Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A people have walked in darkness

A reflection on the readings for Christmas Eve: Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7;  and Luke 2:1-20


A young woman reflects back on her life and ponders the course it has taken. She is the first born child to a young father and an even younger mother, both still teenagers. More children are born into this small family, but she remains the only daughter. Eventually the parent’s divorce and the mother’s health declines. Fragile to begin with, the mother falls into a deep depression, one that would last the rest of her life.

The daughter, the primary character of this story, works to hold the family together. She tends to her younger siblings and her mother. She works her way through college and finds a job. Eventually the brothers are raised and the mother is settled safely in place where she cannot harm herself. The woman marries and begins a family of her own. It is hard work to overcome the scars of her difficult childhood and learn to love, to trust, and to be a healthy person. As a mother, a wife, and a working woman, she applies extra effort to understand the challenges she faced, seeking counseling to deepen her self-awareness and other-awareness. Every day felt heavy, weighted with worry that she would not be able to care for herself, her children, and her marriage, let alone her career.

She is the new woman – told by society that she can have it all – but with no role models to show her the way, she has to make it up as she goes along. Whenever she feels untethered she looks for anchors to help her forge a grounded path. Of the many avenues she takes, her faith formation is the most vital. Over time, as she intentionally lives a life of faith, she comes to recognize a light shining into the darkness of her life. This light is hope. This light is God. This light is the prince of peace. This light is Emanuel. This light is love. This light is the Christ child literally being born in and through her as God’s pure love.

The struggles of her life, the darkness that has, for decades, defined who she is, has birthed in her new insight into her life. She remembers distinctly the first time in her life that she felt the peace of Christ resonating in her. She was driving her car and came to recognize just how profoundly different she felt. Yes, all of the circumstances of her life were exactly the same – none of the challenges had disappeared. But she felt different. She was at peace. Every muscle and bone in her body felt this sense of peace. Instead of holding on tight inside of her, as if that tight grip was the very act that would literally hold her together, she found that she was knit together with peace and love. Her shoulders relaxed, her breath was deep and steady, her mind was clear, she was at peace.

This is a story of a seemingly small, yet very existential manifestation of God’s presence in our lives, of God working in and through us. God doesn’t work like a magician changing the circumstances of our lives – God honors the importance of freewill in our lives and in all of creation. Sometimes this freewill manifests as chaos. In biology we learn that a certain amount of chaos is crucial to the survival of creation. Without chaos, without the unsteady change that chaos evokes, creation and all created beings, would stagnate and die. Chaos is generative. It’s a paradox that chaos brings new life, creation.

And so, the darkness of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. Challenging yes, but out of the darkness new life is born. Darkness is where creation begins, new life emerges. The light of Christ comes into us. The light of Christ, God’s pure love, works from the inside out. Spiritual transformation is interior work that becomes exterior action.

On this most holy of nights we celebrate the reality that God is with us. In the mystery that is God, God has chosen to dwell in and within all creation, and most particularly in human life. This is our Christian story, of God active in the world through the birth of Jesus. It is story that reminds us that how we live our lives, as people of faith, is an invitation to participate in the revelation of God in the world. This is particularly so when we choose to live with compassion, kindness, gentleness, and love toward all.

The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ assure us that God is present in every aspect of our lives. God is present at our birth. God is present in our lives. God is present and caring in our suffering. God is with the dying. And God is working through the pain and brokenness of this world to bring forth new life.

When the world is dark, God searches for a way to fill us with light, to work on us from the inside out, so that the light of our lives reveals the light of the world. Darkness is the womb that gives birth to hope, for Emmanuel is with us, the Christ child is born anew this night.

In this Christmas season may you know God’s abiding presence in your life. God’s presence may be only a tiny glimmer of light, and yet, it will give birth to a renewed sense of hope. And from that sense of hope will come peace, love, and joy. May these be the core of your identity, like a burning flame reflecting out into the world may you be a God-given ray of hope, peace, love, and joy. My your light be the light of Christ, healing the broken places of this world. May the flame of God’s presence sustain you all the days of your life.


Merry Christmas.




Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Risky Business of a Prophetic Mission

One of my favorite photographs of the children’s Christmas pageant last year is a picture taken while the children sang Santa Lucia. Most of the children are standing on the chancel step, all dressed in children sized choir robes. K is in the center, wearing a crown of candles, portraying St. Lucia. J, K's brother, stands at the first pew, holding a row of candles. J has his head turned, looking back at his sister. E is at the microphone, telling the story of St. Lucia. M, little I, L, J, H, and P, are standing around K, each preparing to sing when the narrative is finished.  The expression on the face of each child is so reminiscent of who they were a year ago. These beautiful children are a significant part of our mission and our ministry.

Santa Lucia 2

The feast day of Santa Lucia was Friday, December 13. Her story is remarkable. It is also typical of what happens to prophetic voices throughout history. Lucy lived in Sicily in the third century. She was a rich, young Christian of Greek ancestry. Raised in a pious family, she vowed her life to Christ. Her father died when she was young. Her mother arranged a marriage for her. For three years Lucy managed to keep the marriage on hold, preferring instead to devote herself to her faith. Legend has it that to change her mother‘s mind about her faith, Lucy prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha, and her mother‘s long illness was cured. Her mother agreed to end the engagement and allowed Lucy to devote her life to God.

Lucy’s rejected pagan bridegroom denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily. The governor sentenced her to forced prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; the fire  went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger.

Legend says her eyesight was restored before her death. [i]

Although it is not exactly clear how the tradition moved from Italy to Sweden, the country has a long tradition with Saint Lucia. The first recorded appearance of a white-clad Lucia in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The custom did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations began promoting it. Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The custom whereby Lucia serves coffee and saffron buns dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.[ii]

Lucy, and her mother, like a number of Christian saints, gave all their wealth to the poor, not out of guilt, but out of gratitude.

We have spent a number of weeks reflecting on the ways in which we at Christ Church are profoundly blessed. We are blessed with a fine congregation of gifted members and we have an amazing sense of mission as a Community-Centered Church. As a Community-Centered Church we share our building with many, many people. As a Community-Centered Church we are active in ministry and mission work in the Dearborn area and in the world at large. As a Community-Centered Church our mission and our ministry flow in and out of the church building. We share, with gratitude, the blessings we have been given by the grace of God.

Striving to live as God calls us brings with it inherent challenges. Like Lucy, this effort to live as God calls, can result in judgment and persecution. We see signs of this all around us and down through the ages, living a prophetic life is risky.

The prophet Isaiah knew very well that the prophetic life was risky. Actually the book of Isaiah was written over the course of about 240 years, possibly even over 540 years. It was authored by at least three different people who have become known as Isaiah. Portions of Isaiah are also found in 2 Kings chapters 18-20, which help to date it. There are two different identifiable periods in Isaiah. The first takes place at the end of a war in the year 740 BCE and the second takes place at the end of a war in the year 555 BCE. We know this because of references made to kings and battles within the text. [iii] Regardless of its history, the message of Isaiah is one of God’s judgment and God’s salvation. In Isaiah, you don’t have one without the other. [iv]

So, what does God’s judgment and God’s salvation look like?

