Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hearing the story anew....

A reflection on Mark 13:24-37

When I was a little girl one of my favorite activities was to lie outside and watch the falling stars. During the month of August, my brothers and I would line up on blankets in our front yard excited that we were allowed to stay up way past our bedtimes. We would lie there in great anticipation of seeing the falling stars, hoping to see a really big one! As our excitement eased and we became quiet I found myself pondering the immensity of the universe. I tried with all my might to imagine an endless universe, a space that went on forever and ever. I tried to imagine other planets like ours with life on them. I tried to not be limited by the images of our favorite TV show, Lost in Space. If alien life exists in outer space, I thought, it was probably not dangerous monsters out to harm us, but rather beings that expressed the mystery of God acting in all creation.

Heading into Advent, the season of the church year that we begin today, beckons us in a similar way to imagine the mystery of God acting in creation. Advent is a season of darkness, mystery, wonder, and, like my brothers and me lying on those blankets, a time of anticipation and waiting.
All the seasons of the liturgical church year, from Advent to Pentecost, invite us into a story of faith, of God and our salvation history, what God is doing in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Life provides lots of questions. How it is possible for a person to be mauled, run over, and killed, by a mob of Christmas shoppers? Or, as we worry about terrorists randomly shooting people in hotels in India, how to we make sense of the chaos? It makes me want to stand up and, like the robot in Lost in Space, flail my arms and shouting, “Danger danger”

I don’t have a simplistic answer to these and other questions. Rather I know that we cultivate an understanding of the anxieties and fears of our lives when we focus on who we are as a people of God and trust in God’s faithfulness to us. Our faith anchors us in the assurance of God’s faithfulness in an uncertain world. Our faith helps us make meaning out of the tragedies of our world. Through the church our faith gives us a language, words like greed and sin, words that point to our brokenness and our need for God. Each Sunday morning, when we gather to worship we hear the story of the history of human brokenness and of God’s response with love and faithfulness.

Stories are important. They remind us of who we are and our place in the world. Stories are shared from generation to generation, stories about our grandparents, our parents, ourselves, and our children and grandchildren. Stories we tell which will then be retold by other generations. Of course each time a story is told it changes just a bit. Even when we tell the same story over and over we might choose to nuance a certain piece of it or we might hear a piece of the story in a new way.

The same thing is true of the stories of salvation that we hear on Sunday morning. Sunday after Sunday, Year in and year out, we listen to scripture readings and sermons and pray the Eucharist. And yet, if we pay attention, the story we hear will not be exactly the same from one Sunday to the next, from one year to the next.

Our Gospel reading this morning does not ease us into Advent with a gentle call to wait. Instead it has an apocalyptic tone that reflects the real fears we face of death and annihilation. But, rather than keep us in that place of fear, this reading throws us into the mystery. Jesus’ words are filled with layers of symbolism and complex visual images and sobering ideas. Jesus’ vision propels us out of the comfort and security of our ideas and world and drops us into the mystery of God. This reading reminds us that we cannot know everything. We can’t see everything, we can’t predict everything. Jesus speaks of losing sun, moon, and stars, of darkness, the loss of our usual ways of illumination. Then this reading - and the season of Advent remind us - when the world is deprived of light as we’ve always known it, we are to become that source of light. We are the source through which the light of Christ can shine.

One of the things we are doing at big church is engaging the many opportunities for praying the Eucharist that our rich Episcopal tradition affords us. We are anchoring each of the prayers in the context of the liturgical year, choosing to worship with particular Eucharistic prayers because they speak intentionally to the theme of the season we are in.

In the season of Advent we will be praying a particular version of the Eucharistic prayer that speaks into the mystery of the Advent season. This story, this prayer, is a dialogue between priest and congregation. It begins with the story of who we are and how Christianity continues the story begun with the Israelites:

We say, We praise you and we bless you, holy and gracious God, source of life abundant. From before time you made ready the creation. Your Spirit moved over the deep and brought all things into being sun, moon, and stars; earth, winds, and waters; and every living thing. You made us in your image and taught us to walk in your ways. But we rebelled against you, and wandered far away; and yet, as a mother cares for her children, you would not forget us. Do you hear in this our story? Do hear how this connects to the opening verses of the Book of Genesis and the story of Israelites? And how it connects us to the ways we act out, ways in which instead of building up the body, we seek to tear it apart? It is an age old story that plays out over and over.

