Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012.01.29 Holy Spirit...How Does She Do It?

I heard an unusual comment recently, a compliment to the rector of a neighboring parish from one of the parishioners. The woman said, “He’s great. He’s not a pulpit hog.”

I also heard from a woman priest colleague that it was nice to see girls on the altar, not dancing of course, at a notably conservative patriarchal parish that’s trying to be more open. My friend has also been invited to preach and celebrate there.

And then I heard from a colleague woman priest and friend that the bishop who had 35 years ago turned me down for ordination had told her that being against the ordination had been the biggest mistake he’d ever made.

These tiny epiphanies felt hopeful that the Church will continue to chip away at patriarchy and full inclusion of every person in the worship and politics of the institution. Am I delusional?

Make no mistake the current political field in this country is NOT about just the economy, it is about women—keeping them in their traditional places, or not. You could even say barefoot and pregnant and confined to a role. The climate is contentious around money (who has it all and who gets to keep it all) and misogyny, or is it gynephobia. Kept money and kept women. The way out of a deadlock I think is to empower women to make their own choices and to exercise their own gifts for the common good, family and beyond. The progressive Church, oddly, is doing better than the government.

I’m firmly committed to the idea that as many different voices as possible should grace ALL our "pulpits" and altars and podiums. It builds community, neighborliness and peace. Christians are far from uniform in their styles of worship, politics, and theology. We desperately need to talk. We need to cut through assumptions and get to know who we really are. We only live next door for heaven’s sake.

I’ve been trying to promote such connections for years including interfaith ones. The miles between us are short but the walls are thick and so parochial it’s shocking.

I tell you I do wonder how Holy Spirit, She whom I call Sophie, works things for the best even when it all looks lousy and hopeless to us.  

But She is a mysterious masseuse of relational connective tissues. And you know how long it takes those muscles and joints to loosen up and let go—and then pop back tight, over and over. It’s worse than muscles to get people to let go, and even worse with religious people.

Get a massage—full body and spirit.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012.01.25 Aging With Faith

“The older I get the more I believe and the fewer beliefs I have.”

This is the wisdom of the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, retired bishop of the diocese of Newark, author and theological provocateur. He recently spoke at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge and I zeroed in on these words.

Wise and true I thought. And my mother who today would have been 100 years old would have loved it, she who mostly thought religious doctrines were “for the birds.”

I admit however that, although I do have more faith and care less about beliefs as intellectual tenets, my mind is rarely clear of theological ideas, all new to me, all brilliantly alluring, and all illuminating my faith and inflaming my heart.

This morning I woke up thinking that the Holy Trinity was a trifecta of energy—Creativity, Empathy, Travelocity— a race in which all three finish first, as one. Corny/silly, but it woke me up joyful.

I could only wish such a trifecta assault on our country so bogged down in the morass of contention for its own sake.

President Obama in his State of the Nation speech last night spoke of strength hidden in the nation’s depths. He again envisioned, begged for, cooperation. Is it too late to access it? He is a visionary who has grounded and become pragmatic.

Who could argue with common sense ideas like tax equity in this time of radical and dangerous economic inequity? How ingenious was it to compare the military strategy, command, to stick together for the sake of the mission no matter what, with what politicians must do now?

We shall all have to sacrifice, god forbid, competition, pride, greed, misogyny, and war. I have faith in the people to cast their secret ballots in the direction that makes sense, no matter what their leaders urge.

I’m sure that before too long I will tone down, and dull out, and store all my smart-ass faith wisdom in my one small faithful heart, there to be reduced and contained and claimed by Godde when I die.

But for now I’m filled with re-imagined beliefs.

Happy Birthday Mom.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2012.01.18 American Dream?

The American dream of liberty and justice and all good things available to all citizens has turned to pablum, spooned out to the unawares, and the ignorant, and the too-busy-scraping-basic-livelihood-together-to-notice.

The so-called dream has become a lie.

There is less available than ever before to a greater number of citizens than ever before.

Paul Krugman in his NT Times commentary on Jan 16, Martin Luther King day, wrote: “Mitt Romney says that we should discuss income inequality, if at all, only in 'quiet rooms.' There was a time when people said the same thing about racial inequality. [They said it about women, too, and still are.] Luckily, however, there were people like Martin Luther King who refused to stay quiet. And we should follow their example today. For the fact is that rising inequality threatens to make America a different and worse place — and we need to reverse that trend to preserve both our values and our dreams.”

