Monday, October 27, 2014

Friends Through Life

Many years ago I worked in an office. It was a creative company whose clientele were some of the wealthiest in the country. The owner of the business was temperamental to say the least. It was a tough job. While there I formed a friendship with Sallie. In time she became the Godmother of my children and was "in the know" of almost every aspect of my daily life, the way really good friends are. Before too many years had past we both left that office and moved on to other things. I became a full time mom and a very part-time massage therapist. She went off to college where she got a bachelor's, a master's and eventually a PhD. Eventually I got two master's degrees and a new vocation that I've worked in for almost 15 years.

As life would have it we lost contact a few years ago. My many moves and some chaos and cell phone changes and so on and so forth meant that some relationships fell by the wayside. Her career, a full time job, and working on a PhD left her in a similar state. Life had to grow narrow in order to cope.

Once my life settled down I began the process of trying to find Sallie again. I tried to email her but got no reply. Her email address must have changed. I no longer had her cell phone number. (Did we even have cell phone numbers before we lost contact? I think we did). I tried looking her up at the university where she worked. I tried to find her through Facebook, but privacy settings wouldn't let me contact her to make sure she was the person I knew. Finally I found her on Linkdin. I never really use Linkdin, but I found her there and sent her a contact request. Within a very short time, (hours?), we were back in contact. Unbelievable.

Yesterday I met up with Sallie. My daughter Jessica came along to see her beloved Godmother and friend. Oh the stories! Oh the day. So much to catch up on. We talked and ate and talked and shopped and talked some more. It was delightful!

Good friends are precious, especially friends who have known us through so many life transitions. Sallie met me just after I was married. She knew my mother (not many people I know today actually knew my mother). She knows all of "my stuff" -  the struggles of a woman in her late twenties trying to find her way in the world. And I know hers. It's amazing to see where our lives have gone and how those early struggles have manifested into the lives we've lived. We have, by and large, managed to live the lives we hoped for.

A good part of our conversation yesterday was listening to my daughter express many of the same early struggles that Sal and I faced. I loved listening to Sallie share her story with my daughter. I've often told Jessica that her decisions are following a similar path as Sal's, especially not going to college straight from high school and trying to figure out as a woman in her mid-twenties, what to do with her life. I loved listening to Sallie's understanding of Jessi's thoughts and concerns.

I'm so glad that life has expanded again and we've reconnected. Yesterday was a day of celebrating life's challenges and accomplishments and, most importantly,  friendship.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Five: Sweet or Salty???



RevDeb over at RevGals offers this Friday Five: Ain't gonna lie... Even though there are no Trick-or-Treaters in our home, I still eye the candy aisle with undisguised lust.
(blushing)
What shall it be? Can I resist? Maybe you have a craving for a little something from time to time... join me for this week's Friday Five!
1. First, Sweet or Salty? Or both? Describe that gotta-have-it treat. (It can be healthy or paleo-friendly, or decadent. We won't judge!)  My go to treat lately is KIND bars. I like the dark chocolate nutty bars with 7 grams of protein and I really love the sweet and salty caramel bars with 6 grams of protein. YUM! And they don't mess around with my digestion issues. I also the Equal Exchange dark chocolate bars with almond or the caramel and sea salt. I like sweet and salty.
2. Self-control: How do you help yourself stay strong with the temptation of All That Sugar? As a child I loved Halloween. I loved getting a big bag of candy and then sequestering myself in my bedroom with a pile of books, reading and indulging in candy. It was not the healthiest thing to do, but for a couple of years it was something I enjoyed. Now I really can't eat much sugar, it makes me feel ill. So a little goes a long way with me. 
3. Have you successfully cut (or decreased) sugar out of your diet? How did you do it? I did! Last June I decided try to go refine-free: I cut out all refined sugars and refined carbs for a month. It did not make a huge difference, but it made some difference. I had better, more consistent energy, I slept better, and most of all I lost weight. I've tried to lose weight for years to no avail. This time instead of watching calories I cut sugar and carbs and increased my exercise a little and to date I've lost 14 pounds. I may have reached the limit of weight loss from that approach, but it's good enough. I feel better and my clothes fit again. 
4. What's one sweet you won't do without. Ever. Honey. I use raw, unfiltered, unrefined locally harvest honey in my coffee and tea. I started using it for my allergies and now I just like it. I also use a little in my protein shakes or on plain yogurt. 
5. Just for fun: if you were a candy bar, which one would you be? I use to love Almond Joy - coconut, almond, and chocolate! 

