The wedding shoe

As we near the end of our delightful and refreshing three-month sabbatical, my husband/co-pastor and I are finally doing all those little house projects we’ve been meaning to get to.  Yesterday we moved things around in the basement, which serves as our den, laundry room, and second guest room, and in moving stuff, we cleared out the closet.  As we went through only two plastic bins there, I found my wedding shoes.

“It’s probably time to give these away,” I said.

“Probably,” my husband replied.

I LOVED my wedding shoes.  My dear friend Alison, my co-bride who like me was getting married for the first time in her early forties, whose wedding was three weeks before our own, agreed to go shoe shopping with me. We discovered a charming store in uptown Chicago that specialized in wedding shoes.  She found what she needed, and I found what I needed.  Off-white satin with pumps with an ankle strap and rhinestone buckle, with what I thought would be a very comfortable 2 inch heel.  Fifteen minutes into the reception, not so comfortable.  But no mind. I loved the shoes, which no one saw, and which I happily took off later in the evening.

When we returned from our honeymoon, I realized that I would rarely wear these beautiful off-white shoes again, so I had them dyed black.  I believe I wore them once after that, because a few months later I got pregnant, my feet swelled, and after the baby my feet were never quite the same.  So the shoes have been sitting in this bin for 13 1/2 years and I don’t need to be a KonMari practitioner to know that if you haven’t worn something for 13 1/2 years, it’s time to let it go.

We went to the Goodwill drop off this morning and the gentlemen took our things.  The bag holding everything broke so it was a bit of a mess, and as we drove away, I saw a lone, dyed-black wedding shoe lying there in the dust.

There are many things I would do differently if I were to marry Gregg again.  I would not make my bridesmaids wear matching periwinkle dresses.  (Thank you, thank you, AM & EF.)  I would get a different dress.  I might ditch the tiara that held my veil in place.

But there are so many things I would do exactly the same.  I would marry Gregg again.  I would have AM and EF stand up with me.  The wedding party would enter to everyone singing a hymn.  I would walk down the aisle with my dad, a memory that is so poignant now that he’s gone.  I would have all those beloved family and friends there.  I might not register for gifts, but I would eat cake and dance and take all that joy all over again.

Of course, a wedding is not a marriage, as I tell betrothed couples .  A wedding is a herald of what’s to come, but in the years that unfold, cake gives way to boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, and veils give way to hats that hide a bad hair day, and beautiful satin shoes sit in the closet while sneakers are laced up or clogs slide on and socks mysteriously lose their mates in the dryer.

As I mentioned, we’re near the end of our sabbatical, and I’m so grateful for this time away.  One of the things I have most strongly realized is that I really love my husband.  Perhaps this should be obvious, but when you work with your spouse, and when you share an office with your spouse, you can lose sight of all the reasons you married that person.  We’ve spent all but five days of this sabbatical together, but there has been space to breathe and see each other anew.

I have no idea if he would say the same thing about me.  Maybe, maybe not.  But I’m still so grateful for a fantastic wedding that heralded a marriage that would be filled with beloved family and friends, and dancing, and cake.  But we promised each other never to give shoes as a gift – maybe that’s the secret to it all.

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Whose face do you see when you write the Easter sermon?

Well, it’s that time in Holy Week when I’m staring down the first draft of my Easter sermon, considering throwing the whole thing out, googling “great Easter sermon illustrations”, going back and reading awesome Easter sermons from the Great Masters and wishing I could be like them, and wondering if we could get away with a Lessons and Carols Easter.

No, too late for that.

So this is the point where I remember that I am called to serve a particular congregation, and while others whom I don’t know will show up, this is a Sunday for the congregation. And as I always do when I write a sermon, I picture these people in my mind’s eye.

I picture the family and friends of two members who died today, and wonder what on earth I could possibly say that could give them any measure of comfort, and remind myself that the best comfort comes not from words but from the community itself.

I picture my friend who comes to church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe once or twice in other times of the year, and wonder why she is there, and what she is looking for, and if any part of the service will find her.