We then begin the salvation history story as it continues in and through Christ, we pray: To deliver us from the power of sin and death and to reveal the riches of your grace, you looked with favor upon Mary, your willing servant, that she might conceive and bear a son, Jesus the holy child of God. You see how this prayer tells us the Advent story, the story of God choosing to become human?

The prayer then continues with the story of how Jesus lived his life: He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor. He yearned to draw all the world to himself yet we were heedless of his call to walk in love.

The story then moves to the last night of Jesus’ life and the institution of the Eucharist itself. We pray, On the night before he died for us, Jesus was at table with his friends. Remember the scripture verse where Jesus tells his disciples, I no longer call you servants, I call you friends? That is the version of the story we hear in this prayer. When we gather around this table Jesus calls us to gather as friends.

And this is exactly what we pray for, that we can be friends and as friends, the Body of Christ. Using these words we pray: Pour out your Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Body and Blood of Christ. Breathe your Spirit over the whole earth and make us your new creation, the Body of Christ given for the world you have made.. Not only is the bread and wine consecrated and made holy, but so are we. Our lives, in the story of our salvation history, are made the living body of Christ. We are called to be his hands and heart in the world. We are called to care for the sick, the dying, and the needy. Even in the threat of chaos and a world on the brink of collapse, we are called to treat each other with dignity, respect, and love. We are called to let love be our guide not fear, because we know our purpose is ultimately faithfulness to God.

Let the words of this story seep deeply into our hearts and into our beings. Let the words shape and form us to become most fully who God calls us to be. May the love of Christ shine in our hearts and point us toward what really matters, God. May this light of God, the love of Christ, shine into fear and bring hope, shine into the anger and bring peace, shine into hurt and bring healing. May the story truly be our story, reminding us, Sunday to Sunday, year to year, from one prayer to another, of the love God has for us.

May we be that love.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Poem

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I'm thinking a lot about the "family of things" this Thanksgiving. There seems to be so very much to think about...such as

Trust. How do people in organizations function when they fail to establish a basic level of trust?

And, if we fail to trust one another, how then do we manage to function with integrity and respect?

I am fairly destracted by stuff going on....but it is feeling a bit like Thanksgiving, despite living in the desert...because it's raining and cool!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Homeostasis part 2 (Balance)

From Edwin Friedman, "Generation to Generation"

"As stated, family systems thinking locates a family's problem in the nature of the system rather than in the nature of its parts. A key to that relocation is the concept of homeostasis: the tendency of any set of relationships to strive perpetually, in self-corrective ways, to preserve the organizing principles of its existence. Theories based on the individual model tend to conceptualize the "illness" of a family in terms of the character traits of individual members, and in ways in which their various personal problems mesh. The family model, on the other hand, conceptualizes a system's problems in terms of an imbalance that must have occurred in the network of its various relationships, no matter what the nature of the individual personalities.

Family theory assumes that no matter what the various members' quirks or idiosyncrasies, if the system exists and has a name, it had to achieved some kind of balance in order to permit the continuity necessary for maintaining its identity. The basic question family theory always asks, therefore, is not do these types of personalities fit, but, rather, what has happened to the fit that was there? Why has the symptom surfaced now? This is not a static concept, but a dynamic one, as when a thermostat controls the temperature balance, not at a fixed point but in a range. Similarly the fact that the balance in a family system has gone beyond the range of its own thermostat is not always bad. If only some families could be less stable!

The concept of homeostasis can help explain why a given relationship system, family or congregation, has become troubled. It sheds light on which family member becomes, or is likely to become, symptomatic (the identified patient)."

I've been thinking a lot about homeostasis and wondering what I remember from my studies and what I've forgotten. I first read this book in 1995 while in seminary. I read it again in 1996 while working on my MSW. One of the things I am now thinking about, having re-read portions of "Generation to Generation" is the emphasis on pathology, dis-ease. My experience of congregational life, which is richly informed by family systems thinking, places less of an emphasis on pathology and more of an emphasis on inter-relationship dynamics. I guess I just don't like the medical model of disease being used so inclusively. Not everything is a disease....sometimes we are just working through the complicated nature of what it means to be human.

