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


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


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:
*political wives and the choices we all make behind closed doors about the public faces we will present
*the choice/circumstances to remain childless
*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.