Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013.10.30 Book Review. God's Hotel.

For my beach reading last summer I’d Kindled God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet, M.D., PhD—hoping to read about how God practiced (was intimately involved with) medicine, maybe in a hotel? I wasn’t disappointed. Let me explain.

The bishop who ordained me had recommended the book. He’s a Gutenberg man who is rarely wrong about his books. God’s Hotel, published by Riverhead Books in 2012,  is a page turner. I finished it before I even got on vacation and to the beach, which was okay because, although my Kindle is named Fire, its glow doesn’t provide enough light to compete with the glare of brighter beach sun.  

The title comes from the French, Hotel-Dieu (God’s hotel, literally God’s hostel) the name for any charity hospital that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages.  Right away we get the flavor of ancient history.  A reader will learn about premodern medical practices and something about the utterly unimagineable mercies of le bon Dieu for the sick and the poor, poverty being a social disease. The book, to me, portrays medicine as ministry.

Because Dr. Sweet worked in an almshouse, Laguna Honda (sounds like a car dealership) she was able to practice what she called slow medicine. She had the luxury of time: being able to work part-time, spend an hour for a patient intake, and read Xrays on site herself!  Paradoxically, the penniless received top notch medical care for nothing. So much for idle assumptions about inferior care in clinics for THE poor. Such stereotypes are conditioned mostly by social shame and shaming.

In most religions God’s care is free— just like Laguna Honda’s was.  

Slowed down medicine was good for the doctor as well as the patient. Sweet learned she wanted to be herself with her patients, not so distant and guarded about professional boundaries. There was more time for relationships, a bit of humble mutuality without compromising her role or risking her patients’ emotional health. 

It would be easy to dismiss this by saying she knew these patients couldn’t sue her so it was safer to drop her guard a bit,  but that would do a disservice to this physician’s integrity, much of which she learned from patients. She recalls us to the spirituality of medicine through the cases she chooses to share, as well as her own evolution as a physician.  

God’s Hotel opens with an autopsy, the author’s first. When the face of the dead person is exposed Sweet suddenly recognizes one of her first-ever patients. It was Mr. Baker but it wasn’t Mr. Baker—really.  Where was Mr. Baker?  Spiritual questions immediately confront author and reader. What does and did medicine have to say about such obvious concerns?

Reading, I remembered my first—and last— autopsy. Autopsy comes from a Greek work meaning “eyewitness.”  It’s easy to see why this word evolved: no organ is left unexamined, no gall bladder unturned.  It went along all right until a hand dropped from beneath the sheet that covered the body and I jumped.  This was a real person, or had been a real person, or might be a real person—a woman I could tell from the hand alone, a woman who had lived and breathed, and was warm, and said “Hi.” It was such a startling revelation that we chaplain trainees covered up our nervousness with giggles, of all the adolescent responses!  

You grow up fast when you see the totality of death, when you know there is absolutely no life there at all.  And you wonder just as Sweet did, just as the early Jesus followers did. I bet they also used some gallows humor to cope.

After her autopsy viewing Sweet wrote: “I did tuck away in the back of my mind the image of his dead body as a crumpled suit of clothes, abandoned in the corner of a sterile white room.” Later she discovered that  premodern medicine did have words for what was so shockingly absent: spiritus (rhythmic breathing) and anima (soul). Medicine is so physical—and so not, all at once. 

Take Mr. X , a man who sat around all day every day looking blank and thinking nothing—demented (de +mentis, without a mind.) Mindless!  Absent? Yet one day Mr. X heard the music of Glenn Miller, his era, and very slowly he arose from his chair and began to dance, and dance well. When the music ended he sat back down, blank as usual. What IS a mind anyway? A soul?

The medicine of Christian mystic and saint Hildegard of Bingen, one of Sweet’s specialities, is interwoven into modern practices. Hildegard’s remedies are common sensical, sophisticated, and grounded in her religious faith and prayer.  You’ll love reading about  Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.  

Dr. Sweet’s patients tell astonishing stories of deep truth, just like the gospels. Readers also get to walk with Sweet on the famous pilgrim’s walk to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and follow the politics of medicine as it has evolved from the practice of medicine to the delivery of healthcare. The book is mystically empirical. 

