Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Seventeen Years

This day, seventeen years ago, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate in the Episcopal Church. That year the church had transferred the Feast of St. John, which in my estimation was better than a feast day of martyrs.

I had graduated from Seabury Western Theological Seminary AND Loyola's Graduate School of Social Work with a dual degree M.Div/MSW. This seemed to me to be no small feat because my undergraduate degree was not "academic," whereas the M.Div was sophisticated education in true Episcopal style and the MSW was gridlocked in accreditation requirements. I was naive entering into this dual degree program and faced a huge learning curve to rise to the challenge of writing at the level required to earn these degrees. To say that my professors were generous in their understanding of each student's life experience and grading accordingly, is to be grateful that these institutions appreciated diversity on many levels.

My BA was in dance, a special major,  Technical Theater for Dance, which I designed with my advisors at Columbia College in Chicago, so I could design lights and run shows for dance. It was interesting work and landed me a job right out of college. However, there was nothing academic about my BA nor about the work I did in those early years. Four hard years of climbing ladders to hang heavy lights, dirty nails and a wrench in my back pocket, lighting and running shows was followed by a year off working retail at Eddie Bauer, and then four years of working in Interior Design. I left the "working world" when my daughter was born and took nine years off to be a stay at home mom. In those nine years I earned a certificate in massage therapy and started a small private practice including volunteering in the hospital to give massages to parents of sick children. All of that eventually led me to discern a call to hospital ministry and to enter into the dual degree program. I envisioned a holistic ministry, working in hospitals to offer parents, or patients, a mind/body/spirit approach to their care and wellbeing. My last year in the dual degree program I ended up having two internships, one working for Jewish Family and Social Services doing individual and group therapy and one working for a church overseeing the children's ministries and working as a team with the rector and associate. I found that I didn't really love being a therapist but I was drawn to parish ministry, the day to day, in and out, years and years of being with people through the cycles of life from birth to marriage to death. I ended up in parish ministry, the one area I had refused to consider. Now, seventeen years later, I think back on these years and what I've learned.

1.) I've enjoyed working with couples preparing to marry. I've developed my own approach to premarital counseling and have found most, not all, but most couples readily engage in learning how to communicate in more effective ways. Our work has been to build a toolbox of resources for the couple to utilize when their communication breaks down and to recognize in each other where their challenges are and how to be supportive of one another while staying solid in one's self. The two do not become one flesh, they remain two people who are creating a marriage.

2.) Baptisms are great fun for me. I love to work with the families and godparents as we prepare for the baptism. Using the baptismal covenant we talk through the three renunciations and three affirmations and clarify for each person what they believe and what they are agreeing to. I don't enforce a particular view from the Church, although I do give examples that may broaden and deepen the beliefs around sin, evil, and satan.

3.) Funerals are always hard. Thank goodness the Episcopal liturgy is fabulous and gives me, over and over, words to lean into and an order of worship that gives me a solid foundation to support the emotions, mine and the family. Funerals can bring out the most chaotic natures in families but more often they just bring out the love.

4.) I am always clear about what I will and will not do, grounding myself in the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgy. I rarely have issues with baptisms, weddings, or funerals. I do have odd requests from time to time but even those we manage to figure out.

5.) Weekly liturgy is now in my bones and my muscles. I have a memory of all the years I've proclaimed particular Gospel readings and the sermons I've preached on the texts. I've created new liturgy and repeated the same liturgies year after year. It's not that I go on automatic pilot but when I have a brain freeze or am distracted by something I've just heard or some other distraction, the muscle memory pulls me through.

6.) Most Sundays I still come home exhausted after leading and preaching at two worship services. I'm an introvert and need to go home and regroup after being public and leading worship. It's also why I take Monday as a day off. It can take me a full 24 hours to recover, longer on the once a month when Sunday includes a Vestry meeting.

