Fully Involved

I read a story about a couple in California who went to bed a few nights ago, after the woman checked on her tomato plants and probably brushed her teeth. After they checked the news again to see how far away the fires were. Those folks turned out the lights and the fire was 11 miles away.

And then the winds came.

They spent the night in a neighbor’s pool. Dipping their heads under the water as a cell phone on the edge of the pool melted, as the neighbor’s house burned in what would be called a “fully involved” fire.

A fire that is fully involved is one that will burn a structure to the ground. One that will prevent rescue to anyone or anything inside. A fire that is almost out of control.

I remember seeing a cartoon that showed a house on fire, and a black cartoon man and a white one, and the house belonged to the black cartoon; how that explained that of course all lives matter, but that one house was on fire right now.

And my Facebook feed is lit up with Me Too, in varying colors, some saying why, offering an explanation or not, offering a story, or not.

And I feel sometimes like I live in the middle of a neighborhood that is on fire, that is burning to the ground, and all we can do is argue about whose house matters more, all we can talk about it is whose fault it is. All that we do is divide and divide like cells making cancer or a baby, small divisions, even smaller factions, us against all of them. No one thinks of water, grabbing a hose and wrestling on a spigot. We’re all too busy fighting about who did this when there is so much work to be done.

The Me Too stories are coming hard and fast. No pun intended.

And then the winds came.

We are the girls told we were hired because our hair was so nice that day and we were so pretty. We were 15.

We are the girls told by male pastors that we are sluts and sinners while those male pastors have affairs with married parishioners.

The girls who believe that our voices can’t preach the love of God, whose voices cannot exhort the church to act in response to the needs of the world. The girls who cannot teach boys older than about 12 because they are ‘men’.

We are the girls who wear a uniform of  tight or short skirts instead of slacks. We are the pretty faces behind a front desk at a hotel, every single one like a caged bird, young and beautiful and knowing nothing better.

We are the girls kneeing men in the nuts in the parking lot outside the bar when they try to get into our cars. We are the girls who have drinks spiked, who wake up the next day with no idea of where we are or what could have happened the night before. We are the girls who have realized that no doesn’t make a difference; that if we just lay there and think nice thoughts it will be over soon and hopefully we won’t get pregnant. We are the girls offered money to kiss each other.

The girls who took that money because the house was so cold and the gas bill needed to be paid.

Our house is on fire.

It is on fire with memories and old hurts and scars that still tingle and missing limbs that still move, ghost-like in the night. It is on fire with short skirts and high heels and drawers full of makeup; and porn that makes us think we are objects to be used.

It is on fire with the idea that how pretty we are has to be juxtaposed against our brains or natural talent. On fire with the idea that we are the home makers, the barefoot and pregnant women, the mothers who attend to every detail; who attend every PTA meeting in our best nude heels and full makeup.

The idea that our ideas aren’t good until they are spoken by someone male.

But there are other houses on fire too, there are black houses, and Dreamer houses and immigrant houses and migrant houses. There are LGBT houses, poor houses, addict houses, and halfway houses, religious houses.

Our neighborhood is burning down and we go to bed because we think the flames aren’t ours and won’t come close enough to burn us.

The enormity of the fire is so huge that I cannot think of a way to douse it. I find myself googling what to throw at a grease fire, what to toss at an electrical fire,  going to seminary and learning about listening and asset mapping, finally calling 911.

I find myself with my own house fire. My own girls who are obsessed with what other people think, with makeup and clothes and backpacks and I wonder where I’ve gone wrong; and I hope it’s a phase. I hope that they will come into themselves knowing that if they choose makeup and heels its for them and not to impress the boss in the corner office.

I am pretty sure that we need to pool our carefully horded resources and throw money and care like water at the things that are on fire, to throw compassion like soaking rain on the people whose house is burning right next door to ours. To realize that we are next and are going to have to depend on the goodwill of someone, that being the last man standing isn’t necessarily the best prize.

Or maybe we should just let it burn, maybe that knee jerk reaction to douse the flames, to make it better and to fix it is one so embedded in our DNA that we don’t even stop to wonder why. Why these are our sins to confess, why this is our secret shame to hide. Why we can’t tell the truth about what’s happened to us, what keeps on happening so frequently that it is normal. Why we have to ask other women friends over and over if this is ok, if we can own this; why we have to wonder what the repercussions will be.

Because all we are doing is telling the uncomfortable truth.

Maybe, like that couple who sheltered in the pool all night, who lost everything but walked out alive in varying states of undress, maybe we need to let it burn, need to shelter in place, own our truths and stop confessing to sins that aren’t ours.

Maybe fire cleanses as nothing else can.

Maybe our fiery voices, our #metoo,  can forge a new path for our girls.  A path not bent on their looks but on their hearts, on their intelligence and their kindness. Maybe we can stop talking about how pretty they are and talk about brave/talented/funny/kind they are instead. Maybe we can stop tethering self worth to some absurd idea of the ideal woman. Maybe we can speak up next time someone tells an awful joke, the next time a man speaks over us as if he has a right to do so.

Apparently my heart is a place with many rooms. I can and have pulled out theological ideals, very old values set like hymns in a shape note hymnal and examined them under bright and unforgiving light. I’ve had to throw them away, most of them, keeping only a few that are very central to my own doctrine, my own understanding of salvation and the trinity.

My heart holds old wounds, experiences near forgotten, and I’ve taken them out for you too, examined and relived them. I’ve decided that they do matter because of my girl children and yours.