Laguna Honda finally is moved and modernized, however its soul will linger on because of this lovely/loving book, and because Sweet leaves us to wonder more than answer. She is currently an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Her students are lucky.

I have only one reservation about God's Hotel: you might have to re-read it to digest it well. I’ve bought myself a good old reliable paperback so I can dog-ear and mark up as I do with books too chuck full of wisdom to read once. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

2013.10.27 Prayer is Poetry and Poetry Prayer

"I'm not very good at praying, but what I experience when I'm writing a poem is close to prayer. I feel it in different degrees and not with every poem. But in certain ways writing is a form of prayer.”

Denise Levertov (1923-1997) wrote the above quote, along with the beautiful poem below. She was born in England, served as a civilian nurse in WWII, and published her first book in 1946 after which she came to America.

I get the prayer/poem connection.When I write I am drawn into the process as if I were a deer and the computer screen bright headlights.  I’m not dazed or in a trance.  I’m just engaged with something so much bigger than I am and with so much fascination I forget that it’s me doing it.  Some days, not all, it can seem as if words write themselves. I wonder if that’s how Godde created— electric with the fierce runaway energy of mutual potentiation. Deep prayer, when I let it happen, is just like that: I become We.

Levertov intuits this kind of connective mystery, a natural, near-quotidian holiness that does not dissolve.

Come Into Animal Presence (1961)

No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm brush.

What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

Oh,by the way, no one is good, or bad, at praying.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

2013.10.23 Salman Rushdie: An "Exile" Speaks

The key note speaker at this year’s annual Boston Book Festival was Salman Rushdie. I hadn’t read a word he wrote but dimly remembered the controversy about his 1988 book The Satanic Verses: hot accusations of blasphemy and the bearded face of the fierce Islamic cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of Iran. 

Ignorant and secretly loving the idea of hearing someone who, like Jesus the Christ, had been accused of blasphemy and survived, I squeezed, with my husband, Dick, into a side pew in the huge and packed Old South Church in Boston.  

The “address” was a conversational interview with Homi Bhabha, professor of English and American Literature at, where else, Harvard. Bhaba spoke of Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton which details the “afterlife” of Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie.

A fatwa, I looked this up, is an order of execution. Rushdie spent several years under police protection in the UK where he was a citizen and had lived for years.  “The police kept telling me it would be all right, over soon, but it lasted 12 years.” Rushdie remarked. He considers himself to be an “exile.” He felt locked out, though the furor was about his book.  

It is interesting to consider just how much separability there should be between an author and his/her writing? Not much I reckon, especially if the words, characters and driving rhythm of a book dethrone a religious hero. Some shrug it off, but extremists get violently defensive.

The British in time broke diplomatic relations with Iran and knighted Rushdie who now lives in NY City—mecca of publishing. He has in fact spent most of his life in the West but he writes about the East, his heartspace.

Most of us have felt like an exile from time to time: in a relatively safe comfort zone but with certain restrictions, which can be emotional as well as physical. At times I felt locked out of the "country" of my first family, and it has been so in my Church as well. The longing to belong can feel almost feral. Where? How? When? This is Rushdie's passion and his work. He's married to it—obviously since the man has had four wives. 

There is a lot more to this complex story. (Check online.) But what stood out for me was Rushdie’s adamance about not adopting the “security view” of the world, which he said was of necessity based on the worst case scenario, such as if you cross a street you might be hit by a car, so we tell you not to cross the street. That was of course an exaggerated example, but I wondered if I would cross against a red light if there were no cars around and it was 5 the morning. Probably, I’d sit there till the light turned green. And I'm not Ms. obedient.

“You cannot buy the security vision of the world, because if you do you can’t have liberty. Don’t buy it!” He's not from New Hampshire, Live free or die, though he credited America for "giving me back my freedom." Salman Rushdie has enjoyed both safety and freedom and has not died for either.   I imagine he doesn't think much of Homeland Security. 

People push different envelopes. It depends on what rules and the stakes. I’d love, for example to eliminate all the masculine pronouns we keep on using for God, but I don’t want to be “exiled,” to say nothing of really hurting someone’s sensibilities.  It’s the old question about how to balance pastoral sensitivity and prophetic action for change you believe is necessary. What ditch will you die in?   If I’m going to “die” for a vital cause, I want someone with me in the ditch. 

