Please pardon me for talking about church in the summer when many of you may be on vacation. However, the church we are talking about today is the one you dream of. I've been thinking about this because I miss pastoring and preaching, because I am sending in resumes, and because...well...jut because. So have some fun with this. Tell us five things that the perfect church would have, be, do...whatever.We can dream, right?
Boy, am I grateful for Singing Owl's Friday Five this week. I've been thinking a lot (for some time now) about the perfect church. Not one that's filled with perfect people, or that never makes mistakes-- the one that's perfect for me. I have a running list in my journal right now of things I believe about church, and things that are important to me. Here's a little smattering:
- It is sacramental. Communion in particular is so precious to me. I remember the first time I noticed feeling its holiness in my bones. It was the first time I served the chalice at a funeral, and I had a deep awareness of the communion of all the saints, of how we're all part of the body of Christ-- those gathered at the altar rail, together with hundreds of years of saints before us. I still get chills at Communion.
- It is evangelical, in the sense that it affirms and encourages our personal relationships with God in Christ. It believes that God is at work in our daily lives. It fosters spiritual friendships.
- It is a place of hospitality for all-- it is a loving, safe place. It is inclusive in its love, and strong in its boundaries.
- It is open-minded, and encourages people to wrestle with the hard questions of faith, engaging all of the church in those questions, rather than handing down edicts from leadership.
- It is reverent and joyful. Gathering on Sundays is an offering of worship to God.
By the time I met him, he was quite elderly, and not in good health. He was also one of the kindest, most gentle men I have ever met. I loved serving as a Eucharistic Minister when he celebrated, because I got to offer my arm as he climbed onto the dais. It was such a joy just to be near him.
I remember a few conversations in the sacristy. He wasn't at all chatty, and was instead deeply sincere. I also remember that, shaky and frail though he was, he was still dapper enough to reach for his comb after he donned his chasible, straightening his white hair before the service.
He used to leave his copy of Episcopal magazines in my church mailbox.
He not only gave my favorite sermons, he had my favorite sermon style. My husband and our dear friend Tom refer to it as the "Get up. Speak Up. Shut up." style of preaching-- make your point as clearly as possible, and then stop before you get in your own way.
About a month ago, his wife of almost 60 years passed away. He rose to speak briefly at her memorial service, and I listened as this quiet, dignified man shared about her last hours. "We were hugging and kissing, and I was holding her as she passed away."
An unbelievably beautiful man. I feel so lucky to have been around him.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, Carl.
Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the
glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
It's about 4:30 in the morning, and I haven't managed to fall asleep yet. Insomnia is rare for me-- usually I could bring home the gold for the US in sleeping.
I thought about poking my husband and saying, "Hey! Watcha doin?! You sleeping?" Tonight, I restrained myself (don't get me wrong, though-- I've done it before, and I'll do it again). But as I was lying there on my side of the bed, thinking about bothering him, I remembered how many people have written about the wee hours of the night being the best ones they spend with God.
And then, because I'm very annoying in the middle of the night, I turned to God: "Hey!!! Watcha doin?!"
What IS God doing? I can think of an awful lot of things God has done, but what about present tense? How does God spend God's time?! What's going on out there?
Design and create earth.
Send plagues, part Red Sea.
I'm not even sure it's an important question (it's certainly not one I'm going to get an answer to), but it's what I'm thinking about while I'm letting my sweet husband sleep. For the moment.
I was chatting with one of my favorite girlfriends the other day, and I realized that I find huge comfort in the reassurance that there is a season for everything. It makes me feel like less of an ass when I screw up (because I think there's a season for that, too). In the middle of the night, when visions of things that could have been handled better dance in my head, they don't have to eclipse the good parts of the day.
And then this morning I was stuck with gratitude when I realized how often I don't know which season is which at the time. In restrospect, I can see the strengths in the weaknesses. I came awfully close to not graduating from college because I loved to listen to wonderful people talk about the things that mattered to them. Now, at the time that stunk, but I can see whispers of vocation in it now. I spent more recesses than I could count reading in a quiet spot-- but I still love reading and learning. I've felt frustrated by jobs where procedural details came before people-- and so I finally learned to respect that about myself. I've been swept away by excitement and affection instead of being cool, but I'm beginning to be proud of being able to love people.
If we can just be gentle, there's so much to learn from the other side of the coin.
I just got back from an 8 mile bike ride down the beach boardwalk near our home, and was struck with the number of people out enjoying physical activity. Runners, other cyclists, surfers, swimmers, dogwalkers, little kids on scooters....It's easy to lose track of my physical self-care in the midst of flurried preparation for a final on-campus interview Monday for a college teaching position in the Midwest (prayers welcome!) and the family move that would accompany it. But each day that I do make time to walk or ride my bike it is such a stress reliever that it is well worth the time invested! So how about you and your beautiful temple of the Holy Spirit?
*Sigh.* That's one thing we really want in the next place that we live-- more activity. There are almost no runners/bikers/etc. out and about in this county, and it's a little depressing. It's so nice to be in a place where that's part of the culture.
1. What was your favorite sport or outdoor activity as a child?
I liked roller skating and horseback riding, but I wasn't particularly sporty as a little kid. I had a very competitive Marine mother, who didn't often remember that kids can't do everything the same way adults did-- it took a some of the fun out of being active.
2. P.E. class--heaven or the other place?
In elementary school-- the other place. I remember making a lot of daisy chains in the outfield during kickball. As I got older, it still wasn't heaven, but it wasn't awful, either. (Although seriously-- wasn't the locker room always just torture for everyone?!)
3. What is your favorite form of exercise now?
I love running, and I love yoga. I want to like biking, but I'm going to have to find a more comfortable seat before that's a reality.
