stay in this small parish I pray that this time will be filled with some exciting spiritual growth for me and the people (and we are!!). If I am to move one I pray that the next call comes with opportunities that will excite and challenge me, and that uprooting my son will be something he can manage. He is a quiet, shy, young man, who tries to pretend he is not...

Seeking my authentic voice is also about having the integrity to speak from my heart, as a progressive liberal, to my traditional and conservative congregation.This is mostly about trust: do I trust the congregation? Do they trust me? Can they listen to my voice and not feel threatened? Can they think about new ideas? Can they consider old ideas in a new way? Can I trust that they won't get angry or upset (and therefor not listen)? After five years of leading this parish, I think we are at a place where that level of trust exists. We have lived through a lot together. Certainly it seems we have found a common ground of passion for reaching out to others in this world - families who lost everything in hurricane Katrina, refugee families, the people in our companion diocese of SE Mexico.

And so, on this foggy morning at the end of summer and beginning of fall, I ponder what might have been...had things gone another way I'd be moving right now. I also ponder what will be, knowing that the future is not set in stone, but fluid. Seeking my authentic voice is about tapping into that place where God speaks within me, listening with my heart, and giving room for the words to be formed and expressed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My first post....

So, here I begin, at least this aspect of seeking authentic voice. Today my 9th grade son and three of his friends came home for lunch, all were discussing the fact that today is Sept. 11. I asked them if they remember this day 5 years ago - wow, they say, we were in 4th grade. That's how they remember it, by their grade. I remember it; we had just lived here a month, I was a new rector at the parish I serve, my first official position in charge. What to do? How to care for frightened people, children, self? We held a spontaneous prayer service that night. We called everyone in the parish, left messages, invited everyone to come and pray. We gathered as community. We cried. We offered hope and faith in the God who loves us. We mourned for innocence and for the loss of innocent lives.

I will with God's help....uncomplicating the complicated

I was baptized when I was nine years old. I have vivid memories of the baptism itself, of being terrified, as I was fully immersed three ti...