Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016.12.25 Love Is The Gravity Of The Soul

"Love is the gravity of the soul."

This is wisdom from St. Bonaventure, Italian medieval Franciscan friar who died in 1221. To me it is perfectly attuned theology for a God who is ever-nearer and ever-greater at the same time and always.

If love is the gravity of the soul, then hope is its wings, and faith is its practice.

David Wilcox, 58, is a contemporary American folk singer and song writer captures this spirit. These lyrics are from his song “Show The Way.”

Show The Way

It is love who mixed the mortar

And its love who stacked these stones

And its love that made the stage here

Though it looks like we’re alone.

In this scene set in shadows

Like the night is here to stay

There is evil cast around us

But it’s love that wrote the play. 

In this darkness

Love can show the way.

As the psalmist prays, so we sing:  Shiru  l’Adonai, shir chadash.  Sing to the Lord a new song. It is time to sing many new songs, fresh songs, new words and new connections.

Merry Christmas to everyone. We hallow a tiny babe in a humble manger and call this God. What could more insane? What could more true? What could be more Eternal? What more holy?
May the Love of Christmas bless and keep you now and always.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016.12.18 Along the Way: Christ-Spotting

I'm really quite fond of the God of Jesus. Jesus was a remarkable spiritual guru in his day, one so gifted as to be deemed as divine as he was human. Jesus's God dares to be vulnerable and glorious at once. That's my kind of divinity. 

Along the way of life I practice christ-spotting. I watch for glimmers of divinity in humanity all the time. I call it the christ option. One does not have to be a Christian to be a christ.

Of late I've been sleuthing a persistent cough, consulting many doctors, getting some answers and unearthing more questions. My cough is temporarily better, thanks to steroidal medication, yet I'm still in Nancy Drew mode, following clues—driven by hope and my own sweet refusal to settle.

Along the way of christ-spotting I have had many experiences and learned many things. On occasion I meet this Christ by accident. One such occasion was in a doctor's office where I waited, and waited and waited some more. I waited in the waiting room, and I waited in the exam room. So much waiting was odd, because the normal pace at this medical center is swift and efficient. Finally, this old doctor ambled in and asked me what was wrong. He never touched the computer, never smiled, and never used the stethoscope. He was slow, very slow—old, very old (probably about my age:) I secretly thought he had the relational skills of a newt—some kind of fill-in doctor, worse than a substitute teacher, and old-fashioned like the stereotype of the country doc who made house calls.  His manner unsettled me so I talked very fast to articulate the case for my cough. Then he left. I waited. When he returned he told me he'd read my whole record. Really? Then he smiled—a smile deep and wide as the Jordan River of song. It drew me into his sphere and I listened— rapt— while he rambled on about bacterial spectra and other esoterica before he listened to my struggling lungs.

This old doc declared that we were going to do a preemptive strike. I envisioned war and bombs. He meant pneunomia. He gave me a diagnosis of bronchitis, a prescription—and something more. He gave me hope. I had gone back in time. I had stumbled into an experience so counter-cultural it lifted my soul and gave me hope enough to stay in pursuit of whatever might lie beyond preemptive strikes.

Along the way I learned how to wait impatiently, and that to be human is to be vulnerable—not sinful, just vulnerable like the god of Jesus. I found myself wishing that God had done a preemptive strike somehow to prevent the crucifixion—of Jesus, yes, but of anyone. 

After Jesus died it took a LONG time for his followers to discern resurrection, over fifty years before they wrote it into gospel form. Along the way they spent time in the waiting room—wondering, talking among themselves, grieving mightily, asking questions, and living on glimmerings—christ-spottings full of irrational, indefensible, and potent hope.

We do the same as we follow along the way. We are never quite sure, for certain sure. Strength and hope come in small doses. Some leave us wonderstruck; some leave us bewildered. An Advent hymn by Michael Hudson, Episcopal priest and rector of Christ Church, Cullowhee, North Carolina, says it best.

We wait for Christ, our Advent Light,
a brightness like the sun;
we find a rabbi with a lamp
and ask, "Is this the one?"

We wait for Christ, the Lord of Hosts,
a thousand battles won;
we find a stubborn man of peace
and ask, "Is this the One?"

We wait for Christ, our Advocate,
for justice swiftly done;
we find a friend of the oppressed
and ask, "Is this the One?"

We wait for Christ, the King of kings,
a nations' favored son;
we find instead a servant-sage
and ask, "Is this the One?"

And so he comes, again he comes,
and faith is yet begun
as open hearts are drawn to Christ,
the Unexpected One. 

     from Songs for the Cycle. Fresh Hymn Texts. © 2004, Church Publishing








Sunday, December 11, 2016

2016.12.11 Make America Great Again, According To Whom? That Is the Question.

Not so “great” for me, thanks.

I assume that “great”means back to what we thought we had before Democrats messed it up. And I assume “great” has mostly to do with the economy and money.

Well, I did not experience America as that “great” and I do not want to regress. I don’t want to go back to a “greatness” in which…………
   
    -my shyness was not as natural as it was defensive— to keep me safe
    -I felt inferior or second best when compared to men
    -I felt fearful much of the time for the privacy of my “private parts”
    -I could be raped by someone else’s pain
    -I felt compelled to flirt, in order to assert my presence among men—as Mom did
    -I rarely felt respected for my voice, my authority, and my ideas, a circumstance leading me to opt for a private practice in which I felt professionally honored, safe, and in charge
    -I saw no place for me at the table, including the altar table
    -womb politics in the Church was the only way to feel accepted as a woman, because Mary, as traditionally interpreted in sermon and song, gave her womb to the desire of a large male angel and his heavenly omnipotent master, and then was proclaimed near-divine for her willing assent
    -I feared being overpowered by men and also by God, who was apparently a man
    - professional benefits which I had earned and paid for were suddenly called entitlement, a nasty word in the behavioral sciences
    -I would have to go back under the table of my childhood to discover in secret that I mattered
    -the divine Word Incarnate rejected my flesh
    -many of my friends suffered alone in “closets” not of their own making because of their sexual orientations, their skin color, their politics, or their religion
    -moneyed politics and moneyed sports were gradually taking over the nation

I was the teen and young woman, and I am now the old woman, who felt, feels, queasy just looking at the famous 1945 photo of the homecoming WWII sailor grabbing a nurse, holding her close, and sweeping her off her feet for a meltdown kiss. It’s a famous photo. It ended up going viral in Life Magazine. The image is still embraced as a symbolic expression of pure joy at the war’s being over. Yes, yet I felt uneasy and kept silent. Once in midlife I argued with a woman friend who thought me a fool. Something just did not look or feel right to me.

Everyone adulated the photo, which in fact was a darn good snapshot of a moment in time. It is called iconic. An icon is a strong visual image, often with spiritual implications. One is meant to look through it to see something greater or deeper. What do you see when you look at, and beyond, the kissing sailor photo?
The true story behind the photo, its artist and its subjects is this: The photographer was Alfred Eisenstaedt a WWI German soldier. He was prompted to take the photo on August 14, 1945, because the light was perfect, in part because of the sudden brightness reflecting off the white on the nurse’s uniform. The photo ended up on the cover of Life Magazine. Snap. Flash. Fame. The sailor, George Mendonsa, twenty-two, was inebriated and running wild at the news of the war’s end. He was celebrating with his date, a young woman named Rita whom he subsequently married. Rita was not, and is not, bothered by the famous photo. The location was Times Square in New York City on what was called V-J (Victory over Japan) day. The putative nurse was not a nurse but a dental assistant named Greta Zimmer. She was walking into the square from work to see what all the commotion was about. Zimmer was one of the last escapees from Germany. She later learned that her parents died in the camps. Greta Zimmer Friedman now lives in Maryland. She is not as nonplussed by the photo as the sailor’s wife, Rita. To read more check out The Kissing Sailor originally published in 2012,  co-authored by Lawrence Verria and George Galdorisi.



