The Mustard Seed

All week long I've been thinking about the parable of the mustard seed. It was part of last Sunday's gospel reading, it's the only part of the sermon that I really heard, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

I keep thinking about how it's OK that the mustard seed is small, unimpressive. Not about how it grows into something mighty, just that it's ok when it's small. It's a small, hard globe-- and that's enough.

If there's such a thing as overwhelming comfort, I'm finding it there. Lately when I've been thinking of it, I'm picturing God stroking my hair, like we do to a child we're putting to sleep.

And then this evening I went from that image to thinking, "That's all well and good, but then God says you have to get out there and stand on your own two feet."

What the hell?!

No. God does not say that. Nowhere in the New Testament have I ever read that Jesus told his disciples, "Alright, it's time for you to take over here. I'm done." A shepherd never tells the sheep, "Start leading yourselves now, I've got better things to do."

Jesus says, "Surely I am with you always" and "I go ahead to prepare a place for you, that where I go there you may also be." Or there's the really beautiful one, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."

What the hell have I been thinking? I do sort of appreciate the irony, though-- I've been thinking that doing everything perfectly, and on my own was most pleasing, and most right. Never mind the fact that over and over and over again, we see God trying to draw us closer, not push us away. How many times does Jesus have to tell the Pharisees that love matters more than law before I realize he's talking to me? That his love extends to me, and it's not contingent on my impressive self-sufficiency? That it's more likely that my regard for self-sufficiency gets in the way.

"Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders."
-Deut 33:12


Costumes and Collars

Last night, in an effort to bond with my fabulous father-in-law I read a Janet Evanovitch novel-- the first book in the series about female bounty hunter Stepahnie Plum. One of the things that struck me most was the wardrobe changes. She started out trying to do her job in skirt suits, pearls and heals. When she had a little more experience, she switched to workout gear and the occasional hooker costume. In very subtle ways, Evanovitch used wardrobe to explain her character's progress.

For my senior research in college, I wrote about early Anglo-American novels, and how the female characters used costume and disguise to accomplish more than they ordinarily would have.

I'm laughing at myself a little, because I've become aware lately of how much I do this, too. For instance:

-I very carefully chose a black and tan (small) houndstooth print dress and black blazer for a funeral I helped with.
-I'm trying to figure out what to wear to The Inquistion in September. I'm leaning towards elegant slacks, a sweater, and a silk scarf.
-When interviewing recently with a very conservative gentleman, I wore a navy skirt suit.
-I had one of my most fun nights ever because of a white fuzzy sweater, cowboy boots and a brown hat.

But the collar's the big one. The collar's a sensitive one, too. Hell of a subversive costume for a woman. Instantly creates even more assumptions than the fuzzy sweater. I'll be conscious of what it represents when I wear it, but also of the fact that other people will have a lot of other connections.

It'll get even more interesting years from now when I have to find a shirt with a clerical collar in maternity sizes.


Rest in peace, and rise in glory.

I went to a funeral last night. It wasn't anyone I knew-- a gentleman from church died after a long illness, and my rector asked me to be part of the alter party.

I don't handle funerals (or even movies where someone dies) nearly as well now that I'm married. Inevitably, I begin to think of something happening to Mr. M. He's in reasonably good health, eats well, and I think it's safe to say that he'll be making admirable attempts to keep up with me for the next 50 years. All the same, my life tends to go sideways for a short while when I imagine what it would be like if he wasn't here.

I told a Catholic friend recently that I am headed towards priesthood (this is relevant, I promise). Her response was, "how on earth can anyone be a priest with a spouse and family?!" My (inward) response was, "How on earth could I do this without Mr. M?!"

One of the things that I think about after funerals is that, without my husband looking after me, I have no idea how I'd be able to go out and try to look after others. Without him making sure I get fed and rested, I'm not sure where I'd find the energy. And what would I do if he wasn't there to keep me from throwing rocks at a certain prominant Quaker's head?

I certainly couldn't marry someone else and stay on this path of ministry. Sometimes, in the process of discernment, one of the loudest ways I hear God's call is in God's provision of Mr. M.



The last article in my alma mater's latest alumni magazine was about fellow alumnae. She graduated the year I was born, and went on to be one of the first African-American women ordained into the Episcopal priesthood. A more recent graduate is going on to seminary after doing a lot of work in Appalachia with poverty issues.

I mention this because I'm becoming increasingly aware of how prophetic priesthood really is meant to be. And how unpopular that often is, even within the church. We're not here to provide a stained-glass bubble that provides an hour of purgatory every Sunday, we're here to show people the kingdom of heaven here and now.

The gospel reading this Sunday was from Matthew 13, a two parables explaining the kingdom of heaven: a tiny mustard seed that grows to a mighty tree and provides a home for the birds of the air, the kingdom of heaven is like yeast used to make bread. It's things that are here, among us now. It's things that we see and touch every day.

I wonder if the kingdom of heaven is also a realm of "noticing." Learning from the yeast, feeling comfort in the in similarity between our individual insignificance/inadequacy and the size of a mustard seed. Mr. M and I went for a walk last night, and really enjoyed the things around us. We talked about how tight money is right now, but also how we feel much more privledged than some of the more comfortable people we know-- simply because we've been blessed with noticing what's around us.



I'm coming out tonight. Nope, not as a deb or a lesbian, but as the new Children's Ministry Facilitator.

You have to understand that the Christian Ed/Sunday School department of Our Lady of Perpetual Strife is more than a little contentious. Oddly enough, the two families who threaten most regularly to leave the parish are the two running Sunday School. (Are you seeing the beginnings of my problem?)

I'm excited about getting started, though, and curious about how much I'll actually be able to get accomplished. My rector once said to me that if you're able to get just one program off the ground and running well, you're having a good year. I wonder what that program will be.


