Jumping Rope

 

Tonight I served for a small chancel Eucharist, and my dear friend surprised me by asking me to explain to the supply priest where I was in my own process. I still am not used to saying it, still not used to telling the truth, and I think I stumbled a bit as I tried to tell that wonderful lady where I am and how I got here. It’s a story that is so much larger than three minutes worth of soliloquy.

Two weeks ago I graduated, stood side by side by with my cohort and wondered if the Bishop would decide that he would use his own private handshake when he gave us our certificates (he didn’t, and I was sort of disappointed). I sat in a small chancel and fed tootsie rolls to a friend who had low blood sugar, I sang along and watched beloved clergy and faculty as they stood around the altar and prepared to serve us, their students.

The sun came through the window at just the right angle. I noted the differing stoles, I noted the differing postures, I watched mouths move in their own private prayer. When my turn came to receive one particularly beloved person placed the bread firmly in my hand and then had to find her composure again, blinking back tears. I am so grateful to fall into the category of beloved.

The kids came back to the school and wandered the halls, they wanted to see everything. They sat on the beds in my small room, marveled that I did not, in fact, have a TV, coffee maker and mini-fridge. They explored the bathrooms, the cafeteria, our small chapel and our classrooms. They asked if I would miss it.

And the answer is yes.

And the answer is no.

Almost four Augusts ago I walked unwilling into a period of formation I didn’t think I needed. I was in an almighty hurry, and I realize now that I usually am. And I realize now that I don’t need to be.

I walked out of the school for the last time and stood by the car waiting for my friends. I talked to a fat squirrel to avoid the tears I’d felt threatening all day and they fell anyway. The squirrel sat contentedly on ample haunches and chittered at me. I think I cried because I knew that we would never be together in just this configuration for just these reasons ever again. I think I cried as an ending to what was the most difficult period of my life. I know I cried in gratitude that somehow I’d managed to stick it out. I know I wasn’t crying because I would miss the food.

Listen.

I was “invited” down a path.

It was dark and gloomy and it smelled like rain further in. It seemed utterly suspect and out of the way. Just let me stay on this sunny and well-beaten path. Just let me keep walking and rejoicing with these folks I CHOSE to walk with. 

I took the path. I found my own grave among the pine carpeted forest. I saw amazing visions of myself with a glass IV bottle pouring who I was actually supposed to be into my veins. A former Presbyterian and a kick ass deacon and a man who is passionate about people and history stood together in black cassocks (bubble, bubble, toil and trouble) and they beckoned and cajoled. There was a late night conversation with my brother, me sobbing that I didn’t want to die, him sobbing back, you must.

There was Old Testament and New Testament. I actually heard a preacher refer to a Marcan Sandwich the other day and was so shocked I almost fell off the pew. There was good liturgy and bad liturgy and all of the learning in between. We lobbed some real stinkers of sermons at each other and were equally graced with messages that we could not take credit for. There was Henry VIII and Martin Luther, random Canterbury Tales in theology, wonderful vistas of different ways to look at every single thing with Fr. S in his fishing vest presiding – he who would insist upon love and justice but still say that he probably isn’t very good at those things.

Oh, the cool water of humility.

There were midnight club meetings, the election of new Senior Wardens for same. There was a bonfire, music, silly games, trekking the whole building in search of a lost room key, a bottle of wine with three wine keys sticking out of it, all of them broken off by the stubbornly set cork. There was Bohemian Rhapsody. There were snacks.

And so how to explain all of this to a woman I’ve met once five minutes before a service? There just isn’t an intelligent way, I hope she doesn’t think less of me.

You all, I am the same and I am not.

I am your sister and your mother, your wife and your daughter. I am your friend. I am still me. My sense of humor is still awful. I am sarcastic. I need a rubber band on my wrist to snap a hundred times a day.

But I am also a person who has chosen to die. I have chosen to let go the things that hold me back and hurt me. I have chosen to tell the truth, to dare declaration of what I hear, to tell it to you and hear you, really hear you, when you speak it back to me. I am a person who is most comfortable in black cassock #7. I am a person who finds God in a chancel and meeting the eyes of a person who is hurting as they tell me a long and sad story.  I am worthy now of prayer, on your behalf and my own. I didn’t know these things.

I said, mistakenly perhaps, that this was just a job. I know that it isn’t. I know that it’s me stripped to my core, that it is a call and a vocation. I know that it will take over my life if I’m not careful. I remember still the warning from ALK – to not walk off the edge of the world.

And so I am grounded here. In my small house with its plaid dining room chairs and black and white cat. With my blooming girl children and their noxious pollen that makes me cry and makes me proud all at once. I am grounded now, by my work over the last few years. I am open and waiting.

Infuse me.

Tomorrow is a funeral and another job interview. Tomorrow is another day of laundry and good books and doing the dishes and picking up the same eight things off the floor. Tomorrow is another day adrift from the academy. Left here in a sun dappled clearing to find my way back to the road where all of you are. I’m blinking and dazed, amazed that it’s over and I’m being set loose. But I’m coming around, getting up, beating my way frantically through the brush to you. To where you exist and hurt and weep and sing.

