Friday, August 31, 2007

Nineteen




Yesterday was my daughter's nineteenth birthday. Here are some pictures of her with her boyfriend who is now in Afghanistan. And her with her father before a horse show. Riding horses, working with horses, being with horses, is her life and love. Well besides Ryan and her family.

She's a wonderful dedicated young woman full of compassion and care and drive. Oh, and Ryan comes home for "vacation" in a month. (How does one go on "vacation" from combat and a war zone?)....

RevGals Friday Five: Season Change


It's Labor Day weekend here in the United States, also known as Summer's Last Hurrah. So let's say goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn. (People in other climes, feel free to adapt as needed.)

1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!) I did not go away for my vacation this year. Instead I took two off and stayed home. I did some much needed deep cleaning in my house, painted a few rooms, and played. Now as the busy-ness of my life ramps up I can be grateful for how clean and organized my large walk in closet is, or the fact the moving my bedroom furniture around prevents the hall light from shining in my face and waking me up when the kids stay up later than me. I am glad that the rooms that were painted look so clean and fresh and new. And, on my vacation I played with friends, went to Millennium Park several times. Plus most of the summer the weather in Chicagoland has been GLORIOUS! (That is other than the horrible rain, too much rain, and tornado's of last week). It's been a summer of just enough HOT weather to feel like summer, just enough sun, just enough cool days, and well, lately a bit too much wind and rain. But now, we are in for a fabulous Labor Day weekend. So, all in all, a great summer.


2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not? Well, despite how much I actually enjoyed this summer and our great weather, I am looking forward to fall. I am ready to pull out my fall wardrobe and wear jeans and long sleeved clothes and closed toed shoes. I'm ready to walk my dogs in the cool crisp air of fall and watch the leaves change.

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall. See above. Plus I am looking forward to our annual Clergy Conference. We all gather for three days and two nights at a conference center north of here. We can walk the beautiful wooded grounds and enjoy the company of our clergy colleagues. Plus this year we have Tony Campolo coming to speak. Also, I am looking forward to meeting our nominees for Bishop and to our Annual Diocesan Convention when we elect the new Bishop. I pray it is a Spirit-filled election.

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach) We usually go apple picking.

5. I'll know that fall is really here when: the leaves turn, we pick apples, and pumpkins are everywhere.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Nominees for Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Chicago

After many months of interviewing and visiting the search committee for the Diocese of Chicago has posted its nominees for Bishop. You can check them out here.

I happen to know, or have met, three of the five. I think it's a good slate, a hopeful slate. It will be curious to see where the Spirit lead us. The election is in November.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Music Meeting

Our music ministry meeting went well.
1.We decided to proceed with the idea of using Cantors to support the congregational singing and to have a choir whenever we have a critical mass available.
2.We're going to create a schedule with set dates for a full choir (based on availability) and a rehearsed choral anthem! (Two-part).
3.We'll begin to sing the Psalms in Sept. We'll use one basic psalm tone technique through Pentecost, then increase the complexity for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, then increase the complexity again in Lent, and so on until we can sing them well.
4.We looked through all of our Hymn resources and selected hymns we like and can sing so I can catalogue them for use on a given Sunday.

All in all a good meeting.

However, no one has responded to me email about the essay, "This I Believe..."

I'm going to have nudge and niggle and prompt folks to understand this one. I'm sure they'll love it when it's done, it's just getting them started. Thanks to grace-thing who clued me in that it was hard for group to get going, so I anticipate it will be difficult for this one. I really do hope we can pull it off....

Getting Ready for Fall

I am busy organizing and preparing for the fall start up of our program year at Small Church. Here are some of the things I am doing:

Revisioning our music ministry. We are going to begin to chant (again) the Psalms. I have found some sources that teach individuals and congregations how to do this using simple tones. ("Chanting the Psalms" by Cynthia Bourgeault, the book comes with a CD of her chanting). The idea is that we can move away from a monotone verbal recitation of the Psalms into a sung prayer. We are a small congregation but I am convinced we can sinng more and sing better if I just find the sources that will fit our ability. Generally speaking it isn't hymns from the 1982 Hymnal. On a good Sunday we have three people singing in our choir, many Sundays no one. Again this is because we are small and our parishioners travel for their jobs. I think we should, at the very least, have a cantor assigned for each Sunday who is prepared to assist the conregational singing. This Cantor could also add some variety to how we sing, like singing Canons in the round or having the Cantor sing one verse, the congregation another. The Cantor can also help me teach the congregation new hymns so we expand what we know.

I am also looking at having a group of parishioners participate in the "This I Believe" essay writing process. I first heard of this through grace-thing's blog. She posted her essay and it got me intrigued. You can learn more here. The biggest problem is wondering who to ask, who would actually come through with an essay. I'm working on that one. I'd like to publish them in our monthly newsletter.

As we prepare for our "Celebration Sunday" on Oct. 28 I have asked three parishioners to preach, one on each of the three Sunday's in Oct. leading up to Celebration Sunday. This is the day we celebrate all the ministries in the parish and turn in our pledge cards for the upcoming year. I've asked them to preach on "Why I come to small church." I'm giving them guidelines and help along the way.

The point of all of this is to encourage more involvement from the congregation in the worship life of the parish.

The problem is, I am a solo pastor. I get easily distracted by the varieties of daily parish life. It seems really challenging for me to follow through. I can initiate great ideas, I depend on others to follow through and that does not always happen. I think I have taken on three ambitious projects for the year. I hope I can get the initiative going well enough that those who are participating will then take over and help it get lived int. By this I mean, the members of the choir take over helping me find hymns and plan music for each Sunday. The people who've agreed to write and preach the sermons come up with something heart felt. And I get some folks to write a few essays.

We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Loving Makes Whole Again


A reflection on Luke 13:10-17

One of my greatest fears is that I will become a hunched over old woman. We see them all around us, a few people whose spines have degenerated and they can no longer walk up right. Men and women both suffer from this ailment. It looks terribly uncomfortable to walk, and painful to live with.

Whenever I see someone hunched over from spinal disease, I avert my eyes, I don’t want to stare. And as uncomfortable as this makes me today it was even worse for people in Jesus day.

A person with any ailment or disease was considered impure, unclean, and forbidden to be touched. These people were often banned to the outskirts of town, rejected by the community, viewed with disdain. Soon the person would become invisible. Certainly if one lived with the ailment for 18 years there would come a point when no one noticed the person any longer.

Think about it. How long does it take us to stop seeing things around us? How quickly does the extraordinary become ordinary and then blend into the landscape? War, violence, rain, destruction, even these we can become accustomed to. It’s not so unusual to reach a point where we fail to see people. It may be even easier to do this if we are taught that it’s the right thing to do.

Walter Wink, in “Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament,” suggests that the bible reality has an inner aspect and an outer aspect. The outer aspect is its material shape and organizational structure. So, the temple has the building and the rooms, the priests, the hierarchy of authority, and the people. The inner aspect is its spirit that determines the purpose, direction, and meaning of the outer aspect. This aspect is how people worship God, nurture their faith, and live their lives.

The same would be true for us today. We have the outer aspect of church, either this particular church or the National church, or Christianity broadly speaking. Each has its structure of leadership. For us this means Bishop, priest, deacon, people, rules – which we call canon law, and norms, that which is the normal way of governing ourselves and being community. And we have an inner structure which is the way we understand ourselves as a people of faith and what we do day in and day out to nurture and practice that faith.

These realities can be inherently good or evil depending on what’s inside, what the intention is. So from Wink’s perspective governments, institutions, and cultures that oppress people have an inner evil spirit. Evil, Satan, is not some disembodied thing floating around in the world. Nor is it a specific being. Rather evil, or another way of stating it, sin, lives in the individuals and social realities that embody acts of oppression. Sin manifests in brokenness of relationships, whether it is in our families or on a larger scale the marginalization individuals and groups. The Holocaust is the modern world’s most potent example of this – but that kind of genocide happens every day around the world: in Darfur, in Iran, Iraq, and countries in Africa, Central and South America. A more subtle form happens in this country with racial and ethnic, social, economic, and cultural, divisions.