4. Do you like to work out solo or with a partner?
I like both. Partners keep me motivated, but long solo runs are wonderful head-clearing time.
5. Inside or outside?
Outside if it's above freezing, inside if it's below.
Bonus: Post a poem, scripture passage, quotation, song, etc. regarding the
body or exercise.
I thought of a number of poems (Whitman, cummings, Roethke), but they all seemed too racy to post here (good grief, is a dirty mind all a Literature degree gets you?!?), so we're just going to go back to Mr. Buffett.
"She said, 'You gotta do your fair share--now cough up half the rent! I treat my body like a temple, you treat yours like a tent!'" -Jimmy Buffett, Fruitcakes
Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have
nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." -Luke 9:58
Last week, Mr. M took vacation and I had time on my hands, having made the decision two weeks prior to stop being a bad secretary. On Monday, we took a little trip to the teeny beach at Elk Neck State Park. That part is not a good story, and can be summarized in 4 words-- dead fish, hasty departure.
But the drive down was a thoughtful time for me. We took the winding roads through southern Lancaster County, which is some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. Briefly during college, I dated a guy who lived in that area, and the sheer gorgeousness is part of why I moved to PA (the county's, not his). Lush green hills, with farms and forests, old stone farmhouses, and sweet Norman Rockwell neighborhoods. It's beautiful, but it's not my home. In fact, because most residents have ties here that go back several generations, my newness stands out in sharp relief. There are times I feel a bit like an orphan stuck at someone else's family reunion.
I didn't really notice how untethered I am (or more accurately, what life is like for people who aren't) until after college. We lived in military towns, or abroad near the Embassy, or (the ultimate home for professional gypsies) Washington, DC. Everyone was a new kid in college, so that was wonderful. My whole life, there were different accents, different perspectives... and when no one is the same, there seems to be much more respect and enjoyment of diversity. (It's hard to have "us" and "them" when there are only two of each, and forty various other groups.)
Having been a military brat, growing up all over the world, is a blessing and a curse. I could have just kissed Charlotte when she introduced me to the concept of Third Culture Kids-- holy carp, it's not just me! Likewise, I've learned a lot about myself through Charlotte and Nancy's adult reflections on military families.
But back to this place...
The first thing I sought in this hometown was a congregation. I had worshipped with Baptists and Catholics, Church of Christers and huge evangelical churches, Quakers, Unitarians, and Methodists. I worshipped in regular churches, military chapels, campus all-purpose rooms, and one strange satellite-worship-Starbucks (not my favorite). Christians were just people who loved Jesus, prayed regularly, and were lucky enough to be able to turn their worries over to God.
And again, I was startled by the long ties to the denominational equivalent of generations-old neighborhoods. But it took (I kid you not, perhaps I'm just unusually thick) years to identify this. I would talk about my spiritual needs, things I'd pasted together from different sources, not knowing what a weird amalgam I was, and people would dismiss me. I was ticked off at the time, but now I realize the things I wanted weren't part of their tradition.
There's a lot I've tossed from my evangelical elementary school education, but being familiar with the Bible is something I've been so grateful for. I had no idea that there were Christians, laypeople, who didn't believe in daily quiet time with God-- I expected that it was there for everyone, though surely it took different forms. I had no idea that there are churches that see no need for people to pray privately together over the issues in their lives. OF COURSE I want to sit with you, hear about what matters, and pray together. I want the intimate friendships that brings about.
But I love weekly Eucharist, deep in my soul. I love the mystery of keeping ancient rites, words and habits that tie us to centuries of Christians. I really believe in the communion of the saints, that sometimes the writing of Theresa of Avila makes her just as present and loving to me as my favorite college girlfriend. I love the practices and disciplines that have been handed down-- the daily offices, the rosary.
So where does my untethered soul go? I could sample from lots of churches, but I love knowing people and being known, and that doesn't happen one Sunday a month.
AND, if it wasn't all ridiculous enough... I still don't feel un-called. What kind of crazy person feels called to ministry without a church? I love preaching, really love it. I know that thoughtful liturgy is precious to me, because I'm such a pain in the rear about it (I don't care what your style is, I care deeply that it reflects your theology and isn't sloppy). I am excited and energized by church-stuff. I believe (so much that my toes tingle with it) that there must be a place where our souls are shown deep hospitality.
I have a (fleeting, usually) sense of anticipation that carries me through the nutty times where I don't respect where I've been and I can't see where I'm going. This much joy and curiousity can't be going nowhere. But, for the time being, it has no place to lay its head.
The lovely Sally has given us a fun play this week:
1. Are you a hoarder, or are you good at sorting and clearing?
I am a merciless sorter and clearer. Or I thought I was, but I realized this morning that I have underpants that I bought 15 years ago.
2. What is the oddest garment you possess and why?
There are two, and they're both wonderful. One is a men's grey cardigan from... well, roughly the mid-seventies. It was my uncle's, but then it got handed down to my mom. There's a picture of her wearing it the week after I was born, and I love to wear it around the house.
The other garment came from a wonderful woman named Karen, who was my mom's best friend in the second grade. Karen moved with her family from Tennessee to Nebraska, and she and my mom lost touch for several years. They reconnected when I was in college, and Karen mailed me a lovely, full, calf-length black velvet skirt that had been her mother's when she heard I was swing dancing.
3. Do you have a favourite look/ colour?
I love wearing dresses and skirts with sweaters. Knee length, full skirts are my favorite.
4. Thrift/ Charity shops, love them or hate them?
I'm fussy about them. There's a wonderful consignment shop near me, and a good one is a gem, but there are some really crappy ones out there, and I don't always have the patience to comb through them.
5. Money is no object, what one item would you buy?
A beautifully cut, long, wool winter coat.