 Rushdie advocates for religious reform and moving beyond traditionalism in religions.  "Broadmindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace." 
 I agree but Rushdie is a self-declared atheist and I am not.

A man in the packed-church audience identified himself as an atheist and asked for advice on how to co-exist as a non-believer amidst believers. Rushdie didn't really answer, but said, "Well, you can console yourself with the thought that you're right and they're wrong."

I thought his tone was tongue in cheek but I felt annoyed at the attitude. I mean, here we all were in a Christian church. Okay, I felt defensive, but I thought his tone sounded as arrogant as the attitudes of the traditionalists he preaches against. Probably a slip of ego. More importantly, I’m sick of all religion(s) getting lumped in with the excesses of extremists in any religion, including atheism, as if they all were the same.

Imagine the hubris of thinking I could defend God. But what else do you do when you're in love? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013.10.20 What the Church Needs Now?

The song says: “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”  We always need love; it’s the garment of our existence, the force that keeps us alive and helps us put one foot in front of the other, even if, and when, we have lost our footing. The Church of Jesus Christ preaches unconditional love. What we need is to ease up on the many conditions we place on that Love.

What the church perhaps doesn’t need now is to abandon its own language and identity.  The Church does not need to go secular in order to attract people to its message; does not need to derive wisdom from the world of social psychology or the field of consultants and then couch it in theological language to make it seem religio-spiritual. Such dazzling endeavors may be good for marketing and sales, but they can also be temptations of self-betrayal, sell outs. 

A clergy colleague recently expressed amazement that the young people in her parish coming for a Confirmation class, likely under duress she imagined, were not interested in discussing contemporary issues of their age group. They were interested in God. Surprise!

These teenagers, 15-18, felt as if they were drowning in a kind of existential loneliness and they wanted a structure to put faith into, and a language to express their soul’s deep hunger, and some meaningful ritual that would take them beyond what is offered by Facebook communications, electronic games, sports, academics. They weren’t interested in talking about their sexuality or their addictions or even all the angst about parental divorce in their lives and those of their friends. 

In short, these teens wanted God and God-talk.  

They wanted what the church offers:good people, good theology, spiritual practices, song and psalm and gospel, Bible, ethical guidance, and listening hearts. They really wanted to follow Jesus and love God and feel more secure in how to do that. 

The priest who met with them told me that there was particular interest in the baptismal covenant, something Christians all know by heart and have recited many times over. Has it gotten flat, irrelevant?  The baptismal promises are a very solid Code of Ethics, a covenantal structure to frame conversations about talk about God and basic Christian attitudes and behavior.

What does it mean to respect the dignity of all human beings, to seek Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace? How do you do these things?  These were the issues that riveted their interest and conversation. in Church.

The Confirmation class process, it seems to me, provided a model for honest talk, plus support for living up to their Baptismal Code when complex decisions arise. Sort of like the Twelve Step recovery meetings process: no one stays sober alone. Well, no one can be a faithful Christian alone either.

What the church needs now is to give people the best of what if has to offer—with professional guidance, yes, but unadorned with sparkles or glitter. No one is fooled, especially the young. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013.10.16 Having FUN!

So here we are, Dick and I,  on the new carousel at the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.  You really don’t need a grandchild to do this but it helps if one is along for the ride. Such joy!

I sought out the owl, my totem, and Dick sat on the animal next to the owl. His totem is a stallion but there were none. “”I wanted to make sure I got one that went up and down while it went around,” he said. “What am I on?”  “A skunk,” I said and we howled. 

This carousel is unusual. It has no horses, just an amazing array of 14 non-stereotypical carousel  critters—three types of butterflies, fox, lobster (think Gloucester), seal, skunk, falcon, whale, owl, grasshopper, sea turtle, sea serpent, and a beloved cod (think Cape). The project was the dream-child of Amalie Kass who wanted fun activity for Boston children and was the chief donor for the project.  Boston school children identified and created drawings of local and regional animals from which artist Jeff Briggs designed the colorful carousel steeds.  