And I’ve decided to let this misogynistic house become fully involved, I’m not looking for a hose, don’t need any water, don’t want your help; I’ve decided to let it burn to the ground.

I love you still.

Even if you’re a man. Even though you’re complicit in this. Even though my Facebook feed is empty of even one man asking what #metoo is, asking forgiveness, promising to be better.

Absolutely empty.

I can burn it down. We can.

 

Our mother has been absent, ever since we founded Rome. But there’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home. 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Transformation, Act II

In many ways I am often the last to know. It takes, for some reason, word a long time to travel through what I picture as an old telegraph machine, words tapped out letter by letter, STOP.

One of the things I am usually last to know about is what music I should hear, need to hear. My sister helps with this, she plays me songs that she has played on top volume in her car for days or weeks as she flies down the interstate. Kaia, too, teaches me about what I need to hear, sharing music with me as we ride in the car, as she sings it in the bathroom in the early morning of a school day.

Yesterday we had our monthly family dinner, and my sister came outside and said, you have to hear this song. Her car keys jingled in the late afternoon light, her yellow bird rape whistle keeping time. We sat in her car and she turned it on and then she turned it up and I thought, oh my God the neighbors are going to hate this! And then I figured they could live with it for the three minutes left.

What I heard was a song about transformation.

The music reverberated through the car, vibrating on my arm out the open the window, up through the soles of my feet and my sister sang next to me with absolute abandon as the sun left the sky and turned the world over to the darkness.

Later, our brother came and joined us, climbing into the backseat with his glass of wine and we listened to more of this album that my sister needed for me to hear. I can’t remember the last time it was just the three of us, only us. All three of us mid-birth, all three of us still crowning, all three of us still fighting to figure this thing out; bearing our shared history.

I can’t remember the last time we all sat in a car together with the stereo so loud. I’m not sure who uses the word ‘stereo’ anymore.

Kesha’s Rainbow album is what we were listening to. An album made after Kesha was raped by her manager and black balled when she tried to speak out against how her own flesh had been violated. We listed to Praying, Hymn, Bastards. And though much of the album is explicit, Praying is not and I immediately played it for my girls and have converted two more Kesha fans.

As I sat there, occupying the space of the front seat of my sister’s car, I thought about transformation in one of those backward ways I have, where I am aware that it is simmering somewhere, but I choose not to observe the fecund roundity of every bubble that rises from the cauldron.

Stephen King talks about this process in On Writing, his own memoir of that formidable craft. He talks about moving men moving shrouded things into the house, and how he can’t see them and doesn’t want to, its enough to know they are there, that those shrouded shapes bear a story he will one day tell.

I have been processing since why she wanted to share this music with me. And have come to the conclusion that its because our souls are absolutely fused, they are one. I have come to the conclusion that she too is beginning a pilgrimage and wanted to speak to me in the language that we share, the one that is notes on a page, a bass line rippling through the interior of her car.

I have come to the conclusion that though we are five years apart in age we have come to that particular point, standing breathlessly with hands clasped on the threshold of the middle decades of our lives.

Now we have more experiences in common than not. Now there is almost nothing that we cannot share between us, be it bitter Passover herbs and flat bread, the recounting together in a house on Clan Cameron lands, how our own people walked Scotland, fell at Culloden, ruled a people.  How we can have our own lineage story, we have our history, the history of our line and of the women who came before us; how we are holding that so tenderly, like holy water in a wooden bowl; careful not to lose a drop, a story.

How we are creating a history for the girls in our family to carry forward with them, more water in a bowl.

Transformation is a story. It isn’t a single road to Emmaus moment, not a single conversion, not being dunked in a river or sprinkled in a church – it isn’t the beginning of a marriage but the end of one; and then what we choose for next. There is bright light, there are fierce feelings, but I think that most days its just trying to keep walking, hands open, chin up, eyes forward – ready.

Transformation is a slippery thing, an erroneous calling, a thing we think will just happen to us, not something we must work for. Transformation is treading water in Lake Michigan at dusk, watching the stars come out over an expanse of water that smells like home, taking small sips of air, knowing that we can’t touch the bottom but that we have to hold on, peddling our legs, rolling over sometimes to simply float as we stare at the black expanse of sky.

Transformation is what happens next.

This week is Fall Cleanup in our little burg, the streets are lined with someone else’s junk, sometimes treasure, most times junk. Casey and I trolled tonight, slowly, up and down the quiet streets. We saw broken storm doors, scrap wood, many old TVs, broken tables and old garage cabinets. Many people were mowing lawns on their quiet cul de sacs, and I wish I could describe for you the fishy scent of the river that laps one side of the peninsula we live on, tinged with the scent of fresh cut grass, just as the sun reaches that point where the shadows begin to grow long and become unruly.

The dark is solid now, a thing, a curtain that has closed. And my own girls are engaged in their nighttime rituals, wooden bowls that they can’t see on their nightstands where the drops of our tears mingle with our stories and form a puddle, one that is growing every day.

Girlhood, womanhood, are hard things to bear. There are so many expectations, so many small deaths you must die to be acceptable in society as a whole; so many words you are forbidden to say.

Its been a trying day, so much bickering, so much senseless meanness that it breaks my heart. I gave them each other so that they could fuse too, so that they too, could be one, so that one day their experiences shared would outweigh those not shared. I gave them to each other so they could share this history, this childhood, this house, so that they could make their own story, their own history, weave it into the Royal Stuart plaid that has come before.

