Growing a Heart

Just now I was reading a post on social media. It’s one of those groups that mostly pertains to your town, one where people ask how the roads are, who’s hiring, who has affordable rentals, and sometimes rants. A woman had shared something about a little girl in our fair city experiencing bullying because her brother died. Yes, you read that right, there isn’t a typo: because her brother died other kids make fun of her.

And for me, for US, this really just another blow. Really just another punch in a long strand of heartbreak, a silk ribbon twisted over and over again, one that started out white and is now stained with blood and gunpowder, with the dirt of our very human hands.

This weekend was my first ever diocesan convention. This is when an entire diocese of Episcopalians come together and network and vote and make changes and vote and eat and dance. This is serious work and it is also the work I was made for. This was me being in a room of people who are just like me. This was me hearing people speak my language and being overcome with emotion to realize that I am really held. I am really loved. I am not alone.

We talked about heartbreak this weekend. We listened to it as a man came and spoke to us in the curious way sobbing people have of getting a message across. At the end of his message he let his arms fall to his sides and bowed his head, and he wept. Bishop Wright said possibly the most pastoral thing I have ever heard, he said: can someone care for this man? And people jumped up and people did.

We talked about what heartbreak and loss mean. They mean change, they mean asking again questions we never really asked, questions we were told the answers to, answers we just believed all along.

Dissemination is hard. Coming apart is terrible. Watching pieces of you come away, like literal chunks of your face,  watching that happen and then those pieces getting washed down a baptismal drain is incredibly difficult. But we learned again what we already know deep down this weekend. We learned that we must and we learned that we can and I’m here to tell you that nothing necessary is lost.

We learned that God comes in fire, that fire is the precursor of all the times God moved. We remembered that God never called priests, the Levites never were called to be Moses. They never were called to be Jesus. And Jesus and Moses weren’t priests. We thought again about how the first order of ministry are the Lay. We imagined again what it would look like to the let the people who are on fire for God, and justice and mercy to drive the bus. We talked about getting OUT OF THE WAY.

Bishop Wright let us go, he said that he believed that we could solve our problems and that he certainly did not have all the answers. He opened the floor.

A woman approached the microphone and asked how we get through what she termed as the “soul sucking silence of Saturdays”. I immediately thought of Holy Saturday, I immediately thought of sitting Shiva with the grieving. I immediately thought of the light in my church, the way the stained glass glows, the carpet and the pews with their aisle torch holders that will catch and hold your clothing. I thought of the sounds of gunfire echoing in that space. I thought of screams. I thought of how to get out and I thought of losing 11 people. I am pretty sure that isn’t what she was talking about though. I am pretty sure that she chose to be vulnerable in front of more than a hundred of her peers, that she was speaking from personal experience.

And another woman followed. She spoke eloquently, poetically, about working third shift, about watching morning gild the skies. She said the way we get through those Saturdays is to yearn. To yearn and to wait and to find a way to fill what seems like a deafening silence as the whole world descends into madness and black folk are killed in supermarket parking lots and Jews in their own church, as little kids are mean to another for a deep, deep loss. I think she meant that she understands what it is to wait for that word, to yearn for a light to flicker somewhere, for a path to be illuminated again in the dark woods we’re in.

And she was right. And I understand too.

And Bishop Wright was, well, right. We cared for each other. We answered our own questions. We had hard conversations and we voted thrice for one thing and we approached the mic and said who were ARE. And where we COME FROM. And as we did those things we were held. Our vulnerabilities were not exploited. Our needs were not debased and our griefs were not mocked.

This is what people should be. This is what happens when we choose to grow our hearts.

The man who cried shouted out from his chair, We have to carve this thing out!

And the bishop replied that we can’t carve it out. We can’t carve anything out because the thing is us.

It’s US.

And so I feel like kids are growing their hearts. Like they’re born without them, not realizing how bad it can be, not understanding how quickly that paycheck is spent, how far and dusty the road from El Salvador is to America, not seeing that their parents were people before they were parents. They see a little girl who has a dead brother and they mock her because they don’t know what else to do, how else to address the deafening awfulness of the thought of losing a sibling.

And I don’t blame them. Because my heart is growing too.

My heart grew this weekend meeting people who understand the singularity of a call to ordained ministry. My heart grew as I spoke the language of canon and liturgy with people who understand me. It grew as light poured in the stained glass window of a church as a gospel called us to STAND UP.

And we (excuse me) fucking stood up. And we clapped. And we were moved by a gospel choir of not even 20 who sounded like 50 and who exhorted us, begged us,  to worship.

