Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Christmas for me has always contained a degree of loneliness and melancholy tempered by several degrees of joy.

And, I know the manger has room for both.

May the God who weeps and rejoices, the God who stands watch and upholds, the God who dwells in cold nights and warm ones alike, the God of the squalling babe and the laughing fool, be with you this day and always.  Amen

image from

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Sermon For A Service of Grief and Loss During the Season of Advent

When I was little, I believed the moon followed me. On the rare occasion when we were in the car after dark I remember lying in the back of the car, looking out of the back window, and watching as the moon seemed to follow us home. It was a special delight, sure and notable. And, if not the moon, then the stars, and if not the stars, the glow of street lights. Shining in the midst of an otherwise intimidating darkness, the lights were a distracting comfort.

 Even now, the light in the darkness causes me to remember. Remember things like my dad rousing us out of our beds to watch a lunar eclipse. Remember things like the cheerful flames of my grandmother’s fireplace on Christmas morning. Remember things like my family gathering on the field under the stadium lights after my brother’s football games. However, the light brings it’s own grief, the once was and what has been lost. Relationships, my own father, those Christmas mornings that once brought us together but now show us to be oh so far apart.

 And, for many of us, the light brings the pain of what has never been. We stand on the outside, looking in at those gathered around the table, finding ourselves alone when all we desire is held up behind glass for our perusal but not our partaking. And, this, this is the complicated and messy pain of this season. Because as the light grows bright and the cold grows deep--the visions that haunt us may be of loss and grief. Which is why we are gathered tonight. To recognize that pain, to hold it, to honor it, to honor those things and those loved ones we have lost. And in the midst of loss, we are also called to find God’s presence. And, by this, I don’t mean a God who will fix it, who will be an opiate to our pain or our problems. Rather, I mean the God I encountered during my work as the chaplain at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

 It was my first call as an ordained priest--one I was rather woefully ill prepared for. I had spent a great deal of time ministering with children as a youth minister but had never worked with a pediatric patient population. I had 11 weeks of clinical work as a student chaplain on a geriatric psychiatry floor under my belt, but my last time in a pediatrician’s office had been as a patient! So, there I was, collar on...prepared for everything but nothing.

 The pediatric intensive care unit, the neonatal intesive care unit, the oncology floor, the emergency room...from room to room from crisis to crisis I moved through my days and often nights. More often then not called, not because of any skill on my part, but because I represented something bigger and more than any of us. My presence to many represented the presence of God in the midst of ungodly situations. And, in the midst of this all, I began to wonder where God was? In my own family we began to wryly muse about where Jesus was when all of these awful things were happening--on vacation in Belize? Taking a nap? It became easier and easier to grow angry at a perceived absence of the divine--but then I began to realize where I perceived an absence there was more than enough of presence. I was just looking for a fix it God when all the time I was witnessing a God who wept, and held and wiped and comforted--not taking away the pain but rather staying, despite the pain.

And, I can pinpoint the moment in which I realized the truth, for me, of who God can be in all of it. A little girl on the oncology floor was experiencing some very painful side effects to her chemotherapy. A normally cheerful sprite of a girl she was screaming in agony, begging her mother to take away the pain. But, the medications were not working and nothing could be done. It was horrific to watch...yet her mother held her, rocked her and kissed her. She whispered and murmured, weaving and dipping while holding the little one close. The child kept screaming, and her mother kept holding her. And, the whole time her mother wept. And, in her tears and in her strength I saw God.

 That was when I realized that for me the God of salvation history is our God, the God who promises to accompany us through the desert. The God who offers solace to his companions from the cross. The God who holds us, weeps with us and draws us ever closer. The God who prepares a room and a space of love and light for each of us. The God who’s light shines forth no matter how dark the night, no matter how cold the sky, no matter how lost nor how pained we are. I found God in the midst of my own journey--walking beside me, not preventing the journey from happening.

 And so, rather than looking for God to fix I began to look for God in the acts of love in the midst of pain. The holding, the loving, the wiping and washing--physical acts bravely performed in the face of fear, sorrow and anguish. These acts began to carry, for me, all the beauty of the incarnation. And, in this incarnation, I am all too well aware of what the manger holds--all our hopes and all our fears bundled up in swaddling clothes. I don’t know if Mary knew precisely what the outcome of her love would be, but I do know that she loved and that she carried and that she grieved and that she wept and that she lost, so much. And, so too we lose and gain and grow--as we do the real work of finding light in the darkness.

 So today, what holds you, what embraces you, what is the comfort surrounding you? Is it the light in the darkness? The glimmer of candles burning despite the cold? The scent of fir? The warmth of a soft and worn throw? Is it the arms of a loved one who holds your tears and your joys? Is it your presence here, a welcoming space that holds you in your grief? Can you feel the arms of God? Do you hear this litany of presence in the midst of pain? Do you hear it?