In order to get at what’s going on in this Gospel reading this morning we need to remember that he stories in our gospels always point us to multiple layers of truth. Taken at one level this is a story about a hunched over woman. She exemplifies for me one of the things I worry about while growing older. But we know that the stories are not always about specific individual people. Rather the stories are intended to use ordinary examples of life to point us to something deeper. In this case the woman’s bent-over posture symbolizes that she is oppressed by her society – think of it this way - she is not eye level with others, nor they with her. In our society we honor someone by looking them in the eye and speaking to them. Not seeing someone allows us make them, or keep them, nameless and faceless. And if we don’t see them then they really don’t exist and the problem they bring is not ours to deal with.

We have all kinds of nameless, faceless people in our midst. We can easily pretend that domestic violence is not the biggest problem the encountered by the police in this suburb of big city by the lake. We can deny addiction and mental illness and ignore the homeless, hungry of this country. It’s even easier to ignore those made homeless and hungry by violence in another part of the world. We can pretend that the 8 million refugees are not our problem because we don’t see them.

When Jesus talks to this woman he breaks the custom of his society’s oppression. Traditionally women were not spoken to in public, in fact they were invisible. This tradition still exists in many parts of our world today.

So when Jesus addresses her as “woman” he moves her from being invisible to being visible – he sees her and names her; she is a real person. This is the essence of Jesus’ ministry – the invisible become visible. Then when Jesus touches her, according to the synagogue reality, he is again breaking with tradition – touching the sick means touching something impure, and that is a sin.

The real conflict here is between how the temple leaders understand God’s intent and how Jesus understands it. At this point in time the temple leaders have no problem with the fact that Jesus touched and healed this woman; for whatever reason touching and healing is not the issue. Now, notice that the leaders do not address Jesus directly, they speak to the crowd. They point out that he could have healed her on any one of the other six days of the week. So, the issue they are arguing is that he healed her on the Sabbath and one was not to work on the Sabbath. The 8th Commandments says: “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” The question from our readings today is, what does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy? Healing, they argue is a form of working. And apparently working is not holy.

In our modern world we don’t spend much time debating the Ten Commandments, per se. Oh sure there was the issue of the judge who wanted them posted in the Court house, but other than that they really don’t come up much. I bet most people don’t even know more than one or two of them. Don’t ask me, I can’t recite them either…But most of us do spend time debating theology – how we know God in the world. Some of us are holding firm the Letter of the Law through the particular lens of theology through which we understand God. The thing is, there are lots of different theologies out there: Moral, Process, ethical, liberation, feminist, contemporary, atonement, systematic – just to name a few. And each offers us a method, a way to get a handle on the mystery that is God. Most of us know and live by several theologies that have been woven together by what ever spiritual leaders have been our teachers over the years. And, as I’ve said many times in the past, it helps to remember that we all have a lens, a bias, through which we understand life. All theology is a human construct designed to help us understand the nature of God and God’s relationship to creation, especially to humanity. Because it is created by humans no single theology is complete in and of itself. All theology has limits. When we bind ourselves to one or two particular theologies we limit how we see God and understand God’s action in the world. Even as we embrace a certain theology to ground us and give us a foundation to live and work we need to maintain a degree of suspicion of that theology in order for us to be open to what God is really doing in the world around us.

The problem our Gospel presents us with today deals with how the outer reality of our world, the way we construct our society, church, and individual lives expresses itself in how we actually live and care for others in this world. All of our theology needs to be understood through the teaching of Jesus that he uses to summarize the Ten Commandments, in fact he says this to summarize all 613 commandments found in the Bible: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength – and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the very prayer we pray ever Sunday in Lent to remind ourselves what we are about. To help us remember how we are called to balance the inner and the outer aspects of our lives.

The temple leaders have lost sight of this. They are focusing on only one aspect, how to keep the Sabbath holy. Jesus argues back that he is in fact keeping the Sabbath holy because he is doing what God intends. From the beginning of our tradition God has been about freeing God’s people from oppression. God frees Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Israelites, and now, in this Gospel reading, God is freeing people from the limitations of society and cultural prejudice. This gospel story is a good one for us to remember as we ponder what is going on in our world and our church today. Jesus is living the Spirit of the Law by seeing people for who they are. Jesus models for us how to love people just as they are, in all their brokenness. In the process Jesus is loving them whole again. It seems to me that we are called to do likewise.

Friday, August 24, 2007

RevGals Cultural Friday 5



I have spent the week at Summer School studying the Gospel and Western culture, we have looked at art, literature, music, film and popular culture in their myriad expressions. With that in mind I bring you the cultural Friday 5.

Name a

1. Book: "Broken We Kneel" by Diana Butler Bass

2. Piece of music: "I'm Not Ready to Make Nice" The Dixie Chicks

3. Work of art: All of the artwork I own was done by friends or local artists. Much of it photographs of trees, nature, hot air balloons. No specific reference to religion, faith, church...but for me, God is in them.

4. Film: Way too many, most of them implicit: The Freedom Writers, What Women Want, Crash - movies that show struggle and redemption, hope and transformation, what is possible even in our world today.

5. Unusual engagement with popular culture: Long before I became a priest I explored my faith through many new age practices - yoga, meditation, astrology, and massage therapy. I did it all as a person of faith - not the occult - but not really as a Christian either, yet with the belief that God was in it all. I believe that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. It seemed possible to me that there could be an interconnection between them all. It seemed possible, for instance, that if we are made of water, if the gravitational pull of the moon affects us why not other heavenly bodies? I saw life as organic and relational on many levels and that we are called by God to be attentive to life on a deeper level than we normally do. In the end it was shaped and formed me and eventually brought me back to the church - I yearned for community and for something solid - the new age stuff was too flighty. Luckily I found someone who was not judgmental of my pursuits, saw them as a questioning mind, heart, and spirit, and led me to a church that could embrace me as I was and then shape and form those loose threads into a solid woven tapestry.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

(Job Before God)

I have spent most of this day in a futile attempt to write my sermon for Sunday. I have read, reflected, prayed, pondered, taken notes, thought I had an idea (once or twice) then changed my mind. I even fell asleep. (Sometimes ideas, direction, solutions come to me in my sleep). But alas. Nothing. Of course it doesn't help that we have torrential rain and severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings all around. Even sirens going off (not in my area, but I hear them off in the distance). None of my family is home. Son went to a friends after school. Daughter is at the barn working. Husband at the office. It's me and the dogs, the cats and the bird, and the flickering lights.

So, I think I am relatively safe from the worst of the storm which is traveling well south or north, I'm in the middle with just wind and rain. (back now 20 minutes later...the uh, wind got really bad, almost lost power a few times and wondered about the trees, thought for sure one of the was going to break in half and land on the house...) Now, all is settling down...so, I'm going to play a game. I've been tagged by revdrkate. The rules are:



Rules
1.You have to use your own belief system for the meme. No fair using someone else’s to make a joke or satire. Being humorous about your own religion is encouraged!
2.You have to have at least one joy and one trial. More are encouraged. And no, they don’t have to be equal in length, but please be honest.
3.You have to tag at least one other person. More are appreciated!
4.Please post these rules!



One Joy: This is actually difficult. I haven't had much joy lately. Definitely not much joy regarding my faith life. I'm in a Jobian time, I think. The joy I have felt is coming from a couple of newcomers to the parish who are jumping in getting very active. One is making our flowers for Sunday mornings. Here is a sample of the floral arrangement she made for the funeral I had last weekend: . We always have a floral arrangement around our Paschal Candle for Easter, Christmas, other major feast days, weddings, and funeral. It's lovely, don't you think?

The other parishioner is joining our choir and comes with twenty years of experience. So, I hope she can bring us some new energy.