I think growing a heart IS learning to stand up.

It IS learning how bad it can be even if that hasn’t been our experience. It is hearing a man sob into a microphone in a room full of people that he had a conversation with his son about how to act with the police and that his son will have a conversation with his kids too. It is weeping with him as he begs us to grow out hearts RIGHT NOW and to change a deep seated racism that feels as old as time. It is caring for him, sitting him down, getting him a drink of water.

Imagine if we all grew our hearts again. If we started to look for the fractured pieces of ourselves that have come off or been pulled off, the pieces hidden in books on shelves and junk drawers and old purses. Imagine what we could do if we all obeyed those simple words, will someone care for this person? What if we just stood up and said, I will?

We could greet a weary band of travelers at the border with water and food and diapers and  places to stay. We could demand that a fair wage be paid. We could feed the hungry and fill the empty. We can do all of these things if only we will let our hearts expand because we have enough. If only we would rub the sharp sleep of inertia and exhaustion and politics out of our eyes and do something. If we could realize that the almost cliche is true, we are just walking each other home.

The enormity of our grief is crushing. Even now I’m hearing the president on a TV in another room saying, “we won’t have that in our country”. “People are going to be camping out on your lawns!” Even now families are grieving lives lost to gun violence last week, and a band of travelers has stopped for night. They are putting down toddlers on sidewalks and in tents and standing in line for food and they are believing that what America has is the answer.

There is so much more to say. There is sitting across from a man I thought I was very angry with and seeing his very kind eyes rest on and see me. There is meeting women clergy who affirmed and accepted me on sight. There is passionate debating with Barrett and singing Queen with a bishop.

Beloved.

Listen to me.

Do the thing that is hard. Do the thing that goes against what you’re brain is telling you is right. Love people with your whole heart and you will worship God in kind.

And you are not alone.

Your lament does not fall on deaf ears.

And there is a place for you in our merry band if you want it. We’re kicking up dust on that red road, we’re singing as we walk and making camp for the night: sharing what we have, putting the kids down close to our campfires for the warmth.    There are hands to hold and souls that understand and people to care for you when you lose your shit. I promise you these things are true and that they can change the the world.

And I love you still. And I’ll walk with you.

 

Capture

 

 

 

 

 

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When will there be good news

When will there be good news?

This is a refrain that’s been running through my head lately. It came again today, as I listened to a man say all he’d lost. He was tall, dark, good looking in his work badge and steel toed boots. He wanted to know how long it would take to say what he needed and learn if he could get help. He said he was on his lunch hour and needed to be back to work on time.

I believe that sometimes I’m given opportunities to hear these things because they are forming me, I believe they are teaching me.

I heard the person helping him say it wouldn’t take very long, and then she asked him what he needed. His response was, everything.

And I thought, as I glided by, when will there be good news. And it wasn’t even a question, it was more of a tired refrain, a here we go again when will there be good news. It was expected, rote.

Instead of having lunch I had a sacrament. Instead of having lunch I had another try at someone else’s midweek eucharist. I sat in a pew in a lovely little chapel amidst folks I did not know and watched a very old man (sorry Judy) celebrate for us this great mystery.

Instead of my previous “the wine tastes better at home”  (how ironic that I wrote my own obituary in this post) experience I experienced instead a strange and calming grace. And I suppose I heard good news.

It was in the reading for the feast of St. Philip twice. It was in Fr. Fleener’s homily, it was his hands on my head, anointing me with oil and asking God to fill me with love, which is not the usual prayer said in this instance. It was all around me really. And yet I still can’t see it. I still can’t grasp it. I still feel like I’m standing in a room and the door is locked behind me and the windows are painted shut. I’m still looking for an opening, hoping for a small crack I can squeeze through, wondering how long the dark will last.

I thought about the people of Israel (and I may have scribbled all over my bulletin). I thought about that manna in the wilderness, I thought about circling the Promised Land for all those years and I felt the exhaustion of Moses, I felt again the utter defeat that Moses must have felt when he learned that the land was not for him. I thought about kids and families crossing our southern borders, into what they believe is a promised land.

They too wondered how long the dark (or heat or thirst or persecution or hunger or endless walking) would last. They too wondered, and wonder still, how long until there is good news, how long until a place can be found with the dignity of work and providing for a family. How long until there is, finally, good news.

I struggle tonight.

I struggle in spite of the readings for St. Philip. I wrote in pencil, where is the good news? Are we the good news? How does that help when we are so broken? How are we the good news?

