Lent Prayers

As part of my Lenten discipline, I’m writing prayers every day and posting them to the church’s Instagram and Facebook accounts. But I thought I’d add them here, too. After this post, you can find them here, under the Liturgy tab, under Lent. But here’s the first week’s worth. Enjoy – ? -!

Prayer for the Seventh Day of Lent
Well, Lord, could we talk about disappointment today? Because to be very honest, it’s been a disappointing year. And You haven’t fixed things for us. Can we say we’re disappointed in You? Can we say that You have let us down? Is that allowed? Or would You respond and tell us that You are disappointed in us, too? It feels like there’s no room for grace in disappointment. So help us today to acknowledge our unmet expectations, our hurt feelings, our sadnesses, and our disappointment. And then shower us with grace, because we really need it. Thank You. Amen.

Prayer for the Sixth Day of Lent
“Pray for your enemies,” Jesus taught. “Love your enemies,” he said. Okay, so first I must admit I have enemies. And that means admitting that there are people I hate or fear. And than means admitting there is hate and fear in my heart. And that means admitting I’m falling a bit short of the mark. Before I pray for my enemies, I must ask forgiveness for letting hate and fear settle in my heart, for letting hate and fear clothe a person or a people. I must confess to reducing one of your children to a symbol or a cartoon. I confess my sin. And now, Holy One, on to my enemies. I call them many things – evil, selfish, murderous, wrong, stupid. And I close the door to any inkling of hope for reconciliation. Help me to see their humanity. Help me to understand their hearts. Help me to work on forgiving them, just as I have been forgiven. Amen.

Prayer for the First Sunday in Lent
Creator God, thank you for the daphne pontica, the sweestest of flowers that remind us spring is not too far away. Perhaps this is the scent of costly nard, the expensive oil used to anoint Jesus before his death. Perhaps this is the scent of devotion and love. Help us to remember that acts of devotion are priceless: the act of showing love, the act of serving another, the act of taking risks, the act of being present. And so help us to be devoted to You and one another. Amen.

Prayer for the Fourth Day of Lent
Most Blessed, Most Glorious, Ancient of Days, God: I just spend half an hour scrolling through my phone, when there are more holy and faithful things I might have done. I might have been on my knees as I confessed my sin. I might have been lifting my hands in praise. I might have studied scripture, or prayed a psalm. But no. I sat in my chair and looked down at a tiny screen for thirty minutes of this day. Still, I must admit that sometimes I see You there, on my tiny screen – in the headlines, in a friend’s comment, in a Facebook post, in the beauty of a photograph, in pain I read between the lines, in hope I read between the lines. So I think today I ask for Your blessing as I scroll through my phone, that I will recognize what is holy even there. Amen.

Prayer for the Third Day of Lent
God of justice and mercy, we know that to fast is to be able to fast, that we get to choose to give up food, or screens, or the daily latte. We also know that right now, so many of our neighbors and so many of Your children in the world fast without choice. Your children, our neighbors, are without food. Your children, our neighbors, are without access to clean water. Your children, our neighbors, are without power. Your children, our neighbors, are without hope. We want to ask You to fix it, all the while knowing that Your response would ask us how we plan to partner with You in that. We know that You call us to bring compassion, justice, kindness, compassion, justice, wisdom, imagination, and love to that. So we pray for them and we pray to You and we pray for ourselves in all of this. Amen.

Prayer for the Second Day of Lent
Well, God of the journey, there’s no going back to ordinary time; the trek has begun. There’s no going back to “normal”, whatever normal was: we have been forever changed by all that has happened in the past twelve months – a racial reckoning that we ignore to the peril of both black bodies and white bodies; a pandemic that has brought the world to its knees in fear and desperation; the mass consumption of lies that are way more convenient to believe than truth. There’s no going back to ordinary liturgical time either. We have the trek to the cross and empty tomb, a season where death precedes life, a season where grief must come before any inkling of joy. As You were with Moses in the desert, as You were with Jesus in the wilderness, be with us on the journey. When we cannot take one more step, give us rest. When our neighbor has fallen, let us give them a hand. When it all gets to be too much – be with us. Amen.