BONUS: Share a recipe or tip that uses up the leftover sweets at your house. At one church I served we collected all the left over Halloween candy from parishioners and boxed it up and sent it to our college students. It was fun. Hasn't worked here as well - not much candy is left over, apparently. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Selfie of God....

A reflection on the readings for Proper 24A: Exodus 33:12-23 and Matthew 22:15-21


How many of you have your cell phones on you? If your cell phone has a camera, take out your cell phone and take a picture of your self. 



Now look at the picture and notice what your see. Notice the color of your eyes and their shape. Notice the shape of your face and your skin tone. What are your thoughts as you do this? Are you judging yourself and being critical? Are you okay with how you look? Have you never really thought about how you look? 

In the last ten years there has been an increase in people taking photographs of themselves with the camera on the cell phones. These are called “selfies.” A television star name Kim Kardashian is supposedly writing a book called “Selfish” on how to take selfies. It will include some 200 selfies that she has taken. 

Also in the news are reports that there is an increase in plastic surgery since selfies have become so popular. People are so dismayed at the images they see from their camera phones that they choose to have plastic surgery in order to look better on their selfies.

Now go back to that selfie and as you look at that selfie realize that the face you see is God. It’s your face - but it’s also God’s face.

Does that change the image you see? Is it startling to imagine seeing God in your face? Are you able to see that the image in the selfie is you and is also an image of God? God has your eye color, your skin tone, and the same shaped face as you. 

God looks like each one of us and all of us at the same. God reveals God’s self in and through every human being. God is black and brown, pink, and white, olive toned, and all shades of skin color. God has blue eyes, brown eyes, black eyes, gray eyes, green eyes, and every shade of eye color. God has all hair color and all textures. 

At the same time God has none of our human characteristics - because God is not limited or confined by human constructs - God made us in God’s image - thus God is like all of us - but God is also more, much more than all of us. 

And yet, as Christians we know God first and foremost as a being with whom we are and can be in relationship. That God revealed God’s self in the person of Jesus, gives us the idea that we can see God in human form. 

Now take a good look at yourself agin. And then take a look at the person sitting near you. Yes, this will feel a little uncomfortable. But try it anyway. As you look at a person sitting near you, say out loud, “You are the face of God. In you I see Jesus.”

Just sit with that for a moment. “You are the face of God, in you I see Jesus.”

There is no need for any one us to be dissatisfied with how we look. There is no need for any of us to judge ourselves or another person for how we look or who we are. Each one of us is the face of God, in us God’s love made manifest in Jesus is revealed to the world. 

Imagine doing this with every person you know or meet, seeing them the face of God. 

Imagine how difficult this will be when we encounter people who are cruel or evil? And yet, God is in them too. 

That does not mean that God is cruel or evil. Rather it means that God is trying to call that person into being the best version of themselves that is possible. Christian teachings suggest that God keeps working in and through us and never gives up. So transformation may be possible, even after death.

Our readings this morning from Exodus and Matthew offer us ideas on God and how we see God, ourselves, and others in world. Matthew in particular calls us to ponder what we idolize. In this country we tend to idolize movie stars and athletes. We pay them a ton of money to look good in film or photos or to be a star athlete. We measure ourselves to them - why else would Kim Kardashian be given a contract to write a book and publish 200 photos of herself taken with her cell phone? 

Now I think selfies can be a lot of fun and hilarious. And in that context I am all for them. The danger is when we start to idolize looking perfect, and obsessing over it. 

The same can be said about a faith community. Churches can become too self-focused, worried about how they look or worried about finances or some other obsession that takes them away from their mission. Such worries take us away from God and keep us stuck, frozen in an image of self that does not reflect how God sees us.

Think about that - as you sit looking at your image in the selfie - God is looking back at you. What does God see? 

God sees a beloved human being. God sees a person that God loves deeply. God looks at you tenderly and with compassion, holding all your fears and worries with love. God looks at you and says, you are my most precious creation, with you I am well pleased. 

God does the same thing with our church. God looks at us, with all our flaws, and says, Christ Church in Dearborn, is my most precious creation. God does this for every church, every synagogue, mosque, and house of worship. God loves God’s creation. 

We have many profound ways of expressing God’s presence in and through us and out into the world around us. As a Community- Centered church we reveal the face of God, the love of Christ to those who come into our building for dance classes, martial arts, stretching, voice lessons, preschool, AA meetings, even to the postal carriers who come here every day. Some of them bring our mail. Others just need a place to use the bathroom and come in from the cold. One postal carrier gave us a $500 donation as a thanksgiving for leaving our doors open so she can use a bathroom or come in from the cold. At least two different postal carriers come in to our building every day for this purpose. 

