Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sunday School Redux


For anyone who actually still reads this blog (that would be you, PJ), you may remember the Sunday School concerns I've had. This fall my ex decided to enroll our son in the Sunday School at the church that he has been attending for the past 2 years. This is a weird and wild post-Christian, creation spirituality church. I enjoy attending it once or twice a month and have agreed to support the boy's participation in the SS program. To give you an idea of the religious education my son is now part of, here is the teen's Christmas story performed in church recently. What can I say?

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Thanksgiving


This year I traveled to Cleveland for Thanksgiving to meet my new friend's family and friends. My friend used to be in a rock band, playing lead guitar. The band-leader/song-writer was Kevin McMahon, who went on to form other bands, including one called Prick (yeah, I know). In this video he's the guy singing and swinging on the perch, wearing the black bird suit. We spent half a day in his studio, listening to old cuts from the original band and jamming. (Well, I didn't jam, I listened and bopped around a bit).

Can I just say that this is kind of different than participating in an ecumenical Thanksgiving service at a local main-line church?

(Technical difficulties prevented me from posting the video itself -- the link should work).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Democracy Taking Root

There is no way to describe the euphoria everywhere I've been this week. A cosmic shift has taken place and we know it. I'm basking in it and I know we all want to bask in it for as long as we can. But basking can only be the beginning, not the end. I believe, as does Colin Powell, that Obama is a transformational leader. I would add that I believe his election in this moment of national crisis is a gift from God.

I also believe, as does Barack Obama, that power does not concede and that the road ahead for this country is a steep and rocky one. Gifts from God are not to be hoarded. They are meant to inspire us to generosity and compassion and courage. And courage will be needed in the months to come. This is no time to gloat, no time to let up. This is a time to stand up and fight. We no longer have the excuse that nothing can change in the current administration. We have seen the grass-roots at work and we have begun to remember that we can make a difference.

But just in case you doubt it, let me recommend a stirring documentary. Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai won the award for best documentary at this weekend's Asheville Film Festival. The film looks not only at her work in the Greenbelt Movement, but also her grass-roots democratic work for better government. I have admired Maathai for years, but I learned more about her courage, her commitment, her suffering on behalf of Kenya and her impact on that nation than I ever knew. Weaving Kenyan political history through the story of her life and work, the film highlights the enormous obstacles she had to overcome to do her work of planting trees to re-forest her native land. It's a must-see for anyone who cares about the environment. It reminds us in no uncertain terms that it is WE THE PEOPLE who must save our land. We cannot wait for the government to do it. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

And, not to boast too much, but can I just say that seeing this film was the highlight of a wonderful weekend in a beautiful city? Honestly, I do live in the nicest place ever. The River Arts District Studio Stroll was this weekend and I met a fabulous artist who inspired me with her faith, as well as with her beautiful work. The Film Festival brought to town a host of independent movies that, unfortunately, probably won't be making it to your local multi-plex. My new neighborhood night club had a fun, funky dance band Friday night and my son's neighborhood school had a sweet, playful Fall Festival that made lots of money for our Title I school, which needs it, while demonstrating work on our cob shed in our organic garden. Plus, the weather has been just dog-gone beautiful.

OK, back to basking while I sweep the leaves off my deck.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pissed Off Presbyterians


Kay Hagan, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from North Carolina, is running a strong race against Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole. In fact, most polls show that Hagan is very likely to win, providing one of the turn-over seats in this year's senate. Because Dole, in spite of her money and Washington connections, has run out of ideas, she turned vicious. She's running an ad accusing Kay of being "godless." Kay happens to be an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church and a Sunday School teacher. Kay's campaign ordered a "cease and desist" order which the Dole campaign (literally) laughed off. So now Kay is suing Dole for defamation of character. Her pastor and the Presbytery Executive have gone on the offensive for her. My mom, also a long-time Sunday School teacher and ordained Presbyterian elder, wrote Dole today saying "Shame on you!" Read more here ... if you aren't yet sick of nasty lies and character assassinations.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Generation Jones -- Who Knew?



I don't watch TV, so apparently I missed out on this new designation for my generation. For years I have said that, although the stated years for the Baby Boomers' births were 1946-1964, I never, ever felt like part of that generation. Nor did I feel like an Xer. Well, turns out -- I wasn't alone. Generation Jones is the "lost generation" between the two and, as the generation shared by Obama and Palin, we are the group that could swing this election.

I once was lost, but now am found. Hallelujah!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Good Weekend



Saturday began with me getting in line before the polls opened to vote. The lines were already long when I arrived and were still long when I left -- lots of excitement in the room. That afternoon and evening, my son and I joined our local hiking meetup to make one of my favorite climbs. This was the view when we arrived. We stayed until the sun set. Hurrying down the 3.5 mile trail in the dark was a little creepy, but worth it.

And then tonight -- Sunday -- I went to a free James Taylor concert for Obama. Taylor is a Carolina native and is doing free concerts across the state this week to rally for Obama since we are one of the key battleground states. Additionally, I got to bring along my first real boss, a pastor I worked with in inner-city Indianapolis 20 years ago. He's in town for a conference, so we had dinner together and then went to the concert. His daughter (4 at the time I worked with him!) is now the Obama campaign coordinator for Indianapolis. It was the first time I had seen him in years, but we picked up like old friends.



