Friday, December 31, 2010

Flight Into Egypt

I love this painting by Caravaggio of Mary asleep, with the baby Jesus in her arms, as Joseph holds a score for an angelic violinist. I love it because of the calm eye of the donkey, the weary look on Joseph's face, and the presence of God (as represented by the angel) as comforter and purveyer of beauty in the midst of a refugee family's all to real and present nightmare. I love it because Mary's face is serene and the baby clearly thriving on her milk and his family's love. And as I contemplate this artwork I find myself reflecting on what this time in Mary's life must have been like.

I do not know the specific's of postpartum ritual in the 1st century. But, I imagine that in her hometown Mary would have been surrounded by women, quick to offer advice and assistance. When labor pain set in, other women, her mother perhaps, would have gathered around her and guided her through each contraction. As she anticipated putting the baby to breast for the first time she would be surrounded by other nursing mamas--eager to help her learn.

I do know, that in her immediate postpartum period (based on the purity laws regarding women's discharge...lochia in the weeks following the birth) that Mary would have been given the opportunity for rest and a lying in with her new babe. Further, before Mary rejoined the wider community with her baby she would likely have taken a ritual bath for cleansing--a bath that (anthropologically speaking) would have represented her own birth into motherhood and a new status in the community.

But, instead, Mary and her family find themselves fleeing the threat of death...and they go seeking asylum in a land and a place far from the comforts of their home. Instead of a ritual bath Mary's transition into motherhood is marked by the crossing of a desert. Instead of the firm advice of experienced mamas and the chatter of her sisters, Mary sleeps to the sounds of the donkey asleep on his feet after a weary day's journey. Instead of a time of watching her child grow secure in the love of his extended family she faces a time of literal alienation as she and her family become strangers in a strange land.

It's truly amazing to me to reflect on what Mary was experiencing while standing on this side of my own child's birth. I am struck by her strength but also find myself imagining a period of profound fear, anxiety and loneliness. "Blessed are you amongst women..." truly.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas With Our Baby

What wondrous love is this, o my soul, o my soul, what wondrous love is this, o my soul...



Truly a good day. May the blessings of Christmas spring forth for all of you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Santa Baby...

No, not the song, the Santa and THE Baby. Yup, Jesus. Recently in Sunday School (Children's Chapel to us) I had to clarify that Santa was not born on December 25th. On the spot, I told the kids that Jesus was born on December 25th and Santa only exists because Jesus exists.

Which, is true. No Jesus, No Santa (reads like a bumper sticker!). And, as I stumble further into the Christian mama blog world (which is a peculiar one to say the least) I come across more and more folk who are vehemently anti-Santa. This has caused me to reflect greatly on what/how/why we will teach our son about Christmas. And, I have decided (we, really) to go ahead and embrace Santa as a family, as a family with a priest mama that faithfully attends church and holds Christ at the center of it all. Santa and THE baby are not incompatible in our household--let me explain why.

Regardless of how one feels about the guy in the big red suit, he has become central to most American's understanding of "what" Christmas is. Santa is an ubiquitous figure this time of year and somewhat impossible to avoid. And, despite the close ties to rampant commercialism and unquestioning capitalism, Santa has much to offer our children. And, what he offers is far greater than gifts (and really, Santa is only as excessive in his gifting as parents make him...).

The reality in our household is that Santa lends himself well to lessons in social justice. We will teach our son about Santa because we plan on it becoming his first lesson in philanthropy. The original St. Nicholas stories have the good saint assisting women living in poverty, and he does so with no expectation for reward. Where else do we hear stories of altruism in our world? Where else are we encouraged to give gifts anonymously--giving all the credit to someone else? (Yes, I know, Jesus--the best altruist. But, it's easier to teach a very small child about altruism through the giving of gifts than through death on a cross. Our son will learn about both, but developmentally the concrete reality of a gift will be more appropriate than the abstract reality of the paschal mystery for a few years).

Thus, as we prepare for our first Christmas as mamas...well, let's just say the stockings are already hung by the chimney (read, above the couch) with care ready to be filled to bursting. But, there is an extra stocking in our house--already filled to the gills. A stocking prepared with love and prayers, a stocking that will be given to a child in a shelter, from Santa. Because, Santa is magic like that!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whistling in the Dark, An Advent Reflection

“This is a direct act of hope, to look through the cloud, and look for a beam of the light from God; and this is called in scripture, “rejoicing in tribulation”, when “the God of hope fills us with joy in believing”: every degree of hope brings a degree of joy.” -Jeremy Taylor

Whistling in the dark--a subversive act in which we use the power of a simple and somewhat ridiculous act, whistling, in order to remove the power of darkness to fear and weaken us. Could it be said that rejoicing, year after year, in the birth of a child who will die on the cross is, in and of itself, an act of whistling in the dark?

Do you ever find yourself “whistling in the dark”?

Maui, An Advent Meditation

We cannot survive without light. And, as the days grow shorter we find ourselves in darkness far too often. Thus, we find ways in which to endure the long days ahead—with light. Brightly peering through the darkness we see light cast from candles, and fireplaces, light from the porch to greet us at the end of the day, warm and filling food to fill our bellies, lights strung from our houses and shops. As I contemplated the role of light in our lives I found myself recalling a story from my own childhood:

The sun was too quick in its daily work, swiftly crossing the sky and leaving little time for those down below to accomplish their daily tasks. In particular, this brought much consternation to an elderly woman on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. One day, as she hung out the freshly washed Tapa cloth to dry she complained to her grandson about the sun’s swift course and how her cloth would not be able to dry in the short period of time that the sun was shining. Now, most of the time such complaints would be merely an airing of grievances—a grandmother sharing with a grandson the difficulties she faces in life, without any expectation that he would actually do something about it. However, not every grandmother has a demi-god for a grandson. So, Maui, hearing his grandmother’s complaints grew very angry at the sun and came up with a plan. Taking his longest ropes, made from the fibers of the coconut, he hid in the house of the sun (Haleakala) waiting for the sun to emerge and bring with it the morning light. From behind a giant rock he aimed carefully as the sun peeked from his house. Casting the rope he snared the sun. With stern admonitions he told the sun that if the sun did not slow down not only would his grandmother not have time to dry her cloth but the people would perish because there would not be time or light enough to grow food in their gardens! The sun, hobbled by the bindings, was thus forced to limp across the sky each day--giving the people (and Maui’s grandmother) time for all of their tasks.

This folk tale brings home the reality that light and our survival are intimately connected. With this reminder, I contemplate the “light of Christ”. If it is the light from the sun that allows our planet to exist…what is it about the light of Christ that allows each of us to grow and thrive?

(the art work of Holy Innocents church, Lahaina, Maui)

Advent meditations: Halley's comet

I wrote 12 meditations for Advent for our parish Advent calendar...I will post some of them here as well.

In 1986, when I was eight years old, I began to understand the finitude of human life when it is juxtaposed with the universe--heady stuff for a second grader. It was late at night, much later than I was usually allowed to stay up, and my entire family had gathered at the summit of Mount Haleakala to observe the passing of Halley’s comet. It was cold at the 10,000 foot elevation and we were crammed with a great many other people in the observatory perched above the cinder filled caldera. I huddled next to my grandmother and craned my neck in order to see. A bright star traced across the sky and I was silent with the magnitude of the night, the cold and this star that moved and caused the usual rules to be suspended. It was then that my grandmother turned to me and told me that she would be dead when this star crossed our skies again. I was not saddened by this news, but rather impressed: impressed at the length of days that lay ahead; impressed that she trusted me with this information about her own mortality; and impressed with the idea that I might live long enough to witness Halley’s crossing again. More than 20 years later my grandmother is still alive and I am struck once more by her long life…a long life marked by the reminder that even the longest of lives is short. I am also struck that the first recorded sighting of Halley’s comet is recorded in the Talmud and is dated to 66 AD —around the time of the composition of the Gospels (approximately 30-90AD). Our story in the here and now is connected…connected to the story of all history. In this Advent as we prepare for the arrival of the baby Christ I am reminded of the perpetual promise of salvation and the restoration of creation in the simple fact of new life.