 As each of us turns and falls, leaps and collapses through life, do we hear the murmurings of the spirit and the companionship of a God who knows full well the grief of loss? As we prepare for the baby Christ, can we begin to find the power of love despite it all? This is a hard season in so many ways. Be gentle with yourselves, and with each other--hold each other in prayer and pray for yourselves. And, when all seems lost, perhaps you’ll find that you are being held by a weeping God who will stay with you no matter how hard it is. There is a light in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it. 

Nowadays, with my own little guy, I find myself pointing out lights. The blinking of airplanes after dark, the brightness of stars and the full moon earlier this week--all of these fascinate him and he signs more, more! And, then he ups the ante, having learned to sign “please” he adds to his signing “more, please, more please” his hands move frantically--demanding more light, more brilliance, more miracles. And, once again they become beacons and focal points these lights, reminding me of then as I carry them into the now. I reclaim these points of brilliance and take them as reminders of the grace of God, a God who does respond, with more, more love, more grace, more forgiveness, a deeper embrace and a merciful hope.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Who Are You?

So, apparently lots of folks (okay "lots" may be an exaggeration) have looked at my blog--at least according to the little widget that counts page views. That said,

Who are you?


Why do you come here?

What questions do you have?


What are you thankful for?

As for me, I'm thankful for the family of choice (the folks I've celebrated Thanksgiving with EVERY year, except one, since 1996); my toddling little guy (who makes us laugh every day); my wife; and the life we've been graced with. Yup, stating the obvious here. That said,

Blessings upon each and every one of you, whoever you are!

Oh, and I'm messing around with the layout--readability is most important to me, but in trying to adjust the picture on the top I keep running into trouble. Suggestions?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Christian Left

What more could Christ declare unto us? How more could He stimulate the works of our righteousness and mercy, than by saying that whatever is given to the needy and poor is given to Himself, and by saying that He is aggrieved unless the needy and poor be supplied? So that he who in the Church is not moved by consideration for his brother, may yet be moved by contemplation of Christ; and he who does not think of his fellow-servant in suffering and in poverty, may yet think of his Lord, who abides in that very man whom he is despising. - Comments by Cyprian of Carthage (250AD) upon The Parable of the Sheep and Goats from Matthew 25 (borrowed from the facebook page of "The Christian Left"

This is "why" I became a priest. Sort of...

When I came out in high school, church became my safe place. And, it was a safe place because of the priest...who's response to my disclosure was, "oh, I thought you were going to tell me something bad". Her unabashed acceptance created a place of shelter for me and it allowed me to find the Christ within myself--in the midst of my own self hatred, her acceptance allowed me to "think of 'his' (sic) Lord" in myself.

And, when I was able to find Christ within myself, I became able to find Christ in matter how loathsome they may seem to me. That said, it becomes impossible for me to find anyone loathsome. Mostly because I can see the shadow, the glimmer of light, of the Christ child--the potential once was, in the midst of the what is, followed by what may be.

When I see this, when I can imagine that child, I can imagine love for anyone and everyone--no matter what.

It's heady stuff, this kind of love, it demands relationship, it demands compassion and mercy. Because, who, when their child asks to nurse gives him a snake instead...(and yup, that's a biblical reference--not just something I made up ;)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How Far We've Come

I have mom friends. Friends with blessedly healthy toddlers. Friends who's worries swirl around raising up kind and generous children, the state of public schools and whether their children are, or will be, picky eaters.

Mom friends. This is a first for me, for us. As my little guy ran about with one of his small friends, as they laughed and giggled at the very surprise of each other...I found a well of gratitude. Gratitude that my world, my imagination has been expanded in so many ways.

Because, for so long, my understanding of parenting had been shaped by children who were sick and/or dying. By sudden collapse, pain and grief. And in my attempt to understand, to find God in the midst of the suffering, I embraced the image of La Pieta. This sculpture of Mary seemed, to me, to best model maternal love...a mother holding her dying son. And in those early sleep deprived days, I could imagine and hold her love and grief close--because my son seemed so fragile, so small against the face of so much misery in the world--because I was so afraid. Blessed Mary, mother of God...

But, this image of grief is not the full picture, just the one that that I had become most familiar with. Centering on grief, because it is so much of what I have seen, is apparently a failure of my own imagination. I have let fear win too often and of late I have begun to have my heart expand with the ability to just enjoy the joy of it all. Because, there is SO much more to be seen and imagined--visions of love and joy and grace and delight that formed the love that was able to hold onto the grief.

So let us imagine some other visions of Mary. Mary chasing after a toddling, giggling, raucous boychild, scooping him up to nuzzle his neck. Mary smiling at her nurslings fingers meandering about her face, a mama nose and lips gently touched. Yet, I am sure those moments existed--and it is my mom friends who have shown this to me.