We are the face of Christ as we feed hungry people. Soon we are going to ask for donations to our food pantry for turkeys and the ingredients for people in need to make aThanksgiving dinner. I don’t know if Leon’s does this, but if they sell gift cards we could purchase some of them so that people who have no place to cook can go to Leon’s for a hearty Thanksgiving meal.

These are just a few of the ways that we reveal God’s love made manifest in Jesus, God’s love in us, through the mission and ministries of this church. 

We are intentionally nurturing an attitude of gratitude. For it is through our ability to be grateful for all that we have and all that we are - without comparing ourselves to others and without judgement - but with thanksgiving - that we are able to become even more grateful. It takes practice. It is, as I said last week, a discipline of perception, formed by how we choose to see our lives and the world around us. 

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude becomes the inspiration from which we are able to Grace it Forward - sharing the love of God that we’ve come to know in our lives  - with others in the world. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Seeking One's Truest Self

I've been reading, again, Terry Tempest Williams' book, "When Women Were Birds." She tells the story of her mother's death and subsequent reading her mother's journals. She reflects on the impact they had on her. William's writes: 
In Mormon culture, women are expected to do two things: keep a journal and bear children. Both gestures are a participatory bow to the past and the future. In telling a story, personal knowledge and continuity are maintained.

"When Women Were Birds" tells an engaging story of voice; silence and finding one's voice. She reflects on these from the lens feminism within Mormon culture, a perspective that was unknown to me in my experience of growing up in the Mormon Church. The women in my family, although Mormon for generations since it's origin in the early 1800's did not keep journals. A few of the women have done genealogy and written stories about our foremothers and father's. But neither my mother nor my grandmothers kept journals.

I have not been a practicing Mormon for 43 years. I often wonder, though, if we had stayed in Utah, if I would have remained Mormon? Would I be the non-practicing sort, like many in my family? Or would I be faithful, like others in my family? Would I have found my way to feminist thinking within the Mormon church? I loved my church as a child and can only imagine that I might have stayed with it. Instead I like to think that I have returned to the "mother church" since all of my family came from England, Wales, or Scotland. Becoming Episcopalian realigns me with my early ancestors who were members of the Church of England, many of my family from the Manchester area who were married in the Cathedral.

My life has taken quite a different path than it might have. I look back over the intersections of decisions - "this?" or "that?" and wonder how it might have played out if I had made other decisions. Now, almost sixty years old, I cast my gaze over the years of my life, what was, what is, what never will be.

I'm sad that my life has included so many disconnections from my family of origin. Even now, making an effort to stay in touch with my long distant family is a challenge. We don't call one another. At best we might text or "like" something on Facebook. This is not a criticism, it is just an observation.

I come from a long stock of pioneer women who were disconnected from their families of origin. Women who left their parents and siblings in England and travelled across water and land for five months, to Utah to practice their faith. But, at what cost? I wonder how they felt? I wonder if that kind of disconnection was replaced by another family comprised of friends and children in their new home? I have no idea, since the women in my family did not keep journals - or if they did I don't have any of them.

I am grateful that my life has included a family of my own, with a husband of nearly thirty years, and two great children. This life, of being a wife and mother, has not been easy. But the primary effort has been to stay together, while each being their own person. I raised my kids to be their own person, but to be in relationship with their family. My children, now in their twenties, are growing into themselves, learning how to be healthy adults in a demanding world. I'm learning how to be a mother of grown children, including how to be a mother-in-law to our daughter's husband, and in-laws with his parents. Thankfully I really like our son-in-law and his family, so navigating this new aspect of our family is not difficult. Rather it's wonderful to have our family expand in such a delightful way.

On the other hand, I have observed some interesting emotions inside of me now that my daughter is married. It has hit me quite hard that she changed her name and that she is shifting from being our "little girl" to being an independent married woman with an entire side of her life that has less to do with us and more to do with her husband and his family and friends. This is how it should be. I did the same thing - made that shift. But given my history of disconnected relationships this has stirred up in me a lot of emotion. These emotions are not rational -by nature emotions never are - but they do reveal my fears, anxieties, and hopes. I worry about "losing" my daughter to her new family. This worry is a challenge and requires me to be fully aware and careful about my ability to be mature and give her room to mature as well.  This means that I don't make efforts to keep her in a dependent role with me, mother and daughter, but that we stay in relationship in a new way. I can't solve or fix her problems like I might have when she was little. I can, however, listen and honor her struggles and her strengths. I can ask questions that might lead her to think about her life with greater insight so she can make her own decisions. I can remind her of the strengths in her character that I admire. I can tell her that I love her and the woman she has become.

