Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Five: Whatcha Hauling?

Deb, over at the RevGals offers this Friday Five:

Sometimes, as pastors, chaplains, moms or just itinerant workers, our purses and backpacks do become “carry-alls.” So this made me wonder: what are you carrying around that perhaps you could unload or set aside? Please share
Physical: What do you ALWAYS carry in your purse/wallet/coat pocket/backpack? I always carry chapstick. I use Burt's Bees pomegranate. 
Whimsical: Is there a surprise inside? What’s among the unusual items. No surprises, but among the usual - lipsticks (a variety of shades and brands), the chapstick, receipts for various things, sometimes my Kindle, keys, business cards.
Practical: As a chaplain, I always have some breath mints and tissues. How about you? Yes, always. The tissues, however are for me and my perpetually runny nose, although I'd offer a fresh one to anyone who needed it. 
Spiritual: Share a question or lesson from your spiritual life that you’re puzzling about. I have taken hours and hours of workshops on Bowen's Family Systems Theory this past year and particularly how Family Systems relates to my life as a parish priest. What I am pondering is the role of faith and spirituality in Family Systems theory. There is a proposed 9th Concept that Murray Bowen was working on when he died, which dealt with how spirituality fit into the theory. I am considering how faith and religion, God and spirituality, are foundational in my experience and understanding of Family Systems. It will be some time to think it through. No doubt I'll be blogging about it along the way. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Five: Taxing Edition

Cindi, over at the RevGals offers this post-tax day Friday Five:....
Taxes: What events do you find “taxing”..... I am taxed when life throws me endless demands and I have to switch up my schedule, over and over, to meet them. Often this means that the things that keep me calm and healthy, like yoga and other exercise, fall by the wayside. Eventually I get back on track but it's ironic that when I need those practices most, I am unable to engage in them..
Withholding: Aside from money, what do you put aside for when you need it? During those unplanned demands that happen from time to time, and soon as I can, I take some time to rest and renew. Sometimes this means reading a novel while riding the exercise bike (two birds with one stone...). When the weather is nice I walk to yoga, again two birds...
Exemptions: What things do you do to take some time off? I like to go away to visit family in Chicago or Utah or go off with my husband to a quiet place in the country to renew and refresh. He and I have not gone away in a long while, but we hope to do something this summer for our 30th wedding anniversary.
Deductions: What things in your life help you get through trying times? Yoga, meditation, and reading good fiction, going out to eat with my husband, or enjoying a glass of good wine. 
Refunds: How do you realize the benefits of what you do all year? When Easter Day is over, and I have completed the "Liturgical Crunch Season" (All Saints' Day to Easter), I can look back at a year well done and look forward to a slower liturgical season from summer through the fall. I also look forward to warmer weather when I can just slip on shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals, and off I go.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I will, with God's help....

I was baptized when I was nine years old. I have vivid memories of the baptism because I was terrified as I was fully immersed three times in a deep pool of water, and relieved when I did not drown. But I have no memory of any preparation for that baptism. I don’t recall anyone talking to me that morning or the day before about the meaning of baptism and how it would impact my life.

In the early church people spent two years preparing for baptism. Then, only adults were baptized and the two years were spent unlearning one way of understanding the world - particularly that the emperor was God - and replacing that worldview with an understanding of who Jesus was and the Christian understanding of God.

Now, when I prepare a person for baptism, or meet with parents and Godparents of a child or infant who is to be baptized, I spend about an hour in conversation with them followed by a rehearsal. 

Baptism is the beginning of one’s journey of faith. The first thing baptism does is “name” us. In the month leading up to a baptism we pray for the individual by their first and middle name. We do not use their surname. Who knows why? Because in baptism we all share the same last name, “Christian.” In baptism we are named and become a member of the family and body of Christ.

One learns what it means to live as a Christian through being part of a faith community and through facing the challenges of life, making decisions based on the values of the Christian faith. In the world today it can be confusing to know what Christian values we are to live from. The baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer offers Episcopalians some clarity on this. 

The covenant asks a number of questions including: Will you share? Will you treat others with dignity and respect? Will you learn about the Christian faith and will you worship in community; and our response is, “I will with God’s help.” We are not asked to journey alone, we are invited into a community of other people of faith and supported throughout our lives by the presence of God. Everything we do, we do with God’s help.