Prayer for Ash Wednesday
Creator of all that is, for us mortals it is a wonderment that death ended up being part of Your design. True, it might have been of our own making, but then again, maybe You knew something we didn’t or couldn’t. But here we are, on that day when we say to each other, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” We dare to say to each other, “Remember, you will die some day.” To tell our beloveds that, to tell our children that: it is awful. On this day, help us to remember that in life and in death, all of us belong to You. Help us remember that death is not an end, but a beginning. Help us to live well and in faith, knowing that we will die some day. Amen.

I miss Brian Doyle

At our Worship committee meeting yesterday, someone commented that they wished Brian Doyle was still alive, so we could read his thoughts on how life has changed in the last year. To that, I decided to write a few prayers in that style of his. Enjoy. Or don’t judge me for being inferior to that beautiful and deeply missed master.

PRAYER WHEN YOU SCREEN FREEZES DURING A ZOOM MEETING
Dear Lord, I know that I am talking and that no one can hear me, so I suppose I understand a little bit what it has been like to be You. So in this pause, which is not of my own making but of the little hamsters who run in the wheel that powers the internet as they need a rest because their tiny legs are so tired, let me pray for the people on my screen. For Nancy, known to this Zoom community as IPad, I ask you to give her a deeper sense of identity. For John, whose face is frozen in what can only be described as mid-yawn scrunched eyes and gaping mouth that exposes a little of his lunch sandwich caught between his teeth, I pray for humility and good humor. For Pat, who is trying to run this damn meeting to the best of their ability while admonishing all of us to mute when not speaking so as not to be interrupted by, say, my dog who is alerting me that evidently Timmy has fallen down the well AGAIN, and to then unmute ourselves when we do have something to say, which might only be, could you please repeat that as I couldn’t hear over the dog’s barking; for all these, I ask a good measure of patience and the reminder that what may be most important is not what is said, but being able to see each other’s faces, so please, Lord, get Nancy to turn her camera on. And so: Amen.

PRAYER FOR WHOEVER INVENTED THOSE LITTLE ALL-IN-ONE COMMUNION CUPS THAT LOOK LIKE JELLY YOU GET AT A DINER
Dear Lord, this is a marvelous little invention for us Protestants who admit so a little lower standard for our bread and wine. And here it is – the body and blood of Christ neatly glued together in what might be mistaken for a half-and-half container. For those whose arthritic fingers cannot peal of the miraculous slive of plastic hold the cardboardesque wafer in place, we pray for agility. For those who accidently drink the grape juice first, we pray forgiveness. For the inventor of such a thing, and the tireless workers at the Amazon warehouses whose labor ensures that pastors who left planning the reorder to a rather late hour are not caught short at Sunday’s communion in the parking lot, we pray your blessing. For parking lots that have turned into sanctuaries, we give you thanks. And for congregations that are muddling through with substitutes that are no where near good but have to be good enough for now, we ask for your love. And so: Amen.

PRAYER FOR ALL PREACHERS WHO ARE SHARING THE WORD OF GOD WITH A TINY LITTLE CAMERA IN THE CORNER OF THEIR MOBILE PHONE
Dear Lord, please help us first to find the right pair of glasses so that we might both locate the 1/4″ circle into which we must pour all the Good News you would have us share while still being able to see the notes to remind us of what we are to say because our brains are overtired and we really can’t remember things or recall words unless they are printed in an 18 point font right in front of us, so if we need bi-focals, please allow us to find the right mask to use to make it to the optician so that both they and we are safe from this vile plague. And let us not confuse our preaching to a camera with the hope that said camera might be saved and need baptism for we know, that while you made all living things, this camera is but a tool for ministry and not a target for conversion though maybe a target for upgrade. And for the preachers, who so dearly wish that their view was of real, live, wonderful, imperfect people, give them a heaping of imagination to see contained in that tiny camera lens a whole congregation, not unlike the way a tiny feeding trough contained the entirety of salvation. And so: Amen.