Mom friends. Friends. What grace. And now my own sweet boy awakens--and I will go to find the joy he holds.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Anticipating Excess

I have been amazed over the past 18 months at the thoughtfulness and love that has clearly gone into the selection of gifts our son has been given. From handmade wooden cars made by Nana and Papa to the soft and silky monster doll purchased at a local/handmade church good shop by his adoptive clergy g'ma. Our son truly has been blessed. On one of the parenting forums I read fairly regularly there are fairly frequent (read annual, usually around this time of year) discussions of how to handle gift giving occasions if your values run contrary to the mainstream (e.g. no plastic; no batteries; or no sweets). These discussions become fairly heated and hackles are raised. In response and in reflection I recalled the jars of pennies and handfuls of ribbon candy my great grandmother and great aunt would give us when we visited...

Every time we visited my great grandmama when I was a child she gave us piles of, stuck together with age, ribbon candy. She was housebound for the most part, and when she was growing up sweets were a true rarity.

These were not candies we were encouraged to eat at home--and I'm sure my parents were not thrilled at the sticky mass of rock hard, yet at the same time, gooey stuff that traveled into the car with us.

But, I don't remember most presents from childhood and I remember those candies. Mostly because they tasted of love...and lint...but mostly love, because my grandmama was old and infirm and soon after those visits experienced a stroke which left her in a vegetative state.

Sometimes when folks don't know how to say "I love you" they buy or give something to try to show their love. Unfortunately, many people think bright, loud, splashy and plastic is the most loving thing to give ("all the other kids I know LOVE this!" "Oh, I saw it at the store and I just HAD to get it for her"; "I saw the add for this and it just looked to neat to pass up!").

So, how something is received can represent how a person is loved in return (to the giver). And, dictating presents can become a dance in which the giver feels that their love doesn't measure up or isn't good enough.

So, thank you, loving and lovely folk who give out of love and care. Our son will be happy to receive the sticky, the gooey, the loud and the flashy--and whilst his mamas may wince, we will wash his sugared hands before he reaches for the plastic buttons and we will listen...glad that he is loved.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

PICU Reflections

I spent two years working as a pediatric hospital chaplain and some of the deaths still haunt me. Today, I was reflecting on the beautiful, difficult and painful work of love which the staff of pediatric intensive care units undertake each and every day.

Please, don't scroll below the picture if reading about a child's death is going to bother you.

I never did find out how she died. She came in unresponsive and the incessant pounding of resuscitation was the only movement I ever saw. The bags of fluid gurgled in and then out as her lungs became fluid overloaded and her hair was coated with vomit and saline. Her skin was golden and then dusky and I was there when the light went out of her eyes and I knew that she was gone.

Yet, they pounded on...hoping against hope, straining for some miracle that they had long since ceased to believe in. I sat with her parents as they watched. Taking in the incomprehensible we huddled in the corner. She was gone and I knew, yet we prayed on.

Slowly they ceased, time of death was pronounced and the parents were ushered into a nearby room as tubes were pulled and clothes were found to bring dignity to her limp body. I promised to stay with her and held her shoulders so that the nurse could wash away the accumulated effluvia of death, life and hope.

She was clothed in a set of pink pajamas, her hair combed gently--as if she could still resist the pull of its teeth in her snarls and cry from the roughness. Her head rested on the pillow, and clean sheets lay beneath her. The gentleness of the nurses ministrations to her in death a stark contrast to the violence her body had taken in those last moments of life.

They had fought hard to keep her soul and body linked--but they were torn asunder and we were all left, breathless and limping, from the pain of it all.

Her death was not the only one that day--it was just the unexpected one, adding to the burden squirreled away in the horseshoe shaped halls of the pediatric intensive care unit.

I left. Many of them remain.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Proper 22A, Scripture I Thought I Hated Until I Had to Write A Sermon...

I have a friend, who writes her sermons with the question in mind--”where is the grace”. And, this week as I struggled with this parable from Matthew I found myself searching, digging deep for the grace in the midst of a story that is, quite frankly, horrific.

Taken as allegory, we have a story in which we identify the wealthy landowner as God. The tenants are the Pharisees, the Isrealite people who kill God’s messengers. Then, as a last resort, we have a son, the son of the wealthy landowner, who is then read as Jesus. He is killed as well. Then, the landowner, God, kills all of the tenants and puts new tenants in place--presumably tenants who will follow the rules.

Now, I find this story vile. I find it vile largely because it tends to lend itself to self righteousness and vindication on the part of Christians--see we have the true faith and you folks who don’t listen to God are going to get in trouble!!

Thankfully, this story is not an allegory, it is a parable. And parables are not as simple as we might like to think. In fact,in Matthew 13:1-9, Jesus said that he told his parables so that the crowds might NOT understand.

Now, I currently spend a small bit of my week in a crowd that few would expect to have much understanding of scripture--this crowd is comprised of the kindergarten Sunday School I am currently co-teaching at St John the Baptist in Linden Hills. However, the depth of their understanding continuously astonishes me. Last week as the children worked on making placemats--a presumable simple and uncontroversial task--one of the 5 year olds looked up at me. “Jesus dies” he stated emphatically, and with no uncertainty. The child next to him looked confused and worried. In response I asked--”is that the end of the story, that he dies? Or is there more?”

