Sunday, December 10, 2017

2017.12.10 How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

"Sonnet 43: How do I love thee, let me count the ways" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Public domain.

“How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.”  This is an intimate marital joke. I invented it and it always makes us laugh. If we are in a snit about one thing or another, or even if only I am feeling impatient, largely because of something utterly inconsequential, such as he’s in my way as I traverse our small kitchen, I say: “How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.”

It’s impossible to laugh and snarl at the same time. The face won’t do it.

This is very far from romantic I know, but what is romance in 2017 in a world full of snark and public incivility even from the White House? Yet it is true that everyone has a love story—not always exotic but always authentic. 

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning fell in love, and poetry was their language. Browning wrote: ”I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett ... and I love you too." She wrote a long letter in return, thanking him and asking him for ways she might improve her writing. Barrett was an invalid, and was reliant on morphine, and it was some months before Browning convinced her to meet him face to face. Barrett's father didn't like Browning, and viewed him as a fortune hunter. Love and poetry prevailed and the couple eloped in 1846—off to Italy. Where else? Barrett never saw her father again.

Every love of any kind comes with its shadow. In spiritual terms, cross and cradle remain inseparable—not for doom but for truth. We all crave solution and resolution, and we sentimentalize love to rid it of fear. Every prophet in every religion fiercely cries out against falling in love with illusory glitter. Yet we do. So? God is still falling in love, still ready to elope, still ready to be born and to die. 

I offer this wisdom at all costs and anyway: Tell the bold, bare, fierce truth about hate and sin and rage and outrage. Then keep going. Be John the Baptist. Be Jesus. Be both. Go where the love is and invest with courage. So what if it can’t last or be perfect? Go for it anyway. God does.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

2017.12.03 Advent of Sexual Harassment?—Always in Season

In the midst of this avalanche of allegations about sexual harassment, I asked my beloved priest spouse: Have you ever sexually harassed anyone?

Answer: Besides you?

What I keep on recalling, not as excuse but as cultural history, is that sexual harassment has been acceptable behavior for centuries. It was almost expected, and both men and women learned to live with it, their roles and rules clear: men pinch and comment; women demure, blush and dodge.  Feelings about it weren’t important.

So had I ever been sexually harassed in my work place, which was in the church? That includes volunteer work.

Once a priest commented on the movement of my body as I turned the drum of one of those old mimeograph machines. He liked to watch it, my butt not the machine. God forbid, I was flattered. I also felt uncomfortable. That was mostly because I worried that my behind was too fat or too flat, or whatever other idiotic body judgment I imposed on my body. Really? Yes.

What I experienced a lot was something I’d call attitudinal harassment. A bishop once towered over me and queried: “And WHO will take care of the children?” It wasn’t exactly harassment but it was shriveling and left little room for my perspective, let alone my answer. His assumption was that I couldn’t leave home. Mine was that my children would benefit from less not more parenting as they grew.  

My role in the church was limited to set up, clean up, ogle the altar, and in time, administer the chalice at the communion rail (a much trickier maneuver than passing out the bread/wafer), read from scripture on a Sunday, and serve on the vestry. I shoved my way along toward more and more leadership roles, ending up as Dean of our regional deanery, until finally the Church voted in 1976 that women could be ordained priests. Full acceptance of women in leadership is a work-in-progress.

Context is important—always. Some of this ongoing mess we’re in is a matter of interpretation, according to different times and different circumstances…and just plain evolution. My dad, for example, was a “mad man” in the 1950s. He had an affair with his secretary. Maybe more, though he was penitent and confessed his dalliance to my mother. What startled me most was that she told us daughters about it. Was that hostile? To whom?

In high school in a Connecticut shore town famous for gentlemen’s agreements (antisemitism in real estate, Christian/white elitism), I observed that lots of flirting went on amidst the cocktail party set. My mother wasn’t innocent. I learned from her that flirting was power—dangerous power. But my mother flirted with style. Is flirting sexual harassment of a sort?  What about flirting in the work place?