I do see exuberance and pure joy, and for good innocent reason: being free of the pain and cost of war. I also see that a man overpowered by drink can take unfair sexual advantage of a woman without her consent. This may seem prudish, and it is. It is also my unwillingness to squelch my original and ongoing discomfort—or at least ambiguity— about the photo. I grew up in the "Mad Men" era in NYC and had just turned seven when this photo came out. Even then I, the curious child, wondered about the photo, and when I turned eight this kind of overpowering happened to me, too.

This supposed “icon" is part of the “great” America to which I do not now want to return or desire to reinstate. It stands as a reminder but not an icon.

It wasn't that "great" for women back then.





Sunday, December 4, 2016

2016.12.04 What About LIttle Girls?

Children take their political and religious cues from their parents, at least in the beginning. Whatever we do as adults affects our children. It forms them for good or ill. And there is hope whenever children remember. A couple of tender stories to remember.

In a class of four and five year olds

Cathy and her friend Susie had a conversation in school about the election of Donald Trump to serve as our next president. Another friend, Mimi, joined the conversation. Mimi informed her friends that Donald Trump thinks it’s okay to touch “women’s private parts". Cathy said her feelings would be hurt if that happened to her or her friends and is glad she lives in Massachusetts, since he will live in Washington,which is far away. The teacher handled it well, reassuringly, and also reported it to the parents of these girls.

In a parish church, Episcopal, in northeast Massachusetts

The parish rector, a woman, told me this story: A new family, parents with their young daughter, attended church the Sunday after the election. The rector went over to greet the newcomers, thinking they looked a little red-necked. She welcomed them then asked them how they found the parish. To the rector’s astonishment, the woman burst into tears, through which she said: “I looked online to find an Episcopal church that had a woman minister and found you. I wanted my daughter to have a female role model.” The rector was ashamed of her own assumptions, astounded at the woman’s candor, and honored to be a role model for the little girl.

In the woods in Chappaqua, New York

Here is a widely circulated image on Facebook by Margot Gurster. The text quoted below the photo is from an article in The Guardian by Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker.






“The  snap on Facebook was taken on the hiking trails surrounding Chappaqua by Margot Gerster, a grieving Hillary supporter who was out walking with her little girls. Suddenly, she wrote, there was the sound of rustling. Then, appearing like a mirage in the clearing, was Hillary herself with Bill and their dogs, doing ‘exactly the same thing’ as Gerster. The former president obliged Gerster by taking the photograph after she and Hillary had exchanged “a few sweet pleasantries” and hugged.

Nothing I have seen in the last 15 months of the campaign has resonated with me as much as the image that Gerster posted. It shows Hillary wearing what looks like no make-up, her hair uncoiffed, dressed in a baggy black parka, brown leggings and boots, and holding the dog leash twisted in her hand as her poodle mix snuffles among the carpet of leaves at her feet.”

No glamor, no glitz, no campaign—simple beauty.

Little girls will notice and remember. Little boys will notice too, yet what they notice will be different in a patriarchal culture.

Thank you, Hillary Clinton, for giving little girls a memory that will shape their consciences forever. Some will take it into political service, but wherever they take it, it will shape our future as a nation.

Thank you for risking so much to give us females yourself as a role model by which to remember that we too have voices and gifts for leadership as we desire. It has seemed to me that many white women of my generation have been so beaten down by patriarchy that they simply can not envision a woman—someone like themselves— in the White House.

My husband Dick and I have what we would call the honor of being the only grandparents, save one, of our shared twelve grandchildren, including step grandparents, ex-spouses, and in-law grandparents, to have voted for Hillary Clinton. In this we joined the majority of American voters. Still, some days I feel as if Dick and I went out on a limb and fell off our own generation.

Nevertheless, this latest new generation will remember. What it will mean to them precisely, we don’t know. But this election will mean something very significant, something way beyond who won the high office, to the future of patriarchy in our nation. Despite the pain of backlash and particular governmental policies that threaten to demolish progress our nation has made towards social wholeness and the constitutional equality we proclaim, I believe, when I look at the bigger picture, that, in this election, patriarchy has suffered a blow from which its -ism-dependent system of social organization will never recover.

This gives me hope, indefensible perhaps, but hope. For this I thank God. 




Sunday, November 27, 2016

2016.11.27 Remember and Do LIkewise...........

The Gettysburg Address has a familiar ring. President Abraham Lincoln, November 19,1863 delivered it in a matter of minutes. Nice brief homily! Lincoln was a Republican. This beautiful speech was delivered to a divided nation at war with itself. It inspired hope and remembrance of who we are as a nation. Does it still?



Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.



Thank you, Mr. Lincoln. We, 1,153 years later, are also in the midst of civil strife in which much blood has been spilled, most of it senseless.

Many Christians believe that Jesus Christ shed blood to save us. I believe that Jesus’s death was a crime of epic proportions that occurred in a system in which all parts contributed to its happening, including those who loved him. But they did not forget what he stood for. They kept talking and remembering this brilliant life and this useless death—over and over until they derived hope in resurrection. Today, Christians remember this founding event regularly in order to call us back to God who created us equal—all of us—and whose desire it is that no more blood be spilled for Christ’s sake, or anyone else’s either. 

As we enter this liturgical season of Advent, we soon will say goodbye to Barack Obama, our president of eight years, and to his family, most handsome and bright. He is the president who ran on a platform of Hope. He is our first brown-skinned president. He is the president who entered office with dark brown hair and leaves with gray hair. He is part of what makes American great.

I hope we will remember all that he has stood for and all that he has accomplished on our behalf.

I hope we will encourage our new government to stop shedding invisible blood and take time to evaluate Obama’s reforms with care as changes are made.

I hope all of us Americans, citizens and  citizens-in-waiting, will make extra efforts to get to know each other's stories.

I hope we will be able to see each other beyond our politics, our skin colors, our genders, our religions, our physical or financial status, whether we were born here or not. I hope we will have respectful conversations, listen and talk with open hearts, rather than looking to convert anyone to one single point of view—our own. 

I hope we will honestly try to be true to our founding vision, the one we still dare to call these United States, a country in which ALL people who live here may dream and work and, yes, enjoy equal access without fear to all the many resources available—economic, social, educational, spiritual, agricultural, legal, cultural, natural—from sea to shining sea.    

We the people do not know who we are, nor who our neighbors are, so steeped are we in our own positions, fears, values, and judgments. We are not the land of the free until we can share that freedom—and help each other hope. 

I hope that if there is another speaker as eloquent as Lincoln that person will recall us to our founding values. 

The apostle Paul in his famous love letter to Love in the Bible (I Corinthians 13) declared the three top spiritual gifts to be faith, hope, and love. But alas, he then rank-ordered them to say that the greatest of these is love. In my experience, the three are of equal value, inseparable, and ceaselessly interacting. 

Hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

May the God of hope bless us, keep us, and shine upon and from within us, that we may abound in Hope, Faith and Love—this day and always.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

2016.11.20 Gratitude

As this Thanksgiving week begins, I use this blog space to thank all of you who have read this blog over the years since I started writing it in October, 2008.  Whether you have commented or sent feedback or not, your presence is so very much appreciated—essentially invisible and boldly omnipresent at once. Thank you.

I am especially aware this year as the National Day of Thanksgiving approaches, how uneven the national mood is. That's not a new state of affairs, but it is our state of affairs right now, and frankly, does not lend itself to much open-hearted gratitude from any perspective—any at all.  

I invite you to join with me in a simple spiritual practice. Make a gratitude list. It is private and silent like a prayer, and yet it is potent like prayer, sending waves of uplifting energy out into the universe.

Your list can be simple or complex, elaborated or not, but get it going. The only suggestion is that your items be sincere. Add regularly to your list throughout the holiday season up to January 1, 2017—and beyond. The habit will grow in your soul, enriching you from within as it grows.

The voice of God is written in the heart of a prayer, psalm #50. When we give thanks we enter the soul of God.

     The only sacrifice I need is your gratitude . . .                    (Pam Greenberg translation)
     Whoever offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me . . . (Book of Common Prayer translation)


Sunday, November 13, 2016

2016.11.13 I Was Hoping

In the pre-Nicene period of Christian history, the times were much like our own. Christians were tense, fearful, still grasping for theological meaning a couple hundred years after their painful loss of Jesus Christ and their own messianic expectations. They were groping to understand, to right themselves. Resurrection was not an instant and obvious solace for many, its meaning uncertain. They shared a simple meal—over and over, as they had with Jesus.