Now all of the five year olds were looking at us...waiting to hear the rest of the story. “He comes back alive” replied the child. They all nodded, I could sense a bit of relief.

When I recall this moment, this question, “is that the end of the story?” I find that this parables surprises me because, when I was able to move beyond the allegorical reading, I noticed something crucial--I had the wrong ending to the story!

The people to whom Jesus is speaking are the one’s who tell us that the landowner will “put those wretches to a miserable death”--NOT Jesus. Jesus holds out a different ending and the beautiful truth to this ugly parable is that the end of the story is NOT death and destruction. The audience does not have the final word, Jesus does. And, the end of the story is the truth of a God who has taken what is broken, taken what has been rejected and made it beautiful and whole. The son is not dead, he comes back, and he carries with him the love and forgiveness which we all so desperately need in this world.

Now, it would be lovely to end here--see God loves us and that is that! But, I can’t ignore the rest of the parable, for Jesus continues. He tells the crowd that the kingdom will be taken from them and there will be destruction. And, this that gets us back to the ending that I believe firmly is not “true”--the ending that ends on the cross with “he dies.” An ending that God has rejected, an ending that does not reflect the grace of the Christ I follow.

Because, just as I cannot look only at the portion of the text that back up my own beliefs, I cannot look at this parable without looking at how this parable appears in the Gospel of Luke. And in this comparison I find that there is more grace to be had.

The theology of Israel in Luke is that the Israelites will play a central role in the kingdom of God--the invitation to follow Jesus in Luke comes as an invitation to be grafted on, to be joined with the Israelites. In Luke the vineyard of Israel is not taken away to be given to others--rather it is opened up to new workers. It is an expansive claim for God’s love--not a limited claim.

I feel as if I have set up my extrapolation of this text as a kind of choose your own adventure story. Do you remember those? You got to the end of the chapter and you made a choice between two different options and depending on which choice you made you got a different ending?

But, in this story God makes one choice and reflects a grace filled truth, the choice to send the son and the ultimate truth which is the love of God. The love of a God who continuously liberates us from injustice and oppression, the God who guides us to a place, a kingdom where mercy is the rule and compassion is the guide. This love runs throughout scripture, “I brought you out of the house of slavery”; “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstones and it is amazing in our eyes”; “Christ Jesus has made us his own”.

And, so here we are, on a glorious fall day and we are faced with choices. And the only choices that we can make in good conscience are those which reflect the grace of God. Choices which allow us to find a place for all in the building and the body of Christ.

Like the Pharisees, like the Israelites--we Christians will fall short. But, in the scripture today we are shown the truth of God’s love and reminded that God has led us out of slavery. And in the parable, Jesus, reminds us that God will come to us again and again--no matter the betrayal, no matter the hate, no matter how we receive the messengers of God, God will continue to seek us out.

The God we proclaim in our liturgy is the one God, the God who brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

What will we do with our freedom? Which endings will we choose for our own lives?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Free Ranging It...

After my last post, and as a parent in general, I've been reflecting quite a bit on what is "safe" or "okay". In our house the childproofing is fairly minimal--our bookshelves, tall and filled with heavy books, are not bolted to the walls (he's not really a climber) and the baby gate guarding the stairs is not attached with hardware. Part of my, seemingly, lackadaisical approach stems from the general truth that my guy is a relatively cautious kiddo--he is quick to reach out a hand to step off of the curb into the sandbox sand and is just now okay with "swinging fast".

We "try" to encourage reasonable risk taking and eagerly anticipate his first time rock climbing (he has to be four for much of it) experience. We want him to ride, run, swim and play fearlessly as he grows...but in order to have him do so, it feels like we need to set aside our own fears and anxieties. I really wrestle with how much hovering may be too much and how free range may be too excessive.

My wife used to play down at the creek by herself when she was in elementary school. I would spend hours in the pastures around our home when I was little, climbing trees and imagining adventures. I would ride the horses along the road side and pedal my way up and down our dirt drive.

I'm not certain how much of the kind of freedom to play and explore which I took for granted as a child I would allow for my own child. Largely because, God forbid, if something happened...

But what are the odds, really?

Check out this site Free Range Kids, worth reading and reflecting!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Secondary Trauma

When I worked at the children's hospital I learned about secondary trauma--the trauma undergone by those who hear about or witness the AFTERMATH of a traumatic situation. Secondary trauma can lead to PTSD symptoms (and PTSD) in those who are subject to it.

I found this to be true as I worked with and witnessed to the various diseases, disasters and deaths that peppered each and every work day. Sleeplessness, flash backs (for a solid year I could taste blood in my mouth every time I thought of a particular day at work), and other symptoms were fairly common for me.

Now I am several years out from these traumas--yet, having had the experience of such tangible and immediate and obviously traumatic situations, I wonder...

