I'm a stickler/scrooge/grump with no sense of childlike wonder/the holiday spirit/the joy of Christ's birth because I'm not plastering my home with blinking lights/incurring mountains of debt at Suburban Mall/wearing antlers to work.
I realized how precious Advent was to me yesterday when someone was literally offended when I didn't think Christmas Village (acres of shops covered in strings of white lights) was marvelous. Well, no. If we're celebrating the birth of a very poor child, resting in a filthy feeding trough, I'm not sure that wasting more than our corner of the world's fair share of energy is a great way to do it. "Well, you just don't understand how beautiful something like that is it a child." I don't. I also don't understand how beautiful a Play Station is, but that's not relevant to my spiritual experiences, either.
When we're being pummelled by commercialism and gaudy self-indulgence on every side, I can't imagine why forfeiting Advent in the church is the best decision to make.
I'm only an intern. I've never dealt with the hostilities that come when a parish isn't getting what it wants. I know that I have a lot to learn, and I know that compromise is precious.
But I think this is the perfect time to embrace the idea that the church is meant to be counter-cultural in many ways, that we need a force holding back culture's pressures.
Wouldn't it be beautiful if we could use Advent as a respite for all the craziness of December? How many people are struggling through this "Season of Joy," trying to conceal lonliness, depression, concern over money and family? Are we helping them by smearing around the jolly? I think it's more helpful to provide a quiet time, a time where we focus on the hope of what can be, of what we believe will be.
This immediate-gratification world lunges straight for Christmas. Can't we please give them the comfort of a season where we watch for hope and peace?
I REALLY AM an extrovert! proclaimed in the same tone as Sally Fields, "You like me! You really like me!
We had the quiet revelry that is Cookie Day on Sunday afternoon. A new girlfriend of mine came over, and our cute baby neighbor Jeremy stopped by for an hour or so. Such a wonderful recharge time for me.
AND THEN I had lunch with a wonderful woman who's just been ordained. We've been trying to get together for a few months now, and it was such a pleasure to spend time with her.
I feel like I'm getting a piece of myself back, being able to enjoy people again.
1) Do you observe Advent in your church? Absolutely. Although, more in my home church than the parish where I'm interning.
2) How about at home? I try to. It's the liturgical season I find myself most aware of.
3) Do you have a favorite Advent text or hymn? I love love love the Annunciation story.
4) Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.) To match one Rev Gal's Shoes!
5) What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen? It's not the funniest, but I've had one since I was little that's cloth, with a little toy mouse that moves through the pockets of each day.
I'm pleased to tell you that this was the first sermon I've given that involved absolutely no panicking. In fact, I even finished it before midnight Saturday-- a miracle indeed.
In the church calendar, today, the last Sunday before Advent, is the celebration of Christ the King. We’re celebrating the Kingdom of God, and adoring Christ, the ruler of all.
When I think of a kingdom, I think of rulers through the ages who have been very different from Jesus. Monarchies have not always been a great system for average people. One person making decisions for an entire nation can easily bring corruption, abuse, and oppression. This morning I’d like to invite you to explore a radically different Kingdom.
One way to learn about a kingdom is to notice which of its citizens are considered important. For that reason, it’s very appropriate that we’re celebrating several baptisms this morning. Evan, Ethan, Mikayla, Natalie, and Summer are all reminders of Jesus’ admonition in the gospels that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. As we promise to guide them in their walks with Christ, it might be a good idea to also look to them as guides. In God’s kingdom these young people are precious. They are not powerful, they are not strong, they are not influential—but they are deeply valued.
In fact, Jesus our King gives honor to some very surprising citizens. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are poor and those who are persecuted. The people with the least power, those who are not heard or valued in earthly nations—these are the people who matter most in God’s Kingdom. Prestige and wealth are not important to God. God doesn’t cherish us because of who we know, or how impressive other people think our job is. God cherishes us because we belong to God.
Even the ways that citizenship affects relationships is different in the Kingdom of God. Citizenship here in this world ties people together, but it also builds walls between us. Most of us observed Thanksgiving last week, a distinctly American holiday. A few weeks before that, I would guess that many of us exercised our right as citizens to vote. These are a couple of opportunities that we have in common, but that set us apart from people in other parts of the world. The passage in the book of Daniel this morning tells us of a kingdom where “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” In Jesus’ kingdom, we will lose the sense of “us” and “them” that earthly nations have, and will find unity in serving one King together. The focus is on including as many as possible, not excluding them.