Isaiah tells us in the text from our reading today that God’s judgment occurs whenever there is something that separates human beings from that which God desires. Therefore God’s judgment is not about a judge who pronounces edicts on  broken laws, per se. God’s judgment is solely about relationship.  And in relationship, with God and others, we find our salvation. To live in right relationship with God and others we are to look first at our own actions and words and consider, how am I living as God desires? How am I loving God, loving others, and loving self, as God desires? Of course as Episcopalians we have a clue into what God desires when we remember our baptismal covenant: respect the dignity of every human being, see in others the face of Christ, strive to live as the hands and heart of Christ in the world, continue to grow in faith.

As a Christian community we live this kind of an active faith when we focus our energy on our mission and our ministries. Jesus affirms this as our call and our primary task.  In our reading this morning from Matthew Jesus responds to John the Baptist’s question, are you the Messiah, with this: tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed. And the Letter from James reminds us that we are to live an active faith – put our faith into action – live lives focused on our mission and ministries.

We have clear evidence here, by the vibrancy of our mission and ministries, that we are living active lives of faith. But nonetheless we still have work to do. The questions for us this morning are specific: Where are the places -  in our individual lives and in our congregational life as a Community Centered Church - where our eyes remain blind and we fail to hear where God is calling us? Another way to frame this is: How are we sitting in the judgment seat, - ‘cuz you know we are – each one of us has a default button called “judgment “-  and it takes us off course and derails us. Stifled in the judgment seat, how are we failing to do our part to bring forth the kingdom of God? How are failing to live with gratitude and generosity in how we share our gifts, but also in how we treat one another?  In verse nine of the Letter of James we are reminded that: “the Judge is standing at the doors!” (v. 9). In other words, if you do not want to be judged by the Judge, you had best leave judgment to God. We are to not judge one another but rather we are to bear each others faults and failings with patience.  St. Ignatius of Loyola said, "We are to pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on us." But that notion must be framed through the lens of our baptismal covenant wherein the work we do is anchored in respect and dignity.

God is the judge, scripture tells us, but Isaiah reminds us that likewise God has our back, and God will continue to prepare the path before us. Surely that is God’s salvation – preparing the path, God sends forth help, that we may live as God desires.

Let us seek the messenger, Emmanuel, and follow.

[i] http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-lucy-of-syracuse/

[ii] http://sweden.se/traditions/lucia/

[iii] The Interpreter’s one volume Commentary on the Bible: Abingdon Press, 1971

[iv] Feasting on the Word, Year A, third Sunday in Advent

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Adventing through anxious times

The other day my daughter sent me a text message asking for help finding jokes that would be appropriate for a company Christmas party. I posted her request for help on my Facebook page and instantly I had a dozen jokes.


Here are a couple of them:

Q. If everyone in America had a pink car, what would we have? A. A pink carnation

What do you call a snowman in June? A puddle

What does a snowman eat for breakfast? Snowflakes

Which reindeer is the cleanest? Comet


Today is the second Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is distinctive for us – evidenced by the simplicity of the worship space, the beautiful but simple glass chalices and patens, the color blue, the Advent wreath which replaces the Paschal Candle, and just a hint of the greenery that will come with Christmas. Advent is a time when we focus less on the instantaneous nature of the world around, instant gratification, instant information and news, instant food, many many things are available to us in an instant. Advent invites us to slow down and be more intentional, anticipate the coming of Christ, and ponder how God’s love in Christ may become manifest in us in the year ahead.


Think back over this past year. A year ago we had just commissioned the delegation to go to Liberia and learn more about the school project. Now, a year later, the first two floors of the school building are almost completed. One year and God’s grace has been good, much has been accomplished, lives have been changed. A year is a long time, but it also goes by quickly. Now a new year is here and with it another invitation to ponder what God is doing.


Advent marks, for Christians, the beginning of our church year – evident in large part by the changing of the Gospel. We have moved from a year of reflecting on the Gospel of Luke into a year when we will reflect primarily on the Gospel of Matthew. Like the other three Gospels, Matthew offers us a particular view, a lens, through which we come to know who Jesus is and how we are to live our lives as Jesus teaches us. The author of the Gospel of Matthew takes great care to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the law of Moses – the ten commandments and the 603 commandments that come from those original ten. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, enables the community of Matthew to know Jesus as the messiah, Emmanuel, God with us.


Advent is a time set aside by the church to invite us to consider the full significance of what God is doing in and through the life of Jesus, and in and through our lives. Advent reminds us that we exist, not for the fulfillment of our lives, but for the glory of God. [i]


Now, what does that mean, to exist for the glory of God?


The reading in Isaiah points us to consider how living with hope and in harmony reveals the glory of God. This God-infused hope looks larger and more obviously divine than anything humans can do on our own. Seriously, none of us anticipated that two floors of the school would be built in less than a year. Surely that is a sign of God intervening in this project, using us for the glory of God. Paradoxically, when we live for the glory of God we live fulfilling lives.


Human beings, acting as the heart and hands of Christ, reveal the divine in action. Divine action manifests as hope and harmony. The wolf and lamb lying together in our world mean that the rights of the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised; all the many “isms” of the world and of society will find new life through acts of justice – moral, ethical, and economic justice. Surely, partnering with a church in Liberia to build a school is an act of hope seeking to bring forth justice and harmony.


Isaiah describes the effort to manifest hope, justice, and harmony metaphorically as residing on the “holy mountain of God.” Here all will be filled with the knowledge of God. The peace of God will include human beings, animals, and the land.[ii] The people are to live in hope, to trust God, to live as if harmony is here now. The School project in Liberia, Blessings in a Backpack, the many groups that use this church and the many people who walk through our doors every day, the many lives that are transformed because of Christ Church, are possible because we are willing to live in hope, live as if harmony is here now, and give our lives over to the glory of God.


Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, states that hope is like trust – when we live with hope we live with trust that God has our back at all times.


If the church is to have a future, we must be hopeful. St. Paul’s sense of hope is not pie-in-the-sky optimism nor a cheery denial of reality. Hope is the undaunted force that comes from the Holy Spirit getting into our spirit and drawing us away from fear and worry and despair toward God’s steadfast love for the world and for us.[iii]


Isaiah, Paul, the Roman church, and the community of Matthew all understood that God’s desire that we live with hope and in harmony does not mean that we will live without anxiety. Life is filled with unpredictability. Life is filled with change and transition and chaos.


We are heading into a time of transition as we prepare to say good-bye to Jan the end of January and Bob the end of April. Losing two valuable staff members in the same year will be challenging. The Vestry has been discussing this transition for about six months. We have had dialogue with the Property Commission and staff. The Vestry has been thoughtful and considered and measured in its decision making process. And yet, the Vestry has embraced this time of transition with creativity and an open spirit. Today members of the Vestry will share with you the process we undertook and the decision we have reached. You all should be very proud of and grateful for the work of your Vestry. They are highly gifted individuals. We are truly blessed by their leadership. Their work deserves your trust! As they always have, the Vestry will work with me, to guide us through this transition with grace. The process will not be reconciled instantly, it will take some time to bring in new staff, train them, come to know them, and work through the kinks of transition. Building relationship always takes time. Let us proceed with a sense of hope and trust. May we work together with a spirit of harmony.


