Adulting

My child, who is a pretty terrific kid, has no interest in growing up, getting a job, living on her own, learning to drive, or any of things I associate with maturing and becoming an adult.  She is reluctant to learn how to cook, and when I ask her what she’ll do when she lives on her own, she says she’ll have a really nice roommate who will do all the cooking.

Which has got me to thinking: have my husband and I made adulting look so awful and tedious that she wants nothing of it?

We, like many, have jobs that get pretty serious pretty fast, especially in the Death and Dying Department.  We get the occasional call in middle of the night or too early in the morning.  We talk about memorial services over dinner (until she reminds us of the “no work talk at dinner” rule.)

We pay the bills together so she hears us talking about whether we’re ahead or behind for the month.  She knows how much vacation costs, and hears us admit with some guilt and resignation that maybe we spent a little too much on getting away this year.

When I was a little older than she is now, I could not wait to be on my own, to get my driver’s license, to imagine my first apartment and my own dishes and my very own vacuum cleaner.  My first year after college I shared a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan with two of my college roommates.  We’d put on our suits and tennis shoes in the morning and walk to work, and walk back home, and we’d have pasta carbonara for dinner and watch “Flame Trees of Thika” on PBS.  It was as glorious as I imagined growing up would be.

Since then life has intervened.  There have been lean years, and job disappointments and failures, and debt.  There have been illnesses and deaths that still shake me.  There have been more moves than I would like, and goodbyes to dear friends.  But I still love being an adult, with all the responsibility and burden; with all the freedom and agency, too.

This morning on my short drive to work I heard on NPR the last bit of an interview with Senator Ben Sass of Nebraska, who has written the book “The Vanishing American Adult.”  I can’t comment on its content, but the two minutes of the interview intrigued me.  He spoke about making kids work, making them do hard work that isn’t much fun so they will build up “scar tissue on the soul.”

Adulting is hard.  Moving from adolescence to adulthood can be pretty painful.  It’s not all fun and entertainment; I’ll admit that.  But I wonder, almost every day, as a parent, if I’m doing enough to help my child build some of those muscles, acquire some of that scar tissue on her soul, so that by the time she’s 22 and looking for her first apartment with friends and buying dishes at the resale shop – so that by then, she’ll walk nervously and hopefully into the next part of her life.

We’ll see.

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Elusive Joy

Truth be told, I would rather conduct a memorial service than a wedding (but for those of you whose weddings I officiated, you were the exception!)  I also find planning the Good Friday service much more interesting, fun, and worthwhile than planning the Easter service.

This is not new information to me. I have been ruminating on it for a while, as this year’s Good Friday service flowed out of me so easily and elegantly, while getting Easter off the ground felt like wading through lime jello dotted with shredded carrots and crushed pineapple – colorful, but not so good.  I think it may have to do with joy and grief, with the elusive nature of joy in this life, and the immediacy and intimacy of grief in this life.

Grief bombards us all the time – grief in death, grief in horrible diagnoses, grief in all the tiny losses that add up, grief that is the constant companion of change.  Joy seems more sparing.  Every since I became a mother, which is one of the greatest joys of my life, I’ve been aware that joy, at least for me, is always tinged with fear: there is this person I love with the depth of my being and to lose her might kill me.  It is the fear of joy being taken away, or the crush of joy evaporating. Grief being taken away is a good thing, a sign of healing, a reprieve from that emotional pain.  Grief evaporating is something wished for, but not always attained.

The shared joy at a wedding is tinged with what might happen as the years unfurl: a fight, a divorce, job frustrations, children frustrations.  But I think my hesitation about weddings is about something else: they can become productions, and petri dishes of family systems theory, and studies in excess.  The true joy that is there can be overshadowed by all the stuff.

Then again, memorial services have as much joy as they do grief – joy for a life well lived, for love that was poured out, joy for having known this person.

And Good Friday and Easter – what about those?

Good Friday pierces me, in the way that it gets to the reality of injustice then and now; violence then and now; anguish then and now.  We have Good Friday experiences all the time, whether we want to or not.  We don’t have Easter experiences very often, or at least I don’t.  The small resurrections we know – remission, healing, reconciliation –  they are good and great, but still tinged with impermanence.

And really, the Easter service can be a bit of a production too.  There are a lot of moving parts: eggs, flowers, trumpets, Handel’s messiah, banners, extra bulletins, extra people, and hats.

This side of the door (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ image) maybe impermanent joy is all we get, joy that is elusive and fleeting.  I suppose fleeting joy is better than no joy at all.  But I do wonder what joy is like on the other side of the threshold.  Tangible and permanent, maybe.

Hopefully.

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The quick and the dead

Today I paid a visit at our local retirement high rise.  Here at church we refer to it as our south campus, what with a few dozen of our members living there.  In the past five years I’ve come to think of it as the place where people I love have died.  It’s a holy place, a sacred space.