And I know that tomorrow morning I will drink coffee and watch my sixteen year old dog pick that perfect place in the yard, and that as he does that (ever so carefully) the sun will rise. The day will break over the lake adjacent this house of a million dreams, most of them broken, most of them not for me.

In my bulletin I wrote too that it’s hard to be a disciple, that’s why not very many people want to be one. It’s hard to lay down everything, it’s hard to obey, it’s hard to not know what you’re in control of and what is happening to you for a very specific reason. It’s hard not to assign blame to God.

So I guess what I’m realizing is that we all have our thing. We have aging spouses, people we never thought we’d be ordering a walker for, people we never thought would forget our names, the names of our children, people who will say things out loud because their filter is wearing out. We have money troubles, investments we shouldn’t have made, kids needing more help than we could have believed possible. We have more than 13,000 kids in tents on our southern borders, kids who believed in the way that only kids can, that America was the Promised Land. And maybe, to them, it is.

We have our old dogs, the ones who won’t make it to a pet blessing because they can barely climb a ramp, much less into a car. We have our old aches and our old hurts, the ones only we remember and feel. Our old #metoo moments, the things we cannot share as we protect the men we love.

I’ve had too, in addition to my refrain, as we approach All Saints and the Day of the Dead, a longing for my grandmother. A cousin has many pieces of her jewelry and I wait for a few things that I asked for. I wait for this tangible evidence that she is with me, that she hears me and sees me still. I’m not sure that she would understand me, or where I’m at or what I’m doing, but I know this, she would love me no matter what and she would tell me so in a letter that she wrote in her own looping hand; perhaps on her old typewriter, with silly faces and roses drawn in her own hand. Maybe a check for $5. She would call me her Snow White again, sing the Miss America song to me, or any hymn I asked her to sing as she rubbed Vaseline into my feet and covered me with an afgan her mother made.  I believe that she knew what it was to wait for good news too.

I’ll hold this door, I’ll hold this space as long as I can. I won’t back down or stop. I will stand more than I believed I ever could. I will stand in this gap and take my grace where I find it.

More and more these days that is saying to you, the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. It is singing notes I never thought I could sing, manually and bossily making myself relax my face and my throat as at the same time I simply believe that the note will leave my body; because when I can do this it does. It is girl children who no longer covet toys, cats who are no longer kittens, dogs who look greedily for the rainbow bridge as it materializes on the horizon. An anniversary on Sunday, one that will not ever not be. One that will not ever again be blessed.

I hurt with you. And I guess if that is good news we can take it to the bank. I see too what is happening to all of us, the ways we are being torn apart and pitted against each other and I long for reconciliation; the tears that you can’t see streaming down my face are full of words like, I’m sorry, I don’t understand but I want to, I know you’re not a bad person, I love you still… All of our words are there. We just need to say them more.

All of this to say that we are the good news. We are, after all, the hands and feet of the word made flesh, flesh ourselves, and charged to reconcile and to love. We are good news but not when we allow our own grief and anger and disillusionment to hold us back or shut us up.

Love mercy. Do justice. Walk humbly. A tall order but there it is. The good news that isn’t nearly as easy or shiny or saccharin as we hoped it would be.

All of this to say that I understand, and in ways that I wish I didn’t. That my patchwork cloak was necessary, that all of the spangled and patched places are needed for who I am supposed to be. I’m not sure I could understand you at all otherwise.

All of this to say that we are more than what we have lost and stand to lose. All of this before a gaping wound that represents humanity.

My 14 year old taught me that Spanish for kitten is gatito. And I love the way my cat seems to peer at me when I call him this, how he pulls out his pince nez and glares down his black and white nose. I love the way a choir sounds as they sing in Aramaic even though I am supposed to be learning Spanish. And I love that the good news is out there, swift and fleeting as the sunrise, waiting to be grasped.

Pray for me as I am in prayer for you.

Pray for good news. Be good news. I do love you still.

 

 

 

Climbing

Today I sang with one of my favorite people to sing with. Now I love singing with my brother, I love his gusty baritone and near perfect pitch. I love singing with my sister, riding in her car while she drives too fast and the music overwhelms you as the wind rushes in the windows and she sings at the top of her voice. And I love singing with Kelly, as I did today. Kelly can harmonize with anything, and even when I’m singing her notes she still manages to make us sound good.

We sang about climbing Jacob’s Ladder (this isn’t the specific arrangement but it gives you an idea). I read about Jacob laying down in the evening and putting a rock under his head, this dream he had of angels ascending and descending that ladder, that actual bridge between heaven and earth. That bridge feels pretty shaky sometimes.