In our reading from Revelation, we hear Jesus described as a sort of King we’ve never heard of—one who “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom.” This is not a king who binds us to demonstrate his power, but one who liberates us. It’s an astonishing thing to have a loving, generous king who sets his people free, but Jesus is that King for us. Kingdoms are generally not about freedom, but about maintaining control and power. Jesus is different. Jesus rules with absolute power, but also with absolute love.
In the gospel of John, Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king. Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. Instead he says, “My kingdom is not from here.” So where is Jesus’ kingdom? All through the gospels, the apostles were saying, “The Kingdom of God is near, the kingdom of God is at hand.” Where is it? The kingdom of God is ahead of us in heaven, but it’s also among us now. Wherever God is working in and among us, we’re seeing pieces of Jesus’ Kingdom. Where there is kindness towards those in need, the kingdom of heaven is present. When we strive to treat every person as our equal, as our brother or sister, we’re seeing a little part of the Kingdom of God. When we are forgiven, cared for, loved even when we feel unlovable, we’ve been blessed with a portion of Jesus’ Kingdom.
Each week during the Lord’s Prayer we ask that God’s kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven. We are all a part of God’s kingdom, cherished by Christ our King, and instructed by God to make the kingdom more visible to those around us. This week, I’d like to encourage you to look for the Kingdom in your lives. How are you being shown God’s grace? Where are you finding opportunities to extend God’s grace to others? As we renew our Baptismal Covenant today, we’re committing to extending the Kingdom of God. Watch for the Kingdom this week, and celebrate with joy the glimpses that you find of our King.
This past Saturday's Contemporary Service meditation went so much better than the last one. I let go of the control this time, thought about the passage and not the congregation, and I had a lot of piece. I really believe that my sermons (or the more informal meditations) aren't mine. When I try to control them, they're awful. It feels like a gift. It also feels like I'm more of a tool (ok, when you're done sniggering, come back) than I am a creator. Feels good. Feels affirming, and refreshing.
In unrelated, but INCREDIBILY EXCITING news-- Tiny Intern Church is doing an Adult Formation series on other faiths. Yesterday a local imam came and discussed Islam with us. He brought 6 or 7 other people from his community to worship with us(understand-- that makes at least 10% of those gathered on a Sunday morning). Everyone (on both sides) was kind, gracious, and excited about the dialogue. This time together was extraordinary. The warmth that came from both sides yesterday was really a testament to a common God.
I bought a piece of pecan pie yesterday. I paid $3.14 for it. I paid pi for pie. Tee hee.
Important Truth #1: The Holy Spirit does not need me to do things perfectly in order to work. The Holy Spirit's work does not depend on me.
Important Truth #2: As ministers, our foremost priority is to love people. That's it.
I talked to Rev. Supervisor tonight, and we're starting to iron out our misunderstandings. We're not there yet, but we're working on it. I think I have a lot more freedom to be myself with her than I understood. Thanks be to God.
Breathe deeply. Love others. Stop overthinking. Breathe again.
Hack, sputter, cough, and then spiritually and mentally keels right over.
I've been at Intern Church for about 3 weeks. Was asked to lead the meditation (which takes the place of a sermon in our contemporary service) on Saturday night. Had a week's notice. Did a lot of thinking, found how the passage spoke to me.
And then was too scared on Saturday to effectively evoke the same wonderings. Panicked. Cut myself off. Felt cut off before I started.
I have three months to work with a group of people radically different from me (young vs old, urban vs rural background, Anglo-Catholic vs more evangelical)-- which in itself is a miraculous statement. Also terrifying.
I think I'm called to be (in the most loving way possible) a questioner. Called to explore with people. I'm interning with a patient, probably introverted soul who doesn't seem to think that's something I should bring to her parish-- which is fair. 3 months isn't enough time to cultivate trust, and I feel caught between "why aren't you doing anything?" and "we don't do that here."
I meet with Rev. Supervisor tomorrow, and I hope this is something that we can talk about. I'm not sure we're effectively communicating with one another right now, and I hope we can understand each other better.
QUESTION FOR THE REV GALS: Have you worked under clergypersons with whom you had difficulty communicating effectively? How did you improve the situation?
Some of you know that I have an eclectic spiritual background (am a complete mutt). Church of Christ (not UCC, but rather the form that looks like Southern Baptist) pseudofamily, Catholic grandmother, evangelical schools, Quaker husband, self-help mother. (This, is course, is great training ground for an Episcopalian.)
That having been said, I've practiced my faith in a variety of different ways. Everything from the extemporaneous "Jesus, We Just" prayers (as a lovely deranged PCUSA minister I know calls them) of lower churches to silent mediation in Quaker meeting to nightly rosaries with my grandmother.