How do you connect to the story of history in the here and the now?

(the Hubble telescope image gallery)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent 2A, The Wild Angels

Tomorrow is the first rehearsal for our annual Christmas pageant. Held during the 4pm Christmas Eve service, our pageant has traditionally been the classic Christmas card vignette. The adorable lambs, the sweet angels--and I promise that we will have both this year--mother Mary so meek and mild; the somewhat embarrassed to be up there Joseph, shepherds keeping their watches....and the silent stars at night.

The pageant, sweet as a Christmas card with the added ahhhh factor of lambs crawling off and baaing mama; angels with halo’s askew and beautiful music. But, this year, this year we’ve decided to really take a look at what was so frightening to the shepherds in the field. Yes, this year the pageant will offer both the innocent sweetness of our littles gowned and halo’d and the edgy tension of our rock star styled heavenly beings...the kinds of angels that inspire fear and awe. Not so little, not so sweet--these are angels out of scripture. These are angels that would make you want to hide under the covers and as one of our rock star angels put it, they would make the shepherds “whimper”.

Be not afraid, they had to say that, because they WERE scary, they were wild creatures, not tame ones and that is the tension I want to draw our attention to today...when we “tame” and subdue scripture it becomes a bit too easy to turn our faith into the stuff of Hallmark cards and neglect the awful and awesome realities in which these stories took place and in which we live.

Our scripture on this second Sunday in Advent offers very striking and different visions of the reign of God--and only one of those visions has made it onto a Christmas card. And, that glittered landscape with the lion and lamb nuzzled up in a heap and the text “Peace on Earth” leaves out most of the story...this is not an easily won peace, this is not cheap grace. It is a peace and grace that have come at great cost and followed fearful times.

The book of the prophet Isaiah arose out of the 8th century and a very specific crisis--Judah’s war with Syria and Israel. Weak governance and a lack of trust in God in public life was deemed by the prophet to be the source of the struggles for the people of Israel. Throughout the book those in power, those who would exploit the poor and oppress the needy are castigated and called to remember that the justice of God will ultimately prevail. Then, once human abuses are rectified, the earth will return to the state that God intends--a place of peaceful coexistance. This is the hope that carries the people, the hope that ills be set aright and that God WILL intervene. Now, this intervention is both a hope AND a threat in Isaiah--for those who are suffering at the hands of oppressors it is a hope, for those who oppress, well, for them it is a threat.

Now, that would be quite the Christmas card--”he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked”. That’s a far cry from the romantic notion we have of the halo’d boy child lying in slumber. And, it is far more akin to the message that John the Baptist carried for his listeners. And, once again, that is NOT a Christmas card I’ve ever seen--John, hair matted, with camel skins gird about him warning those who have come for his baptism that “one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. Merry Christmas, indeed! Sleep in Heavenly Peace?

Our faith is FAR more complicated than a Christmas card--and Advent is a time when we live in the midst of those complications. The tension between our hopes and dreams for peace and the often painful realities in which we live. The tension between our joy at the fulfillment of God’s promise in Jesus and our fear of having to change and work in order to bring that promise into the world. It becomes clear in Advent that transformation, that birth itself, will be a harrowing thing. Yes, the baby is sweet and the scene bucolic--but there are soldiers in the hillsides hunting and Herod willing to kill the innocent in order to preserve his throne.

We don’t often think of the political backdrop of the nativity story. Of the Roman rulers and imperial powers that were abusing, enslaving and indeed, slaughtering those who dared to rise up against them. We don’t often think about the terror that caused Jesus’ family to flee with him into Egypt. But, that’s the world in which these texts emerged...that was the reality.

And, yet, and yet...the other reality was that these authors, these people VERY much believed in the power of God to transform the world--the God Paul describes as being “of steadfastness and encouragement” the God “of hope who may fill you with all joy and peace in believing”.

And, there’s the rub, the point in which I find myself challenged to see God in the mist of hard realities--of the war, violence and oppression that seem rife. Because, war and oppression are real, intrigue and political abuses are real...yet I also hold that something else is real. And, that something is witnessed to in the Christmas cards that I seem to have so strongly maligned.

It does not escape me that when we send Christmas greetings to Ryan we are sending them into a war zone. Merry Christmas and God bless...small print against a harsh landscape. But, with those words comes a reminder of God’s persistent promise that there is something more...that God’s hope and love will ring clear and that indeed, a little child will lead us all into a new way of being. That there is a greater power than war, that there is a greater peace and promise than any newscast can contain.

And THIS is the true reality of the Gospel, THIS is the true hope of the prophet, THIS is the power of the Holy Spirit--to bring us hope in true believing.

We are called as Christians, in this Advent season, to live like John the Baptist. And, by this I do not mean that we should take up camel skins and feast on locusts and wild honey. I mean that we are called to live like our hopes and dreams are real, obtainable and most of all TRUE. We are called to embrace the image of the lion lying down with the lamb, we are called to follow a helpless infant who held no power by the rules of the world but all power by the rules of the creator, we are called to listen up and be transformed by the purifying Spirit and we are called to do so even when it seems hopeless and naive.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

2010 Proper 26C: Aesthetic Essential

The propers:

Isaiah 1:10-18
2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4; 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

The Sermon:

The Episcopal church is known for the beauty of its liturgy…some of the most wonderful occasions of worship I have experienced have been rife with pomp and circumstance. Incense wafting through literal catacombs; fire in the darkness; the choir’s anthem ascending and filling the space; communion served while gazing in reverence at glorious carvings of saints. And, I’m going to generalize wildly here…we tend to be people who love language, who love poetry and the art of worship. Our liturgy is a means of “seeing” God in beauty—and offering up the best of what we have as human beings to God. The compilation of the Book of Common Prayer was an attempt to offer a form for worship that would glorify God in truth, in beauty and most importantly in a gathered community of individuals gathered for a shared purpose—the journey towards God.

Indeed, people have left churches when liturgical changes have occurred…the “new” prayer book (and since when is something first published in 1979 “new”?); the “new” hymnal; offering communion every Sunday as opposed to morning prayer; and sometimes it seems like nothing inspires more debate amongst clergy and lay people than the question of where to put the announcements—you’ll find that the prayer book is surprisingly quiet about that subject! Why is there so much passion in regards to the matter of “how” we worship God? Especially given the passage we read today from Isaiah… “I cannot endure solemn assemblies…” I mean, it seems fairly clear here, forget the worship and do the deeds! The prophet Isaiah has some strong words to say about folks who make a show of worship, who think that the pageantry and performance of the thing are adequate alone. And, he even uses the conversation stoppers…Sodom and Gomorrah to do so (it would be like mentioning hurricane Katrina in a planning session at a planning meeting of the army corp of engineers). Everyone knows how bad it was…and no one wants to experience such hardship again and would do anything they could to prevent it.

That said, why then do we persist in showing up Sunday after Sunday? Why is it that Christian worship has continued with the combination of book, washing, meal, song and speech? Why is any of this important to us…as we ponder the mandate “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”. There are many in this world and in this community that do all of these things…without ever setting foot in ANY place of worship. So is what we do here, is it merely some relic of times past? Are this worship and gathering relevant to the world AT ALL? Are we wasting our time and God’s by gathering here at Church of Our Saviour?

