Saturday, November 23, 2019

2019.11.24 No Matter What, Love!

 Modern Declaration
    by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never
    having wavered
In these affection; never through shyness in the houses of
    rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
    grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by
    a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers
    of their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
    interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.  

I might have meant this declaration of love to address God whose presence I met as a young child and trust every day—okay with some dips and pauses.

But today I mean this poem for my beloved spouse of 33 years. We were married within the context of the parish Sunday morning Eucharist on Christ the King Sunday, November 23, 1986 with the proviso that we NOT sing the traditionally-themed hymn, “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” There were, and are, enough “hims” taking over everything everywhere that one more hymn to him was just too much, I ruled. And not on the day of my second marriage. 

This day honors a God who brings life out of death. For us, that “death” was the end of our first marriages. I felt joy, fear, grief, gratitude, and love all at once. My pile of feelings brought a few tears during the vows. I will never forget the look on my dearly beloved’s face. The memory makes us laugh. I felt the need and trust of God’s presence intensely, and I was marrying a man who shared that faith. We still do and we call Christ the King Christ in Majesty—a tad less gendered, though I prefer Christ the Kin (one of the Germanic origins of the word King). Yes!

So we married each other on this special Sunday, which in 1986 was November 23. I have never regretted a single moment of our 33 years of loving and sparring and loving and weeping and loving again and again. So, dearly beloved, I say, with the poet (never say poetESS):

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
    interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

2019.11.17 Transforming God

The age of anxiety is upon us—globally.

What DO we teach and tell our children? They are not immune to the talk and the worry in the air, on the air, all over the internet, in the corridors of locked-up-for-security schools. Civics courses teach the history and structure of government. They and are good and returning to classrooms, but what are we doing in religious settings? What are we hearing from pulpits? I hear good hope and Advent spirituality of light. Still we are in darkness nationally and internationally. I say and think to myself, “Fear not.”  Then I hear myself say, “Too late!” Then I laugh. It helps.

According to Mary Hunt, co-director of WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual): "Finally, since so many roots in injustice can be traced to a judging God, a Ruler King, lordship and dominance, we encourage a wholesale overhaul of religious images and symbols. Resistance to that work is the measure of its necessity. Imagine if common language about the divine were gender inclusive, better, not anthropomorphic at all. Consider what a creation story that puts plants and animals on the same plane as people would do for ecology. Think about ways to teach children that diversity and difference, not sameness and dominance are to be celebrated.” 


For my part, I write and nag and preach when I can about the God I have known and remember always, not just in church. Many people say they do not believe in God anymore. I ask them to tell me about the God they do not believe in. Answers vary, but mostly they use language like Mary Hunt has described above: THE ONE Almighty, King, Ruler, Judge, Sky-King, Super-Man, Lord-of-Lords, and the like. I do not think of chipmunks with such images. Nor do I think of the God I know, present in small wonders, silly memories, and laughter.

I go upstairs to give my beloved a quick hug. He has baked chocolate chip cookies. They are cooling on the countertop and smell deliciously delectably deliriously holy. Why holy? I remember that the voice of God sprouted within me while I was baking chocolate chip cookies for my children back in the 1970s and feeling Stepford-dead. God-in-me asked: “Why are you doing this?" I didn’t know. I laughed. I still don’t know. I remember. It helps.

My husband the chef points to a reunion notice from my college and says: “Hey, it’s your 70th reunion in 2020!” He’s excited. “Look, Lyn, look.”  I look and see that it says the 70th reunion for the Class of 1950 is 2020. I graduated in 1960. “How old do you think I am?”  We laugh. It helps.

Opening the mail to throw out most of it, I spot just one envelope addressed to me. Envelopes marked first class are rare. It’s an invitation with a festive wreath on it. It’s pretty. It’s a YDS (Yale Divinity School) Christmas party, December 6th. That would be my late maternal grandmother’s 147th birthday. I remember. It helps. The invitation has promise. I show it to my husband who says: “Why don’t they have it up here where you live? We could go.” We laugh. It helps. I snitch a cookie, and only then notice that the bottom side is black. I laugh. It’s good anyway.

