Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2012.08.29 To Organize or Not To Organize?

My son John quipped the other day,  “Where is John the Baptist when we need him?”

(Today happens to be on the  liturgical calendar to remembering the beheading of John the Baptist, the biblical prophet who organized the people around sin, repentance and a new way of life. Good idea, not good for the powers of his day who preferred the status quo: despair and poverty for the 99%, power, money and isolation for the 1% with the egos.) 

Let’s get organized! hollered John the Baptist.  I think I shouted that to my young family, or if I didn’t I thought it loudly.  It seemed to me that in our family of six we needed to find a way to go in the same direction at the same time at least once a day—other than to bed. 

I wonder if Godde conjured that divine thought in Her mind just the instant before the firmament split-seconded out of control and Creation burst through—disorganized as hell.

Well, my family never did get organized much—except in heart.  We managed to stay in love despite internecine wars, divorce, suffering, geography, illness, alcoholism, sex, and even religion. We kept the vision of each other’s faces in heart and mind and memory. We occupied each other.

Occupiers recently occupied their vision of economic justice with their bodies. They sat down and stood for the shear voicing of truth.  AND I want them to get organized so that voice won’t fade out and whoosh off like so much sage brush in the desert.  I want them to keep screaming   like John Baptist. I want them to influence voters who have privacy in voting booths to vote, not according to external ideologies but according to their highest values and their spirituality— especially women who may be afraid to stray from the “herd” or think that they are better off kept in a patriarchal world.

To be blunt I want them to vote for the vision they occupied.  Republicans right now are organizing around a vision that compartmentalizes and categorizes human beings, envisioning an either/or nation, and excluding those who don’t fit their criteria.  Some Christians agree. I shudder.

President Obama envisions a both/and, bipartisan nation, organized and occupied by all for all. 
He could use a little more John the Baptist chutzpah but his vision bears my spirituality and will get my vote.
                 * * * * * * *

What about ORGANIZED RELIGION? — which is currently thought heinous.

The early seekers and followers of divinity realized there was more to this messy life than human effort. So they organized themselves and drew a community together to worship a Mystery they couldn’t know except by faith. Awestruck and wonderstruck they uttered prayers. It all began in astonishments and a vision.
And then they organized, the inevitable next step to preserve what they held most dear. This is true for families, nations and religions. 

Of course organization can kill if it gets encrusted in mere habit and when it isn’t occupied by flesh and blood and soul. Let’s face it: Love, by its nature, is impossibly disorganized.  But not abandoned if the people keep hold of the vision: love, peace, justice and equity for all earth. 

So I want our church and our nation to re-organize, to re-occupy a vision of common good, love divine and human, sacred and secular.

 So where IS  John the Baptist when we need him?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012.08.25 Fathers Matter Lots

Today would be my dad’s 101st birthday. Happy Birthday Dad.
Dad was a perfectly imperfect father for a “Mad Man” (TV show, not insane asylum.)  I loved him and longed for more of him all the time, and all our life together.  He died at 71 way too early for the length of my love.
Sometimes as a child I’d stand at Dad’s side and silently yearn, hard enough I imagined that he would turn from his preoccupations and take me onto his lap. Sometimes he did.
Today is also the day when I entered Hartford Hospital 45 years ago to have labor induced for the birth of my third child, already overdue by two weeks. It was August—too hot to be so huge.  I persuaded my OBGYN that this child should be born on Dad’s birthday.  That was my idea but son Rob refused to come out. He waited till August 31, then came with a rush and a hemorrhage and a loud wail, mercifully strong and full of presence. Happy Birthday Rob.

