Stitches and Stage Craft

Tonight I wrestled with stage curtains that soar to the tops of the arch of the stage, not exactly a proscenium, but a definite top. It’s very high, forbiddingly high when you’re trying to hang a star and using an extension cord like a lasso. I sewed those curtains along with my friend Leslie. We rolled the fabric out in a huge woosh on the floor in the parish hall and we sort of measured it. We cut the fabric and bundled it into our cars. I don’t know where Leslie sewed her side, but I sewed mine in my bedroom, green fabric shot through with gold spread out across my bed, reaching from corner to corner of my not small bedroom.

I can really only sew things for the stage, so lacking in patience am I for the perfect. I am not particular and so crooked hems and ragged sides can be hidden from the front row, and are good enough for me. I love to watch the whirrr whirr of the needle piercing my fabric over and again, to see things that weren’t attached before become one; one large piece of something that is larger than the dream I had, larger than any other piece of cloth I have ever handled.

Tonight the needle whirred some more, but it whirred in the minds and the hearts of our children as they taught us another lesson; as they embodied what welcome for all looks like.

I know the way that I was raised, the things that I believed were true, and many of those things have been proved true again and again in the last several weeks. How home is always a place you can come to, how there is not anything you can do or say to make your family not want you anymore; how we close ranks for and protect our own – how our sins are covered in the soft blankets of home, be they old fleece blankets with teddy bears printed on them, or crocheted afgans that still smell like grandma’s house. No matter how far any of us has traveled the welcome of the prodigal child has been extended over and again. We’re not perfect, this family I belong to, but we do that one thing really well – we love each other.

My mind turns to a discussion on vestments held at a retreat last week, advent purple or blue, of the one priest whose mother found out he was discerning a call to the priest hood and immediately set to work making liturgical colored chausables and stoles. She sewed those things for him as she had stitched into the very fabric of his soul what sacramental love looks like.

What if our children are like fabric, and the needle that is their understanding of who they are and of their place in this world pierces them over and over again? What  if they, and the legacy we leave with them can be viewed like the largest piece of cloth we ever handled, like something that so exceeded the dream we had?

I toed a line in the pageant that I wrote, constantly erring on the side of safe, but really feeling a need to proclaim a message that maybe would be received from the mouths of our children rather than in screaming out in print in an opinion column in the newspaper. Maybe it would seem more believable to us if our children believed first, if they brought home tolerance like they bring home endless reams of paper littered with vocabulary words and math problems; like they bring home flu and lice, things that are insidious, things that somehow get inside of us and that we can’t seem to get rid of.

Some said, as we built the seeds of a Latino community at St. John’s, that they couldn’t make room for those people. And tonight all of the children donned costumes, they said lines they’ve learned and they moved on and off the stage; they high fived each other after and talked excitedly of a skating party a youth leader is planning. Our kids never said there wasn’t room, they never said they didn’t want to listen to someone worship God in another language, they never required that someone address them only in English. Instead they tried to understand the language spoken, and usually succeeded, because it was almost always a language of love. Anyone can understand what a kiss on both cheeks means, the way a face lights up as you come into a room.

Our kids are showing us, in the midst of all of our botched sewing, what it is to be welcoming. They are showing us what it is to live graciously, only with a desire to serve and to love, a desire to be loved. And so we often tell them to be quiet,  we decide that their message can’t possibly be worth hearing.

I’ve told you before about our grandma, how she seems to have gone backward. Sharp childhood and adolescent hurts are what she will talk about, her husband is now her dad, but she remembers nursery songs and will sing along gladly. Another grandma played with dolls and suddenly abandoned her cane and walker – and another woman I know has begun to suffer something called sundowners. As the light leaves the sky and the shadows grow she becomes afraid – because I think we arch backward toward childhood, because maybe reality becomes thin again as it was when we were children.

Maybe what happens is that we talk ourselves out of those thin spaces, we discipline our minds to not see what is there so that we will not be overwhelmed and afraid – maybe what happens is that we talk ourselves out of our initial love for people, especially the ones who squatted down and smiled at us, even the ones who didn’t look like us or speak our language. Maybe what we forget is that we belong to each other, so gunked up and screwed over do we become as adults.

I’d like to tell you that the season of advent is a time to un-gunk. It is a time to clean and to polish all of the things in ourselves that are good and welcoming and childlike, it is a time to allow ourselves, inside the daily and oppressive and heartbreaking misery of our world, to hope. A time to light candles against the gathering night and to see in the flicker of that flame a hope mirrored back in our own souls.

We are not Americans before we are anything else, because frankly, America hasn’t been around as long as the flesh from which you were descended, not long enough to wipe out the code of your DNA. We are people first and the whirring of our sewing machines as we sew into our children what life is and what love looks like, that noise reached tonight a level that is terrifying and so loud.

What are we sewing? Are we sewing selfless love, servant-hood, respect for dignity?

Or are we sewing cheap threads that don’t build self worth or love for other because they are based in our own need to have enough, to finally feel like we are enough, like we’ve made it somewhere and now aren’t going to let any of that go? Are we really sewing an US first mentality? Sewing only things that matter when viewed from a distance, but not are not real? What are we afraid of if we aren’t first?

Can we come at this thing with the same idea of abundance that makes us chide toddlers to share their toys?

The tree glows with bulbs that are colored and old fashioned and actually become hot to the touch, and the advent candles are lit, small and defiant lights arranged in a circle against the night. We are camped on the hill outside the promised land, and so divided suddenly over who can come in, over who is worthy of life and liberty and happiness.