Is it a pathology when someone who was given a lot of power and authority in a congregation suddenly finds, because of a change in leadership personnel and style, has lost that power and authority? Is it a pathology when this person begins to push back in an effort to regain the power they had? Or is it just someone trying to restore order as they know it? True, the way the person tries to restore order, by acting out, being divisive, resisting change, can begin to feel dis-ease like. And, it can be very disruptive to the good of the whole. Such behavior can become very destructive, especially if it is not understood by others as being what it is, a struggle for order as it was once known.

The tension only increases as the struggle to restore that old sense of order fails to succeed...or as Friedman says, "the tendency of any set of relationships to strive perpetually, in self-corrective ways, to preserve the organizing principles of its existence." In many cases, though, the effort cannot succeed because the old is gone - and the new cannot become the old. Of course sometimes the effort to restore the "old order" ends up causing more change because the new leaders burn out and leave. When this happens the "system" thinks it can find a new leader to restore things as they were. Except that never happens in systems, whether congregations or organizations...the old never returns, only more chaos and brokeness. It is hard for us to realize that the healthiest thing is to NOT restore order as it was, but to find a new sense of balance.

Life is, after all, founded and sustained on the principle that all of life is adaptive. It is through adaptation that we are able to grow, thrive, live.

Thus, while it is very difficult work, it is also helpful for the long range health of the system, when the new leadership can maintain a certain level-headedness when encountering the push-back for homeostasis. This level headedness is also known as "Self-differentiation" or the ability to detach oneself from the emotion and see a situation for what it is. It means staying focused on the big picture, the good of the whole, and not the anxiety of an individual, or set of individuals. When the leadership can do this eventually a new sense of balance is established. Sadly (or not) this often comes at the expense of the person fighting so hard to restore the old order. That person(s) either learns to adapt, loses power, or leaves.

It can be very useful to understand congregational life through the lens of family systems, that we are all interconnected in a web of relationship. I appreciate family systems thinking, even though I am not fond of turning the anxious dynamic into a pathology, a disease. We are human beings, each trying our best to do what we think is for the good, for balance. Quality leadership manages to not let the anxiety of the system, and the anxious people themselves, determine the course of direction. Quality, self-differentiated leadership remains non-anxious, and works to focus the group on the big picture.

One thing I have learned, when doing this level of work, there is no guarantee of the outcome.

An Award...



Katherine E at meaning and authenticity awarded me the Super scribbler. You can learn more about it here.

Of course, as with every Bloggy Award, there are A Few Rules. They are, forthwith:

Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains The Award.

Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Thank you Katherine E. I am grateful for this honor, and will pass it on. Today though, I am not feeling well - a flu bug I think....So, once my head stops pounding and my tummy settles down, I'll tag five others, if they haven't self-selected before that time.....that said, if you read this, consider yourself tagged, follow the rules, and leave me a comment that you have posted this! 'Cuz you are a Superior Sribbler, ya know, and deserve this!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Homeostasis

I've been thinking a lot about homeostasis, from the family systems perspective. I need to re-read "Generation to Generation" - it's been a number of years since I last read it. I should also see if I can find my notes from a workshop that Edwin Friedman gave at the seminary I attended. This workshop was on Friedman's last book, "A Failure of Nerve." I have to admit it was pretty awesome to be in that workshop with him, sitting at the feet of the teacher. It was also really sad to learn of his death a few months later, before the book was completed. I never bought "Failure of Nerve" because I have those notes....but now I'm thinking it would be a good idea. Just because I have a Masters of Social Work and specialized in family systems for congregations doesn't mean I remember all this stuff. Anyway, I think I'll begin with "Generation to Generation" and continue my thinking about homeostasis - that desire to restore balance and order. Sometimes the restoring balance and order based on what feels normal and familiar, is no longer the healthy balance and order....

Monday, November 17, 2008

From Fredrick Buechner, "Wishful Thinking"

"In Hebrew the term dabar means both 'word' and 'deed'. Thus to say something is to do something. 'I love you.' 'I hate you.' 'I forgive you.' 'I am afraid.' Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into me, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where concentric rings lap out endlessly.

Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our conversation we create one another...

God never seems to weary of trying to (Gods)self across. Word after word (God) tries in search of the right word. When the creation itself doesn't seem to say it right - sun, moon, stars, all of it - (God) tries flesh and blood..."


I love this quote. It speaks deeply to what I believe as well...however, I changed all the male pronouns Buechner used for God...the older I get the less I can imagine God as "he"...God for me is God - both male and female and so much more. Yes, I think words are important and speak a truth deep into this world that sends out concentric circles....words that ultimately speak in and through all of humanity.

So, let me say - I am feeling a very fragile sense of hope. Fragile because it lies in the tension between the election of Obama and at the same time overturning Prop 8 in California and approving a change to the Constitution in Arizona defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Which leads me to ask, "What are WE saying in this country? Who do we want to be?"

Fragile because I think Obama opens our imaginations and enables a new kind of creativity - imagine who can be President in the USA. Imagine what is possible here in this amazing country we live in! Imagine. Fragile because in the same breath we say, oh, well, some things are possible, but not this..... And then, once again, we slam the door on what is possible. So, then I ask, assuming God works in and through humanity, "Where is God in all of this?"


Words matter. The words we say to ourselves over and over matter.

We are God's own and God has chosen to live and breathe through us..... Imagine if we really believe that. Imagine if that is the chatter that plays through our heads - "I am God's own, God works through me!" - and then imagine if we act accordingly.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How Did I Feel?

Thursday I wrote about the big meeting and one of the comments was, "How Did I Feel About It? or rather, how do I feel about it?

At the time, as I led the meeting I was not as calm and self-differentiated as I would have liked. But of course the meeting was all about me, how I am being perceived, how I am leading, what I am doing. Its hard to write about...not because I don't want to talk about failure on my part or mis-perceptions on their part. But because I don't want to be public with their emotions, their comments, and their feelings, which need to be respected and held between us.

So, without saying much more, I will aim to write about how I felt, how I feel. Like I said, I was not as calm and self-differentiated as I hoped to be. I imagined myself inviting them to speak, talking notes, and listening gracefully. I imagined myself taking a few moments to respond and share with them my take on the dynamics at play. All of that happened....just not calmly. My voice, I think, revealed the contained emotion I was holding back: the desire to cry, the desire to be angry, the desire to say, "Where have you all been?"

I had my report, given to them months ago, laying out everything I hoped we would to do over the next six months. In that previous meeting we discussed this report point by point and agreed to all of it, with a few amendments. And this is what we have been doing in the months since that meeting. I wanted to say, "Does no one remember discussing and agreeing to this? I did say, "Given that we agreed to it, I have been living into this exactly." and, "I intended to free you up from some of the day to day burden in order to enable you to think more creatively...but rather than become creative the freedom raised your anxiety and unhinged you... So, here is another itinerary of where we are going." And again, I laid out a (revised) plan to proceed forward.

Now, what is it that I am trying to do? I am trying to get them to think creatively about who we are and craft a vision of who we are as a parish. They struggle to recognize how the vision work is as important as their fiduciary role in parish leadership. Actually, the vision work is more important at this juncture of new leadership, because everything else hinges on this work. So, I said, from the vision, once we have articulated it, we can design our strategy to live into that vision, as a parish, as leaders, as staff, as committees. From the strategy will come goals - for the parish, the leaders, the staff, the committees. From the goals come our course of action for the next program year, possibly the next five program years. Once that work is done, the hope is we will have more cohesion between all the various fabulous committees and work we do - the right hand will know what the left hand is doing. We will have a means (vision, strategy, goals) by which to articulate who we are, what we do, what we hope to do, and the impact we are making, and hope to make, on the world around us.

This really is a fabulous community. I stand in awe of what is accomplished. All I want is for it to be conveyed more comprehensively, cohesively, and clearly. Well, that and I want us to function with trust, with collegiality, and as a team working together, not as individual silos....It really should not be this hard.

But the reality is, shifting the paradigm from: individual committee work that is disconnected from any sense of a cohesive whole, ie silo mentality to: team work that is connected to a cohesive whole; is the biggest, scariest, least understood, process for this group. And I get that. Which is why I wanted to manage my feelings and express what needed to be said without fueling the anxiety.