It’s full of the quick and the dead, that place – our living saints (and a few curmudgeonly types) and ghosts, too, for me and I suspect for others.  I walk by an apartment that used to belong to someone else.  I take communion to folks on the nursing floor, and remember the overheated room where a saint experienced hospice care and left his earthly body.

I remember another saint whose husband died there, and her dismay when his body was taken out the back via the service elevator.  When she died, in the same building but a different room, the gurney holding her mortal remains was wheeled proudly through the lobby and out the front while her children sang “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”  I never hear that hymn without thinking of her.

My parents live in such a place in another state, and have long referred to it as “the last stop.”  I am glad they are there, taken care of by staff as needs arise, since none of us kids lives anywhere near them.  I remember when they first moved in how surprised they were that people kept dying.  I did remind them, gently (I hope), that it is the last stop.

In those places there is often a fine line between the quick and the dead.  Perhaps those places are thin, in the Celtic way, liminal places that contain both life and death.

I’m preaching this week about the story that took place on the road to Emmaus; that seven mile path was a thin place, liminal, a place of life and death.  The resurrected Jesus appears to be both quick and dead.  It’s a marvelous little story, and weird too, and there’s much to say about it and yet I find I want to say nothing about it, but simply to sit with it.  Maybe hovering between life and death and hanging out with the saints will do that to you.

Bright Monday: Dusting Day

Yesterday was Easter and it was good but I will happily admit I’m always glad when Easter Day is over.  There’s a lot of pressure, more from the inside than the outside.  As I get older, I’m learning to have fewer expectations of myself (perfect sermon! amazing attendance! delicious Easter dinner!  joyful and kind 24/7!)  The sermon was okay, not amazing, but done was good.  The scalloped potatoes were too soupy and not quite soft enough, but no one died after eating them.  The chocolate cake made up for the potatoes, as I knew it would, and we may have a new tradition of watching “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” on Easter evening.

But now that Easter Day is done, I am excited about two things: sweets (my Lenten deprivation) and cleaning my office.  Truth be told, I’m more excited about the cleaning.

Things piled up during Lent.  Ashes, palm leaves, candles, bulletin drafts, sermon drafts, emails, coffee cups, commentaries on the Gospel of John, paper clips.  Papers didn’t get filed, or recycled, or shredded, committee meeting agendas and financial statements in particular.  The plants got watered, but the leaves did not get vacuumed up.  Books and notebooks of preaching materials lay scattered about, like dead toy soldiers on the battlefield of my office.

It’s was mess, and I did not clean up for the Risen Lord on Sunday.  I think he’s okay with that.  He got lilies and the Hallelujah Chorus and the Widor Toccato.  And life. That should be enough.

But Bright Monday!  Last night I started singing “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dusting Day” with great excitement.  And so it began this morning.  Cups and glasses and fake red carnations taken back to the kitchen.  Pillar candles to the candle closet.  Stoles in purple and green folded up and put neatly away.  Papers filed, shredded, and recycled.  Books put back where they belong.  A new paper for my blotter.

And then the wild rumpus of the dusting began.  I am telling you, dusting is good for the soul.  It’s an almost instant gratification and you have to do just enough work to be able to tell yourself you really put something into it.  Now the wood of my desk and shelves looks like new, and it appears that an adult occupies the office.

While I am always relieved and happy when Easter Day is over, I am also always glad that Eastertide has begun.  I wish we in the church did more with Eastertide, made it the mirror of Lent.  Commit to adding something good in Eastertide, for yourself or the world.  Examine not your sin but your joy.  Eat sumptuously.  Laugh a lot.  That’s why I wish all those Easter worshipers would come back – they just get the beginning of the good stuff, the amuse bouche of the faith and not the main course.  Easter is the appetizer, not the dessert.

Oh well.  As I get older, I let go of that expectation too, that folks will come back in droves.  It’s enough for me that they were here, and that we’ll see them next year.

Today Eastertide began and I dusted.  Life is good; there is joy, and my soul feels as clean as my office.

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A dalliance of daffodils

A dalliance of daffodils –
they would, of course, dally, with that ruffled collar all set out
like some Elizabethan earl
happy to be out of the cold dark of the earth
happy to have burst the bonds of the bulb

Then there’s the intoxication of the daphne –
Thymelaeaceae her proper name
A rose by any other name could never smell this sweet, this heady,
this alluring, this…
She is joy touched with poignant lemon
sad perhaps that she cannot flower for very long
But she’ll be back next year

The trees are all budded
Like middle schoolers waiting for their first dance
A little embarrassed to be there at all, at the ends of the limb
But when they burst open the fun begins

Spring is not my favorite season, but maybe it should be
there’s so much LIFE everywhere
And relief that soon enough the rains will end
And the bees will come pay a visit to the raspberry blossoms
And the crows will start moving acorns to the car’s path, instant dinner
And whatever attention span the kids once had is now so very gone

No matter what,
No matter the plagues, the politicians, the ploys,
Spring arrives, like your favorite cousin visiting again
Keeping you up late in the moonlight
Inviting you to her own world
Promising so much
Never growing old
The season that never dies
Immortal yet fleeting, she is

And worth every minutenarcissus-pseudonarcissus-324110_960_720

When the women told the story

Stories in the Bible that feature women do show up now and then, not as often as many of us would like, and when they do show up, the women aren’t seen in as good a light as often as many of us would like. This week we get one of those stories: the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus.