I sang to my people tonight, just one verse and a short one, with a voice that shook because I was so scared. I sang that love is our token, love for God and all man, love for plea and gift and sign. I wanted to end on that dramaculous note, I wanted those who came to see their costumed children in a short pageant also to hear that I backed those kids up; and Luis too, that the message was real; we are one family, all are welcome here.

I will leave you here, in the gymnasium of your youth, under a huge rainbow colored parachute that you stretched way out, and then lifted high, and then ran under, shrieking and laughing as it descended upon you. Did you leave anyone out then?

Then why would you do it now?

I love you still.

And thank you to my last minute cookie bakers, fudge bringers, voice overs and singers. You are loved too.

 

 Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessings on the Road – The Red Tent, Again

I am not much of a doomsday-prepper. I’d like to be, I watch shows like the Walking Dead and am able to picture myself in a similar situation, in a place where nothing looked the way it did yesterday. I am able to prioritize and to plan, but I’m disorganized in that way, I can hardly keep milk in the fridge,  much less hoard empty milk jugs of water in my basement. I am not a great planner.

I see glimpses though, probably you do too, be they via media, or be they real life, signs and whispers on the breeze that speak of change, imminent change. I can prepare myself, prepare my heart, plan just a little, in that gray space where I am in my comfortable bed and the coffee pot is ready for the alarm to ring – I can plan for a minute – because that is usually about all I can take.

Tonight the tent fell again. I felt it start to shake itself free, the hair on the back of my neck, those curls that won’t be contained under a baseball cap, they shivered in the breeze. I felt at home again, not doing a job, not showing up. I was immersed in this business of grilled cheese and tomato soup, laughing with other women and with my own daughters, this work that is (for all the feminist in me fights against it) women’s work. The magical thing that happens when kindred female souls gather in a kitchen and prepare food happened, and its something that I hadn’t realized I’d even missed.

I realized tonight, with folks from another church background and one who didn’t say what her background was, with a woman who came to visit family from Chicago and heard about our kitchen and wanted to help; who brought hand knitted mittens as gifts – I realized that this is what the church is.

Church is a 12 year old who finishes the last load of dishes five minutes before the kitchen closes. It is a man who says, we thought about doing this at our church, and we thought, why not help at St. John’s since they are already set up? A man who said, you can count on us to volunteer. Church is the way the lights in the nave light only the altar and the woman there who sets the table, changing the linens to Advent colors, under the watchful eye of her husband – standing guard in a dark church as the hands of his wife handle these precious things, readying this space for the meal we will all share in just a few days.

Church is an 8 year old who says, give me a job. And then doesn’t want the job she is offered. (Because we adults do that too, don’t we?)

It seems that we struggle and fight against the exodus of folks we perceive as leaving the church. We make phone calls and set up lunches, we market ourselves and we try to attract new people, new families, when maybe all along the people who are leaving aren’t actually leaving. Maybe they just figured it out before we did.

Hang on here, I will try to make sense of this.

Two summers ago my church went camping. They set up tents and some had campers and some rented small cabins in a campground not far from home. On Sunday, as I was at a retreat for deacon school, they had Eucharist in the campground, and I had Eucharist in a conference room. They set up on a picnic table with simple things, necessary things. They sat in camp chairs around the smoldering remains of campfires and there were dogs on leashes and kids being kids, but they were having church. I left fed from a conference room Eucharist with then strangers in the same way that this extended family of mine left fed, still in their pajamas, packing up their tents and their chairs.

I just am saying that we are the church, we the people, are the church. It isn’t the building.

Make no mistake. I have a deep love affair, you could almost call it a torrid love affair, this feeling that comes over me when I enter an old and lovely church, when I gaze at the altar and the brass candlesticks – – But. There is more than that. Isn’t there more than that?

I’ve a feeling that our world is changing friends, spinning backward along the long arc of history. I’ve a feeling that in not too many more decades our world will not be recognizable to those of us who do church now, in our robes, with our fonts and our candles, like the way the world we live in now was not conceivable to those who lived just a century before.

My message to you then, on this Thanksgiving Eve, is that one constant has never changed and that constant is our humanity.

I imagine over and over the way that Moses felt, on that plain, surrounded by the susurations of his people as they set up camp, tended kids and animals, set up tents and started fires, just outside what was their Promised Land. I imagine the way the wind rippled the surface of the water in the cooking pots, the despair of knowing that he could not come too. Do not misunderstand me, there is despair at the thought of what is to come – but there is hope too, because our humanity is not lost.Our humanity still largely involves women basting turkeys and girls setting tables, the satisfaction of another meal served, of the shining eyes of loved ones around a table.

But I am standing here with you, I am hearing the last reverberation of the organ’s Agnus Dei and I am grieving because I know that I cannot go with you. I can help lead you out, but I will die on this plain, surrounded by your still warm fires, in arms reach of the place I have longed for.

God let it be so.

Our humanity still largely involves the shining eyes of loved ones around a table, be it a picnic table or an altar from the early 1900s or a table shrouded in a pressed white cloth in a conference room somewhere in mid-Michigan.