I continue to find joy in my little parish. It is a joy mixed with frustration, but a joy nonetheless. I am able to be really creative and explore liturgy in many ways and they go right along with it, liking much of what we do. Of course I always say, "We're just trying this. If we don't like we won't do it again." And, I often ask them in the service and one on one what they think of what ever we do. I hope they feel like they are given a voice. As a worship committee of one I rarely have a chance to create with others, so I try to invite folks in this way.

A third joy is my denomination. Even with all its flaws, struggles, and failures, I a find so much joy in being an Episcopal priest. Of all the potential directions my life might have gone in I am glad it went this way. Thanks to the woman minister who married my husband and me and who suggested we try the Episcopal Church, even though she was UCC. (We were married in THE HIP UCC church in town, drawn to it because it was very diverse).

Trials: Well, like I said, I feel as if I am in a Jobian state. Not much is actually going well in my life. And that leaves me wondering where God is. I feel abandoned by God, prayers feel so futile I've given up altogether. (OK, as is clear from a previous post, I still pray
just not in an orthodox way).

As I've also said before, much of my stress is financial, personal and parish. It is really scary to be on the financial brink in one's personal life and professional life. So, in that regard I am not exactly like Job. I haven't lost everything, yet.

But I feel like Job because it seems all I can do is sit here and wonder where God is. I am impotent to really change any of the dynamics at work here. I've tried, to no avail. I mean I am not just being passive and pouty. I am being resolute: OK God, I'm in your hands. Or as someone recently said: God, move that rock.

Not a terrible fun game to play, if one is honest. My faith, my feelings about religion and God are truly being tested. I have a difficult time preparing for Sunday morning, proclaiming the Good News when I don't feel it in my own life.

I've never lost hope before. But I have now. Isn't that weird? Have you ever lost all hope?

Ok. Now that I've said all of this. Please realize that I am plodding on. I get up every day and exercise and live and work and take care of myself and others. So. I realize that this is just a season of my life. It too will pass...eventually. I'm just not sure who I'll be when it does...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Poem by Denise Levertov

For the New Year

I have a small grain of hope -
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.

I need more.

I break off a fragment
to send you.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won't shrink.

Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
will hope increase,

like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source -
clumsy and earth-covered -
of grace.

this is a hint of my hope for the church program year ahead...and, well, my life in general. I need all the hope I can get. From me. And, from you.

Caller ID

After years of resisting this... I finally got caller ID. Can I just say how much I LOVE IT...

I love looking at the number and saying, "oh it's my daughter, son, husband, etc...".

or conversely, "It's a toll call, I am not answering this one..."

Monday, August 20, 2007

I don't know what to think, but it makes me sad


She was arrested last night after a year of hiding out. A year of making television and newspaper headlines, a symbol of the conflict in this country regarding undocumented immigrants. (A CNN report is here).

Admitedly I really do not know what to think. Except the way this country is going about it seems all wrong and inhumane. I realize that she has broken the law in the way she came here and lived. I also realize that desperate people do desperate things. And it seems so narrowly focused to make this about people who are just trying to have a chance at living a healthy life. I was appaled at one response on television which went something like, "Good. One down, thirteen million to go." We are a country built on the despair, the sorrow of people looking for a new life, new hope, a chance. So. It seems to me we ought to go about this differently.

For instance. Why not consider how we can work to help make living conditions in Mexico, and othe countrys, more sustainable and healthy. That way people won't feel desperate and take risks doing illegal things. Why not encourage the global market to pay people in Mexico a living wage. Boycott companies that take advantage of poor people. Why not buy only Fair Trade products so that farmers and artists and others make a living wage. Yes, buying Fair Trade costs more, so, we can buy less but buy better.

That's just one tiny example I am aware of. I know the situation is complex. But we are minimizing it and redirecting the real problem when make a scandal out of the life and choices on individuals. The real issue is so much bigger, deeper, entrenched, and involves all of us. I think we are all contributing to the cause of undocumented immigrants. We are all to blame with the way we live - the food we eat, the clothes we buy, the market industry we support.

I don't know what should happen to this woman, her son, and others like them. In my heart I think we are being too tough on her and others. But many people I know feel other wise, and have good arguments for doing things the legal way. I know I live by my heart and with compassion. I know am on the side of women and children and the marginalized. I'm an idealist and an optimist. I feel like we have so much in this country and sometimes we are just too selfish and self serving.

Mostly though I think that if we want to solve the problem of Illegal Immigrants, then let's get at the real heart of the problem. Let's take a cold hard look at the global enconomy, world industry, and how we choose to spend our money. I wonder if that would make the headlines?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Passion Like Tongues of Fire

A reflection on Jeremiah 23:23-29 and Luke 12:49-56

Erin Gruwell was a high school English teacher for 9th and 10th grade students. She taught at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, in the 1990’s following the worst outbreak of interracial gang fighting in that area.

A few days into the school year Gruwell and her students got into a discussion about racism, spurred on by a caricature of a black student with big lips, drawn by one of the kids in class. Gruwell compares this caricature with what the Nazi’s did to Jews, a degradation which led to the Holocaust.

Eventually this kind of discussion in her class helps Gruwell understand how these kids feel abandoned by adults and society, and how deeply fearful they are of one another, blacks of Hispanics, Hispanics of whites, and so on. The efforts to manage desegregation, balance school enrollment, and expand education opportunities have led to only deeper rivalry and anger. In large part this is because the school administrators are angry that they have lost their status as a school of overachievers. By taking in these underachieving kids the school is more diverse, and theoretically the underprivileged kids will have a better shot for a good future. But none of the teachers or administrators really understands these kids, nor knows how to work with them where they are in their lives.

It reminded me of church summer camp. This diocese is pretty diverse socially, politically, economically, and ethnically. So, church camp gets suburban kids, rich kids, inner city, poor kids, kids of all sizes and colors. One year when the Bishop was at camp he was startled to witness some kids punching each other. Startled because this is not how we work out conflict. But for these kids it was. The ones involved were inner city poor kids and the way they knew to work out conflict was to punch each other. Eventually one of them would win. Conflict over. It became the task of the counselors to help all the kids get along, and to teach these kids to find ways to manage and work through conflict with out hitting. It was an eye opening experience for everyone and took a lot of diligence and creativity.

The administrators at Gruwell’s High School aren’t interested in creative responses. They have decided to just warehouse these kids until they graduate. And the kids are just trying to live long enough to turn 18, no other goal in mind.

But Gruwell won’t settle for that. She takes on two part jobs in order to buy the kids what they need to learn the way she wants to teach. She helps them understand what each of them has in common, and how they are a part of the brokenness of the world. She connects them to the Holocaust to help them learn the depth of ethnic and racial violence in a global context. They go to the Holocaust Museum. They meet with Holocaust survivors. They read, “The Diary of Anne Frank”. They raise the money to bring to their school the woman who tried to save Anne Frank and her family. They become a class united by what they have in common.

Gruwell approaches her teaching with a deep passion. She is determined to change the lives of these kids. She is determined to not write them off, as the school has done, but to reach them where they are in their lives. And she succeeds at this. You can read about her work in the book, “The Freedom Writers Diary”, or see the movie, called, Freedom Writers starring Hilary Swank. From this experience Gruwell, and this class of students, have created an approach to teaching racially diverse classrooms with the intent of bringing about unity not division, hope not despair, success not failure.

There’s a scene in the movie where Gruwell realizes that, because of her dedication to these kids, her marriage has fallen apart. She comes home from work one day to find her husband at the table, his bags packed. He was her biggest supporter at the beginning of the movie, but at this point, about 2/3 of the way into it, he has decided to leave her. It’s not the life he wants. He can’t support her passion and her dream. It’s ok that she has it, but he wants a different life.

That scene, I think, helps us see what Jesus is saying in our Gospel reading this morning: “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two, two against three; they will be divided…”

Because passion is like that. When we are filled with a driving passion to make a difference in the world around us some will get it but others will not.