This is what I call a good weekend. How was yours?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Manifest Obama



This video was made at the Asheville Obama Rally I attended recently. Notice the joy in people's faces while waiting for hours in line. This is how the whole day felt. Joyous, hopeful, peaceful. The singer is a local musician -- Billy Jonas -- who is a wonderful, crazy guy. Very mellow in this, though.

Go Asheville! Go Barack! I'm glad the debates are over. Early voting starts today. Be the change, people, be the change!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Cut


Last month I bid on a haircut at a silent auction at a fundraiser for a local nonprofit and today I got that cut and now have a ponytail to donate to "Pantene Beautiful Lengths" for women with cancer. (Unlike Locks of Love, which requires a 10-inch ponytail, Pantene only requires 8).  So here I am:  the new do! 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Barack the Vote!


I just spent a blistering hot October afternoon standing in the sun shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people to hear the next president of the United States.  He's here in Asheville preparing for the next debate.   Today he focused almost exclusively on health care.   As always, he was brilliant, funny, nuanced (imagine that!) and uplifting.  All about who we can be as a people -- imagining our most decent and gracious selves as a nation.   I love that message.   (He did, however, get a couple of little sideways jabs at Gov. Palin.)

Michelle spoke here a few months ago and I went to that with my son, as well (yes, he had to stand for hours in the sun and crowd with me today, as well as then, to witness history).   Her speech was actually the better of the two -- she is an astounding woman.    She would make a great president herself, but I can't imagine a more wonderful first lady.   

Today was the most diverse crowd I've been a part of since moving to Asheville more than two years ago.  It feels so good to be coming together as a community, as a nation.  And come together we will, because we must.  Too much is at stake.   For our children and for our world.   This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history and we have to get it right this time. 

North Carolina is going blue -- can I get a witness?   

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Waves

Whenever I go to the ocean and spend a few hours diving in the waves, as I did last week, I am reminded of how much they have taught me.   Occasionally you see somebody out in the surf who is clearly a newcomer to waves.   Again and again they stand in the way of them and get smacked down.  Now, if getting hit in the chest and head and back by powerful walls of frothy salt water is your thing, then go right on standing there and getting smacked.  There are certainly worse ways to spend a day.  

Personally, I prefer to face waves in a few other ways:  diving over, diving under, moving out beyond them or riding them in.  Of course, each way holds its own life lessons.  

Diving over is tricky and only works if you catch it just before the big break.  You have to know your wave and decide whether you have the traction on the sand shifting beneath you to make the leap.    This way involves risk and quick judgement and the willingness to get a huge faceful of froth.  But done right, it can result in a very pleasant floating, flopping ride to the other side.

Diving under is the easiest thing.  Just put your arms over your head and face the wave and plunge straight in the the heart of it.   But if you've never done it before, it looks scary.  It's only once you've tried it that you understand that the quietest place in the surf is directly underneath the biggest waves.  Ah yes, the old "there's no way out but through" philosophy. 

Getting out beyond the waves usually means putting yourself rather far out into the ocean, which only works if you like being in the ocean over your head and trust that you have the strength to swim back in, even if a rip tide is pulling you farther out.  To get beyond the waves you have to take a few in the face first, or try the diving under and over techniques often enough to get good at both.  Beyond the waves can be choppy or peaceful and you are never guaranteed a wave-free existence, but what a place to hang out and enjoy the vastness of the universe. The risk is in straying too far from shore, but the pay-off is excellent.   

Riding them in is the most fun of all but requires a willingness to eat some sand, scrape your knees on shells and occasionally feel as if you may be ripped apart.   It also requires great patience in finding just the right wave to ride and catching it at just the right moment as the wall of water tips forward, but before the actual crest.   But when you catch a great body surfing rise -- ah!   What a rush!   




Saturday, July 5, 2008

Independence Week


In addition to celebrating the independence of our nation this week, two other events occurred in my life with liberating effect.

Monday, June 30 was the last day that the former director of the center where I am now the current director was officially on the payroll.   Of course, she is still calling to tell me what to do, but it really has very little impact on me these days.   (Really, she called this week to suggest several things I ought to be doing during my vacation.   No kidding.)

Wednesday, July 2, my ex and I went to court and are now officially divorced.   There was a brief moment of breathless sadness and then ... relief.    I am proud of how well the two of us handled this ending, sans lawyers or mediators or anyone else.   We went through the whole process together, from separation agreement to final stamp of legal approval, and now it is finished and we are still friends.   Thanks be to God!   

And now, I am off on a vacation with my young one.   See you when I get back.   

I dedicate this to my Lord and Savior, Jesus


The darling and irascible PJ has given me an award I clearly have not earned, but tearfully accept.  
Here are the rules:
1) Pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.
2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself. 
4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of Arte Y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award which is here:  Arte Y Pico.  

And because I never really follow all the rules, I pick these three

Diane, for her theological depth and Midwestern good sense. 
Doxy, for her pulls-no-punches writing on topics others don't want to touch. 
and
Laura, because I ran into her yesterday and anyone who is a full-time pastor and mother of two charming young children, and can find time to blog and still look fabulous on a hot, sticky day at a parade deserves many awards. 



Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jesus is my Guru


As a newly divorced woman in her mid-forties, I have entered a strange new world of dating. And I am doing it in the strange world that is Asheville.  Being who I am, I tend to be attracted to men who are spiritual.   This translates into my last three dates being with a guy who has been a devoted practitioner of a particular form of meditation based on some kind of yoga out of Hindu/Indian traditions.   So, it has a guru.  And he (date guy) does.   I'm not a guru type of gal.  My protestant gut is suspicious of any human being who claims too much spiritual power. Power corrupts and corrupted spiritual power may be the worst kind.  

(Think inquisitions.  Or Osama bin Laden, for that matter.  Although I don't really think of either of those as spiritual, but political power which cynically used the spiritual weaknesses of people to rile them up.  But that's another post.)

Anyway, I'm discussing my general distrust of gurus with this guy, who is trying not to become defensive about his love of his guru (he's gone to India 3 times to see him) and trying to share with me that it's really all about love -- increasing our love through meditation, blah, blah, blah.  

So I say, "Well, Jesus is my guru.  I don't need any other ones."  And I realize it is true.  That I do think of Jesus much in the same way he thinks of his guru -- as a human being who became so imbued with God-love that he was capable of extending it through not only his words and touch, but even through time and past death.  While I'm fairly ambivalent about church these days, I am still crazy about Jesus.   Though it defies intellectual understanding, I have experienced Jesus in encounters I will call mystical because I'm not sure what else to call them. I have been healed by these encounters -- spiritually, emotionally and physically healed.   Not always in the ways I hoped to be healed, but in ways that powerfully changed me or the direction of my life. 

I experience Jesus as a guy -- a real Middle Eastern Jewish guy -- who fully and completely got it.   Got God.  Got the point of life.   And was transformed -- transfigured -- by it.   And then became a conduit for transforming others.    I don't know what happens to most of us when we die -- worm food?  reincarnation?  straight to heaven, do not pass go, do not collect $200?  -- but I believe that Jesus, in some real sense, did not die.   His body is dead and gone, but his spirit is alive and well.   And not in some vague "everything is divine" sense, but in the sense of that Jewish guy who lived 2000 years ago and taught and walked and healed and was crucified. That his particular life experience -- incarnate, real, fully human experience -- was critical to his ability to continue through cultures and time to speak to us as fully human ones.  

Perhaps there have been other human beings in history who share this category -- Buddha comes to mind -- but I can't attest to that.   I can attest to Jesus.  And because I experience him as still present, still available, still healing, I don't see the need for some other human to come along and claim some spiritual power into which I need to tap.   I can go straight to the source -- the Big God -- or I can go to Jesus.   And Jesus, having been human, is easier for me to get most days than the BG.   

What about you? 

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Go, Hillary!

Well, I'm inspired to break my two-month fast from blogging today because of Hillary Rodham Clinton and her powerful and gracious concession speech.  I watched it start to finish and was moved to tears throughout.  Unlike many people who got more angry the longer she stayed in the race, I found myself growing in admiration for her spunk.  Those of you who have read my blog in the past know that Hillary was never one of my top choices for Democratic nominee.   The war in Iraq was high on my list of reasons.  Along with that were my concern that she is too much of a Washington insider to think in new ways about our country and its needs and that she is too much of a savvy politician to stick to strong progressive stances in spite of opposition. 

Nonetheless, as a woman, a mother and a feminist, I am delighted that she did as well as she did.  By staying in the race she did, as she said today, put 18 million cracks in that glass ceiling leading to the White House.   She accomplished, as she said, the remarkable task of making it unremarkable that future women will be considered true contenders in such a race.   Hillary Clinton is a brilliant woman, an inspired politician, and a great leader for our country.  I believe that she will continue to be so in whatever the next role for her turns out to be.  And I sincerely hope it is a significant one.  

I am grateful that she came out so strongly and clearly for Obama and for the Democratic party. Good for her.  In the coming months, may her followers be as clear and gracious as she was today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Opening to Grace -- an ad

I don't think I've ever used this space for an ad before, but I'm going to make an exception.  There is an amazing woman by the name of Tilda Norberg who lives on Staten Island, where she practices and teaches Gestalt Pastoral Care.   Throughout the year she does weekend retreats called "Opening to Grace" near Dingman's Ferry, PA, at her funky little retreat space.   This fall the dates for her weekends are:  Sept. 25-27, Oct. 16-18, and Dec. 4-6.  Each retreat is limited to 6 participants, plus some helpers, and costs $300, which includes room and board.  Gestalt pastoral care is a combination of Gestalt growth work, healing prayer and spiritual companioning.  It's hard to describe.  You kind of have to experience it.  

I studied with Tilda for two years at her home/school on Staten Island.  It was one of the most important experiences of my life.  Given that my life has been a bit of a mess ever since, I realize I'm not the best walking advertisement.   (But then again, I'm not sure this mess isn't partly a result of shaking up my comfortable little world.   Sometimes healing isn't pretty.)

If this sounds even vaguely interesting to you, go to the website and read up on it.  Or give Tilda a call and have a chat.  I highly recommend her and this work.   But maybe you shouldn't go if you like your life exactly the way it is.   I'm just saying ...  

Friday, April 4, 2008

In Defense of Church-Shopping


I recently read an article by a former colleague of mine in which she bemoaned the American habit of church-shopping.  I completely understand how she feels.   I used to preach that same sermon.   She criticized the concept that churches are "spiritual service providers."  Yup, I've made that argument, too, back in my preaching days.   