I have had mentors of a variety of denominational flavors encourage one kind of prayer over another. While I agree that it's important to seek God in new ways, there's a lot to be said for the comfort of consistancy.
Rev Redhead (a truly exceptional pastor) said once that you absolutely have to be faithful to the daily offices, because it's such a comfort to have them in place when you need them. The sentiment rang true, and I've scouted out different ways to make that work for me.
What I've come back to more than once is adapting the offices to the Anglican rosary. The nightly rosary is the most positive memory I have with my grandmother, and certainly the most peaceful. I identify it with quiet and reflection, with safety.
I've adapted "Daily Devotions for Families and Individuals" (BCP 136), which are shorter forms of Morning, Noonday and Evening Prayer, as well as compline. I'm going to go back and make some language adjustments using "Enriching Our Worship," but overall I'm just pleased to return to what resonates.
The bonus gloat is this: As I type, I'm listening to the audio recording I made of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's sermon (he consecrated our new bishop last weekend, it was fantastic). My tail is about to wag right off my butt.
Meanwhile, back in real life...
I'm hearing so much "us and them" lately. Partly because of the upcoming midterm elections, but also in social spheres.
I visited an older woman today, who said she wishes they'd keep national and international news out of the newspaper, because she only wants to know what's happening locally-- or at least in the United States.
I listened to a group of (WASP) Christians speak disparagingly about "Southerners," and then in the same breath heard them say that they can't understand why a "black man would run for office in Tennessee."
I'm co-leading Adult Formation on other faiths, and I was discouraged from pointing out that our video explained Judaism from a Christian perspective-- possibly not telling the story the same way a Jewish person would.
I want to love. I want to be respectful. I want to be in relationship. But I don't like to consent through silence to this American-Christian view that we're the only important people in the world. I want the freedom to speak-- and I usually take it, but I won't as a guest in someone else's parish.
I spent time with a wonderful woman on Monday who has the same concerns-- that our arrogance, and our self-concern, are not at all Christlike. Our self-righteousness is dangerous, and pride goeth before the fall. Would that we would all identify it in ourselves. That when we pray each week, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," we would consider how we've trampled other people's boundaries, their safety, their dignity.
Forgive us. For what we have done, and for what we have left undone.
Technically, I re-started my internship on Oct. 1, but this week it really felt like I kicked into it. It feels really good. The parish is tiny, but warm and openminded. I'm seeing things I'd begun to worry didn't exist in churches-- vunerability and openness, flexibility about the details. It's going to be a lot of work, and I know there are hard parts everywhere, but I feel so comforted by this space.
A beautiful part of my day today was that Mr. M and I went to a church supper. A wonderful older woman spoke to Mr. M, and I thought she told him to take good care of me.
Turns out, she told him they were going to. While it is NOT a congregation's job to take care of their clergy, it's a lovely thing when they care for them.
1. Tell us about any group(s) you currently belong to. (e.g. book club, knitting circle, walking buddies, etc.)
I'm sad to tell you, I have no group. BUT, I've recently heard that a young female priest (who will be ordained in 4 hours!) is talking about starting a women's group. You know, one that's NOT scheduled during working hours (amazing concept).
2. Do you feel energized or drained by being in a group situation? If the answer is "it depends," on what does it depend? I almost always feel better after I've done it, but am usually anxious anticipating it. Actually, I should clarify. I am very uncomfortable trying to mingle with strangers-- esp if they know each other. But if there's a program/purpose, I have a great time.
3. Is there a role you naturally find yourself playing in group situations? That is, do you naturally fall into the leader role, or the one who always makes sure the new person feels welcome, or the quiet one who sits back and lets others shine, or the host? I tend to try to get everyone involved. I'm like the little sheepdog wrangling stragglers.
4. Handshakes vs. hugs: discuss. Handshakes. Hugs, but ask first. I'm a big believer in being respectful of people's boundaries.
5. Ice breakers: a playful way to build community in a lighthearted manner, or a complete and utter hell of forced fun and awkwardness? Fantastic if there are people who don't know one another in the group. Also a nice way to make cliques mingle.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about gender language-- and maybe gender in general-- the last few weeks. It's a topic that's danced around my consciousness since high school, always waved away in favor of a problem I could quickly solve with brain or brawn (rather than heart). How we're expected to behave as men and women has been a topic of discussion since Mr. M and I had problems in January, and throughout this time of recovery together.
And then a couple of weeks ago I began to read Sue Monk Kidd's Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I felt more jarred than I have in car accidents. Kidd observes the obvious-- that the women of the Bible are certainly not primary characters, and that there are an awful lot of hymns that don't include women in any way. This was the first time I've let it soak in, let it be as painful as it really is.
