Month: June 2013

Little Women and Moving

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“Which character do you want to be?” My sisters and I would ask each other after watching Little Women and reenacting the parts of the book for the 100th time. Nobody wanted to be snooty Amy or moody Beth. Well, Beth was ok up until the death scene. Meg was okay too, but she was so prissy and Marmy was cool and wise, but the truth was we all wanted to be Jo.

Jo had ambition and tenacity. She knew how to talk to boys and she was willing to travel on her own to New York City to as Marmy said, “go, embrace her liberty and see what great things come of it.”

“Although I don’t know how I will survive without my Jo.”

This book is more about change and the nostalgia of home than anything else.

Amy says, “we are all going to grow up some day, we might as well know what we want.”

Beth, “Why does everyone want to go away, why can’t things just stay as they are?”

“Go, and embrace your liberty and see what great things come of it.”

As we have prepared our children for moving to a new town, school,and home, I recognize each persona in them and myself.

Our beautiful home, where first steps were walked and the stomach flu ensued. Where reindeer food was sprinkled out on the walk and the home sparkled with Christmas splendor. Where stories were unfolded and my children were safe to grow and learn and run. “Maybe we can take our home with us?” Our middle daughter said.

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We have been upfront and honest with our kids from the beginning about the possibility of moving. They were never kept in the dark. We invited them to imagine moving before they were told they were going to move.

We hug a lot. We remind them that as long as we are together that is all that matters. That our family story stays our story as long as we are a family.

Our wonderful friends. We walk into the library, grocery store, bank and see a friend or know the teller. We are connected to our community and we love our friends. How do we say “goodbye”? We don’t. We say “thank you.” We say “see you soon.” I have lived long enough now to realize that all relationships that matter come back around. That our storylines are like yarn through a tapestry. They may disappear from behind the picture, but they will reveal themselves again. Our relationships make us who we are and we carry the people we love with us. Always.

I hope I am like Marmy and can encourage my children to embrace their liberty. I hope I can send them off to a new school, even a junior high, with all of the belief in the world that they are ready for the next great adventure. I hope I can give them the assurance that they can always, always come home and that home is wherever there is a feeling of love and safety.

Where good books are read and bread is baked and a candle is burning.

Devotion

I Am
I was regretting the past
and fearing the future.
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
My name is I AM.
When you live in the past,
with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I Was.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I Will Be.
When you live in this moment,
it is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM.
Helen Mallicoat

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The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver

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O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.

Source: Thomas Merton, Pax Christi, Benet Press, Erie,

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When Silence is Kept

When silence is kept
because there are no words
or the wrong words
or the words are
too painful to speak.

It’s easier to say nothing. At all.

When my mother got breast cancer,
some called, others offered cards.
Others kept silent.

Was it too scary?
Too close to home?
Easier to avoid?

The cancer exposed our humanity.

When silence is kept,
the soul is

exposed.

It hears the unspoken,
and understands.

The Courage of Goodbye

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Somewhere Over The Rainbow – Video Dailymotion.

I have decided to leave the community I love.  Or I should say, the Spirit is calling me to love a new community.  I have done this before. I have  left communities that I love.  I have driven  out of town after a long day of cleaning out my college apartment after four years of undergrad, two years of masters work and one year of being employed by the university.  Earlier that day, I visited the President’s Office, The Housing office, Food Service, Music Department, English Department, Student Affairs Department. One by one crying on the shoulder of someone whom I loved, saying “goodbye” to a dear person that was a formative person in my life.  As I drove away I thought, “how will I carry on without these people in my daily life?”

I met a friend then who would visit me again from time to time.  My friend’s name was Grief.   She sat too close to me so I could not breathe.  She pressed on my heart so  intensely, I thought it might crack.  She sat too close to me, strangling my hope and stifling my courage to press on.

When I became a pastor,  I was called to the church in which I had served as a seminary intern.  I loved my first church.  Someone once said to me, “there is nothing like your first love. ”  They were right. The sanctuary was this huge stone building with a high pulpit and the most ornate windows. The people who sat in those pews tolerated my first sermons.  They trusted me with their teenagers and they welcomed me into their life stories.   I was mentored by two wonderful pastors who let me think I knew I what I was doing and  who engaged in dialogue on theology, polity, and dogma. I had two children while pastoring that congregation.  My girls were loved and provided for by church members as if they were their own children.  Then, the Spirit came in with Her still, small voice and whispered in my ear, “it’s time to go.”   I felt the call to love a new community.  I felt like a part of me was being amputated. How could I ever leave this place and these people I loved?  What if they die and I don’t get to say goodbye?  What about the spiritual life of the baby I baptized? What about the health of the marriage of the couple I married?  What about my friends? Oh, how I will miss this pulpit! This order of worship! This organ!  Oh my God, I cannot do this!