My calling would argue that this is not wasted time…but time that is essential to our survival as Christians and as human beings; it is time that is essential for helping us to become the people that “God intends us to be”. We are the better for this gathering…it reminds us. It reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. For, in reading scripture we are able to hear the story of our people—it connects us to our history and we are challenged to take this history, learn from it and discover its relevance to contemporary times. In sharing song we are expressing our faith and our collective ability to participate in creating something beautiful. In the water of baptism we express our connection to each other and God—acknowledging the presence of God in the here and the now. In the bread and wine we are given the opportunity each week to gather at God’s table and participate in a meal of reconciliation, remembrance and expansiveness. Book, washing, meal, song and speech—these are simple things, holy things, things that may seem irrelevant when juxtaposed with the demanding needs of our lives and our times. But, they are important to us…and at the center of it all is the act of reconciliation.

From the perspective of our faith the Sunday liturgy, the “things” we do are the primary means by which we engage in the ministry of reconciliation. It brings us together, it reminds us of God’s mercy and it becomes a means by which we can step outside of ourselves and the small worlds in which we spend so much of our time. I know that if I didn’t go to church I wouldn’t have to deal with people I would normally have never met in my day to day life. Our friends would be other youngish professionals…we would probably spend more time attending doctor parties and only hang out with other folks with small children. And, in having only friends who are “like us” life may seem less complicated—with less potential for disagreement and come with the comfort of shared assumptions about life. But this sort of social isolationism is not the kingdom of God that is intended—a kingdom where everyone is invited to the banquet. In Lathrop’s work “Holy Things” he asserts that the Sunday liturgy is the principal reminder we have the “God welcomes sinners”.

In gathering together a disparate group of people, in welcoming everyone and coming together with no barriers to admittance we are reminding ourselves and each other of the realities of the wider world and the love of God for everyone. Sunday makes the poor relevant to those of us who are not poor; Sunday makes the widows real for those of us whose friends are mostly young; Sunday brings children into the midst of those whose only encounter with children during the week is getting stuck behind a school bus. Sunday brings tax collectors into our midst and makes us the richer for it!

Perhaps worship for us becomes like Zacchaeus’ climbing into the tree. Our worship and indeed the story of Zacchaeus may seem quaint, cute and perhaps even ridiculous by the world’s standards—but it is actually a radical act of seeking out God. In coming here, we demonstrate our desire to be in relationship with God and each other. We demonstrate that who God is matters and that we are longing to be in relationship with each other and are willing to sacrifice our dignity and even our worldly concerns to do so.

“Lord, may our fellowship be the revelation of your presence and turn our daily bread into the bread of life.” {Alternative Service Book; Anglican Church of Canada]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Light

One of the stranger aspects of this "clerical" life is that I live a church season or two ahead. So, I am currently deep in the depths of Advent preparation (altho' I'm not entirely sure that's why the Christmas displays are encroaching on the Halloween displays at most of the department stores). This Advent, my colleague and I will be compiling a blog of reflections (both visual and written). In the process of preparing a portion of the written reflections, and in the midst of the ever shorter days this time of year, I find myself pondering light.

The light of Christ most obviously...but what happens when this metaphor is sought out in the day to day? Where is it that we find that light of life and love--

Is it the light flickering through autumn leaves?
Is it the glow of the nightlight in the darkest of the wee small hours?
Is it the stars in their courses?
Is it the smell of beeswax?
Is it reflected in the sanguine pools of your love's eyes?
Is it the porch light beaming as you pull in late from work?
Is it the satellite blinking overhead?
Is it the moment when you turn off the bedside lamp and sink into the pillow?

Sometimes we need the metaphorical and abstract to be made concrete. Where do you find light in your life?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Like A Leper

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

He was a beautiful child. Dark flashing eyes would light up with mirth at the approach of his mother and he would eagerly reach for anyone who approached, anticipating love, for that is all he knew. As he grew he was taught the prayers and customs of his people and he was an obedient son to his father.

The teachers singled him out for special instruction and care—silently thinking that this child, this smart and beautiful boy, may be called to serve as one of them. The other boys were envious of the special attention he received. They began to wait for him on the road home, they harassed and tormented him in secret. His parents noticed the bruises and dismissed it. Boys will be boys they said with a smile, altho’ it saddened them to see their child walking alone each day.

Then, one day he noticed a spot on his arm. He pulled his sleeves down firmly and hoped it would go away. The spot grew and multiplied and soon he was tugging down his sleeves constantly. He knew, he knew what had happened to others whose skin had suddenly turned on them. They lived outside of town far away from those they loved. On occasion the boys would dare each other to edge closer and closer to where they were camped, throwing stones and epithets that hurt worse than any hard flung pebble. They weren’t talked about much, but he had seen them run off…chased like harried sheep. He did not want to be like them…so he pulled his cloak ever tighter as his stomach knotted in fear.

Time passed and the other children noticed that as the weather warmed he did not shed his cloak. It became a game to taunt him, trying to pull away his cloak…laughing at his protestations. Finally, one day a group of boys cornered him. And, as tears poured from his eyes they took his cloak and pulled up his sleeves, they saw. "Leper!" they cried, as they turned from him, afraid that his shame would be theirs.

The parents of the other children came to his home--the one place he had always been safe from harm, safe from others. And in anxious, muttered tones he saw the adults discuss him and glance again and again towards the corner in which he sat huddled—studying words of scripture which he had already committed to heart, “He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and full of compassion…” The boy grew red with anger--where was the grace and compassion, where was God?

His mother, with tears in her eyes began to pack a bag—his warmest cloak, food and water. And, then, despite his protestations she explained what he already knew. Leprosy. It would not be safe for him to stay in their village or even their home. His parents could not and would not shelter him. To allow him to stay would bring shame upon his entire family and the risk, the risk of contamination was too great.

His protestations turned to angry tears. His parents had always loved him and protected him. Yet, here were his father and mother escorting him to the edge of town and turning away…not even a kiss of peace upon his brow.

Lost: his home, his family, his faith. He was as one dead…no fellowship but his own.

***

The recent suicides by LGBT young people who feel that death is preferable to the loss of friends, family, homes and their faith is the lens through which I read the propers this week. And, as I reflect upon the ways in which people bully, terrorize, shame and torture those who are different, I am left with the responsibility to connect the propers to a world in which children die because they have been treated as lepers.

What does it mean to be treated as a leper? As a pariah in our own home's and community's? In biblical times, leprosy was not the disease we refer to as Hansen's disease. It was a blanket term for a wide range of skin conditions (such as psoriasis, eczema, or particularly bad teen acne). And, not only was no differentiation made between these skin problems, the skin condition was seen as a punishment by God for sins that the "leper" had committed. Blaming the victim, anyone?

That said, the "boy" I describe above (in a fictional take on the events leading up to the isolation of one of the ten lepers) would have forever carried a social stigma that would have led to continuing isolation and suffering. And, this suffering and isolation would have been understood by EVERYONE as his own fault.

This same blaming/shaming happens in the aftermath of violence inflicted upon LGBT individuals. The litany begins: if she'd prayed harder; he obviously did something wrong; he should have known what would have happened if he walked down the street dressed that way; if only he hadn't been so "flaming"; if only he'd stayed in the closet; if only she'd stayed celibate; you can't come out to grandma it would kill her; just don't flaunt it; that's so gay; your so gay.

Has the church ever taken a stand against this kind of bullying? Have we as a church ever publicly said that this kind of treatment of others is WRONG? Have we repented of those times in our own lives, our own history in which we have excluded, isolated, shamed and punished?

There is an architectural oddity in many medieval churches--the lepers squint. A window cut so that the lepers, who were not allowed to enter the church, could observe the worship. I can only begin to imagine the pain of watching others gather in a community of love and praise while being left to huddle outside, alone. The good news is that churches don't have squints anymore as a standard feature of their architecture. We can look back on them as a quaint, if cruel, oddity--seemingly irrelevant to the life of the church today. Our former cruelties and bigotries rendered harmless.