Does the mere act of reading/watching the news lead to secondary trauma for the general population--and the attendant possibility of PTSD? Because, I find that if I read news of awful things happening to children, it affects my sleep and my mood. In fact, reading the google newsfeed can make me feel much as I did when I was witnessing the deaths of children day in and day out. I also find that the degree of graphic detail often shared in the news/radio/blog (can't speak to television, don't have one hooked up) can be nauseating.

Methinks that this can't be healthy--for anyone. Do we really need to know the gruesome details? Do we need to have such immediate access to the "train wreck" as it were? What do you think? How do you think this level of detail and connectedness affects/effects you and yours in your day to day life?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Here and the Now

Little (growing bigger by the second) H is asleep. A thunderstorm rolled in around 3:45am and the rolling booms, pouring rain, and strobe like lightning show flashing beyond my eyelids has had me up since.

"Boom, boom, boom, Mr. Brown is a wonder. Boom, boom, boom, Mr. Brown makes thunder."

Thank you, Mr. Brown. the rain soaked here and now. The front door is open onto the screened porch, the better to hear the rain now that I've given up on sleep. A cup of coffee, milky with a touch of maple syrup, has been poured and sits on the table next to the Revised Common Lectionary; my beloved's journal of H's life thus far; and a personality test that she took for work.

Apparently, I am equally lion and otter. Not so much golden retriever and beaver.

On the lion side of things...My strengths: takes charge; problem solver; competitive; enjoys change; confrontational.
My weaknesses: too direct or impatient; too busy; cold blooded; impulsive or takes big risks; insensitive to others.

The busy beaver says, strengths: optimistic; energetic; motivators; future oriented. The weaknesses in this beaver's dam: unrealistic; impatient or over bearing; manipulative or pushy; avoids details or lacks follow through.

Okay, so fundamentally I am a impatient, take charge kind of gal who dreams big and drags those lucky enough to be in her wake along for the ride (*lucky*). "Ooooh, ooohhh, (waves hand frantically in the air) I have a GREAT idea (bounces up and down in chair)" . So, wanna hang out?

The rain is still pouring. My running buddy is picking me up at 7:45am for a short (for her) painful (for me) run along the Mississippi (which at this rate may mean two streets over...geez, this is a lot of rain!).

Time for more coffee...this cup has grown chill.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Proper 11, Year A, Jacob, Harry Potter and the Gnashing of Teeth

I have not seen any of the Harry Potter films. Apart from a preview or two, here and there, my eyes have not witnessed the on screen phenomena that seems to have gripped a good chunk of this country.

This, however, is not to say that I have not read the books. I have, multiple times. Even now, more than a decade after the initial release of the first book I still find myself reaching for my well thumbed copy of the first book.

But, I have avoided the films...largely because I want my own visions, my own imaginings of the "Potterverse" to remain untainted by someone else's interpretation. I want to close my eyes and see for myself without being told or shown another person's version of the story. I want it to remain MY encounter with the marvelous.

And, in some ways, as I reflect on this coming Sunday's propers I find myself drawn into scripture in much the way I am drawn into the work of J.K. Rowling. Yes, you read that right--I just compared my emotional reaction to scripture to my reaction to Harry Potter. As I read of Jacob: I can imagine the ascent of the ladder; I can hear within my heart the words of God; I can feel the stone beneath my head. The scripture draws me in for an encounter with God. And, in this encounter the gate of heaven stands open and we can gaze beyond to the promise of God's presence in our midst. We can ask ourselves where we have found God in our lives and we can imagine how it may be that God is calling us back into God's presence.

Now, these understandings, these wonderings and questionings are not scripted by anyone else. My own encounter with this text has not been televised or interpreted by another (apart from the inherent interpretation which occurs in the translation of scripture from the Hebrew); it is my own understanding--an understanding gained through my own contexts. Indeed, through the application of tradition and reason I can enter the world of scripture. And, it is a world of drama; intrigue; miracle and murder. A place, much like the world in which we live--evil and grace dwell together and we witness to folk wrestling with the reality of both in their lives.

Now, back to Harry Potter...
The plight of young Harry draws me in--his coming of age, developing friendships, curiosity, bravery and his repeated confrontations with forces of evil are compelling.

And, what I find most interesting is the simple truth at the center of much of the plot--people are neither wholly good nor wholly evil. The good people make mistakes; seemingly bad people are found to have love in their hearts...and this, is indeed true to our lives in the here and the now. Good and evil occupy the same hearts--and whilst I may seek to discern the good I am sometimes drawn into the evil. This is a truth we encounter in the Gospel for this coming the weeds and the good wheat grow together. Nourished by the same sun, rain and loamy soil...good and bad rise together. Yet, rather than pull up the weeds willy nilly, the farmer speaks a truth--if the weeds are pulled the wheat goes with it. The good is lost along with the bad and the wheat does not stand a chance.