But these were the rules back then in the 1950s: men got handsy not just at parties but in work places. Women were supposed to overlook it or find clever ways to avoid office rape. It was a predator/prey culture, the assumption being that boys and men couldn’t help it—all that testosterone you know. Women had to work around it. These have been the rules over centuries, and they remained the rules.

Until 2017?  Well, we’ll see.

The point I want to make is that I still loved my dad and saw other good things in him. He never sexually harassed me with comments or looks. I felt proud when he retired early because advertising was becoming unethical, he thought ie. false advertising.

Plenty of great artists (Picasso for one, Woody Allen for another) have treated women in abusive exploitive ways. Does that discredit their art, their gifts?  How do we separate and sift all this while at the same time reshaping our collective mores/morality for the common good? Gawd, look at most all our presidents! Not to mention many saints and bishops!! Does their behavior toward women discredit their skills and accomplishment?

I’m a big-picture, person, for better or worse, so I see that it is increasingly incumbent on ALL of us to work together to end the abuses across the board born within a deeply entrenched, centuries-old patriarchal system of social organization. What was overlooked by everyone, men and women alike, really is now impossible to overlook. Or is it? American politics, religion, economics, morality across the boards, has been corrupted/contaminated by a silent consensus to ignore or deny unconscionable behaviors. Most painful to me is the fact that all this has as its underpinning the strong belief that women are not people, I mean not really people! 

To speak theologically, which I can’t resist: Sin is a condition that develops when anyone or ones become disconnected from the goodness in themselves, God, and their neighbors. And there you have it. Sin is always in our reach, which is why the system murdered Jesus for not recanting his politics and his image of God rich in compassion for the poor, the sick, the needful, the preyed upon, the underbelly of society—and women. Sin is endemic and inevitable, which is why all of us need to try to be Christ-like, to understand what that means, and to remember that every week in Eucharist we are re-Christified.

Will it be different now, or is it really going to be different now with all the latest revelations and fierce confessions?  I hope so. I pray so. You know my death throes of patriarchy theory. Godde knows!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

2017.11.26 Thanksgiving—A Love Sabbatical

On Thanksgiving day this year we celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. That’s not such a big deal, but it’s not bad mileage for a second marriage, or for two Leos living under one roof roaring.

Today is Christ in Majesty (aka Christ the King, but that's too limiting) Sunday. We were married on this Sunday in our parish church during the Eucharistic liturgy, November 23, 1986.

We celebrate our anniversary and Thanksgiving every year in southern Maine. But isn’t that family time? Yes, and the gift we chose to give ourselves was some time just for us—time away from professional duties, home, and yes, from our very large extended blended exuberant family. 

Yes, we miss them, and yes we love them all. And yes, we always call them all. And yes we (I) have felt guilty. They in turn are relieved of having to manage the holiday to include one more family— besides their own, their in-laws’ and that of former spouses, not to mention any aunts, uncles or cousins— in the Thanksgiving rituals.

To ease my guilt about breaking tradition, being selfish or abandoning, or thusly accused, I told myself for years that it was good for our progeny that they didn’t have to worry about us—including us, or not, or where. Thanksgiving after all is only one day, not an easily moveable feast. That was my assumption, not necessarily their desire or convenience.

But this year I tell the truth without excuses. This love sabbatical from the beginning has been our choice, a mutual choice made, only in part to escape family chaos, but mostly for our own benefit. Oh, yes, we are retired now. And yes, we aren’t living geographically on top of most of our offspring. And yes, we are able to see some old friends living in Maine. And no, this isn’t where we honeymooned. And no, this sojourn is not a glamorous vacation or getaway. Our choice has little to do with these factors.

So why do we do this?

We do it because we like coastal Maine and wintry sea, and the little humble unglamorous Seaside Inn bed-and-breakfast with large rooms and teeny bathrooms, we have stayed at for years. We do it for quiet, to catch up on reading, to avoid the temptation of over-checking emails, texts, phone calls. We do it for memories. Mostly—truly, deeply, really— we do it for love. We do it so we can enjoy each other’s company—just the two of us. We do it so we can stay in love. I am grateful we have enough health and resources to nourish our love and marriage this way.