PRAYER FOR ALL THE DOGS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WHO HAVE BEEN KIND ENOUGH TO INTRODUCE ME TO THEIR PEOPLE
Dear Lord, it is not uncoincidental that God spelled backwards is dog, and heaps of gratitude on you for the gift of the canine species, for the mutts and the doodles and wiener dogs with their collapsing hips, for compostable poop bags and extendable leashes and school playgrounds that are vacant and so become a heaven and a haven for dogs and their slimy tennis balls and their humans with those plastic ball-thrower things that are another invention for which to give thanks. Thank you for Kona and Birdie and Mindy and Jack, for Rosie and Tiger and Bean and Emmy; thank you for Chimi and Dora and Archie and Tulip and all those sweet pups who were rescued from overcrowding and death and came to run and play in my neighborhood. Thank you for those who see unclaimed poop and take care of it. Thank you for coats with pockets, laden with said compostable bags, a reminder that unconditional love awaits us at home. Thank you for the constancy of neighbors who are out rain or shine, day or night, so that their dogs can check their p-mail and respond. And thank you for my daughter who still laughs at that term “pee-mail” which she coined when she was but a fourth grader. May our hearts be as big as our dogs’. And so: Amen.

PRAYER FOR ALL THE KIDS WHO NEVER DREAMED THEY WOULD ACTUALLY MISS GOING TO SCHOOL
Dear Lord, this is a hard one, and humor is hard found when kindergartners are clinically depressed. The choice of which risk to take feels pretty cruel, I must admit, and so I ask, in addition to that vaccine being made and distributed and shot as quickly as possibly, that you wrap all of our young people up in your sweet, strong arms that I think would smell like Ivory soap; that you would wrap these children and teenagers up and say, in ways that they will hear, that is is okay to be sad; that is okay to not want to get out of bed; it is okay to be angry that you have to live in such a time as this; that there are grown ups who have let you down. Whisper to them too that there are teachers who think about them every day, even when they’re not on Zoom; there are teachers and school custodians and lunch ladies and principals and staff like Miss Lori at Sabin who would never let a child go hungry during the day who always has a smile and would protect that place and those people with her life. Seriously, God, if you loved us at all you would end this merciless pandemic and let us get back to being with each other because, if my exegesis of Genesis is right and I’m pretty sure it is, you intended us to be together in the first place. Also, please get all those imbalanced chemicals that lead to depression and thoughts of suicide out of the systems of our beloved, precious, irreplaceable children. And so: Amen.

This mortal coil

I’ve been thinking about death this morning; doesn’t everyone this time of year?

It was three years ago today that my dad died. I was not with him, but my mom and sister, faithful women that they are, were there. I was at the pediatrician’s office with my daughter. While we were in the waiting room, my sister texted that the hospice nurse said it wouldn’t be long. After that, I turned off my phone until we got home. And there was the message: Dad died.

Three years out the pain is different – less acute, more wistful. I think about my dad, and so many others, who were so full of life and now… aren’t. I don’t mean that facetiously or sarcastically. It’s just that we live and then we all die and that is terrible and normal.

This time of year I think a lot about incarnation, too; doesn’t everyone?

I have those moments of wondering why in the world God would choose to become incarnate, to take on this mortal coil only to have to shuffle it off in a mere thirty-three years. I wonder why God would choose to take on frail flesh, with skin that gets cut, and bones that break, and heads that ache, and hearts that ache. Honestly, it makes no sense, but then again, very little about faith does make sense. That’s what makes it so interesting and fun.

I try to make friends with death, given its inevitability and omnipresence, but it’s hard. Maybe my real struggle is with incarnation. Why this form of creation? Why create stunning elm trees so vulnerable to fungus? Why polar bears that die out as earth warms? Why the engineering and biological marvel of the human body that only lasts four score or so years?