But friends, the call to transformation is right there in front of you, too. It isn’t in bible verses shouted by a politician to back up a despicable agenda. It’s in the very old woman who hurried up the aisle tonight after the service had already started to take her place in the pews. It’s in her not being able to keep track of the service and asking constantly where we were. It’s in bending to what is unbelievable and coming out the other side.

Like stained glass glory light, like the patchwork cloak that is full of my failings, and quotes from Father S and Dr. V’s tears and ALK’s wisdom. It’s in the notes I will gird my loins (heh) to sing on Saturday as I help you call down the holy spirit.

I love you still.

This is all spilled on the path before you, rocks and mica that sparkle and shine. You can pick it up too. Don’t believe the lies they tell, the things they insist don’t matter. You know they do. This isn’t just mine. This is yours too, I wouldn’t be here without you.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Brightest Colors

Today Ave and I rode to the grocery store. We needed broccoli for dinner, and we bought cat food for the finicky cats and reusable bags, as I’ve only recently become very concerned for the amount of trash just this small house creates. Ave’s sweet voice sang next to me a song that her choir will sing, a crop of fourth graders, itchy and growing fast, moving into the big school next year – every night I lie in bed, the brightest colors fill my head, a million dreams are keeping me awake. And she looked at me with her blue eyes and said simply, I love this song.

The thing about kids is that they are brave and impressionable, they are still growing their hearts. As we grow up we stop being brave, we learn how much life hurts, how many people are out to take us or damage us. We stop being impressionable and we stop dreaming, rooted firmly in our very normal lives which are full of our own trauma and secret shames; littered with the refuse of the dreams we will never see out. We live in the little shacks we’ve made for ourselves, not daring to contemplate new ideas, not able to grasp the fact that something we’ve been told by very.important.people. is just not true.

And I get this.

I lived in my shack, surrounded by a wall that kept the world out. My wall kept new ideas out, and it choked back growth, and it kept me safe from a religion that had hurt me. I kept secrets and was part of a damaging family system. I had old newsprint and pages of the Bible and play bills on the walls, and a floor covered with rag rugs to cover all the trap doors that would fall through at any moment and spiral me back to old pain. I didn’t know that I’d absorbed so many ideas, I didn’t know that those ideas made up so much of who I was. And one day there was a rap at the door.  I opened the door, just a little bit, and the ragged curtains at the windows sighed and the dust motes whirled. One day I opened the door, just a  little bit, and what I saw there encouraged me to step outside.

It was a man with white moustaches and sheet music.

And I agreed to sing and the music flowed through me and enlivened withered parts of my heart, places I’d killed off a long time ago. One night I sang a kyrie and that night was the turning point. As I kneeled and sang and cried all at once I knew that I could never go back to my shack. I knew that I had to burn it down.

And I learned that women could be ministers, I learned that we are all called according to our own gifts, and I learned what my gifts were and that they are desirous to a Jesus Movement. I learned how to read and interpret the inspired scripture of our Bible. I learned about my own whiteness. I learned that other women had #metoo moments. I learned to speak truth to power and I learned to be unafraid.

I learned to see the brightest colors and to believe that I could have them too, flowing through me and out to this world like stained glass glory light. I learned that I still had a million dreams.

And so my wall came down, the one that kept me inside. And I learned to not be so afraid. And I learned that Love Wins every single time and that sometimes the only healing that is left is death and that I shouldn’t be afraid of that and that I could say special prayers to help others with that second birth.

I’ve said before that I won’t see that promised land. I will die on the hill in the gloaming, surrounded by the folks I’ve loved my whole life, as the lights of that land come on to drive back the dark. But as our Ave sang that song tonight I became convicted that the world they’re going to make – the world our children will make is that promised land. And that we can only walk with them part of the way, we cannot go in.

And more than 50 souls are winging their way toward that heavenly campground and the Middle East descends again into violence and bloodshed. And this weekend my rapt attention was given to an Imam who told me about the nature of Islam, while wearing his white cap. And people still couldn’t believe him. They still couldn’t open the jammed shut door of the place where they’ve lived for so long, where everything makes sense and agrees with them already.

And our children march and call for the promised land as our lawmakers make laws that don’t make them safe. And even now there are folks on a FB group who insist that you can’t marry who you love, who are withholding a SACRAMENT.

Capture

We are walking through the tall grass and a band of children lead us, many of them militant little girls, and they are hallooing into the falling night. The breeze is warm and sometimes we sing quietly to ourselves. We are chanting that it doesn’t matter who you love, it doesn’t matter what you think you’ve done, your legal status, your bank account – we are chanting that none of those things matter in the good news of God in Christ.

Ave told me tonight that the woman singing another song from the Greatest Showman is about a bearded lady and Ave said in a whisper that she was called a freak, but that was a different time and it might have been ok to say things like that then. And I said, well she was wonderfully made in the image of God. And my heart cracked open again as that little girl said, And God Doesn’t Make Mistakes.