Mostly I have learned that ministry is nothing like what I thought it would be. And, it's everything I thought it would be. It's been a lot more about conflict and testing boundaries and questioning who has power and authority to do what. It's been a lot less about shaping spiritual lives, often with very little real interest in personal transformation or in congregational change. It's been about navigating politics and human sexuality. It's been about how much energy the congregation has, or more often how tired everyone is and how little energy they have. It's been about trying on mission-focused ministries and hoping something catches and energizes people while also addressing a need in the wider community. It's been knowing when to step in and lead and when to step back and let others lead. It's been about taking risks. It's been about doing my own work to be healthy, to not over identify with the congregation but to stay clear on who I am and what I value and believe in. It's been about learning how to not work and finding balance. It's been about learning how to not personalize what is said and done or not done. It's been about working on my own holistic health in mind, body, and spirit, not always doing it well. It's been about failing over and over and rising up again. It's been about learning to love people who have pissed me off, people I have to work with and pastor too. It's been about being able to say I'm sorry with integrity even though no one ever says it back. It's been about learning to not say I'm sorry, to not always do the expected good girl thing, just because it will make others "feel better" but will leave me feeling compromised. It's been about learning how to negotiate my feelings when I am subjected to misogyny, often "unintended" and always "unrecognized" in people who think they are not sexist. It's been about mentoring other clergy and always checking myself to ensure I am doing so with integrity, working to help new clergy grow their strengths and their growing edges stronger.

Seventeen years ordained. I came to this call because of my deep faith in God, a presence of love and hope that sustained me through many of life's challenges. Now, I don't always believe in God and I wrestle with that. I do, however, always believe in hope and love, and through them I usually find my way back to God, incarnate in human flesh, calling me to do the hard work of ministry, to be the best version of myself that I can be.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Great Darkness

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. These ancient words have brought hope to countless people through the ages. These words speak to me tonight/today as I wonder where or how the light will shine, for once again, it seems, we live in an age of great darkness.

Where, how, will it shine for the refugees fleeing Syria and through the haunting images like that of a little girl covered in the dust of bombed and fallen buildings as she tries to comfort her younger brother? Where, how, will it shine through families like the husband, carrying his small child and supporting the arm of his wife who is attached to an IV pole? Where, how, will the love of God come into this darkness, this despair, this fear? 

In the bombed out buildings in Germany, the destruction of a Christmas market, will Jesus come again into this trail of death? How is God’s love shining forth for the families of those who died? 

Around this country, Canada and France, churches are finding cards, from unsubstantiated sources, threatening a disaster will befall them between now and New Year’s Day. Churches everywhere are tightening up security. Will Jesus come into this fear? Will God’s love bring peace?

In the angry and hurt people of this country who have a legitimate fear of racial profiling and of loss of liberty just for being who one is: gay, lesbian, or transgender, black, female, or an immigrant?

Planes are hijacked. People are dying. The world is in chaos. The rise of fear is real and palpable. We live in great darkness and wonder if there is any light at all.

Will Jesus come into our lives this year? Will God’s love shine forth and bring peace to a world overwhelmed by the atrocities of human beings, one to another? 

And yet….if there is one thing that has always been true, it is that into every great darkness, even now in these times which are reminiscent of the darkest times in human history, something is already gestating, preparing to be born. Because all life begins in darkness. Deep in the womb of creation, new life is being formed. Darkness is the beginning of life and light. Darkness and light are both the same, the fertile seed where life, hope, and love reside.

Fear tries to stop life and put out the light and smother the darkness. Fear thrives on chaos, it seeks to stir up both light and dark and tries to choke out creative generativity. Fear shuts down one’s vision, one’s hope, one’s ability to be playful, it diminishes one’s imagination. To live in fear is to live small, to live life rigid, stuck, frozen, incapable of taking risks. 

But, new life is always a risk, just ask any woman who has had a miscarriage and then carried a pregnancy to term. Life feels risky. Just ask the first person in one’s family who goes to college and tries to break out of the pattern of systemic poverty. Just ask the man who lost his job, fears he’s aging out of opportunities, but finds employment when he least expects it. Just ask the person of color who takes a risk every time he or she leaves their house. Just ask the person who has come out and told the truth about their sexuality. Ask anyone who is trying to live an authentic life. Taking risks, not giving in to fear, having the capacity to walk in and through darkness is what creates the great light. In every age, in every time, there are people who shine, who carry within the vision, the love of God, who enlighten the way for others. 

Tonight/today for Christians the one who brings the light is Emmanuel, Jesus. And we celebrate the coming forth of this light just as the earth turns from the longest night toward the sun, toward light and warmth, and hope. This hope begins small, like a helpless babe. But hope grows and ignites within others a deeper hope and gradually one small glimmer becomes the light for a nation. 

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light, a light for all the nations. Tonight/today may that great light shine in and through us. Even if it is only the hope for hope, a small glimmer within, may it be birthed in and through us as God is revealed in human flesh. For if there is a God, we will know God’s presence in the love that shines forth in one another.