The conversation I have with people preparing for baptism covers three renunciations and three affirmations. Each person preparing for baptism is asked to renounce evil and affirm a new way of life. My hope is that people have a good sense of what they are renouncing and affirming in these vows. The first question I ask is, “What is evil? What does evil mean to you?” To a person this question, the idea of evil, is challenging. We live in a world that is full of evil but we are losing the ability to talk about evil from a spiritual perspective. This is because what gets defined as evil is culturally bound in time and place. Binding evil within the confines of a culture and a time tends to minimize evil and eventually, as times change, people reject that which has been defined as “evil.” 

In baptism we are reminded that evil is a spiritual force that pulls us away from God, causes harm to other people and causes harm to ourselves. I define evil as that which causes broken relationship in all its forms - broken relationship with God, broken relationship with the earth, broken relationship with other people, and a broken relationship with ourselves. How are you living with and struggling through broken relationships like these? What does it feel like when you are living with a broken relationship with God? What does it feel like when you are living with a broken relationship with another person? In what ways are you broken within yourself? How do you feel bad about who you are? Can you think about these broken places and recognize the evil spiritual forces at play in your life? Growing into being a mature Christian requires that we think about the broken places in our lives and work to heal them and make amends. 

Secondly, the baptismal candidate or the parents and Godparents on behalf of the candidate, are asked to affirm a new life in Christ. What does this mean? What does “savior” mean to you? Again, “Savior” is one of those complicated Christian words that gets culturally bound up in time and place. The end result may diminish the meaning of savior in one’s life. I have often said that I think God called me into the priesthood in order to save me. By this I mean, God was saving me from myself, from my own propensity toward self destructive ways of diminishing myself. As a priest, as a wife, as a mother, I have felt called to do the hard work to be the best person I can. I have worked to have greater self-awareness of what pushes my buttons and how I can be more reflective and responsive and less reactive and emotional. I have gone to therapy and spiritual direction and worked to recognize my feelings and use them appropriately. Years ago, disenfranchised from church, I chose to return to church for the specific reason of having a community with whom to grow and mature as a person of faith. One cannot be a Christian by one’s self. One needs to be in relationship with a community of people who are facing life’s challenges so that we walk the journey together. Becoming a mature Christian and working to have healthy relationships is the bedrock of Christianity. 

This is why we baptize people on a Sunday morning in the primary worship service - so that baptism is central to our lives, central to who we are as a community, and so that the person being baptized understands that they are being welcomed into relationship, into community. 

In a few moments we will baptize Alexander Frank and welcome him into the body of Christ. Alexander’s father was raised in Christ Church. John and Suzanne were the first couple I married when I arrived at Christ Church. John’s parents have been members for a long time and even though they have moved away and spend part of the year in Florida, Christ Church is still their spiritual home. Today we baptize Alexander Frank into a family, into a history, into a faith community, and he takes on our name, Christian. May we do everything we can to support Alexander in his life in faith, as we have done for his parents and grandparents and for one another. May we do all of this with God’s help. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Five: Adieu Karla.....

RevKarla, over at the RevGals blog offers this, her final Friday Five meme after 8 years of hosting the game (thank you Karla!):

1.  What are you wearing right now?  (a question from my first FF play.) I bought a new pair of jeans the other day, a pair that actually fit me, so I am wearing them along with a black cotton turtleneck and a sweater, and a pair cute sketchers shoes. 
2.  What are you having for lunch (or dinner)?  (another question from my first FF play.) I will probably have carrot/ginger soup for lunch with toast and peanut butter. Dinner will be left overs: ham, smoked polish sausage, homemade potatoes au gratin, salad (finishing off the belated Easter dinner). 
3.  Share an experience of community that was transformative or precious to you. Being part of church communities for almost thirty years has certainly influenced my life. Thankfully my first adult experience of church community was a gift and a blessing of other young families with children, offering me companionship and playdates when I was raising children. That experience  eventually led me to embrace God's call to become a parish priest. 
4.  Describe your favorite mug or glass. A number of years ago I bought a huge coffee mug at a Starbucks in a hotel I was staying in while attended a convention. It's white with swirls of lavender and lime green, I've never seen another one like it. I put it away when I pulled out the Christmas season mugs and this reminds me to look for it....(and put away the Christmas mugs, lol). (yes, I have so many mugs I have to cycle them in and out of use)....
5.  Give a shout out to a friend or colleague! A number of my seminary friends and colleagues from around the church world are RevGals - and of course I have a number of RevGal friends whom I have never met in real life. Love to all of you!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Signs of Easter

Although the weather suggests otherwise, spring has arrived and Easter is here. We’ve made it through the long, cold, winter and the dry barren season of Lent. Now we rejoice and celebrate God’s love in the world, made known to us in the hope of the resurrection and the promise of new life.  As Christians we have adopted a number of symbols to help us celebrate the day, celebrate spring, and celebrate new life. For example, we have the Easter bunny, Easter eggs, and my favorite, jelly beans. 