Remember, a certain amount of chaos and disorder is part of creation. This chaos and lack of order resides in all biological systems and serves to prevent creation from becoming stagnant. It is chaotic but it is also creative and necessary for healthy systems to survive. Let us embrace this time of transition with hope and trust that God is leading us toward the fulfillment of our mission as a Community-Centered church. Let us give thanks for Jan and Bob and celebrate well their time with us. Let us wait expectantly for the new staff, yet to come, and the gifts they will bring. Gifts which will surely help us continue to manifest the glory of God in our ministries and mission.



[i] Feasting on the Word, Year A

[ii] Ibid

[iii] ibid

Saturday, September 28, 2013

When the Quest for Certitude Becomes the Excuse for Not Actiing...

A reflection on the readings for Proper 21C: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Currently I am reading Anna Quindlen’s memoire titled, “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.” In this book, as a woman in her fifties, Quindlen reminisces over the years of her life. Here is a brief excerpt:

“We were living odd patchwork lives in (the 1960’s and 1970’s)  because of an accident of timing. We were the daughters of women who had moved directly from their parents’ homes to those of their husbands, gone right from high school to marriage and motherhood. But my friends and I had gone to college, entered the work world, under the rubric of the New Woman, suddenly able through vast changes in societal mores to use our abilities in the world and combine them with a domestic life at home…But we were completely making it up as we went along, at work, at home, in our own minds, trying to be both our mothers and our fathers simultaneously….

We were all a little happy and a little crazy and a little sad and a little confused…

First we were so young and then we were so busy and then one day we awoke to discover that we were an age we once thought of as old… most of us were concerned with just managing to hold things together, managing to move from school drop-off to work assignments to making dinner to homework supervision to nodding off over the evening news, with the occasional truncated conversation thrown in, or not. We were trying to make it through each day, and then suddenly we looked around and realized the days were months, were years, and, almost magically and unconsciously, we had made it through a couple of decades. Once again we were improvising: our grown kids still living at home or needing support, our aged parents requiring care. The most liberated generation of women in American history, raised on the notion that they could be much more than caregivers, became caregivers cubed. Because of longer life spans and different ways of living and working, once again we were pioneers.…”

And, so with the idea that we often have to make things up as we go along because life does not unfold as we might expect, we find a foot hold into our readings this morning.

The readings today contrast what it means to live in this world and this life with what God desires. These ideas are contrasted through the lens of the material world and the world of relationships, through the rich and the poor, through the idea of who is seen and who is not seen, and with the notion that living the absolute letter of the law causes people to lose sight of the spirit of God breathing in and through all of life. Specifically, in Jeremiah it is the contrast of living the mosaic law (the law as handed down by Moses in the ten commandments and the other 600 laws that came from them) and a new covenant that is being formed. In Paul’s letter to Timothy it is contrasted between ideas of what is true life and what is eternal life. In the parable in Luke it is about who is seen and who is not seen with a call that we use our resources to help others rather than hoard our resources for ourselves.[i]

Jeremiah is living a life different than he would have chosen for himself. He did not want to be God’s prophet. Regardless, that is what he has been called to do. In our reading this morning Jeremiah is purchasing some property in Jerusalem. From all appearances this is a strange transaction. Jeremiah is in prison because he refused to take arms and fight a war between the Israelites and the Babylonians. He is purchasing land in a worn torn region while in jail. That would not seem wise. However, Jeremiah is convinced that this is part of what it means to do God’s work in this time and place. It is an act of hope, it an act of justice, it is an act of faith. It points to the new covenant God is creating with Israel. The old covenant that was formed around the laws of Moses - the ten commandments, and the 600 commandments that come from them -  have become too constricted. People are living as if the LAW is God. The quest for certitude has become an excuse for not acting. Rather, the law is intended to point to how one lives in relationship with God. Because the law is NOT God, but rather guidelines for living in relationship with God, and because people have clearly misunderstood this, God is crafting a new covenant. This new covenant is built on relationships not laws. This new covenant, as Jeremiah proclaims it, announces that God lives in and through each person, in and through their actions, and how they treat one another. God goes with the people into exile, God goes with people wherever they are. [ii]

Paul’s Letter to Timothy and the parable in the Gospel of Luke build on the idea of relationship and caring for others as the primary way we live into our relationship with God. In Timothy it is portrayed as true life and eternal life versus the false life. In the Gospel it is conveyed in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man is so focused on his own life that he doesn’t even see Lazarus. Day after day he walks past Lazarus, who lies at the rich man’s gate begging for food. The parable calls for us to become aware of the ways we, so caught up in our own lives, fail to see the needs in the world around us. [iii]

We live busy lives. Some days it is all we can do to make it from one commitment to the next before collapsing into bed. Taking time to remember our first and primary relationship to God is easily lost in the commitments. Like taking the law too literally, we run the risk of becoming like the narrowly-focused people in Jeremiah. Recognizing that there are some basic things we can do to tend to our relationship with God and with others in the world need not add to our already over-burdened lives. These can be as simple as participating in the community life of Christ Church. As Christians we grow in our faith through living a life in community. It can be as simple as buying Fair Trade coffee, tea and chocolate – enabling others to earn a living wage. For some this might mean walking instead of driving. We can recycle plastics and paper. We can support our Blessings in a Backpack ministry or The SCHOOL project in Liberia.

This portion of Anna Quindlen’s reflection concludes with her saying that there is so much stuff in her head from the many years of a busy life that the stuff has taken a place of primacy in her. She recognizes the need to sort through the stuff and come to what is basic. I haven’t finished the book, so I don’t know what her conclusion is. But for us, as Christians here this morning, our readings remind us that what is basic is our relationship with God and others. Spending five or six weeks each fall  worshipping with the Season of Creation liturgy is intended to remind us of these opportunities to care for the earth as an act of building our relationship with God and others. Oddly enough, like a consistent athletic practice for our physical health, when we take the time to focus on God and practice our faith, we feel better. When we focus our energy on caring for others less fortunate, in what-ever way we are able, our lives take on greater meaning and purpose. Practicing our faith can transform our exhausted and busy lives so that we begin to feel full and rich.

Jeremiah might say that with God as our center we have purchased the land for the journey of our lives.

[i] Feasting on the Word: Year C Volume 4 for Proper 21C (Kindle edition)

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Five: I'll take joy, thank you very much.

RevDeb over at the RevGals blog offers this Friday Five meme:

Sometimes as pastors, chaplains, professors or caregivers, our lives are so very full and our hearts ache with worries for others (or, if we are honest for ourselves!) So for this week’s Friday Five, let’s list things that are on your happy list! (We’ll assume that your family and friends and pets are included, so branch out a little, if you can!)

What are your joys? Places? Food? Activities? Books? Season? Hobbies? Smells? Colors? To inspire you, Mindy came up with THIRTEEN things that bring her joy or make her happy. So go for it!

1. My new home office with the desk I refinished this summer.


In fact I am sitting at it right now. From this desk I have a great view over the backyard and church property: beautiful trees, the labyrinth, and the community garden.



(we've done some work on the labyrinth area, adding a pet memorial garden and more benches, flowers, and trees, this view is from the opposite direction and taken more recently than the one above)

2. Yoga. I feel stronger, more fit, healthier, and have greater clarity of mind since I have returned to an active yoga practice. I walk to class five days a week.