But let's consider the other side of the story.   Let's say I'm a mom of a young child and worship on Sunday morning is the one hour a week I can hope to get some spiritual nourishment in community.  I may sneak in my own prayer and devotion time through the week -- but not with other people.  This is my only chance and I know I can get more out of it if my beautiful, squirmy, noisy, curious child is safely taken care of somewhere else.  In a nursery.  And the church I attend doesn't have one.   Will I stay?   Probably not.  Could I be accused of only thinking of my own spiritual needs?   I could.  But what would be the point?  That I shouldn't be taking care of my own spiritual needs?   Don't women -- and mothers in particular -- get that message often enough?   Take care of everybody else's needs first!   Yours can wait.   

Or take the accusation that one shouldn't leave because you disagree with the pastor.   The truth is, anybody making this statement is probably a pastor.  What is the point of worshipping week after week, listening to a person who preaches the Word and shapes the liturgy, if you have some fundamental disagreements with that person about that same Word and liturgy?   Is this a tolerance test?   Of course I'll disagree with any other human being from time to time -- we're human, after all -- but to state that agreement with the pastor should not be a criteria for whether one stays active in a church is an unrealistic and, frankly, disingenuous statement.  You can bet the person making it, on his/her Sunday off, seeks out a worship service with a pastor they enjoy.  (If they go to church at all).   

Neither of the above are my current situation.  But here is my reality:   I'm a single mom working full-time as director of an agency, with two precious animals in my care, a home, yard and car that are my responsibility, and aging parents for whom I uprooted my adult life so that I could live near them.   I am not complaining about these things.  I love these realities.  They are, in fact, my calling in life at this stage.   Each one of them has a particular pull on my soul and energy and I do my best to honor all of those pulls.   They are where my time, energy and love go, day after day.   Taking care of a church community is not one of my callings right now. It has been for most of my life, but it isn't now.  And that's true of many people sitting in our pews.  They aren't called to take care of your congregation, preacher, so give them a break.   

I love God.  I love worshipping God in community.   I need that community.   And I am church-shopping to find it.    Shopping has this negative, materialistic, self-centered image in the church and for good reason.   I think a better metaphor is dating.   I'm dating several churches (and other spiritual communities) this year.   I thought I needed to hop from my last church-marriage into a new one and the trouble with that model is you don't give yourself time to learn and grow and figure out how you changed since the last time you made a commitment. So I hopped quickly into what I believed to be a long-term relationship with a congregation.  I didn't sign on the membership line, but I did get very involved.   Then, when I began sensing that the relationship wasn't really working, I felt guilty and confused about how to extricate myself.   

Also, like my real-life dating these days, there is a child involved.  And that makes a tremendous difference.  (Unlike real-life dating, the child goes on most of my church-dates).   It is not just my needs, but his that I consider.   Is he surrounded by other adults in this congregation who demonstrate to him, implicitly and explicitly, the kind of Christian values I hope to help him develop?    If that isn't happening in the congregation, I'm not staying.   Just as in dating, I don't care how much I like the guy, if he's not somebody I feel good about my kid being around, it ain't happening.    

And, as is true in my dating life (or my desire to have one, is more like it), I'm not really out for a long-term commitment just yet.   I need a break from the hard work of that kind of commitment.   I do want to just be able to enjoy the date without thinking too much about the future.  Which means, next Sunday I may or may not want to spend time with you.   I may want to go out with another church next week.   Or I may be serially monogomous for a while -- a few months in this church, a few in that.    

The bottom line is, church-shopping -- or church-dating, as I prefer to call it-- is going to happen.   Churches and pastors need to deal with this reality without judgement.  Just as not every date is going to lead to marriage, not every church-date is going to lead to a long-term commitment.   Nor should it.    And there's nothing wrong with that. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hafiz -- a poem

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly. 
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft, 
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear. 

Monday, March 31, 2008

My New Favorite Song



So I'm a little late to the party, as usual. This one is for a special friend. You know who you are.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Holy Week

Being asked to do the Presbymeme (below) gave me the impetus to blog about my Holy Week. Nothing Presbyterian about it.

Let's start on Palm Sunday. I got a 9 a.m. call from a new friend, raised secular Muslim, who has very bad feelings about Christianity in general, but is trying hard to respect mine. "Happy Palm Sunday!" he announced. "Oh. Is it?" I replied. I really didn't know. And that shocked me. Has there ever been a Palm Sunday in my entire life that I didn't wake up looking forward to the dramatic story that moves from triumph to tragedy? I loved waving the palms as a child. I love the Palm Sunday hymns. As a pastor, I always loved creating a parade from the outside to the inside of the church and moving the congregation from the exaltation of "All Glory, Laud and Honor" to the reality of death and betrayal still to come.

I went to Funny Little Church (FLC) -- the one I've blogged about from time to time this year -- at the usual afternoon time. They had palm branches there, but we really didn't do anything with them. The service was fine ... but it didn't feel like Palm Sunday. None of the triumph or the tragedy, really. Just another informal, lefty Baptist kind of thing.