It occurs to me that this group of long retired folk, gifted and brilliant as they are, never experienced vision work in the work place. In my previous church, as we did vision work, they all had done something like this in their jobs. The corporate world has adopted vision work, team leadership, collegiality - but none of these folk ever experienced that, they retired before that became a working model. So. I am beginning to understand just how foreign this all is.

Alban Institute says that as leaders we have to adapt (temporarily?) our leadership style to fit the desired leadership, or at least the familiar leadership style, of the church. I have had to adapt from mutual collegial, to authoritarian.

It's tough on both of us - me and the leadership team. I don't like being authoritarian, but I can. And clearly they don't want me to really do this (be authoritarian), even though it is the familiar way....so we are working to change the leadership culture....and it is producing anxiety....To some degree this shift has been articulated, but it needs more discussion...something we will do in our winter retreat on Mutual Ministry, which is being led by someone other than me.

Over the course of the meeting my emotions calmed, from a low simmer, to a non-anxious presence, and I then was more like I hoped to be.

My hope is we will move forward crafting what needs to be done and continue to do the hard work of building trust in one another.

Do I feel better since that meeting. Yes. and no. I am glad we had it and could lay on the table the current of anxiety, that is always helpful. I'm glad I had that document in writing showing, at least from my perspective, that I have been doing what I thought we agreed too. I am not sure where the meeting will lead us and if it will serve to build greater trust. And, mostly I suspect, as is often the case, the work will continue to be a challenge for another couple of years until the leadership paradigm is shaped and takes hold and is embraced by everyone who holds a leadership position.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Well Today...

So the BIG meeting today went well enough. It was fortuitous that I found an important back up document before the meeting - one that supports a great deal of what I have done and am doing - and reflects the initial support of this group - support which seems to have dissipated over the last two months. It has been very weird, these last two months.... The forgetfulness, the anger, the vitriol, the assumptions, the confusion...

The opportunity was offered today to clear the air. I hope that is what happened...I hope that what we said is what we will live into...

I guess time will tell.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Preparing the Spirit

A reflection on Proper 27A

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 minutes to a half hour later because inevitably she will call and say she’s just leaving. Of course, occasionally she’s on time, which then makes me the late one!

At first brush, the Gospel story of the bridesmaids seems very critical of those who procrastinate and are late. Unusually harsh because the story says that none of them knows the day or the hour that the bridegroom will come. So, if you don’t know the day and the hour how are you supposed to know when to be ready? Under those conditions even the most conscientious of us could be late and unprepared.
Like many other stories in scripture this story raises more questions than it answers. It stands in sharp contrast to all the other places in the Bible that speak about grace, generosity, and hospitality. Since this Gospel reading seems incongruent with other pieces of scripture it beckons us to take a deeper look, to look beyond the surface, and ponder what is really going on.

One day, Honi, a legendary Jewish man saw an old man planting fruit trees. “Why are you doing this,” asked Honi, “You’ll be dead before they bear fruit.” The man replied, “I am planting these fruit trees for my children and grandchildren. Honi was impressed and sat down in the shade of a nearby tree to ponder this. Later he awoke to someone picking fruit and exclaimed, “How can a tree just newly planted bear so much fruit.” “What do you mean?” Asked the man picking the fruit. “These trees were planted by my grandfather.” “Oh my,” thought Honi, “I have slept for 70 years.” Stay awake, our reading says, we know not the day nor the hour.
What we are pondering today is not promptness, rather we are pondering what it means to be awake, attentive, preparing. Specifically we are speaking of spiritual preparedness. Spiritual work is quite distinctive from taking care of business and completing tasks. Spiritual work is the core of who we are as Christians, it is work grounded in prayer, discernment, worship, and community, and it requires us to intentionally dedicate time to cultivate our spiritual lives.

Jim Wallis, one of the founders of the Sojourners community, tells a story about a colleague living in a village in Central America. She worked in a community that was marginalized in all kinds of ways. She poured herself into her work for social justice, laboring with great might to bring change to this village. One day, some of the people of the village came to her, asking her why she worked so hard, why she didn’t join them in their fiestas or sit with them on their porches in the evening.