And I thought about that today as my people, my community, my fellow travelers on this dusty red road – as you all came up for communion. You ascended the steps to the altar and then you descended, just like those angels, moving from the bit of heaven we all receive at the altar back down to earth. Your kids wiggled and giggled, they watched with big eyes and greedily consumed their bread. Some of you came grudgingly, some of you came with hands out already, halfway down the very long nave aisle. But you all came.

For a few days, ever since a Requiem Eucharist I attended on Friday, and even before that, way back to last year as I finished the Theology portion of my education, I’ve thought about what happens when we approach the altar. And I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a lot of things.

I think we can only talk about God in our own limited language. I think we use metaphor and symbolism and old bible stories to explain our very creation, to bless the things we receive as good, to curse the things we think of as not of God. I don’t think we have the words or enough understanding to put into words what God is really, at God’s core. But I believe we were created to be in relationship with God, to learn to know God, to go through his pockets while he’s in the shower, to peek over his shoulder at his laptop, to ask probing questions, to taste and see and learn the character of God.

I wonder if, down through all our stories, God realized that after Adam and Eve left the garden, after the angel with his fiery sword was put in place in front of the gate, if after that we maybe didn’t take burning brushfires and stone tablets and manna dropping from heaven as real enough. If we sort of sat back and nodded, yep, thanks God, but show me your face. Or, as that Madeline L’engle poem goes, let me hear you roar.

I wonder if the “roar” of God, the only way God could show us, was by making a human. Sending an angel to ask for consent, giving a girl no one thought much of (sound familiar?) an amazing task. I wonder if only by giving us one of us could we finally begin to understand the person, the character of God.

And so when you ascended and descended today, we returned to what is a very human sacrament, a very human expression of love. The priest takes that bread and through the spirit makes it a body, and then it is broken; it MUST be broken. The priest pours out that wine, made blood, much like the blood that poured from the pierced side of Christ. We come together in our human ways, and we consume the body and blood of the only human who was sent to teach us how to do this thing right – who was sent via the God-bearer, to SHOW us in the only way that was possible the amazing and immeasurable love of a God we cannot and do not understand.

Despite our longing. Our chasing. Or our hiding.

I read about a post about doubting Thomas (God bless Thomas!). How he needed to stick his hands in the wounds of Christ, and I wonder if we come forward in the same posture; if we too need to stick our hands in the wounds, feel that they happened, the rending of human flesh, the blood that pours forth. I wonder if there was not another way to convince an at times violent, skeptical and lackadaisical people.

Today I made fierce eye contact with Nick, this person who asked me to sing with Kelly. I watched him raise his eyebrows, open his mouth, sending notes to me that focused and coalesced and came right out of my eyeballs. I felt lifted, carried, like I would be ok. I became so focused on his face that I lost where I was.

Until he turned and raised his arms to you, family, and asked you to sing too. Suddenly the sound came from behind and in front, pressing IN ON ME. Sudddenly it was about so much more, suddenly I was once again aware of the amazing gift of song. The way we raise our lament together, the way we rejoice together, the music that we sing as the body of a human person is broken again, right in front of us by a person who has chosen to lay down his life.

I understand in a way I didn’t before that sacrifice. I understand more of that love and at the same time hope to someday come among a different family and lay down on my face for them, prostrate to a way of life, to service, to love; and to God.

I guess that’s the point of all of this, isn’t it? That love? Sacrificial love, Lily Potter love, Gandalf love (“fly you fools!”), Aslan-tied-to-the-stone-table love. You guys, it’s literally everywhere. It’s in our songs and our prayer books, it’s in our literature. It’s in you, the way you lay down your life for your kids, the way you lay down your life for your friends, the way you come and ascend those stairs to receive alongside someone you maybe don’t like very much.

Children, do you love my Jesus? Children, do you love my Jesus? 

Our human expression may be limited it but it is also at times profound. Today I floated on your sound, today I lost myself, my bookmark, as I heard you sing too. Thank you for that gift.

At times I think we really are climbing. Climbing out of this pit of broken humanity, sadness, and despair by one small act of love at a time, but one more choosing to die so that others may live. This is hard work, gruesome at times. But I believe in you. Make that ladder. Bridge heaven and earth in the only way that has ever been possible – with your own human longing, your own human love.

And by the way, I love you still.

 

 

 

Esperanza

Today as I left work the sky to the west was a black threatening mass. It moved swiftly as I sped south toward home, the sky breaking open shortly after I arrived. On my way home I stopped for gas and a woman at the pump across from me said, just like this “This is the cheapest gas in town and I left my church!”