Somedays that feels a hopeless and thankless task, a gift that is rejected.

But – transformation.

I love you still. My anger has faded, not a sustainable feeling for me.

I know you’re trying. I want you to keep going, keep doing it, even though its uncomfortable and even though it hurts. Keep going.

 

I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying

I hope your soul is changing, changing

I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees

Praying 

 

This is a hymn for hymnless, kids with no religion 

Yeah we keep on sinning, yeah we keep on singing… 

I know that I’m perfect even though I’m fucked up 

 

 

Don’t let the bastards get you down… 

 

 

 

 

 

Transformation; Homework

So I’ve said before that some folks may scoff at the non-seminary nature of local formation like my own. They may think that a weekend a month isn’t really comparable to seminary, and I will tell you that it isn’t. I will tell you also that most of the folks I go to school with would actually go to seminary if they could, but the realities of kids in schools and jobs and spouses and actual, present communities make that dream all but impossible. Many of us would give anything to immerse ourselves completely, like a job, alas, it is not to be.

We have these intense weekends and then we come home and have to spend some days processing, thinking. I abhor the word “reflecting” but that is really what is happening, whether its OT studies or church history or theology, or just our practical times when we are learning very logistical things about the Book of Common Prayer — there is work to be done when we leave the academy and come home.

There is homework, but soul work too.

The homework for my theology class was to read the first chapter of our three textbooks, and I found Behr manageable, but am finding Tanner tedious. I find that I can only read a few pages at a time and then my head is banging away and I keep reading the same paragraph over and again — and then its time to stop.

In the two pages worth of reading today I read about how we reconcile the humanity and divinity of Christ. “How is it that God can do this, without its coming at the expense of the very divinity that is the source of our salvation.” And I haven’t made up my mind yet, and I’m partially convinced that some things are meant to remain a mystery to be only accepted and never understood.

I am not the sort to pick and pick, to dig deeper to try to discover the why; I am content with mystery.

Tanner also says that we are to be transformed as Christ was transformed, how we are to be at once divine and human. I remember writing my astonishment at learning that we are called to be holy, that there is not an end in sight, that this is a journey that will take most of us far past this world and into the heavenly campground of the next.

And so I see friends comment on posts about the NFL, calling players LOSERS. And I see my, normally not vocal about this sort of thing mother, and she’s taking on white privilege on Facebook. And I hear CNN tell us we are more divided than ever before and I become pretty sure that that was the entire point to begin with- because if we are divided, so unhinged and hung up on what are really small things – how can we stand when it matters?

It doesn’t matter to me if someone stands when the National Anthem is sung. I’m sorry, it just does not. I understand that their protest is not against the flag or the  (usually) terribly sung song – they are protesting something else and this is the most likely place to have that protest seen. I’ve written before of my childhood and youth and adulthood, how I have never, not one time, watched every person in the room jump to their feet at home when that anthem is sung. It just does not happen, and it is hypocritical to accuse a protester of unpatriotic behavior when we are guilty too.

What matters to me is cars parked haphazardly on a highway in Puerto Rico, the one place where some phones are getting cell reception. What matters to me is the desperation and the heat of the folks sitting in those cars. What matters is the dam that will break with 70,000 — 70,000! — in its path. And here on the mainland we care about who stands while someone sings a song.

We aren’t talking about the hospitals and shelters that are running out of food and water, we’re talking about a dude who somehow “got separated” from his team in the tunnel out to the field and ended up there with his hand on his heart. How this happens I can’t begin to imagine. Have you done this before? Are you new here? How do you get separated from your team? These aren’t small, quiet folks. I think of it as an Orc, you know, from Lord of the Rings, getting separated from the absolute horde of flesh eating soldiers it runs with. How does that happen? Well, it doesn’t.

#villaneuva

Because again our privilege is showing. A white man who got lost  in what is essentially his work place, takes over the news (possibly by accident, but how does that happen? I’ve visited my new home office once and know where the stairs are) when tens of thousands are in want, in the dark, hot and thirsty tonight.

How do we come to a place where the person in charge of us can call folks a son a bitch? Though I do not have sons the meaning is the same, and I will not tolerate being called a bitch, not by a person at the supermarket and most certainly not by the person who was elected to lead the country I call home.

How do we come to a place where the leader of a nation with nuclear capability spars with our own? Where they trade insults and promise death and destruction? I feel like I should find a school desk to hide under though I never drilled in cold war hiding. I feel like I should invest in gas masks.

Friends.

Friends! (she shouts again over the din and chaos).

This is insane. We are being gaslighted and lied to and jumped up over things that don’t matter so that we will ignore the things that do. Can you tell me that who kneels or stands when the anthem is sang is more important than the plight of our FELLOW AMERICANS in Puerto Rico? Does it matter if people in subdivisions across the world, places with lights and AC and running water stand up when a song is sung?

We are being divided.

The last time our community was together for school we had a conversation on white privilege. It was later in the evening, we were tired, daunted. We were about 20 white folk arguing our way out of the paper bag of our privilege, and my one not white friend sat quietly, she didn’t utter a word, didn’t allow one expression to cross her lovely face. She sat quietly and sort of absorbed this absolute ignorance, somehow stilled the raging water within her and listened to us as we tried to work this out.

I held her tightly when we left the following day, I said, I am so sorry. She said to keep talking. But sometimes I don’t know what to say.

I will say this: my whiteness is mine and I am born to it, descended supposedly from a queen and a royal clan. I can’t do anything about it.