I’ve been at a conference these past couple of days and the guiding story for our gathering has also been this story. It’s one I know well. I’ve studied it, written papers on it, created a retreat around it, and I’ve preached on it more than once. In some ways I feel as though I know it inside and out.

The first day of the conference we began with worship, fittingly enough since it was a church people conference. It was time to hear the scripture lesson. I settled back, waiting for someone to open a Bible, turn the page to John 4, and begin.

Instead, six women took the stage. Some I knew, some I knew of. They were different ages, different sizes and shapes, different colors; they are all powerful and faithful. And they started to tell the story of another woman, a different woman, a woman who was also powerful and faithful.

It’s hard to describe exactly what went through my head. It may have been something late like, “Oh my God – these women are going to tell the woman’s story.”  It may have been, “At last, women are going to tell this woman’s story.”  I’m really not sure what went through my mind because my heart was pierced as these six women were telling the testimony of one of their sisters.

I’ve never, ever, ever heard this story told in this way. It was riveting. They did not speak in one voice – you could tell as they told their part of the story that they had different takes on it. But through these women’s voices the story was reclaimed from thousands of years of interpretation by men who have seen this woman as a hussy, a prostitute or a slut, a woman who couldn’t keep a man satisfied or well fed, a woman who talked too much, a woman who had been shamed by her entire village.  Over the millennia she has been twisted into one more fallen woman who must be saved by a man.

But last Monday, this woman was reclaimed by her sisters (and by the two men and one woman who preached this text.) In their posture and their voice, in their inflection and pauses, they came around this woman and gathered with her at the well.

I so wish my daughter had been there to see it, to hear it, to witness it. I wish she had seen that group of women do what women have done between the lines of scripture for so many years: claim their own space in the sacred story.

 

Since originally posting this, the link to the video of the service has been posted.  If you’re interested, click on this link; go to Opening Worship.  The scripture begins around 19:15.

Feeling their oats

On a regular basis I get to be a part of the world of fifth grade girls, which is pretty terrific and always interesting.  Many of these girls I’ve known since kindergarten and it’s a joy to watch them grow up and grow into themselves, even as they reflect pieces of their parents.

I’ve noticed lately that many are beginning to feel their oats, to sashay about as they realize their powers and gifts.  Some are smart, some are athletic, some are quiet, some are thoughtful, some are goofy, some are kind.  Some are artists and some are writers and some are coders. Some see others as cute, and others see them as cute, in the I-want-to-go-out-with-you (but-I-don’t-know-what-that-means) sort of way.

Most of them still have one foot in childhood and one foot in adolescence  Some are further along that road than others, and feel that mortal peril of being the first one with unwanted pimples, hair that just shouldn’t be where it is, body odor, and the mother of all embarrassements, the dreaded period.

They’re figuring out what is injustice and what is simply carelessness. They’re learning about politics too – when I was in fifth grade, Nixon resigned. Now they watch and learn during the Trump administration.  They experience disappointment and happiness as they lose and they win.  They also face boredom, and the consequence of saying to a parent, “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

Like a Virginia Reel, they weave in and out of old and new friendships.  I’m never quite sure who is whose best friend at any given moment, and that does seem to change on a weekly basis.  They text now, and Skype, and email.  They never talk on the phone with each other, which was a hallmark of my early adolescence.  Nor do they carry tv show themed lunchboxes.  They’d rather die than do that.

I’m the mother of one of those girls, and most of the time I feel like my job is to encourage the good that is there and not to mess it up.  And as much as my daughter and her friends are learning what it is to grow up and to become tweens, I as a parent learn everyday too. When do I react to the drama and when do I let it be?  When do I console, and when do I offer another view?  The last thing I want to be is a helicopter parent, but oh, the temptation is there!

I think J. K. Rowling knew what she was doing when she had kids start Hogwarts at age 11.  Those kids were beginning to realize their magical powers, and needed guidance and education.  I feel that way about these girls because, yes, they are powerful.  They can’t even imagine yet what gifts they have.  They’re beginning to learn about the choice to use their power for good or for harm, not with wands, but with words and deeds.

I imagine sometimes what they’ll be like in high school or even in college, and I don’t get too far because nothing is set in stone yet.  Or ever, really.  Who they are becoming today may not be who they end up as.  But what a dance.  What a journey.  What precious, precocious, powerful human beings they are.

Rock on, girls.  You’ve got this.IMG_0487