Will Christ come into the world this year? 

As a new born babe?
As a stranger? An immigrant? A refugee? 

Will it be you?

Will it be me?

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom us from all that holds us captive, exiled in fear
O come thou Wisdom from on high and teach us in her ways to go
O come thou desire of all nations and bind in one the hearts of human kind

Rejoice, rejoice, this Christmas tide, rise up rejoice 
for the darkest day will give birth to light 
A light to shine, extinguishing fear 
Hope will prevail and God’s love 
will transform all human flesh.

Merry Christmas.

A reflection on the readings for Christmas from the RCL.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Let us call forth the divine presence in what ever form one embraces, the higher power of all creation that instills wisdom and knowledge, patience and compassion, a calm presence that listens and learns, and the agitating presence that brings forth justice for all people. In the Christian tradition this presence is the Holy Spirit and she is the breath, the wind, and the fire of God, moving in and through all human life, all creation.

Holy One, come forth this night and descend upon us, and especially upon Abdullah as he prepares to take on the responsibility of serving these people as our elected representative to the State legislature. 

Fill him with the grace to listen carefully. Help him to recognize when he has been wrong and to have the maturity to make amends. Inspire him to take action, working for justice for all people. Guide him with compassion and the ability to respect the dignity of every human being. Give him with the courage and fortitude to continue bending the arc of hope. 

May he work as our State Representative to ensure that all people have a warm home, earn a living wage, know the security of having plenty of food; affordable, safe health care; quality affordable education; and clean water and air. Help him to build bridges across the chasm of divisiveness that seeks to break us apart. 

Guide and strengthen us, the citizens of this state, to work with him to be one people, united by a common concern for the wellbeing of all people. Give us the capacity for effective communication, that with integrity we can share our hopes, expectations, and disappointments, encouraging Abdullah in his work for us. 

We pray also for our state and federal government and  all of our elected officials that they will have a renewed sense of justice and goodness: 

seeking to lift up the most vulnerable; sustain and secure those of us who live in a fragile and tenuous middle between poverty and wealth. Open the hearts and minds of those who have much and with new compassion guide them to share, maximizing our resources.

Lastly, bless this Dearborn community that we can be light to the nation and a beacon of hope through our diversity. May our differences in culture, religion, ethnicity, and gender be the foundation that enriches our lives, enabling us to be mature and wise, a people united by what each one of us brings to the common cause of human life. May we each do our part for the good of all. And, may we do all this with the help of the one God, creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all. Amen. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The invisible work of ministry

In a little over a week, on December 28, it will be my 17th anniversary of ordination (transitional diaconate, priest on June 28) in the Episcopal Church. That cold December night I gathered with many of my friends and family in a dark church lit with candles, flaming the hope I felt inside. I remember trying to vest, putting on a pink long sleeved clergy blouse and having no idea how to use the collar stays. I put the stays in backward, so the more pointed end was against my skin. I had so much to learn, despite four years of advance college education to acquire a dual degree, Mdiv/MSW, with an emphasis on Family Systems for Congregations. But on that night I wasn't thinking about the challenges that would come, I was only thinking about the hurdles I'd jumped so far and where I'd finally landed. I was in a church I loved surrounded by people I loved and filled with hope for the future.

The first few years were mostly good, albeit challenging to learn how to preach and preside, to lead worship, and to journey with people through life. My first call was as a Curate in a large church in Chicago. It was a fabulous community and I loved the people. I felt blessed to journey with them through illnesses and death and the complications of life. My second call came 18 months later when I became the rector of a small church. Again I loved the people and we did a lot of great work together, me and the people of that church. We faced many challenges too but navigated them with grace. Six weeks after I arrived we faced the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. That night, using a phone tree to call us together, the parish gathered to pray. These were also the days following the consecration of the first openly gay Bishop. In response we had many parish and ecumenical conversations on human sexuality, led by gifted and thoughtful people. We read and discussed books by Marcus Borg and others and opened our minds and hearts to new ideas. We held a silent auction and raised $8000.00 for a small community in Mississippi that was recovering from Hurricane Katrina. We were inspired.

The first few years of my ordained life my husband and I had money in savings, we were paying off my student loans at a healthy pace, we had no debt and we had extra money each month to spend just for fun. Those were the years before 2001. By 2003 none of that was true. A variety of hardships hit us, as they did many people in this country, leading up to the economic collapse of 2008.

