Saturday, July 30, 2016

What a girl wants

A little girl was born in 1939 to parents who were just out of high school. Her life was not an easy one. In quick succession, two more siblings were added to the family, a brother and a sister. When the little girl was three years old her parents started leaving home for the weekend. The little girl was left in charge of tending to her two younger siblings. Imagine the challenges of being three or four years old and having to feed a two year old and an infant. Imagine changing diapers and trying to keep a house clean. Then imagine the fear and horror of that kind of responsibility. Then imagine what it must have felt like when the parents returned and beat you, physically and emotionally, because you did not do a good enough job, the house was a mess and the baby needed a bath. Imagine living in a house that had rodents residing in the basement, adding to your terror when your parents left for the weekend, as they did many times. My mother was this little girl, broken forever by the actions of her parents. She might have been someone else. My mother was smart, beautiful, with a sharp wit, she might have been someone else in life, someone more "successful." What a girl wants is not what my mother achieved in her life.

Imagine my curiosity to learn that Hillary Clinton's mother had a similar childhood. So did my mother in law. Yet my mother in law managed to stay married for almost 50 years and raise four great kids. Hillary's mother managed to raise Hillary. Yes, my mom raised me and my three younger brothers, but her legacy to us was very broken. I understand. She truly did do the best she could, and she did instill in me a desire to be healthier. I've spent my life trying to grow up and become healthier and more mature, to break the pattern in my family. What this girl wants has proven to be a challenge to achieve.

I come frpm a family of Mormon pioneers, people who left their families of origin behind and moved from England to settle in Utah. The women in particular were cut off from the support of families and, in the name of faith, tried to live a new life. They lived hard lives. What a girl wanted was never valued. If there's any truth to the idea that the struggles of one generation show up in the DNA of future generations, I can attest to the pulls and tugs that reside in me. I have worked hard to be aware of these pulls - to cut off and leave people, to choose to not be in relationship instead of working out problems, to feel overly defensive and quick to be the victim. In my family, unlike Hillary's, there was not the strength from my mother, of being told to go outside and figure out how to deal with the bullies. No, in my family we closed the door and pretended they weren't there, licking wounds instead of mending fences. 

Somehow I have found myself living a very different life than the one I might have. This too I think is the result of my broken mother. She managed to instill in me the idea that I was to be better. That is what I have tried to do, be a better wife, mother, and human being. I never, ever, imagined myself living and working in a public, formerly all male role, as an Episcopal priest. Never. I come from Mormon country, where women work in the background not the public. I come from a place where nothing schooled me in how to think or write or talk for the public. What I, as a girl have wanted, I have had to learn all on my own. 

Or maybe not. Perhaps some of what I have in me, as a priest, is also the remnants of ancestral DNA, somewhere far back, when my great grands were priests in the Church of England and lawyers and, yes, even a princess in Scotland. Maybe there's a bit of that DNA coming forward? 

Regardless, here I am living a life I never imagined. When I first heard my call to the priesthood I rejected the idea of being a parish priest. I could say yes to God, but only if I served as a hospital chaplain, in a position a little more out of the public eye. I mean, no preaching on Sunday morning, no Vestry meetings, no search committees, no public scrutiny of worthiness to be hired or fired. It still makes me chuckle to realize that I have in fact served as a parish priest for sixteen years. God surely got a laugh out that one. 

As a woman working in a traditionally male world I have faced a lot of challenges. Granted, not as rough as the first women who did this, although I have been the first female Rector at every church I have served. I have been the one who, for better or worse, set the stage for those who have or will come after me. I have not always done it well, but I have always tried my best. 

I have been aware of Hillary Clinton all of my adult life. At least since she made the public eye in the early 1990's with her universal health care plan. Then I was a stay at home mom with two small kids. Over the years I've been skeptical of Clinton, buying into the media coverage of her and how she's been portrayed. But slowly I've come to not only admire her, but see in her a role model for myself.  