As always the poet best captures the value, both ultimate and temporal, of love.

THAT I DID ALWAYS LOVE

That I did always love
I bring thee Proof
That till I loved
I never lived - Enough -
That I shall love alway -
I argue thee
That love is life -
And life hath Immortality -
This - dost thou doubt - Sweet -
Then have I
Nothing to show
But Calvary -
        Emily Dickinson

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017.11.19 The Music of Noble Grief Untold

Here's a small inside story, lean but robust. It’s about a saxophone player, the father of a little six year old girl named Ana. It’s about another father who has two daughters—and very long arms. The saxophonist is Jimmy Green. The man with long arms is President Barack Obama.

The public facts to this story most Americans know and remember with varying degrees of shiver and sorrow. On December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty small children and six staff were murdered —mercilessly, without warning, and arbitrarily— mowed down by a gunman with a rifle.

When I heard about this massacre my first reaction was similar to my reaction when I first heard about the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York: “Come on!” I laughed, as if such things happened regularly—and never. I could access neither fact nor feeling—for days. After the Newtown tragedy, President Obama addressed the nation—with tears and grace— at a memorial gathering. Only then could I cry and, oddly, relax.

President Obama flew right away that same day to Newtown, to the school. This is the duty of a president, the letter of the law one could say. The spirit of that “law” revealed a man’s heart. President Obama is a man who is able to govern and to weep, to take authority and to let his heart break visibly, to wage war and to make peace. On occasion politicians can be heroes.

Joshua Dubois (b.1982) head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the Executive Office of the President of the United States from 2009 to 2013, wrote about that day in “The President’s Devotional: ‘What Obama Did In Secret In Newtown.”  The staff coordinated details, but the president did the difficult pastoral work. The families gathered in classrooms. The president, briefed on names, moved unhurriedly from room to room. He gave each person a hug and asked “Tell me about your son, or daughter.” He looked at and held photos of every dead child. He listened to descriptions of favorite foods, television shows, the sound of the child’s laughter. Younger siblings were tossed in the air, laughing, and then received a box of White House M&Ms. Who knew there was such a thing?

“In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break,” Dubois wrote. Some small measure of love was given to every single bereaved family member: “The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.”  Over and over, for hours.
How can one sustain such authentic tenderness over an extended time—knowing that no amount of comfort or prayer, even from a president, even from God, could be adequate consolation?

According to Dubois, President Obama never spoke about these meetings. “He was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.”

What is not so public is that Obama went to Newtown a second time, just months after the tragedy, to visit the families in their own homes. I am privileged to know some of one of those visits: the one made to Jimmy Green the professional saxophonist and his wife. 

Think of a saxophone and its sound. Is it not the most lugubrious? Although usually associated with jazz, the saxophone can wail out the mourning night—a long sound, the sound of grieving parents, the eternal sound of God’s grief.

Jimmy Green was in Rockport, Massachusetts last summer as a visiting artist for the Rockport Music Association’s Jazz Camp, an educational jazz program for children.
                                     (Green with his saxophone.) 
A good friend of mine hosted Green and asked him, naturally, about his children. She was taken aback first  to hear that he was the father of a six year old girl named Ana who was murdered in Newtown. Ana, he said, loved music and dance, and she loved to love. Here she dances with her daddy.
About Obama, Green said,  “I knew the guy was tall, but I didn’t realize he had such long arms. He just sat with us (Green and his wife) on the couch and held us both together.”

Grief requires a long reach, a reach only heroes can summon. Heroes are people who do good anytime anyhow.  It is particularly hard for very public people—people who have to be constantly conscious of themselves…like being on camera 24/7— to be heroes of this kind. That takes courage, not just feelings, and not simply military action. Heroes touch the heart of God. Heroes keep us alive and wanting to live.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

2017.11.12 Green Eggs and Ham

Dear Doctor Seuss,

Today I craved eggs for some odd reason. There was no time to make them before breakfast or after church either, but I could eat them anywhere.