3. Walking. I walk to yoga (although that will become less frequent as the days get colder and darker - not likely to walk in the cold and the dark)...and I walk my dogs. So on most days of the year I walk about 70 minutes, or more. My goal is 10,000 steps 4 days a week. (that's like five miles of walking...) Over the summer I have managed that quite easily, with winter it will be a challenge. Nonetheless, walking is wonderfully relaxing, clears my head, gives me fresh air, keeps me fit...and reminds always of how delightful it is to live in a town were I can walk any place I need or want to go.

4. My family and marriage. My husband and I have managed to create a date day for ourselves. We are making the most of our little time together. My kids, too, are doing well right now and that is such a gift and a blessing. It brings me endless joy.


5. Lately we have had a long run of sunny, dry weather with temperatures in the 70's, and low humidity. It has been great walking weather, very comfortable and pleasant. I do love some hot, hot days - summer doesn't feel like summer without them. And I wouldn't want to live in a place where temps were like this, 70's year round. But for this season, this time of early fall, it is pure joy!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Prophetic Fools

A reflection on the readings for Proper 19C: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

We are currently holding a weekday Bible study on Tuesdays on the Gospel of Luke. Michael Johnston in his book, “Engaging the Word” suggests that there are three ways we can engage scripture in a Bible study. These three are: the historical context, the literal context, and the prophetic context. The historical context refers to what was happening in the world at the time this scripture passage was written. The literal context is a reminder to us to pay attention to what the text actually says. By this he means that sometimes we have heard a story so often that we begin to fill in pieces of subtext. This is particularly relevant in the Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter narratives. For example the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus is found in two of the Gospels, but they tell a different part of the story. In Luke we hear of the story of the conception of Jesus, the travel to Bethlehem, and the birth in the manger. In Matthew we hear a long litany of family ancestors of Jesus, the baby was born and named Jesus, and then the magi come. When we think of the Christmas story we conflate these two Gospel readings into one, but in reality they are told in two different Gospels. Johnston reminds us to be attentive to the words as they appear on the page. Third, Johnston reminds us to hear scripture stories through a prophetic lens – what is the story saying to us today? Thus the readings come to a fuller understanding when we engage all three perspectives – the historical time, what the story really says versus what we want to fill in, and what the story is saying to us today.

Here is a tiny history lesson on the history behind each of our readings:

Jeremiah was a prophet who lived about three thousand years ago. He spoke to the Hebrew community which at that time was divided between the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. To the west was the Mediterranean Sea, to the south was Egypt, north was Syria, and east was Babylon – Saudi Arabia. The tiny countries of Judah and Israel were embattled between themselves over who practiced the Hebrew faith correctly. They were surrounded by these great nations who perpetually went to battle with them, won easily, and imposed their belief systems upon the Hebrew people. Jeremiah lived in a time of great threat and is warning the people of impending war and capture. Jeremiah sees this threat through the teachings of his religion – right practice of faith will lead to God’s protection from the powerful nations around them.  [i]

The Letter to Timothy was probably written sometime around the year 63. While long considered a letter written by St. Paul to a person named Timothy, scholars over the last two hundred years doubt that Paul was the author. Nonetheless it is clearly a letter written by a pastor to another pastor. The letter is dealing with some troubling divisions in the Christian faith and community which dominated that time – what is the right practice of faith. The letter pushes back against some of the teachings that came to be known as Gnostic. Gnostic teachings diminished the role of the larger church and placed a greater emphasis on individual experience of God, which opened the way to a kind of “anything goes” understanding of Christian practice.  [ii]

The Gospel of Luke was probably written sometime around the year 95. It reflects a kind of historical genre as if the author is recording the history of Jesus and the formation of the early church. It was written after the fall of the Jewish temple during the Jewish/Roman war and during a time of great reformation as the former followers of Judaism worked to understand their faith through the teachings of Jesus. Luke uses parables and story-telling to anchor the teachings of Jesus in the faith community. [iii]

Filtered through a prophetic lens our readings this morning raises three questions: What is foolishness? Who or what is lost? And, what is God’s role in all of this?[iv]

Take a moment and look through the readings and then share with us what these readings say about foolishness.  (let people speak, then say)

Here are a couple I would add:

  • The people’s inability to follow the rules is not the core problem, but a symptom of a deep and abiding spiritual stupidity and ignorance[v]
  • The people refuse to change course because they fundamentally do not understand that they need to change[vi]
  • the psalms, the “fool” is the individual who says in word or in deed, “There is no God [Pss. 14:1; 53:1]; I belong to myself; I am accountable only to myself for my behavior.”[vii]

“Fool” is these readings refers to moral and spiritual behavior. Behaving foolishly has negative consequences for the individual.  The moral and spiritual foolishness in our readings is different, it is a kind of foolishness which impacts whole groups of people, even nations, in negative ways. This is the foolishness that Jeremiah refers too, the Psalmist, and to some degree the Gospel reading. Foolishness is state of being wherein people fail to see how their actions are causing harm or compromising the well-being of others. This foolishness is often exacerbated by people failing to recognize the need to change – or as we Christians call it, repent and turn to God. This foolishness is arrogant and filled with self-entitlement – I am only accountable to myself.

Now, what about the second question:  Who, or what is lost?

  • A sense of justice [viii]
  • A sense of the wider community [ix]
  • The presence of God is denied[x]
  • Faith is lost [xi]
  • “We” are the lost (as in lost to someone who relentlessly seeks us – God)[xii]

Last question: Where is God in all of this?

  • God is the seeker, the one who searches relentlessly for the lost [xiii]
  • God is the one who points the way toward justice for all [xiv]
  • God loves all humanity, all creation, equally

Our readings today remind us that God is like a shepherd who cares equally for every sheep in the flock. God is like a woman who accounts for every coin in her purse. God values every person in creation, equally. When we are lost, for any reason, be it foolishness, grief, sorrow, loss of faith, ignorance, fatigue, anger, or obtuseness, God searches us out and never leaves our side. Whether we know God’s presence or not, God is with us. We are wise when we trust this reality and allow this truth to be our guide. God loves us unconditionally and will never let us go. [xv]


[i] The New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible;  Laymon, Charles M., editor: Abingdon Press 1971

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] Various commentaries found in Feasting On The Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary for proper 19C

[v] ibid

[vi] ibid

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] ibid

[x] ibid

[xi] ibid

[xii] ibid

[xiii] ibid

[xiv] ibid

[xv] ibid

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What is my role....

It's been a bumpy road and at times I've wanted to get off or change direction. But for some reason I just keep going. You see, a few months ago I thought it would be a good idea to see a clergy coach/counselor. The fact that I am not sure if the work we are doing is coaching or counseling is a good indicator of why this endeavor has been clunky. The person I am working with gets this too, we are both figuring out if the work we are doing is counseling or coaching. When I saw CCC (clergy/counseling/coach) this morning I had some insight. I think we are doing vocational counseling. By this I mean, I am not exactly doing the personal counseling I have done in years past where I took apart my childhood, examined it under a microscope, dissected all the painful parts, and put myself back together with greater insight. No, I've done that, I get what makes up who I am and why I am the way I am. This vocational counseling is not exactly coaching because I am not looking to find a new position or a new vocation or any of the other life skills that one explores with coaching. I am doing counseling, but I am doing it in the context of my job: how I function on the job, what triggers me to get reactive, how I am working to listen, how I hope to enable people to find their niche and live into ministry and life with a greater sense of fulfillment and a deeper sense of God's presence. I already know why I react to things the way I do and the underbelly of myself, now I am looking at how I am working with that awareness in order to be the most effective priest I can be. It is a process of building skills but it is also a process that looks at emotional content as well. It is vocational counseling. Maybe there's a better term that will come about as I mull this over more, but this at least is the working definition thus far, which is a long way from where I was before. Now at least the path feels like it has a direction. Perhaps it is better said that now the direction has a name, a term, a definition, a course, and maybe even a map.

