"Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.... Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting."

Frederick Buechner

Saturday, August 08, 2015

If I Think I'm Not Racist...one lesson of white girl growing up in the 1970's

The first time I flew on an airplane was the summer of 1971. I was fourteen years old and we were moving to Ft. Worth, Texas. My mother dressed us in matching outfits - she and I wore blue dresses with white stripes, white sandals and floppy white straw hats. My dad and brothers wore blue and white striped shirts with white pants and white shoes. There’s a photograph of all of us at O’Hare airport in Chicago waiting to depart. I barely remember sitting for that photo and I have no memory of the flight. Memory is curious that way, leaving out huge details of one’s life while other aspects remain in sharp detail. 

That year I was in the ninth grade and attended Southwest High School in Ft. Worth. I played bass clarinet in the school band, took Spanish which I loved and algebra which I hated. The whole school would turn out for football games and the stadium vibrated when we sang the school song, “Dixie” while the Confederate flag flew above us. 

Before moving to Texas I had only lived in areas that were completely white, I had never met a person of color. I had only seen people on television, Martin Luther King, Jr., and footage of people rioting in the streets.

Now, here I was in a school that sang Dixie and flew the Confederate flag at the same time that it was preparing the student body and teachers to receive the first black students, a brother and a sister.  Desegregation was the law and this school was trying to comply.

I don’t remember anything about the process of preparing us, only that it happened. There was an electrical charge in the air, like famous celebrities were about to show up. Not long after the brother and sister arrived however, the atmosphere changed. Seething just below the surface  of polite behavior hummed the unreconciled racism of teachers and students. The band teacher started telling “jungle bunny” jokes in class. I didn’t understand them and turned to the black girl sitting next to me and asked her what they meant. She told me he was making fun of black people. I was mortified. That night I told my mother. Then I wrote a letter to the principal reporting the horrible behavior of the band teacher and how wrong it was of him to tell these jokes in class. A few days later I met with the principal, who in my memory was even-keeled. I followed up the letter and the meeting with the principal by quitting band, in protest of the teacher’s behavior.  

As an adult I am surprised that the timid 9th grader version of me took this action of protest. I stood up for something that was wrong and tried to right it. 

Lately, though, with the resurgence of racial tension and violence in this country I’ve been thinking again about my behavior in 9th grade. I think that if I had really wanted to take a stand against racism I would not have quit band. I would have reported the bad behavior and then returned to class and been present, holding me and others accountable to the racism in our midst.

Memory is funny that way. We can go a long time thinking one thing and then, with a sudden insight, our perspective can completely change.

Each one of us can tell a similar story as mine, of a failure to build relationship, of a time when prejudice and racism prevailed in subtle or not subtle ways. It is the reality of being a white person in the world. Racism resides deep within us even when we desire to not be racist.

What connections do you hear between my story, the reading from Ephesians, and the sin of racism? What connections do you hear about tearing apart communities or building up of community?
 (Leave time for people to respond). 

Today, the Vestry has designated the open plate offering, the loose cash and change, to the Rebuild initiative, an effort of churches in this diocese to raise funds to help the black churches, that were burned this summer, rebuild. There is a concert today at 4pm at Church of the Messiah on Grand Boulevard in Detroit with a donation of $20. Or you can submit a check, payable to Episcopal Diocese of MI with "Rebuilding the Churches" in the memo field, and leave it in the collection plate or send to the church office, we will forward them to the Diocese.

A reflection on racism and the reading from Ephesians for Proper 14B: Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Five: Taking Stock....

3dogmom over at RevGals offers this Friday Five meme:
We’re midway through summer (for us northern gals and pals), a good time to pause for a moment to take a breath before the force of autumn’s gravity takes hold too fiercely, and pulls us into its grasp of programming and schedules and commitments. This might be the last chance we have to pause and check in with our inner divine compass, the soul, and reflect on our inner life.  Here are a few questions to consider as we do so.
What is one thing bringing you joy today? The weather is glorious - sunny and warm. We are actually having a real summer this year, and for that I am grateful!
What is a disappointment you are experiencing today? I feel like just resting and playing today, but I have too much work to do. This seems to be my norm - I so want to just play but I have stuff I have to do. I will have a vacation in August, a week with just my husband as we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. I am very excited about that!!! Which is probably why it's so hard to work....the anticipation...
When you think about the past six months, when did your soul feel most awake? I have been doing a lot of work with Bowen Family Systems Theory and church conflict and self awareness, it's been terrific work. 
When did you experience a sorrow or regret? I wish I had been able to spend more time with family when I was in Utah in June....but I did the best I could. I did have a lot of fun with my aunt, my dad, and my son when we went to brunch on Father's Day and when she and I went to the art fair in SLC.
For what is your soul most longing? Rest. Deep rest, with some fun thrown in. No work. 
Bonus: is there a word or image that succinctly summarizes how you find your soul today? Please share it with us.