Honestly, I don’t know. It does seem to be a significant design flaw.

Or is it?

One of the things I loved about the ending of The Good Place (semi-spoiler alert here) is the realization that things are meaningful because they don’t last forever. Our finity defines us, and that is not a bad thing but may in fact be the best thing.

I don’t want Christmas to last forever. I don’t want this pandemic to, either. There are people who I hope to have around for a long time, and people who I wish had lived a few more years. But that isn’t up to me. (It’s not up to you, either….)

So then, what shall we say? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we perish? All we have is the present? Love them now, don’t wait till they’re gone away? Life is short, and we have but little time to gladden the hearts of those who sojourn with us? (Henri-Frederic Amiel)

All of the above.

Well, that’s probably enough melancholy musing for this day. Be well. Hug yourself. Call someone who needs to know that you love them. And indeed, be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. (Amiel again.)

Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I, that for my sake
My love should take frail flesh and die.

The grief, all of it

Earlier this week, I went to the cemetery to conduct a thirty-minute outdoor service for one of three church members who have died in the last month. It was as you might expect for death in the time of COVID. We all wore masks. I couldn’t hug the family. We were limited in our time and it was all sad and awful and not what any of us wanted as a way to say goodbye to this person.

On the drive to the pavilion where the service was conducted, I noticed a covered area with big piles of dirt under the roof. It occurred to me that that was the dirt from the graves that had been dug. Somehow in all these years it never occurred to me that there would be extra dirt that would need to go somewhere far from the manicured greenscapes of cemeteries. A hole was dug and something else was put in it. The dirt had no where to go, so they created a place for it.

It feels like grief has nowhere to go these days. Since all this began, my husband has lost an aunt and an uncle (not from COVID.) I have lost an aunt and an uncle (not from COVID.) Eight church members have died. (None from COVID.) Why do I need to say none of these died from COVID? Because it’s a reminder that in the midst of this time of isolation and fear and shouting voices that don’t allow us to hear science, other things are still happening – strokes and cancer and heart attacks and all of it.

And what do we do with the grief? We can’t gather in the sanctuary and tell stories about the dead person and sing the great hymns of faith and remind each other about All The Good Promises About What Happens After We Die. I’m learning that grief is palatable when it can be shared, when the community can lean on each other and right now, none of that is possible and grief has nowhere to go.

Grief just sits there. It doesn’t transform to a paler version of itself. It doesn’t shift into sadness. It doesn’t invite gratitude or perspective. It just sits there, like too much Thanksgiving dinner, like homemade bread whose yeast never activated. Grief just sits there, getting heavier and heavier and becoming insurmountable.

All Saints Day is coming up and worship for that day has been on my mind and my heart. The congregation I serve loves that All Saints service – it’s a time to remember who we are because of who has been with us. It’s a time to name the names of those we miss and grieve. It’s a time to break bread and share the feast and remind each other that the great cloud of witnesses is with us. But not this year.

I wonder if, when we gather properly for worship again, we will have several memorial services or one big one, or a festival of memorials, or some way to commemorate the dead and to have that communal gathering of grief and hope that we’re missing. Or maybe by then it will be too late, and we will have moved on, or we will have lost so many that sorrow will overwhelm.

I do not know. I say that a lot these days, I do not know. I do not know what they do with the dirt left over from the graves. I do not know when COVID will be over. I do not know who else will die in the coming months. I do not know how to mourn all by myself. I do know we were not meant to live this way, in isolation.

So I hold on to that, this new learning about the priceless value of community and seeing each other in real life. We might die alone, that is true. But let’s never give in to living alone.

Embodied

What will we embody?  Hate?  Hope?  Fear?  Love?

I.
For the past several years, our Saturdays mornings or afternoons were spent in north Portland, squeezing in a parking place among minivans, SUV’s, and the occasional Prius, unfolding the chairs and cheering on the girls’ soccer team.  Delta Park was filled with soccer parents and students and coaches, sometimes playing in the rain and sometimes playing in the glorious fall.