These children are our hope. They are the reconciliation of all of creation. They are the ones who will rise up with the forests and the hills and the rocks and all of us on that last day when Christ comes back and tells us again what we learned way back in Genesis: That God already judged the world. And God called us Good. Very. Good. The children are echoing back the song of an endlessly creating Trinity that longs to be in relationship with us.

Open the door.

I am knocking. I am right here (I do not have white moustaches but I do have sheet music). I will take your hand and you can join our merry band as we follow the children through the meadows outside the promised land. We can let go of the prejudices we didn’t even know we had. We can burn the shacks to the ground and live in places filled with light and truth, places without walls. Because friends, my walls kept me in and they are keeping you in, too. They don’t keep anyone out.

You can let go of the things you believe that aren’t true. I promise you that you can.

Thunder rumbles in the near distance and a black and white cat lays in the window assessing the nonexistent traffic. Dinner is cooking and I am calling to you, singing to you, asking you to come with me.

Love does win, you know. Love won when Jesus trampled down hell and death. Love will win again, its going to win every time and you might want to get on the side of that love. You might want to come and live fearlessly with those of us who will rise up and continue to shine our stained glass glory light.

I love you still. And I know this is scary and that you don’t understand. But the next time an Imam tells you something true I hope you will believe him. Because there is no holy war. And no one is coming for you. And you are safe.

capture1

 

Yes. Our Lord is forgiving and merciful. And our children are too.

And my hope rests on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raising White Kids – Review

Several months ago I was asked by one of the matriarchs of a women’s clergy group I belong to if I would read and review a book called Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. I immediately agreed as I am raising white girl children in a world where men who carry Home Depot tiki torches and chant “blood and soil” are praised as good people.

The book arrived and my (rather precocious) 13 year old daughter and I started to read. A true Millennial, my daughter created a Google doc for us to collaborate on our findings and ideas. You see, this book came along at a perfect time in our relationship, and in her own personal growth and development. We live in a white place, though we have a strong Latinx  and Hispanic contingency at church, we live surrounded by people who look like us, who think mostly like us, and who have grown up with the same ideas about race – ideas based in a homogeneous place and time, rooted deeply in our own white culture. My own experiences in this place include only a few black kids at my school (like literally two) and a force of migrants who came in the summers to pick blueberries in the fields that surround our towns, whose children populated our classrooms only for a brief period before moving on.

Let me be clear: I am not calling my parents to the carpet by any means, because they evolved and got better than their parents (who in turn were more racially sensitive than their parents before them) –All of this based on where we grew up and with whom and the issues that our specific communities dealt with.  I am just stating facts when I say that we never talked about this. And that is ok, because though the injustices that face people of color have always been an issue, they were not as front and center then as they are today. If my own parents read this they probably wonder what there was to say.

Not too long ago one of the schools in our small town invited a man named Calvin Terrell to come and address the kids – his message was branded as one of kindness and inclusiveness, an anti-bullying speech that kids do desperately need to hear. Our town went nuts, the internet broke, neighbor took up against neighbor – the resounding howl was one that went something like this, “I don’t need to be white-shamed!” Somehow, many in our town took Calvin’s message as one of white hate.

Harvey writes of the delicate balance of not immediately turning white people off to a message of white privilege, and she also acknowledges that the very fact that there is a scale at all, that there is a balance AT ALL is indicative of a larger problem. As she writes, we have further growing to do ourselves. Unfortunately a growth mindset can be difficult to achieve in adults. Harvey notes that though parents grew up eating Frosted Flakes for breakfast they still can assess that as adults and put into place better habits with their own children – the issue of how we grow up and the ideas we grow up with about racism are much more ingrained, more challenging and harder to push against.

As a mother of younger children I found her teaching on the open and noticed differences in color to be appealing. Rather than a mentality of we’re all the same, or color-blindness, Harvey writes that differences are noticed early on by children and that when we refuse to engage with them when they notice those differences we do them a disservice. An especially powerful example of this is when Harvey compares the teaching of color blindness to telling a child the sky isn’t blue constantly – when it is. When we insist that there is no black or brown we instill a confusion and are telling our children that we aren’t telling the truth because what we are saying is not what they are experiencing. Harvey expounds on how damaging this is to racial development and also to a parent-child relationship – for a parent to continue to insist that something right in front of us isn’t what it really is.

Harvey’s book is perfectly accessible, her choice of language and style one that draws the reader in – to understand how the socially constructed issue of race is at work in our minds and communities. Her book is useful beyond parenting, though she does (helpfully) address specific age groups, because she comes right out and tells truth to those who howl about being white shamed. Harvey acknowledges that this is a discussion that is uncomfortable, she promises that it becomes easier with practice. Each chapter ends with a list of take-aways, which leaves a good jumping off point to facilitate discussion for book groups or for teaching.