Now, we have recently moved into a new home with a well established garden. However, the garden has been let go a bit and the perennials are in sore need of dividing and large and seemingly misplaced plants are thriving in the midst of what are clearly cultivated perennials. Yet, I have done very little weeding. Largely because I am not sure which are weeds and which are flowers. So, I bide my time and wait. Once the plants are full grown it will be clearer and I can then sort and order and divide.

We are not to pull up the weeds, we are not to destroy--because when we do so we lose the ability to seek and nourish the good. Both within ourselves and within others.

To flip things over on their we wrestle with the problem of evil in the world do we lose sight of the good that is in with the bad? Can we leave the judgment to the power of God's redeeming love and see the goodness in our midst? Nothing and no one is either all good or all bad. The role of confession in our liturgy is a weekly reminder of this truth. We have good and bad within our own hearts. This Gospel is not about others, it is about ourselves...are we willing to allow God's love to draw forth our goodness and leave behind the evil?

Back, again, to Harry would the books, and indeed the movies, have been different if the love that Snape felt had been nourished? If rather than childhood bullying and exclusion he had experienced gentleness and love?

Still...he says, still.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Long Time No See

Change...big changes, have been afoot in the Reverend Joy household for a bit now.

And, it's all my fault!

When our boykins was about 3 months old I did a wedding in another state (a wonderful privilege and honor to join two of the most delightful women I know!). It was an idyllic time of long walks along the river, some of the best sleep we'd had (oh little did we know) as mamas of a newborn and we found ourselves connecting with tons of youngish professionals with whom we had much in common.

Then we went back to Ohio--to our small town full of retired folk; about an hour from good friends who we never actually saw; the state where we not only couldn't legally marry (altho' when God and your mother-in-law consider you married who are you going to argue with!) but could not both be legal parents to our son.

So, I got mad, then I got to thinking. What did we need to do for our happiness? Not for success, not according to rules of church, of society or even the wishes of friends...for happiness. And, thankfully I'm married to a doer...someone who makes firm decisions and then handles the details to make those big picture crazy dreams I've dreamt come true.

Which is how we've found ourselves living in a much more progressive city; having downsized our carbon footprint; cut down immensely on work hours and spending much more time together as a family. Oh, and altho' legal marriage for same sex couple is going to be hotly contested here in the next couple of years, second parent adoption IS in fact legal. So, legal protection for our boy and amending that birth certificate that just looks SO wrong...well that will be in the near future!

So, what is it that you need for happiness? What are you dreaming? What are your hopes?

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Return to the Prayer Book...

Here, at St. Thecla's of the Man Eating Seal, we share something central with ALL Episcopal Churches--the Book of Common Prayer. The use of the Book of Common Prayer is something that defines us as Episcopalians and its usage throughout the church is one of the things that unites us as a faith community.

It has been the custom at Church of St Thecla's of the Man Eating Seal to use a booklet that has the entire service printed out, rather than the Book of Common Prayer. This 12 page document with music and pages of announcements/inserts has had to be recreated every week in its entirety.

At this time, we are choosing to use an “ordo” or “order of service” rather than the booklet format to which our community is accustomed. We are choosing to do so for a variety of reasons:

respect for the volunteers who will be responsible for the bulletin;
stewardship of our natural resources;
as a tool for education;
as a means of grounding ourselves in our Episcopal identity;
to become familiar with this central tool of our faith life

During this season of Lent we will be using the service in the order it appears in the BCP in order to facilitate this change. We will also be using Eucharistic Prayer C (which is particularly suited to Lent) as a means of drawing our attention to the prayer book as we make our responses.

It will take some time to get reacquainted with the “BCP”. I encourage all of us to help our neighbors, visitors and newcomers as we all “fumble with the books”. Use this as an opportunity to extend a warm welcome to those finding their place--both in the books and in our midst.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Liturgy for A Middle School Pilgrimage...

I created the following for the middle school pilgrimage at Trinity Cathedral...creating a liturgy is an honor, the gift of time with young people who do not have access to cell phones a privilege!

An invitation to worship is read:

Worship is not a play, it is not theatre or concert. It is not something to be consumed, nor it is the work of any one person. Rather it is OUR play, OUR work and OUR celebration. Join us in this holy duty! Celebrate, play and work with us--because it is in our shared life, our shared body and our shared remembrance that we welcome the presence of God!

We gather in silence around a bare table. A cloth is spread, we begin to light candles and incense. The thurifer censes the altar and the gathered company as the following is read:

The words of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair

"Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearance. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters."

We look for the signs
Of a loving God

We look for the signs
Of an awesome God

We look for the signs
Of a beautiful God

We are the signs
Of Christ in the world.

O God of love and grace, you gave us your son and with him the command, “go and do likewise” help us to do your will and your work in the world that we may proclaim your love, live in awe and celebrate your beauty. Amen

At this time I invite us to introduce the good news together. From this time until the proclamation stomp your feet, clap your hands...for we are the instruments of God in the world!