This photo was taken on July 2, by my son on our drive from Salt Lake City to Vernal, Utah. We were trying to squeeze in a little vacation time in the midst of a lot of work. That's how I feel today, like I really need a good vacation, time to really rest and renew my spirit after a year of hard work...and before the next year starts up....

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Compassion: a short meditation

Every time there is a natural disaster, a hurricane, tornado, wild-fire, or an earthquake, the news is filled with stories of loss and heart-rending stories of survival. We also hear many stories of how human beings have gone out of their way to help others. These acts of compassion become the heart and soul of life, restoring our sense of hope in humanity. 

Nearly every day we hear a story in the church office from the individuals and families who come to us looking for food and Kroger gift cards. The stories are tragic, but they are also stories of hope.  When people come to the food pantry our only restriction is that people don’t abuse it, that they’ll take what they need, and leave enough for others. And for the most part that is what happens - people take care of their needs and leave enough for others. 

We are a Community-Centered Church, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. The food pantry, Blessings in a Backpack which feeds hungry kids during the school year, and working with Good Shepherd in Liberia to build a school, are just a couple of the ways we are living out the Good News that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel this morning, having compassion for our neighbors near and far; feeding people hungry for physical, spiritual, and intellectual nourishment. 

Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, which we read together in the summer of 2011, describes compassion as the root of all of the world religions. She writes that about three thousand years ago a phenomenon happened that moved across the globe and in and through every religion of the day. This phenomenon resulted in what is known as the Golden Rule - do to others what you would have done to you. From Christianity to Judaism to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Zoarastorism, Confucianism, and Taoism, all of the main religions of the world adopted a primary belief and saying that grounds the faithful in compassionate living. 

Armstrong writes that compassion begins by one acquiring the ability to have compassion for one's self. There is, she writes, a disorder in western culture that stems from our inability to truly care for ourselves. It is grounded in an inability to recognize our feelings and to understand how our unconscious feelings guide our behavior. Developing the capacity to become self-aware, which includes an honest understanding of our strengths and our growing edges, is crucial to self-awareness. In addition, when we have the capacity to truly understand ourselves, and have some compassion for ourselves, we are able to take responsibility for our misdeeds and to make amends. 

For example, we have a tendency to dislike and even attack others who actually exhibit the very qualities that we struggle with in ourselves. I know that as soon as I start to feel anxious and critical of another person it is probably because that person is behaving just like me. When I develop the ability to understand what and why I am the way I am, when I develop the capacity to manage my anxiety because I understand it better, when I have compassion for myself, then I am able to develop the capacity to have compassion for others and their behavior. 

As we hear in our reading this morning from Mark (6:30-34. 53-56), Jesus feeds people. He feeds them with real food, bread and fish, bread and wine..... He feeds them with love and prayer. He feeds them with compassion and healing.  Jesus also feeds himself. He goes off alone to pray, feeding his spirit so he can then care for and feed others. This morning we are reminded to take the time to care for ourselves and to become as aware of our behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes, as we can be in order to not be driven by unconscious, and therefore often destructive energy. We are reminded to treat others as we would like to be treated, with compassion, loving God, self, and others as God loves us. 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

What is home?

Although I moved fifty years ago, this summer I will return to the city of my birth, where I will stay for three weeks. I’ve come back many times, but this will be the longest visit I’ve ever made.  No doubt the contrast of how I began my life and how I live it now will be prominent in my thoughts. True, I think about this every time I return to Salt Lake City. However this summer, when the Episcopal Church holds its triennial General Convention in Salt Lake City, the past and the present will merge in new ways. More specifically, on Sunday, June 28, when the Episcopal Women’s Caucus hosts its ever popular General Convention breakfast, I will celebrate my fifteenth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. I’ve come a long way from the little Mormon girl I was when my family moved away in 1966.