I picture some folks who I think will worry that I’ll get political in the Easter sermon, because they brought their relatives who would disagree with anything I might say, making for an uncomfortable Easter brunch.

I picture those who don’t think a woman should ever be in the pulpit, and I don’t give them a second thought.

I picture my daughter, who has told me that our sermons lately have been downers and could I please say happy things this week since it’s Easter?

I picture the choir, sitting through the sermon twice, looking at my back for the whole of the sermon, and I say a prayer of gratitude for them, and for George Friedrich Handel, who wrote a pretty good piece called the Hallelujah Chorus.

I picture other members, getting on in years or fighting some crappy disease, knowing this may be their last Easter.

I picture the families, the parents who struggled to get their daughters into scratchy Easter dresses and their sons to wear clip-on ties because Grandma would like a cute picture, parents who worry about their kid acting up, or throwing a fit, and I want them to know that we understand kids get fussy and act out and we’re still so glad they are here.

I picture the staff and the volunteers who have worked so hard this week with extra services, doing so much to be hospitable and offer some spiritual depth.

I picture Jesus and Mary in the garden, and regret that that image is too informed by Warner Sallman and the pre-Raphaelites.

I picture the stranger who has come out of obligation.
I picture the friend who has come despite her grief.
I picture that faithful saint who has come because he believes all of this so deeply.

It’s a good audience, that crowd in my mind as I face down the lap top.

Who do you see when you write your Easter sermon?

 

Sunrise at the columbarium, with coffee

Two days after my father’s memorial service, my mother and sister and I had coffee at dawn at the columbarium where his ashes had been laid. It was a cool, dry morning, and while we did not see the sun, we did see the color of the sky change. We talked quietly, looked at the names next to the place where his name plate would eventually go, and sipped our coffee and blew our noses

This week as I think about Easter, I keep going back to that scene: three woman at the grave at dawn. Certainly we were still so very sad, and the worst of the grief had not yet set in. We were still together but later that day, after the sun had fully risen, I would make my way back to Oregon and my sister would go back to North Carolina. Our brothers would return home too, and Mom would return to her new life, life without Dad.

We left the columbarium so we could pack and head to the airport. Each goodbye weighed heavier than the last, though they were lightened by promises to see each other soon, to stay in touch, and we have, but still – there is nothing like being together in the flesh.

The Easter story tells of three women, or two disciples, or one woman and a gardener, all at the tomb. I know their grief, and I want to know their hope and surprise. This Holy Week in the thick of things, I do not know them. Not yet.

Sunday morning I will stand in the pulpit and read that magnificent story and I will bi-locate, and part of me will be at the columbarium with my mom and my sister, waiting for the sun to rise. One never really knows what will happen while preaching, if the Spirit will rush through me and I’ll know – know – that I’ll see Dad again; or if I’ll be totally disconnected from my words and putting on a good show; or if I’ll look out at the beloved congregation, so many of whom have walked through death and grief and hope, and who still show up in on Easter morning because there’s nothing like being together in the flesh, whether the news be bad or Good.

Church basements

A few years ago I did a wedding at the church for a couple who were not official members of the congregation.  The first time I met with them for premarital counseling, one of them asked if they could check out the church basement.  Sure, I said, with a slight hesitation, as we had already determined that they would get ready elsewhere and would not need “the bride’s room” to get ready.   As it turns out, this bride was the granddaughter of a pastor and she had a particular fascination with churches.  When we got downstairs, she took a big sniff, and said, “This smells just like a church basement should.”

I wasn’t sure how to react.  We had just done some renovations that included new drainage that would prevent the plaster walls from seeping water, so I was hoping she was not smelling fresh mold.

I’ve served a lot of churches, most of them with musty old basements.  In my first call, the choir music was stored in the basement and got moldy, so we had a good old-fashioned “wipe all the music down with diluted bleach” party.  We also availed ourselves of the opportunity to throw away the life-sized nativity set, since Joseph’s head was bashed in and one of the wise men was missing a hand.  That was before we found fifteen bags of bulk mail that were never delivered as someone hid them in the bowels of the church basement.