Our parish had a church harvest fair. There we sold a Cook Book, among other items. I had stolen recipes about your green eggs and ham from all over and one got into the cookbook. It's nothing compared to the marvelous recipes therein and all for the love of God—as is your prose poetry. Thanks.

I would eat this in a plane, I would eat this in the rain. I would eat this here or there, I would eat this anywhere. I do so like green eggs and ham I do so like it Sam I am!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 thin ham steaks, quartered
10 large eggs
3 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 cup store-bought pesto
1 cup fresh cut asparagus
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

       
Instructions

    1.    Set a large non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon butter. Once melted, add the ham pieces and cook until browned on each side, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
    2.    In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and most of the pesto (leave about 2 tablespoons out). Set aside. Wipe out the skillet and add the remaining butter. Once melted throw in the asparagus. Cook until the asparagus is soft and tender, about 4 minutes.
    3.    Add the whisked pesto eggs to the hot skillet and cook until soft scrambled. Add the cheese and cook until the eggs are somewhat firm and the cheese has melted. Serve by placing a few slices of ham on each plate and then adding a few spoonfuls of egg on top. Garnish with a bit of the reserved pesto on each. Cook 25 minutes.

If I were you here’s what I’d do. I’d sneak in green is what I’d do. I love the eggs but only green.
I add green dye behind cook’s eye. I do so like my green eggs green with ham—like Sam I am.

Submitted in praise of Dr. Seuss, the late Theodore Geisel (1904-1981) by Priest Associate—
irreverent Rev. Lyn who so likes green eggs and tells secrets for Seuss who pronounces it Zoice—       a remarkable voice.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

2017.11.05 Paschal Symbol

What does this magnificent and majestic tall red sculpture look like to you?

It looks like a massive candle holder without a candle. It stands well over six feet tall and is rubber—not very romantic. [Colorful polymer cast rubber molded from stacked architectural elements, balusters, finials and monumental urns.] I was mesmerized.

The Boston-based sculptor Niho Kozuru, born in 1968 in Fukuoka, Japan, calls this piece Rising Column. I first saw it and photographed it at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusett
As I contemplated this vibrant work of art near a window I saw light shining through it. I thought it was reflecting the sunlight, but read that the rubber substance is, in fact, translucent, and was chosen by the artist for that quality.  

Of course I projected Resurrection onto the rising column—the simple yet mysterious idea that God is unconditional Love that lives forever. We see resurrection when it shines through us. I don’t believe this just because I was taught to, or because it makes sense, because it doesn’t make sense.

I see resurrection when it shines through something common—nature’s bloom, new ideas, extraneous acts of kindness, children at play, transcendent music, art, and words of poetry and prose. For something to signal resurrection to me it must lift my soul in surprise recognition of Life even where it might not belong—like in death, dying, sin, suffering or evil.

On All Saint’s Day (November 1) Christians let resurrection light shine through the dead we no longer see but sense and through the embodied living we do see, touch, hear and applaud, mostly through infants whom we baptize into the life and death of Christ. Nonsensically, we do this all in one breath. On this day, other feast days, and through the fifty days of Easter we light a paschal (Easter) candle—a resurrection light.
Most paschal candles would be dwarfed by Kozuru’s Rising Column. Wouldn’t it be splendid to have a huge symbol of resurrection in our midst all the time?  We’d never forget resurrection life. We can’t afford such grandeur, of course, but we can’t afford to forget resurrection either.

It is my intuition that the Christian church has devoted some fifty years of energy making sure the Eucharist returns to the center of our Sunday liturgy. The altar and the lectern are the upfront focuses, well dressed and lit. Everyone looks to these. Less so the font. I'd like to visually beef up baptism and the font? 

Eucharist and Baptism are the two sacraments Jesus ordained when he was alive, according to New Testament  recollections. Baptism ushers one into the faith of Christ, and Eucharist provides regular nourishment and strength for being a Christian: practicing the faith OF Jesus—not at all the same as belief IN Jesus. When you practice the faith OF Jesus, light shines through you.