This past Saturday morning there were no soccer games; COVID-19 took care of that.  But the park was cordoned off with concrete barriers and police cars, waiting the arrival of the hate group, the Proud Boys.  To the best of my knowledge, they assembled and then left.  But I wonder what they embody.  I wonder if they sense they carry hate in their bodies.  I wonder if they sense they carry fear, too.

II.
On my walk this morning I was listening to Brene Brown’s podcast conversation with Sonya Renee Taylor, author of the book The Body Is Not an Apology.  (Listen to the podcast here.) I discovered the book last year while preparing for a retreat I was leading on women and their bodies and fell head over heels with Taylor’s message of radical self-love.  There’s too much in it to capture in a few sentences here, so go find yourself a copy and get ready to work and to love.

Anyway, Brene Brown discovered Sonya Renee Taylor when one of Taylor’s quotes exploded in social media and was misattributed to Brown.  Like so many others, I found the quote a sort of call to arms – calling our arms and all of our bodies to take seriously this time we are in, and to take seriously how we are being changed, body and soul, by this pandemic.

Here’s the quote: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” 

III.
Last week my friend Leslie died.  She was a quiet, warm, bright, compassionate, shy woman whose body grew cancer cells in her bladder.  I hate that she died; I hate that she died from cancer, and I hate that because of this damned virus I didn’t realize that the last time I saw her would be the last time I would ever see her.  She embodied an honest and lumpy faith, and a sensitivity and empathy borne from the things life throws at you.  I don’t know if she felt like her body betrayed her with those errant cells.  She embodied so many things that I cherish, and I feel that her body betrayed her.

IV.
In the early days of COVID-19, I too took up the call to bake away and, with hardly any effort at all, put on five pounds.  That was not good, especially when I learned that one of those mysterious “underlying factors” that make COVID so lethal is obesity.  So I’ve been working on the scale going the other way, and have lost thirty pounds.  I’m enjoying this rediscovery of my body and its shape.  Let’s be clear: I will never be a bikini model.  Scars from a C-section and a hip replacement ended that option.  In this time, I had a big a-ha, especially for someone who has probably lost over three hundred pounds in her life (not all at once – in my many attempts at weight loss.)

The a-ha: maybe walking every day and eating healthy things is pleasurable and not a drudge.  Seriously, you would think I’d’ve figured that out.  But no.  Reframing that has really improved my outlook and has been a good coping mechanism during pandemic and the surge in demand for racial justice and the political dumpster fire in which we find ourselves.

V.
What will we embody when this is all over, when there’s a vaccine, and an election, and (please, God) a peaceful transfer of power?  What are we embodying right now?  I know that I carry fear in my shoulders, and hate in my throat.  I also carry hope in my calves and love in my hands.

I think we have a choice about what we carry, and I’m not proud that I carry hate and fear, but to quote Michelle Obama quoting Mr. Trump, it is what it is.  To let go of those things, to choose not to carry them any more, would seem to be about letting go of control and power too.  I know I embody those things as well.

VI.
I’m one of those Christians who is irregular in her theological outlook.  I don’t read the Bible literally but I do believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus which prefigures the resurrection of human beings and the redemption/resurrection of the whole of creation.  I believe that God created the physical world and called it good and meant it.  I believe we were created to embody joy and care and wonder.  I believe the world would be a better place if we did embody joy and care and wonder.

Meantime, let’s stitch that new garment Ms. Taylor wrote about.  A dress of the softest, drapiest fabric that enhances all that we embody.  Sweatpants unseen in the Zoom meeting that ready our legs to go walk the walk.  A garment worthy of royalty for the likes of you and me.  Embodied and adorned – that’s what we are.  That’s what we will be.