I cringed through Mass on Sunday. My eyes welled up with relief and gratitude during a healing service on Wednesday when a kind and gentle friend altered the language of the Eucharist (as is his habit) to be inclusive.
Kidd had to leave Christianity to find the Feminine Divine. I hope I don't come to feel that's the only option I can live with-- but I can understand it. I can understand feeling betrayed and neglected by being institutionally ignored.
So, I'm trying like mad to remember the progressive book of liturgy that my good buddy Aaron uses as his source, and I'm scouting out other inclusive, healing, justice-oriented liturgy. Not just for women, but for all those people are meant to be raised up by the broad love of Jesus.
I started temping at a mortgage company this week. The receptionist there is a doll- reminds me of my friend L's words, "the big black bosom of Mama God." Anyway, she and I shared with another woman the miracle of a ZAPPOS, and the excellence which is Hanes Perfect Panty BoyShort.
For those of you who don't know, ZAPPOS is an online shoe store where you can search by style, heel height, brand, color. They're fantastic. AND both shipping and return shipping are free. Yes, I have a shoe problem. Ankle straps and T-Straps and slingbacks and boots. I'm trying to keep it under control, but everyone goes a bit nutty about something...
And the Hanes panty is just awesome. Lightweight, comfy, DOES NOT EVER RIDE UP YOUR BUM. And most important, no VPL.
1. Mr. M, who prays with me when I'm worried, and at the end of the day. 2. The tiny lambs at the farm near our house-- they're darling. 3. My last week working internally at the staffing agency. 4. Brother's Pizza 3 times this week-- augh! Forgot to grocery shop. 5. Peanut M&Ms from a co-worker.
I read that line yesterday, and really enjoyed it.
I also read a prayer tailored for ENFJs (on the Myers-Briggs): God help me to do only what I can and trust you for the rest. Do you mind putting that in writing?
Anyone get my point?
There's a lot of uncertainty right now, and the overwhelming necessity of LETTING GO is finally hitting how, not a moment too soon. My "summer job" ends this Friday, but I've got a long-term temporary position lined up after that. My internship was supposed to re-start in September... wait... it IS September, and I'm waiting to hear whether I've got the go-ahead from my bishop... who's retiring next month. Scary. Postulancy is feeling dicey because I took a (very wise, in my opinion) time-out. I'm not sure why I'm feeling that way, but it felt likely before, and now...? Things with Mr. M are really coming together, but good grief it's been a rough year for us.
So, I'm trying to let go. And it feels really good when I do. My faith comforts me as much as I let it-- when I let go of worry and illusions of control.
I'm aware this week of how often God meets our needs at exactly the right moment-- sometimes before we're aware of the need.
I mentioned last time (and I may have mentioned before that) that I'm very intentionally trying to learn to take better care of myself, and to let go of the problems of those around me.
I began this effort about a month ago. All of a sudden this month-- KAPOW! someone I've close to has gone round the bend. It's amazing to be learning new skills for how NOT to try to rescue this person. There have certainly been times in the last could of weeks when I've had no idea what to do-- in which case I've just shut my mouth (definitely a new thing for me).
What a huge relief. It's amazing to let go of responsibilities that weren't mine in the first place.
I'm going a bit nutty, and those around me are right in the thick of it.
Several years after my friend Mrs. P, I am on a "Boundaries" kick. Not so much the book by Townsend and McCloud, just the basic concept of taking better care of myself and backing off my attempts to take care of other people. This, in itself, is a very sane concept.
But I've having a really hard time figuring out how to establish those boundaries in old relationships. If I've said no to you six times, I'm not being mean, but I really do mean "no." If I don't feel comfortable discussing something with you, I'm not excluding you, I'm just respecting my own privacy-- or that of others.
This is an excellent time to learn how to set boundaries well, kindly, and respectfully-- early in discernment. It really is trickier than it looks,though. I've begun to notice how much subtext there is in discussions I thought were relatively straightforward: people hinting around what they want, getting angry when I come straight out and say no.
A mother woke her son up on Sunday morning and told him he needed to get ready to go to church. The son replied to his mother that he didn't want to go to church this morning. She told him nonsense he should get up and go to church.
"But mom" he replied, "Everybody hates me, the sermons are boring and none of my friends ever come."
His mother replied, "Now, son...! First, everybody doesn't hate you, only a couple of bullies and you just have to stand up to them. Second, the sermons mean a lot to many people. If you listened to them, you'd be surprised at how good they are in helping people. Third, you have lots of friends at church. They are always having you over to their house. And finally, you have to go, you're the pastor!!"