We have made progress both as a church and as individuals. We have learned and grown and been transformed (remember when women could not serve as priests...much less partnered lesbian mama priests?). This not only gives me hope, but it causes me to wonder, what steps we will need to take to assist in the incoming of the kingdom of God and ensure the dignity of EVERY human being?

What can we do to make it better? Because that is indeed God's promise...it will get better (nods to Dan Savage and the youtube it will get better campaign!). The kingdom of God is at hand and it is a place where bullies and bullying do not exist. It is a place where love triumphs and hatreds cease. It is a place where no one is marginalized and all are treated with equal measure of grace and compassion. It will get better.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Guest Blogger, Lisa Brown, Dons an Abaya and Hijab for Eid


My friend and parishioner (Lisa we still claim you even though you moved!), Lisa Brown wrote this amazing Facebook note about her experience of wearing a hijab and abaya in honor of Eid. Not only is Lisa an amazing person, she is a fabulous writer and I hope she'll write more and often!

On wearing a hijab in rural Illinois
by Lisa Brown on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 11:19pm

I wore a hijab in rural Illinois. It was fascinating. There is a backstory to this.

Last Thursday, I asked Farhan (my counterpart here at EIU) if he had any plans for the weekend, and he answered, "Yeah, I'm excited for Eid [the end of Ramadan] tomorrow." He then added that he was considering wearing traditional Pakistani dress to work.

When I got home, I had a little epiphany. I have two Saudi abayas (the long, shapeless gown) and a hijab (the headscarf) which were given to me by a couple of generous students back in my ESL teaching days. I had never worn them before because I'd never had an occasion. They're so beautiful it seems like a crime to hang them in my closet, so instead I have them pinned to the wall over my sofa in lieu of a painting. Yon jokes that it makes our house look like a museum, but that's fine with me. I like museums.

I gave Farhan a call. "Since you're dressing up tomorrow, I'm going to dress up, too!"

Women, you need to know: wearing the abaya is absolutely amazing and I recommend it to everyone. I'm quite convinced that it's the perfect garment. For one, it's comfortable. I felt like I was wearing a nightgown to work. The range of motion in an abaya is incredible. It has the added bonus of covering up all of your flabbier bits. That kangaroo pouch that exists where my abs are supposed to be? Gone, thanks to the abaya. God bless the person that invented the abaya. If only I could wear it every day.

The hijab and I, on the other hand... well, we had our issues. First, I couldn't figure out how to wrap the thing. Then I was confused because the hijab I owned was totally see-through, which seemed to defeat the point. I was a little stymied, so I turned to the internetz and learned that if the hijab is see-through, you're supposed to wear something called an "underscarf" underneath.

Believe it or not, I actually had a scarf that would serve perfectly as an underscarf. When Ethiopian Orthodox women go to church, they wear a white cotton scarf on their heads. Luckily, I happen to be deeply in love with an Ethiopian Orthodox man whom I went to church with once, so I did own one of these cotton scarves. (Actually, I'm wearing it in my profile picture right now.) Therefore, the Ethiopian Orthodox scarf served as the underscarf for my hijab. I loved the metaphor of this as well. Islam and Christianity living in harmony--on my head.

So, from the internetz, I figured out (sort of) how to wrap my hijab. In case you're curious, there's really not one single accepted way of doing it. The net is full of tips for Muslim women on how to wrap their hijabs in fashionable and creative ways. So, I figured that as long as I got the scarf to cover all my hair and my neckline, I was good to go.

Honestly, though, that hijab drove me crazy all day for two reason: 1) it made my head sweat, and 2) it kept coming unwrapped and I kept having to fix it. Admittedly, number 2 is probably due to my inexperience as a hijab wrapper. But it gave me some empathy for the female Saudi students I used to teach, whom I often saw inbetween classes in the restroom adjusting their headscarves. It's amazing they usually made it to class on time.

I would imagine that Muslim women who wear the hijab every day simply see it as a practical part of being a woman, kind of like wearing a bra. I also imagine, though, that women who convert to Islam need some time to get used to it!

So, anyway, when I arrived at school, my boss and my dean were thrilled to see Farhan's and my new getups. I wished Farhan a happy Eid, but I'm never one to do things halfway, so I decided to provide a giant Eid feast for Farhan and the whole floor as a surprise.

Some South Asian cuisine would have been ideal, but we don't have an Indian restaurant in Charleston, so I went with Mexican because Farhan likes Mexican. I decided to order a bunch of different types of appetizers to make the experience more communal. I sneaked into the office across the hall to phone the order. I fibbed to Farhan that I had a meeting with Chris Hanlon in English, then went to pick up the food.

On my way, I realized that I needed a cake, too becauase Farhan has a sweet tooth and it just wouldn't be a proper holiday meal without dessert. So, I decided to go to WalMart to pick up a cake.

I wasn't sure how people in rural Illinois would act toward a woman in a hijab, but I soon learned.

A lot of people stared, but it did not come across as malevolent at all. Rather, it seemed like they were curious. As a white girl who lived in a very rural part of Japan a year, I have become quite a connoisseur of stares. I know mean stares (which of course were rare in Japan but occasionally happened), and I know curious stares. These were curious stares.

No one was openly rude to me. On the contrary, I felt like people were almost going out of their way to be nice, as if to communicate, "I am not racist and I have no problem with you shopping here." It was a bit awkward, but much preferred over hostility. When I went to the check-out counter, the woman asked brightly, "So, how are YOU doing today?"

"Oh, I'm just FABULOUS!" I answered just as enthusiastically.

"Oh, that's just GREAT to HEAR! Most people just say they're GOOD, but you are FABULOUS! Well, I'm leaving work soon, so I'll be FABULOUS, too!"

"Oh, that sounds GREAT!" I bubbled.

At Los Potrillos, the Mexican place, I literally had to tell the staff four times that it was fine, I could carry my bags to my car by myself. I had to demonstrate, "See? I can do it. Three bags on this arm, four on this one!" Now, granted, I've never picked up seven bags of food from Los Potrillos before, so I don't know how they usually act (though it would be a neat experiment), but it seemed a little excessive.

In general, though, rural Illinoisans lived up to my thesis that Midwesterners really are the nicest people on earth, and I was proud to be one.

What surprised me, though, was how wearing the hijab changed MY behavior.

On one trip home from Japan, I surprised my parents by meeting them in the airport wearing a kimono. However, I wasn't concerned about my behavior because I still felt like I was representing myself. No one would ever mistake me for a Japanese. Everyone would guess correctly that I was someone who just visited Japan.

However, the abaya and hijab, for better or worse, have become not just cultural clothing but also religious clothing. When I walked into WalMart wearing them, most people probably assumed that I was a Muslim--not a study abroad coordinator playing dress-up. I understood the implications of this. Unintentionally, I had become a representative for a religion that's not my religion! Since there are few Muslims in rural Illinois, I had no doubt that many of the people who saw me would form their opinions of Muslims based on the behavior they witnessed from an Episcopalian girl from Ohio. This means that I had a great responsibility to be on my very, very best behavior.

Therefore, not only was everyone very nice to me, but I was also extremely nice to them. No fist was shaken at the guy who cut me off in the parking lot. A big smile remained plastered to my face.

This made me reflect--if everyone I met judged my religion, my workplace, and family by my actions, how would they feel about those things? I think this was the best effect that wearing the hijab had on me. It made me seriously consider my actions before taking them and act with more love and compassion toward others.

Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to make the hijab stay on my head. At about noon, I decided that four hours of head sweat was enough, and I retired the hijab for the rest of the day. I'm so sorry to my Saudi students--I tried, but I just couldn't do it!

The abaya, however, remained on long after I arrived home. You know, I really think that's a tradition that the Episcopal Church needs to pick up on...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

No One Cries Alone...