In our session this morning the CCC was asking me some questions about what I see as my strengths and gifts in the situation I was discussing. I said I see myself as one who assists others in living into their ministries - I see strengths and gifts and passions and encourage people to use them in the church or the world. I do the same thing for the "Church." I see the gifts and strengths of the Church and work to bring them forth ever stronger. I don't determine what these are, I see them and life them up. I don't try to make someone or something be what it is not, rather I strive to make strengths stronger and ever more apparent. In my current context that is not difficult, there are many potent gifts and strengths. There are, however a few ways in which strengths exist but are not recognized and therefore not being honed and utilized fully. We're working on that but it is a process.

Recently I have read an article that touts the idea of clergy moving from "Preacher to Facilitator." The blog article focuses primarily on preaching and using that time instead to facilitate a parish wide conversation on the texts. I have offered sermons that invite dialogue, and it is great fun.

What I take issue with is the post argues for a paradigm shift from preacher, as a generic term for clergy, to facilitator, using this as the reasoning.

Excellent facilitators do less than 30% of the talking, and get others to do the 70%. They risk letting others interpret God’s Word and listen to God’s Spirit instead of doing it all themselves. They give others credit for their ideas and insights, without boasting of their own. They hand over most of the power, control and status, rather than holding onto it. (http://www.churchinacircle.com/2013/03/15/from-preaching-to-facilitating-same-skill-set-different-mindset/)


No doubt that the points raised above are useful approaches to build consensus and mutuality and enable many voices to be heard. I employ aspects of this all the time, which is the point I was making with CCC regarding my strengths. No doubt that the more voices raised the greater the potential for the Spirit to speak and move.

Nonetheless it seems to me that the blog post is off-point a bit. One thing I think about is something my mentor said when I was doing my parish internship. She commented on the diminished role of certain positions once women are allowed to hold those positions. What she meant was, as soon as women begin to hold certain roles, formally only held by men, something happens to the culture, and the role begins to take on less importance, less meaning. Her point being, now that women are priests and rectors, the role of priests and rectors is being diminished in congregational life. It's as if we are being told that our voices are not as important as the congregational voice, regardless of how much experience, education, or insight we have. I believe that the blog post is actually making reference to the experience of a particular male clergy person. Male clergy have different experiences in congregations than female clergy do. Men have different experiences in the  workforce in general than women do. It is just  how our culture is constructed and functions, female and male voices of leadership are experienced differently.

Here's what I think and the point I am trying to make. Clergy, regardless of male or female, once we have been in a congregation for a couple of years, become part of the parish system. Like it or not - we are part of it. As part of the system we cannot effectively be the "facilitator." We can facilitate conversations from time to time, but our role cannot be THE FACILITATOR. That role needs to be delegated to an external voice and person. I use a parish consultant for this purpose, a person who meets with the leadership team at least once a year and helps us sort out where we are, now, as a congregation and as leaders. This person attends worship with us and preaches once a year. The consultant listens to all of us, clergy included, and then helps facilitate pointing us in a direction and guides our move there. The consultant gives us language to help frame and work with the ideas and perspectives we have raised.

As the clergy person in this congregation I have an inherent role and voice in the process of moving in the direction we are going. My voice and role do not mandate or determine where we are going or even how. But my voice and role do help to steady the ship, steer the car, and keep us on the road. I am after all, the paid employee, it is my job. The other leaders have other jobs and distractions that can stray them off course, or more likely, just cause them to stop church work to attend to other avenues of their lives. Appropriately so, personal or work life comes first and requires attention; church life takes a back-burner. Others in the group focus on a piece and may lose sight of the whole. The others will see well, and with great detail, their particular area. I may not know all the details of each area, that's not my job, but as clergy I hold clear where we are going and help guide how we get there. Clergy are not the facilitator, we are companions within the process who have a particular role to play. Others also have their role. We're a team and each of us has a voice and a role in bringing forth the mission. The team does not function well if any one of the voices dominates to the degree that others are suppressed or silenced. That means clergy voices too - the "Father knows best" paradigm is gone! Every voice is needed. As a team we in the church practice active listening and considerate speaking (not hogging the conversation, nor refusing to speak up). Facilitators listen to the whole group and offer insight and perspective on what was heard. Facilitators are key to mission and mission field development. Facilitators show us the map. Congregational members and leadership determine the destination. Clergy partner with the congregation in the process of determining the destination and the direction to get there, but clergy carry the road map and keep us on course.

There are enough challenges with the role of women in leadership. Encouraging us to be silent, give up our role and voice in the group dynamic, will only deepen the problem. Better to teach congregations that their clergy are partners with them, partners who have voice and a role to play that is as vital as theirs. A good facilitator will help forge this relationship of mutuality and as a result the entire congregation is healthier and real, transformative ministry can happen.

Well, that's at least how I am thinking about all of this today.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

A question, what shall we do....?

A reflection on Proper 18 C: Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Luke 14:25-33

Looking back over the years I remember a few things about the summer of 1977. I lived in Southern Illinois and worked two part-time jobs earning money for my third year of college. The Eagles were a popular band and their recent hit, Hotel California, played on the radio. The days were long, hot, and humid. I rode my bike to work and back.

Nights brought little relief, the humidity remaining thick despite the lack of sun and slight reduction in temperature. In the evenings I rode my bike to a near-by art studio where I was taking a class on pottery. Part of the class was learning how to make pots on a potter’s wheel. The rest of the class was building pots by hand. I loved working on the potter’s wheel. I never knew exactly what form would rise up from the mound of wet clay as the wheel spun. My thumbs would plunge into the center of the mound working with my fingers and hands to bring forth a shape. The spinning of the wheel became the impetus for the transformation my hands were trying to manifest. Sometimes the mound spun right off the wheel and landed on the floor. Sometimes the mound became misshapen, slightly too much pressure in one direction without balance from another would throw the entire piece off kilter. Sometimes, in a mystical moment of awe, a work of art rose up from the wheel, taking my breath away.

I still have a couple of the pieces of art that I made in that class.

In our reading this morning from Jeremiah we hear a story about God as a potter. Jeremiah the prophet is told to go to the potter’s house. There Jeremiah sees and hears the words of God through the potter and the clay on the wheel. The potter is having trouble with this mound of clay, which collapses and loses its shape. The potter presses the mound into a formless mass and begins again to shape it.