My mother loved to tell the story of my birth. On February 14, 1957, she walked outside on a snowy night, hoping to induce labor, yearning for her baby, me, to be born on Valentine’s Day. I, however, in a rare act of self-definition, at least in terms of my early relationship with my mother, chose to wait until 6pm on February 15th to be born. Both of my parents come from a long line of bedrock Mormons, pioneers who travelled to Salt Lake City by wagon train in 1848 to form the community that became Salt Lake City. Then, family members who had converted to the Mormon faith, left homes in Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Manchester, England, to travel to Salt Lake City and join the new Latter Day Saints in their promised land. One great grandmother, Johanna, left her husband in England, travelled while pregnant, toting along two other children. One child died on the ship crossing the Atlantic. Johanna and her son walked from Missouri to Utah in her last trimester of pregnancy. A baby boy, my great grandfather, was born shortly after her arrival in Utah. A year later her husband joined her. A few years after that he took a second wife, and refusing to live in a pluralistic marriage, Johanna divorced her husband. She spent the rest of her life in poverty, marginalized from the Mormon community.

I come from a family of people who cut themselves off from their families of origin, moved west and formed new families with spouses and children and neighbors. It wasn’t the utopia they thought it would be. The brokenness in my family is generations old, manifesting in divorces and alcoholism and depression. I have spent my life trying to be healthy and to change the family pattern of disconnect and alcoholic dis-ease. 

All that is how I see my life, now, looking back. As a child however I loved my church and I loved Salt Lake City. I still love Salt Lake City. Being in Salt Lake City is for me a spiritual experience, my soul resonates with a certain kind of peace, it is “home.” Now I have a new church to love, one that has strong roots in Utah. As a child, however, I only knew the Mormon Church. My grandfather was a high priest in the church. My uncle baptized me in the famous immersion pool in the tabernacle at Temple Square. I was nine when he submerged me three times, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I have fond memories of going to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Easter morning, wearing my finest frilly dress and gloves. 

The Mormon Church formed my faith, providing a foundation even as I grew up and moved away from that church. True, I had many questions, even as a child, about the teachings of the church. I could not wrap my head around a God who would send little babies to hell for all eternity simply because they were not baptized in the Mormon Church. I know now that one is not baptized into a denomination, rather one is baptized a Christian. Even as I child I could not imagine a God, who created this diverse and beautiful world and the people in it, requiring God’s people to practice a specific faith in order to be welcomed back into God’s loving arms. That’s one reason I love the Episcopal Church, its spirit of openness and its refusal to require members to adhere to narrow teachings of God and faith, but rather through  the baptismal covenant offers us clear teachings on what it means to live a Christian life founded on justice for all. 

Salt Lake City is beautiful. Nestled in a valley and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, it holds breathtaking views within the city limits. The center of town heralds Temple Square, a gorgeous piece of property with the Mormon Temple and other buildings that are no longer used as they were when I was a child, but remain as museum pieces with daily tours offered. 

Walking the blocks that surround Temple Square one encounters a variety of people from all over the world. Some are more orthodox Mormons, women wearing long dresses and families with lots of children. Others are modern Mormons, indistinguishable in appearance from anyone else. Mormons are usually well educated, polite, and considerate people. They believe in clean living, that our bodies are temples for our souls, a gift from God which should be tended to with respect. As a result Mormons don’t consume caffeine or alcohol. There is no prohibition against consuming them as if doing so were a mortal sin. They just don’t because they are bad for our bodies. In contrast to this attitude, sugar is a beloved substance. Mormons love their sweets, especially jello, ice cream, cookies, and cake. 

When one is in Salt Lake City one will note that there are no bars. Nor can one purchase alcohol in a grocery store, although point beer (3.2 % by weight or 4% by volume) is available for purchase. At a restaurant one needs to order a meal if one intends to consume alcohol. To purchase a quality bottle of wine one needs to drive to a state owned liquor store, which looks something like a small prison. The appearance alone is enough to induce guilty feelings before one has even entered the doors. A google search will lead one to more in-depth information on Utah’s weird alcohol laws, if one is interested in knowing more. 

Not far from Salt Lake City one will find prime birdwatching sites along the Great Salt Lake. In the winter one can find nearby premiere ski resorts, which in the summer offer beautiful vistas of wildflowers and scenic views. If one is so inclined one can make the drive to southern Utah, a desert land of bluffs and cliffs, home to the Escalante Grand Staircase and Bryce Canyon, Moab, and other areas of rare beauty that rival the Grand Canyon.

The first time I attended the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I felt like a total church geek. I loved the huge sign hanging over the convention center boldly stating that “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!” I was impressed by the crowds, by being in the presence of thousands of Episcopalians from all over the world, who had come to do the work of the church, or, just to visit and feel the potency of such a gathering. This summer my life, past and present, will converge into one. The city of my birth, all my family members still living there, and my life now as an Episcopal priest working for justice promoting the dignity of every human being. My Mormon roots taught me to have faith in God, to believe that God loves me, and that God is very present in my life. God is present in all of life. Understanding that has always held me in good stead. It is perhaps the primary reason I became an Episcopalian in the first place. As an adult my response to my childhood faith was to find a church that would encourage me to know God more deeply, not by living with certitude and conforming to church teachings that portray a narrow God, but by finding one that would embrace my questions and help me weave together a new cloth from the many threads of faith that life had offered me. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Three in One, there's nothing wackadoodle about it...

