Stranger at the Gate – Advent I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are strangers now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can understand that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open. The. Gates.

I love you still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Long Road Home -Widdershins

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

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

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

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

That what we do now isn’t for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride.

Arrogance.

Prejudice. White privilege.

An insistence that this go according to our plan.

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

But now I understand.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wants to be transformed.

Come with me.

World without end.

(Amen.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Green Wind – Veni Sancte Spiritus

I’ve gone rounds in my head (with myself) for how to begin. For where to begin, to if I should begin. I’ve finally given in, decided that I must open a vein even as I sit here in my comfortable chair, full of left over emotion that keeps leaking out of my eyes. I’m going to teach my people tomorrow about what the church believes about paranormal activity, about exorcism, and a small teaser is that a poltergeist is real, and is usually somehow emotion leftover from a major and traumatic event. I could move a sideboard, a dining room table, a TV, and half wonder how that hasn’t happened yet.

There is a book called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. In the book our heroine is a girl of about 13, named September, for the season of autumn, for the death that many living things experience, the letting go; for the age of 13, which involves so many small deaths too. So much letting go that we aren’t even aware of at the time. A sudden aversion to dolls, to imaginary games, to all things silly. Those are deaths, they are things let go of that will not return.

September meets the Green Wind one day when he rides in on a leopard to take her to fairyland. She leaves the china tea cup she was washing, and even loses a shoe as she is whisked away to her destiny, or at least to figuring out who she is, and what she is made of; what she can do.

Spet
September on the Leopard of Little Breezes, by Ana Juan

 

I felt sort of like September today, and if I am honest, I feel like her quite often. September is turned away by the powers that be, she is told she isn’t enough or isn’t doing it right, she frightens with her precocious vision of another world. September ends up sailing out of fairyland in a ship made of driftwood bound together with hair pulled from her head, and with a sail that is made of her dress – because, you see, she already had everything she needed to go, she just needed to be stripped over everything to realize that. I realized today that there is deep soul work to be done, forgiveness to be given, wounds that must heal if I am to work and live among some of these people.

Today I listened to a dear friend take his priestly vows, I listened as the Bishop spoke to him in Spanish, listened as he answered. And I wrote in my bulletin, deeper in. And then, there’s no going back now. Even as my friend stood in his white alb for the last time, shaking as he answered the questions posed. My friend kneeled then, and was surrounded by clergy who laid hands on him as the choir started to sing, veni, sancte spiritus – come, holy spirit.

And the spirit came.

I suppose I keep leaking tears, keep losing my voice when I speak, continue to lose myself in the memory of John prostrate on the floor where I have stood thousands of times — this is happening because its hard to put into words what happened. But you know me and so you know I will try.

Four pews worth of priests came forward and they surrounded John. John wept. The choir sang, louder and louder as Jose sang the verses, craning to see Nick at the piano as he stood and played and directed all at once. Many dropped out at different points, so overcome by emotion that they (we, I) could not keep singing. I looked out at the people and saw so many tears, so many still faces, so many beloved people truly experiencing something that can’t be explained easily. So many people listening.

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The Rev. John Infante prostrates himself at his ordination to the Sacred Order of Priests. Photo credit St. John’s Episcopal Church

When you call the spirit you should be wary. Because the spirit will come.

My experiences with this have not really varied until today. There is the experience of being chased, tracked down, hunted; finally caught and tackled, of hearing the spirit shout in my face. The experience of a candlelit Kyrie breaking something inside of me. There is a memory of police, of sitting at my dining room table weeping into a cup of tea and talking to my mother. The experience of formation, of education, the laying down of what I thought I was, of who I thought I was made or meant to be. There was leaving the music. And I know that a time will come where I close that choir folder for the last time, hang up my black cassock and my surplice for good as I move deeper into the love of God; deeper in to who I am called to be.

There is a John Donne poem that says, in part, Batter my heart, three person’d God…Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

But today the spirit whispered, caressed. Today I was brought to tears by vulnerability and tenderness. Today I listened and I heard a different tone of voice, I heard an invitation instead of a command.

Do not mistake me, I still feel like September. I am standing at the sink and washing the same cup for the millionth time and longing for a word, longing for a sign. Wanting to know if there is anybody out there. But I feel as though I’ve put the cup down in the scented soapy water and gone out the door. I feel as though I am standing in the street looking at the lake while the wind whips my hair around in face in a strange golden light – I feel as if any moment a small man dressed in green and riding a leopard may roll up to whisk me away.

I watched Deacon Beth today as she set the table and cleared it too, I watched her send us out into her world to do the work of justice and mercy we are all called to. And I longed to be in her place even as I longed for the still and stale smelling halls of the place I go for school once a month. I longed to prostrate myself next to John, to hold his hand and offer him a tissue even as I longed for the space of a classroom where I continue to be raised up, challenged and formed.

I know that I am not ready yet, but I am coming. Dear God I am coming. Not in a Messiah complex way, but in a September way. A girl missing a shoe and stripped to nothing.

Here I am.

Send me.

 

I love you still.

Even when you batter my heart and test my patience, even when you scoff at my will and my call. I am forgiving you. I will be that good.

 

“Readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.” 

“Of course not. No one is chosen. Not ever. Not in the real world. You chose to climb out of your window and ride on a leopard. You chose to get a witch’s Spoon back, and to make friends with a wyvern. You chose to trade your shadow for a child’s life. You chose not to let the Marquess hurt your friend–you chose to smash her cages! You chose to face your own Death, not to balk at a great sea to cross and no ship to cross it in. And twice now you have chosen not to go home when you might have, if only you abandoned your friends. You are not the chosen one, September. Fairyland did not choose you–you chose yourself. You could have had a lovely holiday in Fairyland and never met the Marquess, never worried yourself with local politics, had a romp with a few brownies and gone home with enough memories for a lifetime’s worth of novels. But you didn’t. You chose. You chose it all. Just like you chose your path on the beach: to lose your heart is not a path for the faint and fainting.” 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

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