In this story, God is the potter and the clay is that which God desires from creation. Interacting with creation is for God, we hear in this story, like a potter spinning clay on a wheel, working to bring forth substance and shape. Despite the influence of spinning and the containment of hands, the mound of clay which exhibits its own free will. Free will is an aspect of all creation. Thus God works the clay, a process that requires love, skill, an artistic ability, patience, and adaptability. Surely God could make other choices, eliminating free will. But God, so far, has not chosen to do that. And so God and creation continue in this dance of being formed, shaped, and reformed. Thus provoking in us the question of whether or not the actions of human beings have any effect on what God decides to do. It seems this passage makes clear that creation is not locked into a fixed predetermined outcome. [i] Rather, we humans impact what happens, which means, perhaps, that we have an effect on God. That there are consequences for our actions is evidence of the effect we have on God. [ii]

In and through these consequences we learn that God is deeply invested in our lives and yearns to shape who we are and how we live.[iii]

This is a theme that the Psalm today makes clear. In the Psalm God is like a mother, forming us not on a potter’s wheel, but in God’s womb. God’s relationship with us is intimate. God knows us from the inside out; we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Fearful because we are not God and do not make ourselves, wonderful because we are God’s own creation.[iv]

As part of God’s creation God has given us the capacity to make choices. Nonetheless we do not get to choose the consequences of our choices.[v] Instead these consequences are part of the creative process of God’s action in the world. Sometimes that creative process means breaking down, reshaping, reforming, starting over, perhaps even flying off the wheel and landing splat on the ground. I know I have felt that way in my life from time to time as circumstances, often out of my control, knock me off balance. And yet, even lying splat on the ground, there remains a sense that God is still present, still inviting me, and us, into a creative, restorative process.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke points us in this direction – what it means to participate in God’s creative process and what it feels like when that process breaks down in order to start over. A mass of chaos may ensue. Discipleship, Jesus tells us, is what it means to remain faithful to God even when we have no idea where or how God is present in the moment. Being shaped and formed by God, following the teachings of Jesus, can cause division in our lives even as we practice loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves. God’s love is wildly expansive and rarely fits neatly into our desires for comfort.

This reminds me of the movie, “Freedom Writers” (not to be confused with Freedom Riders). This movie stars Hilary Swank as a new teacher assigned to a particular class of high school students. This class is seen as the school trouble-makers. The administration believes that they have no ability to learn and are incapable of caring for anything, including school books. They receive only old worn materials that no one else cares about. Hilary Swank sees her students in a different way. She sees both their broken lives and their potential. She sees through the chaos of violence rampant in this poverty stricken neighborhood of Los Angeles to a place where the disparate gangs of teenagers begin to recognize more what they have in common, less what separates them. Based on a true story it is powerful movie of transformation. But it costs Hilary Swank’s character her marriage. Her husband does not want to live a life devoted to the kids and transforming their lives. He wants to just live and work and not engage the challenges in the world around him. So he leaves her. But she continues and as a result lives are changed. The Freedom Writers Foundation was formed from the work of this teacher and her students. It exists today with a mission to empower educators and students to positively impact their own lives and the world around them.[vi]

Thus, discipleship is a process of our growing in faith, regardless of - or because of - the challenges we face. This Gospel reading tells us that growing in discipleship and faith means we will face difficult questions and make tough decisions. But both our reading from Jeremiah and the Psalm remind us that God is with us. We are not shaping this on our own. God holds us like the hands of an artist forming clay. God holds us like the womb of a mother forming life.

Today we begin the Season of Creation. During these five weeks we will reflect on our role in the world - how we are living as disciples of Jesus and stewards of God’s creation. God holds us in love and then invites us into the creative process of life. You might say that it is as if God has placed the mound of clay into our hands. Now the question becomes -  what shall we do with it?

[i] Feasting on the Word Volume 4, Proper 18C

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[v] ibid

[vi] http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org/about.html

Friday, September 06, 2013

Friday Five: Let's Eat!

3dogmom over at RevGals offers this Friday Five meme:

1) Is there a food from a foreign land whose reputation led to trepidation when you had a chance to give it a try? Did you find the courage to sample it anyway? If so, were you pleasantly surprised or did you endorse the less than favorable reputation that preceded it? I have tried many foods over the years. I think caviar may be the one that most stands out for me. I haven't had it in years but it was one of the appetizers offered in the 1980's when I worked for the famous interior designer. I found caviar to be salty and squishy but otherwise not something I disliked nor something I'd go out of my way to eat. 

2) What food from your own country/culture gets a bad rap? I from a line of people whose origins are in Scotland and England. My mother use to say we were part Irish, but I have no evidence of that in our lineage. So, I guess that bad rap food would be haggis. I have never tried it. Probably never will since I seem to have digestive issues with lamb....

3) what food are you fond that others find distasteful? I am fond of baba ganoush and sushi and grilled beets....someone I know described beets as tasting like dirt. (that made me laugh, accurate description actually, but I love beets - grilled, blended in veggie smoothies, and harvard beets on salads).

4) Is there a country’s food, not native to you, that you go out of your way to eat? Living in Dearborn, Michigan, home to a large population of Muslims, I eat a lot of Lebanese food. (It is delicious).

5) What is your guilty pleasure food? I am not really food motivated. I am however a beverage person (you know, coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, herbal tea at night, and a glass of wine with dinner...). However I suppose I could say that the made from scratch dark chocolate zucchini cake with cream cheese icing I made twice (recently) was certainly a guilty pleasure food!

Bonus: What was your most memorable meal (good or bad), either because of the menu, the occasion, the company, or some other circumstance that makes it stand out? My husband and I had many delicious meals at a small family owned restaurant in Arlington Heights, IL called Regina's. They've closed that location, but while it was open it was our GO-TO place for all events - birthday's, New Year's Eve, a night out. The food was always delicious and the atmosphere was beautiful and yet homey. It was a great Italian restaurant.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Exercise Paradox

As I prepare to return to work following two weeks of stay-cation time, I am thinking back over how I spent my time and what I carry forth with me into the program church year ahead. I did a lot over these two weeks, none of them exactly what I thought I was going to do. I anticipated a quiet two weeks of reading, writing, yoga, walking, and maybe a drive up to Door County Wisconsin to visit a good friend. Instead, when my husband also managed to get much of this same time off, we became project oriented. Our biggest project was refinishing an old make up table and converting it into a small desk for my home office. We also entertained and celebrated our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary and our daughter's twenty-fifth birthday. It was a fun, busy time.

In contrast to the busyness of this stay-cation I also took time every morning to read and reflect with an on-line retreat offered by Jane Redmont on the writings of Dorothee Soelle. Redmont posted each day a poem, a meditation, a prayer either by Soelle or in tandem with Soelle. "A Novena Retreat"  engaged us in a spiritual dimension inviting the participants to slow down, breath, read, pray, ponder, and engage in "Spiritual Exercise."

I am by nature a physical person. (For more on this idea see my previous post). Thus the idea of engaging in spiritual exercise works for me. I need a daily dose of this kind of work-out, too. Most of the time this means my life-long practice of daily meditation, usually about thirty minutes in the mid-afternoon. It also means some time reading, reflecting, and writing.

