How we look

So, Renee Zellweger has been in the news in the last day because she emerged from her chosen seclusion to attend an event.  She does not look like she used to; had I not read the photo caption, I would not have thought it was her.  There’s been a lot of ink spilled about all of that, about how aging women are not allowed to be saggy AND gray AND beautiful, about why someone would undergo the knife, etc. etc.

photo (6)I read the story yesterday, after I woke up and looking like this first thing in the  morning.   I had fallen asleep early the night before and not taken off my mascara, and I use this awesome paste in my hair that creates hair sculptures while I sleep.  I texted the photo to my best friend who told me I am a good person.  Not a word about how I look, which is why I consider her my best friend.

Why does our appearance matter?  What does it matter if our facial features are perfectly symmetrical, or if we have a unibrow and moustache, if we’re rail thin or cellulite-dappled?  What does it matter if our hair is perfectly coiffed and colored or happily messy and silver streaked?

I know the answer.  Society says our looks matter; God says they don’t.  We live caught somewhere between those competing sentiments. In last week’s sermon I said this: “Maybe we will be a church that sees the face of Christ in everyone we meet. We belong to God because we look like Christ. We are created in God’s image.”

It never occurred to me to look for the face of Christ in Renee Zellweger.  I have no idea if she is a person of faith, but that’s not the point.  I think the point is to look beyond the surface to the humanity and the holiness.  Maybe Renee is a woman struggling with her professional life and her mortality.  Maybe she doesn’t give a damn.  Maybe her looks are none of our business.

I will admit that some people make it hard to see the face of Christ, and it has nothing to do with appearance. We hate their attitude or their actions, or we judge them, or we belittle them.  Why would the spirit of Christ reside in such an ugly person?  That’s the challenge – where is this person’s holiness or humanity?  How might God be speaking to us through them?

Head-of-ChristThen I think about the images of Christ that have been created over the millenia which look nothing like what a first century semitic male would have looked like.  I might make fun of a golden haired, peachy skinned Jesus, but I wouldn’t make fun of a Jesus with Asian features or African features.  I would respect that the artist in a different culture was trying to express that Jesus was theirs, too.  I hesitate at the blonde white Jesuses because of the assumption that if Jesus could have chosen, he really would have wanted to be an American.  Maybe that’s not what Warner Sallman and his like were getting at.  But still.

I don’t know what Jesus looked like.  I don’t know what Renee Zellweger would look like if she hadn’t, presumably, had work done.  I do know that over the years I’ve done a little plucking here and there to change my appearance, and as I’ve lived with this face for fifty years, I know how I look and accept it.

But do others struggle to see the face of Christ in mine?

On replacing refrigerators and turning ocean liners

On replacing refrigerators and turning ocean liners

50kelvinatorrefrigeratorWe had to replace our refrigerator this year.  Serving the ice cream semi-soft is one thing, but pouring ice cream into a bowl and not a milkshake glass is something else all together.  The dearly departed fridge lasted all of nine years.  We bought it when we bought our first house together; it resided in two houses in Wisconsin and one in Portland, and then it died a fairly painless but noisy death.  When one’s refrigerator dies suddenly, one really cannot spend weeks researching a new model.  A quick look at Consumer Reports and a visit to Sears and three days later, a new fridge.

Here’s something we learned from the experience: they no longer make refrigerators that last twenty years, at least not any that are affordable.  We anticipate our new one will last another eight to ten years, and then we will fork over a grand or two for a new one.  I am not pleased about that.  Nor am I pleased that things like cell phones and computers don’t last more than three to five years.  Short-lived appliances are a new trend and if Jesus were around today he might say it’s a sign of the impending apocalypse.

There’s talk in church and other circles these days about nimbleness – nimble leaders who can change hats quickly, congregations that adapt to 21st church, nimble decision-making processes that are not subject to arduous months of meetings and Robert’s Rules of Order.  I am all for nimbleness.  I said to my husband the other day, “After twenty-one years of committee meetings, I would be happy if I never had to go to another one.”  Committee meetings, board meetings, session and presbytery and synod and General Assembly meetings can be productive, but rarely have I seen them exhibit nimbleness.

Is there a connection between nimbleness and short-lived-ness?  One could say we made our refrigerator-buying decision nimbly, and in eight to ten years we will be nimble again.  But will a decision that is made nimbly prove to be long-lived?  Is there merit in taking our time about some things, or is the deliberate pace merely an excuse for how very long it takes to turn an ocean liner around?