Jeremiah the prophet is filled with the passion of God. But he does not want to be a prophet. Jeremiah is a reluctant prophet right from the beginning of the book. The opening verse, often used in ordination services, has Jeremiah saying “no God you can’t choose me, I am only a child.” In the 20th chapter he says, “within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot!” (Jer 20:9). Called by God to warn the people that their behavior was leading them down false paths Jeremiah was beaten and rejected by the people. Yet, inside of Jeremiah a fire burned, God’s words resonated in him, and had to be spoken. Jeremiah did his best to push God’s words away, to tuck them deep inside, to refuse to say them. Who wouldn’t feel this way, if being God’s prophet meant beatings, abuse and rejection. The pull of God working inside Jeremiah was so powerful he could not contain it, though he tried.

Many people, when they experience God’s call resonating in them, find comfort and reassurance in the words of Jeremiah especially his desire to stifle the call. Recognizing that God is calling us to a certain kind of life, a ministry, a work, whether it is a lay ministry or an ordained ministry, a call to social justice or proclaiming a spiritual truth; the call from God nudges and nags and will not be ignored. Its passion builds and eventually it must be expressed. It is not always easy to live into what God calls of us. Which is obviously why people fight against it.

Jesus has a similar sense of burning and pulling in him. God resonates powerfully in Jesus. But unlike Jeremiah Jesus does not try to contain God. Jesus is filled with a passion, a fire, and it must be expressed. He uses the words, “casting fire on the earth,” to express this. To our modern ears, with the influence of 21st century apocalyptic literalism, we think that this means destruction and death. But for Jesus it may also mean that the Holy Spirit is pouring out from him.

First, in the Incarnation, born into this life as a human, Jesus brings the Holy Spirit to earth through his ministry of healing and reconciliation. Even John the Baptist proclaims that the one who is to come after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Fire – passion. Fire – a flame that burns inside.

Then, following Jesus’ death and resurrection he releases that same Holy Spirit as a gift given to us in baptism. Why? The answer lies in God’s actions. The greatest sin of humanity is to reject the love of God given to us in life. For Christians this means, in particular, the life of Jesus. Jesus bears within his life the fullness of God’s love. But humanity rejected that love; crucified and killed it. Sadly, humanity continues to do this, over and over…

In an unbelievable act of mercy and love and forgiveness, God brings that love back to life in the resurrection. God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace, cannot be killed by any act of humanity. It lives on in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The passion, God’s passion, which gives life to the Holy Spirit, is experienced by us as fire.

Later in the Acts of the Apostles we hear that the disciples have been filled with the Holy Spirit through tongues of fire. Our scripture points us to see that the casting of fire is the Holy Spirit being released into the world, filling all creation with God’s passion, empowering people to do God’s work.

The passion of God, the flames of the Holy Spirit bring action: people are stirred into action to do God’s work. And that work is all about bringing forth justice, healing, mercy, and forgiveness.

The problem with passion, as it lives in human beings, is an inability to sustain it. Eventually passion fades, our energy wanes. Perhaps we think this means its time to give up, move on. And sometimes that’s correct. Everything has a life span. Things do die: ministries, people, institutions, even countries can die. But the end of passion is not necessarily the end of life. Often an ember remains softly glowing. This ember, any fire fighter will tell you, can re-ignite and the flame can start all over. The really critical time in life is how we mange to sustain the ember days, the days when the flame is just a glow. Do we rally forth and do something? Blow on the ember? Fan it with our lives, our hopes, our dreams?

The question for us as Christian communities today: are we going to live as a house divided, our passion waned or split? Or will we live as a house united, passionate about the work God has called us to do – Loving God, loving self, and loving our neighbor? Will we claim the passion given to us in baptism and work to make a difference in the world?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Odd Synchronicity....

Can I just say it was odd meeting the widow today. On my anniversary knowing that her (their) anniversary is Sunday. Knowing that they, the man whose funeral I do tomorrow, whose life we celebrate, was married in this very church 18 years ago.

RevGals Friday Five: Word Association Redux

This one is patterned off an old Friday Five written by Songbird, our Friday Five Creator Emerita:

Below you will find five words. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem or a story.

1. vineyard grapes, wine

2. root solid, foundation, base

3. rescue God, move that rock

4. perseverance I'm tired of pushing it

5. divided a house divided, weak or strong? discuss!

(Each of these appears in one of the readings from this Sunday's lectionary.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Twenty Two Years Married

On Friday, August 17, my husband and I will celebrate twenty-two years of married life. I'd like to say it's been many years of joy and bliss...but alas...that is not the case. We have probably spent more years pondering the purpose of our marriage and whether we ought to remain married than we've had years of being happy. It has been a rough go of it.

What has made it difficult? Well, a number of things. My mother. As I've mentioned in a previous couple of posts. Thankfully NOT his family, who have been wonderful, and who have been real family to me, us, our kids. No. The challenges have come from things like: alcoholism and, thankfully, recovery (not me); illness and death (FIL and BIL and my mother); finances - that's the big one. I keep thinking, it's only money - but the lack of really sucks. I mean REALLY REALLY REALLY...; and of course raising kids.

But through it all there has been: friendship, love, mutual support, kindness. We don't always see eye to eye. I like to read, he likes to watch TV - that's a big one too.

And, he didn't marry a priest, but in time his wife became one. THAT was huge. However, over time, he has become my biggest supporter. My ministry in the parish is really a team ministry with my husband. He works almost as hard as I do to help us live into our hopes, dreams, and goals. While I'm at the altar he's at the door welcoming folks in and making sure people have what they need. It's really amazing. And, he listens to all my sermons. Sunday after Sunday for almost 10 years. He's become a pretty good "critic"...and I take seriously what he says about others when they preach (like our students and deacons).

Anyway, here we are. 22 years.

Friday, he has to work most of the day and then also at his second job that night. I think we'll have some time to take the dogs out for walk in the afternoon. On Sat. we'll go to an art fair (kind of an annual anniversary tradition) between the funeral I have in the morning and his night time job. Then on Sunday we have a family birthday party.

That's life. Twenty two years of marriage. I've known him for 24 years, almost half my life, half of his.

I'm glad we've made it past the years when I thought the only answer was divorce. Yeah, I've been there several times. And, this is not to dish divorce, it's sometimes the right choice or at least the choice that is made. I could have made it, I would have been ok if I had. It's not like I made the "better" choice...it's just the decision I made...But. At least I can say, our marriage is strong, not perfect, but good enough.

So. Here's to 22 years and 22 more, 'cuz now I'm sure I'm in it for the long haul...

My Body is Wacked

Maybe some of you have this experience. As I get older I am having the MOST disconcerting mood swings. Actually, I wouldn't describe them as mood swings, more like the mood takes a nose dive, and then after a few days I'm myself again. But, while I'm living in the nose dive, life feels almost impossible, heavy, dark, depressing.

I'm an optimist. I usually feel pretty good and balanced, almost no matter what. You, know. I get sad when something saddens me, or glad when something makes me happy, the normal stuff of feelings.

But this last year, whoa. This is something else all together. And. I know why. (Hormones). And I know someday my body will move through this. And when I'm in that deep dark funk I can usually plod along, going through the motions of living, telling myself it will pass in a few days.

And it does.

Almost just like that. (snap fingers)

My chiropractor is working to balance this. Through acupressure he is trying to balance the imbalance. Recently I asked him if he could just make the hormones stop altogether, just put me in menopause. sigh. He said no, it doesn't work that way. sigh.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

As a general rule I am a perpetual optimist. No matter how bad life seems I still have hope that life will be better tomorrow, (what ever that means, when ever that comes, it's not literal).

But these last four years have been brutal. Really tough. I mean really tough...and actually, no end in sight for the "toughness"...

sigh

So the end result of all these years is...and the real potential of future years, I've lost my optimism.