Later a Creed would emerge. The Nicene Creed (325 C.E.) stabilized them, for better or worse. It’s always good to have something to recite in public, in community, whether you swallow every word whole or not.

On election eve, 2016, at 11 p.m., I went to bed, mildly, not wildly, confident that Hillary Clinton would be our next president, our first woman president. I slept. I awoke at 7. Dick was sitting up on his side of the bed. I knew he was reading the news on his tablet. I knew. I knew Donald Trump had been elected, because Dick did not turn to me with his big irresistible grin. 

I got up slowly and went to the window, a lookout point from our third floor. I saw a familiar sight: an elderly couple of Asian extraction with their equally aging large dog. They were walking—slowly, very slowly—all three apace. The couple held hands. That’s all. Only then did I cry—for Hillary, for myself, for women, and for all people I love, and many I have never met, whose rights might be endangered, for American diversity, not to mention the glass ceiling I’d hoped would be shattered at last. And I wept for my country, which had elected a man whose rhetoric was misogynistic, abusive, and inciting of violence. Not my guy.

My mind, odd as it can be, went to the Eucharist—steady, sturdy, usually on time, a foxhole as well as a cathedral ritual of radical intimacy, inclusivity, hospitality, and hope. All the things Mr.Trump had trumpeted against.

We, like our forebears, return first to the Eucharist, remembering its power—power to which we bring, like they did, all our hopes, dreams, prayers, sorrows and joys.

Gratefully, Dick and I were scheduled to preside at a Eucharist for a small Education for Ministry (EfM) group at our parish church that evening. They were using one of the Church’s earliest Eucharistic liturgies—pre-Nicene in fact. It was brief, humble, unelaborated, contained all the traditional ingredients. Together this small group broke honest-to-goodness sweet-smelling bakery bread and shared wine from a chalice. These basic elements of nourishment for body and soul were consecrated by words spoken by a presiding priest, and equally by the presence of each of us around the altar table. Then we ate, including olives and cheese, which the early Christians would have brought to the table. We do what Christians do.

I was at peace and slept well that night. My calm did not last, of course, as the fullness of the shock settled into my bones. I talked with friends and family. My son wondered what he could say to his young son and daughter. I felt in a haze. I turned to prayer, asking God for a word—say something!! In quiet, and even in anxiety, I heard this: Don’t stand out. Stand up. It’s one of those things God often says inside me that is wiser than any words of my own.

In fact, I have been trying to “stand out” a bit as I work to promote my new book, a memoir. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but I hear God calling me to stand up. Stand up and be counted. Keep on working for  justice and equality for women and for all the progressive values you cherish. Stand up, anyway. Even in my incredulity and my grief, I can stand up.

I turned to Scripture, needing just one more leg to stand on. I opened my small bedside table Bible and thumbed aimlessly through. This image fell out. I looked for a long time at the faces of these two disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, as they are pictured by artist Burnand—running, running, running toward the tomb, just in case what the women had reported about the missing corpse might be true. 

I stared at these faces for some time. They mirrored exactly my own post-election feelings. What has happened? What can happen? What now? I might not run so well, but I can still stand up—for common goodness and common good.


                              Eugene Burnand (1850-1921) Swiss artist.











Sunday, November 6, 2016

2016.11.06 The Cloak of Prayer, No Matter What

Our diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Alan M Gates, has called for a 48-hour prayer vigil from Nov 6-8, 2016 throughout our diocese of Massachusetts. It could be a wall but I prefer the image of a cloak, velvet soft and warm with the crackly energy of unconditional hope.

Sometimes when we send lots of energy towards a hope in prayer the energy moves things in helpful/healing directions. If I didn’t have some faith in that spiritual power I would never pray at all. It’s no guarantee, I know. But that’s no reason to stay away from the prayer or polls, or avoid heinous challenges, or crawl into a clam shell of shame or fear. It is rather an act of profound trust—an act of love with risks, as all true love carries. Prayer is unconditional. One of the psalms (69) prays: I am my prayer to you.
No one mentions prayer much in this alarmist and boiling-over national climate, but I bet some people are praying, yes, for a candidate maybe, but also for the health of our country and our democracy and our common humanity. The bishop said that individual desires will naturally be in whatever personal prayers we offer, but more broadly, he adjured us to pray with full understanding that God will be fully present in the whole process:
   
    -that there will be a peaceful transition, no matter what the outcome
    -that there will be no further stoking of demonizing language
    -that all who are elected be moved and strengthened to lead us all through this fractured time
  
 
May I suggest as well that after each focused petition we conclude with:
    In praise and thanksgiving,
    I pray to you, O Lord


We are accustomed to framing our collective prayers in a dependency framework: Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.  We ask Godde to hear our prayers. We know, or should know by now, that the nature of God is Love, and Love does listen and hear prayers. It's courteous of course to ask, but perhaps it has become a spiritual habit that is no longer consistently useful.

As Christians we also know that Jesus Christ proclaimed a God whose nature it is to desire peace and reconciliation—not resignation, but active seeking of listening connections—another attribute of Love, no? Love requires mutuality: caring and respect that goes both ways. In short: your needs are as important as my needs. When there is a clash, we negotiate—asking and listening with respect as we arrive together come to truth AND reconciliation—everyone a little uneasy and a little awed.

That is what this vigil is about. It has to do with this particular election, in real time. It also has to do with prayer as an agent of Love in this world of brokenness. Many of us have mistaken our fears for enmity with others, or worse, for the wrath of God.

The bishop reminded us at our diocesan convention that while the Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear, the reverse is also true: perfect fear casts out love. Our culture right now is on the verge of perfecting fearfulness and moving into paranoia where everyone looks like an enemy, or a potential enemy.

Pamela Greenberg's translation of a line of Psalm 23 reads: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my deepest fears." (Most translations say: "my enemies.")  Hear the difference.

With prayer we make room for the work of the Spirit of God, called in Greek metanoia, which means "change of heart and mind." I don't know how I will feel if Mr. Trump gets elected. At first I will lament and moan and fear. Then I will, in fact, ask God for help; then I hope I will go forth and go forward and leave enmity behind—with Godde's help.

So when we say AMEN, or so be it, let's mean it. Let’s sit in silent vigil and reflect, looking at whatever is before our senses: a nutty squirrel scampering across my fence, a neighbor’s dog with a high-pitched bark, the kids in the neighboring yard playing and laughing with glee, the smell of Sunday-only bacon sizzling, the comfort of a dear and familiar touch, letting me know it's time to leave the keyboard and join the world—for breakfast.

When we say AMEN, and mean it, we exchange obsessing for trust.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

2016.30.16 Ceiling Breakers and Hard Choices

VOTE. PLEASE.

Many wise people favor a both/and approach to discernment and wholistic spirituality. BUT in this 2016 election voters must deal with either/or. To sideswipe civic responsibility you can write in whomever you want, or pick a “dark horse” with no odds, or not vote at all. What takes real courage is to face into the discomfort of either/or— and CHOOSE ONE OF TWO.

 

I voted early with pride, and for once it was not a hard choice for me, because I’m a Christian and a feminist, not to mention being a Democrat. 

Jeanette Rankin was sworn into office in the House of Representative as the first woman in Congress, elected 100 years ago this November, 1916—and a Republican from Montana.

Rankin of course surprised the best of ‘em with her strenuous vigor and voice. The American politicians expected a wispy spinster with a delicate voice as they rued the possible loss of the art of profanity they had perfected.
Renée Loth wrote in her fine 10.04.16 Boston Globe op ed essay, “Breaking the Ceiling 100 Years Ago”: “A double standard? You bet your feathered bonnet.”

Rankin was everything a woman should “not” be: vocally aggressive, ambitious, and a powerhouse for women’s rights. Rankin was a strident unrelenting pacifist and voted against war no matter what. This stance alarmed even the female suffragists. Does this style sound familiar?