But I can see and verbalize how what I have is not what women of color have. I can see and say that I live in relative comfort, descended from immigrants like most of us are. I can see and say that I have possibilities, that the trap of the lower middle class may hold me now but cannot hold me forever.

My friend Joanne pointed out that we, Americans, have possibility when lots of folks don’t; that for lots of folks it simply isn’t going to get better.

So look, stash your angry rhetoric that includes the words black and Muslim.

Stash your horrible comments calling folks who protest Losers while your president calls the KKK respectable people. Find again your education, your willingness to be educated.

I am not sure if I’ve ever sworn in a blog post, but I beg you to pull your head out of your ass. Look about you, look at the gaping maw of need, look at people who are held down when you are not; and the real reasons why. And then have another cool drink of water from your tap.

Friends.

Take the knee. Take it in prayer. Take it in protest. But do take it.

Get off your throne, your white place where the world makes sense and you have enough (or not) and so no one else matters.

This isn’t about you.

I would say I love you still, but tonight I wouldn’t mean it. I am disgusted and sick to my soul.

If you need help looking for what is real then show up. Show up and help, get off Facebook and Twitter. Come to church and see the small faces that are being ministers in the greater worship of the Church even though they aren’t ready and they’ve never done this before. Come to a food pantry like Love Inc, that is pleading for donations because their shelves are empty and the need doesn’t stop. Come to Loving Spoonful and feed people, and talk with them and get to know them. Those are the things that are real. No one cares who stands during the anthem, not really, its a smokescreen, a way to care less about what actually matters, something that doesn’t require quite as much of your soul or your time; something that does not require you to transform, to change.

There is a whole world out there that doesn’t look like you, or think like you, or believe like you. There is a whole world of people and they are bleeding and we have bandages, they are hungry and we have food. They are overwhelmed and we have good news, and yet we think we can hoard all of this for ourselves.; that it somehow is only ours.

This is your homework; try to stop being terrible and self focused.

 

I don’t love you still. I am angry tonight, for so many reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burial Anthems II & Thin Spaces

Stephen King writes about thin spaces, this phenomenon I’ve heard of in spirituality classes many times since I first read Bag of Bones, nearly 20 years ago. He writes about not turning when we hear what sounds like a footfall in the dark hall behind us, how we immerse ourselves in TV and magazines to keep out or steer clear of the truly unsettling.

I can think of thin spaces; the boat ride up the channel in Scotland, past the Isle of Eigg and the Isle Rhum, the way the light reflected off the water, how the rolling hills and cliffs met the light and seemed to suck it in. I wondered then how deep, and how cold, that water was as my fingers played over the survival suit I’d been robed in.

Today we talked about forgiveness. It sounds like forgiveness of others, but the real message was forgiveness of self, how we can’t love anyone if we can’t love ourselves, how that love of self has to be grounded in forgiveness; in the words my daddy likes to tell me when I’m struggling – that it’s nailed to the cross and it doesn’t hold me anymore. We don’t think about forgiving ourselves very often, I don’t think, our forgiveness is always other focused.

Jared made clear today, asked us to remember and call up those times that we were the terrible friend, the times that we messed up – to remember the people who forgave us as though it was almost nothing. He called us to pass this light, this forgiveness and joy onto those we would encounter, the people who mess up and inconvenience us, or worse.

I wondered then, as the light hit that particular way that it does this time of year, illuminating the Lazarus window, shining down on those beloved people across the chancel –  what things I hold that I haven’t forgiven myself for?  I’ve a feeling there are things I think I’ve put to bed, moved away and on from that will come back to me, wounded places that are still festering that I must make right somehow.

I wondered what things you hold, how those things are tender spots in your armor, places where the steel weave fails? I wondered if I had the strength, really, to bear those things with you.

I am so tired tonight. From a long week wading knee deep in the misery of folks who have lost everything in Texas on the supposed 1,000 year flood plain, from the relief of a smaller than expected hit from Irma as far as my own work is concerned. I am tired from hearing people cry, practicing my pastoral listening skills as I absorb and absorb like a sponge beginning to drip dirty water onto the counter. I am tired of the choked back sob in the “yes Ma’m, no ma’m” of these folks who have lost it all and still find it in themselves to talk that way to me when I bear the worst news.

There is more, almost a hundred more to settle and take care of, and that seems like so much want and need; when I can only play a very small part. I tell myself it matters, I tell myself, in the midst of my own frustration and exhaustion, that I am the hands and feet of Christ and so today I can listen to another story. Today I can listen to more tears.

And yet my own cup overflows with dirty flood water, with water tinged with funerals and grief and unspeakable pain.

I must drink it down.

It had never occurred to me that the words of our burial anthems, even at the grave we make our song, required me to sing. I didn’t realize until I sat in the packed church of my childhood that we were singing over a grave. I never thought that I would be called to faithful belief and song in the midst of such grief and pain. I didn’t know that I could open my mouth and the notes would come out, that I was capable of it.

Sometimes I long to be a child. I long to have every need met, to go to school with my lunch box and my friends, to soak up the last of the sun as autumn comes to the playground, changing the shadows on the long slanted poles that hold up the swings. I long to be protected from life, how bad it can get, how hard it really can be.

Sometimes I have survivors guilt, I looked around at all of this and wonder how it can be, how I was worthy or deserving. I don’t know what the answers are, I can hardly figure out what day of the week it is right now – how do I deserve the warm breath of my children in the next room? The gentle snores of my husband on the couch across from me? The insistent itching of a dog who is at least as old as Methuselah as fall allergies set in?