Actually. I've lost hope.

Which may be even more tragic than losing optimism...

How do you preach when you have lost your sense of hope?

How do you console people when you have no sense of hope?

How do you proclaim the "Good News" when you don't even know the good news in your own life?

How do you do anything?

Every day I get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other, and go through the motions of living.

I clean my house.
I exercise.
I care for my family.
I care for my congregation.
I write sermons.
I preach for crying out loud...(hypocrite???)...
But, I just go through the motions.
I'm mostly numb.

I'm sorry to say this. I'm not looking for anything from anyone. I just have to say it like it is.

I've lost my sense of hope.

And I can't even pray anymore...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Song of the Builders

Over at RevGals, in the comments for our sermon prep, we've talked about whether embers can be re-ignited, whether church communities can find passion again...

so I offer this poem. And for those of you tired of Mary Oliver, I apologize...she's just speaking to me these days....

Song of the Builders by Mary Oliver

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God -

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

for some, re-igniting the embers may feel like the work of this cricket, moving the grains of sand on a hillside - if the cricket paused to think about it the cricket would probably quit. But the cricket moves on inspiration and so should we...building the universe.

Back To Work

Woke up early to today to another thunderstorm. We've had more rain in the first two weeks of August than in the whole month. The grass, once brown and dried, has a green hue, like early Spring. The air has a coolness to it, perhaps a hint of fall? With the changing temperatures and changing season I too return from two weeks of vacation. On the agenda this week will be writing two sermons: one for a funeral on Saturday and the other for Sunday.

The funeral is for a man who died in July. He and his wife were married at "small church" in 1989. Later they moved to Texas, which is where she currently resides, and where he died. But the funeral will be here, at the church they were married. I've never met either of them, and no one at the church seems to remember them. Funerals like this one are easier on me, but a little odd, not knowing the couple nor the deceased.

In addition to writing two sermons I also have to prepare the worship booklet for the funeral, the annoucements for Sunday, select the hymns for Sunday. I will go into the office and check things out, go through the mail and get a sense of the general state of things. And, I have a parishioner in the hospital.

Then I need to begin to organize our worship life, Christian Formation, Newsletter, and other activities for the fall. A full day. A full week. A full month ahead.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday Morning Musings

Well. Vacation is over. This is, however my official day off, so I am not exactly back at work either. What am I thinking about on this day?

1. Trying to enjoy the moment. A quiet gentle cool breeze drifting in the open window. Three of my four beloved pets lying near by (both dogs, one cat).

2. The sun is shining.

3. After several weeks of re-doing her room my daughter is ready to put everything back in.

4. Which means I can do a quick cleaning and have my whole house in order.

5. I'm also going to exercise.

6. and read. (Anita Shreve, "Light on Snow".) (She's my latest favorite author, fiction. Not like Babrbar Kingsolver who pushes the way I think about life. Shreve has no "agenda" but to craft a well written, engaging story that keeps one hanging on uncertain of how the events she describes will turn out and what will happen to the characters. Usually about some unresolved life tragedy that needs to be worked out so the person can find wholeness again)....

7. My son starts school next week.

8. Summer is almost over, in that official sense. It's been a good summer. Just hot enough, dry enough, with some cool days and rain, to feel balanced and, well, like summer.

9. I'm almost read for summer to be over. I'm tired of using sunless tanner. I'm ready to put away the shorts and pull on a pair of jeans. I'm almost ready for those cool, crisp autumn days and the changing colors of the leaves. almost...

10. Once I go back to work I will be busy. I'll try not to think about that today.

11. Best enjoy this day for what it is.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday Morning Special

This morning dawned bright, sunny, beautiful. I roused myself from bed about 7:30 following a fitful night of sleep (sigh, my usual these days) made worse by torrential rain and wind. As I walked downstairs for a cup of coffee the cats followed me, talking the entire way. "BREAKFAST." "BREAKFAST." My husband says, from the security of the bed, "Don't feed them."

He believes it's best not to indulge our animals in their "habits." Like their desire to annoy us with loud meows when they want to be fed. Actually one cat has loud voice, the other one, squeaks. Her little meows are so soft and squeaky I might miss them if I weren't listening. Anyway. My husband and I are at odds with this approach. He will wait a long while, listening to the talk and complaining of cats, before he gives in and feeds them. I just get it over with, then I have peace and quiet. I mean, they rely on us to feed them. They can't feed themselves (oh, if they were self fed one would be ginormous from eating all the food, the other emaciated)....

After feeding all the animals, cats and dogs, I went to the sink. Here we have a window over looking the backyard and our bird feeders. And the coffee pot is on the counter, to the left of the window. But, what I saw out the window stunned me. During the night, the beautiful plum tree outside the window, had split in half and fallen over. I gasped. And then I laughed. The birds were still in the tree, on the ground, eating the seed. Hopping around, curious. Part of the tree still exists. Maybe we can re-hang the feeders on one of the remaining branches so we can continue to watch the birds out the window. But. Maybe not. This is a big loss. The tree, filled with deep purple leaves was lovely. In the spring it bloomed the most beautiful pink blossoms. And it framed my kitchen window in the most delightful way.

Now I sit here. Mind you it's Sunday morning. By this time I have usually been up since 5:00am, and been at church since 7. But I am on vacation. So. No church for me this morning. Still, because I live next door to the church, I can see who is showing up for the 8:00 service. Out my side window, even with the drapes pulled, I can see cars pulling in. "Well, there's so and so," I say to my self. The usual 8:00 crowd arrives. All but me. There is a supply priest presiding this morning.

Last night I toyed with the idea of going to another church to worship this morning. I always think it's a good idea. Experience worship from the pews. Experience one of the many other churches in the area. But then I decided that I am in church, leading worship 48-50 Sunday's a year. I am a solo pastor, I'm it. I preach almost every Sunday. Yes. going to another church would be great. If I had more time off I might actually do it. But today. I'm going to make breakfast and read the paper with my husband. Walk the dogs, and clean up a fallen plum tree.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jumping to Conclusions

A few nights ago my daughter decided to make brownies. My daughter is almost 19, and making treats late at night is common for her. She often makes them, not for her family, but for her friends at the barn. The barn where she rides horses and trains and works. She is known for her fabulous brownies and chocolate chip cookies. But, we, her family, usually get nothing.

Well, except the dishes. It is quite common for her to leave the pans in the sink for me to clean up in the morning. It seems that it is enough for her that she has cleaned up the bowl and spoons, so the pan is just too much.

On this particular night I happened to have a headache so I got up late to take a Tylenol PM. And, of course, there in the sink was the pan, and the spatula. She was in the shower. So I left a note on her bed asking her to please clean up and leave the sink as clean as I had it, before she made brownies...

The next morning I awoke to find a note waiting for me...one the told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was "jumping to conclusions" to assume that she was going to leave the dishes in the sink....

Of course. I must have been jumping to conclusions. Founded on nothing. I mean the FACT that every morning she goes to work leaving her cereal bowl in the sink, not the dishwasher, is just irrelevant...I obviously have no facts to back me up, I just jump to conclusions.

Now. I write this, not to pick on my daughter, nor to work out our mother-daughter stuff.

I write this because, well, others may wonder if I am prone to jumping to conclusions. Perhaps....

But I still think there is evidence to support the conclusions I jump too.

:-)

Even if those same conclusions are eventually not correct.

Woohoo!

Gone Silent

Recently one of my blogger friends went silent. I hope to find voice in a new way; although it makes me sad that I cannot hear it. Sad because the silence, it seems, was induced by hurtfulness. Or a need to ponder life from another medium. Or something I know not. Whatever the cause, silence is the result, public silence, anyway.

So. I offer this poem. A tribute to a friend whose voice I hear only in my memories. I hope my friend is finding life full and rich and very much alive in other ways.