Our firm belief in the love of God--compounded with something I once read that stated that a child's understanding of God is fully formed by the time they are five--has caused me to consider the importance of how we respond to our little guy's needs. And, we try to respond with love because his understanding of God is going to be grounded in the understanding of love which he has learned from us.

Therefore, when he cries we tend to him. We do not leave him to cry alone and we respect that his only way of telling us that something is amiss in his world are his cries. This does not mean that we never allow him to cry or give him everything he might want in the moment...it means that he knows that his cries were heard, and that when he needs us we will come to him. We may not be able to "heal what ails him" (for who can stop teething pain?) but we will be with him. Because, if we want our son to understand that God is the unfailing presence, the abiding love, the lover of souls and the one who answers our cries, then we must respond to him with love at all times.

When I worked in the children's hospital I witnessed this response of love in the midst of some of the most horrific situations parents could find themselves in. Parents who could not stop the pain of mucositis or the shivering and shaking of seizures--these are the parents who taught me the most about God's presence. For in the midst of the screaming (for often it was screaming--but even worse was silence) they would hold their child and wipe away their tears. "Mommy's right here..." again and again and again they would whisper. They could not take away the pain, but no one cried alone.

Now, thank God (and this is prayer not profane) that I am not that parent in the hospital. And, I pray that I will never be. But, my lesson has been learned...our child will not cry alone. He will not face the darkness without the knowledge that his mommas will be there if he needs us.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sermon from August 29th "The Guest List"

Proper 17, year C...The Guest List

Sabbath and laws; the roll of law in Jesus’ world

If you recall, in last week’s Gospel the synagogue leader criticizes Jesus for doing a work of healing on the Sabbath. Jesus’ retort was roughly that healing was a setting free from bondage and that the “work” of healing was not only allowed but a needful action on the Sabbath. You may wonder why I am bring up the Sabbath again today…but today’s Gospel, which immediately follows the portion appointed for last week, continues in an examination of the role of law in the lives of the hearers—and how strictly to interpret those laws.

Because in Jesus’ world the laws you followed told you and everyone else whether or not you were part of the community. The way you behaved and the laws which dictated your actions defined whether or not you were a member of the Jewish community. Insider status was determined by how well one followed the laws laid out in scripture and rabbinic teachings. Unlike speed limits or stop signs, these laws were about much more than keeping people safe…they were about helping people understand who was, and who was NOT, a member of their community.

Laws define who is in and who is out. Jesus’ social critique

The Pharisees were actually considered by others, like the Saducees, to be rather lax about their observance of Jewish law. So, the depiction of Jesus eating in the home of a Pharisee is the first red flag. Further, he critiques the guest list…and tells everyone how to behave when invited to a meal. He is violating all social protocol here…the social protocol that tells people who they are and to whom they belong—how can you be the chosen people if you don’t follow the rules.

Who is Jewish; the Hassidic neighborhood

For a short period of time in my early 20s I lived in a Hassidic neighborhood in Cleveland Heights. In this neighborhood I was exposed to one of the major infights of modern religious life—the question of who is actually Jewish. A matrilineal faith tradition, in order to be considered Jewish from birth one’s mother must be Jewish. And, in some Jewish communities this just isn’t adequate and it starts to sound like a series of bad "yo'mama" jokes…mmmm, your mama was a reform Jew, sorry that’s not good enough…ohhhh, you were adopted and your birth mom wasn’t Jewish, well then you’ll have to formally convert to Judaism…ohhhhh, you’re a reconstructionist, you must not be religious. It’s a complicated debate and one that colors the relationship between the different factions of Judaism, politics in Israel and the relationship between American and Israeli Jews.

Who is Christian; Barack Obama/NPR

Now, lest you think that this kind of “othering” is unique to Judaism, on NPR this week I listened to a man question Barack Obama’s faith by talking about how the president wasn’t from a real Christian church, that it didn’t look like the Christianity he knew and that because this “radical” offshoot of Christianity (in case you’re wondering, the United Church of Christ ;) wasn’t like the church in which the caller had been raised that the president wasn’t a Christian. The caller’s argument, when challenged, boiled down to “he doesn’t go to my church, he must be Muslim!” Extreme, yes, common, unfortunately. But, lest we think ourselves above such behavior…

Othering in the progressive/liberal church

We may be tempted to think that such othering only lies at the fringes of our faith communities…yet I myself have found myself thinking of folks, such as my Mormon cousins, as not really Christian. Somehow I think my cousins would beg to differ. I have to humble myself and remember that I do not own the copyright on Christianity. Yet, somehow I find myself wanting to distance myself from my brother’s and sister’s who do not have the “right” kind of faith—those who have not yet discovered the truth of love, hospitality, acceptance and forgiveness that we offer here at Church of Our Saviour. If only they’d learn, if only they’d hear the truth as we see it. Now, I pause and realize that I am a hypocrite, that when Jesus calls his dining companions hypocrites I need to listen up.

I’m not that kind of Christian

Because I often feel like I need to announce…I’m not that kind of Christian…I’m a better kind, I’m a kinder, gentler, more inclusive, more welcoming, more progressive Christian. Yesterday at Art in the Square volunteers took turns representing Church of Our Saviour at a booth with flyers, photos and lollipops. Early in the day I turned to one of our parishioners and said, “don’t you feel like you need to tell people that we’re not scary or weird…that we’re the nice kind of Christians?”

We’re not like them…and it is worrisome to think people might confuse us with them. You know, those people who don’t welcome everyone…

The dark side of radical hospitality, it is constantly challenging us to step up our game.

It’s easy to start thinking that anyone who doesn’t practice this kind of radical hospitality just isn’t a Christian. Hmmm, radical hospitality, do I (or we) really want to welcome the folks who don’t agree with us to this table. Do we ever glance to our right or left and wonder why that person came here, why they don’t know what we know, why they don’t behave in the manner to which we are accustomed here? Have we ever used inspeak to discern whether someone belongs, do our conversations require a decoder in order to be understood?

Just as an experiment, lets pause for a moment. "The Lord Be With You" (the congregation responds with "And Also With You" I've been in circumstances when the phrase "The Lord Be With You" has been met with silence and I knew, I knew then, that I wasn't with my people. Code speak anyone?

Who does Jesus love best? What underlying truth unites us?

We are called to treat others as God treats us…with mercy, love and kindness…elevating them beyond their place. Yet, we continue to erect artificial divisions between ourselves.

It’s funny how quickly our own radical inclusion can build walls and how easy it is to think that we are the only ones who have it right. It is too easy to claim, as a bumper sticker I once saw wryly statedJesus loves ME best” (can anyone relate to this?)! Yet, scripture makes no claims about who Jesus loves best, rather we are encouraged to practice mutual love…a love that honors and respects the dignity of all human beings; a love that builds up relationships and is grounded in the simple truth that Jesus’ love will never leave nor forsake us. And, it is a love that bears with it a responsibility to love and serve.

Once again this year Church of Our Saviour has partnered with churches that are VERY different in beliefs and teachings…partnered around the simple truth that as Christians we are called to serve those in need. So, once again Church of Our Saviour and St. Luke’s are building a home through Habitat for Humanity…suspicion set aside long enough to remember that scripture calls us to care for those in need and that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. That Jesus still calls us to dine with those outside of our social circles and that through Jesus we must continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. And that in that confession we must not neglect to do good and to share what we have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Facebook Commentary

One of my relatives recently "liked" on Facebook the life fever application's statement, "never make someone a priority when they just make you an option".

If the rule of life suggested by this statement (and the many people who "like" it) is to be followed, then this has some very interesting implications for the church.

Thoughts?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blog shout out!

A friend and parishioner, Lisa, wrote a guest blog and gave me a shout out! I'm flattered and half tempted to run off to where she now lives to start a GLBT friendly church (just kidding, but seriously, NO GLBT friendly churches in central IL?!)