It is interesting to think about, the fact that so much of who are and how we act is passed down, generation upon generation; there is so much that we refuse to see or address because change is hard. But just as we would seek to end a family cycle of addiction of abuse by teaching healthy behavior Harvey insists that we can also undo the racial hierarchy that has ruled our country from its very founding.

I don’t know if you have kids or how old they are – but I have a pair of fierce daughters and I know that placing my hope squarely on them to overturn unjust systems is a fair bet. But I must take charge of their formation and education so that they understand the world they are taking on. Harvey’s message is one of hope; if we will only confront ourselves we can change the world.

 

** I received two free copies of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

 

 

Unafraid – a wish, a prayer.

Today I attended my first ever protest. I stood in the cold refusing to wear a coat because I was afraid it would cover up the orange in my scarf – orange being the color of the day, the ironic color of gun safety. I stood with dear friends and we held signs that said things like “learning not lockdowns” “and a little child shall lead them. they are leading! are you listening?” and “Rest in peace and rise in glory #Parkland17”.

We didn’t have to wait very long before a statuesque blonde came running out of her middle school followed by a tangle of friends. That blonde read out the names of the kids and teachers who died on Ash Wednesday, a true and awful reminder of the fact that we are but dust.

What we don’t expect, and I think what many of us have closed our minds and hearts to, is that our kids could be dust sooner than we think. We don’t expect to have that sweaty smell of sports uniforms disappear and not come back, we don’t expect to have the bickering suddenly taper off – we don’t get to know when it’s the last time.

And the kids who died on Ash Wednesday didn’t get to know it was the last time either. They didn’t get to know that was the last sibling battle over sink space, the last eye roll over a parent asking for something unreasonable like ‘text and tell me where you are later’. To have lost a teenager must be an especially awful thing. So many angry words, so much growth and self-differentiation — how can any of us always leave each on good terms?

Our little ones  must make perfect angels, singing in heavenly choirs with their angelic and unblemished faces still full of hope and wonder and respect – none of the anger and angst of teens.

Today I met a woman who told me that she had a child in an elementary school in Colorado who lived through an active shooter. And then she had a child at Columbine who lived again.

She has a vested interested you guys. She’s stood there, at a barricade, not knowing if her child lived her not. And she’s done that twice.

This is wrong.

It is absolutely wrong.

And I will go so far as to say that those of you who believe that anyone has a right to own any sort of weapon is part of the moral problem of our world. Your literal and proudly espoused belief that YOU COME FIRST, your absolute selfishness and belief in your own right against what is good and right — is not unlike the attitude of someone who can go into a school and kill children. Don’t you see that those killers believed they had been wronged? Believed they had a right to their vengeance?

It’s not about where you stand in line.

It’s not about what is owed to you.

It’s not about what you believe you have a right to.

There is no right to vengeance just as surely as there is not a right to own any sort of gun for any reason; by any person.

The bible verses that get tossed around, shamelessly twisting the words of Jesus Christ to defend a weapon he didn’t even know about is an abomination.

I can toss bible verses too. What about in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he tells the Christians there that they can absolutely eat the meat that was sacrificed, but then tells them that if eating that meat is a stumbling block to their community they should knock it the hell off and stop insisting on their right to do so?

Meat = Guns. Don’t think it makes sense? Neither does the episode where Jesus told his disciples to go and buy a sword, that keeps getting trotted out. Or the will forgetting of the person who used that sword in the garden being told by Jesus to sheath it.

The insistence on a right to own a gun is a stumbling block to hundreds of school children, to an entire generation. A stumbling block and a literal death threat.

As a much beloved teacher of mine said, Jesus and MLK told us we would self destruct if we could not get a grip on our violence and we proved them both true.

We killed them.

Just as much as we killed Jesus Christ and just as much as we killed little seven year olds at Sandy Hook and teens full of that strange mixture of hope and angst at Columbine and gay folk out dancing in Florida, and people at a country music concert in Las Vegas.

What sort of world is this, where the insisted upon right of a few is the detriment and funeral of many? Where a person can’t safely see a movie or attend school?

I am supposed to speak love. I am supposed to respect the dignity of all persons. I am struggling.

I have a hard time finding love with the shouted right to own a weapon made only to kill juxtaposed against the green eyes of my daughter wanting to be safe in her school.

 

My sister took this daughter of mine to a concert a few months ago. and I shamefacedly messaged my sister. I said, look, you need an exit and not the one you came in. You need to agree with Kaia on a place to meet if something happens. You need to trust your gut if you hear something like fireworks and MOVE.

MOVE.

Get the hell out!!

We are living in America in fear of something that can be controlled. We put our 16 year olds in cars and insist they wear seat belts, we put helmets on our kids when they ride a stupid scooter in our own driveway – but we send them to a place where there is a record of death and bloodshed every single day blindly trusting that it will be ok.

Members of our government refer to a little teenaged girl with a prophetic voice and a shaved head as a nazi even as our president says there were very fine people marching in South Carolina… the ones holding tiki torches and chanting “blood and soil”? Those people are fine people but Emma Gonzalez is not?