Never, ever, have I watched an entire political convention from start to finish, live streaming on my mini-iPad. I doubt I'll ever do it again. But I watched all of the DNC, arranging my time to start watching at 4pm every day with headphones plugged in to my iPad, watching Cspan to avoid the commentators, but also to watch uninterrupted coverage of ALL the speakers. And wow. Just wow. 

The speeches and music, and artists, and video clips at the DNC left me feeling excited, hopeful. I've been hook, line, and sinkered. Call me what you will, a neoliberal, exceptionalism, centrist embracer of the DNC propaganda (Time Magazine). Yup. That's me. Actually, I agree with the Time article that God does not endorse these values. However,  I think one needs to walk very carefully when one presumes that Clinton agrees with neoliberal exceptionalism for to do so means that one fails to grasp the nuance of her life's work - working within the system to change it. 

I actually wrote to Clinton a couple of weeks ago. I was concerned about whether or not she'd have the capacity to overturn some of the very policies her husband put in place: NAFTA, welfare reform, the war of drugs and the mass incarceration of black men that's happened as a result, the entire trajectory that Michelle Alexander outlines in the first chapter of her book, The New Jim Crow. I wrote to her via an online contact form and did not hear back from her. 

However, everything I mentioned in my letter was addressed in the DNC convention and in her acceptance speech. Okay, maybe not NAFTA directly. But its pretty clear to me that she sees the unfortunate outcome of both NAFTA and welfare reform. 

So, this last week has been, I think, what I've lived my whole life for. As a woman and Episcopal priest, I live in a fairly public, formerly all male, role. That means I know just a tiny bit about what Hillary Clinton has faced. I understand how hard it is to be criticized for, well, every thing, to never, ever, catch a break, to be damned if you do and damned if you don't. 

To learn how to work within a system, even as my very presence as a woman, is changing it.

Here's the thing, I'm going to bask in the beauty that was the DNC, from the women who told their stories, to the people of color who told their stories, to the military Generals who told their stories, to the LGBTQ people who told their stories, to the musicians and actors who told their stories. 

To Hillary's story told by President Obama, her husband, her daughter, and in film. For the first time EVER I saw on Hillary's face, the look of a girl who is getting what she wants. It was her face, but it was my face and the face of millions of women around this country and the world. 

When, ever, has there been such a public telling of a woman's story, told by men? When has a woman ever had that level of public support from men, women, politicians, people of faith, people in the military, social justice groups, all walks of life?


So yes, I have hope. We need more time spent being optimistic and hopeful. 

We need to reserve our criticism for key moments, like that letter I wrote. Yes, I'm already thinking of what I'll say in my next one. But I'm not writing it for awhile. 

For now, I'll rest a bit in hope for our future. Hope that the movement that calls for us to be stronger together is a movement that catches all. And in catching us all we can set down the critical voice, the one that always wants to tear at a woman, and instead, get to work. I will defend her and do everything I can to get her elected as President. I will do this for me and for my daughter and for every girl and boy to come. I will do this for our present and for our future. 

That's what this girl wants. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

This is my song

It's become a bit too routine, my tossing and turning and waking up at 3:30am on the night that follows a particular meeting. Why I toss and turn is more about me and my reaction to the dynamic in the meeting, than it is about anything that is actually said or done. Still, my reaction speaks to a reality of being a woman in leadership. It acknowledges a general sense that resides within me, one I don't appreciate and wish would go away or resolve itself, or at the very least, I wish I weren't so aware of the dynamic and the ongoing slights that happen in the meeting, the way a woman is treated, me and others.

No, it's never my intention to wake up fretful, but still I do. This morning I gave in to the insomnia and headache, and got up at 4:30. I fed the dogs, and made coffee. Thunder and lightning ignited the tropical-like air outside and finally released the rain, a gentle soaking to quench the dry and dusty earth of my backyard. I opened the sliding glass door and closed the screen, so I could hear the rain fall. This is wasteful, the air conditioner is running. Yet, this hot dry summer and my fretful night of sleep were soothed by the sound of rain, and now, afterward, the chirp of crickets. I've always loved the song of crickets, they remind me of open windows, summer nights, and the rare moments of peace in my childhood.