My mother, herself quite a child for many good emotional reasons, but also because of her extroverted hyper-cheerful personality, so different from my more introverted serious one, turned FUN into an art form. It made me a bit shy about fun. 

I guess our ideas of what fun was were divergent. For Mom it meant doing things, going places, activities. For me it meant inventing games, curling up with a good book,  writing a bad but heart-thumping poem, giggly conversations with girls, exploring city apartment house basement crannies, making up stories about teachers, creating outdoor forts and rituals, and dancing (clumsy leaps) flailing colorful scarves and shawls to Strauss waltzes.

I traveled the world of my imagination and Mom was a social butterfly. As a child I wished she would alight. This carousel is just the kind of project Mom would have rejoiced in. Next time I go I will ride on one of the butterflies in her memory and in her honor—and have FUN.

Whatever way you have fun it's spiritual when it makes you feel alive —alive-O!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013.10.13 Hope Speaks Softly (But It Does Speak)

Is it possible that Empathy is the quality of being human and divine at once, and that empathy will save the world?

Look left to see an image created by artist Johnny Carrera. The image is entitled "Empathic Resonance" and is clustered with other images penned onto sailcloth which hangs as if strung on a mast.

The lovely title of Carrera's whole exhibit is "Hope Speaks Softly (But It Does Speak). Hope is my favorite spiritual gift. Hope is neither naive nor wishful. Hope is clear-hearted and mindful partaking of the divine. 

Carrera's artwork was on display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (the Mass MoCA) in North Adams, Mass.—a field trip not to miss.  

I was drawn to this little porcupine holding onto a string at the end of which hovers one lone star,  covered with what looks a great many of the porcupine's quills. I stood and stared at this image for some time and called my husband over to see it. He was less fascinated than I was, but that's the way the Spirit often works. We don't all get touched by the same things at the same time—except sometimes.

Gazing at the empathic porcupine I thought about the time when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was being screened at congressional hearings before her appointment as an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.  Controversy arose and critique because Sotomayor identified empathy  as one of the qualities that makes a good judge. Why fear empathy? Maybe too soft, too womanish?  

Me being me, I thought of the New Testament's reporting of Jesus' famed Sermon on the Mount with its radical teachings, such as "if anyone takes away your coat give him your shirt also." But then Jesus ends with: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31)

This empathic porcupine still had some quills left for protection. He or she did not send ALL the quills to the naked star above, just enough to show he understood what it might feel like to be alone and undressed. The image of course could mean many things but that is what it said to me.

Perhaps God doesn't demand or command regular radical martyrdom but that you do in fact what you would have someone do for you? Give me some of your quills, some shelter, some money, some food, some of what you have until I can get on my feet, and if I can't, keep on sharing your quills and get other quilled critters to share theirs. Thank you.

Such decisions, I know aren't easy and require empathic resonance. 

Yet, how else does Hope speak?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013.10.09 Why Words Matter

Sticks and stone can break your bones, but words can break your heart. 

Last week I went to a daylong conference called Why Words Matter:Expansive Language and Liturgical Leadership. The day was jointly sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), Sacred Threads (Regis College), and the Massachusetts Council of Churches (MCC) and attended by some 50-60 people, which was not a bad attendance for a beautiful autumn Friday in October. 

The Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director of MCC opened the day telling a bit of her story of coming into Christianity. “I'd accepted a savior I somehow couldn’t be,” she said. Everett recognized the efforts made with inclusive language in the mid-70s. (Yes! I remember those efforts well.) She said that there were no women heads of churches, non-liturgical denominations she must have meant, because the Episcopal Church has women bishops and a woman Presiding Bishop. It’s worth noting  that on October 5, 2013, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America installed its first woman Presiding Bishop.

Nevertheless, Everett noted, liturgical language, the language of worship, still divides the Church. I’d say it’s time to look at the language issues again and was grateful for the re-start of this conversation.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Burns, a presbyter of the Church of England who teaches worship at EDS, cited two dynamics at work in this renewed conversation. “It’s a different conversation from former conversations.”
CONTEXT. Expansive language means that our language system is ever expanding, an emergent design, you might say. It advocates that we must be aware of the worship context of liturgical space,  styles of worship, and practices. In other words, just changing language without awareness of the culture of a worshiping community could be too superficial and a naive strategy at best, a manipulation at worst.  
JUSTICE.  Consider the “other” when we use language to dismantle oppression. For example. how do we speak about our hierarchies? Erasing patriarchal language ought not to erase the history in which we are embedded. Burns said he eliminated all exclusive language, like addressing God as Father in his personal prayer life. “But then I had a son, and I was a father.”  Nothing can ever be either/or, I guess.

