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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 

 

 

 

 

Christmas is Canceled – Advent III

I find that I rather gleefully type Advent III almost a week too late, I find that there is freedom in letting go of deadlines.

I told you about the discipline of telling myself there is enough time, and I’ve transformed that slightly when needed into telling myself there is simply enough.

I sang tonight, quietly, as I the enough-water ran over my hands, as I soaped the dishes and rinsed them and placed them in the enough-dishdrainer. Now enough food cooks to feed this little household, enough forks are clean to eat that food. I sang I come to the garden alone, and I sang The old rugged cross.

And I wondered if what I’m learning in the course of this formation (that at times seems like it won’t ever end, and then like it will end too soon, leaving me naked and exposed), I wondered if the glory of God is everywhere – if the whole earth echoes back the love song of creation.

I decided that that is probably right.

There is glory in a Christmas card from a UK email address, glory in the desire to reach out across all these stars, across all of that water to say that this family is loved and thought of.

There was glory the other night, as I sat alone on the Parish Hall with a warm wet wash cloth and slowly bathed the keys of the grand piano, glory in the way each individual note flung its self outward toward the peaked roof.

There is glory in waiting and glory in being made clean.

Christmas is Canceled was the subject line of an email sent to a huge clan of Stewarts, as the patriarch of the clan sleeps in a different bed in a nursing home, as he eats good food and has pain managed and meets up with old friends he didn’t even know he’d forgotten. I don’t think Christmas has ever been canceled, though I’ve not been able to attend in many years. And I think, selfishly, that Christmas was canceled the first time I didn’t go home, that something changed way back then.

I’ve written to you of the crowded chaos of the house I used to think of as a castle, a fortress on a hill. I’ve written to you of the way my grandma would rock and sing in her chair, the way she would get up in the night and play her Clavinova.

And so tonight as I sang I didn’t pray. Tonight as I sang I tried to channel her. I tried to channel her faith and her devotion, the perspicacity with which she faced sorrow; her steadfast belief in the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I asked her to fill me up with gratitude and with abundant love. I asked in a quieter voice to look like her, but I don’t think that is going to happen.

I see that this is an aside, this is a small piece of what I needed to say that I thought was the whole thing, as often happens, I sat down and something else entirely was scratched out onto this page for you. I had a different message.

I was meant to tell you about glory, I was meant to encourage you in the dark of this eve of Christmas Eve, as the world heaves and groans, as the labor pains strike her to her core.

There is glory is the small group of mostly little girls that we are raising up, these children of the revolution. There is glory in a place that teaches our kids that not one person is outside of the love of God, not one person undeserving of welcome.

There was glory in the message they gave us last week, a story that was for us, an immediately personal story of salvation drawn for you like a family tree. Glory in the adults who came and sang for you, and with you, in all of those voices lifted in longing and praise and wonder.

There is glory in the way a Christmas Tree gets slightly crispy, tired of standing laden with baubles right about now. Glory in the many liturgies, the battle of words on printed bulletins and music notes on pages, the only mediums we have to convey our utter joy that yet again the world is saved, yet again we are given someone to walk with us as we reconcile and cry out for mercy and justice; someone to show us what it means to live peace and radical love.

 

 

 

Perhaps heaven is place that you go to when you didn’t mean to go anywhere at all. Perhaps it is a place with decent food and a soft bed, with people you didn’t realize you’d forgotten about as your years turned onward. Perhaps it is a place where Christmas is Canceled because you can’t be there, so beloved are you, so needed is your presence to create the holy magic we sometimes call family.

I know that there are already children there, and I know they are that holy choir of angels; I know they bid us welcome, that they throw open the doors and call for the faithful.

On Sunday night I will pull into a parking spot at church and the windows will glow with that stained glass glory light. I will choke my way through my favorite descant as the Christ child is carried to the creche, sing Silent Night while others weep. There is glory in sorrow. Glory because death is trampled down through the little child born to a family that no one would take in. Glory because God comes at us from the weirdest directions, in the most unexpected moments.