This is one of the aspects of "When Women Were Birds" that I most resonate with - the letters and notes that Williams' mother wrote to her. My mother never did that, never reflected back to me who I am, nor is she was proud of me, nor if she loved me. To my mother I was always an extension of her, she struggled to see me as an independent person, which is a reflection of the brokenness of her life. But I love how William's mother was able to do this and what a treasure it is to have your mother's mirror of you put into written words, to reflect on throughout one's life. I hope to do this for my daughter, so she has a mirror of herself from my perspective, one that fully honors her as a woman in her own right.

Yesterday I watched the final episode of season three of "Call the Midwife." I won't offer any spoilers here, except to say that it had a very powerful mother-daughter dynamic between Chummy and her mother. It reminded me of the challenges with my mother, albeit in different ways. My mother's death has not left me with remorse over what might have been. I felt that remorse while she was still living, and knew too well the limitations of our ability to create a healthier relationship. Sometimes we humans are too damaged from life's trauma to every really heal. I navigated a relationship with my mother that was tenuous at best - sometimes good and then quickly and for no apparent (to me) reason, she cut me off - and then, in time, we'd be back in relationship. The tide always turned on her ability to be in relationship or not. I just had to be there, be present, and be willing. I had to be able to manage my feelings to not take hers too personally. It was a lot of work and very sad. I grieved for years that she and I did not, could not, have a better mother-daughter relationship. As an adult woman, with a husband and children, and many years of therapy, losing myself in my mother was no longer an option. I grieved what might have been. In her death that grief was resurrected but it was not new. Now I live with little regret. She and I each did the best we could.

When I launched this blog in 2006 I was struggling mightily with my "voice." I struggled with my preaching voice, with being heard in the wider church, and even with my voice as a mother of teen-agers. Much of that struggle had to do with my feelings of inadequacy and an in ability to be comfortable in my own skin. In the last eight years I have grown and matured and my voice has become more confident. I have become comfortable with who I am and more confident too. That has come from a lot of hard work, interior work to know myself and trust myself.

I have from time to time considered changing the name of this blog, but it continues to resonate with me. I am, may always be, seeking authentic voice, in some form or another.

I recently read a definition of "authenticity" as being true to one's self in relationship. My grandmothers of generations past may have written journals about their lives, but I don't have them. I don't know what they thought or worried about or hoped for. I can only imagine, given some of the details of their lives, what these might have been. For me I see them as strong women of faith who made the best of challenging circumstances. I hope they felt some joy and peace in their lives but that may have evaded them. Life had to be difficult in foreign land without family near by.

It occurs to me that this blog is one way I am connecting to the energy of my female ancestors. Reflecting on my life here is one way I strive to be connected to the people in my life, family and friends. This blog is like my journal, the telling of my story as I seek my voice, strive to be my truest self, and work at being in relationship with those I know, love, and work with. Here are eight years of my story of faith and hope, a love story of self.




Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grace Rising, Unstoppable

A reflection on the readings for Proper 23A: Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

The other night I had a sudden urge to make homemade bread. I looked through the cabinets and found all the ingredients: yeast, honey, olive oil, whole wheat flour, white flour, and salt. I wanted to make an herb bread so I also needed oregano, basil, rosemary and marjoram. 

I have made a lot of bread in my lifetime, it’s something I really love to do. I am especially fond of kneading bread, and always think of my great-grandmother. She had some peculiar ideas about cooking. For example, she thought it was important to only stir cake batter in one direction so that the molecules aligned in the same direction. I guess stirring in multiple directions would mix up the molecules and the cake wouldn’t turn out well? I have no idea if that is true, but I try to follow her instructions anyway. 

This particular baking process was a little doomed from the start. First of all, the yeast expired on Sept. 24. Well, I thought, there’s no harm in mixing it with some warm water and a little honey, and see if it’s still good. So I did, and after ten minutes the yeast was frothy and clearly still alive. 

Into the frothy yeast I added oil, salt, and the herbs and stirred them. Then I measure two cups of whole wheat flour and one cup of white flour, and dumped all three cups into the liquid all at once.