I want to be a mom. I've wanted to be a mom longer than I've wanted to be a priest. Now is not the time-- but neither are the next ten years, my mentors tell me.
As the wise Mr. M says, "The one thing that I have learned about life in the past few months is that there are always choices and alternatives and that they can be explored."
I'm trying the one-step-at-a-time approach to discernment, which is working-- I don't feel ready for seminary yet, but I do feel ready to intern. So, since it's time to intern, I'm OK.
But you can't do pregnancy by degrees, it's pretty much a binary state.
Here's the thing: I don't mind doing family and school in a non-traditional way (seriously, I'm a woman of childbearing age seeking the priesthood: there AREN'T any traditions in place for this!). What's hard for me is that I'm experiencing a lot of pressure to follow a precise map, and I'm having a hard time dealing with that.
Admission: I've also been working on my out-of-control desire to keep everyone happy, and this may well be an area where the rubber meets the road.
Grant, Almighty God, that your word only may be spoken, and Yours only received. Amen. I was thinking about relationships this week while I thought about our readings. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and St. Mark’s account of Jesus commissioning the apostles both reminded me that “I can do it myself” is not a concept God seems very impressed with. This is probably for the best, as I usually follow that phrase with, “Could I please have a band-aid?” Do you remember the last letter you received? I’m guessing it didn’t sound much like St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. How would you respond to such a letter? It’s filled with difficult ideas—beautiful ones, but sometimes abstract. Maybe it would help to consider a re-working of the same letter: Lovers of God and Laborers with Jesus, God’s peace and love spread out over your lives. I am overcome with thanks to God, who gives us everything we need and more so that we can be spiritually satisfied. His love for us makes us wonderful in his eyes, his love for us overshadows our struggles and failures. We are family together in Jesus, because God has chosen to bring us home to Himself. We’ve been adopted—not born into a family by chance, we’re chosen and cherished. Jesus has paid our debts to one another by his incredible love for us all. God sent Christ so that everyone would have a way home. God’s enormous love is our shared inheritance. When you came to know that God’s way was full of truth, and that it was the right way for you, God welcomed you, and now His Holy Spirit is always with you. I give thanks for God’s own overwhelming, generous love, and for you, my family in that love. How do we respond to the epistle? Do we see ourselves as the writer sees us? Chosen? Lavishly gifted? Living together, even strangers, as family? Just as importantly, do we see others as the writer sees them? If we’ve each been adopted by God as sons and daughters, we have to wrestle with one very difficult idea: not one of us gets to be an only child. There are traditions where it’s very common for Christians to call one another “brother” and “sister,” but it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. When we work on committees together, are we working as we would with our brother? When we’re listening to new ideas that don’t fit well with the ones we already have, are we giving the respect we would give to our sister? My experience has been that Episcopalians are a very hospitable group—but this kind of familiarity and intimacy can be difficult for us. In a different kind of way, the apostles didn’t get to be “only children” either—Jesus “Called the twelve and began to send them out, two by two.” When I read and re-read the gospel this week, the most striking point to me was that Jesus sent his apostles out in pairs. In a passage where men roam foreign cities for days on end without a dime or a sandwich, I was mostly startled by the fact that they got to have a partner. In a section where people cast out demons and healed the sick, I was amazed at the wisdom of a companion. Certainly they were safer that way, but I believe part of the point is that we’re just not meant to try to live into our faith alone. We have individual, personal relationships with God—those are precious, they are vital. But in some ways our faith is community property, too. I heard a pastor point out years ago that the Lord’s Prayer is said in the Plural—they are “our” trespasses and it is “our” daily bread—we share responsibility together, and we share gratitude. What neither the gospel nor the epistle say is that we must always agree with each other, or always enjoy each other. In fact, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed that “the man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.” Rather than watching for God’s movement among us, it’s very easy for us to expect a type of community, and feel cheated by God when we don’t get it. It’s an easy arrogance to find in oneself, I think, to expect that the church function our way. A part of Bonhoeffer’s point is that we don’t open ourselves to God’s surprises when we chart out our perfect plans for group dynamics. We are following a perfect and loving God, but we find God’s grace in the midst of our own blunders and grudges, rather than in the absence of them. We are family. When we enjoy each other, when we don’t. When we agree with each other, when we don’t. As I considered this morning’s passages, the debates about who or shouldn’t be a part of the Anglican communion, struck me as the tiniest bit absurd. Because at the end of the day, we’re all stuck together as God’s children.
We love God, we try to love each other, and we walk together because we have all been chosen together by God as sons and daughters.
