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.

Resting on the Spiritual Porch

I have a good friend who is always late for everything. Whenever my friend and I schedule a date to get together I plan to arrive 15 minute...