I can say with certainty that the Easter bunny does not make an appearance in any of the stories in the Bible. So, how rabbits came to be a symbol for Easter is a bit of a mystery. Some suggest that it has to do with ancient fertility rites. Rabbits are very fertile, which made them a natural symbol for new life to ancient people. Later, Christians adopted the rabbit as a symbol for the new life of the resurrection. The tradition of an egg-laying rabbit came to this country by German immigrants in the 1700’s, who settled in Pennsylvania. The children made nests in which the creature could lay colored eggs and they left carrots for the rabbit in case it got hungry. Eventually the tradition of the rabbit and the colored eggs spread through the country. 

Easter eggs are also a symbol of new life which were used by ancient people in festivals to celebrate spring. Christians adopted the symbol of colored hard boiled eggs to symbolize Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and his new life in the resurrection. You can see that symbolized here at the altar. During the season of Lent, the box, which we call a tomb, held the alleluias that the kids made. Now that box, that tomb, is tipped on its side, and the alleluia’s have been released and are on display in the hall outside this door. Colored eggs now pour out of that tipped over tomb of a box. 

Decorating Easter eggs dates back to about the 13th century. Then, eggs were a forbidden food during Lent. At the end of Lent eggs were decorated and then eaten to mark the end of the Lenten fast. Every year on Good Friday we offer a Stations of the Cross for children. It’s a fun event and very popular with kids and adults as we learn about Jesus’ last hours in simple child appropriate meditations and prayers. We move around the building, each place representing part of Jesus’ last day of life. We learn about foot washing and the last supper, about being kind to others. We talk about the pain of being teased and bullied and the importance of saying sorry when we’ve hurt someone’s feelings. We talk about spring and new life, and God’s love. The final station is the coloring of Easter eggs, symbolizing new life.

Easter eggs hunts and egg rolling events have become popular Easter traditions.  The White House Easter Egg Roll is a race in which children push decorated hard boiled eggs across the White House lawn. It takes place on the Monday after Easter. 

The first official White House egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. The largest Easter egg ever made was over 25 feet high and weighed over 8,000 pounds. Someone constructed a steel, egg-shaped frame and then covered it with chocolate and marshmallows.

Did you know that Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday in the United States, after Halloween?  Chocolate eggs, which date back to early 19th century Europe are favored by many of us.  Another egg-shaped candy, the jelly bean, my personal favorite, became associated with Easter in the 1930s. The jelly bean’s origins may, however, date back to a Biblical-era concoction called a Turkish Delight. Over 16 billion jelly beans are made in the U.S. each year for Easter. That’s enough jelly beans to fill this entire church space.  The top-selling non-chocolate Easter candy is the marshmallow Peep, a marshmallow bird covered in a sugary casing.  A Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based candy manufacturer called, “Just Born” (founded by Russian immigrant Sam Born in 1923) began selling Peeps in the 1950s. The original Peeps were handmade, marshmallow-flavored yellow chicks, but other shapes and flavors are now available. 

Although Easter has not quite become a secular holiday like Christmas, there are clearly some Christian Easter traditions that have become part of the culture at large. It’s helpful to remember that rabbits, and colored eggs, and egg-shaped candy, all have a link to what we are celebrating this day, Easter, the resurrection, and the many signs of new life God offers us in creation. 

Life always throws us curve balls,  unexpected challenges, but, sometimes, within the challenges we can also recognize signs of hope, love, and new life.

Regardless of the challenges that life brings my way, I am learning to trust God. It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over. Somehow, when I am really willing to try, I feel deep within or just on the periphery of my being, that God is present. I can sense God’s presence because even in the midst of anxiety, I might feel peaceful. I might feel hopeful. I know that all things pass in due time and the challenges of life serve to help me grow as a person and in my faith. 

This is the journey of Holy Week into Easter - the journey of life through the challenges that come my way, moving through them into a new place of wholeness. Jesus’ death on the cross is transformed by God into new life, like winter is transformed into spring, like even a bad day can hold within it something good. Because God’s love always has the final word. God’s love prevails. Rabbits, colored eggs, and candy are just symbols of the creative, life-giving, sweetness of God. Our delight as we enjoy these symbols remind us of God’s abiding presence and never ending love for us, today, and every day. 

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...