Today a small grandchild, five, exuberantly tells me two things on the phone, immediately after saying "Hi": 1) “I WILL be stronger than Phoebe (his older sister). Yup, I will.”  2) “For Christmas I want Transformers. I build them myself. They come in a kit, Grammy.” I laugh. I tell him okay. He laughs. It helps.

Children—even the ones most deprived, most alienated, most discarded, most depressed—still, even at the youngest ages, have dreams and hopes and aspirations and memories.

Who or what made you feel loved, even just for a moment or in a small way? 

I google Transformers, toy. Sure enough they are build-your-own whatever. If you can figure it out, feel free. It’s harder to build-your-own anything when you’re 80 than when you’re 5 and building your whole life in a toy you know is a robot. I laugh. I remember. It helps. Here is a Transformer transformed.

Maybe we can rebuild God?  God, we are told, transforms things, even the worst of things like injustice, inhumanity, evil, collective anxiety—maybe even the climate. But can we transform our ideas and images of God?  Will we?

Yup, we will.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

2019.11.10 How Many Resurrections Are There?

The seasons of Halloween, All Saints, Daylight Savings are all about surprises and disguises. What you thought was one thing is suddenly another. There’s grief. There is also the joy of plain old wondering and searching for what you can’t see. Who is behind the mask? Where did that hour of time go? What now can be trusted?  This is surely what the early Jesus followers must have felt after he died and they could no longer see him in the flesh, even though he had told them he was always there. They told stories and learned how to see through and beyond the obvious. They did not conjure doctrines. They asked crazy questions and they laughed. So do we.

Could There Be a Badger Jesus?

You want to hear a resurrection story? I’ll tell you
A resurrection story. I saw a squirrel get squished
In the street. This was on Ash Street, near where a
Family named Penance lives. Things like this rivet
Me. Religions don’t live in churches. Religions are
Not about religion, in the end; they’re vocabularies.
This squirrel got hammered. I mean, a car ran right
Over it, and the car sped down the hill, and I recall
Thinking that some dog would soon be delighted to
Be rolling ecstatically in squirrel oil, but then, even
As I watched, the animal resumed its original shape
And staggered off into the laurel thicket, inarguably
Alive and mobile, if somewhat rattled and unkempt.
Jesus and Lazarus must have known that feeling, of
Being sore in every joint, and utterly totally fixated
On a shower and coffee and a sandwich. Or walnuts,
Depending, I suppose, on species. Our current form
Is a nebulous idea, is what I am trying to say. Could
It be that resurrections are normal and the one we’re
Always going on about in the Christian mythologies
Is only One a long time ago, when there are millions
Per day? Could there be an insect Jesus and a badger
Jesus and a salmon Jesus? Could there be impossible
Zillions of Jesuses? Isn’t that really the whole point?
American Badger

Thank you Brian Doyle, brilliant “incarnationist” poet. You understood deep incarnation—deep, as in the divinity of all living things, even the dead. I wish you were still alive and writing in your down-to-earth heavenly way. You got the point. You get the point. Thank you.

Look everywhere, especially when you’re squished, or think you are. Don’t forget to look in the mirror—deeply. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

2019.11.03 How Can A House Divided Stand?

Saints and sinners live side by side everywhere—in every home, town, city, nation, country, church—and in every soul. When you know and embrace this wisdom your house will not be divided.

What happens, though, when ignorance and evil conspire to become institutionalized?

Recently, on the nightly news commentary show, Greater Boston, we heard an interview with French artist and filmmaker François Ozon. He talked about his creative process in making a movie about the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests. The film is based on true stories and real people and is entitled, “By the Grace of God.”