In keeping with the lack of realization that it was Holy Week, I had made plans to celebrate the Vernal Equinox on Maundy Thursday. That day I had second thoughts, but having no church home that was doing Maundy Thursday, I kept my original plans. I went to a friend's retreat center (we do similar work and try to collaborate rather than compete) to do meditative dances. It was fine. But it was not Maundy Thursday, which may well be my favorite Holy Day of the year. Especially when foot washing is included. My churches have typically conflated MT and Good Friday, with communion first and then Tenebrae, on the theory that getting Presbyterians out to one mid-week service is asking enough and two would be impossible. I love that movement as well, from tight circle of friends huddled in an upper room, to public trial and betrayal. From gentle hope to dark hopelessness in such a short time.

On Good Friday, I attended my local Episcopal church (LEC), which is where FLC now meets, so they had invited us to join them. It was a beautiful service. We heard the whole gospel story of the betrayal, trial, crucifixion and tomb. The priest gave a beautiful homily using an illustration from modern-day Middle East about non-violence and compassion that was so moving and pertinent. He is a man clearly in love with God. We had a ritual with stones that we offered as something we needed to let go of in order to follow Christ. There was the Eucharist and healing prayer. We sang Taize music, mostly. Finally, I felt like I had joined Holy Week.

But that left Easter. FLC just doesn't do the Big Holy Days (BHD) well at all and I had decided some time before not to attend there, so as to preempt my disappointment. But the last BHD I had gone with my mom to her traditional Presbyterian church and left screaming in boredom and ended up offending her, because she really loves her church, so I didn't want to do that either. First I thought I'd just do LEC again or the Cathedral, always a good choice if one is in search of Pomp. But I wasn't in search of Pomp. I was in search of resurrection.

Then I got an invitation I couldn't refuse. To worship at the Men's State Correctional Facility. So that's what I did. Drove with some friends from FLC to the maximum security prison about an hour away and worshipped there. We didn't sing any of the hymns I love -- no Jesus Christ is Risen Today or Hallelujah Chorus or the wonderful Brian Wren Easter hymn to Beethoven's 9th. They sang gospel. And Amazing Grace. A retired Baptist minister preached. Good sermon.

It is a strange and discomforting place for me to feel so out of sync not with Christianity in the spiritual sense, but Christianity in the denominational sense. In spite of lovely, compassionate Christian people in all the churches I have attended over the past year, I can't escape the sense of deadliness I encounter there. Is it in me or in the churches? I suspect it is me dying to my old ways of being church. A long, slow death as it is turning out.

At the prison, there is so little pretence. You either get resurrection or you don't. If you don't, you're not there on Sunday. If you do, you can't not be there. What else is there when you are behind bars and have thrown yourself on the mercy of a living, loving Lord? This is a stance I understand. When my church let me go, God did not. God, in fact, picked me up even before they threw me down.

[Now, there will be some Presbyterians who will read this, who know my story and will jump in to say, "Oh, no. The church didn't leave you." To you, I need to say, please spare me. I know what happened and how. And until you have walked in my shoes, you really, really don't know.]

So I am dying a long, slow death to the ways of worshipping and understanding God and church and community and compassion that I lived so fully for so many years. It is not easy. And yet, it is also not hard. Because I know resurrection. I know it in my bones, in my gut, in the ligaments that hold me together. I know it, quite literally, better than I know myself. Because my self is also in this long, slow dying time. I don't know what I'll look like or sound like on the other side of the process I'm in, but I trust, that with Peter I will move from eager follower to quick denier to empowered leader. But also like Peter, I don't know if my former communities will recognize me when I get to that stage or will want to disown the more inclusive, more powerful, more merciful and impartial God that I am continuing to grow to know. There is no going back to the old ways. I have no desire or need to do so. But what is to come is yet to be clear. Resurrection changes things.

Happy season of resurrection, friends. May you know it in your life and may the church know it as well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PresbyMeme



OK, my blog bud Ruth tagged me for this one. To put it mildly, I'm pretty disconnected from being Presbyterian these days, but given how deeply I've been steeped in the past, I'll play along. The start for this one came from Bruce Reyes-Chow.

What is your earliest memory of being distinctly Presbyterian?
All my early memories include being distinctly Presbyterian!! I wasn't Catholic -- didn't wear a uniform and go to a special school or have a priest who wore a collar or have to go to confession. I wasn't Southern Baptist -- didn't sing praise songs, go to revivals, or believe that everybody might be on the way to hell. I was invited to think about and question scripture as soon as I started learning it. In a small Midwestern town what else could I be? Gee, I must be Presbyterian! (And then there was church camp, Logos, singing in the children's choir, Synod School, serving on the Presbytery Youth Council, being a YAD at Synod, the first ever Youth Triennium -- yes, I did just turn 45 -- Montreat youth conferences, Montreat mission conferences, being a YAD at GA, being a seminary intern at GA, working for the Presbyterian headquarters when it still was in NYC -- yes, I did just turn 45 -- and all those SERMONS!!!)

On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend LESS energy and time?
g/l/b/t ordination. Newsflash: gays are people in whom the holy spirit moves. get over it already.

On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend MORE energy and time?

whether they embody the healing power of Jesus in everything they say and do. If not, why bother?

If you could have the PC(USA) focus on one passage of scripture for a entire year, what would it be?

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)

If the PC(USA) were an animal what would it be and why?
Ruth, I love you, sweetie, but I can't answer this one in polite company. Nothing good will come of it. (But your answer on this one was lovely.)