My message to you is that when bread is broken and shared we are church. Be it communion bread or those icky wafers, maybe God can even come among us in the form of a grilled cheese – cooked by a 12 year old, served with tomato soup. The essential elements of a sacrament are there, and so maybe our historic churches and our traditions matter less in the face of that. Maybe, when we look at who we are called to be we see that nowhere are we required to go to an actual church. Maybe this supposed exodus is yet another sign, another lamp post lighting our way in the darkening world around us.

There are people who care. There are people who see what they are called to, who will respect the dignity of every person with their dying breaths. They are at Standing Rock, they are with you in the pews of your churches, in the kitchens where you serve the hungry, most especially in the hungry who gather, seeking the food that is offered at our communal table.

Letting go is hard, I’m not very good at it myself. I say things I don’t mean, I react with anger and sarcasm as I scramble to clench my fists closed — but the same waters that baptized me dribbles out through my fingers and puddles on the floor. I cannot be contained and refuse to be, apparently.

I read a book last night, (I promise to wrap it up here), it was a play called the Soul of the World. And in the book Simeon is questioned on his prophecy, on being a prophet. He said, My mind is full of mist and broken sound. It is not I who speak.

My own mind is full of mist and broken sound, it truly is not I who speaks.

Un-clench your fist. Open your hands. Realize that you cannot contain this magic any more than I can, that the story of humankind is steeped in sacrificial love. Contemplate what it is you are called to give up, and when your heart shies away, when your mind closes its doors – there!

That is the thing.

We are pilgrims together on this road, and I will not pretend for you that any of this easy. I cannot say that I have the answers.

I love you still.

 

This fire won’t go out, though just a flicker it may be. Shifting through the shadows to a vision we can’t see. Hold fast to one another… we will stand, stranger to brother. 

I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.. and I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful, at midnight, to receive you. 

Pack your things, leave somehow. Blackbird song is over now. 

Epiclesis

We’ve talked quite a lot in class about schisms in the church, things that divided us. We’ve talked about priests who handed over sacred texts, even denied their Christianity before Constantine became the emperor of Rome, and how those priests wanted to come back once it was safe. We’ve talked about how local formation and ordination surely cannot mean that you are only a priest or a deacon within the geographic bounds of one diocese. About the nature of God and the nature of Christ. We’ve used words like epiclesis and been given beautiful stories and ideas.

We’ve been preparing for the enormous task of what it is to lead people out, but also of what it is to lead them in, to turn them together, to will a community to join hands and stand united.

Is a marriage always a marriage? Can it be undone if suddenly the union is deemed illegal? Can souls no longer be co-mingled just because some men in a large room several states away say it is so? I think not. Like being ordained to holy orders, like consecrated bread and wine, like coming out of a river in your white robe, sacraments do not lose their potency.

Take heart, dear ones.

Many of us renewed our baptismal vows on Sunday, the Feast of All Saints. We said that we would respect the dignity of every person, that we would seek and serve Christ in all persons. And I reminded my girls of that today, as they walked into their schools, in a county that turned red on a CNN map as I hung my head in shame. I reminded them to be kind and to be brave, I reminded them that I would protect them, and that they have a duty to speak out when they hear injustice around them; that they have a duty to give mercy.

I think they understand.

I’ve traveled the grief spectrum. I went to bed in disbelief, woke in panic that turned to tears. Raged mightily and stilled my twitchy fingers (for the most part) at the few people I still follow who have posted nasty things today. I am turning the corner toward peace, because I understand that I cannot act if I cannot see because my eyes are filled with tears. I understand that when I am panicked and angry that I am not making good choices. I understand how important words are, how important actions are, in the days ahead.

The right of women to vote was not won overnight, it took more than two decades, countless imprisonments and beatings, the loss of families, homes and children, sometimes the loss of life for women to be given the right to vote. In America, African American citizens would wait another 40 years to be given the same right. Do not believe that I mean that women waited over those decades, that no one stood up, that no one marched for the black vote.

There is work for us to do. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters need our support, our Muslim neighbors need us to stand with them, Black Lives DO matter, and people fleeing war and persecution still must find America to be a safe haven, a refuge.

I am scared too. I am not sure where to begin. But begin I must.

I will start at noon today. I will go to something that makes me uncomfortable and I will sit in solidarity with my community, knowing that not everyone sees the world the way that I do. I will sit at the table that isn’t a table, watch as bread and wine take on mystical qualities, feed myself and shore up my strength.

A prophet can’t see the future, is a non-magical, muggle being. But what a prophet can see is the way a flicker of light shines through the keyhole of our closed doors and through the broken masonry of our walls. A prophet calls us to see the world in a different way, to see all that is possible when it appears that there is nothing left, a prophet will tell us that we can pick up the pieces.

There are no easy answers, there are no false platitudes over here. I understand that when something new is coming it is painful.

I understand that the same God who banished the Israelites, who rained fire on Sodom and Gommorah, who sent a flood to destroy the world – that same God dropped manna from the heavens, the same spirit took the being of a wall of fire, holding back the opposing army as the people ran through the night in terror toward a sea that parted. That same spirit sent a dove with a branch in its mouth. God never leaves us.

There is a plan here, and I don’t know what it is, I can’t see it for you yet. But a battle we’ve read all about is coming, it is a Harry Potter battle, the kind where a mother’s love can protect you, a Lord of the Rings battle, where we will be besieged and still saved. It is a battle that will REQUIRE sacrificial love, the kind that drives out death, the kind that casts aside fear, the kind that rose again after three days in a tomb having vanquished Hell.