I tell myself that today there is work for my hands as I click on the kettle in the sacristy and talk with a friend about a South Pacific duet for an event in a few weeks. Today there are endless rounds of dishes to be washed, laundry to be folded and sorted. Today there was a Psalm to be learned, tricky markings and all. Today there was a couple who live on the shores of the lake, and we talked about the water and how it can change in an instant after I said to them, the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, after we shared a cup.

I tell myself what I am called to and why, show myself concrete ways I can help. And at the same time I wonder if I am strong enough to bear the holding of the great ribbon that joins the church and the world – how I can bring you the immense need and brokenness that exists in the world even here and how I can weigh that against your own need and expectations.  I see myself, standing in the middle our our nave, proclaiming the gospel to you, with all of the sorrow pinned onto my robes like notes stuck in the nooks and crannies of the wailing wall.

If you could…

Would you…

Can you mention…

We are hungry/homeless/broke/held down/sick…

And so tonight I am sick to death of being an adult. Sick to death of bearing the tender weight of things lost and needed and searched for.

I suppose that is my cue to go to bed, to sleep on it, to see my own mother’s miracle work again and again as the new day brings fortitude and a better mindset.

I love you still, standing here holding hands inside the sacred and the thin.

And I am so sorry.

And I hope I am enough, that I can be that strong.

(You’ll want to listen to this. She needs a minute to get going. Trust me.)

Only in sleep I see their faces,
Children I played with when I was a child,
Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,
Annie with ringlets warm and wild.

Only in sleep Time is forgotten—
What may have come to them, who can know?
Yet we played last night as long ago,
And the doll-house stood at the turn of the stair.

The years had not sharpened their smooth round faces,
I met their eyes and found them mild—
Do they, too, dream of me, I wonder,
And for them am I too a child?

Sara Teasdale, Only in Sleep

 

 

 

 

Keys to the Kingdom

Following is the text of my sermon today at the Academy for Vocational Leadership, where I am a 3rd year student and Aspirant to the Sacred Order of Deacons.

(More thoughts on the weekend to come, I am sure).

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year A

Jesus is in the midst of some serious parable telling as we approach the gospel this week. He’s told parables about mustard seeds and about seeds falling upon rocky soil…lots of seed parables. He’s also fed the five thousand, cured the blind and mute man, he’s had the Pharisees call him Beelzebul. He’s even had King Herod believe that he is actually a raised from the dead John the Baptist!  (seriously, it’s right there in Chapter 14!) He’s endured constant questioning and baiting. As he goes about this itinerant ministry of his he tells his disciples in our reading today how to deal with conflict in the communities that they live in, in the churches that would rise up and form and grow after he was gone, even in their own band of 12 community.

 

Now I know that none of us have ever really experienced conflict in a community right? But we can spend a few minutes talking about it anyway.

 

 

Something notable, I think, is that as Jesus addresses his friends he knows already that arguments and disagreements will come. Just a few verses back the disciples were already arguing over who was greatest.

 

Jesus takes contention as a given, he doesn’t seem to expect the sort of Christian behavior he models to really become the reality; I have to say, this is something of a relief! The bar is not already set too high!

 

Jesus knew there would be conflict and strife in our communities because they are made up of beautiful and fallible humans, and that’s why things like Healthy Congregations and all of our workshops on managing conflict exist – because a group of people cannot live together in community and agree all of the time. Think back to the Reformation, conflict. The question of ordaining women, conflict. Politics? Conflict. Possibly those of us right here in this room do not always see eye to eye?

 

Factionalism exists seemingly at every turn, especially in our lives today. North Korea, trade deals, DACA, Charleston, I could go on…  I believe that often times anger with each other stems from miscommunication or a failure to communicate entirely.

 

What Jesus does is set the 12, and us, back on the right path. He addresses that communication component right off, telling us we have to talk to each other.

 

But conflict in Christianity is about so much more than simple communication. And to boil the Gospel down to simply talking to one another misses the great sweep of the Good News of what God is doing in Christ when we find ourselves in places of conflict.

 

Paul brings this Good News to the fore-front in the Epistle reading, where he calls the community to the ethic of love.

 

And it makes sense, because the community in Romans is dealing with… you guessed it, conflict!

 

After persecution in Rome, many of the Jewish Christians fled. They later returned when the persecution subsided, but they returned to find that the Gentile Christians had taken over the churches. In the gap left by the Jewish Christian exodus, the Gentile Christians had stepped up. They led their communities and grew their communities. And though that is good, now the Jewish Christians felt out of place. They don’t know where they belonged because they were used to being on top in the church, used to being in power. After all, they were the first to follow Jesus.

 

So he tells them to wake up. Paul tells them not to argue about whether the Jewish laws of the Torah or the Gentile customs in the new communities should hold precedence. He says all their laws should be governed by the question of love. All their customs should be governed by the commitment not to do wrong to another, but to love fully.

 

It is never enough to communicate well, or clearly, or effectively, it is never enough to follow the best practices in this or that model of conflict management, none of that is   enough if it is not first grounded in a true love for the Christians in the community—in particular, if it is not grounded in YOUR love for those Christians you disagree with the most fiercely.

 

We must love those who have hurt us, those with whom we disagree, if we are to do more than just manage conflict. We must love them if we are to allow the Gospel to liberate us all from what binds us.