Extra Credit: Jesus shows up at General Assembly this year, what does he say to the Presbyterian Church (USA)?
"Umm ... excuse me. Is there some reason you're trying to save this denomination? Did you forget that whole thing in Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35 and Luke 9:24? Ya think if it was crucial enough to make it into all 3 synoptics you might wanna pay attention?" (Oh, I love to send Presbyterians scrambling for their Bibles).

OK, hope I don't sound too bitter. I don't know many Presby bloggers so if you are one, play along and if you aren't one but want to answer for your own brand of religion, play along that way.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Prayer

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on the cross for my salvation.
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the star-lit heaven,
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God's eye to watch, God's might to stay,
God's ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God's hand to guide, God's shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
God's heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, the One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord. Amen.

(With thanks to my friend, Roy).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Parties

I threw myself a birthday party tonight. It was fun. 8 interesting women joined me, most of whom did not know each other. There were lively conversations in all corners of the house. Then when we all ended up in one room eating, we covered such topics as:
*prostitution
*political wives and the choices we all make behind closed doors about the public faces we will present
*breast-feeding
*adoption
*the choice/circumstances to remain childless
*Obama-mania
*what kids are down-loading on their ipods
*at what age we began drinking (ranged from 12 to 21)
*the age at which someone first kissed our breasts (ranged from 14 to 32)
*the last time someone kissed our breasts ...

OK, that last one was just me. Feeling sorry for myself. Anyhoo ...

Other fun birthday parties I remember:

Age 5 -- my first big party with hats, games and lots of friends. I still love the photos from that one -- I graduated from high school with everyone who came to that party. Isn't that wild? Small town midwest America.

Age 12-ish? A taffy pull. Probably my favorite childhood birthday party.

Age 21 -- no party, but I was on a work-camp in Jamaica on spring break from my jr. year in college.

Age 35 -- again, no party, but finally pregnant and happy as a lark.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Happy Birthday to me.

Tomorrow I turn 45.

It is interesting for me to think of my last two birthdays. On my 43rd, I was happily married (or so I thought), just completing a 6-month course in Martin Seligman's positive psychology, working part-time in a church where the long-term beloved pastor had died exactly one month before my birthday, nearing completion of a two-year course in Gestalt Pastoral Care, considering a move to North Carolina and generally enjoying my life immensely. Given what transpired over the next several months I sometimes look back and wonder if I was completely deluded.

But I know I wasn't. I was genuinely happy then. I remember that birthday as one of my best. I was rested and renewed after leaving my previous church (the one where I burned out) 1 1/2 years before. I was feeling excited about the possibility of a move near my parents. I was delighted with the courses I was completing and wondering how that learning might be integrated into my new life. I was grateful to the church where I had landed for the way they opened their hearts to me in the midst of their grief.

By my 44th birthday, I had moved and left behind all my community, I was unemployed, my marriage had fallen apart and my career seemed dead to me. I was as alone as I had ever been. But I was also relieved. The week before my birthday, my husband moved out (at my request) and I received two job offers and two more interview offers. I decided to go ahead and take my current job. So while everything was new and uncertain, life held possibility and relief from the end of the longest, hardest 8 months of my life.

Now it is a year later. I've been at this job for a while. I've been single for a while. I've started to build community. I've gotten used to being a child living near her parents again. I've taken a first stab at dating (yikes!).

There is so much for me to be grateful for. I'm a homeowner. I have a decent job. I'm meeting interesting people. I live in a great neighborhood. I have loving, caring parents. I have a beautiful, resilient son. I am making ends meet. I have a reliable car. I have a sweet dog. I live in an amazingly beautiful part of the world and an interesting little city. I have a good friendship with my ex. I have a supportive board of directors at work. I am physically healthy and mentally on the mend. I am competent and capable and likable much of the time.

Life is nothing like I imagined it might be two years ago. Nothing. Not a thing.

And I cannot imagine what my life will hold one year from now. At all.

I would like to be able to go back and pick up the pieces from that 43rd birthday -- the joy and wonder and hope I felt then. But the two years in between have been full of learning and humility and grace that need to be better integrated before that old joy can re-emerge, I guess. I am not unhappy. I am often able to laugh with ease. I feel connected to the people around me. Most days I can believe that more goodness and mercy lie in wait for me.

And so, I begin my 46th year of living. More humble, certainly. More wise, perhaps. Living, day by day, on faith in a way I could only hint at when life was easier.

*image "Humility" by Chidi Okoye

Monday, March 3, 2008

One Year Ago ...

I became single.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday thoughts

OK, I'll take on the first two of my threatened blogging topics, since you commenters were so kind and encouraging.

1. I'm supporting Obama. Clinton has not been in my top three of the various Democratic possibilities at any point in the primary race. But, I have to say that I have grown more and more uncomfortable with the sexism leveled against her in this race. Not by Obama, but by pretty much everyone else. I won't detail it, as that has been done well elsewhere, but it does disturb me to the core. The truth is, while I don't support her for many reasons, her support of the Iraq war chief among them, I nonetheless find her brilliant, talented, articulate, savvy, strong and a formidable politician. Denounce her votes, if you must, stake your claim for other candidates, if you wish, but don't whine about her being bitchy or strident or over-emotional or under-emotional or a bad wife for staying with Bill or a good wife for staying with Bill or even (and I'm guilty of this one) too political. Like anybody who could win the presidential election is NOT too political?