She suggested a marriage therapist to me in January (I was looking for one). During each monthly meeting since then, she's made remarks about how wrong I was not to use him as my therapist (neither Mr. M nor I were at all comfortable with him). 6 meetings now, and she's brought it up each time.
The last 2 times that I've met with her, she's left the door open and had brief conversations with various people during my hour with her.
I'm feeling frustrated rather than encouraged, and I'm not feeling listened to.
I really love this lady, but I'm starting to feel angry about our relationship.
Making matters worse: she's on the committee that decides how people progress in the discernment process.
with my perspective on the new presiding bishop. Someone recently said to me, "Aren't you excited that our new bishop is a woman?!" My first thought was, isn't that just about as ridiculous as being excited that someone DIDN'T elect a woman? Either way, we're judging on gender, which is something I'd like to move away from.
First, I got riled up because I felt like the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA was a slap in the face to most of the anglican communion. At a time when we're on the outs with them for not discussing controversial decisions, this was a very frustrating move to me.
Then, I heard that we've apologized for our quick decisions on another ordination, and have agreed to enter into more discussion before we charge ahead. Calmed down a little.
BUT this morning I read the following: "The rector of an Episcopal church in Illinois that does not ordain women told the New York Times that the new bishop would not be welcome there. 'Just like we can't use grape juice and saltines for Communion, because it isn't the right matter, we do not believe that the right matter is being offered here,' he said, apparently referring to Bishop Jefferts Schori's female parts."
Now, I'm all riled up on the other side! How offensive! I want to be in dialogue and maintain unity through our differences-- it's really appalling to be when people on either side choose not to be respectful.
I don't have to agree with you to respect you, but how on earth are we going to get through this rocky time if we're attacking instead of listening?
It's amazing how people step in with a little faith when we're short of it. Mr. M said to me yesterday, "I really want to be a preacher's wife." My nutty spiritual director told me I'm going to make a wonderful priest, and my crazy little priest told me that he'd be thrilled to have me preach sometime soon.
I have Wednesdays off this summer. In June, Mr. M and I are having play dates (he had to use his vacation days before July 1).
I've been thinking about how to occupy my Wednesdays for the rest of the summer, and I think I'm going to talk to my friend at the Lancaster Council of Churches. They're an ecumenical group that comes together to offer assistance (food, clothing, shelter) to those in the area.
I'm looking forward to this. I'm hoping that I can keep the Wednesdays off this fall, but at least the end of the summer I'll work with good people doing good things. (Refreshing.)
Mr. M and I were talking about finances today-- my boggled, messy, huge, late student loans.
We were also talking about the expense of seminary (and how that point will be moot if I can't untangle my student loans enough to get my transcripts released). The parish doesn't have money to help, the diocese doesn't have money to help. The seminaries expect that you should enter school without debt-- something very unlikely among college grads in this country today.
A nagging ache has accompanied my call: I want to serve God, but I don't know how to assume this responsibilty of these costs. I don't have any idea how to pay for it, and it's been a silent cloud of doom for literally years now.
I spoke with my parish priest about it once. He told me not to worry about it, that these things work out. Never responded to my concern about it again. I appreciate his optimism, but I also know that his family is mired in debt.
It is not a lush life to which I feel called. But I worry that this is just another symptom of the church's illness-- the way clergy are expected to debt in their time, their energy, their finances-- with no real institutional support.
But it's not just righteous indignation. I'm really worried, and disappointed, and I feel very small. So small, in fact, that I've felt really unable to take on this challenge.
It's a good thing that Mr. M doesn't feel that way. It's a good thing that he's got a bit more faith and hope (and likely love) than I have right now.
Because he looked at me this evening and blurted out the following radical concept: How about we stop being afraid of this? How about we just plunge in, and start being more assertive about what should be done? Calling the people we need to, understanding the ideas we need, and finding out what our resources are? How about we get on top of this and start believing in it instead of caving under it?
It's a powerful thought, and more than that, it's full of hope that I haven't felt in a long time. I'm not sure he knows how much faith is starting to seep out, but it's humbing for me to watch at the moment. Reminds me a lot of what Barbara Brown Taylor says about the creeds-- that sometimes they're valuable not because we believe them, but because we need others to carry that weight when we're not strong enough.
I saw Barbara Brown Taylor last night. She gave a lecture at a seminary in our little town, and Mr. M and I waited eagerly for months to see her. She's an extraordinary sermon-writer, and many of her perspectives on ministry have sunk bone-deep with their kinship to my own ideas of vocation.
Which was why I felt shaken when I learned that her most recent book is a memoir titled Leaving Church.