In these 17 years I have been the rector at two more churches. I've faced challenges of dying churches and church conflict. I resigned from one church less than two years after moving across the country to take that call. (Suffice it to say the dynamics were complicated, but forced clergy exits always are). I've been homeless and unemployed and lived on food stamps, all while being a highly educated parish priest, a white middle class woman. I've worked harder than I ever thought possible to be better, to know myself better, to be healthy and whole although the pull toward bitterness was strong. (I am doing this work for you, God, why oh why is it so hard?).

I know that I have lived the life of many people in this country. People who probably voted for the candidate I did not vote for. I have a glimpse into why they may believe he will rescue them from their despair and challenges. I think we all long, from time to time, for someone to rescue us. I certainly have. The rescue has never come, though. My husband and I have had to do it all on our own, scraping and clawing our way through the mess of being middle class in this country today. Yes, we're white, so it has been easier, even possible, because we're white. We've found work after being unemployed. It could have been worse. It's still been pretty crappy a lot of the time, but it could have been worse.

Now we are back to living a relatively comfortable life. We still live month to month, paying off those damn student loans which take up 20% of my monthly take home. But once again we have a little discretionary money to go out to eat or have a little fun. We're preparing for our first grand baby, due in February. I'm slowly coming out of my profound despair following the election. This does not mean that I am feeling better about it. I have zero hope for us or for this country. I fear that we are headed for a deep depression, possibly even WWW III. I fear that my retirement will be delayed because I will lose Social Security and Medicare. I have absolutely no trust and no hope for the leadership of this country. America may never be great again, our time as the world leader and super power is over. History will look back at these years and shake its head. The fall of Rome, the fall of the USA. All my life I've wondered about this, knowing it was possible. I just never thought I'd see it in my life time. But I'm coming out of my despair because that's who I am. I can't reside in that place forever. I am an optimist. Even when I have no hope I hope for hope.

Now I am on the downward slope of my vocation. I could retire, according to the church pension fund, in March of 2020. I'll have my twenty years in by then. Social Security will kick in two years later, so in six years, December of 2022, when my husband turns 65, we could potentially retire. We'd live meager lives on our combined social security and my pension and some supply work, but we could probably manage, assuming there is still social security. But these days, who knows? I may have to work a lot longer. Which means pulling up my boot straps and getting ready for more years of church decline, more years of challenging church budgets, more years of vestry meetings and annual meetings and preaching and presiding and conflict and growth and learning about myself and church. It also means more years of baptisms and weddings and funerals. Of doing the ministry I felt called to do, journeying with people through their lives, looking for signs of God along the way, and nurturing the relationship between God, self, and others.

It occurs to me that the real call of my vocation has been this: striving to bring forth the good news when little seems good. Wondering where is God in all of this? Working toward hope and not succumbing to bitterness or despair or fatigue. All the while trying to be healthy and whole myself.

The night I was ordained, while the priest preached and the Bishop examined me and laid hands on my head and called forth the Holy Spirit, I could feel the pressure of those pointed collars stays pressing into my neck, my throat, as if trying to irritate me out of my joy. Or remind me that ministry would always be two edged, one side smooth and comfortable and the other side pointed and mildly irritating. As if always to keep me on my toes, aware and attentive, never able to fully slide into a place of comfort nor a place of complete dismay. As if to prepare me for the journey of what has been and what will be my life of a parish priest.

The morning after my ordination I had a bruise on my neck from the pressure of the collar stay. This small purple dot, an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible work of ministry. The dot is no longer visible, but its mark remains ever present, indented in my being, like the grace of God.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The hardest prayer

Many years ago when I was just a candidate for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church my ordination process hit a road block. I was one of several seminarians at my seminary who did not do as well on her GOE's as was expected. I no longer remember but I think I "failed" in two areas, and again, I don't remember what areas I failed in. I only remember that the COM in the diocese put my process on hold so they could do some remedial work with me. At the time it felt like a huge big deal. I was finished with seminary and had to move from the seminary housing but I couldn't get a job and had no idea what was going to happen when all was said and done. My family and I were in total limbo. It was frustrating and frightening. Some on the Standing Committee said that if a person couldn't sustain all seven areas then the person should not be ordained. My mentor, a gifted, wise priest, said that she too had failed in an area or two, and she thought that failing GOE's actually made one a better priest. I faced huge student loan debt and no guarantee that I'd be able to pay it off. I had kids who needed to be in school, but no idea where we'd live. The COM wanted me to take six months to do remedial work and then retake some exams. The odd thing is, what they tested me on was not areas I had "failed," but other areas that they felt could use an extra boost. I felt like I was just being managed, not formed.