I said, well I’m glad since I had to stop anyway. Why did you leave your church? She told me her pastor isn’t “anointed”, she told me that he said, from the pulpit, that animals don’t have souls and we may see animals in heaven but they won’t be ours. So she told him he wasn’t anointed and she was leaving his church. I invited her to mine, but she said it was too far to drive though she wasn’t opposed to the Episcopal Church.

She told me she can’t go to a Catholic church because don’t I know that Christ isn’t ON the cross? Christ is raised and LIVES or what is all this for? She wished me a “blessed BLESSED! Day!” and off she bustled, into the gas station with her white patent leather pocketbook.

I thought about her today, as I stood at the edge of my garage door opening and watched the water gush from the gutter pipe, as the warm water splashed over my toes and the sky boomed and crackled with thunder.

I thought about the nature of people who have something to unburden and how sometimes I am the person standing there, I thought about how that seems to happen more and more; how grateful I am for the training that I had to be strong armed into. Training that allows me to flip a switch in my brain, to begin listening without thinking of a response, a switch that uncovers the shallow bowl inside me that holds the tears and prayer requests and joyful reports of babies born and updates on sick friends.

I thought about the nature of storms. And was strangely comforted.

Life is hard. Being an adult isn’t what I thought it would be when I was pretending to be one back when I was a kid. It’s like the memes say; trying to figure out where that bruise came from, being tired all the time, wondering why you never have any money, etcetera.

The nature of storms though is for the sky to darken, for the low thunder to growl, for the wind to pick up. The nature of storms is for the rain to beat down sideways like a streetsweeper, wiping everything clean. I want to be clean, don’t you? Wiped clean as a chalkboard on a Friday afternoon, ready to begin again, to be imprinted with words and feelings and experiences. Maybe this time though I will be more careful about the words and the feelings and the experiences that I allow to be written on my flesh and my heart.

Maybe.

The world smells like earthworms and must and fish tonight. The streets are clean and the pavement sparkles under the streetlamps.

Waiting can be so hard. But the nature of storms tells me that I can wait, that I am capable of seeking shelter until the worse of the rain and lightning are past. The nature of storms and the shape of my own burgeoning Benedictine spirituality tell me that I can always begin again. I hope you see the shine in that too, the possibility, the esperanza, the hope.

Today a little girl sat and cried while her mother spoke to her on speakerphone. That little girl is having a storm too, cowering under the edge of something she doesn’t understand to seek shelter, waiting to be united with family members after being shuttled around the country. I ached to sit down behind her and feel her thin shoulders relax into my chest. I thought of the Spanish songs I know, cordero de dios, que quitas el pecado del mundo… I wondered if she would mind if my own leaking places landed on her small head. I wondered if I could make her understand, using my own broken Spanish, that I am having a storm too, that sometimes I am scared too. But that there is hope.

Our Mercy School Lessons for today are these then, take any one you like, the one that really sparkles for you: We can wait because even storms pass. Even if the storm is scary we can wait. There is always hope on the other side. The world smells like fish when it rains. There is not anything better than learning to sing Latin in a choir.  And sometimes people just need to talk, maybe we should all, myself included, learn better ways to listen. Maybe the world wouldn’t be so full of hurt and broken darkness if someone, anyone, would just listen. And definitely learn Spanish.

The water is everywhere tonight, the fairy garden has been flooded and I’m not sure we have flood insurance. The geraniums are thrilled while the veggies and lavender look rather wilted and over it, the cats are going stir crazy and reverting to their kitten selves.

Hope is a thing.

And from my listening lessons here is where you start. Close your eyes and lower your head, open your hands and place them on your thighs. Think of nothing but a bowl inside you (that rooster bowl your great grandma had, the old wooden salad bowl from when you were a kid, the baptismal font at church – any bowl will do), think of that bowl filling drop by drop. Don’t think of anything to say because you don’t have to fix anything. Just listen to the way the water plinks into the bowl, store it somewhere when you’re done. Don’t forget to take a break, green things wilt if they get too wet.

And the whole world cries out for hope.

I love you still.

And all dogs go to heaven.

Ten piedad, ten piedad, ten piedad de nosotros. 

 

 

Relativity

I had an interesting conversation with my new fifth grader on the Eve of the First Day Of School. She couldn’t remember where her classroom was so I said, go down the stairs and turn right. She shrieked, which way is right?! I shrieked  calmly replied, right is this way, holding up my wrinkled and age spotted claw to show the backward L shape. I held up my left hand and showed a forward L and said, this is left.

She was really ramped up now, foaming at the mouth, leaking the huge extra heavy tears of anxiety. But mom! Some people say left is right and right is left! How do you know you’re right?! 