The Honey Tree (Mary Oliver)

And so at last I climbed
the honey tree, ate
chunks of pure light, ate
the bodies of bees that could not
get out of my way, ate
the dark hair of the leaves,
the rippling bark,
the heartwood. Such
frenzy! But joy does that,
I'm told, in the beginning.
Later, maybe,
I'll come here only
sometimes and with a
middling hunger. But now
I climb like a snake,
I clamber like a bear to
the nuzzling place, to the light
salvaged by the thighs
of bees and racked up
in the body of the tree.
Oh, anyone can see
how I love myself at last!
how I love the world! climbing
by day or night
in the wind, in the leaves, kneeling
at the secret rip, the cords
of my body stretching
and singing in the
heaven of appetite.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Play Day In Chicago

This morning my husband and I had a leisurely morning then headed into Chicago. We went to Millenium Park and got to watch The Grant Park Orchestra rehearse Mahler's 5th. It was fabulous. In fact for all of the several hours we spent in the park we could hear the rehearsal....I know that everyone at the concert tonight is in for a fabulous performance.

We at lunch at the Park Grill on Michigan Avenue, just south of Washington, in the park. I had a delicious pulled pork on a huge bun with sour cream and avocado, and an iced tea. My husband had turkey on whole wheat. (Mine was way better). We had a lovely day walking, looking at art, sculpture, urban water falls, and gardens. '

I have a bunch more books to read: poetry by Denise Levertov and Mary Oliver, another book by Judith Merkle Riley ("The Oracle Glass) and Anita Shreve ("Light on Snow"). So.

But, I am mourning a bit because I have to go back to work in 4 days (Tuesday). I've really enjoyed my vacation.

I still have three more Sunday's and two weeks to use, but I may save them for next year and then be able to take 7 Sunday's and six weeks all at once....that would be like a miny sabbatacle

RevGals Friday Five: Stress Buster

From RevGals

1. First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff ? I have a lot of stress in my life right now, most of it financial. I don't want to go into the details, suffice it to say the four years have been very difficult. It's a BIG thing that is making all the small stuff feel difficult, like breathing.

2. Exercise or chocolate for stress busting ( or maybe something else) ? Both. I exercise in the morning and have chocolate in the afternoon.

3.What is your favourite music to chill out to? I like a lot of different types of music, just nothing to heavy and intense, no heavy metal, screaming punk, or what I call "heavy metal symphony"...otherwise I like a lot. coldplay is good, Celtic music, flute or piano, Dixie Chicks or Indigo Girls, Elvis Costello, Neil Young.

4. Where do you go to chill? A long walk with my dogs in the woods. Or on my deck with a glass of wine. Or in my reading room with a cup of coffee or tea. A good book helps too.

5. Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk? I'm a little of each, if I have enough solitary time then I enjoy a good party.

Bonus- share your favourite stress busting tip! A steaming hot bath just before bedtime with some fragrant oil or bubbles, a good long soak, with a cup of relaxing tea...at least it works well in the winter...or take some time off and away from the usual routine, do something different to get some perspective...pray, read a good book or poetry, clean the house (always helps), cook a good meal and eat it leisurely, watch a movie...anything to change the rhythm.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A progressive poetry party....

kinda like a progressive dinner party, one course here, the next course there...you can find another poem

Ghalib, a poet (1797-1869)

For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river -
Unbearable pain becomes its own cure.

Travel far enough into sorrow, tears turn to sighing;
In this way we learn how water can die into air.

When, after heavy rain, the stormclouds disperse,
Is it not that they've wept themselves clear to the end?

If you want to know the miracle, how wind can polish a mirro,
Look: the shining glass grows green in spring.

It's the rose's unfolding, Ghalib, that creates the desire to see-
In every color and circumstance, may the eyes be open for what
comes.

More Vacation?

This week my vacation has been:
Painting. My son's bedroom was last painted when we moved here 6 years ago. It was a light blue, nice for a 4th grader, but too young looking for someone who is a sophomore. So we painted it. We did a dark blue glaze over the pale blue on three walls. One small wall at the doorway is yellow and another wall is red. It's cool looking. He has a loveseat in his room that is slipcovered in red fabric. I'm going to go to IKEA and look for bed linens and curtains. IKEA's catalogue shows sheets in a rectangular patterned red, blue, green, yellow on white, which were the inspiration for the room. I may get those.

My daughter also decided to paint her room. She went from the funky tangerine on cream "sponge" colored walls with peach and cream chiffon swag curtains to pale yellow walls with white trim. She is refinishing her furniture in a glossy black. It will look really great when it's finished.

In the mean time, the house I worked so hard to clean last week is now cluttered with furniture. In the upstairs hallway. And my kitchen, since it is off of the deck where the furniture was painted, and since it's been raining torrents, a black dresser and mirror. (Oh well).

It's been an ambitious week.

Also, I've been reading a lot.

Anita Shreve: Eden Close, The Last Time We Met, and (next) The Weight of Water
Judith Merkle Riley: A Vision of Light, In Pursuit of the Green Lion
Anne Lamott: Hard Laughter, New People
Kris Radish: The Elegant Gathering of White Snows

Poetry by Billy Collins and Mary Oliver

I stopped into the church once. Not bad since I live next door. (I had to get one of our paint trays which we loaned the church awhile back)....

I've checked my messages once. Nothing major.

I noticed: no one has bothered to bring in the mail. No one has bothered to water the plants. no one has bothered to clean up the stuff from our last outdoor service two weeks ago. Even though there volunteers who are supposed to do this and even though one person told me she would stop by....Small church mentality persists, the priest does all...yeesh.

I think I'm making strides, and then I think, no. Some things never change...but since I am on vacation, I'll deal with that next week.

Tomorrow, play day. We're going into Chicago to play. The weather, after too much rain, is predicted to be

Monday, August 06, 2007

On A Lighter Note: another Mary Oliver poem










Look and See

This morning, at waterside, a sparrow flew
to a water rock and landed, by error, on the back
of an eider duck; lightly it fluttered off, amused.
The duck, too, was not provoked, but, you might say, was
laughing.

This afternoon a gull sailing over
our house was casually scratching
its stomach of white feathers with one
pink foot as it flew.

Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us, if we
only look, and see.


(Ok, so the picture is of a swan fishing, not an eider duck...)

Growing In , Growing Out, Growing Up

Many Mental Health workers use a manual called the DSM-IV to help diagnose clients or patients. This manual separates the various mental "illnesses" into categories. I have an MSW (Masters of Social Work) and have a DSM-IV somewhere on my bookshelf at the church office. The categories provide diagnostic criteria such as symptoms and length of time symptoms have manifested as well as frequency. Many mental "illnesses" have an organic nature. The cause of the illnesses has to do with either a genetic imbalance (such as Down's Syndrome) or a chemical imbalance. Chemical imbalances can cause a wide variety of complications from psychosis at one extreme to mild or severe depression on the other. Chemical imbalances can be helped, with the right medication and good therapy many people can live normal lives. Personality Disorders are another matter.

Personality Disorders such as Borderline and Narcissistic are not organic. These "illnesses" are caused by a trauma experienced in childhood around the age of 2-4 years old. Now, not everyone who has experienced a trauma at that age will develop a personality disorder. But some do. The trauma needs to be severe enough, perhaps frequent enough, to impact the fragile developing psyche of the child. In essence the trauma is usually inflicted by a parent or a someone deeply trusted by the child. The trauma, physical or psychological abuse, is so extreme that the child shuts down. The impact is so severe that the child cannot reconcile the child's self to the abuse that is happening. A defensive mechanism with in the child develops. In the Borderline it manifests as an inability to hear anything even slightly perceived as "critical" of the self. When the person thinks they are being criticised they "split" they disengage from the moment, they shut down. Then they turn the blame onto the other person - that person becomes the evil one, the mean one, the hateful one, the abusive one.