“There’s too much work to do!” the laboring woman replied. “I don’t have enough time.”

“Oh,” the people of the village said. “You’re one of those.”

“One of who?” the woman asked.

“You are one of those,” they responded, “who come to us and work and work and work. Soon you will grow tired, and you will leave. The ones who stay,” they said, “are the ones who sit with us on our porches in the evening and who come to our fiestas.”

Most of us have been raised in a world that values busyness, as if there is a correlation between busyness and importance. Or perhaps the issue is the opposite, perhaps we do not have enough to do. Perhaps we feel like our lives have no value because we aren’t busy enough. Regardless, we, in this country, and especially in this parish are truly blessed. We are able to have both work and leisure. We do not have to worry about walking miles to haul clean water, nor wonder when we will have our next meal.

The issue this Gospel reading points us to look at is how we spend our time and what occupies our inner thought process – in particular those things that draw us closer to God and those things that pull us away from God. Essentially asking us, above all, to make time for God. Nothing is more important than our relationship with God, with self and with others. And the only way to have a healthy relationship with God, with self, and with others is to nurture it. To rest on our spiritual porches and commune with God.

There is another ancient Jewish legend about two men walking through the Red Sea, which God has spectacularly parted, in order to aid the exodus of the Jewish people. Imagine that walk, the high walls of water held back by a mysterious and awesome force so a group of people can follow God to freedom. Now imagine two men named Ruben and Simon who were part of that group, but instead of looking up and seeing the glory of God, they looked to the ground and saw mud.

“This is terrible,” said Ruben, “There’s mud all over the place.”

“Disgusting” said Simon, “I’m in muck up to my ankles!”

“You know what?” replied Ruben, “When we were slaves in Egypt we had to make bricks out of mud just like this.”

“Yeah,” said Simon, “There is no difference between being a slave in Egypt and being free here.”

And so it went, Ruben and Simon complaining the entire way across the bottom of the Red Sea. For them there was no miracle, only mud. Their eyes, heart, mind, and spirit were closed to the possibility of miracle, grace, and God, even though they walked right through it all. We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are….

Here at large church we are a richly blessed community. We have a beautiful worship space, lovely church grounds, a generous and loving parish community, a very professional and committed staff. We have a multitude of well organized and skillfully led ministries that engage many people, all volunteers, from Altar Guild to Ushers and everyone in between. We have numerous opportunities to help and care for the world around us, from the amazing accomplishments of our Outreach Committee to our vibrant ECW, the Boutique and its offering to our community. From the Social Activities Committee and their dedication to planning four fun events for us each year, most notably the Hoedown and fall BBQ, to our choir and the dedication of those who sing and lead us in music, to our clergy who care deeply for the pastoral concerns of this parish, and especially our vestry as it discerns the vision for the parish and the strategy and goals for living into that vision while at the same time tending to the fiduciary responsibilities of parish leadership. We are an awesome parish filled with gifted people from all walks of life and with vast experience. We have so much to celebrate, for we are profoundly blessed!

Next Sunday we gather to Celebrate our Ministries, to celebrate all the ways we are blessed. In between services, at 9am, we will have a celebratory brunch. At this brunch we will have the opportunity to recognize and thank the many people who enable us to have and to be such a vibrant parish. We will celebrate and honor the leaders of our various groups and committees and their members, we will give thanks for all they do.

And in the Eucharist we will take a moment to come forward to the altar. How many of you have ever walked through the altar rail gate and stood at the altar?
Coming forth to the altar is an invitation to step into sacred space; the Lord’s Table is our most holy and sacred space. The invitation to this sacred place is an invitation to present your self to God: mind, body, and spirit. Our lives are a gift from God and therefore our lives are holy. We will stand in this sacred space and give praise to God for the gift of life, and celebrate the sacred within each one of us.

Coming forward to the altar I have also asked you to bring your envelope with your offering of time, talent, and treasure. I’ve done this with congregations for 10 years. I know that some of you are anxious about this. You think that people will be watching you and taking roll – who is pledging and who is not.