Leaving just parish ministry? Leaving the priesthood? Leaving the Episcopal tradition? Leaving Christianity?
I don't know. Definitely leaving parish ministry-- she's now a professor of religion, and does still speak as a visiting preacher.
I'm quietly hoping that it just means a change in call-- a new direction in her vocation. I'm disappointed to learn that she left parish life with some bitterness, something that I see all too much of.
Clergy burnout is monumental. Not just because clergy are overworked, but often I think because they're making choices that are culturally appropriate, when scriptural calls us to question cultural norms. Workaholism is something we talk about with pride, instead of shame for betraying the sabbath. We encourage others to lean on us, instead of encouraging them to lean on God. People try to keep their jobs, instead of keeping open eyes, hearts, and minds.
I wonder often if I really feel called to ordained ministry. And then I watch and listen to how passionately I feel about how it might be done. And I suspect that observation will keep calling me home.
As Mr. M and I try to work out our issues (and I continue to squelch my urge to break his knees), I'm noticing a frustrating gap. Churches aren't dealing with many of the messy issues that so many of us struggle with, and counselors aren't acknowledging the spiritual components of our battles, either.
I'm finding most of my healing right now in trying to mirror God's grace, and in striving to be sustained by Abba, rather than my circumstances.
What I'm not comforted by are tidy explanations that absolve us all without requiring penitence.
What I'm very definitely also not comforted by is the fear we have of sharing our humilitation and pain with those in the best position to offer spiritual support. Could I go to my priest with specifics about our situation? Well, probably not my priest, no, but other priests I could. However, I don't feel comfortable sharing with other parishioners-- which is a shame, because this is exactly the sort of thing we need to be able to carry each other through.
It's worth thinking about what I can do to institute change in how that dynamic works.
It's stunning how much closer to God pain can bring you-- if you take it from the right angle. Certainly we can ask the "Why me, God?!" question, but though there are valid feelings behind it, it doesn't heal us.
What I'm finding has blown open my perspective on our relationship with God is considering how God deals with the same betrayals and hurts we inflict on each other. How do You love us when we've been unfaithful? How do You love us when we don't respect You? How do you choose to move forward in the relationship, knowing that there is still shrapnel inside, that the wound isn't going to heal completely?
I don't have answers, but asking the questions is a really helpful start. Asking as I climb my way into a gentle, loving Father's lap is even more helpful.
I've been thinking about this a lot today, about the different ways silence can damage people.
A friend of mine is not "out" to all of her family. My own dear Mr. M is only now learning that he has a voice worth listening to. In both cases, my reaction is, "How can you feel loved if you don't feel known?" It breaks my heart that so many don't feel safe being open, being themselves.
Of course, that's not the only damaging silence. I think of how many of us come from families who have hurt us, and then told us that we don't talk about family things with other people. How many women have been abused, but too ashamed to seek support and affirmation.
As far as I can tell, speaking truth in love is the most healing thing we can do for one another. We're not helping our kids when we shelter them. We're not helping those who hurt when we pretend we've never been through hard times.
It's looking to me like ministering is going to be a vunerable profession, because truth has to come from our own bruised, tender places.
Two weeks ago, I went to Hyundai to buy Sally's successor. They didn't have a stick, just an automatic. Being a stickler and a purist, I held out for a manual transmission. Which it took the dealer about a week to find, and which they had driven in from Jersey.
Monday, I test drove it. Today (Wednesday) Mr. M and I took the day off work to take care of some things, and to buy our car.
We got there, and were told that we couldn't have it today. We're going to have to go back Saturday now.
It's not about what we deserve. I remember an old cheesy Christian rock band who sang, "If we don't get what we deserve, it's a real good thing. If we get what we don't deserve, it's a real good thing." They were dopey, but had a point. I'd be pretty screwed if I had to take only what I deserved. Fortunately, I have friends and family members who are filled with grace.
I'd rather have a love I don't have to earn. I'd rather have a love that's freely given. I like that I don't have to work for my friends' affection, and that I feel safe with them even when I'm being a bonehead. Because that's what friendship and love are about: gracious kindness and affection. I like the comfort of our wrinkles and pimples showing. I feel comfort in the openness of being flawed in community. There is peace that comes with accepting the grace of God, and the grace of those who love us. When Jesus told us, "I bring you my peace, my own peace I leave with you," he was leaving us his unconditional love.
Which is why beautiful Dr. M and I think the last verse of Amazing Grace should always ring out with joy, and not falter in self-conscious voices:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun.