"Lack of Gay Friendly Churches"


Can anyone help her out with some suggestions (I'm thinking moving back home may not be an option!)?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

32

Today I am 32...and I wanted to share 32 things for which I am grateful

  1. Our little boy
  2. My wife
  3. A loving community
  4. Colleagues who understand when I need pastoral care and have the ability to listen to "what I'm not saying" (thanks Happeners!)
  5. Friends who share their love with our boy
  6. The progress our dog has made
  7. Financial stability (for which I am grateful but feel oddly guilty about)
  8. A positive birthing/mothering experience
  9. Health care
  10. baby grins and giggles
  11. Our house and the home it has become
  12. Good naps
  13. COFFEE
  14. A sense of humor
  15. Cloth diapering (see #14)
  16. Baby wearing (Mei Tai; ring sling; Ergo; storch; moby...)
  17. breast feeding (see #14)
  18. The older parishioner who made it clear that she missed me when I was away at a wedding
  19. Volunteers!
  20. Good books (most recently "The Coroner's Lunch")
  21. People who "welcome the stranger", M in Minneapolis who took us to church and the airport.
  22. The smiles H elicits in complete strangers
  23. The big tree in our front yard
  24. Picking (and eating!) fruit
  25. Our baby's godparents
  26. The ability to connect via the internet with long lost friends and relatives
  27. reading to the baby (I can always get him to laugh by reading "We're Going on a Bear Hunt")
  28. Coffee...oh, that's a repeat. Hmmm, vacations!!!
  29. Good massages
  30. Hugs from kids and the trust of parents
  31. Discernment (even tho' figuring out the direction to which one is called can be VERY hard)
  32. Today

Saturday, July 31, 2010

frailty

When our little one was about a week old we were on what would become a multiple times a day walk around our neighborhood. About 100 yards away from our house I stopped and looked closely at the boy. Then I informed him of what I hope and pray will be the truth...someday he will be very sad because Mama and Mommy will die. And, I'm very sorry about that but it is his job to be sad about us. He is NOT allowed to die first and he will have to plan our funerals. So there, that is just the way it is.

I'm not sure if many parents feel compelled to inform their week old baby of this hope/prayer/rule. But, we did. We have both spent enough time with the sick and dying that we know all too well how close it can be. And, no matter how old he becomes, it will be our hope and prayer.

When my own father died at the age of 53 his grandmother (my gramama) was still living. She had had a stroke several years before his death and was in a locked in state (cognitively she was in there but could not move or express herself). However, when told of his sudden death, she cried.

La Pieta again. Is there a greater pain?

Meanwhile, our healthy, beautiful boy is sleeping. He grows and thrives...babbling up a storm and holding court with his "guys" (the beetle mobile that hangs above him in the crib). Yet, the melancholy persists for the Mama...and I resist the urge to scoop up the sleeping baby so that I can squeeze his chubby thighs and kiss his round cheeks and cupid's bow lips.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Integration

I wrote the following shortly after my first day back at church:

"My maternity leave, a very generous 12 weeks that left me longing to live in England where maternity leave is significantly longer, is over. Last Sunday my little family attended church once more...and it was hard.

Having to switch gears and focus on everything BUT the baby and concerning myself with the needs and concerns of everyone BUT my family was, truth be told, horrific. I couldn't attend to my baby when he fussed mid-service (his Mommy had it covered but it was still tough) and after church my VERY tired 11 week old (and his equally tired Mommy) had to wait, and wait and wait for his Mama to finish up at coffee hour.

Welcome to the life of being a mom/priest. I am well aware of how lucky I am to be able to take the baby to work and be able to work part time (part of which is from home). But, I will be praying quite a bit about what it means to be a priest and a mom...and how to address the needs of a congregation while not neglecting the needs of my own baby.

I love my calling and my congregation...and this is a whole new way of being for all of us!"

And, today, 2 weeks into my return it has gotten a tad bit easier...and I am able to focus on my gratitude to have a call where I can bring in the baby to work. The world has not ended, the baby is doing great, and really, so are we. And, along with our general state of well being, this integration of mothering and priesting has lent itself to some humorous moments!

This past Sunday was a warm day and the custom on warm summer days at my parish is to err on the side of comfort and NOT wear the layers of vestments (just a stole and clericals for clergy; street clothes for acolytes/organist/musicians). So, last Sunday, I had carefully timed my morning to allow myself to take 15 minutes prior to the service to pump. So, there I was, in the upstairs office on a hot July day doing what needed doing. At the end I had a lovely 4 ounces of milk in the jars and a less than lovely 1/2 ounce or so spilled all over my pants. Which is why, 20 minutes before the service began I had to inform those participating in the liturgy that we would be vesting. Smooth...

So, here I am, a priest and a mama. I'm hoping that each of my callings is better for the existence of the other.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blogging for LGBT Families on Trinity Sunday


June 1st is "Blogging for LGBT families day" and in light of my calling (as an Episcopal priest), I chose to blog within the context of Trinity Sunday.

John 15:26 - 16:6

26”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

16”I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts."

I don't usually begin blog posts with a portion of the Gospel for the day. But today, as I contemplate the Trinity, I also find myself contemplating our own little trinity of Mama, Mommy and baby.

And, in light of the reading I find myself contemplating a worldly truth--"an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God." This is not to say that I fear for our lives--whilst our home state is not the most progressive of places we are surrounded by great neighbors and a loving community--it is to say that I am all too aware that there are folks in this world who would gladly and righteously persecute us because we are a lesbian couple raising a child together. Further, the persecution would be labeled as being in "God's name". I am also aware that persecution doesn't necessarily mean physical assault...it can also mean the insidious nature of powers and principalities that believe that it is appropriate and faithful to with-hold legal protections from families like ours.

"and they will do this because they have not know the Father or me"
Okay, feel free to accuse me of proof texting. But, I do believe that the foundation of the Gospel is love and therefore my interpretation here is based in this loving center and in my understanding of baptism. Bigotry, persecution, exclusion, intolerance and hatred stem from a place of not recognizing the loving God in our midst. In the baptismal covenant, as found in The Book of Common Prayer, we are asked to "seek and serve Christ in all persons". This includes LGBT folk as well as everyone else.

So, if we cannot see Christ in each other (and ourselves) we fail to recognize the truth that the Gospel proclaims on this Trinity Sunday--Christ is in our midst. God binds together my own family and is our center. God calls us to advocate for each other, to be Christ's hands and feet in the world.

Further, we are called to be known..."they do this because they do not know". Do those who seek to persecute us, who feel that it is a moral good to deny us and our baby full and equal rights even know us? Do they know who we are, do they know the GLBT folk in their own families, their own communities, their own churches/mosques/synagogues? Do they know that in their persecution they attack people who they could come to love, or love already?

And, by this I don't mean "love the sinner hate the sin". By this, I mean that they love us as we already are...as God made us and meant us to be. Who, in knowing our baby (with his bald little noggin, chubby feet and rubber band wrists) could hate him and the love that brought him to be? Who in knowing our devotion to him, could deny our right to raise him with love or our right to teach him to uphold his own baptismal covenant (which we will speak on his behalf a few months from now)? Who?

Now, don't answer that question. I am sure there are people who could. And, we plan on protecting him (as much as we are able) from those folks. But, there are folks who persecute out of their own ignorance--out of a place of believing that LGBT folk are "other" and are not part of their communities. Out of a place of not knowing the truth of God's love for all, regardless.

So, on this Trinity Sunday and in anticipation of blogging for LGBT families day...it is my prayer that we will all come know and be knownn and that our love will be recognized in truth and in wholeness. And, that we will all be prepared to advocate for those who are persecuted. So be it.