 

We hear this in the Gospel, when Jesus goes on from his encouragement to talk to those who have hurt you one on one, laying out a process for healthy communication, but moves deeper by telling the disciples that whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Most simply stated, he gives the 12, us, indeed the whole church – the power to agree that the laws bind us, or to loose those laws depending on specific situations.

I can only assume the audience of Jesus knew about binding and loosing, I had to do some study. Basically ethical questions would come before the rabbis and they would debate, with the final opinion being recorded in a book called the Misnah.

 

 

Though not a rabbi, Jesus binds and looses in passages just previous to the one we heard today, he looses when he tells the disciples they can pick grain to eat on the Sabbath, he looses again when he heals on the Sabbath. Jesus also binds, in Matthew 5 he takes the “love the law and hate your enemy” to a new level as he says love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. He has bound us with a new law, a new commandment.

 

A scholar once preached a sermon on binding and loosing with a slightly different take. He said that when someone has wronged us and we go tell all our friends without giving that person a chance to make it right, well, we have bound them, like pinning a red ribbon to their backs. But when we allow someone to make it right we loose them, do you see? We give them a chance to be set free from the wrong they have done to us.

 

Here’s the thing though, and this is what Jesus and Paul – and probably not the Psalmist – are telling us to do: they are telling us that we are binding ourselves when we think we are binding someone else.

 

Jesus tells us through the Gospel that when we give someone the opportunity to make something right we free ourselves of the wrong too, we have the chance to forgive or to understand, certainly to move on. We remove what can be a very heavy burden from our shoulders.

 

In the reading from the other lectionary track, the prophet Ezekiel said that our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us – and yet here is Jesus telling us how we can be set free, how we can solve not just smaller matters like someone taking our pew in church, but how we can heal very large wounds too. How we can do more than manage conflict, but instead how we can be filled with divine love as conflict becomes a context for healing, renewal, and rebirth.

 

Jesus has given us the power to set people free, the power to free ourselves. He’s given us the keys to the kingdom in giving us the authority to bind and to loose.

 

Awake, friends! Our salvation is very near, the path is laid out before us, the directions are clear. Unbind yourself, loose those who have hurt you, and be free.

 

 

Amen.

Last Goodbye

Isn’t it exhausting, wanting to be in so many places at the same time? I think I have a small taste now of how our mother feels when we visit, or when she visits us. Like there isn’t time for sleep, the indecision of hearing beloved Jamie and Ave giggling in one room, and my sister and I laughing upstairs…which way to go?

Today I wanted to sit with my grandpa while we sang his favorite song, I wanted to sit next to my mother and feel her soft elbows as I did when I was a little girl in the same church building, I wanted to sit with my cousins, Becky and Sarah, and find something to snigger about. I wanted to sit next to my brother and sister and hear them sing again those old hymns, to spend more time talking to Beth about school, to be with Bob and Elena and Caitlin as they sang Hallelujah, to sing out that soprano line. I wanted to do all of this at the same time.

Today was the last goodbye.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s are a series of goodbyes. I can remember when grandma was whole and coherent and busy, cooking in her kitchen, helping customers at the shoe store, holding a kid (many times an oversized teenage one) on her lap, lamenting her waist line, playing the piano. I remember when she was confused, when she forgot not just my name but my personhood. I wrote then about who will hold these memories, wondered if they even existed now that I was left holding them and the person I shared them with didn’t remember them any more.

Today Glen led singing. Because that was right and good, classic, as my brother said. Glen used to lead singing when I was a little girl not bigger than our Avery.

Today the whole church sang those hymns, every person knew their part, I was immersed, carried on a tide of song that vibrated and snapped and crackled in the air. I imagined that grandma could see us, was watching us from somewhere, I could see her sweet smile to see this family gathering, filling six extra long pews, and that was just family.

I imagined how this old church building absorbed the sound of our singing in her walls, walls that haven’t probably held that many folks on a Sunday in a long time. I imagined that the one empty pew was the one where grandpa and grandma used to sit, and felt dislocated to be on the “wrong” side from where we had always sat. I imagined that we gave her the strength to go on, to keep holding up the ceiling and turning on the lights.

I spent a lot of time on the road today. Peaceful time, time to think and let my imagination roam, and I kept coming back to these images of grandma in her house. Sitting on the bench by the big window, waiting for the car carrying her company to pull down the drive, telling us kids to stop putting things down the laundry shoot, assuring us that grandpa’s exercise bike did not, in fact, come alive in the middle of the night. Of her pleading with grandpa to come downstairs that scary night that we sheltered with Aunt Peggy in the basement as the tornado klaxons screamed. Grandpa said he wasn’t afraid of anything and went to bed. I wish I could show them where the spare key was kept.

Memories and longings and visions filled the day. And feelings, all the feelings.

Remembering sitting with my dad, just over there, across the aisle, and seeing him weep for the first time as we buried that same Aunt Peggy, dead to cancer before she was 18; his little sister. Remembering sitting in the cry room, now named the Training Room, which sits at the back of the church and is glassed in, where you raise up little kids to sit quietly in church. I thought many times that we would all go back to the big house on the hill and on the heels of that thought realized that we can’t go back, that that home doesn’t exist any more.

I long to facilitate a moment, to wake my kids up and march them silently down the hallway at grandma’s so they can crouch as I did in the hallway and listen to grandma sing and play in the deepest hours of the night. I long to have them walk through the saloon doors and hear grandma sing, here she comes! Miss America! as she butters the toast. For them to spend a day in the shoe store playing with calculators and the strange trap door in the store room, for her to finally give them a dollar and send them down the block to the dime store.

