Thursday, April 30, 2009


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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Episcopal Cafe Essay

An essay I wrote for Episcopal Cafe has been posted on their Daily Episcopalian Blog And, people wonder why I left...

How long O Lord, how long? I worked as a SOLO chaplain in a 244 bed children's hospital, across 7+ units. I could not take time away to attend any programming for the newly ordained and could rarely attend diocesan programs. My pager was on Monday morning through Friday night for over a year and a half. I still have nightmares--105 deaths in a little over 2 years.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Plethora of Projects

Easter is still with us and as the weather warms, flowers bloom and trees leaf out (ironic in that today's weather includes snow)...a veritable feast of church programs are emerging:

Episcopal Walk Run Club; 4.5.6 Book Club; Creating Camp: a fine arts based vacation Bible school (July 20th-25th); strawberries and steel drums (June 7th following services); oh, and of course, monthly home Eucharists.

As I prepare for these programs, I wonder about community formation in the early church. We gain a sense of belonging through these various "programs", programs meant to allow a gentle entry point into community, programs meant to attend to the interests and needs of our community. But, when I compare our own community formation to that of the early church (which we read about throughout this Easter season) I am struck that the early church was bound together by persecution, suffering and the Eucharistic feast--oppression was their glue and belief their guide. They were not planning summer outings to the symphony nor were they trying to burn off the calories from a few too many cookies at coffee hour.

I don't mean to say that we have no sense of shared suffering in our community (many of us do and have found shelter in our welcoming and affirming community), nor do I mean to say that we are shallow in our concerns (we aren't--we have numerous outreach projects). But, I do wonder, are we all perhaps longing for something more?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Jesus=1; Death=0

"A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring)" by Eleanor Farjeon

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday With Mary Oliver in Mourning

After Her Death
a poem by Mary Oliver

I am trying to find the lesson
For tomorrow. Matthew something.
Which lectionary? I have not
forgotten the Way, but, a little,
the way to the Way. The trees keep whispering
peace, peace, and the birds
in the shallows are full of the
bodies of small fish and are
content. They open their wings
so easily, and fly. So. It is still

I open the book
which the strange, difficult, beautiful church
has given me. To Matthew. Anywhere.

Holy Saturday always seems like the longest day of Holy Week--Jesus has died, but has not risen, and we are left in the aftermath of death while anticipating a celebratory tomorrow. It seems wrong to treat the day like any other Saturday, filling it with errands until it is time to go to the vigil. Decorating and shopping for Easter dinner will, by necessity, compose part of my day. But, setting up for celebration doesn't really seem appropriate. Continuing on as if nothing has happened just doesn't sit well with my soul.

Yet, the birds are flying outside and the sunshine beckons us into another day. We humans seem to be filled with an inexplicable urge for forward movement--and part of that movement is our audacious desire to live despite the reality of death. When I was working at the hospital I was occasionally asked if I wanted to have children even tho' I was witness to so many horrific deaths. The answer was, and is, yes. The benefits of loving will always outweigh the risk of losing. Yes, I know that those we love die (before or after we ourselves do), but if I want to defeat death I must love in the face of its reality.

So, what will you do today in the face of reality? How will you defeat death? How will you embrace the "strange, difficult and beautiful" truth of our finite lives?

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Child

I remember her now. Her body was stiff in my arms and I held her while I prayed with her family, her father and mother distraught and terrified at what they saw. Her father explained to me again and again: I found her dead, I tried to do CPR, she was blue. Meanwhile, I held her and prayed. Her hair, if I recall correctly, was in little pony tails. Her mouth was crusted with dried sputum around the tube that they had inserted to try and force air into her small, dead body. The women cried, falling to the floor. My eyes were dry and I prayed. My hands were heavy with her weight and I comforted her heartbroken parents just as I had comforted parents before and since.

Until today I had forgotten her. There were two deaths simultaneously that day and dozens since. But today, I opened the paper and saw her name. The autopsy and coroner had completed their work and deemed her death murder. She had not died during the night, she had died the day before, after ingesting nicotine and cocaine. The police are in search of her father and mother and I pray. I pray for her senseless death and for all who die at the hands of violence and beneath the feet of injustice. I wondered for a brief moment if there was something I should have known, if knowing would have changed my prayers. But no, I prayed the prayers that I knew and left the rest to God to know. It was not my role, and is not my role to judge--and as I read the words I am reminded that again and again we are called to "forgive them for they know not what they do."