And she came back, Grief. With her thick, black hair and dark eyes of loss. She sat there. Right on my heart. And every time I was touched, I  bled tears.

I came to a neighborhood church, in a beautiful college town.  I was now a “Head of Staff.” I got to preach every week. I got to moderate session meetings and help cast the vision for the church.  I had our third child upon arriving to this welcoming community.  We came together as a community. The Spirit showed up with her bright, white cape, and she flew around and kissed everyone who walked in the door. The congregation patiently let me find my way and forgave my mistakes and celebrated my victories.  When we had a family crisis, they rallied around me.  We grew together, learned together and grappled with what it means to be Church in the 21st century.  They were incredibly gifted at disagreeing without being disagreeable.  I became completely invested in the life of this lively and growing congregation.  Then the Spirit came over to me,  wrapped her gentle arms around me, and whispered in my ear “it’s time to go.”  Another amputation.  “But I will let them down!  They will be so sad! I can’t hurt them! How can I hurt them? Please God. Please. Give. Me. Courage.”

Grief holds my hand with  her long, bony hands and gives me a squeeze every time  I forget she is there.

Now I begin the process of saying goodbye again.

I also look ahead as the Spirit gleefully dances ahead.  Beckoning me down the road.  “Come”  She says, “You have something to do here! I cannot wait to show you what  I have in store!  You must come and say ‘hello’ to  a whole new group of people with their own faith stories!  All is well! All is well All is well!”

Please God, give me courage.

When I was in high school, our church choir sang a song that has always defined my call:

Down the Road

Going to keep on going down the road/ going to hold my head up high/ going to follow where the path may lead/ til it reaches to the sky/ going to face each joy and sorrow that I meet along the way/ going to travel out my future day by day.

Oh I don’t know what’s ahead of me at the coming of the dawn/but I welcome each tomorrow and I keep on moving on./ With a cup full of promise and my head full of dreams/ I know the sun is shining though the clouds may hide it’s beams.

And I hope that where I travel they will say of me one day/ONE DAY

That I somehow made a difference that I passed this way.

That I passed this way.

That I passed this way.

Amen.

Citizens Arrest – A Tribute to My Dad

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There are many stories I could share about my Dad.  I think he’s the most influential person in my life.

I could tell you about how he used to wear a cowboy hat and play his ukulele  and sing 60’s music on summer nights on our suburban front porch.  Totally mortifying.

I could tell you about how every dinner discussion was about some social issue, in which we were challenged to make an argument, defend it and then argue a different point of view.

I could tell you how manners were a big deal in our house. Where the butter knife, napkin, fork went and more importantly how our behavior at the table mattered.

I could tell you about how we would sit up late and night when a storm was rolling in. We would sit on the porch and watch the lightening and count the beats before the thunder.

I could tell you about he tried in agony to teach me math. How we made a 100 circles of pies to explain fractions, only to find his lip quivering and his pencil breaking.

I could tell you about our time on the tennis court when he would push me to “attack the ball,” ” move my feet.” and “play tough.”

I could tell you that his vernacular of swear words was impressive.

I could tell you how he loved art, nature and music. How he made us watch Nature and Nova and listen to classical music. How he would blare music in the car and jam out to old rock and roll. How he loved the Blues and would try to sing like Pavarotti, when we ate Italian food.

How he watched every sport. Played every game and loved being an athlete.

How he would call all of his old student’s “bud” because he could never remember their name.

How he got this big solo in  church one year and would play it on cassette tape in our car and sing it over and over and over and over again.

“If with all your heart ye truly seek me, ye shall truly find me.

Thus sayeth our God.

Oh, that  knew, where I might find him.

If with all your heart ye truly seek me. Ye shall truly find me.

Thus sayeth our God.”

But the story I want to share is one that has gone down in family lore.  I was a ballet dancer. I took ballet in downtown Bloomington. -It was not the safest part of town.  One night Dad picked me up in our big blue van. It was one of those big Ford caravan things. Anyway, I came down the stairs and my Dad said, “Hurry! Get in the Car!  I just saw someone knock out someone’s headlights with a baseball bat!  He left on foot! Let’s follow him!”