My fretful, insomniac state is the result of a longing that goes unfulfilled. I long to live a life transformed, to be the best version of myself that I can be. I long to be an agent of transformation for others as well. Isn't that part of the calling of a parish priest, to be transformational?

Yet, I find that rather then be transformational, I feel confined, limited, minimized, and devalued. Is this not how many women feel? The subtle words and behavior that diminish the work a woman does. It becomes a daily, an hourly, struggle to believe in my worth and keep going.

Perhaps that is one reason why I respect Hillary Clinton so much. God knows she is devalued and diminished and maligned in ways I have never been nor could imagine. She's a woman in leadership and how she is treated exemplifies how all women are treated. I wonder if she has sleepless nights? I wonder how she manages to keep going? Clearly she has a call to be transformational, and the stamina to live into that call. She gives me hope.

On this hot summer morning, the dawn of the Democratic National Convention, I am restless, headachy, and fretful. I am also just a little excited and hopeful. I plan to watch this convention, although I did my best to ignore all the news about the Republican one last week. Usually I try to watch some of both, but this year I wanted nothing to do with the RNC. There is no hope in the GOP, just more angst. I don't need anymore of that.

I'm almost sixty years old, and like this summer I am getting dry and dusty. My opportunities to make a difference are waning. Part of me would love to just retire and live in the background, and perhaps I will one day. For now, I have another decade of work. I have to work, I am still paying off student loans, loans that afforded me the education to do the very job that sometimes leaves me fretful and sleepless. How ironic. Considering I have another ten years to work, it leaves me wondering how I will get along? Will I just hang in there and do what needs to be done, but nothing more? (That's tempting!). Will I find some kind of inspiration? Or, rather, will inspiration find me? Will I finally retire with a sense of satisfaction, well done good and faithful servant?

I have no idea.

All I know is that on this steamy morning I am taking some small pleasure in the sound of the rain and the song of crickets.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Five - light

Julie over at the RevGalBlogPals offers this Friday Five meme:

Friends, the times may be dark, the days uncertain, but this we know – God is light and life and love and together we can overcome. 
Today for your Friday Five contributions – share your favourite bible verses, photos, times of day and poetry – in any combination you choose in order to shed light on our darkened world.
1. Favorite Bible verse: I really can't choose just one. I could use the same verse Julie selected, from the prologue to the Gospel of John. That verse, and the idea of God expressing God's self as "word" into the world, word that took human flesh, has really formed my understanding of faith, who I am and who God is. But this morning I'm choosing this one:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them* with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii* and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it* so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ 
I was a massage therapist for many years and I know the healing power of touch, appropriate, compassionate, Spirit filled touch. In times like these, with so much violence all around us, it helps to lift up people who are kind. But not only is Mary kind, but she's brave, radical in her bravery to enter the room and do this act of kindness. Kindness, brave acts of kindness in a world that promotes and publishes violence more than love.


Sunrise: I love to wake up early and watch the sun rise, lighting up the world. This is especially lovely when the windows are open and I can hear the birds chattering. Oh! They can be so loud, and of such variety, it makes me chuckle. Waking up to laughter is a good thing, even when it's something as small as the sounds of nature.


This is the view from my kitchen, it's the labyrinth and pet memorial garden in the back area of the church property. I brought the idea of the pet memorial garden to this parish and we built it with some memorial gift monies that we had in reserve, we also added the benches and flower pots and three new trees, in order to really make this a place of prayer and respite. It's open to the public. I also interred the ashes of many of our beloved pets in the memorial garden, grateful to have a beautiful home for them. Many people come and walk the labyrinth or sit on the benches, and it's always a reminder that the church offers so much more than just Sunday morning worship, much of which may go unnoticed. 