Cheryl Strayed the author of an exquisite (Oprah aside) memoir Wild, hallows the value of good fathering.  She once strayed into a therapist’s office and announced flippantly, “I’m like a guy sexually.”  Detached.  The therapist listened then asked, “Who detached from you?” 
Was this where she was supposed to tell him about her father? As she dove into the dangerous father topic of severe violence and equally severe absence sprinkled with endearments,  she stared at the familiar poster of a whirl of white in a black rectangle. It was meant to be the Milky Way in the middle of which was an arrowed sign that read, You are here.
After her tale of pain Strayed stared at the poster and reflected how much worse it would have been to be left alone with this father who didn’t know how to love me as a father should.  The bright therapist countered “What if you had a father who loved you as a father should?”
The question threw Strayed into confusion: “I couldn’t land on love or security, confidence or a sense of belonging. A father who loved you as a father should was greater than his parts. He was like a whirl of white on the You are here poster behind Vince’s [the therapist] head. He was a giant inexplicable thing that contained a million other things, and because I’d never had one, I’d feared I’d never find myself inside that great white swirl.” 

Dad held me as the apple of his eye, enough that I knew I am here. And Rob’s children know We are here because he loves them the way a good father should.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012.08.22 Death Days

The death of summer sizzle and shine makes me sad enough but when a tragedy like suicidal death strikes and death intervenes on life leaving ragged edges, I say, “Oh my God!” thrice and count it as prayer— a cry from the depths of helplessness to the only Love that feels as if it might just be trustworthy enough to bear up and to last.

A good friend—not long-term and not very close but good—is dead, and I never said good bye. I didn’t know he was going to die.

I remembered an event of some years ago when a friend’s teenage son committed suicide.  The memory of her grief gave me a little distance from my own.

After the shock and the inner explosion of every feeling imaginable, my friend settled into a numbness almost worse than raw pain.  She just couldn’t figure out why her son took his own life and why God LET it happen. She kept praying and praying and praying, asking and asking and asking her almighty loving God to be accountable. God and her friends listened and listened and listened.

I had the mental image of God being throttled by prayers of anguish and unknowing and deep faith.  And I’d thought God was supposed to be the hound of heaven!

Months passed before God, who had exercised superb divine patience, finally was able to penetrate this mother’s beseechings, in a moment I suppose of sheer exhaustion—hers not God’s.  What makes you think I wasn’t there? God said from the depths of her soul. A question not an answer but a question that liberated.

The friend I now grieve committed suicide and left a mystery.  Rational explanations about depression and despair and etc. etc. are helpful, but not healing.  Another friend who knew this man wrote, “Mental illness be damned!”  Sin and guilt be damned as well. Advice, judgments and reason at a time like this feel hollow. 

Still, I’ve had my share of grief and have walked with others through theirs.  I know that suicide grieving is the hardest, in part because it will inevitably involve plenty of ideas about preventability.  I wonder if… What if… If only he’d….. If only I’d……..   And on and on it will go till it exhausts itself and you say goodbye to your fantasies and sob.

My good friend is gone. I already miss his joviality, humor, deep belly laughs, and bear hugs. Most of all I will miss his deep religious faith.  He spoke eloquently about God and praised Christ in song and word—despite the darkness that too often threatened to possess him. I’m grateful for positive memories that outlast cruel twists. 

Suicidal death is a spiritual lemon, one you want to turn into lemonade but can’t and shouldn’t, one that many people curse, but God, who knows a whole lot more than we do, blesses.  So what is the spirituality of suicide?

I dare to wonder if my good friend, and others who find themselves wholly lost, reach out, finally and devotedly, consciously or not, for the one hand they know belongs in theirs, forever and eternally. 

And the grasp holds.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

2012.08.19 Bernard of Clairvaux

I don’t remember much about this mystic and saint whose day marks the liturgical calendar. But I do remember one precious gem of his wisdom.

Bernard founded and was the Abbott of a Benedictine monastery in Clairvaux France in 1115.  Apparently a fiery and passionate man with ascetical practices, he preached the purity of church doctrine and argued against Peter Abelard’s attempts to make the whole thing more consistent with reason and human lived experience. I’m not much for the purity of the church I pray will revisit itself, but I am a fan of Abelard, a kind of empirical Jesus guy.

 Bernard also preached the Crusades against Albigensians and another to liberate Jerusalem.  When that latter one was a disaster Bernard was attacked for having supported it.  Rightly so I’d say!  Not my kind of guy.

He died in 1153 shortly after the failed crusades. He was canonized a saint in 1174. There you have it. 