What?

I got in the car. Dad meandered quietly through the streets of Bloomington following this guy as he dodged between people’s houses going block to block. It felt like forever.  Finally the guy ended up at a  Mr. Quick.  Dad went to a pay phone. (No cell phones back then) Called the police, reported the offense and described the bad guy.  We waited until the police came and made a report.

We drove home feeling like Cape Crusaders.

This little experience taught me a lot at the age of 10.  It taught me about responsibility to our neighbors.  How we are accountable through our citizenship to people we don’t even know who are victims of crimes or injustices.  It taught me that often, if not always, being brave and being crazy are never too far apart.  It taught me to do the right thing, even when it feels a little scary and unsettling.

My Dad was a teacher by profession and continues to be a teacher in life.  In honor of Father’s Day and in honor of him here  are the things my Dad taught me that I carry with me today.

1.  You can do anything you put your mind to.

2. “Did you do your best?”

“Yes.”

“Well then that’s all that matters.”

” Did you do your best?”

“No.”

” I didn’t think so.  How did that feel not to do your best?”

“Like crap.”

“Did you learn something?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll do better next time. Now let it go and move on.”

3.  True beauty is natural. Wash it. Part it. Comb it.

4. Be genuine.

5. All people are just people.

6. I am no better than the poorest person on the street.  Treat everyone with equal respect.

7.  All life has value.

8.  Play Hard. Work Hard.

9. Think. Read.  Listen. Explore. Learn.  Experiment. Repeat.

10. Respect Nature.  Look around. Notice the sunlight on the leaf, the way the water bends on the rock, the way the shadow lengthens as the days go longer.

11. Be a good citizen.

12. Challenge Authority. Respect the rules.

13. Own your responsibilities.

14. Death is not scary.  “Were you safe before you were born?”

“yes”

“Then you will be safe in your death.”

15.  The Holy Spirit isn’t something to be understood, it is to be acknowledged.

16.  Listen to good music.

17.  Remember this:  No matter where you go in life. No matter how far apart we are, or what you are doing, or how alone you may feel. You are never alone. I am always your dad. I will always be right her for you.  I  will always love you.  You will always be my Sugar.  Now Go Get ’em.

Happy Father’s Day.

Shattered People, Sermon On Luke 7:11

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Photo by Denise Andrad

This is a portion of my sermon from today, with some commentary at the end….thanks for reading.

The little town of Nain. Have you heard of it?  It’s between Nazareth and Bethlehem. If you blink you will miss it. It’s a remote, little town. Nobody lives there. It’s never mentioned again in the Bible. It’s obscure and insignificant, except for the fact that Luke tells us Jesus passed through it. And on the day he was passing through,  a funeral was taking place.   A young man had died and a funeral procession was occurring on the one road in the town.  There were women wailing and pounding their chests and  there was a woman, his mother, who was beyond despair.  She had recently lost her husband and now faced the death of her son.  These circumstances would be tragic today – imagine losing your spouse and then your child. But in antiquity, the truth is there were two funerals that day, because upon the death of her son she now has no identity.  She could not own property or care for herself.  Without a male relative to latch on to, she would have no social or economic standing.  She is automatically homeless and destitute. She reminds  us  of one of those stories  you hear, maybe it’s your story, about the person who just can’t catch a break. Who seems to have every ailment, every misfortune and you think, how can this person keep going?  She represents one of the stories that causes us to think, I can’t imagine going through that.

This is the woman Jesus meets on the road in the little, insignificant town in Nain. Jesus sees her and he has compassion for  her. He is moved and compelled to act. He goes to the boy, touches the briar and tells him to rise, and the boy comes to life.  Everyone who witnesses this is awestruck and they cannot help but glorify God.

This little story is found only in the Gospel of Luke. It’s obscure and easy to miss, like the town of Nain. It’s one more person who has all the bad luck, who is down and out and completely worn down by life. Yet Jesus comes to this small place and looks upon this bereft person and restores life.

You might take note that the woman never expresses her faith . In fact she never says anything. She never asks him for help. She never expresses her belief that he could heal.  None of this seems to matter to Jesus.  He does not go to her because of her faith, he goes to her to because he simply has compassion.

In “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer,” the poet and essayist Christian Wiman writes about his religious faith, which intensified after he met his future wife and then intensified again when he was afflicted with a rare type of cancer at the age of 39. It’s a wonderful book that explores both the intellectual and the mystical sides of faith.” Wiman makes the comment that  “there must be a shattering experience” in order to “build a vocabulary of faith.”

