Verklempt at the airport

Departures-and-Arrivals-BoardLast week I was meeting my mom at the airport, and I was sitting in this nice little waiting area just outside security.  I was a tad early, but I’d forgotten my readers, so since I couldn’t check up on my email and Facebook while waiting, I people-watched instead.  It didn’t take long to be mesmerized by a dad holding his young baby boy.  The child was maybe two months old, dressed in a darling little outfit that only a two-month-old can really pull off.  The dad was very sweet, and stood at the front of the waiting space, tender and eager.

I imagined who it was that he waited for.  Had mom gone away on a business trip, her first time away from her baby?  Did Dad know how anxious she would be to see her sweet child?  Or maybe Grandma and Grandpa were coming for Thanksgiving, and were meeting their grandson for the first time.  I did hope that the child’s awaited beloved would show up before my mom did, because I really wanted to see how the vignette would end.  (Although I could have easily convinced my infant-loving mother to stay and watch with me.)

And then the infant’s beloved showed up – a guy about the same age as the dad, bald in the cool-white-dude sort of way.  I don’t think he was the baby’s other dad, because it was clearly the first time the infant and adult had met.  I didn’t notice a resemblance between the two men, so I don’t think he was the uncle. The bald dude said hi to the dad and then went straight to the baby.  He held him and cradled him and rubbed his twin bald head and was so very, very delighted to meet this new little creature.  I could have stood there and watched them all day, the pure joy of the scene.

Fortunately – I guess  – I noticed that my mom was walking by looking for me, so I left my sweet scene and had my own little reunion.  It was not our first meeting, the first time a fifty-something and a seventy-something gazed into each others eyes.  A quick hug and kiss on the cheek was our version of the cradling and the rubbing of the head.

If airport walls could talk….  If a physical structure can hold the emotions of millions, imagine the feelings ingrained in the drywall.  All those goodbyes, some forever.  All those trips to go to a bedside, or a funeral, or a wedding, or a birth, or a courtroom, or a commencement.  All those reunions of lovers, of families, of old friends, of college roommates, of BFFs.  Fear, too, in those walls, and excitement.  It’s a wonder rebar and steel beams can bear the weight.

The holiday season will add to the airport walls, travelers heading out or coming home or getting away.  If I were among them this year (though I am not) I might leave my readers at home so I have nothing to do but watch the people, and get choked up, and be grateful.

Traveling mercies.

The Kindness Place

acts_of_kindness_--necklace_7eb95eceA few weeks ago a child at church came into worship near tears.  Her feelings had been hurt because she perceived that a couple of other kids had purposely excluded her from something.  Normally I would probably not have been aware of any of this but the sad child was my own.  She sat down in the front pew and curled herself up into a little ball.  It was one of those moments when I decided to be mom and not pastor.  I sat with her and cuddled her and tried very hard not to give the other children the stink-eye.  By the time the first hymn started she was okay and life went on.

Kids will be kids and I know that when two kids are gathered, fun ensues, and when three kids are gathered, one of them usually ends up feeling left out.  I harbor no resentment to the other two – it happens, and some day it might be my kid that does the leaving out, because kids will be kids.  But if and when that does happen, I might be in a slight pickle, because I hold fast to the notion that church is a place where you can count on everyone being kind to each other.  I want my child to know that and I want every person in every church to know that.

But it might take me a while.

I grew up in a church where I was very involved as a teenager, and church was, for me, a place where I belonged and was welcomed and where everyone was kind – to me, at least; it was in stark contrast to what I often felt in school.  My adolescent church experience is part of what led me to ordained ministry and it’s definitely shaped my sense of church being The Kindness Place.

Too many people can tell stories of church being anything but The Kindness Place.  People get the stink-eye when they sit in “someone else’s” pew.  A couple is divorced and one of the parties is told to leave.  Someone spills their coffee during fellowship hour and are yelled at rather than helped.  An LGBTQ person shows up and, while not overtly told they aren’t welcome, receive enough cold shoulders that they decide never to darken those particular church doorways again.

It’s not like kindness is difficult.  It’s not as though it takes a great deal of effort to sit in a different pew for a week, or for always.  Kindness is not a finite resource that when it’s gone, it’s gone.  It is possible to disagree with someone or even to dislike someone and still show that person kindness.

Is kindness the antidote to judgmentalness?  Are we unkind because we lack empathy or are generally clueless?  Maybe acting in an unkind manner makes us feel powerful.  A few weeks ago I snapped at a parishioner (and immediately regretted it) because I was feeling inadequate, which had not been the other’s intention at all.  I’ve known a few curmudgeons who are actually quite kind and considerate so I don’t think it’s a matter of one’s personality.

There’s a lot of pain out there that is utterly beyond our ability to erase.  I am numbed by the news of yet another ISIS beheading.  I still ache for those Nigerian schoolgirls to get home.  I was unexpectedly attacked by grief the other day by something that reminded me of my friend who committed suicide in September.  Kindness cannot fix any of those things, but it can be a balm that alleviates some of their deadening force.

Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”  Maybe I’m just getting old, but I like to think I’m just getting started.

May you experience some kindness today, and may you create some as well.

Busy, or full?

cup runnethWhen someone inquires how I am, I often reply, “Good.  Life is full.”  I say that intentionally because I have grown weary of the excuse of being too busy.  There’s an implication that in my busyness I have shut out people I love.  My mom will call in the middle of the week and say,  “Oh, honey, I just hate to bother you; I know how busy you are.”  Even harder is when parishioners say, “Oh, I know you’re so busy, I didn’t want to add one more thing to your plate.”

