Gingham Shirts and Chunky Necklaces: Conference Fashion

So I went to a really great conference last week (Next Church, a Presbyterian-originated thing) in one of my most favorite cities on the planet (Chicago) and saw some of my favorite people ever.  So it was good.  I learned a lot, I was discomfited a little, I left with much to think about.

But I will admit I was completely distracted by two fashion trends.

gingham_shirts_bloomingdales_spring_2009Trend Number One: Men in Gingham Shirts
It’s high time someone other than Dorothy Gale claimed gingham!  And let me tell you, dozens of men were rocking this trend.  Big check, little checks, two-colored and multi-colored.  Spring sprung in Chicago!  A secondary fashion trend: cool pastors in untucked t-shirts – the bigger the church served, the more awesome the funky old t-shirt.  Some played it safe with the classic (but always appreciated) button down shirt, jeans, sportscoat.  Well done, men!

Trend Number Two: Women in Chunky Necklaceschunky necklace
The ladies were rockin’ it, too – big ol’ necklaces that said, “I don’t feel one bit bad about my neck, and I will wear this costume jewelry to prove it. (Because I’m a pastor and wearing real jade or turquoise is beyond my pay grade.”) I was noticing who was wearing these gorgeous things – gorgeous women, of course!  I did wonder if there was a secret club of The Chunky Necklace Clergywomen.  If there is, I think I would have to pass because I’ve got enough chunk going on without any extra jewelry and I might be getting a little concerned about my neck.

But I will say that the Chunky Necklace Trend is so preferable to the jumper/Dankso/cardigan with birdhouses trend.  I know we want to be comfortable.  I know there is nothing worse than ill-fitting, ill-constructed shoes.  I know that cardigan cost a pretty penny once upon a time.  But all at once?  Too much.  If you must wear the jumper, hip it up with some cowboy boots (and a chunky necklace!)  If you just can’t let go of that cardigan investment, wear it with a white t-shirt, skinny jeans, and some Converse All Stars.  And if those Danskos are the only thing that keep your feet happy, try the Pacific Northwest Look: Dansko clogs, black tights, black pencil skirt, and a badass sweater.  Top it all off with a jaunty cap, and you’d fit right in in Portland.

Me?  I played it safe, though the unseasonably warm weather on Monday threw me off.  Sunday was a travel day with jeans, slip on shoes, and my black damask Cut Loose top.  Monday that jean jacket came in handy, with the white T and black skirt (and my sadly unfashionable but really good for my bad hip shoes.)  I could’ve used a chunky necklace with that one.  Tuesday I can’t even remember.  It was St. Patrick’s Day and I might have worn green.  Wednesday was another travel day, so those jeans again and my favorite, black non-damask  Cut Loose top. The earrings might have saved me.

I did tell my friend, who won the Best Dressed Contest, that her sartorial choices were much appreciated, despite the lack of Chunky Necklaces.

And now if only someone would start making gingham stoles.  For now, we’ll have to settle for this:

gingham clerical

The Wound in His Shoulder

The Wound in His Shoulder

“It is related in the annals of Clairvaux that St. Bernard asked our Lord which was His greatest
unrecorded suffering, and Our Lord answered, ‘I had on My Shoulder, which I bore My Cross
on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound, which was more painful than the others,
and which is not recorded by men.  Honor this wound with thy devotion….'”

I have been thinking about the wounds people carry, those unbearable weights that take their toll on our bodies and hearts.  I think of the old but not elderly woman who complained for months to her doctor about a cough, and when he finally got around to taking her seriously, discovered that cancer had taken over.  She was told she has only weeks to live. It is a wound of not having been taken seriously, as if facing death were not wound enough.

I think of the acquaintance whose young nephew has leukemia, his wearing those large, dark-ringed eyes and bald head of children living with chemo and cancer, her bearing worry and hope at the same time, the soul-vertigo that causes.

I think of that parent in Nigeria, those last shards of hope disintegrating, living in fear of Boko Haram and knowing that rage will only cause more trouble.

I think about the invisible responsibilities people choose to bear – the responsibility of caring for a brother who is mentally ill and a hoarder, who could at any moment be thrown out into the streets.  The young mom, a professional in a high-profile position, diagnosed with breast cancer and having to be the gracious face of positivism and faith when maybe, inside, there is terror and an absence of God.  The many who have put their hope and trust in the church only to have that trust broken in ways they believe can never, ever be mended.

People carry so much.  It takes a toll.

There’s the other weight, too – the weight of not being able to do one damn thing about the suffering.  It’s a secondary weight that is as heavy as the primary one, maybe: the weight of being left behind, alone; the weight of being powerless, the weight of not having stopped some part of the tear in the fabric of the world.

