Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Oratorio and I-Thou

The following passage from Auden's "Christmas Oratorio" reverberated with me considering my last posting: "Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It." This, all too fleeting, moment of such clarity that we no longer objectify each other, that moment when we see as God calls us to see and we note that we are indeed beloved Christ bearers. Buber, my favorite theologian and author of I-Thou, writes that it in these moments of clarity that we can encounter the divine--when we stop seeing "it" and start seeing "Thou". The relationship between the self and the other in an I-Thou relationship is dynamic and mutual. It is a relationship in which we can truly live into our baptismal covenant to "seek and serve Christ in all persons". I think of this moment of clarity as being similar to those moments when we stop seeing the glass and start seeing the beauty of God (and our ability to facilitate that beauty) as we gaze upon stained glass windows. Perhaps we have ventured too far from the stable (about 3,000 square feet too far--or more)and need to look for the star that will guide us back to our truer selves.

The conclusion of Auden's "Christmas Oratorio".


Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.



He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Radical Hospitality and the Holy Family

I’ve been in the midst of an e-mail exchange with a woman whose family has been made most decidedly unwelcome at her church. This past Sunday, when I was preaching on radical hospitality in my parish (from John’s prologue—1:1-18), she was being subjected to a sermon on the definition of family as limited to heterosexual, married, couples with children (in honor of the Holy Family). I wish I had been there to hold my hands over her toddler’s ears. As a member of my congregation recently stated—“it’s always helpful to remind people that Jesus was not the product of a heterosexual married couple.” Harrumph.

As I discerned my own call to the priesthood it really didn’t occur to me that I would be limited in any way by my gender or sexual orientation (thanks to wonderful clergy, progressive/liberal schooling, and my own naiveté). And, in so many ways, I think that both my gender and sexual orientation have made me a better clergywoman. When I first came out in high school I desperately needed a place in which I felt loved, valued and accepted—the Episcopal Church became that place. And, as I realized exactly how unsafe it could be “out there” and how unwelcome the church could make people feel, I began to understand my calling as creating places of love, safety and welcome for everyone. I want people to truly know that they are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God. I want people to live fully into the personhood that God intends for them—one aspect of which is to enter into loving relationship with others who can help us to see God’s revelation through incarnation. If that loving relationship is with someone of the same gender, the opposite gender, another gender altogether (I’m not much for the binary gender system), a platonic friendship, parenting, godparenting, auntying , uncleing , or any other way of engaging with community—well, it’s all good.

So, in honor of the Holy Family: Mary who conceived out of wedlock by the Holy Spirit, Jesus who was born to unwed parents, and Joseph who decided that he could love a son that was not his by conception and a betrothed who was mysteriously with child—in honor of this family, may God bless and keep you and those you love this day and always. Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

sweet week of Advent 4

This is a chocolate interlude in the Christmas preparations.

6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate; 3/4 cup of heavy cream; 3 T of butter; 3 T of light corn syrup; a pinch of salt and dash of vanilla.

And, in light of my reference in yesterday's sermon to children's stories and the truth they often hold regarding life's hardship and beauty:

"She gazed and gazed through her tears, and so mounted the stairs sorrowfully back to her own chamber. On reaching it she felt herself oppressed with sleepiness, for she had passed the night without undressing, and, moreover, for a month past her sleep had been broken and haunted with terrors. So, having nothing better to do, she went to bed, and was nestling down in the perfumed sheets when her eyes fell on the little table by the bedside. Some one had set a cup of hot chocolate there, and half asleep, she reached out her hand for it and drank it; whereupon her eyes closed and she fell into a delicious slumber, such as she had not known since the day when her father brought home the fatal rose." (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863–1944). "Beauty and the Beast" The Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales. 1910)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Virgin Birth

Why Belief in an Impossible Truth Matters.

It is the miracle of the metaphorical truth flying in the face of the world’s insistence that truth must be comprised of facts, that truth must be real. In this season we are confronted with a truth that cannot be denied…the truth of God’s love and desire to partner with us. As we journey towards Christmas we are called to embrace the impossible truth of a God who walks among us and partners with us. We are called to embrace the possibility of what may seem impossible. In the Gospel we are confronted with an angel, an emissary from God, who tells a young woman that she is pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and will bear a son. Tradition states that the young woman was an unwed mother, a virgin. And, to some the insistence upon this as “truth” has become a stumbling block. But, it is a truth that is not tied to facts—for in the end, what does her virginity matter?