A reading from the Gospel of Luke
Glory to you Lord Christ

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. And when he was 12 years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and him mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

The Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you Lord Christ

We resume our stomping and clapping until the following words are read:

A word, a prayer, a sharing.

We share in a time of guided reflection

This is God’s table and God has invited each of us here. Let us share the story, let us share the hope and let us proclaim our belief with these words:

We believe in
a loving God
a world of justice
a place for everyone
and Jesus among us.

We believe that we are called
with all the saints
to share the story
with the work of our hands
and the words of our mouths.

We believe
in a greater power
a greater glory
the breath of the spirit
and that at the end of all time

God’s love will endure.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mary and Martha

In my first CPE unit I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with an elderly woman who had been admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit with severe depression. She was a vibrant and intelligent woman, and in her later years had found herself increasingly crippled by Parkinson’s disease.

A great deal of her depression stemmed from her sense that her “usefulness” was gone. In her state of physical dependence she was convinced that she was no longer a use to those around her and felt that she had become a burden. I found her to be an amazing woman, her experience and passion for life was one of her great strengths and I began to realize that much of her despair stemmed from her strong sense of duty.

Working with the story of Mary and Martha (the one where Martha is doing all the work while Mary is attentively listening to Jesus) we talked about how various points in our lives demand from us different ways of being. And, at this point in her life she was being called to be like Mary, allowing others to do for her so that she could attend to Christ.

Are you called to be Mary or Martha (or both)? Does your role/vocation/calling change from day to day, moment to moment or with each passing phase of life?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Marvelous Toy

We like to keep the toy selection in our home fairly minimalist. H has blocks and stacking cups. He has a few stuffed creatures and a wooden wagon. He has plenty and enough, but what he does not have are the wide array of things that, with the assistance of batteries, light up/sing/beep/toot/whir/fizz.

Folks have not bought us these things nor have we bought them for him. That is, until this week. We were at the toy store trying to find out how to best use the money we had after making a return for store credit. Thinking ahead to H’s birthday we bought him a simple shape sorter and a wooden xylophone. And, then, near the register as we stood with our fussy boy, L saw it. A garish piece of plastic, somewhat wand like, that whizzed and whirred...but most amazingly lit up and spun. Henry’s eyes crossed, his mouth gaped open and he was absolutely mesmerized. Needless to say, that piece of plastic (with the 3 triple A batteries required) came home with us.

And, every time we press the button that causes the spinning and the whirring and the flashing he is amazed. The joy upon his face is akin to someone in the midst of an ecstatic vision and there he is...having a quasi religious experience as he glories in the power of light. This piece of plastic has successfully calmed stormy tears. It has lit up a dark room and inspired laughter. It has caused us to embrace our little guy in wonderment at his wonder.

Light is something that most of us take for granted...we flip a switch and there it is. We light a match, we press a button--and it exists. However, for most of human history obtaining light was a much more complicated matter. Wax and wicks, oil drenched cloth, pitch and spark--and the sun’s rays. Light, particularly in the darker months was an elusive thing and I like to think that people greeted the light with the same kind of joy that H does as he is met with his spinning whirligig.

Thus, as I reflect on what it means to be the light in the world (Mt 5:13-20) I find myself thinking of the joy this particular light has brought to our child. I find myself wondering how we might illuminate the darkness, calm fears and dry tears. I find myself in awe at the glory that is creation. Because, the light has helped me to see--in more ways than one--what it might mean to be a light in the darkness.

I Want to Follow Jesus

Yes, the title of this post is the song currently stuck in my head. It's a rather saccharine tune meant for children...and is slowly making me batty.

That, and the sleep deprivation which has already made me batty, are not lending themselves terribly well to sermon writing this week.

But, thankfully, it is Epiphany. And Epiphany is a time of encountering Jesus, of divine revelation and human encounter.

A time to ask who Christ is...

But this week we have scripture that ask us who we are.

What if God (incarnate) were to sit down with you and ask "who are you". What would your answer be?

There, I think that's the start...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Helpers and Light Bringers

It seems odd, even to me, that in the midst of tragedy--like that which all too many of us witnessed in Tucson last week--that I find myself turning to Mr. Rogers. Yes, Mr. Rogers, of the neighborhood. As a child I watched intently as he slipped off his loafers and donned his slippers, hung his sweater and welcomed me to his home. There was something comforting about the sweet ritual which began each show--there was stability, love, welcome and constancy. And, as I spent time in prayer and the research that accompanies sermon preparation I stumbled across this line “look for the helpers”. I delved deeper and found the following:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

What has struck me about this statement, “look for the helpers” is how simple yet comforting it is. Because, as the vitriol began to emerge; as politicizing began; as tragedy was compounded by tragedy--the stories of helpers began to emerge. The young man, Daniel Hernandez an intern, who staunched the flow of blood and offered companionship to the gravely wounded congresswoman is one such helper. Yet, this is by no means the only tragedy in the world nor is he the only helper. When faced with the tragedy of institutionalized racism Martin Luther King Jr. became a helper; Nelson Mandela sought the end of apartheid; Desmond Tutu witnesses to the power of truth and reconciliation; Mother Theresa served the poor; Jonathan Daniels martyred in Alabama during a semester spent working for equality; Dorothy Sayers who used her eloquence to share her love of Christ; there are many, many more notable folk--people who’ve made the news and our history books or who’ve been officially recognized. Yet, I am positive that each and every one of us can name helpers who have walked with us in our own lives, in our own tragedies.