And I just do, right? Just like any adult person knows that when in doubt we don’t do backward L’s, and righty tighty, lefty loosey and if it doesn’t go easy you aren’t doing it right and there is nothing certain except death and taxes.

But in the days since I’ve found myself returning more than once to this exchange. A tad ashamed on the one hand for giving in to the childish urge to shriek back and also feeling unsettled by the very truthiness of her strange assertion that left and right are not left and right anymore. I know we live in this interesting post-modern place where truth really can be relative, but surely some things are still and always and perpetually true…. right?

And then John McCain dies and suddenly is lauded as a I can’t even think of a word for it when before, during the 2008 election, we didn’t seem to think so highly of him as he stood on a star spangled, bunting covered platform and yoked up with Sarah Palin. Who could see Russia from Alaska. Remember her? Good. Lord.

McCain ramped up and used and was complicit in the  demonization of Barack Obama.

Remember the Tea Party? How about that he opposed gays serving in the military?

And yet now that he’s passed (and I mean this sincerely, may he rest in peace and rise in glory) my whole Facebook feed is full of tender hearted renderings of a man that many of us said pretty mean words about 8 years ago (and since probably).  Sure, he opposed Trump, but most people in their right minds do.

Where is the truth in this? How does he get remembered in the small section of a history book that talks about our first black president? Did he live an amazing life, was he a war hero? Yes! But he was other things too and we seem to have collectively completely forgotten that in our rush to lay him out in state with all due pomp and circumstance.

And we come at last to the holy scriptures. We come to the Christian faith (hang with me here even if this isn’t your favorite part, you know who are)  We come to a point where a sitting president tells a room full of evangelical faith leaders that there will be violence if they don’t get out the vote with their congregations in November. We come to a point where that president seems to threaten those faith leaders, somehow claiming that because a baker in a certain state can refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple (never mind the couples re-marrying, there seems to be a convenient forgetting of those sticky little verses, google it,  Matthew, Mark and Luke) (And look, the way I was taught is that we always choose love. When in doubt, when Jesus didn’t say it, LOVE.) that somehow a religious freedom that was NEVER in jeopardy will be preserved.

Can we talk about different branches of Christianity approaching scripture real quick? Because when I was growing up I imagined men in rough wooden cubicles wearing itchy brown robes sweating literally blood and some God force shoving their quills across parchment, and voila! The Bible is written!

Where does a deliberate ignoring of how the Bible came to be factor in? What sort of thing is it to tell people that it just appeared somewhere? Where does the difference between the gospels (and who wrote them and when) and the pastoral letters (and who wrote them and why and to whom)… where does all of that go when evangelical leaders completely ignore this information, pretending that the people who wrote those things are just like dinosaurs – nonexistent.

This is where the truth becomes relative…but only sort of. My truth here is based in actual reality and grounded in the scriptures and based on the teachings of Jesus – always, ALWAYS, a message of radical love and welcome. Other truth is a truth that says it doesn’t matter who wrote what or why, that all things are relevant to all people in all times — but not those icky parts, let’s leave out those.

Along these lines, I feel sad that our theology has shifted in some portions of the population to a “Jesus paid for his crimes because he was a rabble rouser and disturbed the system” is gaining ground. I feel sad that we aren’t able to talk about the beautiful thing that happened.

It happened when a girl said yes.

It happened when a baby slid forth from that girl body in a rush of blood and warm water, and it happened again when a body was nailed to a tree and warm water gushed from a pierced side as blood trickled from hands and feet and head.

It happened when a man descended into hell and trampled (riverdanced?) down death and redeemed the whole world. It happened and it keeps happening.

Today I sat with my brother in an office where another beloved camped out for four months. We watched Dave Matthews sing a song about Jesus. We marveled at his theology, his soteriology. Dave’s assertion is that Jesus became one of us and bled and died, but that he keeps on doing it WITH US. That the holy communion wine is the co-mingled blood of all of us, all of us now human and divine, all of us set free, all of us yoked with the burden of caring for our own broken humanity.

And if that is the case then that ever creating Trinity is doing this work in an ongoing way. Each birth is a death, each death is a birth. Every day a choice to lay down our lives for the people who should be our friends and not our enemies. I am begging you to lay it down.

There are truths we can still hold in common. Preaching the gospel is not political. It’s just hard to swallow sometimes. Hard for me too.

But these things are not relative, not really.

These things are not truths that can be twisted to create an agenda that leaves anyone out because the rest of of us standing here, hands on hips, resisting and choosing the radical love of the Jesus we follow.