Hillary Clinton is not a pacifist, yet her vote in favor of the Iraq intervention has been singled out for attention and earned her the “hawk” label, scary even to many women. She made a hard choice, demonstrating her capacity to do such a thing as seemed right to her at the time. A hard choice is not a rigid one, but labels stick to women like brands. Even so, consistency isn’t the top quality of a good leader who has to make hard choices in fractious times. The capacity to think and change one's mind is a higher value.

No matter what Rankin said, and no matter what Hillary says, the media and the public pounce on it like a cat on a mouse. Yes, I know they pounce on Donald Trumps’ every word, too. Trump is a spotlight stealer, enabled by a reactive media. He is consistently misogynistic while denying it. This I think is helpful to his female opponent. Front-and-center misogyny forces us all to examine gender politics, which has formerly been submerged beneath lots of persiflage.

There IS a double standard and there IS a glass ceiling for women.
This isn’t a new issue at all but it is now so blatant it can not be ignored. There IS a difference between men and women. Women do bring a different style, a different experience, a different perspective to high public office. These distinctions matter.

Hillary Clinton, for example, notices women and issues that affect their lives intimately. She helped launch the first rape crisis hotline in Arkansas in the mid 1970s. At the UN conference in Beijing in 1995 she declared that “women’s rights are human rights.” As a candidate for president she calls us to work together. That is something women prefer and often do better than men.

In my experience, gender distinctions work the same in religion. Men and women are different, but differences often turn into political disadvantage for women. Women are ordained but not always treated equally. We do not get the best jobs; we are not accorded equal pay for the same work; not all dioceses have enforced minimum pay standards; we are still viewed as anomalous in pulpits in certain areas of the country. And our voices are not regularly consulted, and in some traditions not consulted at all. And to top it all off, God Godself is made masculine—quite thoroughly so. 

There is a Facebook site of which I’m a member called Breaking the Episcopal Glass Ceiling. It’s just for Episcopal women clergy. The fact that there is such a site and that it is used by so many is a sign. If our genders were equally recognized there would be no need for such a site.

The purpose of the site is to let women priests know when and where there are dioceses looking for a bishop and to get more women elected to the House of Bishops, where women are in a great minority. I have no interest in being a bishop, and many women don’t, but bishops are the top leaders and decision-makers in the governance of our church. We have checks and balances in our system. Thanks to the House of Deputies, lay and ordained leaders have voice and vote in our governance. Still, the folks with the pointed hats (House of Bishops) are seen as the ones with the power, whether that is actually true in the flesh or not. There IS a stained glass ceiling for women.

In religion and national government we all need to appreciate more clearly our gender differences and allow them to work for us, not against us, as we transform our religions and our country from patriarchal rank-ordering ways into a culture of shared responsibility for the common good.

Although, ironically, this election itself presents us with a viable either/or choice, we really do need  to strive for a both/and politics.

This was the politics of Jeanette Rankin 100 years ago. It is the campaign politics of Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Do we want to wait another 100 years to eliminate the double standard? Do we want to wait another 100 years for this wholeness? 

VOTE.  THANK YOU.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

2016.10.23 Dominus Flevit

As Christian women we are appalled by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's recorded remarks that disparage women and condone sexual assault. Such language cannot be dismissed as “locker room talk.” Mr. Trump must offer public contrition that fully acknowledges the seriousness and depravity of his actions.

The sin of misogyny has caused many of us to experience sexual assault or sexually abusive language that threatened our safety, dignity and well-being.

Christian leaders cannot condone such violent speech about women as a minor mistake or an innocent attempt to be “macho." These excuses teach our young people that such language is acceptable and do further harm to those who have been abused.

We urge all religious leaders to preach, teach and help their communities heal from the twin sins of sexual violence and misogyny. While we are disheartened by Mr. Trump's toxic words, we believe this moment presents an opportunity to teach our daughters and sons that they are loved, and to teach all Americans how to speak out against sexually violent language.

        -Rev Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life.


I signed this letter with little hesitation and then immediately wondered if I should have. Was it “Christian” to condemn another person? Oh well, I thought, it’s in line with the biblical prophetic tradition, and we all know that it’s okay to condemn the sin but not the sinner, don’t we?  Besides, I’m not Jesus.  Even as Lyn, I know that misogyny and the toxins it stokes—violence, rage, profound physical and spiritual pain, and social disorganization—are godless. 

One of the most poignant places we visited in 2012 when we went to Israel was the location at which Jesus is remembered in the New Testament as looking out over the beloved city Jerusalem and weeping. The site is a small chapel at the foot of the Mount of Olives with a dome shaped like a teardrop. Built in 1955 it's called Dominus Flevit: The Lord wept.

Luke’s gospel remembers it thus: “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”  This lament may reflect the historical destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. A great political mess of contending parties—Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Tax Collectors, Samaritans, Zealots and Scribes—warred for primacy and authority in Jesus’s time. All of these spiritual and political streams buzzed in and about Jerusalem. Jesus was trying to recall their attention to God’s ways of justice, compassion and peace. No wonder he wept.

I weep too scanning the national scenario in the USA right now. I also rage. I’m a woman, and, like most women, I know the sting of misogyny. So does the woman who is running against many currents to be elected our next president.

“As it turned out, Clinton, who began her campaign intent on breaking the last barrier—the glass ceiling—has found her most compelling rationale in her own role as a barrier, a bulwark against the impossible alternative. As I was leaving our interview, she smiled, looked me in the eyes and left me with a casual reminder. ‘As I’ve told people,’ she said, ‘I’m the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse.’ ” (Mark Leibovich, “Her Way”, NY Times Sunday Magazine, October 16, 2016.)

Is it that dire? I don’t know, but some days it feels that way as the delusional scenario of individuals and groups “building proud towers which shall not reach to heaven . . .” (Hymn #573, Laurence Housman) unfolds.

Still, I’m not one to sit around. I’m powerless, not helpless. SO: I sign petitions like the one above. I pray with specificity. I order books for grandkids. I write to steady my convictions in hope.  I remember I am a Christian and  I remember dominus flevit.  Tomorrow I will vote for Hillary and get my little oval “I voted early” sticker with the American flag on it.

I'm voting for her because she is practiced and practical. Second, I'm voting for her because she has stood her ground and managed to avoid serious head bleeds from glass ceiling shards as she pokes through a barrier that needs breaking. Finally, I am voting for her because I am not afraid of her.

I am voting for her, because I bet, that behind the necessary defenses, she weeps.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

2016.10.16 None Of The Above?—NOT!

Many people, including some news personnel, like Jim Braude of Greater Boston, whom I admire, are advocating that we the people check or write into our ballot: NONE OF THE ABOVE. 

It sounds good, maybe even true. It also sounds snarky. It sounds like a wasted vote. It sounds whiny. It sounds cowardly. It sounds individualized. It sounds like a way to contribute to the fracturing of our society, already anxious and scared.

If we Americans, whose country is founded on principles of freedom of the best kind, cannot get up the guts or the grit to vote, because we just don’t like either person on the ballot for president, or because we just don’t care about “the facts”, then we deserve what we get: a failed presidential election and a mockery of our freedom. In addition, a vote for a minor third party candidate is a cowardly cop out, contributing nothing.  So VOTE!

I am solidly for Hillary. She is not my best friend. I’m not even sure I like her personality. I don’t care. I do think she is the most qualified person we have ever had run for president. Hillary is a woman, and she therefore represents a step towards our founding idea that all men are created equal and should have equal opportunity, when qualified. "Men" includes "women". The wave of vile misogyny sweeping much of our nation, and accelerated by the media, is a sign that we have lost sight of democracy itself, not to mention decent civilized, yes, Christian behavior.

First Lady Michelle Obama has broken the confines of her traditional role to speak out in horror and pain about this kind of politics, particularly the outrage of  a presidential candidate making public braggadocio of sexually predatory behavior. She asks: Is this a model for our young boys and girls who look up to the leader of their country?  She does what prophets do. She is notable, because frankly there aren’t many honest and courageous prophets speaking out anywhere in any halls of power, including the church, right now. Are we drowning in fear? 