The earth is groaning, the rubble is shifting, the pace has been picked up. The call to reconcile and to work justice is louder than the horns that brought down the Wall of Jericho. A dispersed nation will be made one again, but nothing worth doing is easy or painless or without cost. There will be a cost, because the most powerful kind of love, the sacrificial kind, is, at it’s core self giving. The most powerful kind offered absolution to a thief and rended the temple veil – all the same time.

God never leaves us, even as the heavens open and the world fills with water, even as fire rains down and presses us on from behind.

The sea will part.

We will walk across the sand, littered with sea creatures, and will set up camp on the other side. A camp without walls, a camp that lives in abundance, in the absolute knowing that there is ENOUGH.

The epiclesis isn’t only the calling of the Holy Spirit upon bread and wine. It is also calling the spirit down upon us, which seems like a scary thing to do, with us not ever knowing just how that spirit will show up. But we are brave and can do hard things, we can call for help as Lucy called for Aslan on a boat traveling the sea in Narnia – and we will hear him whisper back – Courage, Dear Heart.

Be strong.

Be of good faith.

Have courage, dear ones, chins up, eyes ahead, hands out.

Please don’t be afraid.

 


This fire won’t go out though just a flicker it may be
Shifting through the shadows to a vision we can’t see
Hold fast to one another, we will stand stranger to brother

We are one, We carry on

This burden weighs so heavily
When our demons we must carry
Clinging to this fleeting breath
Dying for a fighting chance

We are one, We carry on

 

 

 

 

Uncollecting II – Luggage

I’ve been reading a book for school. Ha. That is sort of an understatement. I have a book that encompasses something like 3,000 years of history, and I also have a book about being a pilgrim, those are the two that are most important. I love how the church history book comes from this person who was so disillusioned with the church when the book was written, I love how he’s come back, according to an English family member anyway. Diarmaid MacCulloch is funny and he is irreverent in just the right places, he is interesting.

And then there is the pilgrim book. Our presiding deacon at school, the one who encourages us to be nothing less than “kick ass”, who is letting us handle the precious communion items as we learn, clumsily at times, how to set and clear the table – for you, dear people of God – she tells us that when something pokes or pricks us we should look to understand why. She tells us we should feel the pang and then figure out why it exists, I think that she thinks that this is when the spirit moves. In these small pokes, the strange goosebumps, the slow fizz of irritation, the tears that come from nowhere, and she encourages us to look deeper into what is being said.

We’ve been working with Midrash, which is where you take a reading and you imagine what else. Our book describes it as the words being black, and then filling in the space between the words, the things that weren’t recorded, the people whose voices were not heard. It is a way of making sacred texts come alive, which they are supposed to do, right? I don’t think anymore that the bible is a dusty collection that I don’t understand or have interest in, and Midrash is a part of that, helping me to really live inside the stories.

Adam and Eve and their exit from the garden, did they struggle in a hurried way to gather up the few things they had collected? A pretty leaf he had given her, some fruit or roughly made dishes? Did they cry? Did they stand outside the gates and see the flaming swords that guarded the tree?

Abraham and Sarah. Period. Seriously.

Because they were truly called to be pilgrims, truly called to lay down an entire way of life and to bid farewell to, well, everyone. Added to that the strange words that God told them to. What was that like? How did the message come? Was it a telegram, a song, a breeze or birdsong? Did they hear it at the same time? How did they tell each other if not? What was that last night like, inside their tent, deciding what to bring, dreading the morning light?

I know about last nights, I know about last dinners as we all gather, knowing that tomorrow brings the long flight home, the interminable distance between us. That tomorrow brings separation and tears. And yet I have not had the privilege of standing at a bedside or on the pier and waving off a steamer, knowing that this was really the very last time. I have not yet known that exquisite and liminal space between what is and what is to come, I have not watched someone leave this life, cross the threshold into whatever it is that comes next. I hope to.

The other day I heard a story about hospice on NPR and was struck as the woman spoke about the people who are in hospice, the people standing on the threshold, in the open door. She said that they are mostly not afraid, she said they are curious, that they are ready. She said that we are afraid because we are young, because death is so final, because we are holding on, fists clenched upon the skirts of this life, along for the ride.

I wonder what it is that we hold so tightly. I wonder what would happen if we let it go, the things we are supposed to keep, inheritances and bequests, the things that we believe about ourselves and about other people. I wonder what it would look like if we took all of the things we think and put them in leather suitcases, if we piled that baggage with all of the tangible things that we carry and cart around. I wonder how that would pile up next to the moving truck in the driveway.

I wonder how we could carry it all.

I remember leaving our home up north, how the truck filled so quickly, the car too; how my in-laws had our children in their vehicle to free up more space. I remember the things that were left, the things we didn’t have room for, the things I had to let go of with no warning, in that moment; I could give you an itemized list, a rendering.  I remember watching the garage door close that last time on those things, knowing I was surrendering them, that they couldn’t be mine anymore. It was almost a tax, and I remember sobbing as my cat cried in a carrier next to me, as I drove that huge truck out of our neighborhood for the last time. I remember thinking, please, please let this be all. Please let me keep the rest.

And of course I could not.

Of course I would have to leave more luggage, more suitcases in more halls, more photos, more art, more people and relationships, more of what I thought was MYSELF.

What I am learning though is that who I am is not tied to these things. Sure, the bench in my living room lived in the living room of my grandmother before me, the blankets on my children’s beds were made  by my mother, soaked with tears steeped in English tea as she sat on a couch in a house thousands of miles away and longed for my little girls. But if I had to leave tomorrow I am understanding that it would be ok. I am understanding that I am more than the things that belong to me, paltry and simple though they are.