I love you still.

Look for it, would you? In the way the lights twinkle, in the voices of little girls who have rehearsed and rehearsed to sing for you, in the exhaustion of your clergy and lay leaders. Fling back with your own voice, your own tears that are a reminder of baptismal waters, send back the never ending song of love that was there when the world was breathed into being.

And just look.

I promise you it’s there.

Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation! Sing all ye citizens of heaven above. Glory to God, glory in the highest! O come, all ye faithful. 

 

Sign of the times – Advent II

My meditation for Advent II comes late in this month that is short a Sunday somehow. I keep thinking I have time, more time; and I don’t.

But, I’ve been practicing, trying on for size, different spiritual disciplines.

This can look a lot like struggling to get a too small dress off your head in a dressing room whose size suddenly seems to resemble the trunk of a car. It can sound a lot like tiny tears in the seams of a garment I only wish would fit me just so.

The discpline that’s fit the best is that when I feel panicked and chaotic, when I feel like I don’t have enough time — to simply stop for a nanosecond and say to myself, there is enough time. It’s amazing the way a window opens, how the pressure instantly releases, amazing how the work gets done.

Today was a day of running, running to meetings with technology that was faulty, running to a book group, running kids to choir, running last minute Christmas errands. Today was a day full of those pauses, the ones where I whispered to myself that there is enough time, there simply is.

There was not however, enough time for the lives taken at Sandy Hook five years ago.

I imagine that day started like any other. I imagine the whining over last minute, just remembered homework, the rush to find socks that matched, packing lunches and herding folks into places they mostly don’t want to go. I imagine the announcements played and the pledge was said, all of those small bodies and voices pledging allegiance to something they (I) can’t understand. There were probably music classes, PE classes, art in which last minute Christmas gifts and crafts were worked on, the smell of lunch wafting down hallways that probably smelled like wet boots and the peculiar odor of children.

I’ve been working on a project for a while now, a story about a boy on a journey. An allegory that begins with a school shooting. I can’t tell you more without giving it away, but I’ve thought (wept) through that scene, what that sounded like, what it smelled like. The way panic tasted, the desperation to save in the face of destruction is as much a human instinct as violence surely is.

I wrote five years ago and wondered who collected the backpacks and the snow pants, who emptied the desks when the teacher was dead too. I wanted to know what happened to the school lunch accounts, the library books not returned. I wonder now about the empty spaces on the school bus or the choir room riser. Because, you see, those places are still empty, there are arms that ache for lost children and loved ones.

And I purposely speak violently. I want to you feel the rending, the sudden tear. I will not spare you.

But we have had so many massacres, so much bloodshed, so much violence since.

And nothing has changed.

On Advent II our priest, my brother, preached passionately about home. I expected him to trot our some of our old memories, memories of a place that doesn’t exist anymore and that we cannot go back to; a door that has closed for all time enclosing all of us in amber-hued memories, frozen mid-laugh or song, mid-hug.

I can hear us there, on the other side of that locked door on nights like this one, when the snow has fallen and blanketed the world in silence. I can hear us laughing, the way my grandma’s voice sounded. We are in there somewhere, suspended forever in memory.

He talked about henotheists – how we believe that our God wins when we win a war, how we believe that our God is the only one that matters, that our God is the one who looks like us, thinks like us, acts and punishes or blesses as we would.

But he pointed out that if we don’t think that, if our God is the God of all people, we cannot turn our backs on the world. We cannot pretend not to see the want in our very own towns and workplaces. We cannot believe that their God will take care of them, or that their God has turned his back. We were reminded that we are invited into the prophet Isaiah’s words, called to repent. Called to reconcile all of creation unto God.

To reconcile is not to win.

To reconcile is not to win.

MLK said that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. He says that we will appeal to your heart and your conscience and we will win you too, that it will be a double victory. How I wish for that day.

In my spare time (heh) I’ve been participating in a lunch time book study based on a book called Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace. The book is a compilation of sermons and meditations given shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook, the book is a call to action.