Anyway, we moved away from the seminary and lived in almost free housing in an empty rectory of a church. I bought the books, I think there were NINE of them. Read them all, twice. Took notes upon notes and prepared to take two written exams. Thankfully these exams led to the COM deciding I was ready to be ordained and they granted me permission to move ahead. I was ordained to the transitional diaconate on December 28, 1999.

The biggest challenge of those six months was my anger at one of the members of the COM who was particularly vocal about my process. He was concerned that I was getting both an M.Div and an MSW. He felt that it was inappropriate for a priest to have a social work degree, that it would make me a risky priest. His concern was founded in his life experience of working with priests who tried to do therapy. The problem though is that those priests were not trained to do therapy. In contrast I was trained and knew enough to understand that I'd never enter into a therapeutic relationship with parishioners, I'd refer them out. But that wasn't really understood, all that he heard was his own reactive voice of fear and concern. He was a well respected priest in the diocese and on the COM, and of course the failed GOE's further supported others in agreeing to stop my process for some remedial work.

I remember feeling incredible angry at this man. Furious. And I could do nothing. I had to just take it and be quiet, accepting my fate, and do what I was told to do. It felt so humiliating, to be told what to do and to just have to take it, leaving me, my husband, and our kids in limbo for who knew how long. The power was all in their hands. Or so it seemed.

Then I realized there was something I could do. I could pray. I could pray for him.

Now that was the last thing I wanted to do. I did not want to say his name let alone invite him into my prayer life. But I did. I couldn't pray for anything specific for him or about him, I only held his name in my prayers every day. I forced myself to say his name and let God do the work.

At first saying his name, or thinking his name, stirred up anger, my prayers were fraught and tense. This went on for months. Every day. Angry praying. Until one day the anger was gone. For awhile my prayers had little emotion to them, just resigned acceptance. This was my life. A few months later I noticed another change, compassion. I began to feel compassion for this person. His life was a mess in many ways that had become public. It was sad and I felt sad for him. I know he was loved and respected by many and eventually I was able to hold that part of him along with the brokenness in him and what he had caused in me in my prayers as well.

The odd thing is, as stories like these often turn out, in the end I learned so much from that time. Not at all what the COM may have wanted me to learn - not some nitty gritty detail about liturgy or ethics  or what ever it was - no, what I learned was what it takes to move through challenges that feel deeply personal but are not. I learned about the power of prayer and the importance of being present with my feelings but not always acting on them, or at least not reacting to them. Acting on them through prayer and being thoughtful was crucial and has been a good skill for my time as a parish priest.

Now I face the biggest obstacle of my life, the presidency of you know who. Again, I can't even say his name without gagging. I have not been a fan of his, ever. I only watched a couple of episodes of "The Apprentice." I couldn't take his attitude and treatment of people and the way he intentionally created divisiveness amongst the cast. It was awful. And now, well, now he's doing it on a much larger scale, not some stupid reality television show but on the world stage.

My first response to this has been outrage. I am outraged that the electoral system in this country will allow him to get away with becoming POTUS. I am stunned that people have bought his rhetoric and BELIEVE that he will be good for them, restoring their lives to something better than its been, while failing to see that he only ever cares about himself. It's a mind fuck.

My second response, and I'm coming at this slowly, is to allow myself to pray for him. For this country and for all people, including him. I may not ever really be able to pray for him by name, but I do trust that God will know who I am lifting up. My prayer will be in part a trust that God will do God's part. My prayer will also be specific, please God use me to help this country be a safe and hopeful place for every one. Help me to do my part to bend the arc toward justice, to love God, love self, and love my neighbor. Help me to love ALL people, even those who I will not name. Not love, as in I agree with or support, but love with compassion because I can embrace the very broken place that makes that person be who he is, someone who inflicts his pain on every one around him. Help me to be a source of God's healing grace in the world.