Our Roman Catholic friends have a novena about the shoulder wound of Christ – the wound caused by the weight of the cross he was forced to carry.  My shoulders ache at the thought of that.

It’s where our tension finds a home – the shoulders, the neck, the hardening of the occipital ridge.  It’s the pinch between the shoulder blades where those invisible weights claw dully at us, reminding us of our responsibility, of our need to carry some of this, of our need to own some of this.

Where is the relief?  Surely letting go of the burden lessens it some, but there is perpetual tension in those muscles.  Massage, heat, stretching, meditation: a relief, yes.  But a cure?

Perhaps we are never truly unburdened, at least not on this side of the grave.

jesus carry cross

Grounded

feet groundIt’s rare that my chiropractor and my spiritual director offer me the same advice, but when they do, I think it’s a sign that I’m supposed to pay particular attention.

Early on, my chiropractor would harp on me about having my head in the clouds and disassociating physically, and she would tell me I needed to connect with the ground.  Literally.  Put my feet on the ground and feel them connect to the earth. Our bodies are built to be sustained that way, with large leg and hip bones and calves and quads and glutei maximi. It was only when she said this that I figured out I have spent so much of my recent years feeling  more like a marionette – being lifted up by the shoulders. Which, of course, doesn’t work at all.

When I begin my spiritual direction sessions, we always pray, and my director makes sure that my feet are on the ground. We’ve not talked about why we do that, but every spiritual director I’ve ever had does this, and they are all smarter than I, and it works. As I settle into prayer, my chiropractor’s voice echoes in  my head. So I’m working on being physically spiritual, or spiritually physical. One of those. I think.

A few years ago during some continuing education, I learned that the word in Genesis 2 for “earth” is best translated as the “topsoil of the fertile ground.” That’s the stuff the writer of Genesis says we’re made of – the topsoil. We come from the ground that is beneath our feet.

To pray with feet firmly planted is to reconnect with our best selves, the selves made at creation in the image of God. Maybe that’s the part of us that does the healing, too, when we are hurt. We are at our best and strongest when we are grounded.

The word “grounded” reminds me of liturgy, too, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday – “remember you are dust/earth/topsoil, and to dust/earth/topsoil you will return.” Most beautiful and true for me, though, is the funeral liturgy: “You are immortal, the Creator and Maker of all. We are mortal, formed of the dust, and to dust we shall return. All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

I am grounded. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Talking with my child about race

racismLast night my daughter and I attended a one-woman show that our church was sponsoring.  Damaris Webb, a native Portlander and actress, presented “The Box Marked Black: Tales from a Halfrican-American growing up Mulatto.  With sock puppets!”  If you live in the Portland area, I urge you to google Damaris Webb and see her next show.

On the way over to church, my daughter said, “Mom, I’m the only one in my class who doesn’t know what the N-word is.” On the one hand, it occurred to me we might be getting something right – she doesn’t know that word, and she’s never heard us say it.  On the other hand, I’d like for us to teach her about that word.  So I told her that she might hear it in the show, and we would talk about it on the way home.

And so we did.  She heard the word twice, but I’m not sure it registered with her as much as the scene with sock puppet Kizzy from “Roots” and sock puppet Laura from “Little House on the Prairie”.  (It made sense within the show, and was rather hilarious.)  We talked about the N-word, and how she was never allowed to say it.  The closest parallel I could make for her was that using the N-word is like Hermione Granger being called a Mudblood in the Harry Potter books.  I’m not sure she knows the B-word or the C-word, so I thought Harry Potter was a safer reference.

And then, because it came up in the show, we talked about the mini-series “Roots”.  She knows a little bit about slavery and the Civil War – she knows more about the Civil Rights Movement.  I said to her, “Do you know how people got slaves?  They were captured in Africa and crammed into ships and taken to the United States where they were sold.”

“That’s TERRIBLE,” she said.  “They are human beings!  They aren’t things.” Then we talked about the people who knew slavery was wrong and fought it for a long time, and we talked about the Civil War.  “Mom,” she said, “if we hadn’t won the Civil War and if the slaves weren’t freed, there would be so many people who wouldn’t be in my class.  There would be so many teachers who wouldn’t be at my school.”

When my daughter was a toddler, I read an article saying the right thing to do was not to teach your child to be color-blind.  Rather, allow your child to see the differences, and talk about them.  So that has been our approach in teaching our child about race.  Yes, people look different.  That doesn’t mean they should be treated differently.  But because some people look different, they are treated differently, that’s wrong.

I hope we have more of these conversations, and I hope I said the right things to a nine-year-old.  The conversation will be different when she is 12, or 16, or 21.  I hope she continues to feel the injustice of slavery, of racism, of prejudice.