Look you guys. I am all over the place.

I am tired. I am so tired of telling my kids to run if they hear gun shots. I am so tired of the shooter drills. I am tired of going into every public space and shutting myself up when I really want to say to my family, I will meet you there, go out the back.

If you don’t live here you can’t understand. I am not overstating.

Our children will lead us out. The misunderstood generation of smart phones and school issued laptops and social media bullying. The ones who use words like “shook” to describe how they feel.

We are in a very dark place. And I will fight to the death for the right of my girl children to be heard. For their right to live in safety.

These kids don’t build walls. They invite people in, every person. They are kind already. And they are so brave.

I love you still.

From the depths of hidden despair. From the panic of not knowing what comes next. From the pride of marching behind my daughter today as her friends sobbed and shouted at the same time — WE ARE CHANGE.

May they be that change.

Lord have mercy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despised

Today was a good day, a piece-meal sort of day; a day where bits of information swirled together with faces new and old in a lovely old building with leaded glass doors and choir stalls.

Today I made the connection, thanks to a helpful facilitator, that change often means loss. That we are afraid of change because it always hurts, because the price is very high even when we didn’t buy it but are subjected to it. Today we talked about raising up disciples and not just being in stasis, holding on, paying the bills, depleting the endowment. Waiting to die.

I guess I’m here to tell you that change does hurt. I’m raising my hand in my old flannel shirt and I’m testifying for you.

I am living proof that the vessel that was broken and pieced back together with whatever sort of glue you had one hand is a vessel that can be filled again. I know that that is true.

We talked today about where our altars are, not explicitly, but that was what I wrote in this notebook that has carried me through two years of school and bad, bad times. I wrote, where are our altars? Where is the miracle of the broken body of Christ? I envisioned our kids at my home parish, the way they carry reverently the wine and the bread, the way they take a box of cereal or a can of corn from the offering for the food pantry and process proudly up the aisle while we sing. The way they kneel then, before the altar, and watch the miracle of the Eucharist occur with itchy feet and wandering attention; present, nonetheless.

Today we talked about a Consumer Church, a church that folks shop for, about what that is. My own two cents, for what they’re worth, is that a church that fits us to a T isn’t a church that will push us to change, but one that will make us feel good.  It isn’t a church that will ask us to experience loss. And a church that doesn’t push us to change, that doesn’t require our skin in the game, our own blood and our own sweat and tears — a church that doesn’t do these things isn’t raising us up to be disciples, it is placating our deepest fears, at risk of being too risque, is it a place where we are coddled; not a place where we are molded and formed.

I am through with being coddled, I would rather know the awful truth and figure a way out from there. I guess I would rather grow, even when it hurts, even when it involves changing the way I think about myself or the way I think about God.

Today we contemplated whether or not a market driven religion (that is, one that brands itself, stays on message, markets to folks (read, young families) by providing entertainment)…. does a market driven religion lead to a market driven truth? Is that really the truth, then, if a church made it that way to bring me in? If they told me it was easy, required no examination or sacrifice on my part? Do all of our attempts to market to folks, to sell ourselves, do they result in a congregation that prizes a personal relationship over common worship? Does that mean the idea of personal responsibility is disregarded?

It does, I think. And then we find a place where the work, the behind the scenes mouse in the kitchen, cleaning the bathrooms when there isn’t a sexton, wash your own robes and shovel the snow — all of that work is handled quietly by only a few as the consumers come in and worship and feel good and go out again. I’m pretty sure that method isn’t raising up people to be transformed, I am pretty sure because it isn’t asking anything of them.

I wanted to say today, as we bandied about ideas about the sort of church we are now, that instead of lamenting our losses we should celebrate our gain. Our gain is that right now we stand on the cusp of a new chance, we are more like those first Christians than ever. People think our love is radical and crazy, they see us all standing here, unarmed, without the fire power of the NRA, and they scratch their heads.

The government isn’t owned by us, the world at large doesn’t care what we have to say, we are figuring out how to organize this thing, how to get this message out, how to be church in a society that has shifted away from our organized liturgies but agrees with our message of welcome, our message of an undying and eternal love.

I wanted to say that our God is one who is constantly crucified and risen and creating, that we are passionately invited into covenant with that God, invited with longing into a place where we too are called to die, rise and create alongside the trinity.

I wanted to say that there is a price, and the price is blood. The price is an upending, a willingness to be emptied and to break open, the cost is the itch as the glue settles into the cracks that have formed.

Church, I am itchy with glue. I am itchy with the desire and the willingness to show you what it means to be broken. I am willing to walk with you when you allow this. I will plug you into that church basement machine that takes yourself, your sin and your flaw and fills you up again with living water, with that distillation of your childhood, yourself, and your calling. I will learn to be gentle with that needle.

I will have a tent revival and we can all sing Taize and bawl. I will do what it takes to show you there is more, just behind the curtain, and that it hurts.