“Everyone has shattering experiences. It may be falling in love or having a child. It may be the death of someone you love or thwarted ambition. It may be just some tiny crack in consciousness that deepens so slowly over the years that, by the time you notice it, it only takes a spilled drink or missed flight to tear it — and you — wide open. One way to look at this is: no one is spared. Another way: everyone is gifted.

We all have shattering experiences that redefine our existence that put the cracks in us, so the light can shine through.  We may not want to admit how cracked we are. We may not want to confess our suffering or our anxieties, or our anger, but we rest assured while we may hide these cracks under a tough exterior, Jesus sees them.”

“Be Kind,” The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, “for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

In her book, Still, Lauren Winner writes about faith after dealing with a divorce.  She tells a story about a going to church alone one Sunday.  She writes, “there was a time when I hated this, hated being alone in church but those feelings have left and what once felt sorry and painful has come to feel tranquil.   However, it’s unlikely you ever find yourself alone in the last pew; it is more likely that you will find yourself with the halt, the lame and the new mothers.    Just as I thought I would have the whole pew to myself, a woman sidles up to my left and says, something like, is there space here? I scrunch my legs in so that she can squeeze past me, but she doesn’t move, and I come to realize that she want to sit where I’m sitting. She wants the same spot at the end of the pew.  Perhaps she is claustrophobic. Perhaps this is where she sits every week. What choice do I have?  I move over. She looks like she has seen better days. She has a suitcase with her, and she keeps a hat and sunglasses on through the service and she smells like rotten apples and streets. She seems, oddly entirely comfortable. Then, in the middle of the sermon the rotten apple woman begins to tap her right index finger rapidly on her knee.  There is a rhythm to this tapping and makes the whole pew shake. I glare at the woman , hoping she will take a hint and top. Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. Then unaccountably my left hand shoots out and I close my fingers over her hand , squeezing her fingers to stop the tapping, as a mother would still a child. In an instant, I am horrified. I can’t believe I have actually done what I did.  And then, as I am blushing, thinking I want to vaporize, I realize the woman does not seem offended or confounded, or even  surprised, and she has not shrugged off or let go of my hand. In fact she seems to be holding my hand.  We hold hands for the rest of the service.

Winner concludes, “and that is part of what I mean when I say it is life inside this Christian story that has begun to tell me who I really am.”

When Jesus sees this woman and has compassion,  he gives her life. – Not just physical life to the boy, not just financial security to the mother, but life that is restorative in every sense of the word.  She is another person in the Christian story who is claimed for who she truly is – seen by Christ.

This week I was asked to do a funeral for someone who had no faith. They asked me to not mention God, or read scripture, or do anything too churchy. They didn’t want any religious talk. I felt my profession compromised. I imagine this the way it will be in the future. There will be more and more people wanting send off’s with God language in the mix. I decided that the only thing I could was look upon this family with compassion. The only thing I could do was tell them that while this person did not see Christ, Christ always, always, always looked upon him.

If you are struggling with your faith, or wondering what this whole being part of organized religion means, or wondering how your faith life fits into the rest of your life, remember this.  Jesus sees you.  He sees you for who you are in all your brokenness and places of pain. He sees the places where your soul is cracked and places where you are lonely and most vulnerable. He sees you when you feel unnoticed or unheard.  Rest assured it is in those places, where you feel the least noticed,  you are seen.  We all will have times when we are the person from nowhere with nothing and when people shake their heads at us and think, how will they ever survive that?  When we are pretty much a mess, someone will take our hand. Trust and believe that you are seen. Jesus looks upon us with compassion, suffers with us and restores our life.

Trust and believe, you are seen.
Amen

…..After I preached this sermon a woman going through hell came out of the sanctuary. I asked her how she was doing. “Well, I’m sick, my son’s a drunk, I’m a shattered person, but somebody will hold my hand and make it all better…..” Then I went to see a mother whose teenager daughter had ran away from home. Then I visited a woman with a tumor in her brain. Then learned of another parishioner with cancer, and a couple facing divorce….and my heart felt heavy.

Sometimes the words I say, and the faith I believe can feel so small in light of the pain and anguish of daily life.

Sometimes there are no words.

May the light shine through our cracks.

Still: Notes a Midfaith Crisis, by Lauren Winner. Harper Collins: 2012
My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer, by Christian Wineman. New York: 2013