Be brave. Be a citizen. Be an American. Be a good Christian. It’s your duty and privilege as a Christian to exercise your right to vote. We pray weekly for our nation and all nations to work for justice and peace. That means a commitment to our political processes. The kingdom of heaven, founded by Jesus the Christ, is no less political than it is holy. Jesus himself felt the anxiety of hard choices and unpopular politics. But he did not wimp out. He did what he thought was right, in accord with the desires of a loving and just God, and the best for his nation.

What is best for the good of this nation and our neighbors whom we influence and serve?
Vote your conscience based on this spiritual discernment. Think beyond your own disgruntlement. Before you vote, pray for guidance as you would for a beloved who is ill, for our nation is ill right now. And you have an opportunity to make a healing difference. 

NONE OF THE ABOVE is not a vote, it’s a trick. NO VOTE AT ALL is passive cowardice.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016.10.09 Maybe It IS the Economy, Stupid?

Some years ago I changed my political party affiliation with some trepidation, sneaking into Town Hall and feeling like “Judas.” I used to argue with my father the Republican when I was a college student full of zeal and ill-digested information. Once I told him I favored economic socialism and political democracy. I still might. He loved me anyway.

My parents had been loyal Republicans their whole adult lives, and I followed along without much thought until I recognized that the values of my Christian faith coincided closely with those of the Democratic party. Biblical heroes championed social justice for the marginalized and the poor, an economy that served all people, not just the rich, and yes, a government that looked more like Robin Hood —foolishly generous—than the CEO of a huge corporation—foolishly hoarding. I still consider it a privilege to pay taxes to help those less fortunate than I am enjoy equal access to the ample resources we have in this wealthy country.

Over time I understood politics from my parent’s generational point of view. They were twenty-somethings when the Great Depression threatened their dreams, made them afraid, very Republican, and politically focused on “the economy, stupid.”  Dad was honest, generous, hard-working, and not a corporate show-off. He consumed martini lunches with the best of the “mad men,” yet he was a principled capitalist. In fact he left his NYC ad agency in 1970 when the executives started manipulating their ads to enhance products. He said it was unethical.

I bet today Dad would be voting for Hillary, not only because he was the father of three daughters, but also because she understands the basics of principled economic policies.  This daughter would say she knows how to kick ass and stay balanced.


I recently received a note from a brother Episcopal priest in Overland Park, Kansas, the Rev. Robert Terrill. He makes a connection between Christian faith and the economy, just as I did years ago and do today. He wrote:

“My college degree is in business and economics and over the years I've held fast to the Keynesian principles that have governed progressive economic policies of Democratic Administrations. These economic principles closely represent the ideals of Frederick Denison Maurice, the architect of Anglican Christian Socialism, though I am not a socialist. I'm in favor of regulated, controlled Capitalism that does not screw labor and consumers. The attached article is an editorial that was published by the Kansas City Star, our metropolitan newspaper:

This year's Presidential race is about personalities. I disagree. My vote will be about economic
principles.Conservatives suggest that the principle of free market capitalism is hope of the nation.

However, in each historic period this principle results in a national and world wide depression,
including high unemployment, low productivity, high interest rates, and low acquisition of capital for investment. Think 1933 and 2008.

Progressives have historically corrected these economic blunders by increased government
borrowing and spending, reduced interest rates, increased borrowing by business and
consumers, increasing the flow of money into the economy, and thereby producing jobs,
increased profits and higher wages, increased taxable income, thereby reducing the federal
deficit. This occurred in both the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.

This is why I will vote for Secretary Clinton, not Donald Trump. Both personalities, while
important, are insignificant.


Hey Dad! Is God a Democrat? Are you one yet?  I love you no matter what.  
     


Sunday, October 2, 2016

2015.10.02 Dear Hillary

Dear Hillary, 

I don’t know you personally but I feel as if I do what with all the political exposure you have and with all my passion and prayers for your election as our first woman president—a very obvious choice for every reason I can think of. How in the world can this race be close?

What I really want to say is not political but personal. I am sure it stings your heart to hear and see and read so much nasty commentary about you—your every move, your clothes, your body, your teeth, your ambition. Good God!  And then having to work so hard to hide your true feelings from public exposure, lest they they call you “weak” after spending much time calling you “hard” or “cold” for not revealing your feelings. The media screams for your “true self”— whatever the hell that is. What do people expect? Don’t answer that in case it might incriminate you.

I have tasted some of this kind of emotional pain at a time in my life when I was fighting with the patriarchal church to be ordained priest back in the early 1980s, just after the Church had voted we could be priests. I was dumb, or innocent enough, to think that the vote to include women had cleared the path forward. It did, but the path turned out to be a torturous cow path with lots of stinking flops along the rutted way. Despite progress, many minds, doors and paths remain closed.

I guess I was lucky I didn’t know how bad it was when I applied. One of my interviewers told me she was against the ordination of women but that would not interfere with her ability to screen women objectively. I admired her pathology. Another interviewer, a gay male priest, declared that I had “two-point-two-four-too-many” children. Which of my four children to assassinate? The committee and the bishop rejected my application, saying I couldn't be a mother and a priest—"dual vocation" they called it. I tried again—and again.

That’s what I see you doing, Hillary. You may get slapped down, you may make big mistakes, you are unpopular, but you keep believing in yourself. You have never given up. What stamina!!

I never gave up either. But I had some things to consider—one of which was that the church was as political as any other institution. Oh, yes, it is holy too, but then not much is purely  blessed or cursed. I hadn’t kept up with feminists or talked to other women. I hadn’t even made it my business to know that the bishop of my diocese had voted against the ordination of women. All I’d done was pray, read Betty Friedan, launch a wild midlife crisis, confess my own sins and flaws and mistakes, and try to drink away my shame at being rejected. I thought the church would be, well, nicer.

It wasn’t until I got political that I understood the double standard for men and women in the church.  Besides raw sexism there was also the silent collegial pact of white male authority—dangerous to breach.
 
I could have used you as a consultant. I learned as I know you have. We are still learning, becoming.



Time by itself doesn’t heal a darn thing, but it does guarantee that people like bishops get older and retire. I waited and watched my Crockpot; it taught me to simmer. Time and love provided space to grieve, get support from good family and friends, and deepen my trust in myself and in God whose presence strengthened me from within. I can not tell you how I knew that exactly but I did. I bet you know the same.

Hillary, you have devoted your entire adult life to politics. You have given your considerable gifts to make democracy safe and fair and American. You have stumbled and fallen. You have been betrayed and belittled, and you haven’t quit trying. You are also a woman of sturdy faith.

I am so sorry about all the abuse you have suffered. I admire your courage. I am praying daily that God will continue to give you integrity of soul, strength of body, and wisdom of mind. (I am praying the same for Mr. Trump, because he will need these things after he loses this election.)

Besides prayers, you have my gratitude for being a heroic front runner—also my vote.





Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016.09.25 Dear President

Imagine yourself face-to-face with the next president of these United States—whoever that may be—and in a few sentences write about what you hope to see addressed in the next four years.

This was the challenge posed to fifty American poets and writers by Poets and Writers Magazine, September/October, 2016.  It turns out that something great happens when you ask writers to convey without political grandstanding what is most important to them. Huge unmanageable issues suddenly come sharply into focus in such collective discourse.

When I read all of it without stopping I felt enlivened and hopeful. Not that I didn’t already have all these issues in my own mind but they were all in a jumble, darting about. This assignment helped. Try it yourself.

All the statements moved me and served too as verbal guideposts. It is worth noting that most of them were addressed to “Madame President . . .” Some even used  “President Clinton . . .” Wishes contain hope, and hope does not disappoint

I will only share a couple of reflections
“Madame President, thank you for sparing us your opponent’s dismal and clownish stupidity, his blind and blinding hate. I’m still scared though. I’m scared that you think beating him will be the hardest part of your job, and I’m scared of what is happening to the environment, to our schools, our water supply and our tolerance, scared of people being out of work, and people being hooked on painkillers and people not being allowed to use the rest room where they feel most comfortable. I don’t give a rip if you’re honest or transparent or running a thousand different email servers, but I need you to be compassionate and smart and clear-eyed, to be afraid with me—and with all of us—and despite our fears, not least yours, I need you to be brave and resilient, and well, hopeful.”   -Bret Anthony Johnston, American author/novelist, Remember Me Like This.