Monday, May 17, 2010

Our Wildflower

Our Mister Moo (yes, that's what we call him when we aren't saying his name!) is the most amazing and remarkable baby we have ever beheld. I know many parents (if not most) feel this way about their children--but I hadn't really expected to feel that way about my own. I am an old school skeptic, occasional pessimist, and my way of coping with challenges is often to contemplate the "worst case scenario" as a means of hoping for the best whilst preparing for the worst. So, my approach to newborn parenting has been one of anticipating loads of fussiness, sleep deprivation and crankiness (on our parts!). While we have daily fussiness and I am sleep deprived and I we do have our cranky moments--they are all eclipsed by the rapturous love we have for this little creature. We are consumed, we are smitten. And, I am bemused...

I am bemused because my prayer life as the Mama of a one month old has devolved into my nightly prayer of "Please, God, let him sleep, oh please". It is perhaps the most fervent prayer I have every prayed and it is delivered with greater consistency than any other form of prayer I have ever undertaken (my apologies to those who thought I was using my maternity leave to fully embrace the daily office). But, occasionally in my prayer life I have moments of revelation...moments in which my prayer transcends the rote and I feel that I am most earnestly pursuing a relationship with the Divine. And, this prayer of a tired mama's desperation, is so grounded and so based in a sense of my own humanity and my desires for my child that it really does seem to enter into that "Buberesque" place of the "I-Thou". My relationship with Mister Moo is so focused, so intertwined (as I tighten the sling that holds him tightly sleeping against my chest) that I cannot help but feel the presence of God.

Being a Mama is making me a better priest...and each day of building this relationship (with my spouse and with our child) is transformative. In Cranmer's liturgical depiction of the "journey of the heart" there is the sense that our hearts are continuously journeying towards and drawn to God. This parenting, this Mama'ing, is truly a journey of the heart--the simplest yet most difficult journey I have ever embarked upon.

(I will post at another point about how in the process of parenting we are constantly deferring our own needs, wants and desires...and that in this deference I see salvation history at work!).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Not Quite Perichoresis

The concept of perichoresis has always been one of my favorite ways of understanding the relationship of the members of the Trinity to each other--mutual indwelling. Or, as a favorite theology professor put it, the dance in which all the members of the Trinity participate and into which we are invited.

As a lover of dance, and as someone who danced both modern and jazz for over a decade of her life, I am enamored with the idea that God has invited me into a dance--and , like any good partner, God responds and reciprocates as we trust each other in our lifts and leaps. Without words we can know when we should bend, when we should accept each other's weight, when we should provide counter balance and when we should collapse into the floor. And, in each other's arms we find a wholeness that was somehow missing before we assumed the dance. We are greater in the dance than we are when we stand alone around the perimeter of the dance floor (which makes me think of Victor Turner's language of the "field").

This relationship of mutuality is akin to that which I aspire to with my spouse and now our child. Trust. Mutual reliance. A whole greater than the parts. And definition's of self that are grounded in, but not chained to, each other. The dance, the relationship, liberates me in the midst of a grounded life. It allows me to embrace our mutual dependence as an aspect of freedom. And as the baby cries to be nursed, yet again, I ponder who he will make me as we grow together (in faith and love).

Monday, April 26, 2010

He is here, he is perfect

Our son was born on April 20th at 12:22pm after 14 hours of active labor. We are smitten.

Funny thoughts during labor, or at the very least, extreme theo/anthro nerdiness...

During labor I contemplated...how much sense the connection between purity legislation regarding death is so similar to the legislation regarding birth; the fact that Mary gave birth in a stable, without an epidural or 2 people to hold up her legs for her while she pushed; and how much I love the Hail Mary.

Hail Mary, full of grace
the Lord is with you
blessed are you among women
and blessed is the fruit of your womb...

I get it. Or think I do. For now tho' I am snuggling just short of 8 pounds of pure love.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Waiting...

So, we're still waiting for a baby at our house...

But, in the meantime I'm thinking of all the advantages to keeping him in-utero indefinitely.

  • I won't have to give him the "sex-talk", ever.
  • I won't have to figure out how to teach him to shave or pee standing up.
  • I won't have to worry about drugs (altho' I do miss the occasional Motr.in for myself) or alcohol.
  • Sleep will continue to be interrupted by contractions--which I can remain lying in bed during as opposed to a baby who must have a diaper changed.
  • He won't have to go to middle school (a place and time infamous for cruelty).

Finally, I can indulge my love of science fiction and fantasy "literature" without any guilt and eat ice-cream every day--because I've been pregnant for almost 10 months (dang it!).

Which brings me to the book I read yesterday (yes, yesterday, mostly in one sitting). OA.TH OF FEALTY, by Elizabeth Mo.on--an offshoot of an amazing series (The Deeds of Paksennarion) which she wrote 20 years ago. And, I have to say, it had all of the elements of a great fantasy book--women/girls kicking butt and saving the kingdom; characters of peasant/base birth who are later revealed to be royalty; prophecy/fate (how very Presbyterian) as an inevitable part of the life course of each character; choices about the use and abuse of power, both physical and metaphysical; the intervention/interest of the gods in the lives of humans; hidden evils revealed; it was very well written; and it stands alone--no need to search out the sequel or prequel!

The only regret I have is that I read it in one day. But, I have that response to most "junk" books--that was fun while it lasted! So, what's your favorite junk book of the moment?

Extra credit if it contains vampires or women with swords...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Prodromal

I've recently added to my vocabulary the word "prodromal"

prodrome
[prō′drōm]
Etymology: Gk, prodromos, running before
1 an early sign of a developing condition or disease.
2 the earliest phase of a developing condition or disease. Many infectious diseases such as chickenpox or measles are most contagious during the prodromal period. prodromal, adj.

Which is not to say that pregnancy is contagious--but to say that the earliest signs of labor are evident. But, for those of us who've never experienced the glory of full blown labor these "early" signs can be fairly daunting--you mean this could go on for days ?! It's all the energy of waiting for Christmas, Easter and your Birthday--all whilst running for a finish line that seems to be beating it's own retreat, pulling further and further away as you begin to draw closer and closer.

Apparently actually giving birth is more elusive than I thought. Our OB offered us the option of inducing labor this week--an option we'll turn down (no matter how little I sleep darn it!). But, I'm thinking that (for me) skipping this last little bit would be sort of like going from Lent to Easter without the Holy Week in between. Christmas without the journey to Bethlehem, the empty tomb without the cross.

That said, I do hope Christmas/Easter/the boy's birthday comes soon. Like the chair waiting in anticipation for Elijah, my arms are waiting for you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Here is Your Mother

When God is dead
We are not left alone.

"Mother, here is your son".

Who is there for you when God is dead?

Blessings on this Good Friday.

The Good Friday Quandry

This is an odd year in our household--the sorrow and grief of Good Friday juxtaposed with an expectant feeling (which to be quite honest is getting to be a feeling of "get him out!") of joyful anticipation...

And fear...

La Pieta continues to resonate.



When I served in the children's hospital it felt like the families I ministered to were trapped on Good Friday. They had all of the horror and grief without being able to see beyond to any joyful resurrection. The curtains of their hearts tore in two and the sun grew dark--as their children breathed their last. One essay I read at the time compared this loss to the loss of a limb--the pain of the moment of amputation would pass. But, life would go on with a sense of loss, the very real sense that you were missing something important. And, like an amputee living with phantom pain, the pain of losing a child would continue to haunt the parent.

La Pieta.

I want to rush through this part, this Good Friday. I don't want to think about the pain of death. I want to prepare my festive Easter garb without having to deal with the pain that comes first. I want the child without the uncertainty and pain of child birth. I want to rush through to holding my child in my arms (having every expectation of his health and safety--his diapers carefully folded, the lotion set out, his going home from the hospital outfit laid out across his dresser). I want the image of holding to be more nativity icon and less La Pieta. But, it is the same love that inspires both.