Once again I trust that God will turn all things into good, somehow in God's way. This won't happen, however, if I, if we, sit passively by and expect God to do it without our help. What I have learned though is if I take action grounded in prayer then I stand a greater chance of doing God's work in the world. And doing it, not reactively, but responsively. With care and compassion for all.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Risking Failure

Lucy, also known as St. Lucia, lived in Sicily in the third century. She was rich, young, and Christian. Raised in a pious family, she vowed her life to Christ. Her father died when she was young and so her mother arranged a marriage for her. For three years Lucy managed to keep the marriage on hold, preferring instead to devote herself to a Christian life of service. Legend has it that to change her mother‘s mind about the marriage and support her devotion to a Christian life, Lucy went to the tomb of Saint Agatha where she prayed for her mother’s long illness. Her mother was cured and subsequently 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, because it was still illegal to be a Christian at that time. The governor sentenced her to forced prostitution. Think about that, forced prostitution as a punishment. This “punishment” is still inflicted on some women today. The legend says that when guards went to arrest Lucy, they could not move her even after they hitched her to a team of oxen. So 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 on fire, but the fire  went out. Through it all she had the tenacity to prophesy against her persecutors. She was finally executed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger. 
As often happens with saints, a custom began memorializing St. Lucia. In this custom a young girl, dressed in white to symbolize the sainthood of Lucia, serves coffee and saffron buns to people in her home. There’s a familiar Christmas hymn sung in her honor.
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. The feast day of Santa Lucia is this Tuesday, December 13, and we’ll celebrate her feast day at the 11am service. This young girl took huge risks for her faith. And like many in the early church, she died as a result. In a world that recognizes success as growth in prosperity or size or influence it would seem that Lucy’s life, especially because she died young, was a failure. But as Christians we see that the risks she took are a success story, not a failure, because she has left a lasting influence on the worlds through her faith.
This church is entering into a year of celebrating our 150th anniversary. We started very small, struggled tremendously for eighty years or so, than experienced stabilization and growth in the mid twentieth century. Those days of the 1950’s and 1960’s are remembered fondly as if they were the perfect era of the church because we were big and prosperous. But did you know that in the history of Christianity the 1950’s and 1960’s are an anomaly? For most of the two thousand years of Christianity, churches have been small community based centers for worship and family life, tending to the poor and supporting people through life’s transitions from birth to marriage to death. 
For 150 years Christ Church  and the people who have worshiped here and the people served through this church have been profoundly blessed. We, the inheritors of this church, have much to be grateful for. We are blessed with a fine congregation of gifted members and we have a prophetic sense of mission as a Community-Centered Church that feeds people in Mind, Body, and Spirit. Prophetic because we are actively seeking to be a people of God, responding to and working to reconcile the injustices in the world around us. We feed people through our building with the many people who come here for AA or Dance, Martial Arts, Stretching, or music. We feed people who have office space here like Creating Hope International, an organization that works to educate and employ women in Afghanistan. We feed people by offering office space to the League of Women voters and benefit from the information they share with us so we can be knowledgable about our elections. We feed people with our labyrinth, community garden, and exterior plaza. The plaza is used every day as people walk their dogs and use the water fountain or just sit, enjoying the beauty of the space. We feed people literally with our food pantry and blessings in a backpack. We feed people spiritually with music and small group meetings and worship. We feed people intellectually through thoughtful discussions as well as the SCHOOL project in Liberia. We share, with gratitude, the blessing of this church and property that we have been given, thanks to the people who have been members of Christ Church across the span of our 150 years. 
Striving to live as God calls us brings with it inherent challenges. Like Lucy, this effort to live as God calls, can result in seemingly profound obstacles that require the courage to take the kinds of risks that may allow us overcome them. We see signs of the courage and the risks taking all around us and down through the ages. Living a prophetic life is risky. We take risks by just working to keep this building open, staffed, safe, clean, and accessible to everyone. There are financial risks as we continue to commit our resources to making an impact on the world around us through our presence here on this corner. 
The prophet Isaiah in our reading this morning knew very well that the prophetic life was risky.
Isaiah tells us that being prophetic means that one is willing to speak into and take action to reconcile the ways in which human beings and whole societies have moved away from what God desires, moved away from what it means to respect the dignity of every human being, moved away from caring for the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised, living with broken relationships with God, self, and others. 
In our reading this morning from Matthew Jesus responds to John the Baptist’s question, “Are you the Messiah?” by reminding us that God acts through people, restoring justice to all; the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed.