Years ago one of my favorite articles in the NY Times Magazine was “On Language,” written by the late William Safire. One Sunday, back in 2008, Safire wrote an article on the word “Wackadoodle.” Have you ever used wackadoodle in a sentence? Well, Safire stated that it’s become quite a popular word. 

Safire quotes examples of a well known pastor being called a wackadoodle, a state legislator being labeled a wackadoodle for some of his beliefs and public statements, as well as Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise being called wackadoodles. 

Safire defines Wackadoodle, its an adjective and takes its first syllable from wacky – that is, ‘far-out, eccentric, off the wall’ possibly from ‘out of whack.’ The doodle ending means “simpleton” and has its roots in the term Yankee Doodle.

Today, Trinity Sunday, has reminded me of Safire’s article and the word wackadoodle. Perhaps my thought process makes sense to you? I mean the Christian understanding of God in three persons can seem a bit “far out,” “eccentric” or “off the wall” and trying to explain it can make the best of us feel like simpletons. 

In the fourth century a huge debate was held by various Church leaders from around the world at a church council meeting in Nicea. Just imagine all the rising stars in Christianity having a verbal slug-fest over the degree to which Christ was human and or divine. In trying to figure that out they also needed to articulate Christ’s relationship to God.  And further more they needed to define the Holy Spirit’s relationship to God and to Christ?

From this gathering a version of the Nicene Creed was written. However various church leaders argued over the creed and various other for another hundred years until a final statement was agreed upon. Now the Nicene Creed stands as the traditional understanding of the Trinity. Many people in the 21st century find its language and its teaching to be antiquated, they don’t like the male gendered language and they don’t like the paternalistic nature of it. But for now it is the church’s orthodox teaching on the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We pray it every Sunday as a reminder of the historic Christian understanding that God expresses God’s self as the creator, and as Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh, and as the Holy Spirit that remains active in the world inspiring creation to seek and follow God’s desire. God is a God of relationship. Historically this relationship manifests as God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In action this relationship manifests as God the creator, God the redeemer, and God the sanctifier.

These are all big theological concepts  that may leave us more confused than not, much like Nicodemus in his conversation with Jesus. I remember being frustrated in seminary because I wanted one concise definition for words like redeemer, sanctifier, and salvation, but every book I read seemed to use these words in different ways. Today, every Christian tradition has its own variation, its own understanding of what these words mean and of what God is doing in the world. 

Twenty years after seminary this is what I’ve come to understand. We can imagine God as a creator, who inspires new life, new hope. How is it that Jesus redeems us? Some say that by his birth, the “Word made flesh” is what redeems us by giving us a living, human example of how we are to live and love as God loves us. Some say it is his death on the cross that redeems us, taking away the sin of the world in that one brutal act, the death of an innocent person. Others say it is in the resurrection that we are redeemed. The resurrection of Jesus by God is the supreme act of responding to the injustice of the death of an innocent person by bringing new life into the world. All is forgiven. Sanctifier is one who makes holy. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and the whole world and makes it holy. Holy, because this is God’s creation, we are God’s created beings, we are holy. Salvation is the action of the Holy Spirit guiding us to live as God desires. Jesus teaches us that salvation happens in this world by the way we love as God loves. We are saved from living a life of despair when we anchor our lives in God, and, though prayer, living a life in community, and loving as God loves,  we acquire hope and this hope fills us with peace. This is God’s grace. 

Images of the Holy Spirit are present throughout the Bible, described most of the time as the breath of God, or as a woman, or as wisdom. Church councils in the fourth and fifth centuries had huge arguments over whether Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit or whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son. In the end the Nicene Creed says one thing, the Apostles Creed, which we say at morning prayer or evening prayer and at baptisms, says the other. 

From Isaiah we get the language for the Sanctus, which we sing or say in the Eucharistic prayer, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God…” an image that is Trinitarian in the three fold acknowledgment of God. 