“Our prayer will carry us,” Burns said. 

There is no question that the whole issue is emotionally charged, and pastoral sensitivity is required.  Thoughts and ideas:  One hymnal provides both normative texts and new ones. Options are offered. Being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe. Traditional language also has the power to transform oppression and attendant feelings.  Think immigrants on a foreign soil. Think Israel in exile in Babylon.

An Episcopal lay woman, on the ECW executive committee, shared how “unsettled” she felt when she went to her granddaughter’s wedding recently in a yoga studio (context) and the celebrant presided at a Eucharist that had two settings/servings, one of bread and wine in honor of Christ, and another of honey and milk to honor Sophia. “I felt slapped up side the head,” she said and added that her shock motivated her to come to this day.  “Who is Sophia?”  This courageous woman was shocked and de-centered, yet willing to learn. Brava!

Inez Torres Davis, ELCA, commented that when speaking to the privileged one needed to include them with their pain and questions about tradition, heritage, and identity. “We are saying there might be another way, and everyone must be welcomed into the conversation. The purpose of the Divine after all, is healing.”

It is clear there is much more to do together.  The National Council of Churches Justice for Women Working Group has a “Words Matter” site (

I was grateful for this day and all the participants. My small group at table #10 had a good time and some chance to talk about Sophia, Spirit of Wisdom, as well as our own practices and feelings. I went away well fed and eager to keep going, also wondering why no one mentioned the darn English pronouns —except me of course:0)

I leave you with a story to treasure. A Lutheran woman told the plenary group that when she was a child she’d wondered about the road to heaven being a “narrow gate” as Jesus said. She’d concluded: “Well, maybe God was very big so the gate just seemed very narrow to God.”

And a little child will lead them. Now who said that?

To come back round to my broken heart, strong language for the way I feel often whenever I hear masculinizing words for God, for Divinity:  broken heart language is strong because I have said and heard such words over many years, and as a priest, I often have to say them to be sensitive to my community context. I omit pronouns when I can and dodge the He-Christ by saying Christ instead of He.  Thus, my joy that the conversation about expansive language is being re-invigorated. It's kairos time.

You see, God met me under a table when I was a small child and I gleaned from that Presence, not only that God mattered but that I matter. Hence words matter, too!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

2013.10.06 Rosary Prayers

“There are not enough rosaries to cope with living with you,”  So said my beloved spouse in a moment.

“I’ll buy you a new rosary,” I said and then broke down into such a fit of laughter I couldn’t control myself, which caused mister exasperated to break up too.

And so ended the spat, whatever it was about anyway. Splotch anything with clear laughter and it will turn to glory.

Rosaries are in fact very helpful coping tools with added spiritual benefits. Anglicans use rosaries as well as Catholics. They’re not just for old women to mutter and mumble with; they are a way to calm your self, to center and to refocus the cluster of worries that plague your mind.

The Episcopal prayer book has collections of prayers called Collects, one for every occasion. They’re like rosaries you say over and over. One favorite I pray daily and wherever is:  Most loving God, whose hope is that we give thanks in all things, fear nothing but the loss of you, cast all our cares on you who care for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties that no clouds of this mortal life will hide from us the light of the love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you in unity with the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.   (Italics indicate my poetic licentiousness ie. God was Father, hope was will, in was for, and in unity with was and.)

When I went for my first MRI,  I prayed this Collect over and over to redirect any anxieties and not let a big old noisy machine hide from me the light of the love which is immortal.   

Hell, if they’d let me I’d have taken a beaded rosary in with me, but it might mess up my radiological pictures. Besides, rosaries don’t photograph well.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2013.10.02 Thy Will Be Done, According to Whom?