Here is something Redmont offered us on the last day of the retreat:

"Practice is very simple. That doesn't mean it won't turn your life around..Sitting is essentially a simplified space. Our daily life is in constant movement: lots of things going on, lots of people talking, lots of events taking place. In the middle of that, it is very difficult to sense what we are in our life. When we simplify the situation, when we take away the externals and remove ourselves from the ringing phone, the television, the people who visit us, the dog who needs a walk, we get a chance - which is absolutely the most valuable thing there is - to face ourselves." (Charlotte Joko Beck)


The paradox is that spiritual exercise may require one to sit still, become silent, and be present to the moment. But without this kind of daily exercise I simply cannot do anything else well or with integrity.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Moving: Same blog new site

I am playing around with the idea of moving my blog from blogger to wordpress...so, for the time being you can find me here


Summer is one of my favorite seasons. One of them because I like all four. Here in southeast Michigan we do have four seasons, and spring can be lovely. Spring in this region can bring blooming fruit trees and yards full of spring flowers with comfortable temperatures that last three weeks or more. (Hey, that is not bad considering other nearby regions have a dreary spring that feels more like winter and then suddenly it's hot and summer).

Dogwoods in bloom

Still, despite the lovely spring climate here, summer is one of my favorite seasons. I don't really mind being hot although I am not fond of high humidity. Being drenched all the time is just not my thing. Aside from the stickiness of humidity I like the ease of slipping on a pair of sandals, shorts and a T-shirt and heading out the door. No need for layers of attire, summertime walks are easy.

Walking, for me, is a means for maintaining good health and a social justice statement. Instead of driving I walk every where I can anytime I am able. I walk to reduce my "carbon footprint." . Five days a week I walk to yoga and back. I walk my dogs. I walk to the chiropractor, the manicurist, and sometimes the grocery store. When I need to figure something out, I take a walk. Walking is more than exercise or being mindful of the environment, walking is one of the ways I pray.

Moving my body is how I process the world around me and gain perspective on what is going on inside me. As I continue to my seek authentic voice in all of its expressions I have decided to move my blog to wordpress. I have appreciated for a while the clean lines and simplicity of wordpress versus blogger. Finally, during this two week stay-cation I have had the time to make the move and learn how to use wordpress. It was not that difficult. Now we'll see how well I like it.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Five: Firsts

Marybeth, over the RevGals, posts a Friday Five about Firsts. In part it is a reminder that the RevGal's blog is moving to a new site, from Blogger to Wordpress. But also, there are other first's to consider:

1. Your first "place" - whether it was an apartment, dorm room, or home with a new spouse, the first place where you really felt like a grown-up: I graduated from high school a year early and headed off to college just about this same time of year when I was 17. Oh I felt so ready to be on my own. I lived in a two-person dorm room and shared a bathroom with another pair of women. The four of us managed well enough. I remember my room was orange. It was 1974. The next year two girlfriend's and I rented a house near campus. It was a typical run-down, ignored by the owner, college house.  The furnace was old and  burned oil during the time when oil was very pricey and hard to come by. We were cold a lot. BUT we were truly on our own and making due well enough.

2. Your first time away from home. Construe this any way you want. College? Girl Scout Camp? Study Abroad?: I spent two weeks at girl scout camp when I was twelve. It was fabulous. I remember how I admired my camp counselor who was a college student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was smart and kind and I think I kind of wanted to be like her when I grew up.

3. Your first job in your field of endeavor (so, not babysitting, unless you are A Professional Babysitter today): My first real field of endeavor was lighting design for dance for a small dance theater in Chicago called MoMing
. I acquired a special major from Columbia College in Chicago which I called "Technical Direction for Dance." I was essentially a dance major and took lots of dance classes, but instead of performing on stage I ran the shows. I lit them, was the stage manager ensuring that everyone was on stage and ready on time, I ran the light board and the sound board. However it was also the early 1980's and funding for the arts was at an all time low. A regular paycheck was hard to come by, although I always got paid eventually. The job was hard and after four years I quit, exhausted from long hours and low pay. But still, I am always grateful I had that job and that experience, it has served me well as a priest in charge of liturgy for Sunday mornings, funerals, weddings, baptisms.....

4. Your first time hosting. Again, construed broadly, this could be a dinner for the in-laws, your first time to have guests for a holiday meal, etc. I have no idea when my first time hosting some event was. I have hosted many events over my life time. But I guess one of the memorable firsts was the baptism party for our daughter. She was born twenty-five years ago TODAY. My husband, being a former Roman Catholic, insisted on a quick baptism. I was not a church-goer and so we had no church family. Nonetheless I enrolled us in the local RC baptism prep class and we had her baptized on a Saturday with about fifty other little babies. Following the baptism we had a celebration at our home. It was a small place but we managed to have a good meal and fun party. My husband and I have pulled off a lot of parties and always think of them as successful - good food, good company, a good time. Tonight we will have another small family party celebrating our daughter's birthday. I will make bbq'd ribs, homemade potato salad, a salad of chopped tomato/cucumber/celery in a vinaigrette, corn on the cob, and for dessert - a made from scratch triple layer chocolate zucchini cake with cream cheese icing. 

5. Your first love.That can be a person or something else!! I'm married to my first real love. Sure, I dated before I met this man and thought that maybe I was in love. But I really wasn't. I was too young and really had no sense of myself. How can you love another when you don't even know how to properly love yourself. By this I mean, love one's own integrity, one's own self-worth, one's own true nature (instead of what society tells you to be or what parents project onto you?)...So, this is my first real, mature love. It has grown stronger and better over the twenty-eight years of marriage and thirty years we have known one another. We are a team, partners in life. And, yeah, it has not always been easy. We have traveled a rough road together, each of us being a challenge to live with from time to time. Now, as we enter the phase of being partners in life with grown children, our marriage is taking some new turns. It's a good place to be in.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Living Life Fully

“Listen--are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?"
 (Mary Oliver quote found on "Goodreads"). 

I was working at my dream job. Naive, with stars in my eyes, I was a mere twenty-eight years old and part of a design team at a high profile interior design firm.  The clientele included the wealthiest people in Chicago. I traveled around the country assisting the designer as he created second, third, and fourth homes for his clients.

 I had my sights on making it big - and making big money  - all the while being creative too! (I did say I was naive, right?).

Before taking this "dream" job I was working at Eddie Bauer on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, selling hiking boots. Now that WAS a fun job. I knew all the stats for the boots and could do a proper fit ensuring my customers had a good hiking experience. But then this opportunity arose. A friend of mine from my first career in the dance world wondered if I'd like to interview for his entry level job at the design firm. (I think I might have told him once that if he ever left that job I wanted it...so, call me, maybe?). I interviewed for it and was offered the job. Eddie Bauer countered with an offer to move up into a better position in the store, assistant management or something or other. I remember sitting with the man who became my husband and going over the pro's and con's of each job. I ended up leaving Eddie B's and going with the design firm. Through that job the man who became my husband got a job too - working for the computer company who supplied the design firm with their computers. Now we both imagined a life of luxury and ease. It was after all the mid 1980's and "everyone" was making money. (Well, not everyone. Those who were in the arts, as I had been in the early 1980's, were NOT making money....thank you Reaganomics for slashing funding to the arts...).