If manufacturers took more time to make appliances, would they last longer?  Has technology become our master, and are we subject to the almost daily innovations that lead to faster connection speeds, more apps, and a greater variety of bells and whistles?

I have no answers today, but I am glad the fridge is working.oceean liner

 

Some things take a long time to heal

Some things take a long time to heal

hip_labral_tear_avulsionWe were talking about health and mental health the other day in staff meeting, and I asked why mental health issues couldn’t just be called health  issues.  After all, many of the diseases that affect one’s emotional life are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, a physical thing.   And then I commented that physical health issues take their mental toll too, and confessed, I think for the first time, that I have been in pain every day for the last year.  That takes a toll.  I get down about it, I get frustrated and angry and discouraged.

We were talking about health because a member of our congregation – a beloved, vivacious woman – committed suicide a few weeks ago, and we are all pretty wrecked about it.  She lived for years with a bi-polar disorder that she chose to hide from many who knew her, and so her choice to end her life came as a shock to most of the congregation.

To say she was vivacious only begins to describe her: vivacious, hilarious, organized, fun, friendly, kind, thoughtful of so many.  That was what she chose to show the world, and that was her authentic self.  But I want to honor the fullness of who she was, and say that the withdrawn, sad parts were her authentic self too, but a part that she chose not to show most of the world.  When she went into the valley of the shadow, she stayed home and hunkered down.  A few of us knew that, and tried to support her as best we could.  She left a note – organized person that she was, of course she left a note – and her sister read part of it at the memorial service.  She assured us that there was nothing any of us could have done to stop her, that her decision had been made, that she knew how much we loved her and how much her death would hurt us.

Some things take a long time to heal.  I still have moments of utter disbelief that she is gone, that next year on July 3 we won’t celebrate our birthdays which were exactly two weeks apart.  I keep expecting to walk into the office and hear her ask what we have for her to organize.  But deeper, I am still so very bereaved that she took her own life.  I do wonder what I could have done.  I do doubt that I told her often enough how much I loved her.  There is a hurt there, a wound of sorrow and guilt and profound loss, and the scar that is left some day will not be subtle.

Sometime about eighteen months ago, I tore the labrum tissue in my right hip – it’s the tissue that lines the hip and is like the meniscus of the hip.  It’s been eighteen months of pain, x-rays, an MRI (aided by lots of Valium), conversations with surgeons who tell me surgery is not an option for me, physical therapy, chiropractic help, and exercises.  I limp and I cannot hide the limp.  On Sunday mornings when I walk down the aisle, everyone sees me limp.  They comment that I’m still limping, a year later, and I say yes I am.  They ask if it’s getting better, and I say yes, it is healing and it is healing slowly.

People like to hear that I’m healing, but they don’t like the slowly part.  Maybe it’s hard for them to see me in pain, although I try to hide it.  Maybe it reminds them that their pastor is not a spry thirty-year-old.  Maybe they’re being empathetic, because I’m not the only one around church who walks with a little wobble.

It has been an interesting journey these last eighteen months, one of the body-mind-soul journeys that contains lessons about patience and honesty and good humor, about frustration and hope, about pain and tiredness.  In the last two months I have made peace with the fact that this will take a long time to heal, that some wounds – however invisible to the naked eye – are not easily mended.

Broken hearts and spirits don’t mend easily or quickly.  It is possible that some never mend.  But some will, over time, over months and years and decades.

May we be patient with each other in the mending.

 

mended-heart

Over the snark

snark_definitionI think I am done with the snark.

It occurred to me the other day as I read the thread of comments in a friend’s Facebook post, with a bit of voyeuristic abandon, that the snide remarks weren’t contributing to the common good or the common understanding and were maybe, just maybe, adding a little more ugliness to the world.

Let me be clear: I have LOVED a good snarky conversation.  I have participated in many, at presbytery meetings, watching tv, over coffee and wine.

Let me be clear:  There’s a talent in being able to make good snark, not unrelated to the talent of making a good pun, which is, of course, the lowest form of humor.

Let me be clear: My tearing someone else down – no matter how clever, witty, or insightful I am – does nothing to build up that person or to build up me.  And I think we are at a point in the world when we should all be doing something to build others up.