Here is where I sit, on the deck in the backyard, to look out over the labyrinth. I like to fill it with flowers. Lots of birds feed at the feeder and squirrels and rabbits eat the seed that drops on the ground. We laugh a lot at the wildlife that shows up, offering us a simple reprieve from the angst that prevails in much of the news and world around us. This is a favorite spot of mine for coffee in the morning or iced tea in the afternoon.


In times of sorrow, in times of joy, friends are a gift. I am blessed to have some really wonderful friends. 

The last two photos: a Baltimore Oriole showed up at our hummingbird feeder! And, our dogs are a constant source of delight. This one is our newest, one year old Lila, with her buddy, Oliver, our daughter's dog. Olive comes to visit several times a year. 

Life is full of strife. The world is particularly violent and anxious. Human beings are often on edge and reactive instead of thoughtful and responsive. When we are able to be a little less anxious we are able to tap into more creative and interesting responses. 

I pray for peace, for creativity, for hope. I trust that love, God's love, will prevail, will find a way through the limitations of human nature, and restore the kind of world that God desires.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What to say, what to do?

The Sunday after Senator Gabbi Giffords was shot, in a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, I went to church hoping to hear some reflection on that violence. However the preacher that morning did not address it in his sermon, although Giffords and the other victims were lifted up in the Prayers of the People. Still, I found the lack of comment in the sermon to be unsettling, it taught me that as priests and preachers we need to be willing to address the tragedies and current events in the context of the scripture readings, to place the confusion and horror and sorrow in the history of God's action in the world. 

So it was a bit of challenge for me to figure out how to address the recent killings of two more black men and the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas in the context of our planned summer sermon time. We had planned to hold congregational dialogues in our sermon time. My concern was that people would skirt the issue rather than face it head on. I wanted to facilitate a conversation that would prod us to look deeper into the reading and face the reality of racism in this country and the violent way it is playing out. Here is what I said:

Today begins our summer dialogue on the Gospel of Luke. This conversation will take the place of the sermon time. It is an invitation for people in the pews to ask questions, but it's not a question and answer time with the priest, it’s a time of contemplation. So you can ask and respond to questions among your selves, comment on what was "heard" in the readings. I will facilitate the conversation. It’s a spiritual dialogue. This Sunday the reading in Luke is the parable of the Good Samaritan where-in we will ponder, 

"Who is our neighbor?" 

In light of all the violence, the seemingly ceaseless killings, the fear, anger, and rising tide of prejudice, especially this week - it is a fair question for the Gospel to ask of us. Who is our neighbor? And, "How do we care for the stranger?"

 Jesus asks this of us, and it's a timely question, the change this world needs begins with us."

Here is some of what was said by members of the parish:

"We need to see everyone as our neighbor, to see everyone as the same, no more color."

The challenge with that premise is that it glosses over the reality that racism is a systematic and institutional reality in our society which has caused deep hurt. While it can be a goal to work toward, it needs first for us, white folk, to acknowledge the racism and work to understand it, end it in all of its ways, work for reconciliation and healing.

Another person said:

"The problem with love your neighbor is that we tend to only want to love the neighbor who looks like us, we don't see or love those who look different than we do."

I think this comment gets at the heart of our unrecognized prejudice. Often we do not even see the ways we are manifesting prejudice. Instead we tend to demonize others and name them as unworthy to be our neighbor. I spoke about how, whenever there is violence like there was this week, I am painfully reminded that I am part of the problem, even though I did not pull the trigger. As part of the privilege white class in the United States I am part of the systemic and institutionalized racism that exits. I manifest its reality in ways I don't intend and racism resides in me in ways I am unaware of. The burden is on me to become aware and work to change this. I then suggested that as a parish we need to read and discuss Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow."

Other good conversation took place, with members of the parish being brave and willing to speak up. We concluded the conversation in each of the three services with the following prayer:

From page 815 in the Book of Common Prayer: prayer for the human family 

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then I said:

Pray especially for the Dallas shooting victims: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Mike Smith, and Loren Aherns. Pray also for the broken soul of the shooter, Micah Johnson. And for the shooting victims Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. With God's love may they rest in peace and may their loved ones who remain in this realm find comfort in the love and grace of God.