Yesterday on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," Peter Sagal was doing his usual job of skewering her when Paula Poundstone, God love her, stopped him in his tracks with her snappy insistence that maybe we should just let the voters decide and shut up about it.

2. Home-(Sunday)schooling the boy. When my son was a baby/toddler he alternated between the nurseries at the Quaker meeting his dad attended and the Presbyterian church I served as pastor. When he was two, we moved for his dad's graduate school and ended up worshiping at an Episcopal church in the outback of New Jersey. Wonderful church. Then we moved for me to take a call and for three years (ages 3-6) he was active in the church where I served. He liked that church. This is the church where I burned out. Before I left the church, his dad had returned to worshipping among the Quakers and for the last two years we were in Maryland, the boy went with him. He liked that church too. So, three good church experiences within his memory: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Quaker.

Then we moved. And our lives imploded. We worshipped together for a while at a local creation-spirituality based non-denominational church. A wild and interesting place, but as the separation became a more certain reality, I went in search of my own church community. I landed quickly in a small ecumenical congregation made up of mostly renegade Baptists. Soon after, my son began coming with me and joined the Sunday school. He never liked it. At all.

Late this past fall, as we entered the holiday season, he became very sad. There were school problems -- icky teacher, class bullies -- and the reality of going through the holidays for the first time since his parents split. He constantly complained of feeling sick. We consulted a child therapist and his primary doc, ran blood tests to rule out physical illness and basically just did our best as parents to hold him through what was just a really sucky time in his life. We tried to give him space and encouragement to grieve and express his feelings and figure out some healthy coping mechanisms. But it was a hard time for all of us.

As a long-term, upbeat substitute came into his class and we made it into the new year and he reconnected with some of his best friends, things were looking up. Except when it came to church. He still hated it. He said he wanted to go back to the church where we had gone last year as a family, so we did. But he didn't like it as much as he remembered. (I think he just like that when we went there, we were still a family). I continued to talk to him about church and why it is important to me and that the fact that he didn't like it wasn't going to change the fact that we were going to attend somewhere regularly, so what might we do to make it more bearable?

Well, as he lived with this reality for a few weeks, he became more articulate about what was bothering him. And it was the other kids in Sunday School. He felt so left out and rejected that it was making him, literally, physically ill Sunday after Sunday. When I started really paying attention to this and seeing that he wasn't making it up (though he did have a role to play in the outsider status), it broke my heart.

So, I began to think about what it was I really want him to know about God and church and faith. I'm a firm believer in the need for community in our walk of faith. I want him to know the Scriptures. Even more, I want him to know the God found there. I want him to know about Jesus. I want him to learn how to pray. I want him to have other adults around him besides me and his dad who are intentional about their spiritual and ethical lives.

In my ideal world, he would learn this among peers at Sunday school as well as in inter-generational worship. But this isn't an ideal world. This is a world where my kid has been through hell recently. And not just recently. His ability to function well among peers is a hard-won case, complicated by his place on the autism spectrum. And the truth is, the church we attend is very cliquey. So much so that I almost left a few months ago. Except, where would I go? It's not like I have any fantasies about an ideal church made of ideal human beings. And there were others, like me, on the margins of the clique, whom I dearly loved.

So, we have come to a compromise. We will worship somewhere together every week. Most weeks, it will be at this same little church. Today it was at Quaker meeting. (And he liked it.) But I will not subject him to the rejection and sadness he has experienced among his peers at Sunday School, just so I can say I take my kid to Christian Ed. I am perfectly capable of teaching him the Bible lessons he would learn there and he is having a hard enough time among peers at school this year without having to do that again on Sunday. I want his affiliations with the Bible to be positive -- not based in a place where he felt physically ill.

So I am now officially home-schooling my child in Christian Ed. And maybe I'll take him Kirtan chanting or Sufi dancing one of these Sundays, too.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Things I Would Blog About ...

... if I were still blogging:

1. The Obama/Clinton debates and how I almost changed my mind about who to vote for.
2. Why I've decided to home-school Luke for Sunday School.
3. The ache in my chest when I think about who I want to be in the world and how far short I find myself falling.
4. Living near my parents as an adult and what I have observed -- in them and in myself.
5. The hiking club I've joined.
6. The YMCA I've joined.
7. How much I wish my spiritual life were getting as much exercise as my body.
8. The grace I keep experiencing anyway.

Really, the last is what I would blog about daily if I could find the words. I used to get up and preach about it week after week. I tried to be authentic in my preaching and for the most part, I think I was. But the depth of both pain and grace I experienced in the implosion of my-life-as-I-knew-it over the past two years has left this raw, speechless place in me.

Maybe one day the words will come. Maybe not.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Weird Book Tag

From PJ.

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences and read them.
Post the next 3 sentences.

Here goes, from Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water:

"Yes. I searched her feet right off and they were stiff. I carried her over to my house."

How's that? Play along if you like.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

February Bullets


*Did anyone else see the very cool, star-studded video of Obama's "Yes We Can" speech before it got pulled off YouTube? And does anybody know why it's no longer available?

*I went to a Kirtan chant Friday night, a movie date with my ex Saturday night (no, we're not getting back together, but since neither of us had dates with other people and the child was at a sleep-over we figured, why not?) and an Imbolc celebration Sunday morning. I have a weird life, but I like it.