Cotton-Candy Churches

Well, donuts actually. Check out this post about dumbing-down churches and empty spiritual calories.

Hiding from Evangelicals

I'm thinking more about this lately because on Monday I start a new job. The gentleman is lovely, will be very professional, and reminds me of a certain much-beloved Harvard lawyer. He's also an active member of a local 3000 member evangelical church. I keep having flashbacks of a minister of a similar church telling the congregation that mainline denominations were "spirtitually dead." I feel spiritually sick some days, but not dead.

In the last 2 weeks or so I've noticed that my defensiveness is killing my ecumenicism. Another conservative friend of mine was trying to ask me about the Episcopal church's beliefs, and I kept wishing she'd be quiet, because I felt certain she was trying to back me into a corner. She wasn't. She's one of the most generous women I know.

I read Anne Lamont's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, and for the first time in quite a while I cringed because someone made great points, but did so in such a way that none of our conservative counterparts could stick around and listen. At the same time, she asked the crucial question: Would I rather be right, or kind?

I'd rather be kind, and somehow that gives me the courage to talk to people with whom I'm not going to agree. It takes the angry wind out of my sails and lets me rest easy in the differences. If I'm tense, it's because I'm gearing up for a fight, getting ready to do exactly what I'm afraid of "the opposition" doing. This is a time to be a calming presense, not a short fuse, and I think I can learn how to do it.



If you've read any past posts, you'd find a pretty strong theme of worry and frustration. And you wouldn't find any references to prayer.

I'm not doing it. I'm not sure how anymore, I'm having a hard time focusing, and I'm very worried (shocking, I know) that I don't know who I'm praying to; that I have the wrong idea of God, and so it won't work.

My darling spiritual advisor would say that we come to know God through prayer. I agree with her, but I'm often paralyzed by things at which I'm not sure I'll be successful.

I miss God, though. I have a very clear memory of God's presense during one prayer by a swampy little campus pond. I remember a time of enormous turmoil, and God's presense absolutely filling my dorm room (different semester). I miss feeling known, and protected. I read recently that God makes God's self known through our worshipping. It might sound obvious, but it was a surprising statement-- that God might give while we're giving. (Although I certainly think God gives even when we couldn't be further from doing so.)

It's past time to call God again. And it's past time to risk failing in a lot of things. Perhaps the best place to start is with the Creator who knows my limitations, but also knows more about my possibilities.


Chug chug chug

That's meant to be a train, not beer. I'm having the damnedest time FINDING beer, actually. If any of you have lived in PA, but do not hail from the commonwealth, you understand my frustration. The liquor laws here could drive a person to drink... assuming they actually managed to acquire the alcohol. Wine and liquor are only sold in state stores, between certain hours, and never on Sundays. Beer is sold either from beer distributors (and then only by the case), or from local bars (and then in 6-packs). I don't really NEED a case of Corona, but I feel very strange walking into a bar and coming out with a 6-pack.

Anyway, back to the train. We're chugging along, I find. My parish priest let me know Friday that my recommendation from vestry will go to the bishop this coming Tuesday. This means that, combined with a couple of other recommendations that have already been passed along, I should be invited to BCOM in September.

And what is this weekend called BCOM? Well, it's at least:
-A psychological evaluation
-A physical
-An interview on my spirituality
-An academic evaluation

Oddly, I'm really not worried. Either it's going to happen, or it's not, but if the church decides I'm not who they want in their pulpit, so be it. The only thing that has me slightly concerned is all the clergy who are so quick to say, "Now you really don't have anything to be nervous about at all, everyone's there to support you." Methinks the frocked doeth protest too much-- I wouldn't have even occurred to me to worry before the insisted I shouldn't.

Instead, I'll be finishing a lovely bottle of Bordeaux.


Another Interview

I just got back from another interview. Full-time position, all things considered quite a bit more interesting than anything else has sounded. A bit more money, too, which is tempting.

But I'm really torn. If I were going to stay here for the rest of my life and keep being someone's Admin Asst, it would be a great opportunity. Of course, I cringed inside as I wrote that.

I really want the time to do ministry, but I really want a big enough paycheck to feel like we've got a little breathing room. I'm not sure what to go with. I even feel like it's more responsible to take the job with the bigger paycheck (albeit more hours), because then we'd be more secure when we moved. But what if that gets in the way of me serving my internship, and focusing on where we go from here?


Poor as a Churchmouse

Mr. M says that he can see me as a little mouse in a library, reading all the books, and cursing the librarian for leaving cheddar in the traps instead of brie. The way finances are going, I think "churchmouse" might be a more accurate discription.

And I'm fine with that for me. It's funny, when Mr. M was a bachelor, it seemed to me that he was making quite a lot of money, but now that we're talking about having a family one day, it doesn't seem like very much at all. This gets trickier right now since I'm looking for a new job-- do I look for something PT that lets me take the Children's Ministry position at my church, or do I look for something FT that pads our savings account before we leave for seminary? I'd much rather be doing ministry. In fact, the day I quit KarpetWunder was a great day, because I spent 7 hours doing ministry-related things. I had thought to myself, "this is exactly how I'd like to be spending my time!"

It all makes me think of Jesus telling his disciples, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) "Hate" is of course a strong word, and so maybe the way I think about it is that anyone who is possessive or protective of those things will be too bound by them to serve Him. Some days, it makes a lot of sense that Catholic clergy must remain unmarried. Oddly, Jesus never tells us not to marry (Paul suggests that we shouldn't, but Jesus doesn't), he just tells us our spouse doesn't come first. Not exactly what the religious right tries to tell us about family values, is it? Maybe that's something to think about.