James Forbes, retired minister of the Riverside Church in NYC, said without hesitation years ago when asked what he thought the next great sin America would have to face: CLASSISM.

Years ago too I saw a cartoon image that stayed with me. It pictured a fat cat capitalist type with a top hat and dressed in a tux. In the top of his tipped hat were a small bunch of people cheering and waving money around, while numbers of others spilled down over his belly landing on the ground below. Splat! 99% of us is falling fast.

Studies indicate that the more economic inequality a society has the less mobile it becomes. People can’t move. And stasis is death.

The Occupy Movement has called attention to the problem most recently. I pray its fervor doesn’t fade away.

What will the Church say? Not a whole lot I’m embarrassed to note. This is no time for religious people to be squeamish about the word SIN. One of the better definitions of sin is disconnection from the good in God, self and neighbor.
Our country is living, no wallowing, in SIN. And the Church is seemingly allergic to its mention.

Republican Mitt Romney calls for a retrieval of the SOUL of America. What is that?

I only know one path to get back in touch with one’s lost soul and that is to pray, turn back or repent, and ask forgiveness of God, self and neighbor BEFORE we seek ways to change—sell a few homes, for example. But this can only be done in company with other citizens of church and society. And it starts with confession.

Please let’s STOP dreaming!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012.01.22 Aunt Florence

When Aunt Florence comes into a room she has a neon effect. It’s her smile. It crinkles her already well-creased 101 year old face with sheer welcoming pleasure. And you’re sure she loves you without reserve.

I’m sure she has her moods and her toughness. I’ve just never seen them because I never met her till I was approaching my sixth decade and she was in her ‘80s. She isn’t even my aunt and she isn’t even my husband’s official aunt. She was his mother’s best friend for many years and that counts for extreme aunterly love, something some biological aunts often are unable to provide.

The first time I met Aunt Florence we were on our way to Harrisburg PA. to see the real aunt and stopped in New Jersey so I could meet the surrogate. She lived in the same house where she and her late husband, Uncle John, had raised two children. We have photos of Dick’s mother, Aunt Fran to Florence’s children, playing with Florence’s daughter.

Aunt Florence welcomed me with no obvious reserve. After all I was the “other woman” after Dick’s divorce— and a woman priest. Florence had been against the ordination of women priests. I don’t know if she changed her mind on that but I knew she wasn’t against me.

The lunch was simple, tuna fish sandwiches I think, but she set her table with elegance as if for best company.

After our first meeting I wrote Florence a note to ask if it was all right to call her Aunt Florence, too. You know the answer.

In time Aunt Florence moved to MD to live with her daughter. We’ve traveled to see her a few times and this last time, December 2011, we made an unplanned trip because Aunt Florence had just been diagnosed with a malignant tumor. She didn’t want treatment only good care and hospice, and the same loving family that already surrounds her. We went to see Aunt Florence before she died.

Do you know how hard it is to say good bye for ever to someone who is alive and looks well, has no pain, is vital and vibrant?

She told us that what had kept her so alive were the children— grand children and great grandchildren. They’d flock around her like birds all chittering at once. She was gracious with each and all and even did some tutoring till she reached 100 and had to slow down a bit.

Then how surreal to have the usual Christmas phone conversation 2 weeks after the last farewell. And who knows? Given Florence's resilient spirit she might make 105.

Her prayer request was like most people’s: to die peacefully in her sleep. And that Dick would be at the graveside to say prayers when her ashes were committed in the same N.J. plot where her husband is buried.

There is ample room for such goodness in the soul of God.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012.01.15 Advantages of Aging: Liberation and Grace

I don’t think this is what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind. He had grander ideas thank heavens.

However, I’ve discovered an advantage to aging besides retirement and wearing purple, which I do anyway. Such a regal color for a Leo!

Don’t mean to offend but....... When you’re old you can fart, belch, swear, and interrupt all you want, ask dumb questions, repeat yourself, forget, forget and forget, even if you don’t, and otherwise act like a damn fool. You can even say the F word then feign dementia.

You’re free of inhibitions, if you so choose. All this will happen anyway so why not take advantage of it ahead of time?

People will just nod and attribute your crudery to your age. They will indulge you and smile wisely, and even envy you your refusal to be embarrassed. And in a few years they too will enjoy this marvelous freedom without shame.

Once when my mother was in her 80s she lost control of her bowels. It was a new experience for her—and me. We had returned from a visit to the ER after having her checked out from a fall. It was 3 a.m. I went ahead to open the door for her and heard her calling “I’m going.” “Where?”I said never imagining the truth.