If our focus is on taking roll, then we are focusing on the wrong thing. The reality is, no one knows what is in the envelope you bring forward. It might be empty. It might have your offering for the day. It might have your pledge. Who knows? Who cares? What’s important is NOT what is in the envelope, but what is in your heart.
Coming to the altar is an invitation to present yourself and offer what is in your heart to God. Some of you will choose not to come forward. That’s ok, no one is counting. Some of you may come forward with fear or resentment about something, even anger. That’s ok, too. Others will come forward with peace and joy. Whatever is in our hearts we bring to God.

The reality is our lives are holy and sacred whether we know it or not. Our lives are holy and sacred whether or not we nurture our relationship with God, with self, and with others. The primary difference is, when we stay awake, when we actively cultivate our spiritual lives, when we actively nurture our relationship with God, with self, and with others, we find ourselves living full authentic lives. Living full authentic lives, grounded in God, causes us to lift our eyes from the muck and mud around us, to cease our complaining and see the glory of God in the world around us. Our scripture readings from the Old Testament to the Gospels to the Epistles make it clear that we are to nurture our relationship with God. Some call this Sabbath Time. Some call it prayer. Some call it Contemplation. Some call it worship. Regardless taking time to focus on God is the only path toward living a balanced, holistic, fully integrated and authentic life of faith.

Thus the process of preparing opens our hearts to the peace of Christ. With the peace of Christ in our hearts, our spiritual lamps are filled with oil ready to be ignited by God’s love. Then, having hearts ablaze with the passion of Christ’s hope and joy, we are able to recognize how truly blessed we are, committing ourselves to being Christ’s hands and heart in the world.

Back Home Again

This week I was blessed to spend two nights and two days at a retreat house north of where I live. In the mountains and the desert this retreat center is a place for silent comtemplation and centering prayer. I have to admit I was not perfect in my silence. My daughter called. My husband....on the cell phone. We only spoke for a moment to check in. It's not that being silent is difficult for me. It's not. But for this particular retreat I was unable to leave my life behind.

Even more distracting than the two brief phone calls, the chatter in my head. Some of it has been worked through and I have a clearer picture of where to take all this chatter. So, that's good.

On my retreat I spent some time drawing. I haven't put pencil to paper in ages. The first thing I did after I arrived and unpacked was draw two pictures, one with pastels, the other with charcoal. The next morning I took a long walk in the crisp morning air. The center has the stations of the cross built along the hill side and down and around the back half of the center. They over look the valley and mountain range to the east as well as the nearby mountains at the west end of the property. It's in a place call "Picture Rocks" which is an apt description for the area. At station V I sat and spent a long while drawing the trees, shrubs, and mountains to the west.

I found that the desert is really difficult to draw. It is largely monochromatic, or rather various shades of green, from the bright lime of the Palo Verdes to dull bluegreen of something else, to the gray green of the shrubs. The desert landscape has lots of irratic scraggly brush and trees, sand and rocks, and prickly pear cacti. I haven't found the medium that I like to use for the desert. Charocal was too dark, using charcoal requires a light hand for drawing the desert. The pastels were better, more range of color. The colored pencils were ok, but not enough range of color. My favorite picture ended up a mixed medium of colored pencil and pastels.

I think I need to practice drawing individual trees or cacti before I try to draw a landscape. I need to study the detail of a Palo Verde (and there are three varieties of PV), the detail of the Mesquite (again, several varieties), and the detail of various cacti. Then I can do a landscape that contains some detail and some blurring of detail to more accurately reflect the essence of the desert. But that is for another retreat.

Aside from the drawing and the walking I read, knitted, ate well, and just sat. I meditated and prayed. I slept soundly even though I could hear the distinctive eery conversations of the coyotes. Coyotes don't always howl...they talk, in a vocabulary that is not a bark nor a howl, it's like a high pitched yip and yap but with slightly longer duration than the yip of a dog, and at a different pitch. It has an eery quality, definitely not dog, but something wild and free.

The place, The Desert House of Prayer is not a fancy place. It is very simple. But in this place there is an energy of deep, profound, stillness. An energy of deep profound grace. I am grateful I went there. I will go again.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

History Made

Back in the primary he was not my first choice, but he was when I voted today... tonight I wept to see history made...thank God the voting was so decisive, thank God there is no doubt who we wanted....I have hope for the future....(and am glad I don't have to start packing)...