In his letter to the Roman’s Paul is struggling with dualism, body versus spirit, in a good old Greek philosopher’s way, using the thinking of Plato to argue that the Spirit is better. Early Christian writers adopted Platonic thought and made further developments in arguing that the flesh, our bodies, are bad and only the spirit is whole and good. But the truth is we are both, body and spirit, and they can’t be divided, despite Plato’s philosophy. What we need to do is find a balance between the drives and desires of our earthly bodies, which are a gift from God, and our spiritual lives, which keep us connected to God. Seeking that balance is what brought me back to church. Maybe balance is one reason why you come, too?

The Gospel of John gives us the great story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and leaves more confused than before. Nicodemus represents us and our struggle to understand God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. 

Throughout this Easter season we have reflected on the ways God calls us to be in relationship with God and others.We are to work for justice. We are to be working for equality of all people, respecting the dignity of every human being, loving others as God loves us. This love is action oriented, it’s healing the broken relationships we have with our family and our friends. We even called to heal our relationships with people we’ve never met, but for whom are actions impact their quality of life by the food we eat, the water we drink, the clothes we wear, the money we make. 

Trinity Sunday is a call to become aware of the impact our lives have on the world around us. We are called to be spirit led and transformational, bringing new life and hope into the world. And there is nothing wackadoodle about that.

A reflection on the readings for Trinity Sunday...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Holy Spirit: glue in diversity, creative instigator, wildly playful

For a couple of years Dan and I lived in the desert southwest. It was an interesting place to live, especially if one loves wildlife. Our house sat on the foothills of a mountain range that housed a canyon known world wide for its variety of birds, especially hummingbirds. Walking our dogs around our neighborhood was a lesson in observance, particularly if we were walking in the early morning or evening, during the cool of the day. It was during the cooler times of day that the wildlife came out. Every day we had to navigate around the packs of coyotes in the arroyos, or the bobcat family that lived on the roof of the house across the street. One day we encountered a gila monster sunning itself in a driveway. Vultures flew over head and with their keen vision scoured the earth for animal remains from the night before. Occasionally we were blocked from walking part of a street because of an infestation of Africanized killer bees. Particularly striking were the tarantula wasps. These wasps were the size of my thumb, black with red wings, and a stinger the thickness of a darning needle. Tarantula wasps sting the tarantula, paralyzing it, and then lay its eggs inside the body of the tarantula, which then becomes food for the wasp larvae. The tarantula wasps were not really interested in humans, so they posed little danger to us, despite their daunting appearance. Then there was the pack of javelina that would make a nightly pass between our house and the neighbors. Javelina, also known as collared peccary, look a little a wild boar, or a squatty brown pig. They are incredibly smelly and travel in packs. Javelina are vegetarians, eating primarily prickly pear cactus. We were constantly aware of the potential for scorpions or rattle snakes, and every spider was gigantic and poisonous. 

Today’s Psalm and its mention of the Leviathan reminds me of living in an area where God’s wild creative energy is entertaining and dangerous. Giacomo Rossignolo, who lived in the sixteenth century, painted a fresco of the Leviathan, titled “The Last Judgement.”  It portrays an image of a huge water creature, its jaws wide open and humans inside its mouth. In the middle ages Satan looked distinctly like the human-eating Leviathan. Thomas Aquinas described the Leviathan as the demon of envy, sent to punish sinners. In our own times we hear occasionally of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, a Leviathan like creature who lives in the Loch Ness, the largest body of fresh water in Britain. Humans are entertained and entranced by the wild creatures of the earth. Even mythical creatures capture our imaginations. Clearly God must have a sense of humor to have created some of these creatures, just for the sport of it. The Psalm is a reminder that we are to have a sense of humor as we participate in the creativity of the world we live in. Being playful is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit inspired the followers of Jesus to form themselves into a cohesive unit and spread the message of Jesus far and wide. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds together all the wildly diverse aspects of creation. The Holy Spirit is the great equalizer, as we hear in the reading from Acts, where all people heard the voice of the Spirit, each in their native tongue. This wildly diverse crowd of people from across the region of the Roman Empire, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, educated and peasant, soldier and tax collector, artisan and potter, baker and farmer, traveling merchant and who knows who else, all heard the Holy Spirit in a gust of fiery wind, breathing over them God’s words. From this the church was born and given its mission. The fruits of our good work, we hear, is love and wisdom. God offers us a clear model of how we are to live, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God revealed God’s self in human flesh that we might know God’s nature more fully, and love as God loves us, which is a process of maturity and growing in wisdom. 