Liminal time

img_0816They say this will all be over,
Sooner or later
That this won’t last forever
That this is a temporary, though difficult, time
A passing phase
A passing pandemic

But isnt’ all time temporary, passing phases,
Passing minutes, hours, days, seasons, years?
Isn’t time just a human construct
A way to measure – what?
Our productivity?  Our greatness? Our failures to act?

This is liminal time, time on the edge
Time of misstepping and falling off the cliff

My time is now unbound
I do not know what day it is, or what I’m supposed to be doing
A friend suggested waking up every day and while getting out of bed shouting the day and date, just to keep ourselves grounded

They say that to offset a panic attack you should be very present
Notice what you see, smell, hear, taste, feel
Ground yourself in the immediate now.

Isn’t that what we are supposed to do all the time anyway?
Be present?  Notice?

This is what it is, right now, in this moment
What it will be in the next moment, we cannot know

Look: the crocuses are up.
Smell: the neighbor is burning trash again.
Listen: that bird keeps singing the same song, over and over again.
Taste: coffee lingers on the tongue.
Feel: the skin on my wrists is so dry.

Breathe.
This too shall pass, as all things do.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

img_0596I ran home at lunch today to burn last year’s palm leaves.  It’s a funny smell and my neighbors might have wondered just what the minister next door was doing.  Nothing untoward, truly – unless you consider taking a symbol of honor and life (the palm) and burning it to ashes to remind people that they are oh, so mortal untoward.

Another Ash Wednesday is nigh upon us.  I think about my first Ash Wednesday as a pastor some twenty-five years ago.  Death seemed neither imminent nor scary, just a nice little comma in this journey with God.  But I stayed long enough in that first congregation to start loving those people, some of whom got sick, some of whom were dying as I drew a cross of ashes on their forehead.

Fast forward, as Ash Wednesday falls three days after what would have been my dad’s 89th birthday; as Ash Wednesday falls two days before my darling daughter’s 14th.  I fear death now.  I know the havoc it wreaks, the worry it brings, the dread not just of the slow march of dying but also the crushing emptiness of the one who is gone.

Yet here we are, making crosses out of ashes and saying to young and old, to hale and sick, to the faithful and doubting, mortals all, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.”  Stern stuff, these ashes.

Here’s a little spoiler alert because I’m going to mention the end of The Good Place so if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read any more, but happy Lent.

I thought that last episode was exquisite, with the prevailing realization that what made life so precious was the knowledge that it would end.  We would never know what would be our last sunrise to awaken to, what would be our last time to hear our favorite piece of music, what would be our last time to tell that old story and laugh and laugh.  I remember the last time I spoke with my dad – and I knew it was the last – and it’s still so hard to think about and to write about. I said goodbye, then joined my siblings where I sobbed and fell to the floor.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.  Ashes, ashes; we all fall down.  We fall down in grief, in wonder, in agony, in worship.  We fall down in disbelief, maybe, that all this will end, that to the dust we will return.

But unless the seed falls to the dust, to the dirt, and dies, no new life will come.  Fall down we must.  Rise, we will.

Et tu, NIMBY?


I think about homelessness every day. Living in a major metropolitan area on the West Coast, it comes with the territory, and I know that some of my neighbors, some of my fellow Portlanders, will sleep tonight under a tarp on a sidewalk, in the doorway of a business, under a bridge, on an acquaintance’s couch, in an emergency shelter.

I’m pretty furious about the whole thing, that somehow as a society we think it’s acceptable for people to live this way, that it’s okay for children and people who should be living off their Social Security to instead be utterly dependent on the kindness and generosity of strangers. It’s more complicated than that, I know, but at the heart of things, I think there’s a lack of compassion and an overabundance of greed and apathy.

So yesterday I had coffee with my friend who is a social worker who gives a lot of his time, in his work and as a volunteer, to work with people living on the streets. For the last six months, our congregation has hosted one family at a time living in their car in our parking lot. Catholic Charities provides a porta-potty. A nearby house offers their shower. We’ve helped with food and meals and bus fare and laundry.