Ozon spoke about his well-curated decision to make a movie, rather than a documentary or even a docudrama, about the pedophilia crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in France. He got actors to play the parts of the priest, those who exercised ecclesiastical authority, the adult men who'd suffered abuse as children, and their families in Lyon, France.


All the victims had remembered in silence. One man began to search for the others. They found each other, shared their shame and their stories, and were able together to effect some change in a centuries-old rigidified, hierarchical, religious institution. How did they accomplish this?—through the power of truth, collective action, mutual support, media, and the secular legal system.

All of the men had been part of a scout troupe led by one parish priest who was sexually attracted to children. The narrowing of the focus plus the dramatization of the issue made it flesh, made it real, and therefore palpably credible—much more so than a docudrama would have. 

Although this film is in French and has subtitles, the dialogue isn’t complex, and the subtitles are not bothersome.


Besides a sinking heart, I felt a rising rage AND an expansive hope after I saw it. There is much more to this trauma than meets the eye. 
    -This is NOT as simple as an indictment of the institutional Roman Catholic Church. It is about centuries of patriarchal power abuses and coverups, involving complicit men and women at all levels—saints and sinners all.
    -It is about the politics of money. 
    -It is about confusing the Church with God, commonly called idolatry. 
    -It is frighteningly connected to what is going on in our nation and the world right now.
    -It is about ancient wisdom: words of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke way back in the first century CE: A house divided against itself cannot stand. (Mk. 3:25, Mt. 12:25, Lk. 11:17) You don’t need a personified figure called Satan to know this truth. 
    -It is about the ultimate value of breaking the silence and the shame that engulf addiction and related compulsions, diseases that keep full healing out of reach for too many. 
    -It is about tragic, treacherous exploitation of the best of religious values: forgiveness and divine compassion, and the Mystery of the Holy within and among us. 
    -It is about a terrifying exploitation of the Gospel: Jesus himself loved and touched little children, did he not?
    -It is NOT about priests who are evil, but about priests, such as the one in this film, who repeatedly ask for help for their mental illness and get refused. It is about priests, such as the one in this film who, when confronted, confess over and over. THEY TELL THE TRUTH.  (This is not about all priests of course, but I had one such priest as a client some years back. He had been stripped of everything, including his pension. I saw him for free and felt about as powerless as he did, except to proffer forgiveness divine. I did not know how to psychoanalyze his disease or help him, but I knew moralizing wasn’t helpful at all. He knew that too.) We need more research.
    -It is NOT about pedophilia, because that means love of children NOT sexual love with children. A better word might be pedo-predation.
    -It is about calling Holy that which is Evil.
    -It is about the inability to see saint and sinner at once.


The amazing work of this small group in Lyon realized one big legal change: the statute of limitations for seeking reparation or accountability for such predation has been extended in France from 15 years to 30 years. That is restorative justice and hopeful. When we work together, give up our unholy divisions and collaborate for the good of all, we can change our system. Their work continues, and despite complexities, there’s hope for the pope.
Without question, this film dramatizes one of the most painful death throes of patriarchy. If you have ever tended to someone who is dying you know what death throes look like—jerky, often lasting for days and weeks, painful to watch. The only thing to do is to be patient, present, take lots of breaks, have people who will listen to you, and pray without ceasing. You are hurting more than the one in the throes. If you are faithful you will trust the outcome and the divine hope within it.


See the film to catch the fullness of the power this phrase evokes: By the Grace of God.

BIBLE  Remember the story of Zaccheus, the money manager/tax collector/business man who intuited something sacred going on with  this Jesus and his teaching? The crowds pressed, so Zaccheus went up into a tree to see Jesus as he passed by. Jesus spotted him, glanced up. Their gaze locked. Ever wonder what Jesus saw in Zaccheus's eye, and what Zaccheus saw in Jesus's eye?


Remember always to ask: the grace of God according to whom?
A divided house cannot stand, but it can be rebuilt.