We hold this understanding of God, the Holy Spirit, the church and its mission, in tension with a world of people around us who have not or do not go to church. If one reads the news or follows news-feeds on Facebook, there are plenty of reasons to doubt or struggle with the institutional church: scandals are pervasive, abuse of children and women is secreted away, arguing over who belongs and who doesn’t, over race or human sexuality, problems in the church seem to be at epidemic proportions. I get it. I know something about the desire to walk away, to disconnect, to leave the institutional church behind, to go it on my own, to be spiritual but not religious. I lived that way for a third of my life. No doubt in some ways it was easier. I didn’t have to wrestle with relationships, I didn’t have to work to figure out how to be a good Christian and how to be a person of faith, how to live as Jesus asks of me. I could live anyway I wanted too. Sure, I could still have good values and still treat people fairly and work for justice. Learning to manage the tension of living in community, fostering a relationship with God, and navigating the complexity of diversity is what it means to be a faithful Christian, growing in compassion and maturity and wisdom and love. To be mature one needs to have resilience, the ability to withstand and rebound from life’s challenges. This cannot happen when one chooses to go off on one’s own. This happens when one chooses to live in community and wrestle with the challenges and joys of diversity anchored in relationship with a community of faith and with God. One of the key components of resilience and building healthy relationship is the ability to be playful and creative.

How are we, the people of Christ Church, seek to live as God calls us? How are we working to be in relationship with one another and the world around us? How are we resilient in facing challenges? How are we playful and creative? I can think of any number of answers to these questions. Among them, our long history is one sign of our ability to do these. Our mission as a Community-Centered church, with a very busy building filled with activities from groups that reside outside of the church as well as those who are members here, is another. Our church picnic, coming up in two weeks, is only one example of our playfulness as we dance, throw frisbees, toss baseballs, play soccer, blow bubbles, it’s a day of outdoor play that brings us together as a community having fun and celebrating life. Our new exterior plaza, the community garden, memorial garden, labyrinth, and pet memorial garden, in fact our church grounds, are a sign of our creativity - beautiful and welcoming to everyone. Many people walk our grounds, sit in prayer at the labyrinth, and soon, will find refreshment in the shade of the plaza and its water fountain. This summer we are launching an outdoor summer concert series, to be held on four Friday nights, two in July and two in August. This concert series is one way we are reaching out to the wider community, building relationships in creative and fun ways. 

Our readings this morning have one theme in common - the call to relationship. Surrounding the call to be in relationship is the idea of being playful and creative. We confuse church when we think it is limited to a building. We confuse the importance of relationship when we are too serious. Pentecost reminds us that church is a body of people working to be in relationship with one another, building a relationship with God, and manifesting God’s love in the world. Church is at its best when the people are diverse, creative, invigorated, prayerful, supportive of one another and a little wild and playful, just for the sport of it. 

a reflection on the readings for Pentecost, Acts 2:1-21 and Psalm 104

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Holy Spirit, An Agitator for Justice

A reflection on the readings for Easter 6B

In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday of May as the national day of observance for Mother’s Day. However, the history of Mother’s Day is much longer than the legislation of a 101 years ago. The ancient culture of Greece and Rome, out of which our Christian faith grew, worshipped the female goddess Rhea, who was the mother of all the Gods. Christians have worshipped Mary, the mother of Jesus, and held her up as a model for womanhood and motherhood. In the 17th century England created Mothering Sunday designed to allow working people to have a day off in order to travel home and spend the day with family. Woodrow Wilson’s declaration was the result of the efforts of two women, Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis. 

You might remember that Julia Ward Howe, following a visit to Civil War battlegrounds in 1861,  wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The hymn’s theology is based on the Book of Revelation. Then, in 1870, in response to the fractures left in this country by the death and violence of that war she wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation. The proclamation asked for women to work for peace, to create a  time when no mother’s son went to war and no mother’s son killed another mother’s child. Howe used her own funds to support Mother’s Day observances which continued for about ten years after her death. In 1908 Anna Jarvis picked up the practice of Mother’s Day by petitioning the church where her mother had been the superintendent of Sunday School for twenty years, to observe her life and ministry. Thanks to her efforts, on May 10, 1908 two churches, one in West Virginia and one in Pennsylvania honored Mother’s Day. Six years later these observances led to the legislation that President Wilson signed. 

Clergy and worship leaders around the country are concerned about what to do with Mother’s Day now that it is viewed as primarily a secular Hallmark card holiday. Now that we are more sensitized to the hurt inflected on women and men who may have had abusive mothers or the pain that women feel when they can’t have a child - Mother’s Day is complicated. We have lost the connection of this day to its roots in the church and its hope for justice for all people.  That our readings this morning from scripture focus on love, justice, and equality, is perhaps, not a coincidence.