Then there’s this: if you want to make a cutting remark or observation, be witty.  Be satirical.  Be ironic.  Better yet, be self-deprecating even while deprecating someone else.  Better yet still, be direct.  If I am not willing to say something to someone’s face, does it really need to be said?  If I did say it, to what purpose?  To make myself feel good?  To be funny?  To show off in front of my friends?  To make the object of my comment change, or feel bad, or feel hurt?

When I was in sixth grade, there was a particular denim purse that was all the rage.  Denim, wood handles, and embroidered with the girl’s name or initials.  Well, I didn’t own such a purse.  It’s not that we couldn’t afford it, but my mom probably thought that this purse would be used for about three months and then lost in the closet.  And really, what does an eleven-year-old need with a purse?

But I had transfered to a new school in sixth grade, and I wanted to fit in, so I decided to make my own purse.  I took an old pair of blue jeans and cut them and hand sewed them.  I had sense enough not to attempt a monogram.  I took the purse to school.

Oh, the looks I got.  Oh, the whispers that suddenly stopped when I walked by.  One of the bolder girls said, in a voice dripping with daggers, “Oh, Beth, did you make that yourself?”

I never wore that purse again, and I never hand-made anything cool again.

It’s a good thing that most of us leave our junior-high selves behind. We grow up.  We hurt and get hurt and in the course of all that we mature.  But for me nowadays, every time I hear or read a snarky comment, I go back to junior high.

What if all the cleverness behind all those snide remarks was channeled differently?  What if we stopped showing off, and starting showing up with some kindness or compassion or grace?

A friend of mine died this week.  Another friend is getting married this weekend.  Some grandparents at church are anxiously awaiting the birth of their third grandchild.  And then there’s ISIS and Ebola and Ferguson and Ray Rice and everything else.

So I’m done with the snark.  Comment as you will.

Sunday afternoon: Breathing out stars

stars_1230_600x450This morning in Sunday School, we were talking about In the Beginning.  Mark, who knows the Bible better than any of us, said that he loves that beginning of John; it reminds him of Genesis, and it reminds him of Isaiah 40:25, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.”  And then Mark said something along the lines of “It’s like God was breathing out stars.”

Breathing out stars, Mark said.

We were all delighted-

imagine

the ominipotent ominscient Creator blowing out stars the way kids blow out bubbles, giggling, trying to pop them, trying to go so slow and steady to make a really, really BIG one

And then it pops.

Breathing out stars and then calling them together to sing; that would be cool.

Or it’s like God took a huge mouthful of Pop Rocks and spit them out and the Ruah turned them into stars.

Or God took a sparkler, swallowed it, and belched out the stars.

Or fireworks coming out instead of words.

The best I can manage is a little steam when I exhale on a cold day.  Nothing much shimmers, but then God is a lot shimmerier than I am.

Last week I said in Sunday School that I think of God as a loving mystery, loosely bound somewhere between the Milky Way and a breath.  And then Mark said that he thinks of God breathing out stars.

I don’t know what this God thing is all about, but I think it’s a mix of light and fire and gas and laughter.  At least I hope it is, the God thing.

 

fire_eater__by_asher3091988-d5jv7wz

 

 

 

How do we remember?.

To remember something is to put words and actions to the thought “this was important; this mattered; this changed things, for better or worse.”  Remembering can honor, but can also rehash.  Remembering can heal and can re-open the wound.

I don’t think that there’s a formula in remembering that will make it a healing thing rather than a hurting thing.  It may be more about the state of one’s heart, or the freshness of the event.  It may be about the individual’s experience.  It may just be what happens that day.

Today I remember having lunch with a minister colleague, trying to make sense of horrific images on the news.  I remember I was between pastoral calls, and making a plan about where I would go to church the next Sunday.  I remember reaching out to my loved ones, to make sure they were ok, as if any of us could be ok after those planes crashed into those buildings.

But most of the time, I don’t think about September 11, 2001.  Most of the time I go about my life, and occasionally say prayers for first responders, and occasionally grieve with those who grieve.  A friend of mine works at the 9-11 museum in New York.  Because of her work (and, I would say, her calling) she remembers every single day.

The premise of the novel The Giver is that after a cataclysmic, unnamed event, a society endows one person to hold the communal memory.  Only one person remembers the sorrows and horrors and joys of that people.  It’s a dystopian world, as you might expect.  But I remember that day and we  remember that day. For some that is healing, a testament to an ideal of American fortitude and resourcefulness.  For some, that memory is excruciating, and gives birth to reawakened fears and to sorrows that will never end.