Dear Madame President: Transparency is at the top just now of our politically correct values list. It’s the desired way to be. I wonder.  Okay, so we’ve had too many secrets, secrets that hurt and cheat.  Secrets isolate. Still, total transparency is suicidal without the clear-hearted, level-minded practice of discernment. Discernment means reflection and choice: what and how much to reveal, to whom, and when?

Moderation and modesty are not lost values. I do not want a “naked” Commander in Chief. I want one who is wise and able to discern what is in the public’s best interest to reveal about government, about policies, and about personal health and habit. I also do not need to know everything!

As the author of a memoir I had to discern the meaning and placement of every word. I could be transparent about my own failings and sing but not those of others. I tried to do no harm just for the sake of honesty being best policy or transparency. Transparency is not an easy ethic and we throw the word about as if it were. And for you as a woman, it almost does not matter what you do, because there is a double standard of judgment, you not being a man.  You too have written memoirs and they are worth reading, though not many people who talk a lot about politics and purport to know a lot have read your words. Get elected and they will!!!
-Rev. Lyn G. Brakeman


 Climate change—stop dicking around. War—use only as ultimate last resort."
-Ben Fountain PEN/Hemingway award for Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

Ms. President I want you to know that the power of having our first woman as president doesn't escape me; I've been waiting for this my entire life. And I want you as the first woman president of the United States to place the liberation and justice of historically marginalized people at the center of your work—terrifying, hard, necessary work. We need this more than ever.
-Tanwi Nandini Islam, novelist

There was no voice of religion, or even a hint or a stab at the mention of anything "spiritual," in these impassioned letters. I regret this. One women writer wrote to our next president "God bless you." 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

2016.09.18 I'm With Her—HIllary R. Clinton, Politically and Spiritually

I feel as if we are living in quite a whirlwind in this chaotic American election season. Honestly I can’t wait for evening when we can gather, my beloved and I, to munch on popcorn or other delights and watch TV serial soap-opera-ish murder mysteries or medical melodrama. Why this activity is soothing, remains a mystery.

As to whirlwinds, the biblical Job, in the midst of the chaos and suffering of his life:  Where is God?   God spoke to Job finally out of the very whirlwind Job wanted resolved. So God must have been in the whirlwind proper, else how could God have been speaking out of it? Consider. 

“Whirlwinds in meterology are complex chaotic systems that suggest not pure chaos but rather the turbulent emergence of complexity at the edge of chaos.” (Catherine Keller) Job’s answer was/is blowin’ in the wind. I’m trying to trust the complexity emerging at the edge of chaos, the complexity where God just might be at work for the good.

I’m doing this by choosing life—not dying, shrinking in fear, or wasting energy on soul-starving negativity. I’m choosing to be “With Her,” as Hillary Clinton’s campaign signs invite. To be with her I’m seeking positive information about her. Positivity is hard to find. It does not sell newspapers, win Pulitzers for journalists, or popularize television news shows, but it’s in the whirlwind with everything else—including Godde.

Here are some earnest positive words (2015) about the young Hillary from the Rev. Dr. Paul Santmire, author/theologian and Lutheran pastor, retired professor of theology at Boston University:

A hundred years ago, I worked closely with a bright young Methodist student at Wellesley College, where I was serving as a teacher and Chaplain, one Hillary Rodham.  She was then, and, I believe, still is a person of deep moral passion, notwithstanding press caricatures of her that have appeared in recent years with predictable regularity.

Hillary came to Wellesley as an enthusiastic “Goldwater Girl.”  Hers was a dedicated voice of the Midwestern Right.  Then she took the (at that time) required sophomore Bible course, and it changed her life.  She was especially fond of Amos, texts such as 5:24, “Let justice roll down like waters.”  And she did not just talk the talk.

One example.  As president of the student government, she and a group of young women like her (I was a kind of back-row advisor to all this), wanted to address the mostly lily-white complexion of the student body.  At that time there were, as I recall, 12 African-Americans in a student body of some 2000.  The College’s administration wanted nothing to do with all this.  Hillary took the lead with her group to raise money independently to pay for those African-American students to make recruiting trips to predominantly black high schools across the country.  Not only had those schools never been visited by Wellesley College recruiters before, they were unknown to the Admissions Office.  That project turned out to be a minor success.  But my point here is not minor successes, but Hillary’s impressive moral passion and her eagerness to act on that passion.

I have kept close tabs on her personal and political trajectories ever since.  Notwithstanding her being the object of sometimes vicious attacks (tell me that sexism is not alive and well in this country) and notwithstanding mistakes of her own along the way, I believe that the faith that she discovered in Amos and the moral passion she exemplified at Wellesley College have not left her.  If anything, given the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that faith and that moral passion have deepened and become the driving force of all she does.  I believe that she has added the wisdom of spiritual depth, too, which sometimes comes with maturity.  Did you notice that when asked, during one of the New Hampshire debates, about spiritual influences on her life she spoke at length and with some conviction about how much she has learned from that great Catholic spiritual teacher of our time, Henri Nouwen?

I, of course, am not an unbiased witness.  I affirm what I once saw, and I affirm what I now see.  I have walked the streets of New Hampshire in her behalf and I support her current campaign financially.

I write only with this hope, that, as you continue to reflect about the current campaign, you will take into account her moral passion and her spiritual depth.  She is much more than her popular detractors, even on the liberal side, make her out to be.  I also believe that she has even more to offer.  Her much vaunted “experience” is not something to shake a stick at, for example, not to speak of a certain wisdom she brings with her as a knowledgeable student of history. 


Sunday, September 11, 2016

2016.09.11 Leap


Today I remember and honor all the lovely bodies and brave souls that perished fifteen years ago today when planes flew into the twin towers in New York City and burst into flames. My hometown.

A poem to say: terrorism is not the last word. A prayer to say: May the warm hand—always warmer than mine— of my husband hold mine as we leap into Life together.

 LEAP
    by Brian Doyle

A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped.
      Jennifer Brickhouse saw them falling, hand in hand.
       Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air.
       The mayor reported the mist.
    A kindergarten    boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes.
    Tiffany Keeling saw fireballs falling that she later realized were people. Jennifer Griffin saw people falling and wept as she told the story. Niko Minstrel saw people free-falling backward with their hands out, like they we parachuting. Joe Duncan on his roof on Duane Street looked up and saw people jumping. Henry Weintraub saw people “leaping as they flew out.” John Carson saw six people fall, “falling over themselves, falling, they were somersaulting.” Steve Miller saw people jumping from a thousand feet in the air. Kirk Kjeldsen saw people flailing on the way down, people lining up and jumping. “too many people falling.” Jane Tedder saw people leaping and the sight haunts her at night. Steve Tamas counted fourteen people jumping and then he stopped counting. Stuart DeHann saw one woman’s dress billowing as she fell, and he saw a shirtless man falling end over end, and he too saw the couple leaping hand in hand. 
    Several pedestrians were killed by people falling from the sky. A fireman was killed by a body falling from the sky.
    But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands.
    The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, wrote Peter, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that therein shall be burned up.
    I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.
    There is no fear in love, wrote John, but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment.
    Their hands reaching and joining is the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death. It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here.
     Their passing away was thought an affliction/ and their going forth from us, utter destruction, says the book of Wisdom. But they are in peace.  . . . They shall sing, /and shall dart about as sparks through stubble.
    No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell. Maybe they didn’t even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running sets and jump out the shattered window, but they did read for each other, and they held on tight, and leaped and fell endlessly into the smoking canyon, at two hundred miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.
    I trust I shall shortly see thee, John wrote, and we shall speak face to face.
     Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold on to that.