So I’m working on the discipline of considering my life full rather than considering myself busy.  To say that life is full is to acknowledge abundance – an abundance of opportunitities to engage in work that I find meaningful and interesting; an abundance of ways for my child to discover the world with friends and to energize body, heart, and soul; an abundance of riches because we have a home and friends and family and neighbors and community.

To say that I am busy puts the focus on just me.  I am busy with administrivia and details because no one else can pay attention to them quite the way I can (which is untrue).  To say that I am busy makes me feel worthy, because busy people must be important people must be powerful people, right?  To say that I am busy implies that every moment is crammed with doing things that must matter a great deal, because why would I cram one more thing into my life if it weren’t deeply important?

I am not busy; my life is full, and I carry with me that beautiful image in Psalm 23: “thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Yesterday was a full Sunday, though a little less full than usual because we had a guest preacher.  There were details to attend to before the service, details that I consider part of hospitality.  Worship was full, because the choir was enormous and sang the Beethoven “Hallelujah” from Mt. of Olives,  and the preacher made us think about important things, and it took the kids a while to warm up during the chidren’s message, and there were lots and lots of joys and concerns in our prayer time.  We sang and we laughed and we listened and none of us was too busy to worship, and our cups ranneth over.  As did the service.  Oh well.

After worship we took the guest preacher to lunch.  And then, because his plane wasn’t till evening and because he had no other appointments, he came to our house and we lit the first fire of the season in the fireplace and for two hours we just sat and talked.  No phones, no agendas, no excuse of busyness.  Just conversation, and that was full too.  There was a sense of the blessings of space, of room, of hours that were not filled to the brim with stuff.  Yes, the house did not get clean and yes, we had cheese and crackers for dinner.

Sometimes when someone asks how I am doing I will say, “Not so good.  Life is full.”  Because sometimes life is full of the hard and sad things: another cancer diagnosis, or a divorce; disappointment, grief, fear.  Sometimes life is full of the stuff that makes being human difficult and I find myself wanting to declutter a closet or two to give the illusion of spaciousness in the midst of that difficult fullness.  But later, when the crisis has past, when I’ve gained perspective, I am grateful for the fullness.  I am grateful that both joy and pain make me feel alive, full of life.

May your cups runneth over.

A time to keep and a time to throw away

bubble wrapI have moved a lot, and by move, I mean pack up all my belongings and take them out of one dwelling and unpack them in another dwelling.  I, with or without my family, moved in 1966, 1968, 1972, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2011.  That’s a lot of cardboard and bubblewrap.

Each time I have moved as an adult, I have purged before and after the  move.  I am so happy for those who love garage sales, but I’m not one of you, so the Goodwill and Salvation Army have benefitted well from my peripatetic life.  Each time I have moved I have looked forward to the new thing and at the same time mourned all that is left behind.  During the crunch time of moving, I’ve have lived in two places at once, said hello while saying goodbye, closed things up and opened new things.

Serving as a pastor in a mainline church in the 21st century feels like being in the throes of moving.  I am in two worlds at once.  I am in the world for which I was trained in seminary, serving a church with the physical plant and administration of yesteryear.  I am in my old house, and while it does creak, I know which floorboards creak.  It is a comfortable place.  And God is calling me – and us – to move.

Not only do I feel completely unprepared to be a post-modern pastor of a church in the 21st century, I am living in two places at once.  I am still pastoring in 20th century mode, supporting our work done in the 20th century, leading worship in the style of the old way.  I am trying to learn about the new ways, too, and find it getting hard to be holding on to the old stuff while making room for the new stuff.  A good purge is needed.

photoWe once lived in a house that was taken by eminent domain and torn down.  The evening after the wrecking ball finished its work, I drove by the old place, saw the pile of rubble that had been the home we brought our baby daughter to, and sobbed.  Some folks had lined up across the street to watch the destruction, but I couldn’t do it.  It felt violent, somehow.  Now there’s a brand new fire station there, one that the city needed.  Intellectually it all makes sense.  Emotionally, it still hurts to look at pictures of the rubble that had been our home.

I’m not suggesting we tear the old church down with a wrecking ball.  My friend Christine Chakoian wrote a great piece called “Sifting Our Inheritance: What to Keep and What to Let Go” in churchleadership.com.  She rightly points out that we do keep some things.  But we also let some things go.

Do we let go of the organ?  If we did that at my congregation, that would getting rid of something that many of our folk consider a prime marker of our identity.  Do we get rid of committees?  I would love to, and I would love to think creatively about how we would get our work done.  I don’t think anyone would mind having one less meeting to go to, but there would be anxiety in the in-between time.  Do we let go of paid clergy?  Shouldn’t all of us pastor types be working ourselves out of a job?  That’s a terrifying thought.

When we made our last move, my husband, daughter and I loaded up our Honda Civic and spend four nights and five days driving from Wisconsin to Oregon.  It was a great transition time.  It was just the three of us and the clothes we needed for the trip and the things they wouldn’t take on the moving van.  We promised our daughter we would stay in motels that had pools so that she could go swimming every day.  We visited the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore.  We marveled at the open skies of the west.  We listened to the Wicked soundtrack, over and over and over again.  We were cocooned and in each other’s company with no distractions.  We needed that, after the hubbub of packing up and saying goodbye, and before the stress of starting anew and unpacking.

Maybe the church needs a cocooned, communal transition time, when we take with us only what we need for a short journey.  We could do a little sight seeing, and we could sing, and we could find ways to refresh each day. Because there is a new home that awaits with all its own quirks.  There will be boxes to unpack and recycle.  There will be grief over what is no longer, and joy at what is.

But I really don’t want to move again.

ADDENDUM: There are no physical moves or job changes in our near future!

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