I will show you that we turn loss (change) into transformation by loving tenderly, by praying into it, by losing the world and our hearts to this mission of good news.

We can come together, and when we do our learned mercy and justice will flow like a cooling stream from an overflowing fountain, one made of the saltwater of the tears we have shed for all that we have laid down — that fountain will flow and bleed into and fill all of the cracks that separate us; all of that dark and empty space.

My spiritual discipline for Lent is attending (and sometimes leading, you all should come) sung Compline. My other one is learning to sing the sixteenth notes that Handel thought it would be fun for me to sing as part of his Messiah. I keep singing, he was despised. And willing myself to be also.

I am mightily tired of ornamental music but I will learn it. I will see an exasperated and much beloved friend as I struggle, I will envision his white mustaches quivering as he says, pointedly, it’s up and down the scale, that’s all.

Up and down the scale.

Come be itchy with me.

Be carried forward to all of the altars our big world has and be broken.

Be blessed and consumed and sustaining.

Do those hard things. Take heart.

Thy rebuke has broken his heart. But that is not the end of this story.

My dad wondered today if my grandpa had met Billy Graham yet, and I said I think he has, I think Rev. Graham probably preached last Sunday in the big outdoor bandstand of heaven as the breeze rattled the grass and the kids sat, itchy in their seats, just like us.

And the whip on Grandma’s meringue was to die for, and Grandpa Ken helped with the singing, and Grandma D rocked those babies in the cry room; knowing that her soul was already saved, that salvation was a done deal,  even as a sleeping baby sweated all over her nice blouse.

I think the good news is that there is more. I think it is that you (I try not to use that word, but I mean it now), you don’t have to live this way. In fear and despair, clutching all of the things that you think are yours because you’ve worked so very hard. You don’t need those guns. Because a foe will come for us all and our weapon cannot be fire, it cannot be death and more death — it must be a message of mercy.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter. That change hurts. That your Lenten discipline may already lay abandoned on the road to Galilee and that it’s ok.

The good news is that you can choose to be different.

You can choose to find out what a disciple looks like and feels like.

The good news is that change means loss, but that your loss is all of the things that would hold you back from your own journey to holiness, your own transformation.

Church is different now, friends. But changed, and not ended.

I love you still. Come with me.

 

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view. 

Indicate precisely what you mean to say. 

Your’s sincerely, 

 

Wasting away. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glory Bound

I’ve been quietly keeping my longer, heartfelt love letters to God un-mailed in a cascading pile on the narrow bookshelf in my narrow hall. I rush by and create a flurry of pulp made into longing, ink smudged by tears. I’ve sent postcards, short notes, I’m here, the view is spectacular, miss you. If you get a minute, could you hug my friend, she’s hurting bad, God. 

In my quiet contemplation the letters have piled up and I’ve gone down to the basement with the old furniture Stephen King writes of. Instead of moving among the shrouded things I’ve donned my own shroud, my very own costume that makes me unnoticeable and small. It’s mostly quiet down here, and cool. I can think.

I’ve thought about who I am and who I was, how the same core of me is there even though my desire and vocation have taken me in another direction.

I’ve thought about living a cruciform life. I’ve contemplated what it means to sacrifice.

I’ve wept tears for conditions I can’t fix and sent up notes of thanksgiving for the small graces of every day living with a sober person.

I’ve buried my last grandparent, borne up on the four part acappella harmony of my youth as we sang, tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word.

And I know that the story is already there, like a book on a shelf that I pick up and read again sometimes. Do you have books like this, I wonder? Books that you go back to for comfort, for solace or joy? I do, sometimes I like to grab a few books and scan through them for the parts I underlined, remembering where I was and what was happening when that particular line struck me so. I think that some books have to grow on us, I think that some books are alive, sort of like the story of Jesus. I think that we can come at a story and see different things at different times in our lives, different pings of resonance.

So I keep going back to this Jesus story, the one carved into my heart with a pen knife like my grandpa used to use to cut hamburgers in half at restaurants, the one like hymnals with only four part, no unison, hymns. The story that is found in a man who stands up front and finds the note and then starts to sing, bidding us all to come along.

I thought I had moved on from a lot of things. And I’ve found out that I haven’t.

I learned that I have to fix myself before I try to lead you out, because if I don’t I will read double meaning into every confrontation we have. I learned that some parts of me are only 18 years old and, behind the bravado, very alone.

And I’ve learned that this is all catch and release, that I can’t keep you when I catch you, can’t expect to put you in a glass bowl and expect you to thrive. I’ve learned how to use my own penknife to tattoo your scales with that Jesus story before I let you go.

I’ve learned that all I can do is toss seeds all over God’s creation and hope that something takes. I’ve learned that there is freedom in not being responsible for everything. I’ve learned to heed the still small voice who tells me what I must do, even when I’m scared, even when I think I can’t, or that my voice can’t matter.