Wouldn’t it be fine to have a paschal candle stand more prominent—one so big and central you couldn’t miss it, lit or unlit?  So big you can’t forget you are Christian—sealed with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever— and what a huge gift that is.

I wish many things all the time, and pray for at least half of them half the time. Some come true. 

When I saw this enormous sculpture my heart leapt and said, YES. Its towering red magnificence announced to me the presence of God. Just the sight of it knocked my socks off, jarred me into remembering my baptismal promises and how I will keep them—every day as my baptismal day. 

I need jarring. Therefore, my humble photo will now live on my home altar. It gives me hope.

 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

2017.10.29 Extraneously Deliberate Kindness Transforms Hearts

Who is a hero?

One hot day in the South African township of Sophiatown, a little boy about nine years old accompanied his mother, a domestic worker at an institution for blind black people, to work.
The boy played as his mother worked. He looked up as a very tall white man in a long black cassock and white clerical collar passed by. The man smiled, nodded, and tipped his hat toward the boy’s mother as he passed by. The boy never forgot this small simple gesture of  respect, courtesy—and kindness— from an important white man toward his black mother in a country ruled by a policy of apartheid. It changed him—inside and out.

His name was Desmond Tutu. Tutu grew up nurturing this memory in his heart. Today, Tutu, retired Anglican Archbishop of Capetown in South Africa, and facilitator of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tasked with hearing the stories of victims and perpetrators of apartheid. Truth is never free unless it is accompanied by reconciliation; reconciliation is never accomplished without truth on all sides. The process took courage.
“It was really quite odd,” Tutu said in an interview, “this white man lifting his hat to my mother, a black woman domestic uneducated. There's no telling what things do for one’s self esteem, but this man’s influence on me and others was quite phenomenal.”  Later Tutu developed tuberculosis and this same man visited him in the hospital where he was for twenty months. “He visited me, a township urchin.”

Ironically I suppose, Tutu grew up to be more famous than the man who tipped his hat. Tutu was inspired to take his Christian faith into prophetic action from a position of leadership. He accomplished what the man who tipped his hat had worked hard for all his life. 

That man was Anglican Archbishop Trevor Huddleston (1913-1988). He was born in Bedford England and joined the Anglican religious order, the Community of the Resurrection in 1939, taking final vows in 1941.

Huddleston went to serve a mission station in Sophiatown, Johannesburg in 1940. He stayed for thirteen years. He was a beloved priest, lover of children, and anti-apartheid activist. The Africans nicknamed him Makhalipile which means “the dauntless one.” Huddleston preached and fought tirelessly against the enslaving policies of apartheid and became president of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1981.
Tutu has said of Huddleston: “He was an enormous thorn in the side of the apartheid regime. He did more to keep apartheid on the world’s agenda than anyone.” Huddleston and Tutu rejoice, below.
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) first president of the united nation of South Africa has said of Huddleston: “No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston.” Mandela and Huddleston join hands, below.
Who is a hero?  Anyone who speaks and acts with courage. Courage comes from the Latin word for heart, cor. 

Most of us think of courage as fighting against enemies for a cause, like war heroes. We have an overblown idea of what is heroic, based on our own grandiose ego projections. We envision bloody martyrs and lots of praise, maybe a medal. Maybe, but not always. Think of Huddleston’s hat.

In addition, real war heroes who listen to their hearts, let their hearts become their “weapons." Real heroes may shoot guns like mad, pumped by fear, but the heart-heroes risk their lives not for a cause or to win, or kill, but for one friend who is wounded and needs to be dragged away to safety.

Heroes are instinctively, deliberately, courageously, even extraneously kind. “Battlefields” can be city streets, town halls, voting booths, altars, pulpits, prison cells, crucifixion crosses, church basements, hospitals, monastic cells—a single humble soul. Heroes love with heart.

Huddleston’s prayer for Africa. 
    God bless Africa.
    Guard her people.
    Guide her leaders.
    And give her peace. 

Use this prayer with heart and courage wherever it's needed, with God's help.