I am understanding that what is inside of me is a bright and sharp shard of glass. It reflects the light back in a thousand small rainbows, it is cracked and broken.

I am learning that what I want doesn’t matter, that my will must be surrendered. I can see, sacrilegious though it may be, a cross on a hill in the darkening evening, and nailed to it are all of the things that I thought that I needed, all of the things that I thought that I was. There are bed frames and dressers, there are wedding dresses and baby clothes, there are blankets and stuffed animals, and they are piled at the base of that cross, because I am leaving them there. Photos flutter in the breeze, tacked to the wood, ribbons fly outward like pennants, there are clothes and there are books piled precariously.

Someday I will have a vade mecum, a go with me. It will be a place that is my own, a place where the things that nurture my soul, that egg me on toward bright and burning stained glass glory light live. I think it is ok to long for my own house, a place with wood floors and ghosts and quirky plumbing, a place I can fill with cats and laughter and people. Someday I will stop uncollecting, some strange sign will come and I will know that I can collect again, but different sorts of things, abundant things, life giving things.

I think the vade mecum, the go with me, will become important to us all. I think the church as we know it is falling away, our buildings crumbling and our memberships dwindling.

I think the church, the people who are the hands and feet of Christ, I think we will have to readjust, and I think it will be painful, because when something new is born pain is just part of the process.

And I think that I am standing at the base of the hill, the one with the rough cross on it. I am watching the things that I thought were mine, the things that I thought defined me flutter in the dusk. I can hear the frogs in the woods and the crickets warming up for their evening concerto. I can see your campfires and your tents, and I know that we are but Israelites. We are camped on the plain outside the promised land, and our cooking fires are hot and people, my people,  are laughing back the dark.

My sister with her raised, defiant chin and gentle hands, my brother with the swishing skirt of his cassock. My mother and her crochet needles, my father too.

I think that I can walk away, that I can unclench my fists, that I can rest very secure in the calling that I have to do your dishes and set your table, to stand in the door of our historic church and sing out to you that the building isn’t what matters. I think I can let this thing unfold in the way that it is supposed to, that I can finally get out of the way.

I want you to know that I am getting out of the way.

I want you to know that I am trusting the Spirit to move, that I am hoping that what I am doing is right as I drive yet another nail into the cross that bears the things I thought I was, maybe the cross, the piece of wood, that bears the things that you thought I should be.

I want you to know that I am doing what is right, and that you don’t need to be afraid for me. I want you to trust me. I want you to love me but I understand that that is another colorful streamer that doesn’t really matter.

I am uncollecting.

I am starting the truck, the one that charges mileage and isn’t such a great deal after all, and I am driving away from the things that I thought I needed, all of things that I thought I was. The leather on the suitcases glistens in the light that shone through all the trees in that yard, it dapples the leather and I am crying.

But.

I am letting go. I will try to show you how.

I will try to show you that the freedom that exists in this is so much more than the things that are tied to us, with little lead weights. So much more than being chained to who we were told we should be and what we thought we should do.

I am going to complete my pledge. I am going to try to give 5% next year. I am going to trust that, however much I need my money, you need it more.  I am going to believe that my oil and my grain will sustain my family, in providence.

I want you to see that there is more than what you know, that the words on the page don’t tell the story in its entirety. I want you to imagine the space between those words.

Please.

I will try to show you how this surrender hurts so much, but is the only thing that there is as we move closer into the bright light of who we can be, of who we are called to be, who we promised we would be.

It isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be, because nothing worthwhile is.

I love you still.

And vows are vows.

Are vows.

And I meant what I said.

And I will mean it again. Even if I have to wait.

Baby I’ve been here before, I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor. I used to live alone before I knew you. And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch, but love is not a victory march, its a cold and and its a broken hallelujah. 

(seriously get past the first minute, she has a lovely voice.. the baffled king, composing hallelujah).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His Last Name – Uncollecting

So, a funny little tidbit from Deacon School: We talked about Jesus, and how Christ is apparently a title…. like one should say Christ Jesus as opposed to Jesus Christ. I said, apparently out loud, that I thought Christ was his last name…. cue the laugh track.

Seriously though! Who thinks about things like this?

A new friend brought me a beautiful gift, probably she doesn’t even know it, so neurotic am I, but she gave me a word. I saw it printed in old type on a faded and yellowed piece of paper – uncollecting.

And giving up things like Christ not being the last name of Jesus is sort of like uncollecting – this letting go of how I thought the story should end, of how I believed the world was made and maintained and created. Uncollecting.

It’s been rather shocking to me lately, how people are “coming out” re their political views. Trump signs are popping up and people are posting Idareyoutodisagreewithme declarations on Facebook. Maybe they think that in these last few weeks that one yard sign will make all the difference, that one post turn someone’s heart. I rather doubt it and am rather finished with Facebook debates that descend quickly into the lies we’ve built and believed and retold to divide each other into easily dismissable factions.

I think what we so often don’t see is that an issue like abortion isn’t black and white, many folks would have us believe that, sure – but what we don’t seem to address are the tens of thousands of children in foster homes, the kids living in poverty and despair. We don’t see what goes into making a decision like that. I think it’s rather easy to form an opinion on something you have never experienced. I am trying to uncollect my immediate reaction to someone who tags me as pro abortion, when in fact I am not.