Monday evening we saw a film at Episcopal Divinity School. The film is the project of producer/director, Alice Bouvrie and entitled "Thy Will Be Done: A Transsexual Woman’s Journey Through Faith and Family" starring Sàra Herwig along with her mother, her ex-wife, her spouse, her daughter, and her pastor the Rev. Jean Southard. 

The film is a poignant, prophetic and tender witness to the kind of transformation that can happen when a 21st century “david” challenges any contemporary cultural or institutional “goliath.”  No one is left untouched; no one is left unharmed; no one is ever the same. A scene from the video: Sàra and a friend.

My husband and I went because we are both passionate about the ultimate value of spiritual diversity and the wholeness of all religion, particularly Christianity, in spite of itself.

Herwig opens the film with a statement of respect for those who kept her from ordination. "They believe their interpretations of scripture and their understanding of Christian faith is true." The rest of the story is the “but........”

What came through most strongly to me was the amazing grace of the supporting cast:
     Sàra’s mother whose painful perplexity and guilt were reinforced by the men in the family. Mom's love for her child superceded all abuses and all confusions.
     Sàra’s  first wife who married her when she was a man and imagined she could “love” him out of his depression and his compulsion to cross dress. She is now able to say that Sàra is “better” than Steve was, empowered and happier, the “black cloud” gone.
     Sàra’s daughter whose entire perception of reality was “flipped on its head”  when suddenly she had “no Dad.” With help she came to know that her “dad” was the same person s/he always was even if walking into the same public restroom together was “really strange.”
    Sàra’s pastor, the Rev. Jean Southard of First Presbyterian Church in Waltham, MA., whose husband is a cross dresser and an “out” professor at MIT, continued to support Sàra’s sense of vocation to full-time ministry and officiated at her marriage against traditional church protocol. Why? “The Church was not being Christian to her,” Jean said.  Simply so! Charges were brought against Jean Southard but, with legal help and three years of trials, she was acquitted, on a technicality no less: the Presbytery had not yet legally declared the prohibition against same sex marriage for ordained people at the time of the marriage of Sàra and Jen which Jean blessed. Sàra was a candidate for ordained ministry in the Presbyterian church at the time of her marriage.

Massachusetts really messed up lots of stuff!  I'm proud to live here.    

PCUSA (the Presbyterian in the USA)  still does not allow anyone in a same-sex relationship to be ordained, but they are asking for more education on the matter.

Rev. Southard is patient. “Also I’m retired now,”she said with a smile. She holds all institutions loosely and understands that they are made up of human goodness as well as human limitations. Without the church, she noted, who would guard and pass on the treasures of religious traditions?

The film's supporting cast took nothing away from the courage and witness of the main character,  Sàra herself, who traversed the muddy waters of profound personal and institutional change and never gave up on herself or on God.  All these women seemed to me like the women at the foot of Jesus’ cross or those who brought the biblical David along.  They never gave up and never abandoned. They represented the unconditional divine love Sàra had found in a Christian church in eighth grade, and herself never gave up on. They were the image of God in the flesh.  

Sàra Herwig has left the Presbyterian church. She made it to candidacy with a vote of 48 to 24.  Impressive. The vote came after an unusally long, grueling screening process. Sàra prevailed in spite of prevailing attitudes (ignorance really) and comments like, "God made you a man. Pray for healing."

Sàra did pray and felt God's presence still with her. But she was not able to find a congregation that would hire her.  “You have to have a job before you're ordained. It takes guts to hire me,” she quipped, adding, “It all comes down to sex and there is so much more to a relationship.”

I'd say God sees beyond genitalia and into souls.

The UCC (United Church of Christ) has plenty of its own hoops and hurdles but Sàra hopes to realize her ordained vocation in that denomination which has "more promise" for her.  “You can only hit your head against a wall so many times before you split it open. I'm moving on but in my heart I will always be a Presbyterian.”

We keep on keeping on. I did when I was struggling through ordination process in the Episcopal church in the early '80s. And I was just a woman!!  Some days I would question my sanity. I lobby for change and wait. Tempted to leave but I don't.

Sàra and her friends are hanging in too. We sigh and pray and wait. The Church is not useless. It just lumbers and slouches under its own weight until finally it opens up with a giant sigh of relief—then moves along.