Visions. Of my grandpa, bereft, knowing that she is physically gone. Of grandma sitting at a campfire with my grandpa and grandma Cramer, discussing sadly our lowly state down here on earth, knowing now all that can happen, all that can break, but also all that can heal and be made new. They knew each other well, this isn’t such a stretch, to imagine them all in that heavenly campground, that ring of concentric circles that border the island that holds the throne and stronghold of God. Grandpa Cramer has thrown some magic dust on the fire and it dances, and they remember how magical all us kids thought that was, they bicker ever so slightly about how to make potato salad. They sing a bit, softly, almost to themselves. They keep watch over the babies who were lost, sing them tender lullabies.

I am really quite lucky. Quite lucky to be pushing forty and have a grandpa left. One who told my sister and I stories today about driving a candy truck as a salesman, about how he bought the building that now bears his name, how he went into an office and said he didn’t have any money, and how they worked it out and sold it to him anyway. . I am lucky that he is left, that I had all of those years with grandmas and their clinking turquoise jewelry, their stretchy band watches, their love of old hymns sung acapella, their tupperware and smacking screen doors. With grandpas and their big dogs and gardens, with their perpetual coffee drinking and warm hands and big GM rings.

I am coming to grips with some things.

I am realizing that no one will call me Snow White again and mean it in so many layered ways. Realizing that I can’t go back and be that girl who selfishly takes the longer foot rub on the couch in grandma’s living room when we used to rub each other’s feet with Vaseline lotion. I don’t have anymore a person who remembers when she gained another grandbaby and crowed that it was a girl. I can’t go back to that house, not even for an hour, and make an excuse to use the restroom, where you have to open the drawer to block anyone who may want to come in and doesn’t realize its occupied.

There is a lot of I in this. And I see the rest of us, I see Eric, who may be taller even than Casey, I see Danny and Beth and Brian, I see Kevin and his beautiful little boy. I see the friends she had. I see you too, but our memories are distinct, I will leave you to write about yours.

I love you still. So much. I love how we pick up our conversations like we’ve only left the room for a moment. I love the curly hair that even Avery noticed. I love your vulnerability and your talent and your ability to love. The preacher today said that our family is a culture, a life style, and we are.

For now I will wrap myself in the soft lambswool cloak my mother brought me from Edinburgh, it is the Royal Stewart tartan, our plaid. I will work through these strange memories and visions. I will miss you every second you’re gone, even if I’m not good at telling you so.

I know that someday my girls will remember and laugh about “needing a wee”, about a blonde and sassy granny who complained about padded bras and traveled miles and miles to bring a lunch box  from the very northern wilds of Yorkshire to Michigan with a cat face on it. She is building a legacy too.

I hope grandpa Cramer has his guitar out, that he is relishing the voices of his wife and my grandma Stewart, these women he has known for so many years and was happy to welcome to his fire. I hope they know that we are ok. I hope they pray for us.

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day
is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of your love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burial Anthems

In not too many more days we will make the pilgrimage to the other side of the state, back down M-21 to the town of our birth. We will gather, my cousins and I, in the church that housed our Sunday School, the site of many church potlucks, the place where my little brother was accidentally left after church one Sunday- because there were so many people who would have given him a ride to grandma’s that we just couldn’t believe it when it turned out everyone assumed everyone else did.

I have a vague memory of that little boy standing in the parking lot with the brick church and dry grass behind him on a very hot day, bereft. I feel I may see that little boy again rather soon.

I imagine it will be a lot like our former Christmas Eve celebration, everyone taking that snowy sleigh ride to grandma’s, the house on it’s hill lit from within, a beacon of heat and family and love, the driveway full of cars. In the morning there would be a dozen kids in the living room, all of the bedrooms full. How grandma loved these times, when her whole family packed the house, when they showed up for her. She would sit in her chair and just sort of look on at this chaotic and noisy and very alive legacy of hers, usually holding one of the babies; there was almost always a baby, there are, after all, 11 first cousins.

I imagine that there won’t be too many more of the gatherings like we will have on Sunday, all of us coming together for a memorial to this matriarch, this Queen of Vernors soda served in glasses with geese on them, and bread and butter at every meal. We’re all getting too old, we’ve had, mostly, the marriages we were going to have, Christmas Eve has become tricky with other church services, with spouses and other family expectations. I stand rather bleakly at a threshold, in an open door, and see only the funerals that will bring us together now.

And yet, as my favorite burial anthem goes, even at the grave we make our song — and I know that somewhere, perhaps in that heavenly campground, where there isn’t much of a breeze tonight, where the air and the smoke from the campfires hangs rather heavy, I believe she is singing. Our Avery asked me if she remembers now, “does she remember even me mommy?” — And I think the answer to that is a resounding yes.

There have been many other meaningful and beautiful words written about our grandma, and I’m sure there will be more to come, but the thing that grandma gave me was song, words, the ability to sing, the ability to measure your mood to your hymnody, the ability to become utterly lost in the music, the ability to make the music become prayer. I think she was doing more in middle of the night, when she would get up to play her Clavinova under the vaulted ceiling of her living room, I think she was doing more than playing and singing along, I think she was praying.

My brother wrote about her all of the time response to every.single.thing. that ever happened to her. It was to smile, to hug or touch, it was to love and to welcome.