I feel like I’ve been pretty nice lately, but I will tell you that I would lay down every single thing I own if I could have the safety of my children guaranteed.

I will tell you that your second amendment right has been twisted and twisted and rephrased so many times that most of us don’t even know what it says unless we look it up.

I looked it up.

Guess what?

It doesn’t say you get to own a handgun. It doesn’t say you get to own a bump stock or any other semi automatic weapon. It does not put provisions on what hoops you must jump through. It does not rule out background checks, finger printing, title transferring, registration, taxes or insurance. Your rights are not being infringed upon anymore than if you want to own and drive a car. Or work with kids.

Why we cannot come to some sort of consensus on this is boggling to me.

We can regulate so many other aspects of our lives, but if anyone mentions regulation on firearms the internet breaks and the world explodes. Over rights that aren’t guaranteed anyway. Over something that seems so simple.

I wonder how it means more to a person that they own a particular weapon than that others are safe.

Instead we have gone about this from the reverse. We attend active shooter trainings, we drill at work, our kids have learned each job that needs to be performed to lock down a classroom. Kaia as a kindergartner sheltered in the large bathroom of her classroom, all of those kids around the porcelain toilet. When the teacher turned off the light she cried, but quietly, so “they” wouldn’t hear her.

Instead of enacting laws that enforce safety we have locked down our schools and our workplaces. We (I) are constantly aware of other people and exits, aware of the seats I choose in a crowded theater.

Why are we changing to meet the culture that says that they have a right to own items that inflict such pain?

Why don’t we address underlying issues of mental illness? Why do we take insurance away from the most vulnerable and then act surprised when that mental illness takes over and folks are killed on a college campus, in a work place, in movie theater, a bible study, concert, a church doing Sunday morning worship?

I can’t find the reconciliation in that. What I find is loud voices and louder dollar signs shouting down any ounce of sense that would bubble to the surface.

This isn’t normal and we know that, peripherally, but we keep on living like it is. We keep on believing that we won’t be the parent emptying the locker of a dead elementary school student whose teacher also lost her life as she laid on top of her students to protect them.

We keep on saying, but it’s my right.

And it just isn’t.

And the price is just too high. It is red and exorbitant and it flows through our streets and we just step over the stream of it like it isn’t there.

I want to go home. Like the exiles in Babylon. I want to go to a place where people speak like I do, where the shared history hangs on the walls like senior portraits of the kids who have returned with their own kids to this hot and overcrowded house full of yellow plastic breadbaskets and Vernors soda.

I want to go to a place that requires less of me.

 

I love you still. I am waiting with you for the light to change. For the day to dawn.

We never learn, we’ve been here before. Why are we always stuck and running from the bullets? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stranger at the Gate – Advent I

Today was the final day of another long weekend at school. Some weekends feel edifying and transformative, and some just don’t. I don’t know what the magic algorithm is. I suspect it’s a measure of Val’s humor, a dram of Vicki’s just all around graciousness, a cup of knowledge from Dick, and something meaningful and profound from Jonathan. And I experienced and ingested all of those things and still am frustrated.

As in any community, relationship, or family unit, sometimes its hard to be the remainder, the one person who feels balanced and stable (and irritated). Amidst conversations had over and again with no good end in sight, amidst whining and bickering children who have been on their best behaviour all weekend, sometimes it is hard to see that, per St. Benedict, I am called to these people and this place – that here is where my salvation will be found.

It must be mined out of deep and resistant stone at times, brought up from the depths of the lake.

This weekend my theology teacher noted that, in our post-modern age, whomever has the most power gets to say what is true. He stated, unequivocally, that this is idolatry. This is worshiping at the throne of power instead of following a man who is dusty and road worn, a man who has no home (never mind several) to call his own. My teacher received a large singing bowl for an early Christmas Gift, he made it sing for us at Noonday Prayer, he recalled us to actual truth.

This weekend we watched a video from Integrity, an Episcopal movement that seeks to provide education and a platform for LGBTQ persons. It is not often that I am left without words, not often that I can’t think of at least an appropriate thing to say. But today I didn’t know the right words to use, I didn’t know the questions I could ask, I did not have the words. That is disconcerting for a person who flirts with and forms and loves words every day.