I've talked to my priest, I've talked to Rev. B, and now I have to write to the Bishop, but: I'm taking some time to slow down the process. I'm not going to seminary this year.
I still feel called-- more than ever, really. But I feel like my roof has fallen down on my head, and my foundation has rotted underneath me. So, there's a lot of painful tearing down and rebuilding that I'm going to have to focus on before we uproot ourselves.
In this week of hell (that I really believe can be an instrument of God's grace), I have been absolutely swaddled with love from those around me.
The old cliché is that you don't know who your friends are until disaster strikes. My happy discovery is that I have far more, and far better, friendships than I've been aware of in past months.
Tom D. is the male equivelent of Mildred. 77 also, and like Mildred, stronger and healthier than I expect to be anytime soon.
Also more generous than I think I may ever learn to be.
He's a humble man. Not in the sense that he's unassuming--he has beautiful posture and a decent sense of propriety. But in the sense of really being in touch with his humanity, and his weaknesses, and turning those into the strengths of empathy and generousity.
He has offered to be of help to both Mr. M and myself. I think he's just the sort of man we need in our life.
I'm pretty sure my friend Mildred is the very best woman I know. She's got 50 years on me in age, but she's a heck of a lot younger than I am. She's incredible.
I called her this morning, because I can't imagine getting through any crisis without her. Sure enough, she was supportive and loving, and made me feel more confident and peaceful.
It has been said that if you have 3 or 4 close friends with whom you can be completely open and safe, you've had a very rich life. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't know Mildred.
I don't know if I've ever had someone tell me that they loved me, and so were hurt that I was hurt. And I'm sure I've never known anyone else who could hurt when I was in pain, but could still so fully love the one who hurt me. She is a gracious, remarkable woman.
Mildred says that when we tell Jesus anything, his response is, "I know, and I love you." Theologically, that's sound, but when you put it in such simple language, it's also deeply personal. What a way to think about prayer: coming to God in rage and in pain and in joy, and receiving the answer, "I know, and I love you."
For over a year there's been an issue I've worked really hard to resolve. I found out yesterday that someone important to me has been sabotaging it the whole time. I feel betrayed and furious and very not-valuable.
Don't know how to fix this, but for the next couple of days, if you want to get ahold of me, call a local hotel.
I started my internship today at Tiny Olde Church. (The above picture is life-sized.)
My biggest observation: my own priest has been so deliberate about preparing me that this may be a bit of a let-down.
Tiny Olde Church has Sunday attendance of about 60-- this morning it was 30 at the first service, and 28 at the second. Almost all are over retirement age. There were two students in the youth group, none in nursery or Sunday School. Everyone was very warm. I have to say, I really enjoy spunky people, and I think TOC has at least its fair share of those.
I'm told by my supervising priest that the congregation really wants to attract a younger crowd, and she's hoping I can help with that. I didn't have the heart to tell her that my best friends locally are all over 50.
John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is probably my all-time favorite book. Owen is an odd little hero, but he's amazing. He writes a prep-school column titled "The Voice," and while it's not popular it is exceptionally perceptive.
I thought of this today because I think I'm starting to put words to an impulse I've had for a while.
I sat in a meeting this morning listening to my co-workers discuss how they were going to meet our County Commissioners' desire for measurable outcomes from the Drug and Alcohol programs that we fund. Because there's simply not funding to track clients after they've received treatment, this is no small obstacle. Also, it's hard to say what "success" is when you're dealing with human programs. If Client A loses his sobriety, but is still seeking treatment, I think that's a partial success. Other people might think it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
I left the meeting thinking about how the Commissioners make budget and contract decisions based on politics-- which decisions are going to get them re-elected. I can respect the fact that, to an extent, that's how a democratic system is meant to work: I'll let you make the decisions as long as I approve of them. So it seems to me that we need to make it clear that spending money on social programs WILL get people re-elected. In this county, right now, I don't think it would. So we need to start by better educating the public about what addiction is, and how it is most effectively addressed.
So what's all this have to do with the price of tea?
Well, I've been thinking a lot (that whole postulancy application, remember?) about what priesthood means to me, and why I'm pursuing it. One thought is that I really want to be listening to people. I've heard ministers preach about how before Jeus healed a man with leprosy, he touched him, and in that act affirmed a man who had been ostracized even before he was made clean. I think deep listening is the same kind of loving and accepting act. But I think that is incomplete if one doesn't, through that listening, speak for those who are not being heard.
I'm feeling more all the time that real ministry is prophetic. Not Left Behind prophetic, not dwelling on the Mark of the Beast and the "end times," but carefully observing where God's light can fall to heal and strengthen, and revealing that to others.