But I think our upcoming conversation will be a little different: we passed a sign that read “Best Ass Contest”; she said, “Mom, that’s so funny but I don’t think it’s about donkeys.”  God, help us parents.

Preaching resurrection in the middle of Lent

empty-tomb-and-three-crosses-colette-scharfI am a big fan of the liturgical calendar.

As someone who plans worship, knowing what season it is helps.  It helps us with the colors, the themes, the hymns, the scripture, the tone of worship.  That being said, I must also admit that the liturgical season is an entirely human construct.  We invented it to help us know God.  God did not invent it to help God know us.

Yet I find myself in a seasonal muddle this year.  In the past week I conducted two memorial services and they were not particularly Lent-y.  The opening hymn at the first was “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  The choir sang Beethoven’s “Hallelujah” from The Mount of Olives at the second.  A few weeks ago, our retired soprano section leader, a helluva woman in her 80’s, sang an introit and a benediction response that were full of Alleluias.  My own husband, giving the benediction at the Ash Wednesday service, spoke out his usual “Hallelujah, hallelujah, Amen.”

What’s a liturgical-seasoned girl to do?

The funny thing about the liturgical calendar, and holidays/holy days, is that it’s all play-acting.  We’re pretending Jesus is born again; we’re pretending the Holy Spirit has lit a flame on the apostles’ heads; we’re pretending Jesus is walking toward his execution as if we have no idea what might happen next.  But we do know what happens next.  That’s why we’re in this story in the first place.

It’s always with a little guilt over my own pretense that I approach the Good Friday service.  We know what happens next, so if there is genuine sorrow, it is about the sorrow in life right now, in the world today.  Maybe.  I suppose we can – and do – feel sorrow for tragedy and suffering, whether it is the suffering we are going through right now or the suffering of innocent victims scattered among the pages of history.

Is my sorrow over Jesus’ death mediated by my belief that he rose?  Does the joy at the end of the story erase the pain near the end of the story?  What does it means to utter alleluias and preach resurrection in the middle of Lent?

Alleluia (1)

The second memorial service this past week was for a woman who had been a matriarch of the congregation.  She loved butterflies, and so in her memory we hung our Easter butterfly banners, and in my homily, I quoted “Life Lessons from a Butterfly” which had been among her keepsakes.  ““Let go of the past. Trust the future. Embrace change. Come out of the cocoon. Unfurl your wings. Dare to get off the ground. Ride on the breezes.  Savor all the flowers. Put on your brightest colors. Let your beauty show.”  The words might be a little twee for some,  but they reflect a sweeter approach to life held by more than one woman I’ve known in her 90’s.  They are Easter words – “come out of the cocoon, put on your brightest colors.”

But if we take the season of Lent seriously – if we take this time before Easter as a time for reflection, repentance, and change – maybe these are Lent words too.  Let go of the past (and stop doing things that hurt others because of hurt done to you in the past).  Embrace change (repent, turn around, choose love instead of hate, trust instead of fear).  Unfurl your wings (do not put your light under a bushel).  Dare to get off the ground (follow Me).

There is no Lent without resurrection; we invented Lent after the Easter event.  We might see the three crosses, but we see the tomb and the garden just beyond them.  Maybe, then, knowing the life after death awaits us gives us courage to face the hard pieces of our lives.  And maybe an ‘alleluia’ or two in the midst of repentance is not a bad thing.

He is risen!  Take up your cross and follow Him….

butterfly_cross_

Gratitude and poop, an Ash Wednesday meditation

ashesI recently began seeing a spiritual director, something I’d been thinking about and finally committed to after a colleague who reads my blog sent me the kindest message which read something like, “Honey, I just love reading your blog and I’m wondering if you would like a spiritual director.”   I could just hear that silent prayer “Bless her heart.”  One of our ordination vows is to be a friend to our colleagues in ministry and I’m grateful to this friend in particular.

So in our first meeting my spiritual director and I started talking about meditation.  I confess that I spend about as much time meditating as I do working on my core and learning Italian, which is to say, no time.  I think my spiritual director got my number pretty quickly and she suggested working meditation into something I do everyday, to be mindful as I go about that task, to breathe in gratitude and breathe out beauty or hope or something as I go about this daily thing.  Really, it’s multi-tasking, which I love.  I don’t know if it’s good for my spirit, but we’ll see.

Every morning I take our dog Max out for his morning constitutional.  Rain or shine or wind, light or dark, out we go.  We’re like the U.S. Postal Service.  Except for ice.  I always make an exception for ice.  Anyway, every morning I take Max out so that he can pee on every bush that all the other dogs have peed on and so that he can sniff All Things.  We make it over to school and he chews on some grass, and growls at the other dogs who have the temerity to pee on his bush.  We keep walking until he poops.  Then I pick it up, and we head home with less peeing and sniffing.