Well anyway. As you might imagine, this dream job was not. Definitely not. But I did learn a lot about the lives of the really wealthy, the 1% who hold most of the wealth in this country (maybe the world? no probably not THAT wealthy)....I learned a lot about the behavior of people who feel entitled. Two memories remain with me to this day. One, the realization that one client bought a dining table for her fourth home that cost more than I made in an entire year. Just the dining table, antique French country, $35,000.00. (I think I made about $26,000.00 plus benefits and that was a pretty good income in those days). The other memory is of a client who called me irate, yelling at me because his sofa was back-ordered. It was a custom made sofa whose fabric was back ordered. I got the impression that the client thought I should call the manufacturer of the sofa and order them to produce his fabric sooner so he could have his sofa when he wanted it. Right. That didn't happen. But honestly, the idea of it.

And then there was the staff dynamic stress. Seriously awful  angry behavior.

My survival mechanism for this crazy-totally-NOT my dream job job was to practice yoga. Every morning I'd get up early and practice yoga and meditate. It helped. Through out the day I would practice the deep breathing of yoga, encouraging my body to relax even as I was being yelled at by a crazy-man.

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

(My therapist wondered why I stayed...)

Four years into my dream job I quit. Turns out they had a rotten maternity leave policy and I wanted more time with my newborn baby. So I quit and stayed home with my precious daughter. And I learned to really breath and to really appreciate life.

Turns out, taking care of my infant daughter, being able to stay home with my kids, was my dream job. Now my kids are grown and I have another job that I love. But I am still a mom (and a wife - we just celebrated 28 years of marriage)..... I look forward to celebrating my daughter's twenty-fifth birthday this Friday, being her mom, making her a birthday cake.

Because it's still the dream job of my life. So take a deep breath, there will be candles to blow out, and a lifetime of love to celebrate.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Five: Packing, no rats thank you very much.....

 Deb, over at the RevGals, offers this Friday Five in response to a week of packing college bound and otherwise moving daughters:

1. Are you a sorter or a pack rat? What I mean by that is, do you select what you are taking with you (on a trip, a new assignment, a vacation), or do you pack with abandon (overweight suitcases be damned!)  I sort. I usually take a lot but I still sort, eliminate, make a list, double check, and try to plan for weather variables. I also always take my pillow and yoga mat - so that means a bigger than otherwise necessary suitcase.

2. Who first helped you learn how to pack? Or did you just come into it by osmosis or natural gifting  (and need)? My family moved a lot when I was kid. Usually we had a moving company come in and pack us up and move us. I learned a lot from watching them. I've moved a lot as an adult too...and much as I don't like to move, I am pretty good at it. The real test was moving ourselves back to the Midwest from the Southwest. We packed up the entire house, including all of our art, my husband's grandmother's china, etc. and loaded it on the biggest truck we could rent, then ended up putting it all in storage for a year. Then a moving company loaded it all up and moved it here. I was worried about our art work and few other items, certain that something got crushed. When we unpacked, nothing was broken.

3. What's your favorite kind of suitcase? Duffle? Soft-side? Wheels? (I am personally a fan of my "expanding zipper" wheelie suitcases. Saved my bacon on many a return trip home!) I always use a wheelie suitcase. As a birthday present last year I got a matching three set: gigantic, large carry-on (too large for some of the smaller planes); and a satchel that attaches to the wheelies.

4. Do you have that "packing gene" -- or do you pack and cram what you need into every available space? I am not as methodical as some when it comes to precise rolling and organizing in the suitcase, but I do manage to get a lot in a bag....of course having a kindle helps with the weight and the volume by reducing the number of books I take.

5. What's one thing you've learned in traveling, packing or storing your belongings that you think everyone should know? Life is an adventure that often times requires fortitude, make sure you know where to get a good cup of coffee to sustain you along the way.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Be Ready to Receive a Blessing.

 A reflection on the readings for Proper 14C: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40*

It was a warm spring night, we had just finished a board meeting and were heading out for dinner. I was the “community member at large” for a home health nursing company where I also served as a volunteer providing massages to the hospice patients. Another board member and I were talking about my resignation from the board as I prepared to go to seminary in the fall. This board member said to me that she no longer believed in God. Her faith died after she prayed long and hard for something and did not get it. She wondered how there could be a God if God does not answer our prayers and give us what we pray for.

I admit, at the time, I had no good answer for her.

Over the years I have come to wonder if maybe that board member’s question was off the mark? We have no idea if God says no, nor do we know if God intentionally does not answer our prayers. It’s possible that we are unable to perceive the way God responds to us.

Are we able to see within our lives the way that God acts, guides, informs, and forms us?

The author of the letter to the Hebrews and our Gospel reading this morning both offer some insight into this question.

Hebrews aims to assure us that in and through the life of Jesus we can come to understand that God’s presence in our lives is real. The love of God that manifests in and through the life of Jesus is intended to inform and sustain within us a sense of hope. This God inspired hope guides, forms and informs us. God’s presence is known to us in and through our sense of hope. Hope that causes us to take that one small step when we would rather just stay put. Hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Hope is both a thing of grace and a daily decision. God offers us hope, we have to decide to let it live within us.

Two centuries ago most people lived on farms, made their own clothes, and raised their own food. People lived further apart and were less dependent on the people around them. Today we have to have faith in the people around us. We have to trust the food prepared at the restaurant, trust the pilot of the airplane, and trust the caregiver at the day care.

All around us are messages reminding us that we much to fear. We are encouraged to be afraid of the weather, the stranger, our neighbor, schools, movie theaters, churches, even our own homes may not be safe. Our vulnerability is always before us, if we choose to focus on it.

The letter to the Hebrews offers us the reassurance that what is seen is not all that is. The Letter to Hebrews speaks of faith as having “the conviction of things not seen.” It is a reminder that our fears of need not have the last word in defining our lives. This requires some intentionality on our part, choosing how we will live and what we will focus on.

I like to start my mornings early, walking to yoga class. The sun is barely up and the light is soft in tones of pink and lavender. One day, a few months ago, when the leaves were still unfolding something caught my eye from the bridge over the Rouge River. There, not far from me, was a blue heron. It was magnificent. I was close enough to see the markings on its beak and its feathers. It sat perfectly still, looking more like a branch of a tree than a bird resting from its morning meal. I stood and watched for a long time.

I don’t need to walk to yoga. I could drive or ride my bike. Walking is intentional. It slows me down and in slowing down invites me to be more attentive. Slowing down enabled me to see that heron.  

Our Gospel reading suggests that slowing down is a good way to know God’s presence and be filled with hope. This reading asks us to “Be ready so that we can receive blessing.”

Receiving God’s blessing does not mean we will get what we want. God’s blessing of hope means we come to trust that somehow all will be well. This is not some na├»ve expectation, but a reality of God’s presence conveyed by people of faith down through the ages. From Abraham and Sarah, who followed God to an “unknown land,” to the Hebrew’s who came to know God’s presence in the face of persecution, to us, living today in a world that tries to dominate our emotions with fear.

Our readings this morning call us out of fear and into trust and hope.  Do not be afraid, Luke tells us, for it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We can choose how we want to live, what fills our lives. Our readings ask us to choose hope. To be ready and to anticipate a blessing from God, even perhaps a blessing that reveals itself in a beautiful lavender sky, a tree-lined river, and a bird, that sits unafraid, held safe in God’s creation.

Surely there is hope in that and an answer to prayer.

 * thanks to Feasting on the Word for influencing how this reflection unfolded....

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