Think about it. We all have a difficult time being "criticised." No one likes to feel inadequate. All of us have defenses to help us cope with the situation. But most of us are also able to be reflective, to ponder the possibility that in the critique is some truth we may need to hear. The Borderline cannot do this. The Borderline is erratic, easily angered, charming, sweet, manipulative, and sees the world through very distorted lenses. The version of reality perceived by the Borderline always has some hint of truth to it, but that truth is distorted to make the Borderline OK and someone else not ok. It's a black and white process no gray...

While working on my MSW I had a professor who did group therapy with Borderlines. It was almost impossible. In fact treating Borderlines effectively is generally impossible. They don't have the stamina to look at their own behavior and take responsibility for their healing. They can't tolerate thinking that there might be anything "wrong" with them. There is no medication for a Personality Disorder because it is neither chemical nor organic. Personality Disorders are tragic because they are caused by human abuse. Or, at least that's how I understand it. The mental health world changes frequently there may be some new data that I am unaware of.

Anyway, this professor said that she had success with Borderlines in group therapy because they were able to see their own behavior in other people around them, and therefore learn. I don't know about this and I can't imagine doing group therapy with a room full of Borderlines. But then, as I've said, my mother was a Borderline, so that kind of experience would really challenge my ability to stay neutral in the therapeutic environment.

Growing up with a mother who was Borderline left me very confused. For many years I struggled to know what was real, what was truth. When I first started therapy my therapist asked me to read a book, The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. This book began, in me, a process of understanding my life. Essentially it describes how some children suppress their own developmental process in order to support and sustain the needs of a loved one or parent. In my case I suppressed all of the usual separation and individuation process of a normal kid (I never rebelled, I always endorsed my mother's view arguing against my father and brothers and their sense of "what happened" etc.). When my mother's marriage fell apart she enrolled in the university I attended and moved into that town. My mother went to college with me. At least for a few years. So, by the time I was an adult and trying to live on my own I found that I didn't really know who I was, how I felt, or what I wanted.

Finally in my mid 20's, after ending a long relationship with a young man I met in college, I entered therapy and read that book. It was the beginning of 14 years of therapy. Long years of not only winding through my past but learning to live my present. And the majority of the healing in me did not really happen until my mother moved in with me in 1992 (see previous post) after my son was born. It was that experience, having her back in my daily life after a 7 year break, and her efforts to have things be as they always had been, which pushed me over the edge. I returned to therapy. My therapist even met my mother.

It was my mothers idea. She wanted to meet my therapist so she could tell her all about me. My therapist was totally open to the idea. I was terrified. I was certain that once my therapist met my mother it would be all over. The therapist would see my mothers version of reality and my version would cease to exist. Thankfully my therapist and I could talk about my fear, and she reassured me that that would not happen. In fact it was the opposite. My therapist helped me understand that my mother was fragile and damaged and incapable of seeing the world any other way. Not that her reality was the whole truth, but it was her reality. And mine was mine.

It seems almost silly now. But of course. Still in those early years of learning to be me, of be able to recognize my own feelings, sort them out, and articulate them as mine, there remained a deep fear of being lost once again in my mother's world.

Over the years I have lived with deep shame and fear about my mother being borderline. I have worried that because she was I would be too. I have even known psychiatrists who will say as much, "Borderlines raise Borderlines." Slowly I have come to share my story, to tell a few folks about my mother. Some of my colleagues and friends are people who work in the mental health world, they have worked with Borderlines. They mirror back to me that I am not.

After a long hiatus I returned to therapy a year and half ago. This time I did not track down the woman who helped me so much in those first 14 years of therapy. I wanted something else. I found a Jungian. Who is also an Episcopal priest. And a man.

So, my therapy is taking a new approach these days. For example: my first therapist once asked me if there had been any constant stable adult in my life? I could not think of a single person. We moved too much and grew apart from the extended family. And neither of my parents were stable. My thought, which went unexpressed, was, God. God was the one constant in my life. With this Jungian priest we can talk about that. Because I do think that I survived my childhood with some inner sense of stability and hope because I lived with faith in God, and I prayed daily. The other thing about this work I am doing know is that it reinforces my decisions and decision making process. I am able to process what I am thinking and feeling and have someone say back, yes. that's right. So. I'm learning to trust myself at an even deeper level. Now I think I am healed from the effects of my childhood, I know who I am, how I feel, and what I need to do. I can trust my version of reality.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

If My Mother Were Alive Today She'd Be 68...

So, since I am 50, that means my mother had me when she was 17. But, wait, it also means my mother got married at 15. Think about it.

It was 1957 in Salt Lake City, Utah. My mother was the oldest of 5 kids. Her parents were terrible drunks. I mean awful. Long weekend binges when they'd disappear and leave her in charge. She was deeply damaged from her parents behavior, in a way her siblings were not. She got the brunt of it.

So. She married at 15 to escape her home. Well, and for awhile she loved my father. He was two years older. They both graduated from high school, but with a family to raise. By the time my mother was 22 she had three kids and was divorced. A few years later she married again and had another child.

Over the years my family moved from Salt Lake City to Idaho to Wisconsin, to Texas, and finally to Illinois. During the years we lived in Idaho and Wisconin my mother was deeply depressed and addicted to valium. In those days the doctors did not know valium was addictive. She eventually went cold turkey and got off valium.

She went to work in Dodge County Wisconsin working with families with autistic children, then at a mental health hospital. She also worked with addiction and drug abuse.

Eventually her second marriage fell apart. For lots of reasons. She was not an easy person to live with, too much damage from her childhood made her fragile. And my step dad was an alcoholic (no surprise there, family systems being what they are). So. The marriage ended.

My mother lived and worked for many years in Chicago managing a bridal store. Then, shortly after I married, she returned to SLC to care for her dying father. She lived there for 7 years and then returned to Chicago. Unfortunately she moved in with me, under the auspices of helping me care for my two children,a newborn, and a four year old. It was a horrible situation. My mother's depression returned. She was a great burden on me, not because of her depression per se, but because she began to criticize me. My parenting. How I ran my home. How I spent my money. And, because I wouldn't buy everything she wanted. It put me right back into therapy...

Eventually she moved out. A friend from SLC moved to Chicago to be her roomate. It was a great choice. This friend was a quirky as my mother, and as brilliant. My mom was indeed brilliant, with a great sense of humor. She would have been somthing if she hadn't been hurt like she was. Well, she still was something. Despite her own damaged self she still did a pretty good job raising me. I mean I had a lot of work to do to become healthy, but it's all relative. Given what she had to work with, she did the best she could.

Over the years I made my peace with my mother. She remained very difficult to get along with. At any moment I might say something that she'd percieve as a slight, and that would be it, she wouldn't talk to me for months. Some say my mother was Borderline Personality Disorder. I think there is great truth to that. At the end of her life she had managed to create a very small safe world in her apartment. She had macular degeneration and heart problems and rhumatoid arthritis and, from a blodd transfusion she was HIV positive (non-progressive). For years she told my brothers and me that she was dying. It got to the point that we didn't take her seriously. I thought for certain she'd out live us all.

But she didn't. She died of a massive heart attack on Sept. 21, 2004, sometime in the middle of the night. Her room mate found her in the morning. It was very sad and tragic. I was able to get there before the body was removed and say some prayers over her. I can still see it my minds eye, her room mate and me praying for the repose of her soul.

Later one of my brothers told me that he had talked to her just the day before. She called to say that she was very sick, but she would be all right. My brother said, "That should have been my first clue. Always before it was about her dying, and she never did. Then that time she said she'd be all right...I should have known."

My mother told me, a few years before her death, that she wanted to be cremated. I was not to get the remains back and there was to be no service, no flowers. She wanted flowers while she was alive, not after she died.