The situation that we are in requires that we all begin to uncollect, and then recollect, trolling up and down the beaches for the bright shards of our shared humanity. We need to uncollect party rhetoric, need to uncollect name calling and fear mongering, uncollect our Nationalist view points, that somehow we are the only ones who matter, our needs are paramount in the face of the gaping yaw of the entire HUMAN RACE. We are seriously really upset about a man who wouldn’t stand for the national anthem? Tell me the last time you stood in your living room, the last time you heard those opening notes and leaped to your feet and removed your hat and placed your hand over heart — right. You can’t. Because we don’t do that. Our Nationalism is only for public display.

Jesus teaches that what we do in private is more important than prayers screamed from street corners, more important than that ever pointed bowing of the head before a meal in a crowded restaurant.

I don’t really like parables. Jesus doesn’t do a good job, for me, of speaking clearly when he talks such nonsense. I like straightforward, then I can agree or argue – but when I am handed, on the one plate, an exhortation to pray in private and not like a pharisee, and on the other hand to let my light shine — I don’t know what to do with that. Anyway. I digress.

I want to uncollect.

I want to let go of the need to control and to hang onto. I want to take the cover off the baby seat downstairs and give it to a woman I know who may need it. I want to hear the birds on that seat chirp for the last time and to hand it off to her. I want to uncollect my desire to be right. I want to uncollect my desire to have everything go just the way that I hoped it would, while I sit with the wind ruffling my hair mooning about being some hippie rebellion inciter.

Because I am really a small and lost person.

I am really a mom who is frustrated most of the time.

I am really a wife who doesn’t know what to do with marriage.

I am really a friend who is, at best, sort of available, mostly because my children are more demanding than I ever dreamed they would be.

These are my failings.

And we tell the truth here.

I may have grand dreams of uncollecting, but what they really come down to is a rather recent desire to decant, to pour off, because I am too full. A desire to let go. A desire to stop holding on so tight because my hands hurt with the clenching and I am thirsty.

I preached the last weekend we were together, I preached out light and about chaos. I preached about the chain that lies broken at the feet of the Statue of Liberty. I think it went ok. I think I can get better with practice, that my knees maybe won’t shake so much.

So, even though I am a pretender to the throne here, even though I am not really a dissenter, not really a disturber of the peace, I must acknowledge that part of myself. I must see that there is a part of me that is brave, but that I shutter her light, that I hold her back and down, that I put my hand over her mouth.

Tonight I met a man who made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Tonight I learned that if a shooter enters my church I should probably run.

Tonight I relived my five year old coming home from kindergarten and telling me proudly how she did not cry when 30 students crowded into a bathroom and her friend cried during an intruder drill — how I saw that same false bravery, that same wish to uncollect what other people expect me to be reflected in her eyes.

Every Sunday I watch the altar set for communion, and then I watch as the “dishes are done”. I watch intently, only recently being offered the opportunity to touch these things myself, to learn how these things are done. I wish to uncollect the desire to do your communion dishes and find I cannot. I wish to uncollect a call to be ordained to the sacred order of deacons and find that I am unable.

How nice to be just me again, overstretched, unchurched, sleeping in on Sundays me. How perfectly lovely to let this go.

And yet, I cannot.

I cannot because the message of the gospels to RECONCILE is clear.

I cannot because the call to lay it all down, to UNCOLLECT,  is there.

I cannot because if I, simpering in my blogposting sphere, calling for rebellion and overturning and the breaking of chains — if I will NOT… Who will answer the call? If this one completely unprepared person will not stand up and refuse to be quiet – –

I cannot because my uncollecting cannot lead to continued disdain and deliberate misunderstanding that keeps you comfortable. Because I feel, silly though it may seem, that a battle is coming and that leaders are needed. Unfortunately I am rather good at bossing people, at seeing their strengths and sending them that way.

I asked, in tears, a few weeks ago – what else must I lose?

I fear that the answer may be everything. I fear that I may have to lay it all down — and then I realize that we all are called to do so, its just that I am here to remind you – your own Jiminy Cricket.

So as I uncollect, I will have to jettison my ideas, my thoughts, my wishes and my will. I will have to lay on my face and swear obedience to fight in this fight. I will have to pick up a new will, and, someday, a new and shining sword, a lance, anything that can be stuck upright in the air as I shout, to me, TO ME — and into battle we will go. Don’t be afraid. I am a champion uncollector, a sort of truth teller, a martyr in most relationships and not very present in the rest — but I see what is stake and will fight for reconciliation, justice, the dignity of every person.

I suppose I am not to be underestimated.

I am larger, better than I thought, 

I did not know I held so much goodness.

 

 

I love you still, even if you aren’t ready to uncollect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Contents of My Heart

I have a bookshelf, the bookshelf lives in a small hallway in my home and on it reside a church mouse from York, several books, a large bowl shaped rock found years ago, photos and candles, and a feathered black crow. The crow is tippy, prone to falling on the floor, he is vacuumed in the several times weekly rotation, and he has a spot on the second shelf, next to a snowflake crocheted by my friend Kelly, and a stack of books on church architecture. The shelf came from the basement of my church when it was cleaned out, it has lovely carved edges and it sits in the hallway of a home built in 1901.

I love old things.

And I love the crow.

I’m not sure why. He’s a dollar store crow, a silly thing thrown in the cart on a trip around Halloween, a decoration who was never put away. I notice crows, I say the rhyme to myself, one for sorrow, two for joy….my crow guards my most treasured things.