Bernard, nevertheless was most known for his ardor for the love of God. We don’t journey toward divine love we’re already embedded in it.  Still, Bernard was wise and knew there was an evolving maturation process. The process of Love is not a ladder but a series of spirals, cycling round and back again.  You’ll recognize it and be able to identify where you are today. Don’t critique yourself. All of it is Love. 
    -Love of God for self’s sake
    -Love of self for self’s sake
    -Love of God for God’s sake
    -Love of self for God’s sake.

The most divine kind of love is love of self for God’s sake. 
Saints can be jerks and heroes at once, graces and disgraces.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

2012.08.15 Bon Appetit??

Bon appetit was not something I ever said to my four children. I wouldn’t have dared. I’m no Julia Child, not even close, but I do have a couple of connections with her that I count: Julia who today would be 100 years old, graduated from Smith College as did I several yeas after Julia, and she openly loved McDonald’s french fries. Me too. Also Julia didn’t cook till she was 40; neither did I but for different reasons. Mine weren’t French.

As I approached 40 my life blew up in the way midlife lives sometimes do.  My husband and I separated and I moved into a condo with two teenage sons and an alley for a kitchen.  Most people at times like this would panic about marriage repair, divorce, loneliness, insanity, getting a job that actually came with a pay check, or despair. But I panicked about cooking.

Not that I ever had been a good cook. I made meals you couldn’t call cooking. My husband and I loved to eat and drink wine but we weren’t gourmands. Fortunately, because my first Thanksgiving turkey literally blew up, so dry it fell away from its carcass. My in-laws were gracious as they poured gravy (heated and from a can) all over the dried beast. The brownie mix worked out well at least.

But now I didn’t have the structure of marriage with flattering lies and money to go out for dinner. In one swift neurotic ego-crushing moment I imagined I HAD to be a good cook.

It was about this time that I fell in love.  There was a man involved but the true object of my affection was a sweet, plump insouciant little cook called Crockpot.  I named her Burnt Umber (BU for short) after one of my children’s crayon colors and filled her with one of four meals (beef stew, pork chops soaked in mushroom soup, chicken breasts soaked in chicken noodle soup, or some form of swiss steak smothered in French onion soup mix.)  Even the all-embracing Julia would cringe at my repertoire, but I was thrilled and fell headlong in love with a machine that cookec for me.

My mother didn’t like to cook either although she enjoyed a brief foray into French cuisine in her late middle life. Still, it wasn’t her thing.  Her signature meal for us as kids was English muffins slathered with peanut butter and jelly.  We weren’t starved just palate-neglected.

Julia Child was more than a great cook; she was a gracious woman full of chutzpah and good heart with a voice you’d never forget, sort of a throaty blend of the Marlboro Man and Truman Capote. I’m sure she would have belly laughed about my Crockpot love affair and called me “dearie” anyway.

All of us somehow survived, Julia went on to be famous and spread the word about fun cooking. I went on to marry a man who had a bigger Crockpot than BU and loved to cook.

My Crockpot went to the church rummage sale to save someone else’s life. I will never forget my Crockpot; she not only cooked but taught me to simmer and trust.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012.08.12 Walking the Land Jesus Walked

After a pilgrimage to Israel and trekking the land where Jesus trod, my faith in Jesus as an historical figure was grounded literally—concretized and dramatized, challenged and enlivened in a way it had not been before.

Let’s face it! Looking out on the Galilean Lake while sitting on a patch of grass or a bit of stone wall, listening to the gospel story of the Feeding of the 5000 read slowly, hearing waters lap, feeling the caress of a warm breeze and the soothe of your teacher saying, “You see? You see? We are in Jesus’ restaurant”  is NOT the same as staring at a reredos behind a church altar picturing Jesus in stained glass, no matter how beautiful. 

Topography and geography were for me the missing pieces to round out my faith. Nothing like terra firma to sober up any leftover spiritual illusions harbored by the overly romantic—like me.
We visited all the churches and buildings of note, of course, but what pulled me into the ministry of Jesus, the guy of Galilee, were the untrammeled unbuilt sites.  Of course we were never able to stand on X marks the spot of where Jesus may have stood, but we were assured that we were likely in the area of where certain key biblical events in his life happened.  After all, Israel is about the size of New Jersey—small, dense. How far off could you be?