But it is a truth that amongst the innocent the world can be transformed. That in the face of despair, hope prevails. I’ve been reflecting on the reality of what an unwed mother would have faced in Mary’s time: shame, punishment and even death. And, in the face of that reality, Mary’s acceptance of this pregnancy becomes a radical act of hope in the face of a reality that offered little but despair. Reality is a scared young woman, reality is poverty, reality is suffering and teen pregnancy. Reality is loss of jobs and loss of dreams. Reality is pain, illness and death. When I last preached I spoke about the reality that the sufferings of the apocalypse are already here. And today I continue that conversation…the reality of hope and impossible love is real as well. Mary dares to say “yes” in the face of her own reality—a yes grounded in a promise made long before she was born. Mary dares to say “yes” because God’s covenant with David still holds.

In the end Mary’s virginity represents innocence and in Mary’s innocence she did not let her reality stand in the way of the awesome and incredible. She did not let fear prevail and instead embraced a greater truth. This celebration of birth is the annual reminder that love wins, it is the annual reminder that saying “yes” can be a dangerous act of liberation. It is the annual reminder that God’s love is possible and God’s promise still holds. It is the annual reminder that we are called into partnership with God and in our Christmas preparations we instill wonder in ourselves and each other. As a child I readily accepted the impossible—and now as an adult I am asked to accept the impossible again and in doing so I remember Jesus’ admonishment that we must be as children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Friday, December 19, 2008

An Icon

I like the knowing look both Jesus and Mary have in this image. I also feel like Mary looks a bit world weary--a given granted all that she has gone through as she holds the toddler messiah.

Sermon notes for Advent 4B, 08

some resources:
-good critical/historical analysis of the 2 Samuel reading
-Stendahl's article

And, I'm looking at the Magnificat as the option in place of the psalm
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And, hoping to address the challenge of saying "yes"...for Mary saying "yes" as a young teen (in her culture old enough to marry and bear children, in our culture not old enough to drive or use the oven without some measure of supervision) meant being unwed and pregnant in a society in which the punishment for adultery (in this case a woman getting pregnant and therefore bringing shame upon her family and in a society where women are a commodity reducing her value) is being stoned to death. What then ran through her mind in those moments of saying yes, did she realize what she was agreeing to? Did the full impact of her decision hit her in those initial moments of encounter with Gabriel? So, I look to the Magnificat--a prayer spoken at a time when she had already begun to feel the movement of her child within her. A prayer spoken at a time when maternal death was an all too likely possibility in childbirth. In some ways then the prayer is an act of defiance against her culture and times--she is claiming God's mercy, she declares herself lifted up, she has been filled with good things. SHE is claiming the promise that is made in Samuel for HERSELF! I don't know if her community would have called this "obedience of faith"--I would call it "defiance in accordance with her faith!" And, in an androcentric text (which arguably the Bible is, I don't think most of us can argue that women are often an afterthought in our tradition...much as I love our tradition--I mean we have to verbally add women to the printed texts of a good chunk of the BCP "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob") it is remarkable that the entire world hangs on the tip of the tongue of a young woman living in what is arguably the Middle Eastern equivalent of the middle of nowhere. I mean, her town was nowhere near "mainstreet" and hers is not a voice we hear at the inauguration of presidents--or even in the pageants depicting the birth of her son. I mean, when was the last time you saw a nativity that included Mary's Magnificat?

So, what does that mean to us, now. What radical reality do we dare say yes to? When we are "learning how to say no" what does it mean to embrace the "yes" to God? What dangerous declaration are we making? In my life I can think of two--"yes, I'm gay" and "yes, I'll be a priest". When have your yesses both condemned and liberated you?

Old castaway blog

Here is the link if you want to read postings I made at my old blogspot


A baptism

A Poem For M’s Baptism Day

Her head is bundled with gauze.
Her round eyes are unblinking in her mother’s arms.

New to the world, she and her twin
(a fat and happy little creature)
Are shepherded into the light.

Her heart beats,
Her ribs contract as she breathes.
Pressed to her mother’s cheek
She is silent.

I drip sterile water into a small shell,
My hands shake.

The surgeon is silent as she sews.

The smallest of droplets upon her cheek
The Trinity…we pray,
I anoint her with oil.

Welcome to the household of God,
May light perpetual shine upon you.