At the end of the video one of the persons featured says, we will work until there are no strangers left at the gate of this church.

I spend a lot of time in the past. My favorite time period being Henry VIII’s England. I’ve read book after book, rejoiced to walk under Bootham Bar in York after reading about it in a book, taken in the way the Tower looks, walked the circular memorial to Anne Boleyn, the way a nation repented. I imagined the homes that were placed on the London Bridge, I’ve witnessed the Traitors’ Gate on the river Thames. There were strangers then. There were strangers in the time of Christ, the blind man healed, the ten lepers too, the widow and her mite. The 12 who would all turn their backs, who would go into hiding when Christ was crucified.

There are strangers now.

We are, all of us, strangers at the gate, longing for a place to be who we are, for a place that is our own. We peer through the bars, gripping the iron with chilblained hands wrapped in the rags of who we were told to be.

There are strangers who are sex offenders. Strangers who can’t make ends meet. Strangers who have worked all their lives and gotten nowhere very reportable. There are people who hurt and feel that the best thing for their families is a life that doesn’t include them in it. People we, church, have hurt; women. Children shushed in worship and acolytes told to stand still when they have such joyous and youthful verve. Gay men. Those are only a few categories. Those are only a couple of the strangers who loiter outside, wondering if they are welcome, looking for home.

I heard the hurt today in the voices of partnered folk who don’t have an anniversary, because their relationships had to be illicit, because kids and jobs and lives were at stake.  One shared that her anniversary is the first time they shared onion rings, another shared the first time eyes met and souls recognized. I thought of Nick and Jarek, of the first time they could stand in front of their community and receive a blessing on their anniversary. I am honored to have been there.

We are, church, looking more and more like those Christians who existed after the resurrection. We enter Advent again, a time of waiting, again. We enter this season of waiting in a world that has already realized Christmas.

We look for the Messiah and we just can’t find the Messiah. We are an underground movement, no one cares what we have to say on any issue, people aren’t clamoring to find out what was passed at convention. We are figuring out the organizational structure of a movement that is at odds with the (roman) populace, we are trying to discern a structure for networks flung far and wide. We are hanging our rainbow flags like quilts on the Underground Railroad, we paint pink triangles on our door steps, we are resisting oppression and tyranny in the only ways we know how.

Those tend to be quiet ways. Those tend to be blessings of unions between two souls called to be one. They tend to be opening those damned gates to let the people outside in without armed guards standing by. They tend to be living with the consequences of the decision to open the gates at all. Because once we open the gates what is the litmus test for those we won’t take? Who isn’t worthy? Who has not sinned? What is not deserved?

Tonight our nine year old announced, while the Advent candle burned madly (seriously, I was afraid), that she doesn’t want to play with dolls anymore. I asked how she felt about that, and she said she felt sad. She is sad that Santa “spent so much” on the huge dollhouse and all the dolls. She wants at the same time to gift her collection to a family that cannot afford it. And I see that the kingdom is coming, I see that our waiting bears fruit. I see that the advent of something new, something other than what we realize as normal is near.

And I can understand that.

I too am no longer playing with dolls. I am called to come among you as a leader, one that you discerned with and decided for. I am called to lead you out in my patchwork cloak, I am called to see that this ancient and marginal Christianity is where we are, to figure out how to work within that framework. Called to raise you up to see the most beautiful and life-giving parts of yourself, to help you put those things to work in the brick by brick exhausting work of building a kingdom.

I am not a leader who won’t get her hands dirty.

I will learn your terms. I will learn your limits and I will push them.

This is a cruciform life, and I am with you, I am laying it down, all of it. Let me help you. Let me show you how to keep going when nothing is right, when everything is wrong and the world hurts. Stay with me, hang with me, commit to it, to us – see that our mutual salvation is in this place that we occupy, with these people. Commit to obedience, as I will do also.