Today a rather distinguished mentor said that maybe I’m called to tell you the truth, and like a cold cloth on a fevered head I breathed relief to hear what we’ve been doing here all along validated. This mentor, she is full of years and truth, she is an icon.

Last week we finished watching the Harry Potter movies as a family, cheeks wet with joy and sorrow alike. And I wondered who did the saving of who, I wondered if it was the zig zag scar on Harry’s head and not the boy who lived; if the mother of us all, the one who loved so much that she died and went down and fought like hell, with hell, and then rose again triumphant. I wondered if her love buoys us in the same way, the very same way.

Next week I will stand in the cold with a very dear friend and invite the people, strangers,  to a holy lent. In a parking lot, with freezing fingers and numb toes I will impose ashes and remind those who stop that they are but dust. But as my brother says, we are beloved dust, and there is the difference between living to die and dying to live.

I know now that the difference is being glory bound. The difference is dying to live.

I’ve learned in all of my not concentrating on the things that are so bewitching, so bothersome and bewildering, I’ve learned that I am ready to be who I was called to be. I am ready to finish my time in the hallowed halls of Hogwarts/ The Academy for Vocational Leadership, place of Old Testament shockers and New Testament letters of a prisoner of an oppressive government, place of the miracles contained in the epiclesis and the Eucharist. I’ve learned that I know things now, that I can prostrate myself in absolute obedience now, even as I bury my face on the floor and sob.

I’ve learned that I must tell the things I’ve learned to you, because I have been where you are and I’ve felt like you feel.

Tonight that heavenly campground rings with the sound of a fiddle and violin, voices raised in song as feet stamp the dust, raising a mighty cloud like incense.

My Grandpa Cramer has tossed the magic and beloved dust of himself, that body he used to live in, that he put in a special request to take back in just this form, he’s tossed it on the fire and the fire sparks in green and blue and purple. He’s taking the kids who are already there, the ones who aren’t claimed, the ones who died in their classrooms, the ones who died in their homes in a war-zone, the ones who drowned crossing the sea in a little life boat, the ones who have lived and died at the hands of their own parents – he’s taken them into his little shed to show them how he whittles whirly-gig wind things out of pop bottles, to show them how to smile again.

I know my Grandma Cramer is making pie in the kitchen of the camper, Grandma Dorothy has a baby on her lap that she knows and had longed for. I know that my Grandpa Ken has on his favorite string tie and is holding bible studies in heaven, hoping to bring the folks ever deeper in to the all encompassing, raging love of a God we simply can’t understand.

A cross shaped God. A sacrificing God. A Lily Potter God – A God who made us all the ones who live.

These are my postcards, my very own mystic visions, I’m here, the view is spectacular, miss you. 

I can own this.

I know these things are true and I’m telling them to you. I know that I have passed a milestone in the forest, a shrine on the red road, I know that I am coming closer to who I was called and formed and created to be. And I know that you are too.

I love you still.

We are Glory Bound.

When I’m in my resting place
I’ll look on my mother’s face
Never more will I have to know
All the loneliness that plagues me so

So I’m waiting for that train to come
And I know where she’s coming from
Listen can you hear her on the track
When I board I won’t be looking back

Hallelujah

On Growing a Heart

Someday, I’ll find the right words and I’ll bloom where I was planted long ago.

I sat listening to this song tonight in the warmth of my old truck in a Walmart parking lot where Casey had gone to return something with Kaia.  My old truck windows fogged up and the wipers occasionally rose to beat back the drops of rain on the windshield. I thought about the shape of a heart, I thought about how it grows and expands, how I find constant reasons to renovate and excavate; to update old rooms and make new ones.

Later, in a different parking lot (because today was apparently about running all over town) I sat with Avery and she began to cry as we listened to Abide with me. Avery said she was crying because the song made her think of Sunny, our little cat who was hit by a car and killed last spring.

It occurred to me that as we grow, as our hearts come into being and then grow larger, that the accumulation of small and large wounds, that all of the sorrow needs a place to go, that each grief builds on the last one. If the magical tears of a nine year old for cat who was the same age and her first friend, the igniter of feline love in her little heart, I wonder if those tears coalesce somewhere under her skin and make their way to a secret cavern in her heart, if a waterfall lives there that is endlessly regenerated. I know that she doesn’t even know how bad it can get, how much it can hurt, this business of love; her heart is still growing.

Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to harden my heart, to not love so fiercely a family that has the power to wound me, all of whom will die.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to harden my heart to living in a community of people who can sometimes be terse and bitter from their own old hurts, who resist and resist the call to transform themselves into something else, who cast aside all that is life giving.

It would be easier, it wouldn’t hurt so badly if we just turned off the world; the faces of children who have cancer, the frozen animals left in the snow or abused, the threats of nuclear war and a fiery end that are threatened in 140 characters, the #metoo, the #blacklivesmatter. It would be so much better to move to the middle of nowhere and farm and raise chickens and never talk to anyone again, never love anyone again, and surely not this mean old world that is so broken, so full up and overflowing with suffering and pain and oppression.