Before I left seminary and took a call as a pediatric chaplain a colleague of my wife's, another physician, told her that he thought that the moment I saw my first child die I would lose my faith. It had happened to him, and he no longer believed in God--because no God would allow such a thing to happen. No God, would forsake an innocent such as these.

But, God did not abandon them. God accompanied them, feeling every convulsion every blow, every laceration. God was forsaken at the same moment that they were and died with their death--whatever you do to the least of these, my children, you do to me. This is why Jesus died on the cross for that when I face the nightmare of senseless violence I know that I serve a God who does not leave when we grow fearful, I serve a God who understands and has experienced the depth of human depravity, I serve a God who fills the nothingness with love. I serve a God who knows what it is to feel forsaken and knows what it is to die. This is my comfort, and this is my faith.

In The Crucified God, Jurgens Moltmann writes: “Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose that it must end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”

So today, on this Good day, on this day where Golgotha blots out the sun. Today, what kind of God do you serve? Where do you find faith and comfort in the midst of nothingness?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday Etymology

"The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34)"

"Mandate (N.)1501, from L. mandatum "commission, order," noun use of neut. pp. of mandare "to order, commit to one's charge," lit. "to give into one's hand," probably from manus "hand" (see manual) + dare "to give" (see date (1)). Political sense of "approval of policy supposedly conferred by voters to winners of an election" is from 1796. Mandatory is attested 1576, "of the nature of a mandate;" sense of "obligatory because commanded" is from 1818."

I can almost hear the general sigh of relief that the modern church adopted the Eucharist as a sacrament and not foot washing. Every church I have ever been in has had groups who felt VERY strongly about the Maundy Thursday custom of foot washing. The questions abound: who washes feet; if you have to wash feet; if washing hands is an appropriate symbolic gesture; should we wash feet at all; what to do if the person coming forward for foot washing is wearing hose; etcetera...

People get really weirded out about having their feet washed (which I can understand, my feet certainly wouldn't win best in show). But, in our obsession with the details it's easy to forget the aspect of foot washing that is about the "mandate". I included the origins for both the word Maundy and mandate because I think that it gets at the heart of why we even attempt the controversial (sigh) washing of feet. We love in imitation of Christ, foot washing was an act of love performed by Jesus for those he loved. We as leaders in the church (and the collective "we" of people who by virtue of our privilege are called to serve others) are to do as Jesus did.

Now, that's the collar's perspective. But from the perspective of the individual getting his or her feet washed it is a moment of vulnerability. It is exposing something that we normally keep hidden to someone in a position of power. It is literally "giving into one's hand" and this I think is the heart of the controversy over foot washing--we are all taught to hide our vulnerabilities and here is a ritual designed to not only expose them but honor us in their exposing. I think that's part of why Simon Peter had such a hissy fit about this--he wasn't willing to be vulnerable even to Jesus. However, when he realized that exposing his vulnerability could be an avenue to greatness he volunteered for a sponge bath!

Once again, Peter missed the point. And, once again, the pre-foot washing discussions are missing the point...are we willing to give our lives into Jesus' hand?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Upper Room

image from

Today feels very much like "hump day" for Holy Week. And, so today, I am headed to the kitchen of friends. I will drink their tea, read their newspaper, pet their dogs and be given the blessing of their quiet companionship. I am not one to let my guard down and these friends provide one of the few places where I feel comfortable just being. And, their kitchen is my own version of the upper room.

It is the last quiet place, the last place where the company could naively pretend the events to come could be avoided. I picture the kitchen of my friends--a place where glasses of wine, advice, love and tea are poured out in liberal measure. The place where Jesus could serve his friends not because he had to but because he wanted to, not because he should have but because he loved to.

So today, I encourage you to find or imagine your own upper room. A place of calm in the midst of the storm, a place of safety where vulnerability is not only allowed but cherished. Where is your place?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Saying Goodbye

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “ Jn 12:24

I have never been in any call/job for more than three years. This is largely due to my age and the interspersion of large chunks of schooling in the midst of my professional life--4 years of college, during which I worked at a daycare center; 3 years as an inner city youth outreach worker for a group of churches; 3 years in seminary with field education in a program sized parish where I worked with the young people; 2 ½ years as a pediatric chaplain.