I think that the ancestors of Christ Church would be proud of how we are providing vibrant ministries and feeding people in many ways. No doubt all of these require resources of time and money, and so these ministries are financially risky. But, Jesus does not call us to store up treasures on earth, no he calls us, if you will, to fail at saving and storing up. To fail at saving money and instead to give everything we have to help others and to make an impact on the world around us, to heal and feed and clothe and love. Like St Lucia, like Jesus, our success is not measured by size or prosperity or even if we live, its measured by how we pour ourselves out for others, by dying  - if you will - to change the world around us, being Christ’s hands and heart in the world. 
a reflection on the readings for Advent 3C: Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Fake It

When I was a little girl my life was fraught with anxiety. I lived with an unstable mother and in a house filled with depression, alcoholism, violence, and always the risk of complete collapse. But every year around Christmas my mother would get it together. She'd bake cookies and we'd decorate the tree. She'd play Christmas music on the HiFi every night as my brothers and I fell asleep. We'd have a lovely Christmas dinner and open gifts on Christmas morning, each of us receiving delightful presents. Christmas was like a fairy tale time, as if all was right in the house and in the world. The Christmas season has always been special to me.

This year I have baked thirty dozen cookies and put them in the freezer. We'll eat them a little at a time over the next month or so. The house is decorated and feels warm and cheery from the twinkling of lights. The cat is content sleeping under the Christmas tree. The dogs love it when I light the fireplace and we all snuggle around with a book or the television on. Like every year I've worked to create a semblance of hope and good cheer, as if this Christmas were like any other.

But. It's not. Nothing is right with this world. Despite all the exterior effort at hope, inside is bleak.

Every day I go to bed hoping that I will wake up to something, anything, that looks like the world is making a slow change toward good, bending that arc just a tiny bit more. Every day I go through the motions of being alive and act as though I am functioning. In truth, though, I am not doing well. To the core of my being I am unsettled, depressed, filled with a despair I have never felt before.

In the past when I've felt like the world around me was collapsing and taking me with it, I always trusted that somehow it would all work out. Maybe not today, but tomorrow. Like Christmas in my crazy childhood, somehow, something good will come along. Some little peace, some sign of hope.

This is not the reality I live in today. I see no hope for the future, at least probably not in my life time. The trajectory we are heading toward with the election of this POTUS, well, I don't even need to say it, the evidence is all around us.

And, I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed of the Attorney General in the State of Michigan, what's his name. Many of us called him and pleaded with him to not go forward with his effort to stop the recall. We begged him to let the recount happen in order to build up trust again. But he didn't. A Federal judge stopped the recount last night. Now the chasm of distrust in this state for our election process and for our government is perhaps too deep to repair. Yet, will the people in this state, with the electoral process as it is, be able to vote these people out of office? It seems unlikely. I've heard he plans to run for Governor. God help us. Much is rotten here and is going to fester for several more years.

I'm doing everything I can. More than I can. More than I ever have before. I will continue to do so. I can't just sit idly by and let these times define me. It's going to be difficult. I don't know who I am when I don't feel hope. I don't know how to redefine for myself what it means to be alive in these times of deep division and despair. I wish I could just turn it all off, close my eyes and ignore it.

But, I can't.

But if there is one thing I learned from a childhood of despair is that hope comes when one least expects it. So, I will keep hoping for hope until I feel it again. Because it is only with hope that one can truly muster the stamina and the fortitude and the courage to keep fighting for change, the change that must come for all people to live free and safe. There's an old saying in AA: "Fake it 'til you make it." Maybe that's what I need to do. Fake that hope exists until there really is hope.

Saturday, December 03, 2016


When I entered college in 1974, having graduated a year early, I was 17 years old and had no idea what I wanted do with the rest of my life. I did know that I wanted a college degree and a job. I briefly considered anthropology but changed my mind when my counselor told me that there were no jobs for women in that field. I had no interest in being a trailblazer, I just wanted to live a comfortable life. However, if I had majored in anthropology I would have known the term, “redemptive media.”

Redemptive media is a term used by anthropologists to describe that which makes a person good, successful, and respectable.

In the days of John the Baptist, what made one respectable and successful were who the parents were. Since everyone in his community descended from Abraham, that meant, by tradition, that they were God’s chosen people. 

There’s a comfort in knowing who one is. Life is easier if one fits into the categories that one’s culture defines as good, respectable, and successful. For the United States that traditionally means white, heterosexual, married with children, educated and employed. For centuries these criteria have been held up as normal. If one did not fit these criteria, for example if were gay, one might suppress who one was or one live on the fringes of society, ostracized and marginalized. People of color and women have been viewed as less than human. Centuries of holding these beliefs created an assumption of order and with that order a veneer of calm.