We can’t though, and I will tell you why.

We can’t because tonight in that heavenly campground we’ve talked about, that one of concentric circles that surround an island in the middle of a lake at the very top on the mountain, where the cabin, ahem – throne room, of God exists — in a closer in circle there is a little camper, it has green and beige plaid and smells faintly of mothballs. There are the sort of sleeping bags that rustle and almost make you grit your teeth if rub them together.

There is an Aggravation board and marbles, and just outside the door some people I might recognize have built a campfire as the sun burned a path between the trees, turning the whole world pink and red in an array of color that would just make you weep for its beauty.

There is a woman with turquoise jewelry and a Patsy Cline watch and she smiles as a man in a baseball cap and saggy jeans picks up a guitar and starts to strum. There is a woman who loves to sing and has only just remembered the words again. And a man comes out of that camper, it rocks as he sets his foot on the metal step, he has a pocket protector filled with ink pens and a good book. He takes his seat on the metal gliding bench and decides to read a bit while there is still light. And he hopes that we’re ok, so fresh is his journey, he hasn’t even had time to shake the dust of this world off his shoes.

These people, these four, my grandparents, they modeled why we should care, and they modeled servant love. My grandpa Cramer couldn’t leave a garage sale without buying something because he didn’t want anyone to feel bad. I never heard him speak an angry word. My grandpa Stewart brought countless people to Christ, held bible studies with total strangers, picked up old ladies for church without fail every Sunday and spent his final years volunteering to drive “old folks” to their doctor appointments. They knew that you can’t turn it off, that you can’t close your eyes and hope the hurt goes away without you trying to fix it when you’re standing right there. They knew that a lot of things could be solved with a good night’s sleep, a cup of coffee and church on Sunday.

They knew the grace of baptismal waters having been immersed themselves.

And I wonder sometimes if baptismal waters aren’t tears anyway. The tears Jesus shed when his friend died, when Judas betrayed, the ones he shed for a world that needed and rejected his news at the same time. The tears of his mother and the other women who stayed to watch him die a horrible death between thieves.

Our tears are sacred.

The ones that we wept onto a hospital gown in Ann Arbor, Michigan as a parent held us for the last time. The ones that flowed on a transatlantic flight home and the ones that are still being shed in homes across many states and time zones by three generations raised up under a patriarch who tried to be fair, who tried to be true to what he believed was right. We cry because we loved him so, and he wouldn’t want us to, but I think he understands.

Our tears wash us clean and soften the stone that our hearts have become.

And then we call the workers and have another room built in our hearts, a room where there are string ties hanging on the closet door knob and strange leather/fabric/rustic-but-not-really loveseats and Hushpuppie Shoe signs on the walls and lots of bookcases that hold commentaries on the gospels and Stephen King all at the same time.

Or maybe your room is the basement where the pool table and the old piano lived, maybe its the hallway with the large mirror that would make you jump when you caught your reflection and the laundry shoot we used to throw things down. Maybe its the room with the cat sheets that looked at the field with the water tower that has such a malevolent red eye. Maybe its the kitchen with the bat wing doors and the goose cups or the soaring vaulted ceiling in the living room with the big window. Maybe in your room you sit on the bench by that window and watch as everyone comes down the drive for Christmas Eve and the lamp burns over Grandma’s piano. Maybe it’s the bathroom you had to open the drawer in so that some crazed kid couldn’t barge in on you.

I need you to know that that’s all gone now. I need you to feel the stab as you accept that again. I need to realize that they are gone too, that together they are at last and the spark of recognition in her eyes after all of these lost years will bring him to his knees.

I need you to know that Granny Grunt is there and she’s making a crochet stuffed rhino and adjusting her glasses, thinking about how she needs a new orangutan calendar for her bathroom now that the year has changed.

They are all right there, just on the other side. And you and me, we’re traveling there too, much as our vain flesh wishes to deny it. We are on the red road that leads through a pine forest to an open field; the campground is there if you squint real hard, you can just see the lights of their campfires, just hear Johnny Cash on the wind. We pitch our tents tonight in sorrow, but I promise you that joy comes in the morning.

Our prayer book says that life is changed and not ended. Our theology is that Christ descended into hell and trampled down death. We believe that there is something else.

And I just know that there is.

Open your heart.

Feel it break. Add another room, another chamber for another ghost, for another trunk of memories you can’t bear to part with.

Be kind.

Love everyone. That’s what you can do, love heals hurt, blessing others is the cure for your own brokenness and sorrow.

I love you still.

 

Kaia sang soprano for me tonight as this played in the car on our way home from our endless errands. And I didn’t know she knew the words, and I didn’t know she knew the music. But she sang every word as I sang alto. Little altars are everywhere. We just have to squint sometimes. We just have to accept that sometimes those altars look like far off campfires, that they sound like music on the night air.

Holy, holy, holy

Though the darkness hide thee

Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see

Only though art holy. There is none beside thee. 

Perfect in power, in love and purity