These things are real and occured when Jesus was born under that bright star and angel choir (maybe), they were real when his mother took his dead body from a stranger and washed it and laid it in a tomb, and it was real when women found the tomb empty. Even if you want to stop at the Jesus was born part, you can still follow his teaching and example and be a really decent sort.

There is more that joins us than divides us. Don’t believe them when they tell you the chasm is too wide and the pathway too narrow.

Not everything is relative.

Some things are eternal and I am telling you about those eternal shiny hard things.

The weather has turned. The light is different now, I noticed it as I washed the dishes, smelling the clean scent of Dawn as my nail polish washed even further away. Tonight is cool and I imagine the whole earth sighs in the breeze, the ground still gurgling and processing and swallowing the huge amount of rain we’ve had.

These things are heavy and a lot. But we promised to tell each other the truth and so here I am, with my maybe true stories scattered like laundry on the clotheslines. Come closer and take a look. If you see something you like, something you can live with, something that will keep you warm and that smells like me you can take it, it’s all ours anyway.

I love you still.

Left is left. John McCain is dead and he left a family behind that grieves and he said mean things about a political opponent and tried to hold people out and back. The Bible isn’t a book written by the men I imagined when I was 10, all in one go.

And Christ came and taught and died. You can leave it there for now if you have to, because I get the undertaking that is demanded of a disciple. I get the laying down, I get the death, the sacrifice, the losing your life to find it. Some days are easier than others.

And we belong to each other. We really, really do.

 

I’ve been trying to quantify 
All of the wrong that one can pack into a lie 
And I’ve been trying to put on a scale 
Just how bad all of that wrong should make me feel 
Because they told me once when I was young 

That liars are as liars do 
And if you do, it’s off to Hell with you 
No smiling, kid, I speak the truth 
But I’ve a sneaking feeling they were liars too 
So logically, then, we’re all hypocrites 
But does it make it better or make it worse to be aware of it? 

I’m convincing myself that it’s all relative 
And if there’s a God, when He forgives, I think He must consider it 
‘Cos I’ve been noticing confusion in the laws He made 
The nature of the truth and where it bends and where it breaks 
And where I twisted it to my benefit 

When this man said he was in love with me 
And I thought that he was dumb to be 
So I pretended that I was asleep 
Called it free will what he willed to believe 
And it ended, so I guess it’s just as well 
But that’s why sometimes I think I might go to Hell 

And I worry too, how I never mentioned to you 
How I drove your car while you were gone 
A mile with the parking brake still on 
‘Cos it seems to me, you wait too long 
And you may as well have not meant well all along 
And I’m hoping hard if it’s the thought that counts 
That you don’t ever have to know what I think about 

And every soul can always fit through Heaven’s door 
With the weight of things it never told anyone before

 

 

 

Rummage Sale

For graduation (remember that? I’m pretty sure it was a year ago but actually that was only last month) my friend Nettie made all of us small boxes. She individualized them all, not one was like another, and in the bottom of each box is small mirror. Nettie told me (and the rest of us) that everything I needed was in that box.

Forgive me my darlings for I have probably sinned, and I am a terrible jumble.

My thoughts flick by silvery as trout in a hole in the Manistee River. I imagine taking out this wooden book that I have, it slides open to reveal a small drawer and holds, among other things, a Mother’s Day pin from Kaia when she was only five, the crosses my girls received at their baptism, random hair pins and a single faux pearl earring.

Tonight my grandparents feel very close.  Like they are probably sitting in my kitchen eating lemon meringue pie while I navel gaze close. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it is the cathartic digging through someone else’s storage bin, I don’t know if its the cleaning out and letting go of so many of my own dishes and kitchen things. I don’t know if its a post on a group on FB about why The Old Rugged Cross and I come to the garden are such meaningful hymns. Maybe it’s the stubborn and smoking campfire of a near neighbor.

My brain flicks back and forth between, among other grievances and distractions, the nagging questions of BCP revision and people I knew and loved gathered somewhere that seems so very far away. I wonder how we hold onto our Trinitarian language and theology in revising parts of the Book of Common Prayer? Can we really but God in a box and name HIM, mark off his characteristics? Giant mane, check. Or, white beard, check. Or, lady making pancakes in a shack, check. Or dude wearing a flannel shirt and caretaking a campground of souls, check.

I wonder what happens when we start to change our names for God? What happens when our pronouns shift or go away entirely? What if our mail is somehow then sent to the wrong address? What if it isn’t forwarded, if it all ends up in some unclaimed bin at the post office to be discarded after 30 days? My excellent spiritual director would ask me to explore why this arouses such fierce emotion in me. And I shall, but rest easy, I shan’t subject you to it. And I, like Madeleine L’Engle, am not certain I have the correct address anyway, I have no way to know that my correspondence is being received.