A strange Good Friday it is. But would/is any Good Friday any different?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lenten Food


In case you wondered if all I think about are babies, specifically the one I happen to be gestating, and the church...

I also think about food.

Now, I really do enjoy cooking. I find it to be a calming discipline and at this point in my life I find that I can usually figure out what something is "missing" and rectify the situation.

Occasionally, the something that is missing is bacon...which we don't have at our house.

I have managed to build quite the mystery about what I will, and won't, eat amongst my friends and parishioners. A Lenten discipline of veganism last year (shortly after I began at my parish) really threw everyone for a loop. And, folks don't quite understand why we'll eat meat that other folk have prepared but won't cook meat at home.

I figure, that if folks are kind enough to cook it for me than I will be kind enough to eat it. (Oh, and lest I be anything but honest, we do get meat when we eat out occasionally and, for some odd reason, one of the THREE foods I could stomach during my first trimester was deli turkey) That, and people rarely cook beef for company anymore (I haven't had beef in so long that it would make me sick, and I love you, but I hate diarrhea).

So, back to what we cook at home, or don't cook in our case. Our objections to the regular consumption of meat has a great deal to do with the ethics of meat production and the amount of edible (by humans) grain used to produce meat (I think it's something like 8 pounds of grain for 1 pound of beef). Not to mention the water resources diverted for livestock propagation; coupled with an awareness that if everyone on the planet ate (drove, built, bought) like Americans this world would be in for a great deal more hurt. Oh, and to be honest, neither of us likes: gristle; meat on the bone; or those bloody veins that occasionally appear in your chicken breast; and I am afraid of poisoning us because I never learned how to cook meat (those formative cooking years of strict vegetarianism). Tofu is all one color and consistency and you don't have to worry about biting into a gross bit of cartilage hidden behind breading.

So, tofu...Tofu, beans, cheese and yogurt (yes, yes, I know that these come from cows and that these cows eat edible, by humans, grain and drink lots of water) make up our dominant protein sources. But, you'd be surprised at how much protein is in whole grain products (which we eat VAST quantities of) and even some veggies. Why do I know this you might ask? Well, for a week our birth class required a food diary to specifically count the grams of protein consumed each day (with a goal during pregnancy of 70-80 grams). My beloved and I were each getting over a 100 (!) grams of protein a day--without eating meat.

This brings me back to Lent (okay, so I said I think of other things besides my faith)...giving up meat on Fridays is not a hardship in our household--largely because we so rarely eat meat. And, I don't think it's a hardship for most folks...

What if we all ate meat only on Fridays (or pick one other day)? Perhaps, using meat like most of the world does--as a condiment. Methinks we'd all be a bit healthier--and so would the planet! And, our food might taste a bit better because we couldn't fall back on meat, veg and starch as a standard meal.

That said, I'm off to the grocery store...family will be in town this weekend and I have to feed my omnivorous relations food that we'll all enjoy. Bring on the homemade macaroni and cheese (I hate to think what would happen if we tried to get them to eat Indian lentils with sweet potatoes!)!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ruminating on the Prodigal, Lent 4C

"'Warren,' she said, 'he has come home to die:
You needn't be afraid he'll leave you this time.'
'Home,' he mocked gently. 'Yes, what else but home?

It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he's nothing to us, any more then was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.'

'Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.'

'I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve.'"

excerpt from Death of the Hired Man, by Robert Frost

This leaves me with a question...

Would I have taken him in?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Saddest Funny Book I've Ever Read

A couple of months ago I decided that the 4th-6th grade book club I lead would pick their own book for the month of February. Terming it "funny February" I solicited suggestions for a humourous book for the month. One of the kids, a 5th grader, suggested the book "I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President", by Josh Lieb. Declaring it the "funniest book he'd ever read" he is already re-reading it in anticipation of book club.

So, today. Today, I picked up the book and started reading it--and rather than finding it to be funny I am finding it to be a book that reflects, most accurately, some painful realities: the cruelty young people can have for each other; the pain that those who do not fit the norm experience; and the fantasies of a hurting young boy made manifest on the page. Granted, I am only on chapter 8, but as I read I remember the pain of late elementary and middle school where I felt a degree of alienation that left me in tears on a regular basis. I went through my day feeling out of sync with my peers and filled with the vague sense that I was being laughed at--yet didn't know why.

Back to the book...

Oliver Watson is a self described "evil genius" whose machinations are cleverly hidden behind the mask of stupidity he has intentionally chosen to don. A chubby kid who is literally the laughing stock of his peers--so seemingly dim witted that even the teachers at school scorn and pity him--he has created a world of his own in which he reigns supreme with every wish granted, and every bully punished. The tone is snarky and dark--and Oliver's alienation more than tragic. The humor comes from the revenge he extracts and the contempt with which he holds all those around him.

Rich fodder for young people who dream of revenge...and are longing for the kind of unconditional love that only Oliver's mother and dog offer.

It reminds me most deeply of my experience in mid-elementary school. Usually alone on the playground at recess I smarted from being excluded and different. The relentless teasing of my class mates didn't end when I went home--to siblings who were all to eager to point out the hint of a lisp I still carried and to call my solid build "fat". I desperately wanted to get back at them for their cruelty but actual action was beyond me. One day at recess I decided to imagine a world in which I had a supersonic scream--a scream so piercing and awful that anyone who was mean to me within range would fall down dead (I think I remember imagining blood pouring from their ears). So, there I was, spinning around in circles. Screaming at the top of my lungs with my eyes closed. Imagining the bodies falling around me. Soon thereafter, the bell rang and I headed back to class.

So, rather than funny, I find this book sad. And, I am saddened for the young people who's screams are not heard and who long for revenge in the midst of their own powerlessness.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Childbirth, Lent and Purity Codes

Epiphany jetted past at a suspiciously swift tempo (hello time/space continuum, slow down please!). And I feel like I've fallen directly into Lent--the most un-Lenten Lent I've ever experienced. At the same time, I know the dance between life and death continues and I am well aware of the risks of love.

Statistically, historically (and no, I'm not going to hunt down the book this came from at 6am), the average marriage only lasted 7 years. Not because of some "seven year itch" or medieval divorce rates--but, because of death in childbirth. While this is clearly no longer the case (in this country at any rate) it is an awareness that is hard to shake. While this is not a fear that keeps me up at night...nor one that torments me in the day...it is a knowledge I carry. A knowledge ground into my pores like the ashes from last night (however, unlike the ashes, this knowledge won't make me break out).

A strange sensation, this carrying of life and death. Yet, at the same time, it is something we all carry. It's interesting how the purity legislation surrounding childbirth in most cultures is incredibly restrictive--and if we are to believe Bell's work on the matter--this has to do most intimately with how close the childbearing woman has come to the margins of death of life. (The same concept underlies purity codes around menstruation) Blood, water, life, death--great pain and great joy.

Welcome to a Holy Lent indeed. Interesting, given all of this, that Lent has traditionally been a time of preparation for baptism. Perhaps this is where I will find my sense of the sacred in Lent--not so much in reflecting on the passion (altho' it is my natural inclination to do so) but in preparing for birth. Lent is a liminal season. It is neither fish nor fowl--and I am currently not one nor two. My anticipation of Easter seems bound to my anticipation of a major ontological transformation (in other words, birth/parenting will transform both me and my beloved). Hmmm, perhaps there is something to be said for a liminal third trimester juxtaposed with a liminal Lent?

My apologies for all of the anthropological/theo "speak". But this language is the place I begin--and where I find a false sense of control over what there can be no control over. That said, it's time to slip into a modified child's pose to help this kidlet realize that they are facing the wrong way!

#GC79; 9B 2018

Lectionary Readings are here (track 2) Sermon Preached at Church During #GC79 As I read Paul’s second letter to Jesus’ followers in t...