Desert House of Prayer: A Silent Retreat

Tomorrow, after a full morning of meetings (and some filled with "complaints") I will head off with a parishioner, who is also a Benedictine Spiritual Director, for a silent retreat. This woman invited me to go away for some time of silence, prayer, and renewal, and I am grateful. We are going here. I have purchased sketch paper, charcoal pencils, colored pencils that can also be water color pencils, and grapite pencils. I hope to draw. I hope to reconnect with that side of me that loves to connect with nature through drawing. I am not a good artist, but I am good enough....besides, drawing is like meditation for me...so, I care less about the technique of my art.

I will be gone until Friday morning, giving me two nights and the better part of two days to slow down and rest.

Since life continues to be complicated at church with numerous dynamics at play (sigh)...I hope this time is not only restful but restorative....

Election Day

The first time I voted was in 1976. I was 19 years old and a junior in college and took my voting privileges seriously. I did my homework and voted for the candidate I thought would do the best job for our broken country. That election the candidates were Gerald Ford (R), and Jimmy Carter (D). My first Presidential election and I voted Republican even though I was (am) a die hard liberal. I voted for Ford because I liked him, but also because I did not trust Carter....I did not trust someone coming into the White House with a Christian agenda. It's the only time I have voted for a Republican Presidential candidate, although I have voted for Republican governors and green party officials if I like there policy stands.

Since 1976 I have voted in every election except one, 1984 Ronald Regan and Walter Mondale...and that was only because I could not get to the polls to vote...for some reason. Of all the times I've voted for President my vote has been cast for the winning candidate two times, 1992 and 1996, all the other times I have voted for the loser.

My criteria for casting my ballot is based on social justice issues, offering equal opportunities for all that this great land offers whether that is medical and dental care or education or employment. I believe that sometimes government has to set the standard for justice because we won't: states will have huge variances in their policies - citizens in one state will have rights that citizens in another will not, the right to marry or to decide when and or whether to carry a pregnancy to term, a minimum standard for health care that all citizens are afforded so no one goes with out doctor care, hospitalization, mental health care and dental care....sometimes we need the federal government to make us accountable to the needs of people around us. I think we need the government to put forth regulations that control the extremities of our corporate, free trade, global and market industries.

So, tonight we see what happens with this election....it's clear, based on the issues I care about which candidate I chose....now I just hope I don't have start a job search in Canada...

One thing has changed in the last 32 years since I cast my first vote. I now believe that religion should have and must have a voice in politics. I believe we need our politics to reflect the vast differences the people of this nation hold in our beliefs and values, and not have them predetermined by a vocal minority.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Ollie Update

Apparently all went well with Oliver (Ollie) for his first night in his new home. Our daughter said he played hard, seems to get the idea that he does his business outside, and is bonding with her. He likes to sit on her feet, bring pieces of his food to her, drop it at her feet, look at her, wag his tail, and then eat it.

Funny things about him: he's been an out door dog, on a cattle farm. Coming into a home was a new experience. He is afraid of mixed floor textures, such as her tile bathroom with bathmats. When he stepped from the tile to the rug, he turned around and ran out of the room. Carpeting was a little freaky to him. Stairs are impossible, he's only 6 weeks old and 11 pounds.

Thankfully he slept in his crate all night. He woke up once and wimpered, she put her hand in his crate and touched him and he went back to sleep. He woke her up at 5am to go outside and pee. yup. He can't always manage that, but in one day he's learned a lot.

The only issue, when she tried to take a shower she put him in his crate and as soon as she was out of sight and in the bathroom - he HOWLED. HOWLED and howled and began to throw himself against the crate. So, she had to let him out before he hurt himself or woke up her roommate and neighbors....he then laid on the floor, again, on her slippers, and slept while she showered....

Now she's worried about how he will behave at the barn today while she is teaching lessons (horse riding)...

Taking a Break from the Celebrations....

...to say that Ollie is home. Our daughter picked him up today. She said he's doing great, played all night and finally crashed...



...on her slippers.

Playing for Hope

My family and I once lived in a community with a high percentage of immigrants from Serbia-Croatia, people who had fled the war in the earl...