I met with a woman who works for a non profit agency yesterday, at an “undisclosed” location. We held passionate conversation about “cultural competency” and our nation’s general lack of same.

I attended closing night (of, you know, two shows) for the girls’ summer theater program. I watched our Ave on the stage, how she knew every word of every song, how she knew every bit of choreography. I sat down the row from my own drama teacher and chewed over the things she taught me as I waited for the show to begin. I watched my Ave become a different person, a supplicant Who of Whoville, that Planet in the Sky. I felt her huge smile in my heart as she danced and sang, I think I saw myself, a ghost version, a shadow version of the girl I decided not to be and resolved to support her even if she’s starving in NYC and working bit parts off Broadway. I know the strength of a dreams and the certain sadness when we either murder them or let them wander off to die quietly.

Kaia has a large piece of the set, signed by lots of kids, and it hangs proudly on her wall. Her tears are private, but I know they exist. Closing night is a sharp cutting off of the community that was made, a going our separate ways/we will never be this way again that is painful.

I can admit that I feel a certain sense of gratification, because they didn’t want to do this show, but now they understand the fierce bond that must be forged to carry off any work of theater. I still have my show shirts too, I still have the scripts and the ballet slippers I wore as part of a costume. I sat in the audience and wanted to take notes to give them after.

And so the girl who gifted me a terribly beautiful pin with buttons stuck on with school glue sees that community found in the places we didn’t want to go in the first place.

And another girl is baptized in the bright lights of the stage. She said her favorite part was taking her bow as the audience clapped and screamed.

And you can never have enough hairpins.

And in all of this lies some pearl, some truth, something deeper that I am not seeing and so I ruminate and pace and feel general malcontent even as the sky darkens and the wind picks up and I lift the lid on the simmering prayer pot and check to make sure that it’s on the boil and asking for rain.

And everything that I need is supposed to be in a small round box covered with words and music notes, topped with a heart made of twine – and a small mirror reflecting back my face.

I wrote, in response to why those old hymns mean so much, that I can call up the voice of my Grandpa Cramer as he sang that he would cherish the old rugged cross. I can also hear him as he rummages in the garage and sets kindling out for the campfire. I can hear him as Patsy Cline croons on the record player and we all sit around the table I have in my basement and play cards as the rain beats down on the roof of their small house.

Capture

I don’t have a very big theological problem with that song. I think we sometimes err on the side of a happy, sunny Teletubbies Christian existence. One where we pretend to be amazed by every small flower and call ourselves Easter People. But we’re more than Easter People. We couldn’t be Easter People without also being Palm Sunday people, without also being Maundy Thursday and last supper people, without also being Judas, without also being Pilate, or Mary Magdalene. We need Good Friday to be Easter People or there isn’t anything to celebrate. Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow him, God how I hate that, how I loathe it, how the weight pains my weak lower back and the splinters dig into my arms. But there it is, all the same.

My grandma Dorothy would get up in the night and play her piano and sing. I come to the garden was one of her favorites and I recall vividly sitting in the hallway and being very still so she wouldn’t notice me and stop singing. And I wonder now, as a fledgling adult, what it was that kept her up at night. I wonder what it was like to raise those six kids and keep that husband. I wonder if her dream of writing children’s literature was one that was always conflicting with who she was “supposed to be” and I wonder if she felt that, resented it a tiny bit or a whole lot.

Someday I’ll ask her and await her honest and clear eyed response (only after she has hugged me wearing her housecoat and with the curls at the back of her neck, the same ones I have, wet from cleaning for company).

And I’ll ask that great roaring lion/bearded white man/succulent black woman making pancakes how to refer to her/he/she/it/they/God.

In the meantime I will wait. I believe in the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and I will wait on the Lord. I will write “happy” in cursive for a child who doesn’t know how and assure her that the ants can bear the rain. I will pack away the pins and the crosses and the single nugget of wisdom that I know is out there even as the sky opens and the whole earth receives the rain with a grateful sigh.

None of us have a corner on this market, right?

We’re only doing our best. It’s a jumble for us all, a downright rummage sale of ideas and dreams and hope. Esperanza.

Believe, my loves, in the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. We weren’t left here no matter what I said before. I am learning too, and this learning curve hurts but I have to believe it’s worth it.

I love you still. Would you go in peace and pray for me, a sinner, as I am praying for you?

 

 

 

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.