My wedding veil hangs in my closet, in an unofficial and temporary spot, trying to avoid the sharp claws of a big barn cat who insists on sleeping on the top stair (yes, there are stairs to nowhere in my closet), who knocks things down and steps on them.

And a dear friend has announced his retirement, and I am left gasping, a fish out of water, suddenly feeling late to a party I was probably never invited to in the first place, one where I sort of showed up and was invited in, where I found myself at home, against all odds.

This friend and I sat on the bench of his new piano and he sang and we sang, and I admired the sheen and deep glow of finish, and last Sunday we honored him with a standing ovation with nary a dry eye in the room.

In the basement a swing and a bouncy seat wait, shrouded and sealed to keep out the damp. In the hall closet hangs my wedding gown, hem still dirty from the night I walked in bare feet down the aisle grasping the hand of my husband as my dear, retiring, friend played the organ and my brother smiled through his tears.

My heart is full of these things. Full of moments and crows and rhymes, hymns and hours and words.

As I’ve spent these years unpacking and repacking my drawer of things, sewing my patchwork cloak, not the robe I thought I would receive when I was confirmed, new and white and starched – but the comforting cloak, I realize that I am still not there. I still have not unpacked it all, still have not examined it all. Some things sit in the drawer and they wait for my bumbling inspection, to see if they will be put back or discarded.

My mom talks about writing time on her heart. And if I could write time on my heart I could not stop there, I would be covered in fine gold henna paint, every inch of my body, with words and symbols, music notes and Hebrew characters. I walk around with these shining things on my skin, irrefutable parts of who I am, the map of my journey toward home.

I come and I bring chaos and I bring a swirling mess of little girls and not little girls, of marriage and addiction, of old houses and all their problems, of dogs who forget where they live and whichever particular thing has pricked my heart on that day. I bring my apron and my small hands.

I know that this doesn’t make sense. I know that it seems to be written in code.

My heart is full of Old Testament scripture, full of New Testament translation, full of apologists and the difference between them and Rome. Full with a cappella singing and teaching Eucharists, full of singing Bohemian Rhapsody and the Midnight Club, full of friends and ministers and people who understand what it is to have God chase you down and shout in your face that you must serve his church, that you must leave everything, lay it all down, and walk this road. Full with the people who do not understand what it means to be called in that way.

On my way home from choir last night I saw a man who comes to the soup kitchen and who an article was written about recently in the parish page. He is one of the only people who  I think are actually homeless who come for a meal. He was sitting on a bench on a rather idyllic street, in the dark, with one hand on his bike, just staring into space. And I wondered what was in his heart, what he was thinking about, who he was wishing for, where it went the way that it did, where he picked up the path that lead to that bench, on that cold night, sitting alone and without a place to go.

My heart is full of the people who don’t have enough, and while it is one thing to feed and house and clothe them, it is quite another to find out why they need to be fed and clothed and housed.

My heart is full of questions that focus on why people are left out, full of an urge to be a real life mockingjay, to fight back against a system that oppresses and holds down those most vulnerable.

My heart is not afraid. I have upended it for you here over and over again, shown you who I am, what I am made of, what I am about, and what I believe. I have dumped out my drawer for your inspection, offered my cloak for your critique.

My heart is with Freddie Gray and Terrence Crutcher, with the little girl in the backseat of a car who watched a police officer shoot the man in the front seat and her mother kneel on the pavement in handcuffs as she sobbed.

My job is not to sit down and shut up, my job is not to play the game, not to take the easy way, not to go with the tide. My heart is called to something else.

My heart is the heart of deacon. Tied to the mast amid ship, holding the ends together, the world that would disregard the good news of Christ as so much more religion than they can handle, the church that would prefer to write a check but not to get hands dirty as the waters of this world swirl and roil around us.

Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free… 

The contents of my heart are varied and battered and shiny. There is Kaia in her crib yelling my name, AWESHA. There is Ave saying words like particular and edit and especially. There is an old and confused dog, once a puppy chewing a first edition Alice in Wonderland, and the man who taught him to regard his own noble dog heart, a man I promised I would stand by. There are vows, holy vows, that order me to respect the dignity of every person. More vows that I would take, obedience and service, justice, upheaval, rebellion and insurgence.

I love you.

If you made it this far I congratulate you. I hope to see you soon, hope to wrap my arms around you (fair warning given) and to eat that Friday night lasagna, hope to form myself into a person who is able to incite change, who is able to birth justice.

I am heavy with it now.

The Big Dipper is in position, the message has come, the English Contingency has arrived and we will do family in all of the messy ways that family happens.

I will set aside these things for now, close the drawer for closer examination another day. Enjoy the time that is allotted.

But I am telling you that I will not stop.

We will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord. We walk behind the plowshare, we will put away the sword. The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward. 

 

These things are true. I promise you.

 

 

 

 

 

121

121.

We have just finished the 121st and final episode of Glee. And before you roll your eyes and dismiss what I have to say, read a little bit more.

This was more than a TV show. This was 121 hours of shared entertainment with my girls. This was way up and way down as we’ve walked this really, really hard road of our shared existence, of our Hager Girl Tribe. This was lessons about how we love everyone, welcome to all, on TV before I even knew it existed. This was losing Finn (Cory Monteith) after he’d already died and the way that seeing his face again in future episodes made us all gasp and say, that was him! Did you see him? That was Finn!