*I worked my tail off last week and it was worth it. I'm really beginning to feel like this job is mine. In spite of crazy former boss calling and cussing me out (really, I do not exaggerate) on Tuesday.

*Superbowl? What superbowl?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hello, see ya later ...

As those of you still paying attention may have noticed, I'm not blogging. It wasn't a conscious choice, it just kind of happened. Maybe the urge will return, maybe not. You'll know because I'll start commenting on somebody else's blog first, I bet. So, my blog buds who saw me through the last crazy year of my life, so long for the moment. Have fun in the blogosphere and let me know if anything momentous happens.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mim? Meem? Mime? (No, too wordy)

PJ has tagged me, so I have to join back in the blogging community, I guess. I've been actually ignoring all of my favorite blogs recently, to say nothing of my own. New job and some other emotionally distracting stuff has been taking my attention instead. OK, here goes:

- Link to the person that tagged you. (done)
- Post the rules on your blog.
- Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
- Tag six people and at the end of your post, link to their blogs.
- Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I've had short hair for most of my 44 years, except that I grew it out in high school, then dramatically cut it all off, did the same thing in college and now, have actually had it kind of long for two years. A life record.

2. Though I hang out with mostly Anglican bloggers, the current politics of TEC have bored me into ignoring most of what is going on. Sorry, folks. I know it's important and all that, I just can't force myself to care all that much. I went through the same thing in my own denomination -- from activist to apathetic. Maybe it's a phase.

3. My cat has had a gross skin disease for over a year now. I took him to the vet repeatedly at the beginning and dropped major amounts of money I don't have on shots, pills and more. The vet clearly didn't know what was wrong and the cat doesn't seem to be suffering, so now I just accept the disease as if it were male pattern baldness-- something that can't really be helped. I know, I know, I'm a bad, bad cat owner. Feel free to send money and I'll try another vet.

4. I've taken to considering the following a complete meal for myself and my son: carrots with ranch dressing, apples with peanut butter, crackers and cheese. And on a good night, hard boiled eggs with mustard.

5. I'm very moody. Ask anybody who's ever had to live with me.

6. Although I complain too often on this blog about what I find lacking in the various worship services I attend, I'm a worship junkie. I really can't go long without a service. And if I had all the time in the world, I'd probably go to several every week.

My blogging circle is so small these days, it's more like a semi-circle, but I'll try Diane and Laura.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

On to New Hampshire

Well, for all intents and purposes, Dennis is out of the race. Not that this surprises me, but still, I had hoped he might make just a little bigger splash. Richardson is still in and, let's face it, he's great vice presidential material. Southwest state, latino heritage, solid experience. I still like him for his diplomatic experience and outstanding environmental stances.

So, if I'm to be a pragmatist now (which I always am, really), do I choose John or Barack? I have to say, there is something lovely about the idea of having a US president named Barack Obama. But did anybody else find that his post-caucus speech was not all that? It has been getting nice reviews, but as far as I can tell, he didn't really say anything.

Discuss.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Poem for My Ex


On New Year's Eve day, my ex and I had a ritual of divorce. It was sad and powerful and beautiful. We each had two witnesses with us. We shared Scriptures and prayer, we offered our regrets and asked and received forgiveness, we shared our gratitudes, we shared our intentions to move forward in friendship and mutual care and to always put our son first. We held a rope between us and spoke words of release to each other and then had a friend cut the rope, freeing us to move forward into the future with love and joy. We held each other and bawled like babies.

In honor of the man with whom I shared 15 years of my life, with whom I grew up and learned how to love and learned some of my limits of loving, to the man who is a wonderful father to our beautiful boy, I offer this poem, with sincere hope that he finds love again.

"I Love the Way Men Crack" by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love, Vol. 1.

I love the way men crack
open when their wives leave them,
their sheaths curling back like the split
shells of roasted chestnuts, exposing
the sweet creamy meat. They call you
and unburden their hearts the way a woman
takes off her jewels, the heavy
pendant earrings, the stiff lace gown and corset,
and slips into a loose kimono.
It's like you've both had a couple shots
of really good scotch and snow is falling
in the cone of light under the street lamp—
large slow flakes that float down in the amber glow.

They tell you all the pain pressed into their flat chests,
their disappointed penises, their empty hands.
As they sift through the betrayals and regrets,
their shocked realization of how hard they tried,
they way they shouldered the yoke
with such stupid good faith—
they grow younger and younger. They cry
with the unselfconciousness of children.
When they hug you, they cling.
Like someone who's needed glasses for a long time—
and finally got them-they look around
just for the pleasure of it: the detail,
the sharp edges of what the world has to offer.

And when they fall in love again, it only gets better.
Their hearts are stuffed full as ├ęclairs
and the custard oozes out at a touch.
They love her, they love you, they love everyone.
They drag out all the musty sorrows and joys
from the basement where they've been shoved
with mitts and coin collections. They tell you
things they've never told anyone.
Fresh from loving her, they come glowing
like souls slipping into the bodies
of babies about to be born.

Then a year goes by. Or two.
Like broken bones, they knit back together.
They grow like grass and bushes and trees
after a forest fire, covering the seared earth.
They landscape the whole thing, plant like mad
and spend every weekend watering and weeding.