More recently, I’ve begun to think of church basements as magical places because of the great changes that begin in them.  How many 12 Step groups meet in church basements, in uneven circles of beige folding chairs, where people admit so much truth in their lives and seek deep transformation?  Those groups don’t work for everyone, I know, but I also know people who know they would be dead in some gutter without them.

This week I attended a meeting in the basement room of another church.  It was as you would suppose – acoustic tile ceiling, fluorescent lights, that unique slight smell, beige metal folding chairs, long tables, pillars in the middle of the room holding up the sanctuary one floor up.

Forty of us gathered in that church basement to talk about poverty, and the new Poor People’s Campaign, about being civilly disobedient to let the powers that be know that we really are serious about our friends who live with so little while we live with so much.  We signed things, and talked about why we were there, and promised to do something.  I wonder what spell J.K. Rowling would write for that, ending poverty.  Luxurios totem, maybe, or abudentsia totalis.

It didn’t seem very magical, if you looked at any one part of it – a few church people, more non-church people, xeroxed paper, beige folding chairs.  People who care about rents, and immigrants, and housing.  People like me who may or may not be courageous enough to be disobedient, albeit civilly.  People who believe that change can happen.

Even change that begins in a church basement.

church basement

Kitchen Table Saints

So there we were, at the kitchen table, celebrating the sacrament of the Kleenex box.  It was one of those inelegant moments of smeared mascara and a dripping nose, but it was a real moment, one of many around that kitchen table.  We took a breath so as to go on, only to see a friend arrive.

And then another friend, and then another friend, and before you knew it, we were all sitting around the kitchen table.  If any of us had been in our right mind, we would have scrounged up some cookies and tea, or retrieved the previous night’s Halloween candy; but no, we were celebrating the sacrament of Kleenex and tears, and nothing else was needed at the table but us and our running noses.

The conversation was as ordinary as it could be.  We talked about little things, and huge things.  Where are you going this weekend, what does Thanksgiving look like, how’s your dad, how’s the move.  It wasn’t that we were avoiding the elephant in the room, but we weren’t dissecting and classifying it either.

Saints do that, I suppose.  They come into unholy situations and by their love and light, make it, if not holy, then at least bearable with armor that looks like a favorite scarf and weapons that look more like plowshares than swords.

Then I went to pray.  All of us did.  It was An Important Prayer, and I did so want to get it right.  Except our other saint decided to snore quite loudly and rudely through the whole thing.  I giggled and stammered as I invoked the Creator, Holy God, Potentate of Time, Ineffably Sublime.  “From the sublime to the ridiculous” best categorizes the prayer.  But it was real, as real as the wadded Kleenex and the kitchen table, as real as that friendship, as real as that love.

In the end, a hymn saved me.  “So we pray for strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”  And the saints said Amen.

May you find saints around your kitchen tables too.

Some questions about biblical womanhood, because I’m not clear

jaelSo.  The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood just came out with a statement, which I have questions about, but before I get to those, I have some questions about biblical womanhood, because I’m not clear which woman/women of the Bible I am supposed to be like.  I say that as someone who’s been a church goer and Christian for 45 years.  I’ve studied the Bible probably more than some, and I have some questions.

I could ask the five women on the council what they think, although none claims to be a Biblical scholar, so maybe I should ask the men.  At any rate, here is what I’m wondering about.

Should my biblical role model be Eve, the first woman to disobey God?

Should my biblical role model be Noah’s wife, who evidently did so little during the flood that she didn’t even merit a name?

Should my biblical role model be Sarah, who finished late in the game and had only one son, who pretended to be her husband’s sister, who laughed at God, who banished her slave and the mother of her husband’s other son to the desert?

Should my biblical role model be Dinah, horrifically raped, whose violation led to the circumcision and then murder of her assailants?

Should my biblical role model be Puah and Shiphrah, Hebrew midwives who risked Pharoah’s wrath and punishment by pulling a child from the river?

Should my biblical role model be Miriam, who, among other things, danced?

Should my biblical role model be Deborah, the Sandra Day O’Conner of her day?

Should my biblical role model be Jael, who killed the leader of her enemy by driving a tent pole through his head while he slept?