This was learning that the bravest thing anyone can do in this world is sing. In the face of what we have done and still do to each other, to bring music to those moments is breathtaking.

And I’m dusting off my old machine. I remember a typewriter my grandma used to have, lifting the vinyl cover off in the back bedroom with the brass bed and sitting down, rolling a sheet of scrap paper into the machine and attempting to write, mostly just my name over and over again. Alicia. Alicia. Alicia.

Most days are still that way, its as though the magic is gone, as though my voice has changed and I’m not quite sure what do with it anymore.

I saw my grandma not too long ago, and she still didn’t know who I was. She didn’t know that I sleep on a mattress cradled by her bed, that I show my girls my cousin Kelly’s tooth mark from that time she fell. She didn’t know that the woman with me was my sister, that the kids who, she said (with a laugh), were horsing around, were her great grand children.

But she sang.

She sang a nursery song about ten pretty girls, and one about asking a playmate to come out and play. She nodded along as my sister floored me and sang I come to the garden alone. She looked at us hopefully. She told us how sorry she would be for us to go.

When you visit her next, sing to her, sing with her. See what pieces of her you can bring back. I saw a familiar look in her eye, a familiar smile, I saw pieces of her and I knew that somewhere deep down this capable woman in her housecoats and sensible shoes was still there.

Music brings glorious moments of clarity – ah ha times, where what we’d been looking for occurs to us, where emotions that were so far down we didn’t even know we had them, shake themselves loose from the silt and the driftwood and come floating upward vulnerable and twinkling in the light.

Music helps us to cope, to deal, speaks the emotions that we cannot name, the sorrow that we cannot put to words.

It is such a powerful weapon.

I love to inject it into my children. I love to sing in the kitchen, because the acoustics are good there, sometimes loud and rough, sometimes soft and sweet, always with a message.

Glee brought me back to old dreams.

We talked about those dreams, the ones that we’d buried in the woods a long time ago. We talked about how we thought we were alone, how only our things (ourselves) were in those graves. We talked about how the dying light casts shadows on the fur trees, how the whole wood is littered with decorated graves. Sequins and flowers, glitter and footballs, baby booties and wedding rings. We are not alone.

The dirt on one of my old graves shifted some, it trickled down, disturbed from within. That girl who was not afraid to sing in front of anyone, her eyelids fluttered. That girl who dreamed of living a BIG LIFE, she gasped for breath and LIVED.

It isn’t just a campy tv show, it is a reminder that dreams can be lived. It is a reminder that relationships can end while love does not, even when hurt and pain still exist. But the miracle lives on, we see the pain and we still choose to sing, and realize as the voices join ours that we are singing the same songs.

We learned that Glee (singing) is about opening yourself to joy.

We learned that love is love (is love is love).

We learned that being who we are is what is most important.

We learned that we can really be who we dream we are.

The sky is hot tonight, the air smells like fish and like wonder and like warning,  because its going to rain. The whole world (or at least the quivering Rose of Sharon and luminescent green of the grass in my yard) seems to be waiting; holding a collective breath, ready to begin the song on a perfect middle C.

The lake is still and reflects back the moody clouds. I don’t think I’ll get to see the shooting stars of the Perseid shower, the clouds will be in the way, as they so often have this summer, when I have strained to see anything outside of my own sorrow.

The difference now is that I know the stars are there, flaming brightly through the night, even if I can’t see them. I believe that now I am one of them, all of these pieces of me falling through the night to land in a pond in a  starlit wood, where a girl who looks rather like me will sieve them out and paste them together again.

Hope will never be silent.

And now I have hope. And I have music. And I have dreams of the best versions of myself. Of how to be that woman for my children, not the tired and defeated mother, but the passionate and crazy mother – I feel like just maybe I can be her more often. Like a return to myself, only more.

I love you.

I hope you get to see the sun set. I hope you turn on the radio or find your favorite song. I hope you sing for all you’re worth and know how important your voice is. I was not made for silence, but I will do my best to harmonize with you.

I’ve made it. I don’t know to what. But I feel like I am arriving at an oasis. I feel like I might be ok.

I’ll sit a spell, pitch my tent and help out with dinner and child minding. I’m no good at fire building (preferring to throw pizza boxes on does not, in fact, help). But when the last light fades, when we look at each other around this blazing light in the center of our circle and we choose to see the fatigue and the pain, the sadness and the dried up tears… maybe someone will start to sing. And if I know the words I’ll sing along.

And we will all be one again. And we will be ok, because that girl who looks like me is guarding the lake tonight, leaning against a tree in the moonlight on a bed of pine needles. She has her metal sieve and she is scooping out and sorting the pieces as they rain down from the night sky, memories and bright snippets of sound.

She will sort us,  will put us back together. Her tears and the dirt on her hands will make the paste, we will be whole again. In probably the most unlikely of ways. And the pieces that she doesn’t catch, the ones that sink to the bottom, maybe we were supposed to let those go.

I am left with an image my sister painted, as only she can, in a fast car surrounded by the music of Moulin Rouge, the soaring tenor, the endless love, even in the face of death. She told me how she’d taken a blanket and laid in the yard to watch shooting stars. How the air was soft and the night was still and bats swooped over her.

I am in the yard with her, wrapped in my blanket, feeling the soft fuzz of wings and hearing the secret language of night creatures as I watch stars fall from the sky.

I love you still.