But my very first memories are of looking through her pocket book for mints at church and rubbing the loose skin on her elbow as she sang, me sandwiched between her and my mother.  My memories include sitting in the hallway outside her kitchen, you all remember the saloon doors, right? I liked to sit just outside them in that hallway with all the encyclopedias and listen to her sing to herself as she washed the dishes with her sulphur scented tap water as the sun sank low in the sky and grandpa mowed the lawn,  and the water tower in the meadow with it’s giant and glowering red eye sat as her audience.

When our parents divorced I used to imagine striding into the courtroom and making a disturbance, an entrance, looking something like Punky Brewster. In my imagining there would be my parents on either side, with an old judge wearing a white curled wig. I would announce that I would not live with either of my parents, instead I would live with my grandmother! And I was bringing my brother and sister with me! So there.

I thought I could take the bedroom with the plastic painting that lit up and the large brass bed, and that my siblings could share what us grand kids have always called the Cat bedroom, for the cat sheets that live in my linen closet now. I thought we could work in the store to earn our keep and go to the M21 Church of Christ, we could help out in the store my grandparents owned.

In my later years, after I left home, grandma wrote to me regularly. She would send me stories she had written for me, she very rarely offered unwanted advice. Every single card I received from her was decorated with her drawings, and I used to love to bang away at the typewriter in the room that should have been mine, had that courtroom scene ever really played out. She would write a short list of topics on one of those magnetic pads that hang on the fridge decorated with fruit to get me started. I wish I had some of her ideas now.

It was a dark and stormy night and I heard the frightened meowing of a cat…

The fairy woke inside her flower and decided what to do today…

The princess and the evil queen… how can she defeat her with kindness and love…

My Punky Brewster alter ego is alive and well, I am realizing. I am still that girl with crazy hair and crazier ideas and mismatched socks. I befriend old people. I know it is not a good idea to hide in a refrigerator. I am still that girl looking for home, threatening to leave, hovering on the edge of all that I know, turning the page and realizing that the story is so much more, so different, that I could have dreamed it would be.

I had this lovely vision of grandma last night, amid communique with my brother and sister, our frantic attempts to reach England at 2am (where is a butler when you need one? “mum, I’m afraid there is an urgent call for you from the Americas”). I saw her in a flowered house dress coming down the hallway that bordered the stairs in her home. That hallway has an iron railing and I used to have to race past it because I was so terrified that someone had somehow gotten in and was waiting to grab my ankles in the dark.

The chandelier was lit and the railing was covered with coats as it would have been on Christmas Eve. I could hear the smack of pool balls on the pool table in the basement, the kids banging on the piano down there and rehearsing a play to perform later. She came down that hall into her living room and was so happy to see us all there, like she hadn’t known we were coming. She was a little frantic, as she always was when company began to arrive, the curls at the back of her neck wet from the last minute housekeeping she’d been doing.

She sat down at her piano and she played and she sang and she knew every word.

I saw her coming through the woods on a well worn path, and at the end of it was her destination, the clearing. She lay down on the hard packed earth and she breathed no more but the birds in the trees chittered and sang in our voices, they sang her home.

I wish you could see the sky tonight. I wish you could see how the dark falls so quickly now that fall is come, the way the big dipper lights up the northern sky, a sure sign that my mother is coming. My grandpa is probably alone tonight in the trailer home he bought when he sold the big house on the hill. I can’t imagine how he feels but look forward to kissing his whiskery cheek. He has loved this girl, this woman and mother and grandma and great grandma since 1947 and now this part of the journey is ending.

I hope that she will see, that she will know somehow that we are coming. The plans are laid and the oil changes scheduled, the flights booked, the cars gassed up, as I write this my mother is in the air above the Atlantic Ocean on the loneliest flight she will ever take.

We are coming in our various states of undone, for her, one more time. We will gather and Sarah and Becky, who are much funnier than the rest of us, will make jokes and make us laugh and cry at the same time. Beth will bring her kids and they will dance around mine for a minute, I will get to meet Kevin’s baby and see my Uncle Bob, who I’ve sparred with many times on Facebook and yet not seen in person in many years.

And my beloved sister and brother will be there and I imagine we will sit with our knees pressed together in the pews, and Amy will sing again those songs she knew and Jared will carry the tenor or bass part as our mother basks in our love.

(I am firmly convinced that Episcopalians do not understand congregational singing, so here is what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMu6vy8rODc&list=PL5dNRmExdE0CuhwQvLzVfCBxpaATHN3Vr&index=84 Every person knowing their part).

A generation is passing on, making camp in a place where we can’t be. And the laughter of our kids is a burial anthem. The laughing of cousins together, remembering this strange dance is a burial anthem. Congregational singing that I bet not one of us has forgotten how to do is a burial anthem.

And yet, even at the grave we make our song.

Even at the grave we sing our family songs and tell our stories, the ones that made us who we are.

My words are not adequate, they feel forced, blood beading on the surface of an opened vein. I feel so immersed in the misery of others that I am casting about for my own.

I love you still. I love this clan of Scots and French Canadians, I love your humor and your integrity. I love that you, we, are of her; that that means she cannot die.

See you soon.

 

 

 

Give rest O Christ, to your servant with your saints. Where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing but life everlasting. 

You only are immortal. The creator and maker of mankind and we are mortal formed of the earth. And to earth shall we return, for so did you ordain when you created me saying, you are dust and to dust you shall return. All of us go down into the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song — alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. 

 

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.

 

I believe in the goodness of the Lord in the the land of the living. Wait, I say, wait on the Lord.

 

 

e