And then I gasped. Flour is never poured in all at once into a bread recipe. For bread the flour must be added a little at a time, stirred in and then kneaded in, until the dough as achieved just the right consistency - not too wet and sticky and not too dry. 

But now that the flour was soaking into the liquid there was nothing to do but stir it in a little and then pour out the dense mixture and make an effort to knead it. The dough was heavy, dry, thick. But I kneaded it anyway, hoping to get a little elasticity out of the dough. After a couple of minutes I formed the dough into a ball, rubbed oil over it, placed it in a bowl and covered it with a towel. I left it sit in a warm place, hoping it would rise. An hour later it had almost doubled in size, so I punched it down, shaped into a round loaf, let it rise again, and then baked it.

The bread turned out almost perfect - the texture was even although it was a little dry - but nothing a dollop of butter wouldn’t fix. 

It’s amazing to me that with all of these problems - expired yeast, way too much flour, and not nearly enough kneading - the bread still turned out well. I’ve always thought that bread making was a fine art - requiring a certain amount of skill to know just how much flour or kneading the dough required on any given day. But now I wonder if bread is incredibly flexible and adaptive, prone to turn out well, even under challenging circumstances? 

Our readings this morning from Philippians and Matthew suggest that we are prone to come out well even when faced with challenging circumstances. The community in Philippi is struggling through some conflict. Paul writes to assure the community, settle them down, and focus them on their mission as the Body of the Christ. Likewise in Matthew we are reminded that God will go to great lengths to bring everyone into the kingdom - and all we need to do to qualify for God’s kingdom is to live a life of transformation - like bread dough rising from the yeast within, a life where we are striving to become the best version of ourselves that we can manage to achieve. 

So, if we are to come out well, even when facing challenges, how do we do this? Again, our readings offer us some insight: we practice living our faith in and through the challenges we are facing. We practice by nurturing an attitude of gratitude in and through the challenges. Paul calls this “forbearance” and it leads to joy. 

Joy is a “discipline of perception,” it comes from how we view the circumstances of our lives. People facing difficult times can still live with joy in their hearts. This is not platitudinous, nor is this a naive thing to say. The joy that comes from having God and Christ at the center of our lives is a spiritual reality. When are able to focus of our lives in such a way that we develop an awareness of God’s presence, regardless of life’s circumstances, we feel a sense of peace and peace leads to joy. 

Paul is encouraging the people in Philippi to understand that joy grows from the soil of life’s challenges because it is in and through the challenges that we are broken open enough to see and feel God’s presence, and this leads to joy. Mixed up ingredients in bread still makes for delicious bread - mixed up ingredients in life can lead to peace and joy because God is with us.

Through out the 105 years of this congregation we have shown a great deal of forbearance, which has produced much joy. In the last three years we have buried many of our beloved parishioners, and that has been sad, and yet we give thanks for their presence in our lives. We have had financial challenges and transitions of clergy and staff. These are all stressful events. At the same time however we have welcomed new people into the church and through relationships with one another we have each experienced relationships that have transformed us in the best of ways. We have responded to many global and local needs  - for example in the 19990’s we helped resettle refugees from Kosovo and built wells for water in Africa. In the 2000’s we responded to the damage from the earthquake in Haiti and most recently we partnered with a church in Liberia to build a k-12 school, helped launch Blessings in a Backpack which has become a successful response to hungry kids in the Dearborn school system, created and supported the annual Holiday Market to help local artists, and initiated a food pantry in the church that feeds many hungry people. We have supported Chapel Day preschool and a local Boy Scout troop for fifty years. This summer we were hit with a major flood and lost the use of our basement during Summer Arts Camp - in a week that also included a wedding and a professional recording session for Renaissance Voices. That was a tough week - but it was a great week too - filled with much grace and many blessings as we all adapted and made the best of a very bad set of circumstances. 


Being adaptive and making the best of challenges is one of our strengths. It leads to the heart of our character as a Community-Centered church and the joy that lives in and through our mission and ministries as we respond to the ever-changing needs of this community and the world. As a Community-Centered Church our mission is building transformational relationships with each other here at Christ Church, with others in the wider church and interfaith community, and in the world around us. These transformational relationships are built on grace, on the love and the many gifts of our lives that come from God, as we Nurture an Attitude of Gratitude, gracing forward the blessings God has give us.

A remedy for spiritual malaise.....

I’m tired.  I’m tired of the onslaught of violence in the world: guns and mass murders; abuse of people of color; abuse of women; abuse o...