Should my biblical role model be the wife in Proverbs 31, the Enjoli woman of her time, who did everything except sleep?

Or should I look to the Christian scripture?  Should my biblical role Mary, who sang about toppling kings from their thrones and cradled the body of her dead son?

Should my role model be Mary Magdalene, who (as you know if you read the Bible) was not a prostitute, but the first female apostle, who (as far as we know) never married or had children?

Should my role model be Lydia, the real housewife of Thytira, who ran with the big dogs and made a lot of money and then opened her household to complete strangers who were in need?

Should my role model be Joanna, Phoebe, Prisca, and Aquila, deaconesses who took care of people?

Should my role model be the thousands of unnamed women in the Bible who made fabric and clothing, tended the fields, kept the fires burning, birthed baby after baby after baby, raised children, and endured second-class citizenship but kept the faith throughout?

I’m so not clear here.  But here’s what I think.  That if I’m to model the biblical womanhood of any of these women, I should be reaching out the vulnerable, pulling strangers out of the flood, breaking rules that make no sense and are not just, feeding people, and taking strangers into my home.  I should be singing and dancing and taking leadership roles.

But as far as I know, if I am to follow the example of biblical womanhood as set forth in this scripture that I love and wrestle with, then I don’t need to be writing statements about sexual morality and who is and isn’t a sinner.   None of them did that.

Thank God.

Thinking small

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baby Jesus in a locket

I’ve been distracted from writing these past few months because I’ve taken up paper mosaics, which involves cutting up previously used paper and using it to create something else.

I blame the coloring books I had dallied with earlier in the year, and the move from there to some very amateur illustrations for early reader books my friends are making for children in Ethiopia.

And then – oh, and then!  I decided to make a mosaic out of all my old to-do lists, and behold – the Flower of Accomplishment!

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this is not the finished product, but you get the idea

Then our children’s ministry director was recycling all the old Sunday School lithographs – the ones with the white, Van Dyke-bearded Jesus, teaching the well-behaved and well-dresssed children, so I took a bunch of those and cut them up and made an icon of a saint I wish existed: Martha (as in Luke 10), Patron Saint of Clergywomen.

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Yes, she is holding a baby and a plunger and if you have ever been a clergywoman (or a director of Christian Education) you will understand why.

Then I thought that Martha looked a little formal and prim, and I remembered my dear mentor friends Lucy and Carol, and am finishing up the icon of another saint I wish existed: Sarah (as in Genesis), Patron Saint of the Old Broads of the Church.

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Sarah likes breaking the rules, ditching the collar and the dyed hair, without the sedate dark blue background but with a scandalous red one

She has eschewed the clerical collar, but is holding the ubiquitous cup of coffee and making a peace sign.  She also keeps Jesus close to her heart.  I’m not happy with her face yet, and I did some old school cutting and pasting to straighten her out, but she’s almost there.  I think I have one more Patron Saint icon in me, but I’m not sure yet who she is.  Jael, Patron Saint of the Mansplained?  Eve, Patron Saint of the Rule Breakers?

Another favorite Old Broad of the Church, Margaret, would ask then ask me, “What have you learned from this?”

I have learned that when you take something very big and make it very small, you have a new appreciation for its beauty and character.  Those old Sunday School lithographs were beautiful, and there are some beautiful pieces of quarter-inch squares in these pieces.  And I have learned that when you take something very big and make it very small and then combine all that smallness to make something big again, you make a brand new thing that still has characteristics of the old thing.  I think family systems theory would support that.

I have also learned that I am developing my patience muscles, which is a good thing, and that somehow these mosaics have to do with call and story telling.  Martha and Sarah, like all the saints, are shaped by the stories that are in their DNA.  Maybe we are too, shaped by the stories that get cut up and reorganized and glued down in different ways.

I got to hold a day-old baby yesterday.  He is a tiny thing, made up of cells and molecules and atoms and genetic pieces of his mom and dad.  His story has just begun, but he is already shaped the stories that surround his family and their friends.  What a miraculous thing this is, this life, these tiny things that turn out, in the end, to be enormous.