I don’t take the Bible literally but I do take it seriously. It is a bit Cecil D. deMille because how else would you remember all those fantastic stories?  I believe every single story has ultimate dignity and worth for the power of its theological message, mostly all the same: God loves and God saves in spite of human idiocy and fear. There ain’t no hell but in our minds.

Once at a former parish  I referenced the infant Jesus in diapers, suggesting that he actually pooped. A woman left the parish in a huff. Too much humanity for her:)  Literally soiled her image. On the other hand, in most churches  there is so much emphasis on Jesus’ divinity, all I can do is worship from afar but not get too close.

I know we can’t split up the Incarnation of God-in-Christ, but I confess I cheat and do it anyway.  I find Marcus Borg’s vocabulary helpful:  pre-Easter Jesus and  post-Easter Jesus.  

 "To deny that the pre-Easter Jesus was God does not diminish Jesus at all. Indeed, it exalts him. He was utterly remarkable—one of the two most remarkable people who ever lived. When I say this, I am often asked, "Who was the other one?" I answer, "I really don't care." My point is that the pre-Easter Jesus is a human possibility.”
He is not special because he was divine and had a divine "boost" that we don't have. Rather, he was special because he was an utterly remarkable human being—like St. Francis with an exclamation point. Francis (1181-1226) is often seen as the most remarkable and Christlike of the Christian saints. Was Francis a human possibility? Yes. How often does a Francis come along? Not very often. Someone like Jesus doesn't come along very often either. The pre-Easter Jesus was extraordinary—so extraordinary that his followers saw in him the decisive revelation of God."  (from “Speaking Christian” by Marcus Borg)

The beauty of the Christian faith to me is that Jesus Christ, its icon and hero, walked the walk as well as talked the talk.  Everywhere we went in Israel I heard the echo of Jesus’ invitation to inquisitive disciples,  “Come and see.”  

I loved getting to know the pre-Easter Jesus better —walking his land barefoot and busting with energy for his beloved YHWH-God. Frankly, that's divine enough for me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

2012.08.08 BirthDays

It was my 74th birthday yesterday. It was also my husband’s but he’s only 71, mere child. My first birth day was in 1938, my second birth day was in 1973 when Godde woke me up to, well okay if I must say it, myself. Amazing grace!

John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” in 1748 at age 23 in the wake of a spiritual conversion. It came to him on a storm-tossed sea when he prayed to God that the ship wouldn’t sink. It didn’t and Newton dedicated his life thereafter to God instead of to the slave trade business he was in.

(What Newton didn’t know was that God was more interested in saving the African slaves in the hold, who were also praying!)

Back in 1973 I wasn’t converted, just returned.  I’d sunk deeply into the listening presence of one I called God as a very young child under a table chatting and feeling heard and accompanied. As I grew up and began my efforts to fit myself into my lovingly dysfunctional family and a world of roles and rules I lost touch with the under-the-table God. You could say I went Stepford-robotic—functional but self-less. Where could I fit as an ambitious woman with ideas unsuitable for a woman and mother? Depressed I suppose, I baked chocolate chip cookies—too many but a delicious distraction for me and a delight to my children. I didn’t pray but God “spoke” de profundis anyway, asking, “Why are you doing this?” 

Though scared witless, I recognized the dear old accompanist I’d 30 years ago fallen into love with. So I followed God’s provocative question and, like Newton, became a priest. The rest of my life still is the answer to God’s question.

And this hymn, as Newton wrote it,  is its theme song. 


Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) 
That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
 And grace those fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear,
 The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
 I have already come;

'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
 And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
 His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
 As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail
 And mortal life shall cease;

I shall possess, within the veil,
 A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,
 Will be forever mine.

Monday, August 6, 2012

2012.08.06 A Dream and an Afterthought

Last night I dreamed of my old friend with the sad story. In the dream my friend was transfigured. She was herself, standing tall, majestic, gray-haired.  Powerful I'd say.  I thought the dream was a gift and I believed it. 