Fidelia's Sisters

This is the text of an article I originally published on the site called "Fidelia's Sisters" http://www.youngclergywomen.org/the_young_clergy_women_pr/

You Are With Me

She laughs--the wide mouthed, toothless grin of a first smile. Her nostrils flare. A pink, elastic, bow encircles her bald head. Her thumb aims towards her mouth, finding her hands still a new trick. The day she died, they held a birthday party for the first birthday she’d never have. I ran about trying to find a small cake, candles, and the birthday poster her mother requested.

Another picture, wispy blond hair brushes a smooth forehead, glitter bedecked lips part, she is looking up towards someone, mom perhaps, a favorite toy. The top of her princess dress frames her neck, and I know it spins around her legs in a dizzy dance. She was buried with a tiara. I’m in the next picture; a small boy and I grin at the camera. He is dressed in camouflage pajamas. His eyes are bright. A tube is taped across his cheek and goes down his nose, into his belly. It feeds him on days when he can’t bring himself to eat. He was transferred to another hospital…last I heard he was still alive.

This time, a card--a Christmas picture of two teens tacked crookedly at my desk. His face is round from the steroids used to calm his inflamed intestines. He smiles without teeth in a shy way. I haven’t seen him in months, but every time I chew bubble gum I remember the months he could not eat and the gum he chewed instead. At my desk I am surrounded by letters, pictures, and a poem sent by a friend who knows me all too well—“I felt I was a child instructing the grown-ups, / Giving advice like paper dams on a violent stream.”

I am a hospital chaplain. Prayers, games, and tears are the economy of my day. I baptize the dead—a theological no-no but in the midst of tears can anyone say “no” to a families request for their dying child? I bless the intubated. I offer reassurance, but more often, there is none to give. My smallest parishioners are weighed in grams; my largest are sometimes older than me with congenital problems best solved in a pediatric hospital. I drink lattes on my way to work, a bribe to leave my room, my warm, safe place where death is something that happens to pets and grandmothers.

There are times when my work is one of joy. A call to the side of a mother I have known for months asking a blessing for the long awaited trip home. I celebrate as a teenager, emerges laughing from baptism in the physical therapy pool. I read stories and offer comforts unique to the chaplain. I answer the curious questions of seekers, dispel myths, and tell jokes. I e-mail former patients who have left this place healthy and hungry for the world. I am continuously astonished by the volume of love the human heart can hold. The world becomes a testimonial; the hospital wards a witness and my calling, by turns a blessing and a burden.

At church I find myself a fish out of water—a priest, but not the priest of this parish or that parish. I am a priest, whose ordination anniversary stands in the singular. I am a priest, not yet 30, who has seen too much and bites her tongue when a colleague comments that my job is “cute.” I wear a collar every day, band, not tab. I curse God when a favorite relapses—and I trust that God does not take my words personally. I keep my faith alive because I sense that the ache of my heart is only dwarfed by the ache of God’s own. Likewise, when I celebrate I also sense that the joy in my heart is only dwarfed by the joy in God’s own.

God does not promise that we will never suffer; rather, God promises that we won’t be alone when we suffer. So, I stand with the suffering…walking in the valley of the shadow of death. And in the valley, I find a question—how long can I walk here? I wonder if that is the question that plagues all of us? How long, o Lord, how long? So, here I am, the day ahead—will it be long enough for the fullness of glory and the depth of despair? The answer, somehow, is always “yes”.

My pager goes off in the night, and my lips form around a “yes”. I throw on a clerical shirt and get in the car. An emergency c-section and a dying child wait at the end of my journey. I race to the hospital—I would rather baptize the living than the dead.

The trip got stranger

Okay, so the first and last time I updated this I was serving as a pediatric chaplain. About 5 months ago I realized (with the help of my beloved wife) that serving as the sole chaplain in a 244 bed children's hospital (handling at the very least one death a week without any support from other clergy or chaplains) was a slow way to die. So, two months ago (on October 30th to be exact) I left that call for another. The date was intentional--I used to joke that on Halloween I got to have two different conversations, "no, this is not a costume. I'm really a priest" and "no, I don't believe that Halloween is a tool of Satan". It was a very difficult decision to make and I struggled (and still do) with the feeling that I was abandoning these folk I had very much come to love. But, martyrdom is overrated and I came to realize that serving God can and should be a joyful task. So, I now serve as the half-time associate rector at a lovely church in Akron, OH. I will post some material I have written for other sites and occasions to this blog and will aim to update this blog weekly (at the very least). Peace and God, shield the joyous.