One of my own light bringers was a woman named Karen who facilitated a glbt teen group on Maui--while Karen was most decidedly NOT a Christian; she was a former nun now turned pagan--she clearly exemplified the love and compassion of the kingdom of God through her work with marginalized teens. Take a moment, just a moment, and think of someone in your life who has been a helper, a light bringer, a “saviour” to you in some capacity or another.

These are the people who are a light to the nations; these are the people who have seen tragedy in the world and responded with the love of God. These are people who are called to be saints. These are people who have stood before the powers of evil and been like the rock for which Simon called Peter is named.

Yet, these light bringers are not called to be saints Paul writes they are called “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.

In EVERY place, in the here and the now. This means that we are called to be light bringers, we are called to be helpers, we are called to be saints. We are called and these passages this day, they are a call to action. We are asked by Christ to “come and see”; to follow; to witness and in doing so we must respond. Like Simon, we are to be transformed.

That is, IF we heed the call; if we are willing to open our eyes and see and respond by living out our vocations as Christians. And, this, this call to seek Christ to follow Christ is a focal point of Epiphany. As I told the children last week we are called to be like the wise men--seek Christ; give our gifts; and keep Christ safe.

But, this week we can elaborate based on the scriptures we’ve shared today. It is our calling to be a light to the nations--to demonstrate how the love of God lived out in justice and mercy can transform the world. It is our calling to be saints--to live a life that truly seeks and serves Christ in every person and acts as Christ’s hands and feet in the world. It is our calling to testify to the presence of Christ in our lives, to invite others to “come and see”.

It is our calling to be helpers. so that when tragedy strikes others can look to us and see the transformative power of love.
It is our come and see.
Come and see...
Because Christ continues to be revealed to us...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why yes, I am a hyperverbal extrovert. Why do you ask?

As I step, boldly, into the New Year I intend to write a bit more frequently. If you enjoy what I write, well, enjoy! If you find me an ever tedious navel gazer with too much time on her hands...well, then, find yourself a copy of the New Yorker and enjoy!

That said, I work best in conversation, with a real (or imagined) audience/partner in dialogue. Bouncing around ideas, developing programs, writing sermons--all of these things work better for me, more organically, when I do them with others. Which, is part of the reason why my blogging frequency has increased.

As a part time clergy person who works at home (ahhhh, the joys of e-mail/phone/on-line sermon research and an extensive home library!) I find that I get fairly isolated, fairly quickly. So, this blog becomes a means of getting my words out there to an audience (either real or imagined) that matters.

So, how do you work best? Do you need an audience, do you blog, do you work best ALL BY YOURSELF in the cozy hermitage you built out back? Reply, if you're real--or not, if you're imagined! Where do your best ideas come from?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The best and hardest of 2010

This is not a "best and worst" of post. Rather it is the best and the hardest--because I realize the benefits of much of the hard stuff in this year of monumental firsts and the hard things are by no means bad things (unless you count the sleep deprivation ;)

Best moments:

Positive pregnancy test
Getting into the second trimester
The first "real" contraction
The baby's first time in my arms
nursing, 13857983759365 times
First smiles
First laughs
Watching our son become his own person
Becoming moms, together
Watching other people fall in love with our son
Wearing our baby in carriers, "close enough to kiss"
Realizing that the smacking noise the baby loves to make with his lips is his version of the kisses he always gets
The sense of closeness I now feel to the "BVM" (Blessed Virgin Mary)

Hardest moments

Fear of loss throughout my pregnancy
The sleep deprivation
Resuming work
Having to pump in churches with NO privacy or having to leave mid-mtg to pump
Going through major body transitions with a sense that so many were watching
Feeling isolated
Being forced to become more disciplined in my preaching (sleep deprivation and extemporaneous preaching don't mix!)
The enforced prayer time of the nursing mama
nursing, 13857983759365 times

All of that said...2010 was filled with so many blessings. And, I leave the year with a poem (yes, I wrote it. No, I did not get into the creative writing class I wanted to take in college because the professor did not think my poetry good enough--so keep that in mind as you read ;)

Birthing Amongst Women

Mary, mother of God,
While I screamed
You comforted
While I waited
You watched

The first suckle
As two bodies met
Was within your arms
Cradled together
Women and their son.

Grace became you
A slippery,
Floppy creature
Lion's roaring into our arms

A love unimagined.