Brian Doyle edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon, called “the best spiritual magazine in the country” by Annie Dillard. Doyle is also the author of 13 books of essays and fiction and poetry; among the honors for his work are the Christopher Medal and a Catholic Press Association Book Award. He lives with his family in Portland.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

2016.09.04 Choose LIfe!

I visited a dying woman today in a hospice facility. Although it was a final goodbye and sad, I became suddenly and intensely aware, as I’d never been before, of the near-ultimate importance of setting. I mean if you’re going to die, it’s such a gift to die surrounded, yes, by family and friends and love, but also by beauty—inside and out.

Writers are always instructed to pay attention to the place or the setting of a book or poem. Actions and inner reflections and dialogue and other things are important, but where it all takes place provides both stability and ambience. Setting enhances or diminishes whatever is taking place

This hospice is clean, sweet-smelling (not artificially so), and set in a woody space with well- groomed bright gardens. The furniture is attractive, comfortable and not heavy— not Motel 6. And of course the professional and volunteer staff mirror the setting, just as cheerful and just as gracious. Also, you can order anything you want to eat. My friend ordered a strawberry frappe for her lunch—that’s all. There is nothing institutional about this place. It’s peace itself.

Today in church I spoke about the passage in Deuteronomy 30, the one in which God invites the people to choose life. God declares:

See! I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity . . .life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live in the land I swore to you and your ancestors to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”  I would add: and to Jesus, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Hagar, Mary—you and me.

First, a word about Land values. Not real estate. According to Amy-Jill Levine, author and professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt, the land is in the drinking water for Jews. Whether religious or not, Jews are imbued with the value of the land. Land meant God’s faithfulness and gift. God never forgets God’s people. It is not necessarily literal, as some may think, but symbolic of God’s love and of the covenant. It’s the relationship in God that gives life—not the dirt.

I believe that Jesus Christ is to Christians what land is to Jews—a place in the divine soul forever.  Such a setting!  In this context God invites us to CHOOSE LIFE. If you obey and follow you’re okay, and if not you’re outside the covenant.

Christians pale at this. Love is too conditional. We want grace, grace and free grace.

Still, I ask: are these the facts of life or a threat?  I think we are so afraid of divine punitive action that we perceive threat not choice. And we impose threat into the text and into our understanding of God.

I love the Old Testament for its crispness, stating it like it is, and God always offering a recipe and a choice. We all know that if we choose X YX will probably happen, or if we choose another way, something else will happen. Not rocket science. The most powerful phrase in this Deuteronomy text, however, is God’s passionate plea, issued twice: CHOOSE LIFE!  It would not say choose if it did not mean just that.

Choice of course is complex, loaded—rarely as simple as it looks. For example, for many of us we can choose to have a glass of wine or not with our meal. For an addict that choice is neither free nor easy. OR… a choice to skip church and have a brunch with my family. OK for some, even for off-duty clergy. But for someone who has been strictly conditioned in religious obligation, believing it God’s will, there is deep threat, and that choice is emotionally fraught.

We should never judge, mock or stigmatize anyone’s choices, including our own.

A Choose Life ethic requires lots of wisdom, reflection, and compassion for yourself and others. It also requires remembering: when and how in the past have you been able to choose life? We choose it, and we remember that Jesus did, every time we receive the Sacrament of Eucharist.

About 15 years ago  a friend and parishioner in Connecticut was dying of cancer. I’d loved this woman, and I didn’t even know she was dying, because we had moved. One day she emailed me and briefly told me her circumstances: she had cancer, she’d left the church, she was still in touch with God and praying, and she remembered the Education for Ministry (EfM) group I’d mentored where she’d learned so much about the bible. Then she asked a question: What is that passage in scripture you loved and always used to blat on about you—you know the one that says Choose life. Where is it in the bible? I know you know. Email me right away. I’m dying and I still want to choose life.”   I did. Before she died she wrote again to thank me, to ask me to preach at her funeral, and to tell me:
                           “I’m dying and I’m choosing life.”

You’re wondering about grace?
    God’s grace is in the invitation to freely choose, well apprised of the facts, and even when you face the unknown.  
    God’s grace is in the oft-repeated invitation to choose life.
    Grace too is in the openness of this covenant. It’s never closed, no matter how many different times and ways you choose life—over and over and over.  So drop the closed-door fantasy!

What today does choose life mean to you? What in your past gives you courage? What does it mean for the Church, for Christianity, for all religion to choose life?

                                             CHOOSE LIFE.




Sunday, August 28, 2016

2016.08.21 Dear Adam

Dear Adam,

You shouldn’t have left me here.
I haven’t turned to stone yet—not God’s way,
         But  . . .
I’m indescribably bored.
Oh, I know Eden was for my own good
—so you told me—
But I’m out of apples   
  and peaches
     and pears
       and plums
and worse . . . lemons! 









So,
dearheart, my man, my foolish
man-child. Don’t tempt me with more lies.
Come on back and get me.
I can give you a dash of eternity—
a couple centuries or three + apple pie.

                  with love, your rib-eye wife, Eve

P.S. God says hi, the god you forgot to tell me about,
the same one who told you you were naked but forgot to tell me,
the one with the sense of humor big enough to blow up the universe,
the God who is dictating this letter.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016.08.21 Life is a Beach

I love you, God.

I love your vast ocean spread

I love your yellow beach-ball sun, proving heliocentrism.

I love your pencil-thin steadying horizon.

I love your warm gentle sand massage between my toes.

I love your squawky sea gulls at feast.

I love your squealy giggly children, every one sounding
     just like one of my own when they invented beach games
     and never tired of salty skin and sand-logged bathing suit bottoms.

I love your echoes of memory at play: Daddy, Daddy watch this!
    Mommy, Mommy look at me!

I love your silvery green dune grass
                                waving
                                swaying
                                singing
                                working to keep my beach intact.

And now that our cottage and our bodies are all properly de-loused, and everything is sqeaky clean, I even love the lice who came to visit in our beautiful granddaughter's long tresses. I can only wonder how the lice couple marched onto Noah's ark of salvation—perhaps hiding, burrowed into a camel's tough tufted curly topknot?


I love you, Godde

Thank you

 




Sunday, August 14, 2016

2016.08.14 Sum, Sum, Summertime/Plumbertime

The plumber knocked on the screen door—thrice. It must be some bishop wanting into the sanctuary I thought with a grin. Well, that's the kind of thing you think when you're sitting half-naked under a ceiling fan, slurping a juicy peach whose juices are dripping down your cleavage.

Knock, knock knock.  "Plumber, here, someone called about a leaky faucet."

It was too late to rush in and don a less transparent garment, and besides I'd have to run past the screen door in full view of said plumber anyway, so I just opened the door and let him in, crossing my arms over my chest and thinking that this could be one of life's most embarrassing moments, or simply a summer vacation moment —weather steamy, living easy, surf salty, plumbers on call.

"You called about a faucet on your porch," the plumber said his eyes straight ahead and with a smile. "I work Saturdays in the summer here."


Enter very smart husband, Dick: "Oh, that outdoor shower faucet's been leaking for years."

"Well, a former tenant must have called, finally," the plumber said as we showed him where the errant dripper was. Sure enough it was dripping. "This will take no more than 10 minutes," he said as he came back inside and turned on the tap in the bathtub. "This will run dry so don't use any water for a few minutes while I fix this little leak."

Damn, he knew what he was doing. I followed him outside to gawk, by now in thrall but aware enough to keep my arms crossed over my chest. "Sure enough, only a gasket," he said. "You're all set now. Have a great day."

"Thanks," we said. I smiled and gave him a Namasté bow. He returned the bow, chuckled and left.

Namasté means: "The divine in me salutes the divine in you."

Plumbers are indeed the best people in the world—full of divinity.




Sunday, August 7, 2016

2016.08.07 Adorbs!

My teenage granddaughter called me “adorbs.”

After I melted into a ball of grammy-goo, I faced the first challenge: to get my various spell checks NOT to alter it to “adorns” or “adores”! 