Every year, throughout the Easter season, our readings reveal the Holy Spirit as the active energy in the formation of the early church. First we have Peter and Paul in Jerusalem debating before the whole church whether or not circumcision should be required for membership. The argument was, if circumcision was a defining characteristic of a man’s identity as a Jewish Christian should it be necessary for the Gentiles? Could the community embrace members who were different in a basic aspect of their identity? In the end James settled the debate by determining that circumcision was not necessary and Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, could be equal members in the Christian Church. The first great conflict was managed and the church opened its boundaries, coming to understand God, community, and human beings in a new, more expansive way. Other conflicts arose - last week Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, breaking open the boundaries of race and gender, God’s church  is meant for everyone, equally. This week another action of the Holy Spirit, breaking open boundaries as Peter baptizes a Centurian, a Roman soldier.

Although the readings are essentially the same every Easter season, it seems to me that this year they are hitting a universal nerve that runs through the current of our society, as if the Holy 

Spirit is stimulating the electrical charge. From the public accounting of the deaths of black men and boys, shot by police officers; to the suicide of teenagers, many of whom are transgender, children who are taunted and bullied by their peers; to the baby in Florida whose baptism was initially denied because he has two fathers for parents; television and the internet are reporting on the many ways we are struggling to understand who we are to love. Social media is in an uproar as petitions for justice circulate. Clearly, this love, that the Holy Spirit calls forth in us, is not the sweet romantic love we tend to identify with. The love that the Holy Spirit calls forth is a verb, an action, trying to provoke us to be like James, Peter, and Philip, like Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis, seeking to inspire us to love others as God loves us. It’s the Holy Spirit calling us to live the greatest commandment as Jesus taught it: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

No doubt there are many days when I wish Jesus had not laid down that commandment. I do not want to be challenged to love others in this way. I want someone to blame for the anxiety in our world, the anxiety in my life. But, Jesus reminds me to take the log from my own eye, learn to understand myself better, and respond to others with maturity and wisdom instead of anger and blame. This love that God commands is hard work. 

The good news is, we don’t have to do this by ourselves. Thank God, the Holy Spirit is present, guiding, sustaining, and supporting. When I consider all the things in the world today that make me anxious, whether it is health care or marriage, baptism or race, gender, violence, guns, our roads, our government, terrorism, the economy…..regardless of how I view these realties of the world, if I trust the movement of the Holy Spirit, I do not need to live my life being anxious. I do need to be proactive for what I believe in, working for justice as I understand it through the lens of my faith as a Christian.

The readings tell us that the Holy Spirit stirs things up, is an agitator for justice, inspiring humans to work to break down the barriers that other humans have imposed in the name of God and religion. We also hear that the Holy Spirit is the stabilizing energy in this force field of anxiety. She stirs things up and yet she stabilizes the energy by pulling us to Jesus.The Holy Spirit is the center of gravity that pulls all things toward God’s love, striving to bring balance and prevent us from going off course. 

Allowing the Holy Spirit to anchor me to Jesus and to God is an intentional act on my part. Through prayer, worship, and life in community, I learn, over and over, that God will push me to be the best version of myself that I can become, push me to love others with an open and expansive heart, push me to put this love into action, but God will also provide me with the wisdom and the stamina and the courage to do so. 

Again, the Battle Hymn of the Republic comes to mind, and I realize that whether I go or not, God’s truth is marching on. No anxiety on my part will stop the Holy Spirit from advancing God’s desire for love and justice. But, this does not really let me off the hook, it does not release me from the push and pull to do my part. 

Though my eyes are often closed if I but open them I will see the coming glory of God and if I but have a little courage I too can join the march. May I follow in the footsteps of Peter and 
Philip, Julia and Anna, being lead by the Holy Spirit, into the truth of God’s desire for all creation, that we love one another as God loves us. 

Glory, glory hallelujah!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Holy Spirit, an Equal Opportunity Lover of People

A reflection on the readings for Easter 5: Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 7:7-21; John 15:1-8

The other day I had a conversation with someone about their childhood and whether or not faith was an active part of it. This person shared stories of growing up in a church with a progressive priest who took the confirmation class to Detroit to participate in the civil rights marches in the 1960’s. It was the first time this person had been in a crowd of black people, and, as an adolescent, the experience made a life-long impression on her.  She was in Grant Park in Chicago during the Democratic Convention of 1968, another transformational experience. Racial and gender issues have defined her life.  Deeply invested in the causes for equality for all people, she said that living a life of privilege pushed her to become of aware of and re-evaluate her assumptions. As a person of privilege she had to unlearn assumptions about the economy and its impact on poverty, race, and gender. She has had to unlearn assumptions about education, employment, family, marriage, and even faith. 