That’s how invasive this trauma was for us both. We got through the clean up and getting to bed together with as much tenderness as we each could muster and, mercifully, no words at all, either of shame or scorn.

The grace in this is that you won’t be judged any more than a child would at the other end of the lifespan trajectory. So please don’t judge yourself either.

Shit happens and so does grace.

That night I almost wanted to read her a story, tuck her in, and say prayer—but settled for a kiss and “Sleep well Mom. See you tomorrow.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012.01.11 Breathe! Draw! Write! Sing! Breathe!

I bought great books for some of our grandkids for Christmas. I loved them myself.

They are The Invention of Hugo Cabret (already a movie!)  and  Wonderstruck . Great title, no?   Both are written and drawn by Brian Selznick, very innovative. Beautiful "holy" stories of children in search.  

Books have always been “saviors” for me, providing me an alternative world in which to flourish, stimulating my own creative literary imagination, and accompanying me on my own search for life, love and mystery.

(I even read the whole Bible when I was 14, a useless resource to help me grow boobs and find a boyfriend, but astonishingly helpful in showing me a God who actually talked to and cared about people who carped and whined and carried on dramatically as I did.)

What I especially like about Selznick’s books is that the stories are told, in part, with dynamic pictures, not static illustrations. The art is dynamic and moves the story along. Pictures, not cartoons, are interspersed with words. It's how these books got to be as fat as the Bible!— half of the story is in pictures.  

Very fabulous.

I also love that there is no sorcerer, extraterrestrial, magic, witches, robots or, god forbid, vampires!  Just plain real-life children figuring out life's difficulties, finding someone to care, and growing up. 

These creations are so real they take your breath away. Something like being “wonderstruck.”

It has been said, “The breath makes immortal music human.”

Likewise, art and text make immortal story human.

There’s something biblical about that, no? We have to stop to breath—and create. And in the beginning the biblical creator deity stops and stoops to breathe life itself into all creation.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012.01.08 Music is a Human Right, Also a Divine Right

Last night we listened to a Los Angeles Philharmonic (La Phil) concert conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the latest sensation on the classical music scene and a young charming spirit from Venezuela—famous for saying with a shrug and a chuckle, "If it can be done in Venezuela it can be done anywhere."

Dudamel believes and passionately embodies his creed: Music is a human right.

In the beginning Godde said, Let there be light—and music. Birds made up the first orchestras.

Dudamel, inspired by his mentor José Antonio Abreu, educates children of all ages to play classical music in orchestras and in classrooms. Even tiny nursery school children are banging out rhythms in sync with each other. They are an orchestra! Their glee is unrivaled.

The program is called El Sistema. It’s a system, a saturation. Music is central to human development not an elective easily eliminated from school budgets. El Sistema is now being implemented at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

“Put a musical instrument in a child’s hand and s/he will never pick up a gun,” said Dudamel with a grin of surety.

A 12 year old African American boy said, “When I play music I enter heaven.”

This effort is an important way to take the elitist label off classical music and I think realize that all music is classical. The results of this effort are, frankly, happier children. Everyone plans and no one is left out or singled out. Unlike sports, there’s no “bench” in orchestral music. There is no grade either. Fail-safe joy.

It is also a way to instrumentalize the biblical idea that everything on earth is sacred and beloved the same. Music knows no gender, race, religion, etc.

One parent also labeled this program “safe” because it keeps children off the streets.

Dudamel said “We have to have the notes but each time we play it is different, sounds different. We have to interpret re-interpret and re-interpret to keep it alive.”

This creativity is also what keeps the biblical word of scripture alive for every generation, group, and individual. Everyone interprets it, makes it chime in their own souls, and creates, yes, music.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012.01.04 Epiphany Insights Two Days Ahead

Epiphany, officially Jan 6, began with a point of light in the sky, tiny but bright enough to follow anyway and illuminative enough to shine on the face of, what else, a tiny baby. Whose eyes would not light up?

Epiphany offers many fleeting points of light. Watch for them in all the “wrong” places.

I overheard a talented writer say something like, getting published was ALL grace. I told him he should take some of the credit for it himself.

There's no such thing as disembodied grace.  

And the alarmingly paradoxical Christian insistence on the co-mingling of flesh and spirit, divinity and humanity forces us to face this odd truth: it is divine to be crucified and it is human to be resurrected.

Our either/or habit of mind is confounded and convicted.