The second challenge was whether I should go public with this great compliment. Hell, yes! It’s my 78th birthday today, and this is my present to myself.
What’s better is that my granddaughter, who calls herself Izzy (from Isabella) and who can also be  adorbs, didn’t say this to my face but was heard to say it to her teenage BFF, Sophie. That indirection is what made it such a compliment, not said to flatter or to endear herself to me.
 
              Sophie: “Your Grammy’s pretty cool.”
              Izzy: “Oh yeah, Grammy’s adorbs.”

My daughter reported the conversation, making it all the more sweet. (Izzy and Sophie to her left, at lower right.)

Now why does such a small an goofy thing like this matter to me? It matters to me because it’s got heart and soul, and heart and soul are where Godde lives.  

Today, in fact, is also my beloved husband’s birthday—same day three years’ difference. I have seniority, which occasionally I attempt to assert. He gave me a funny birthday card. It was covered with red and pink squiggles and stars, a real alleluia creation.  It read:

              “Sassy, Classy . . .
           
                   Still kickin’ Assy! 
           
                                                         Now that’s adorbs! 




Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016.07.31 Apple Tree Spirituality

How could Jesus Christ be an apple tree?  Why not? It is written—and sung and poetized.

 “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree”  is a carol I love. The lyrics were written by an unknown person in the 18th century. Many composers have set it to music, and interpretations abound. Here are the first and last verses.

 Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.


I know this is a metaphor, possibly designed to reverse the biblical myth of Eden in which the apple became identified as a forbidden fruit—source of death and evil. Yet, there is actually no apple mentioned in the story, no apple at all—just a fruit. I'm guessing peach. 

Forbidden or not, Jesus Christ or not, I love apples and their trees.

In the back yard of one of my growing-up homes in Connecticut we had an apple tree. My mother thought it was very special. She had a white wrought iron bench fashioned to go around its trunk like a skirt. It became the scene for her youngest daughter’s portrait. The portrait went with my mother when she moved into a nursing home. Gazing at it from her bed was, I’m sure, my mom’s way of grieving her beautiful daughter who had predeceased her by nineteen years.

In my teen years, I loved our backyard apple tree for my own reasons. It had a different shape, smaller and more gnarly-snarly than other apple trees. It was a crab apple tree, yielding small green apples, wholly inedible—sour. Whenever I felt small and green, snarly and surly—altogether crabby—I had a friend.

Poet Carole-Jean Smith also had an apple tree companion. Here is a poem from her latest poetry collection News From The World.

Companion

Oh, apple tree. Oh overgrown
lichen laden apple tree. Thank you
for your explosion of perfumy
white blossoms every spring.
Thank you for your thick awning
of chlorophyl in summer. Thank you
for your manna dropped
onto the grass every fall; the birds,
the squirrels, the wasps, and I
dig in. Thank you for your lattice
of knobby branches that map
the sky outside my window.
Every winter they hold aloft
a tonnage of settled snow.
Oh apple tree. Have I ever told you

how much you mean to me?

More than a poem, this is a prayer of gratitude for things we receive from the world around us. It completes my understanding of the mysticism of apples and their trees.

One doesn’t need to mention God Creator or Jesus Christ or one’s inner secrets to wake up and notice the world around us—and to praise.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016.07.24 What Do You Do With An Idea?

My son John is a librarian at an elementary school. He reads lots of kids' books and recommends them to me, telling me that his spirituality is always enhanced by the children’s books he reads.

The late great storyteller Madeleine L’Engle would agree. She has written many books, some of them on the shelves as children’s books. Madeleine said many times that there is no such thing as children’s literature. There is simply good literature.

Good literature includes picture books in which word and visual image come together to move the hearts of children and adults.

One such book is What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom. It’s a charming tale about a small boy who gets an idea. He loves his idea even though it feels strange as if it isn’t really his. He doesn’t want to share his idea for fear others will make fun of  it—and him. But his idea simply won’t die. It follows him around, hounds him you might say. In time he grows to love it, nourish it, embrace it as one might a great love, play with it, and follow it. Then you see what becomes of his idea—and you are transformed.


I’m someone who loves ideas, especially new ones, ones that almost force me to think differently, do things differently—change. My best ideas burrow under my skin—affix themselves. They challenge my assumptions and refresh me. I love ideas that fill me with laughing delight and won’t go away. I share them with people who want to try new things, to consider new ways of thinking and understanding. "Let’s" is my favorite word.

My very best beloved ideas I share with God—not to get an elevated opinion but to submit them to my inner spiritual barometer test. It measures my deepest feelings, ranging from enlivening to stifling. That’s how the Holy Spirit helps me discern whether an idea is godly, a little godly, devilish, or just plain me showing off.  There’s nothing fail-safe about this process but for me it’s how I pray.

For instance, I’ve assumed that a good sermon was generally, though not always, delivered by one person, an ordained person, skilled, trained and practiced at preaching from Holy Scriptures. Clergy, rightly, do try to live up to such expectations. It’s a vow! But is there more? Is this all that God expects for the holy Word in a sermon?

An idea churned inside me— not a totally new idea, but one I hadn’t revisited for a long time and one possibly new to my context. It used to be called dialogue sermon. Boring  title.

Let’s try group-preach. Barometer measured a little godly.

So with God’s help I tried it out and wrote about it on my blog post of 7/17/2016. The response was bright and exciting. I believe we gave the Holy Spirit a grand workout. Let’s try this again, God—when the time seems right and the text lends itself to it.

What do you do with an idea? Love it, test it, run with it, let it change you.








Sunday, July 17, 2016

2016.07.17 Wake Up!

A funny thing happened in church today. I was the preacher but I didn’t preach. I identified a stand-out theme in the biblical readings, which I called WAKE UP!  Briefly I outlined it: 
         Old Abraham woke up fast when three strangers with angelic credentials showed up to let          him know he and Sarah would have a new son at age 100++ And Sarah split her sides. They woke up.
    The author of Collisions, (that’s Colossians!) burst onto the scene with an amazing proclamation, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” This was hardly a new idea to this author. He’d heard it all before, yet this idea woke this writer up for the first time.
    And what about the old familiar, tried and true story of Mary and Martha in Bethany with Jesus? Sigh. Nothing gets old or dull save we make it so, yet this one was drying up. Was there a wake-up call in this story? What was new here? I wondered.

You know when you read to a small child you can see God. They love this story and beg you to read it again—and again—and again—until you want to throw up. But you read it over and over, because you love this child, and because you get to share in the wake-up face: eyes lit up, delight spread all over the face—every single time. It's contagious.The child eventually knows the story enough to turn pages at the right places and says all the words even though they can’t read. The story becomes the child’s own story. It’s gospel—incarnate, a scriptural process.

I imagine this is how the Holy Spirit works the biblical texts into our flesh in a way that wakes us up. So what about the Martha/Mary/Jesus story in Luke? Could we wake it up together?

I invited the congregation (about 25 people spread out all over the big sanctuary, Anglican-like,)  re-read the brief clip of story I affectionately call the M& M story, then paused. So? What do you think? Silence. Was anyone awake? I waited and asked again: What wakes you up in this story? There’s no right or wrong here. What do you notice? I gestured. Then slowly, slowly the sermon began to happen.

The women busted out from their containment and found the "preacher" inside them. I didn’t dare imagine how they had held back for so long. Most of them were Marthas who had always held resentment about this story. One of them even received applause for her bold declamation of Jesus’ bad attitude. Men chimed in with their own feelings. One said he “got the spiritual idea.” The place was vibrating with energy. Faces lit up; eyes brightened. Nothing got out of hand. I was not tempted to explain, take back control or defend Jesus—or Luke.

Together we created the most magnificent thing—gave the Holy Spirit a workout and Her own wake-up call.

A man who is nearly deaf and rarely speaks, suddenly offered a prayer of thanksgiving aloud in just the right place, even though he couldn’t hear. “I knew something was going on here. I didn’t hear it but the women were talking. I don’t agree with any sermons but last night a man in my writing group for homeless people at the cathedral rummaged through his collection of street pick-ups, found a window fan and gave it to me. I slept so well last night. Thank you.”

The buzz kept on through coffee hour and outside as people left for their homes. The best news?  No one said, “Good sermon, Lyn.”