Outside the gates they wait. They have made camp and lit their makeshift fires. They don’t know or believe that they, we, are beloved already. That a Christ crucified and present in holy mysteries at every Eucharist is among us, continually creating, continually crucified, continually trampling down sin and death.

I have bound a hope to my heart in the sterile hallways of a Roman Catholic center in Clarkston, Michigan.

My hope is a fragile rag, it flutters in the wind. But it is a symbol and a flag of welcome. A message that says, come in.

Open. The. Gates.

I love you still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Road Home -Widdershins

I don’t believe that every conversation or lecture holds a place for every person, every time. I am guilty of sometimes zoning out on things, guilty of retreating to a cozy inner space that belongs only to me. This place is a log cabin in a wood in the still of winter, a cavern filled with dripping and glistening rock formations, with a still pool at the bottom. I doodle here, which is not something I ever do, but I do it here.

I’ve had this one stuck in my head for months, finding myself humming or singing it softly. Revive us again… Capture

Revive us again. The road is long, and dusty and the sun is hot, and we aren’t sure where we are going half the time.

Fr. Ken preached this morning, and I wrote notes on my bulletin and then handily left it in my folder in the coat room. He preached about Jesus as then, a man who was hot and dusty and maybe sometimes not sure – and he preached about that second coming robed in white trumpeted in from somewhere Jesus — and then he preached about the Jesus right here – the hungry person, the naked one, the one in prison. He preached about the kingdom isn’t here yet, but I heard him say we are realizing it, bit by bit. I heard him say that what we do now is for then, what we do now is for later – for that day when all of creation is truly reconciled to God.

That what we do now isn’t for us.

My cat got trapped this week, an eight month old kitten traveled to the end of a mermaid tail blanket and stuck his head through a hole. We laughed and laughed, we termed his shoving and heaving backward out of that hole reverse birth, as though he had crowned, taken a look and decided it wasn’t worth it.

And today I could hear again, today I was fed, today I realized I’ve been in my cozy cavern, my isolated woodland cabin – today I heard the groaning of a woman in labor, I heard the way the world heaves and writhes as new life fights to come forth –  it looked like a black and white kitten in a pink mermaid blanket – an awful analogy, but there it is.

Labor pains are a hard thing to talk about for a lot of reasons. There are an awful lot of people living through these holidays. And I hear those people as they cry out, I weep with them as they ask why, and I understand that I have not had the opportunity to feel as they do – to descend so deeply into despair. To those, I apologize for my birth metaphors – these are the only words I have.

I took my last post, full of anger that wasn’t exactly for you, and I saved it somewhere, in a rusty safe inside that wooded wonderland house – I guess I realized that sometimes a prophetic voice is meant for myself – sometimes a word spoken is meant for my heart to hear, that it isn’t time to reveal such things.

But a time of revealing is coming – the world, indeed all of creation groans in this life giving pain and turmoil. And I, as King Ezekiel, have bound a hope to my heart – loosely pinned to my patchwork cloak. I have bound the hope that you will heed my voice, that you will grow out of your reticent and complacent Christianity, that you will choose to be transformed. That you will see a world all around you being made new, that you too will choose –

Today there were advent wreaths made, there was brie alongside tamales. There were English accents and Spanish words, children like dervishes with hot glue guns dashed around us. There were have much and have nots and we occupied a space and creation breathed and gasped, Wisdom pushed  – we are doing it, friends. And it hurts, and its uncomfortable, but its in times like these that we can be sure we’re in the exact right spot.

Capture

No one said this would be easy, painless. Nothing worthwhile ever is.

The water on the lake was a mirror this morning – steaming in the heat of a rising sun as Moses’ dog sniffed the frost speckled leaves. I’ve named my dog that, all 14 years of him. He has lived through the arc of my life, the new puppy, the naughty chewer, the potty trained hero, trotting so proudly back from a steaming pile left in the middle of the road  the only place he would do such work. I’ve watched him sniff and sniff and accept and protect not just one sister, but two. Human children who pull and tackle, who pinch and drop food.