The rise in violence in this country is a reminder that some places of this world face violence every moment of the day, that children are raised in fear and violence and death, that parents bury their young too early, that pride, arrogance, prejudice, greed, racism, xenophobia, and all the ways we marginalize human beings, are ways that humans turn away from God and fail to live as God would have us live. I pray for peace.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Adjust the mirror and forge ahead

I admit, there are days when I wonder if there is a God. I mean, days when I am worn thin from the onslaught of violence, the destruction of terrible weather, the cruelty of human beings and our tendency toward prejudice and bigotry and self entitlement, the nature of politics in this, and other countries, and a general discouraging sense of reality, I wonder about God. Where is God when this stuff is going on? When I hear an athlete or someone else state, “God was with me,” I always think, and God wasn’t with the losers? Why would God choose one person or one set of circumstances in which to intervene, but not another? Why would God answer some prayers and not others? It’s never good when I start down that path. Let’s just say, it’s a curious process to be a parish priest and wonder if God exists. It does a number on my spirit, not to mention the moral, ethical, and psychological challenges I have to navigate to reconcile this. 

On other occasions, paradoxically also a “lowest of low days,” I have no doubt that God exists, that life will be transformed, that resurrection and new life are a reality, and that God is guiding everything toward the hope that God has for all of creation.

 Regardless of which side of the dilemma I am wresting with, I always end up in the same place. Trust. I trust that God exists and that God desires me and you, all of us, all of creation, to live healthy lives that are reasonably happy. 

The trust is a bit paradoxical, trusting that in which I have doubts. However, paradox is at the heart of our readings today, as we hear stories of people experiencing God in unexpected ways. 

In 2 Kings Naaman is a powerful general and like many people of his stature he is a bit full of himself. Even when he is ill with leprosy, a horrible skin disease, he remains prideful and arrogant. It’s a bit surprising then that Naaman listens to the voice of an unnamed young slave girl as she directs him to Elisha, toward a source of healing. Less surprising is Naaman’s response to Elisha’s cure – bathing in a muddy river – who in their right mind would want to do that? But, eventually Naaman is persuaded to bathe and he is healed. 
God shows up in unexpected ways, even to people like Naaman, people who have no faith and don’t believe in God.
The heart of the Gospel reading this morning conveys a similar idea. Jesus speaks of sending his disciples out - and today those disciples are you and me – sent out to share the Good News. Sent out too love generously, to help, to share, to grow in relationship with strangers and, if what we offer is rejected, our task is not to judge, but to let it be, shake the dust off our feet,  and simply continue to share God’s love as generously as we can. 
The readings remind us that the kingdom of God is an unfolding process. It’s a kingdom that requires us to not become stuck in safety, comfort, pride, or arrogance. Living in the kingdom of God we are asked to stretch ourselves in love and for the love of God...and in so doing open the way for God to come into the world anew this day, every day, in simple, ordinary ways. As we participate in the unfolding process of God’s kingdom we are formed and informed by our faith in God and in God’s love as it is revealed in the person of Jesus. 2000 years of Christians have been assured by this faith.
And yet, faith is paradoxical. Faith is wrestling. Faith is asking difficult questions that have no answers. Faith requires tenacity. Faith is the ability to live in the abstract, and manage one’s anxiety and desire for absolutes that never come. Faith is trust. 

So, I guess I’ll have to keep wrestling with faith and belief, and the hope that I’ll recognize God when God shows up. Usually I only see God, like a beautiful sunset in my rearview mirror - something I might miss if I’m not looking, something I only see in hindsight. It’s for this reason, having seen God often enough in my rearview mirror, that I have come to trust that God is present. On those days when it gets really bad I just have to adjust the mirror and forge ahead.

a reflection on the readings for Proper 9C: 2nd Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11; 16-20

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