I had another conversation with someone very different, a person who grew up without the assumptions of privilege that come from being part of the dominant culture of our society, who did not have the benefits of being white and upper middle class. The ancestors of this person walked the Trail of Tears from Mississippi to Oklahoma.This person grew up on a reservation but the stories he told were not stories of despair or poverty, which is my impression of life on a reservation. Rather he spoke of importance of family and community. He said that what Native people want today is not a return of their ancient land or other forms of material reconciliation. What Native people want is the opportunity to be who they are, to retain their identity and culture, their values and beliefs and spiritual traditions. This person comes from a long line of people who practiced Christianity and Native spirituality from which he learned to understand the value of unity in diversity; that justice for one segment of society deepens the potential for justice for all people.

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning highlights these themes of privilege, race and gender and the breaking down of our assumptions. The Eunuch is wealthy and educated, riding in the queen’s chariot and reading scripture. The Holy Spirit tells Philip to go to the Eunuch, and Philip does without hesitation. Which is really amazing - because the Ethiopian Eunuch, by virtue of his race and gender, breaks the purity laws of Moses and pushed every assumption Philip had about life. Based on what he learned as a person of faith, Philip should walk by this Eunuch, keeping a good distance between them. Instead, the Holy Spirit directs Philip to do something he would have found quite radical, and he did it. Not only did Philip speak to the Eunuch, but he baptized him, breaking old religious barriers into new paradigms of the community of faith. 

The Holy Spirit is an equal opportunity lover of souls who does not recognize divisions of class, race, or gender, imposed by humans in the name of God and religion. 

Over the last year Maryjane, the Vestry, and I have studied and discussed Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory. The theory focuses on understanding how the underlying emotional processes of an individual is connected to the way one’s family managed anxiety. Patterns of emotional process which become anxious result in a need to either pull people together and  find comfort in all being alike, or they pull people apart and  ease the anxiety by distancing or cutting individuals off from others. 

Unfortunately trying to ease anxiety by either too much togetherness or by distancing or cutting off, does not ultimately end the anxiety because it just rears its head in other ways and other relationships. Family Systems Theory strives to help people become aware of the emotional patterns learned from one’s family of origin and to work toward a more neutral emotional place regarding those emotional patterns. One may acquire a more neutral emotional stance by becoming clear about who one is; learning to manage one’s emotions and anxiety while staying in relationship with others. Managing one’s anxiety means that when somethings arouses a knee jerk reaction in me  I am able to be aware of it and maintain a more neutral emotional stance. So for example I am not managing my anxiety when my elderly senile old dog looses bladder control in the house and I impulsively yell at her and herd her outside. This tends to cause even more loss of bladder control and I end up feeling like a fool because I’ve yelled at my old dog who can’t help herself. Then, if I were really feeling anxious and reactive I would yell at my husband or son for not letting the dog out, as if it’s their fault she is old and senile and sometimes can’t recognize her own bladder sensations. Emotional reactivity and blaming others for my anxiety are key symptoms of family emotional processes. One could also blame others, withdraw, hold it all inside, distance or cut off from others. The solution, which in my better days I manage, is to let her outside frequently enough that we avoid accidents. And recognize that when it does happen it's because I have been too distracted by my own life to pay attention to the needs of my dog. I take responsibility for myself rather than blaming others. 

This is what we are hearing in the reading from the Gospel - pruning ourselves of all that keeps us from being in authentic relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others. In particular pruning ourselves of our reactivity to anxiety, which limits our ability to think creatively and respond with wisdom and maturity. Pruning in order to grow more mature as Christians and as human beings. Pruning out the assumptions we have learned and opening the way for new, deeper understandings of who we really are as beloved people made in God’s image. Each and every one of us, regardless of color, race, economic class, gender, or age, is equally beloved and made in God’s image. 

The point of this is to remind us that the primary value we are asked to live by is love. God is clear about what this love means. It is not an emotion or a feeling; rather God’s love is a verb, it’s an action. We manifest God’s love when love others as God loves us: when we take responsibility for our emotions and actions first instead of blaming others, when we consider our own anxiety and work to navigate it in mature ways, when we break down the walls of our own unseeing, when we work to unlearn our assumptions about life, self, and others. We love as God loves when we love ourselves and others authentically, for who they really are; another human being made in God’s image.

Our readings today remind us that the Holy Spirit is an equal opportunity lover of souls and the fruit we are called to bear is to do likewise, loving others as God loves us. 

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.