My friend listened well to me as I struggled with trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, for our guests in the parking lot and for the general crisis of homelessness in our city. In the end, what I heard him say is something like, “You can’t help everyone. Not everyone wants help. But you can help some people. Set your boundaries, know your capabilities and your limits, and try.”
The program funding these porta-potties in parking lots is coming to an end – budget cuts. When I inquired why, the head of the agency providing the funding told me about the money part, and asked why more congregations hadn’t participated in the program. I told him I thought it was because of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and the power of neighborhood associations to put the kibosh on this sort of thing.  And of course it’s more complicated and nuanced than that.

Then last night a homeless couple started unloading their eight shopping cards on the parking strip at my neighbors’ house.

Sigh.

We had already planned a happy hour get together at these neighbors’, so of course What To Do about this couple became the main topic of conversation. Folks had noticed them earlier in the day. They were the people who had camped out by the library for two weeks. They said they just needed to get their car fixed. Ah, I thought – we can help with that.

So my husband and I went to talk with the woman. We introduced ourselves. I said I’d heard they needed help getting their car fixed. No, she said, getting her cart fixed. Oh, I said. Can we loan you some tools? No, she said. I noticed she was gathering trash, and I offered to put it in our trash can. Thanks, she said. And that was it.

Over the course of the next few hours many noticed this couple. One neighbor wanted to call 911 and throw them out. Another wanted to find shelter services. Others wanted to let them be.

This morning they moved down a house, to the parking strip of a house whose owners live elsewhere. One neighbor called non-emergency and was told that unless they were engaging in illegal activity, there was nothing the police could do. Yet another neighbor asked if we couldn’t engage with them. All agreed we wanted to help. All agreed we didn’t want them in our neighborhood.
And then my hypocrisy hit me.  Yes, I want to help them, but not in my own backyard.

I don’t know how this will resolve and I don’t know what to do. I know that all of us are beloved children of God, human beings who deserve respect and dignity. After that, we differ. Some of us have a lot – a home, a car, storage space, places to get clean, family, neighbors, jobs, community. Some of us none of those things.

“You can’t help everyone. Not everyone wants help. But you can help some people. Set your boundaries, know your capabilities and your limits, and try.”

Is that enough?

Love to the loveless shown

Well, our friend Aaron showed up in church this morning.  As is his custom, he made his way to the sacristy, exited into the choir loft, and came down the three stairs to the chancel where my husband/co-pastor Gregg met him and escorted him to the front pew.  He sat with Aaron for a minute, then came back to the chancel, but in his place, one of our deacons sat with him and got him a hymnal in case he wanted to join in on “My Song Is Love Unknown.”  As we sang those words “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be” I watched Gregg and then Gail sit with Aaron, and make him feel welcomed and maybe even loved.

Sometimes I think that maybe Jesus is showing up with us as Aaron.  Every now and then Aaron appears.  Sometimes he’s sober, sometimes he’s not.  Sometimes he asks for a little help and sometimes he just needs to be with our people.  It always feels like a test: will this be the week Aaron does something that simply is not acceptable and we have to ask him to come back when he can observe the community norms?  Will this be the week that someone who doesn’t know Aaron’s story with us is mean or harsh to him?  Will this be the week when he removes his disguise and we realize that Jesus was testing us with the “Love Your Neighbor/Do This To One of the Least of These” exam?

Two weeks ago I preached about hunger and feeding people as a means of reconciliation.  We were writing Bread for the World letters after worship that day, and it all seemed to fit.  The statistics about world hunger are pretty depressing, as much because we waste 1/3 of all food produced as because millions of children are nutritionally comprised.  Here in Portland, a third of all students in Portland Public Schools face food insecurity on a regular basis.  I shared all of that with my well-fed, food -secure congregation.

The next day I get a text from one of the members of the family who is living in their car in our parking lot (with the church and neighborhood’s permission.)  They haven’t eaten in two days – could we help out with a gift card to the grocery store?  I heard Jesus whispering in my ear, “I was hungry  – did you or did you not give me something to eat?”