Well. I simply could not do that. After her death I did have her cremated. I called my brothers, and her brother and told them her request. I suggested we do something else. I wondered if we could bury her remains in SLC with her father. Actually this cemetary is on the side of the mountain over looking the entire SLC valley. Many of my relatives are buried there. Anyway, the whole family agreed. So we made a trip out west, later in the Spring. The day arrived in SLC was cold and stormy, snowing. I worried that my mother would hate me for all eternity because I did not follow her wishes. But the day we buried her the sun was shining, trees and flowers in bloom, temperature perfect. I took that as a sign that she was pleased. Her remains are in the same plot as her father. Next to them is her mother and one of her sisters. I like to think that their lives have been healed in the afterlife and all is well.

On this day, I remember my mother. We had a complex relationship. Not the kind of mother-daughter relationship I always wanted. But when I realized that there was no way to ever have that I was able to accept my mother for who she is, was. In many ways she died for me year before her actual death. So I mourn what might have been. I rejoice what was. And I hope she is happy at last.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Millenium Park








Last night I here:here. It's called Millenium Park and all summer long free outdoor concerts are held.

I took the train in and brought my 15 year old son and his friend along. We had a 10 block walk from the train station to the park through the city. I went to meet my friend from NYC and while she and I were listening to some fine Jazz and Blues my son was allowed to wander the park. He could go nowhere else and he had to meet me back at a specified location in one hour. He, of course, loved the freedom. I got to have some time with my friend, whom I only see once a year.

It was a great night, perfect weather.

During the walk I had all these memories: of the years I worked in the City. Of boat rides and train trips and various jobs. I've been here 35 years. I've known this friend for 27 of those years. Lots of memories. Good ones. Some of the memories were about how much nicer, cleaner, prettier the city looks. Live plants, trees, and flowers everywhere. It's really incredible. And the park is awesome!

The park was filled with people out having a good time. Many of them with a picnic of various foods and beverages. Lots of couples with bottles of wine (so sweet). People from all over the world, taking pictures. And to think. I live here. It is an amazing city.

Dave Specter put together and led the "band". It was a big band made up various Blues and Jazz artists, with the idea that Jazz grew out of the Blues, so this concert highlighted that process. It was fabulous. I love both Blues and Jazz.

A very nice night out. I hope to go down one night next week and take my husband, who has yet to see Millenium Park. Looking forward to another nice night out.

RevGals Friday Five: Pilgrimage

From the RevGals blog

1. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? (however you choose to define the term) Share a bit about it. If not, what's your reaction to the idea of pilgrimage? I've gone a lot of retreats, all mostly local or within an hour drive. I've never gone on what I'd call a pilgrimage: a spiritual quest, a journey through my roots or a journey that is leading me some place new. If I ever have that opportunity I would love to go to: the Church of England ancient cathedrals (and do some genealogy), Iona (walk that "thin place" to island when the tide is out, Jerusalem (it is the Holy Land), Egypt (I have a fascination with pyramids and all things Egyptian).

2. Share a place you've always wanted to visit on pilgrimage. See above.

3. What would you make sure to pack in your suitcase or backpack to make the pilgrimage more meaningful? Or does "stuff" just distract from the experience? I always over pack. Too many clothes for every possible weather event in the region. At least I also wear all the stuff I take...either that or I need to stay where there will be laundry facilities. Or I need to just wear stuff over and over again (which is ok with some clothing). It also depends on how long I'd be gone. For a pilgrimage I'd hope to be gone at least two weeks or more.

4. If you could make a pilgrimage with someone (living, dead or fictional) as your guide, who would it be? (I'm about this close to saying "Besides Jesus." Yes, we all know he was indispensable to those chaps heading to Emmaus, but it's too easy an answer) Iona with Herbert O'Driscoll and Esther Dewall. England Cathedrals with, I'm not sure on that one...although it might be interesting to spend time with Robert Hooker the 16th century theologian who wrote the foundation of Anglican "Via Media" - the middle way. Or, and this would be a different sort of pilgrimage, time with Julian of Norwich, just praying and being silent and occasionally speaking. The Holy Land, with Frank Griswold, the retired Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He has done these in the past and they are fabulous. He has a wealth of knowledge and a deep spirituality.

5. Eventually the pilgrim must return home, but can you suggest any strategies for keeping that deep "mountaintop" perspective in the midst of everyday life? (don't mind me, I'll be over here taking notes) Bring home "icons" of the trip. Rocks from a special place (not too big, obviously). Or real Icons of a saint from the area, pictures or artwork. I like visuals that I can pray with or hold which help transport me back. Maybe a book, and if I were diligent, a journal.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Same Blog, new color scheme

Decided that my blog could reflect the dry hot summer days. Green grass turned amber, burnt for lack of water. Flowers drying in their pots. Hot and hazy. Not complaining, just sayin'....

More Praying

The very core
of my being
yearns to pray

I cannot.
Not with words
nor without words.

dried up
shriveled bone
how did I get here?

If I could
I'd pray for
those on the bridge.

those who died
those who lived
those who are lost

for the families
for the friends
for the community.

The images
rip me open
tears form deep

don't let me
start (crying)
I may not stop.

I wake up
4 in the morning
gasping

the images of
collapse
of broken lives

impale my soul
gasping for air
I cry out.

why.
people die
who yearn to live

people live
who
yearn to die

it just is
it just
is.

my soul
yearns to pray.
I cannot.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Prayers

diane posted about the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Pray for the suffering, the hurt, the worried, the dying, and those who have died.

Two More Days of Vacation: What I've Been Doing

Well. Not the most exciting vacation...but certainly productive.

Tuesday, according to plan I blogged. Then I exercised, Level One, so the easiest level. Then I cleaned by bedroom, including the big walk in closet, and rearranged the furniture. I mean, I CLEANED. Under, over, and in between, including curtains and all the bedding. So, very nice.

Poor Roxie, my older dog, the lab-mix...she was a little off from moving the furniture. Even though her dog bed stayed in its regular spot all the rest of the room changed. Now, instead of being at the foot of the bed she was next to my nightstand...she refused to sleep in her bed. But, thankfully, sometime in the middle of the night she "gave" in, I found her snug in her bed when I woke up this morning. To my surprise, Ruby, seemed unaffected. I would have guessed the opposite. Who, knows?

Then, despite my Friday Five, and because we are in a week long run of 90+ temperatures, I turned the A/C on.

Today I got up early and walked the dogs while it was (relatively) cool out. Still very warm and muggy. Then. I came home and cleaned the litter boxes and disinfected the area around the boxes (bleach and water). Then I shampooed the rug in the basement game/exercise room and all the carpeting on the main level (4 big rooms). I have a steam cleaner and try to do this every three months....(ahem, I try...). With wall to wall carpet (which I do not like) and two cats, two dogs, two kids, and two adults, our carpeting takes a beating.

Then I showered, manicured my nails and joined a friend for lunch at Olive Garden. I was so hungry, hadn't eaten yet. We had a nice lunch (salad and pizza with Target to get her registered for her upcoming baby showers. This friend is a single woman about to have twins (Jan). She has tried for years to conceive (IVF). Finally. She is of course freaking out that she going to have twins. She begged them to only implant one - but no - it is their "policy" to implant two. So, there she is...two viable little ones growing in her. She's 14-15 weeks, I think. Oh my. I'm glad I live near by. She is going to need some help this winter. She hopes to hire a doula. But as I said she is a single woman and she is a minister at a small church. Limited income for sure. The leadership at her church knows. Soon the whole congregation will know. So far, very supportive. I hope that continues.

Anyway, there I was looking at strollers and high chairs and car seats and baby bottles (she'll nurse, but with twins, she may need some help)...and clothes. It was fun. My own kids are nearly grown. I don't envy her a bit. But I am happy for her.

For the rest of the day. Blog. Read. Make dinner. Relax.

Tomorrow. Work with my son to do a deep cleaning on his room. Then meet a friend in Chicago for a glass of wine and a good conversation. (I'll take the train, no drinking and driving).

So far a good blend of hard, but needed work, and rest. Not bad...

Imperfect....Listening

When I was a new mom I read every book and magazine article I could find on parenting. I felt a need to be the perfect parent raising per...