Calmness can be a two edged sword. For many years now I have worked at being calm. I’m not always successful at this but it is one of my goals. And by calm I mean having an interior sense of peace, enabling me to function as a more thoughtful person. However in these last few weeks I’ve noticed a drastic change in me. I no longer feel calm. Instead I feel like I am “thrumming.” I’m not sure if that is a real word, but it does describe how I feel, like inside I am idling at a faster pace than normal, not totally out of balance, reactive or jumpy, but a steady kind of quiet revved up-ness. Unlike the past, I don’t want to return to that previous state of “calm” because for me everything has changed. I think that if I return to that former state of calmness I run the risk of feeling like everything is okay and then I run the risk of normalizing this new reality. I don’t want to normalize racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or homophobia. I don't want to normalize bullying or abuse by being passive or thinking that somehow it will all work out. The increased rates of abuse since the election, including anonymous letters threatening local mosques, abusive words directed at people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community are unacceptable to me. I can’t watch the news, I can barely read a newspaper, - no doubt the media could use some redemption and a restoration of journalistic integrity. 

No, I don’t want the thrumming to go away. I want to access it and use it to make a difference. I’ve become even more convinced that random acts of kindness and every act that seeks to bend the arc toward justice is worthwhile, no matter how small the act might seem. A smile. A friendly gesture. Being polite. Taking action to work for justice. I intend to do this, not from anger and reactivity, but from this place of thrumming, which is calming in itself, like a white noise that is always present, urging me on.

Repentance is a theme on the second Sunday of Advent. In Matthew, John the Baptist says that the nature of one’s repentance will determine whether one become chaff which means bad, or  become wheat, which means good. John is certain that Jesus will take a shovel -  the word fork is better translated as shovel - and dig into the pile, scooping out large portions of the bad chaff to be burned and large portions of good wheat to be saved.

The thrumming began, I am sure, from fear. It could live on in me, driven by fear, if I allowed it too. John the Baptist reminds us that there are many different kinds of vipers that poison our lives and our world. Fear is one of the most potent. Fear causes one to freeze up and become stuck. Another one is anger. Anger can be useful but often anger is reactive and lacking in insight. Reactive anger is usually a fear of annihilation, a loss of self that comes from fear and manifests as anger. There’s a lot of reactive anger and fear in the world today and it’s causing whole societies to be stuck, or move backwards into less healthy behaviors that reinforce old stereotypes. Stereotypes that feel safe for some, but definitely are not safe for everyone, because they convey the idea that some are chaff and some are wheat, some are bad and some are good.

But Jesus doesn’t act as John expects. Instead Jesus shovels out loads of love to all - sinners, the outcast, the marginalized, the poor and the rich, the white and people of color, straight, gay, bi, transgender, women and men. All are equally loved - by the shovel full. 

And that’s a really big deal, being loved for being who one is.

I’m beginning to think that the thrumming might actually be something else, not fear, but grace. 

God seeking to fill me with energy from the Holy Spirit, giving me the courage and stamina to do all that I can to make a difference.  There’s hope in that idea. Augustine of Hippo once said that, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are." This anger, unlike reactive anger, is an anger based in the desire that all that I do and all that I am works toward justice for all people. It’s an anger, a thrumming, that invites me to be thoughtful and aware and attentive, to learn and grow, and be involved. 

Maybe it’s a paradox that I began my adult life choosing to not be a trailblazer, seeking only a comfortable life, and to find as I prepare to turn 60, that I have spent all of my life working in predominately and traditionally male vocations, and rarely have I lived a comfortable life. What I’ve learned though is that I am made for these times because once I started down this path there was been no turning back. Perhaps the chaff that Jesus shovels is not people but our ignorance and all that limits us. Perhaps the wheat that Jesus shovels is that which brings out the best in us, love and compassion. 

This thrumming, my new normal, had its birth in fear but its been transformed into a calmness that embraces anger and directs it with courage to change the world, one little act of good at a time, building one on top of the other. This thrumming might just be the grace of God telling me that now is not the time to seek comfort, but instead handing me a spiritual shovel because there’s work to be done. 

Out with the chaff, those vipers of fear, and in with the wheat, the love of God.

a reflection on the readings for Advent 2A: Matthew 3:1-12

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