Each of these calls/places/jobs was VERY relational in nature—the lines between the professional and personal often blurred, and I retain close friends from each of these places on my journey. Yet, as much as I loved the people I met in these places, I left. Some of my leave taking came from the natural progression of my education, no one expected me to stay at the student staffed daycare center beyond college, and some from choices I made about my personal and professional life.

Each time I left I went through a period of mourning as I experienced the loss of relationship, the loss of my role(s), and the loss of the structure I had established in each of my calls. My world changed dramatically with each transition and I often felt (and feel) bereft as I pondered what my new manner of life would be. Leaving, for me, is always the hardest part of ministry—but good leave taking can help the people left behind to become more the people they are called to be…

There is a book entitled, Running Through the Thistles: Terminating a Ministerial Relationship With a Parish: Roy M. Oswald, that I read while in seminary. In brief, the Reverend Oswald, describes how it is our responsibility and obligation (both for our own sake and that of our congregation) to prepare them for our leave taking. That we can duck and cover or we can allow the process to unfold in a fashion that allows for reconciliation and love to manifest themselves.

Preparation for leave taking from a call is very similar to preparation for leave taking from life. Quaker physician Ira Byock, in his book Dying Well, describes five tasks of the dying as: “Forgive me”; “I forgive you”; “Thank you”; “I love you”; and “Goodbye.” In saying each of these things (either in word or action) the dying and those who love them are able to achieve reconciliation at the last. And, it strikes me, that our “smaller” leave takings may be practice for our big leave taking.

And, on this Tuesday in Holy Week I am struck by how Jesus prepares his disciples for his own leave taking. Forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you, goodbye…

Our dog, Lily, shortly before her death.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday of Holy Week

Even though it is only Monday of Holy Week, I’ve jumped ahead to Good Friday. Perhaps it is still my theological inclination to spend too much time at the cross and not enough in “ordinary” time or any other time for that matter. I lived a bit over two years of Good Fridays in my call as a pediatric chaplain and I am still searching for the joy of Easter that was stolen in those years.

But, Lent and Holy Week make me think of those who are trapped in Good Friday--those for whom the resurrection of Easter seems to never come. The children I’ve seen die, the desperately desired infants who never made it beyond the womb, the parents whose prayers seemed to go unheard, the gravesides adorned with pinwheels and teddy bears. These losses, these sacrifices without any seeming greater good--these have stolen little bits of the Easter joy for me through these last years. What good is Easter when such pain is all too common? It is an unending Lenten sacrifice without the remediation of the first fire of Easter.

But, what is Easter really? Does it have to be all alleluias and Easter lilies; is its meaning encapsulated by new dresses and eggy brunch? As the world crashes in I have begun to accept that in some ways, we’ve billed Easter wrong. Perhaps what we really need isn’t a joyful Easter but a defiant one. I am a priest and I am an obstinate woman who likes a God who can spit in the face of death, defy all the evils in the world and declare love victorious despite it all.

This Monday of Holy Week, under the umbrella of this long Good Friday, I ponder the sentence from John, “He loved them to the end.” This is a truth I can live with. There is an end, it hurts and hearts break—but in the midst of the suffering there is love. Ultimately, this encapsulates everything true of each death I’ve experienced--each child was loved until the end. And, perhaps the truth of the resurrection is that they are still loved and their story is unending.

So f’you death, you don’t get the last word.

Palm/Passion Sunday--a Sermon in Brief

(two minutes of silence).

How does one speak after the crucifixion?

Awkward silence, uncomfortable silence, painful silence--
Slipping into companionable silence.
The passion is sometimes important not for what is said,
but for who is silent.

The woman with the jar of nard did not speak.
Anointing her beloved in life
with a ritual customary after death.
There would be no time before the Sabbath set in.

Simon of Cyrene silently accepted his conscription.
It was customary to flog the prisoner
after they had arrived at the sight of crucifixion.
Christ's torture was early and left him weak.

Mary, mother of Joses, James and Salome;
Mary Magdalene, whose story we all presume to know,
Were silent as they witnessed his death,
Their eyes escorted his body to the tomb.

The silence of the grave,
Of those who mourn,
Of those who care,
Of a world rent asunder.