I came home this afternoon to my lovely house and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I looked around at all our space, and up at the ceiling under the new roof we just got, having driven home with a car full of gas.  Who am I, to have so much when others have little or nothing?  Who am I to not face the demon of substance abuse or mental illness?  Who am I to not be confined by my bad choices?

I don’t know if it’s the luck of the draw, privilege, injustice, prejudice, will, disposition, but lately it feels like Jesus keeps showing up in the guise of those considered by some to be the least of these.  Do I greet him with love?  Do I offer him grace?  Do I ignore him because it’s messy and hard to engage?

I tell myself I do what I can.  We help our parking lot guests out with grocery gift cards.  We have meals with them, but not as often as I think we ought.  We do their laundry, and sometimes that feels like doing ministry more than anything else I do in the week.

They are lovely people, our parking lot guests and Aaron and all of them.  I fear they don’t know that about themselves, and I fear they don’t know that God sees them as lovely, if they even think there is a God.  What they know is that there is this church with people who treat them with kindness.  I hope.

But my relative privilege and my relative wealth – this brand new roof over my head, this ability to buy food whenever I want it – recall another line from the hymn:

“Oh, who am I, that for my sake, my Love should take frail flesh and die?”

Maybe this is really about love

“I wonder who he’ll go see first.  His sister, maybe, or his best friend.  His parents? Maybe.  Or his in-laws.  Or maybe he’ll look for one of his heroes.  But I think Dad will see his sister first.”

I indulge myself in those sorts of thoughts occasionally, setting aside everything I ever learned about theology and Biblical exegesis.  I miss him, so I allow myself to envision my dad wandering around the cloudy expanse of heaven, finding the people he missed so much, those whose deaths left a void in his life, a void that is now gone.

I think that for myself, too – whom would I seek out?  Dad, obviously.  And my aunts, grandparents.  A college roommate.  A woman named Joanna, from the first congregation I served, whose unexpected death after ten awful days of waiting still strikes me to the core.  My cat Bud who was as precious to me as any person.

I don’t know what heaven will be like, if there is a heaven and if I get there.  But I’m not ready to let go of these people, so I cling so tightly to this idea that there is more that awaits us beyond the grave.  Many people I know don’t agree with me on this point, and that’s okay.  I mostly believe in a physical afterlife, and many people I know who believe there is something beyond the grave don’t agree with me  on that point.  That’s okay, too.  None of us will know till we die.

A wise friend of mine, who’s kept track of my grieving, shared that she thinks the second year after losing someone is harder than the first.  I’m testing out her hypothesis.  It feels like Dad has been gone a long while.  The year of firsts is over, but now it’s the year of seconds – the second birthday without him, the second Christmas, the second anniversary.  And that will be followed by the third and fourth and tenth and twentieth. Each anniversary is just a reminder that he is gone, I’ve lost him, he’s not coming back.

So I let myself imagine I’ll see him again, and I imagine he’s having a great time, and he doesn’t miss us because time is different there in heaven, and he’s catching up.

Maybe this is about grief.

It is about grief.

But it’s about love, too – wanting good things in life and life beyond death for those we have loved.  So I hope he has reconnected with his sister and best friend and parents and everyone.

On my dresser I have a little shrine to Dad – a photo of him holding my daughter when she was a baby, at my brother’s wedding.  The frame is flanked by a bottle of Royall Lyme, his aftershave of choice, and a small carved UCLA Bruin.  In front of the frame is a little plastic tray he brought me from Bermuda, and it holds a pocketknife with the emblem of a bank he once worked for.

I say good morning and good night to Dad every day. He doesn’t say anything back.  But I like to think that some day I’ll see him again, face to face, and we’ll say good morning to each other, and this heart of mine which has been cracked up a bit will be all mended up.

Love and grief; what a strange dance they have this side of the door.

royal lyme