What courage it took for my friend to call after all those years and pour her own dream and prayer out onto my answering machine. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

2012.08.04 One Sad Little Story

Writing a memoir creates a mind set for long term memory.  Fine with me since my short term one is beginning to lag a bit.

Today I thought of a high school friend. Her face passed in front of me and I wondered how she had survived. She grew up with a severely alcoholic father who used to slap her behind and call her Bessie Broadbottom—then laugh with ghoulish gusto. She laughed too but I knew it wasn’t funny. I used to wonder about sexual abuse even back in the 50s in a suburban CT. shore town!

My friend’s mother was passive, sweet, and preachy religious. But she too had a steel magnolia edge.  It was obviously how she controlled her internal chaos and ignored her husband.  She told her daughter that she could have married Mr. Mack of Mack trucks and have lots of money and happiness.  Cruel revelation I thought. 

Growing up with cruelty made my friend unpopular in school because she was pushy trying to excel and be popular. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t like her much either but stayed friends because I felt sorry for her.

She idealized me and my family, wrongly really because I was in a similar cocktail situation but with far more love in it. My dad’s sarcasm was martini-induced and he never called me names or sexualized our relationship.  My mom’s denial helped her kid herself and skim the surface of life.  It irked me but helped me sharpen my awareness and thus my spirituality: dig deep for truth. But I never thought my parents were cruel and I knew I was loved.

When after college I got engaged my friend was excited to be invited to the party and later to be one of my bridesmaids.

I was far less excited about the idea of a big party than my mother who wanted a traditional event with lots of people; she wanted my father to announce with pride that his daughter Lynda was to be married, a little speech just for me. I felt shy and uncomfortable but my friend thought that would be the greatest thing in the world ever to happen to any girl. 

She missed the big announcement arriving late to the party because her father had to have “just one more drink” at the restaurant.

I will never forget my friend’s face when she rushed in to find she’d missed what she had so wanted to be present for. It exploded, awash with pain, rage and helplessness, almost feral, when she turned on her parents like a trapped wild beast, and said “You made me miss it.” 

Moments like that are ripe for despair.  They are prayers.

The voice of despair came some 30 years later after I was ordained and through my phone answering machine. My friend  located me because of a high school reunion list and dialed. I got the message and recognized her voice, drunk with alcohol and pain.

“I want to do what you do,” she said twice and hung up leaving no number to call back.

Oh, God.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

2012.08.01 Chick-fil-A??

 Hey, hey it’s Chick fil A day.  Not on liturgical calendars anywhere btw. All I can think of is the “dance” we do at weddings flapping our elbows wildly. This flap is about as funny.

Is it me or is anyone else thinking that Chick fil A is a sexist slur not very well disguised?

Chickens don’t immediately come to mind with the name, even though I know this is a, reportedly delicious, fast food operation, their top draw a buttered BUN with a pressed and breaded chicken BREAST.   Think mammogram.

My associations go like this:
    Chick=woman but maybe with unsophisticated tastes. Think chick lit or chick flix.
    Fil= just short of a filly, also a female object of devotion or ogle—with great haunches.  
    A=a top academic grade, or, as I remember some of us teen chicks would say to flirt with the boy who drove a Model A Ford in high school, “Hows’ your A?” —and then roll over with laughter.

This all could be my own perverse sense of humor, my feminist ardor, northeast liberal prejudice, or displaced anger because the CEO of Chick-fil-A has openly “come out” against same-sex marriage. In a gutsy statement, Boston’s Mayor Menino blasted Chick-fil-A for its bias and said the Chick would not be welcome in Boston where plans to open a new restaurant are afoot.

Of course Menino has admitted he can’t prevent the permits issued for a new Boston business, but the chick, or the filly, is out of the barn. Who would eat there now?  Kinda leaves a rotten chicken taste in your mouth—or mine at least. 

Here’s a tweet from a buddy pilgrim (to Israel) and seminarian at the Virginia Theological School (in the south last time I looked): “I hope nobody asks the CEO of Chipotle his view on same-sex marriage, I’d be devastated to have to stop eating there.”

I should fit Godde in here somewhere. Some day I’m sure it takes all of God’s energy just to hold back divine laughter so the world won’t explode—prematurely.