So I have incorporated mindful breathing and meditativeness into my morning walk.  I breathe in gratitude – gratitude for the abundance of sun we’ve had this winter (and as soon as that negative thought about ‘this means a dry summer’ pops into my  head I send it scurrying off); there’s gratitude for my sweet dog whom I love, for the crocuses and daffodils that are blooming so early, for my neighbors and neighborhood, for the gentleman down the street whose morning fire always smells so good, for the kid who was sent out to pick up the trash that didn’t stay in the garbage can, for the school full of amazing, crazy kids, for so much.  I am just bursting with all that gratitude I’ve breathed in, and pray that I’m breathing out all that hope and love and grace or whatever it is I’m supposed to be breathing out.

And then, the dog poops.

The whole point of the morning walk is to get the dog to poop so that he does not do that inside while we’re at work.  It is the culmination of the walk, the finale, the big finish.  It should be greeted with confetti and kazoos and huzzahs and treats.  But I greet it with a sigh and the compostable green plastic dog poop bag.  And we head home, the denouement of our time together.

But I must admit that picking up the poop grounds me – really – in the way that saying “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” grounds me.   There is an earthiness to life that we cannot avoid, and everybody and everything living thing poops, and everybody and every living thing will die.  To dust we will return.  And hopefully no one will pick up the dust that once was us into a little compostable plastic bag, a sad denouement of a life well-lived.

Obviously, I have some work to do with my spiritual director, but I think some how with all that breath going on, and little groundedness will help.  A good Ash Wednesday to you.

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p.s.  I will not be giving this meditation at our Ash Wednesday service, but if you’d like to see the liturgy I wrote, go to my Liturgy page and the sub page of “Random Liturgy.”

 

To the planter of trees

tree_lined_street_lgTwo of my frequent routes include an arcade of trees.  One is at an intersection I drive by every day, the other on 99E heading south towards Milwaukie.  Neither is very long – one just a block, the other maybe a quarter-mile.  But even in winter, when the branches are bare, the trees form this graceful archway that we drive through.

As I went though one the other day, I started wondering about the person or persons who planted those trees.  Were they young?  Did they see the fruits of their labor?  Did they measure carefully the space between the trees, imagining how far apart they needed to be so their branches could grow without touching?  Did they plant them hoping that in eighty years, one hundred years, the trees would still be alive, healthy, providing a bower for motorists?

It seems to me that planting trees is a pretty selfless act.  You may get to watch a sapling get strong, but you will likely not live to see it in its prime.  And planting trees is an act of hope, too – hope that someone else will take up the care of the tree, that in the future when the planter is gone someone will look at the tree and offer thanks.

We have two enormous oak trees on the west side of our house.  I imagine they were planted when the house was built in 1925.  They are now two and a half times as tall as our house, and they are beautiful, whether with bared branches or in the lush fullness of summer.  They are beautiful and more often than not I do not appreciate them.  February is the one time of the year when they aren’t dropping something.  Come spring, it will be helicopter seed pods, then green acorns in the summer.  In the fall the brown acorns drop, aided by feuding squirrels.  Once the acorns are done, the leaves turn brown and drift down; we are very generous and share our leaves with the neighborhood.  In the chill of winter things are still unless there’s a wind storm, in which case we have branches adorning our yard and roof.

laugh inI wish I appreciated our two oaks more than I do.  They provide habitat for squirrels, and I think the crows are doing their own version of Laugh In in them.  They shade half the house, a relief in the relentless sun of summer.  But they are messy and trimming them is not cheap.  Their root system means that we have a basement in only half the house.

Would I cut them down if I could? That’s the question, isn’t it.  It would make our lives and landscaping easier.  We wouldn’t have to wear our bike helmets when we dine al fresco.

Would I cut them down if I could? No.  No, I wouldn’t.  They are things of beauty, among the most grand in the neighborhood.  The crows make me laugh.  The squirrels drive the dog nuts and give him something to do when we’re gone for the day.  The shade is lovely.

And there’s something plain wrong about cutting down a magnificent healthy tree – the inconvenience to us is far outweighed by the patience it took for that tree to go, the hearty conversations with neighbors in the fall when we’re all raking the leaves, the sheer beauty of something that towers over our man-made home.

So, to the planter of trees, our oaks, the trees that line the avenues: thank you.  Thank you for your foresight.  Thank you for your dream.  Thank you for your part in creating something beautiful that maybe you never saw.  Thank you for the trees.

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