I have watched him every morning and warned him against waking them too early, commanded him to still his urge to thrust his wet nose into their faces.

I watched him, and I wondered if the promised land is a place that isn’t for me either. I wondered if all of us living now are cogs in a wheel that churns out justice, a small piece in a greater machine of reconciliation. I wondered if none of us can go in, if, like my old, old dog, we live as commanded, fulfilling a purpose we just can’t see – I wondered if that is what faith is.

Today we created out of nothing as  a pair of 9 year olds  in tennis shoes and itchy robes bore our light, a liturgy of praise and thanksgiving.

Today we made wreaths out of things that weren’t delivered, out of nothing. We made these things as outlets for our adoration and our praise, to recognize and to honor our waiting.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I find that coming out of my cozy hiding place and into the light again is jarring.

What I know is this: We created today an anthem out of six folks. I know that we made wreaths amid the smell of tamales and Mexican hot chocolate, our own tower of Babel. I know that we are all on the same road, we are all traveling to that sunlit clearing in the woods, eager to lay down in the soft pine needles. I know, that like my dog, Moses’ dog, the dog who will not die – that we have a calling and a duty. I know that it will cost us our lives.

I know that we must go backward to paradise, we must go widershins, nonsensical, I know. . I know that we must live in a way that is confounding, counting and proclaiming our small blessings — look! I had enough laundry soap to do the wash. Look! I have enough coffee for the morning. Look! We have soup left over here in the soup kitchen, and ice cream to spare. Would you take some soup home? Would you have a second helping of desert?

Tonight I watched the Walking Dead, and one of the opening shots was of the detritus of a modern life, in a wheel barrow. Because who needs a microwave at the end of the world? What are we carrying with us on this long road that doesn’t serve a purpose?

Pride.

Arrogance.

Prejudice. White privilege.

An insistence that this go according to our plan.

I used to hate the phrase “trust the process”. I hated turning my life over to a group of people who didn’t know me. I hated turning my financial records and my background over to a diocese, hated bearing my very soul to a group of people called to discern with me.

But now I understand.

Now I know that the process is forming me into a person who can lead you out of what you believe is true. The process is making me into a person who can paint pictures for you in the sky, notes that bounce across a nave – a dismissal that sends you forth to do the work you and I were created to do. We haven’t changed places, I am not better than you, I am not holy though I aspire to be – it is only that this whole show needs a leader and someone has tapped my shoulder, elected me almost in absentia – and here we are.

 

And I will tell you something else. I hope that when the bridegroom comes he can forgive my disheveled state, that he can understand that I’m not good at planning so far in advance, that I would never have double the oil I thought I would need.

The road ripples in the late afternoon light, it glistens in the gloaming.

We can make camp now, we can stop for a while and sing and make our fires. But I promise you that there is work to be done.

I promise you that I love you so much that  I will not let you simply show up. I demand blood. A sacrifice. I will try to call you to yourself, to the end for which you were created.

Right now a rector, a beloved man with a loud laugh and curly hair bears the cure of your souls – I can’t wait to pick up that burden, to bear it with a Lutheran priest and a man from Colombia who has laid down his life to come and be among you – to care for your souls.

We will make it home – but I can’t promise you a promised land – that part is up to you.

Some of us, like my old dog, will be buried outside. We will know that we have done the work we were called to do.

I love you like Mexican hot chocolate. I love you like two men, an 80 year old ELCA Lutheran pastor and a priest from Colombia loved you as they broke bread for you today.  Like your priest loved you from miles and miles away. I know he was with us.

I love you like the few who believe that your choir matters, like the little girls who sang with their beloved Laura this afternoon, readying to present an anthem to you on Sunday, an anthem I won’t be there to hear. I love you like a tall man who weighs too much climbs a wooden ladder as those assembled shriek and rush to brace it as he hangs a star that will call you home. A star that will be the feature of the Advent Pageant in just a few weeks.

I love you like a person who wants to be better.

Who wants to be transformed.

Come with me.

World without end.

(Amen.)