I won’t bake cookies for the local fire station today, although if you do, that’s a kind thing.  I also won’t watch the news, because I never watch the news and because I don’t find a recitation of bad things good for my soul.  But I will be intentional about some things today.  I will work to be kind and gentle.  I will not make great pronouncements about things I know nothing about.  I will say prayers.  That’s how I will remember today.

“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”          Ecclesiastes 3:15

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Always the  minister, never the bride

Always the minister, never the bride

bouquetThat was going to be the opening line of my stand-up routine, but I got married and never actually tried doing stand-up comedy, so now this great line is reduced to a blog title.

When I was in my first year of professional ordained ministry, I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital.  He was an irascible guy, and he was dying of lung cancer. Once when I went to see him, he was on his balcony smoking.  In those days at that hospital, if your room had a balcony you were allowed to go have a smoke.  I was appalled, but because I was still so wet behind the ears ministerially speaking, I pretended like that was normal and I saw it all the time.

Anyway, during one of our visits I mentioned that I was meeting with a couple to do premarital counseling with them.  He asked how I could be qualified to do that since I had never been married.  I replied, with no paucity of pastoral insensitivity and a general lack of human compassion, that I had never died but I was still qualified to do funerals.  He was taken aback, as I should have been.

Truth be told, when I was single, I hated conducting weddings.  Hated it.  Once in a while I would find the groom attractive and I would convince myself that the bride wasn’t nearly good enough for him.  Sometimes I was so jealous that these people had found love; why hadn’t I?  And then there was the huge klieg light that shone on me at rehearsal dinners, where I was usually seated with the grandparents and the weird bachelor uncle, and receptions, when I would excuse myself to the ladies’ room when it was time for all the single ladies to fight over the lousy bridal bouquet.

I imagine conducting weddings is also difficult for pastors who have been widowed or divorced.  Baptisms are painful for pastors who struggle with fertility issues or who have lost a child.  I dread my first funeral after my parents die.   The intention of the happy couple, or the joyful parents, or the bereaved family is not to rub salt in a wound they likely know nothing about.  Because we are professionals, we set our own feelings aside and appreciate the joy that others are having.  Sometimes.

Of course, pastors are not the only ones who are required to do things that rub salt in a wound; I don’t mean to imply that we are.  But for all of us in whatever walk of life we walk: how do we manage to “put on our big girls pants” (as a friend would say), fall into professional mode, get through it – whatever that ‘it’ is –  without bursting into tears, or get through ‘it’ with grace or aplomb?

Some would say their faith gets them through; others would say it’s a strong sense of self.  Still others would shrug and say they didn’t know.  But I do wonder the toll it takes if we’re not careful or aware of what’s going on in our own broken hearts while we engage with the breaking and healing hearts of others.  Did I go home from more than one wedding reception to greet my friends Ben  & Jerry?  Yes I did.  Sugar is my drug of choice, but I know others who cope with their hidden heartbreak with booze or porn or really mean behavior to strangers or beloveds.

I never cried “uncle”.  I always steeled myself through the wedding or the baptism or the Mother’s Day litany, for better or worse.  Most of my pastor friends do.  We do because it’s part of our calling.  Most of my pastor friends join me in detesting that phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle”.  We don’t steel ourselves through it with neat little memes. While I can’t speak for all of my pastor friends, getting through those things almost always gave me a reminder of grace and of hope.  Grace to get through that ceremony or that reception to then go home, put on my jammies, and watch Pride and Prejudice again.  And hope that maybe someday I would be up there facing the pastor and not the congregation; I would be in white and not black; I would be taking a ring instead of handing them out.

There’s a great clip out there right now from an episode of Louis CK when Joan Rivers was on.  (http://youtu.be/BnAIX7fWsdU)   Joan and Louis are talking, and she says something along these lines.  “Listen. I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t get better.  You get better.”  Maybe that’s it.  We don’t all get married.  We don’t all have kids.  We don’t all stay married.  The people we love don’t live forever.  That stuff doesn’t get better.  But maybe, by the grace of God or by sheer will, we get better.  Our hearts heal a little, and the scar tissue is a little bit thicker than what was there before.  Maybe that’s the hope – we get better.