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.

Heart’s Desire

A-hand-drawn-heartFor months, at the urging of my spiritual director, I have been praying to find my heart’s desire, to find that thing (not a person – I have those) that inspires me, energizes me; my flow.  But you pray for something long enough, and the prayer goes unanswered, and eventually you stop praying for the thing.

The last few months have found me in the doldrums. (Excellent word, by the way, with possible origin in the words dull and tantrum.)  Yes, you could say I’ve been having a dull tantrum for a season, the result of an unusually warm summer, a not-fun spring at church, and continued physical pain as my hip heals more slowly than I would like. Plus sometimes I’m just a big baby.

And then I got an idea.  I would write a book, a novel, about a church, because I am the First Pastor Ever to think about writing a novel about a church.  I thought about it all spring, and I thought about during our first week of vacation, and I thought about it some more the week our kid was at sleep away camp.  And then I went away for a week, to the lovely shores of Lake Tahoe with a plum assignment of leading worship once a day.

In my free time, I powered up the ol’ laptop and started writing.

I am having a ball.

Today when I met with my spiritual director I told her I had started writing my book and she commented that light was bouncing all around me.  She noted my energy and joy.  And then she said, “I think you found your heart’s desire.”  I will note that God took God’s sweet time answering my prayer, but a thousand years are but a day, etc. etc.

Here’s the thing: writing this puppy is cathartic, and in twenty years of ministry I have met amazing people who have done strange and wonderful things that inspire the characters.  There’s swearing and liturgy.  Twists and turns.  Recipes.  Lists.  Thwarted romance.  A Yorkie Poo.  It is so me.

Back in high school, I aspired to be a writer, but college and theatre and then seminary and ministry got in the way.  To be truthful, my daughter’s own love of writing has inspired me, and maybe some day we will write a book together.  (I can just hear her saying, in about eight years, “As if.”)

This book will never see binding or a spine or a listing on Amazon.   I’m pretty clear about that.  It might show up on this blog.  It might be a Christmas present to my friends and family. But maybe one’s heart’s desire doesn’t have to have a purpose or action plan.  Maybe one’s heart’s desire doesn’t have to lead to success, fame, or fortune.  Maybe one’s heart’s desire is simply the thing that leads out of dull tantrums to joy.

That’s all for now – chapter nineteen awaits.writing

A prayer for such a time as this

Holy God,

We are appalled – but not enough.
We are grieved – but not enough.
We are fed up – but not enough.

Our hearts are breaking for the loss of those nine beautiful lives, nine of Your faithful children who were killed doing what You ask us to do – study and pray.  So however appalled and grieved and fed up we are, You most be all those things to the millionth degree.

But God, I’m not sure our feelings are enough; I’m not sure my feelings are enough.  I have spent the last day with tears in my eyes, learning the names of the dead, reading about their lives, reading about their church, and that is not enough.  I have spent time learning about the hate in my own city’s past, about the exclusion this state used to practice, and I have listened to conversations by those who are displaced because their neighborhood suddenly becomes “desirable.”

And God, I’m not sure my knowledge is enough.

Please, Holy God, do not let us go back to the same-old same-old.  Please do not let us mourn for a week or so, and sign some petitions, and shake our heads and cry, and then be done.  Hold our feet to the fire, to the refiner’s fire.  Let us not speak but listen, and when we are done listening, let us act.  Do whatever You have to do to make us so outraged that Your children were gunned down in your house, make us so ashamed of our own complicity or inaction in matters of race, that we don’t sit and tsk-tsk anymore.

But what do we do, O God?  Show me the way.  Show us the way.  Lead us out of this abyss we have gotten ourselves into.

And comfort the families of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, and Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., and Ethel Lance, and Cynthia Hurd, and Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson, and Tywanza Sanders, and Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson.  And comfort the family of the shooter, because although I do not believe it, I think You would say that he is Your child too.

Amen.

Bring Them All Home

clasped handsFor about five weeks the song “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables has been going through my head, a kind of incessant prayer for the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria.  Every time I think about them – which is often – I become almost paralyzed in my horror and grief.  And I don’t think I’m having that response because I’m a mother or a parent.  I think I’m horrified by this because I’m a decent human being who believes that children should not be the pawns in the deadly games that adults play.

When I was a teenager, my family was held up in our home.  For forty-five of the longest minutes of my life, my little brother, who was nine at the time, was taken hostage.  He’s fine now; we’re all fine now, after time and therapy and a lot of love.  But for forty-five minutes I sat in my neighbor’s house, paralyzed, and when I saw the police cars pull away and knew the situation had been resolved, I didn’t know if my next move would be to exhale or scream.  I exhaled, because the SWAT team was successful in their negotiations and my brother was okay.  I hope so much that the families of those girls are able to exhale soon; to exhale and run and embrace those children and watch them grow up and heal.

Sometimes I wish God would just smite dead people who abuse and terrify children.  I don’t believe in the death penalty, except when I do and that’s usually when something horrific has happened to a child.  I have to stop myself from thinking about what might be happening to these girls, isolated in the woods, or being smuggled out of the country to illegal human markets.

I feel so powerless about this, that there is nothing I can do other than pray.  So I pray.  I pray that these girls are allowed to be with each other, that leaders have risen among them who set a tone of comfort and hope.  I pray for their families.  I pray for those in positions of power and influence.  And because Jesus tells me I have to, I pray for the terrorists.  The prayer is pretty basic: God, I am praying for these terrorists.  I do not know what to ask for, but You know what to do, so do that.  Amen.

Then that little voice in my head gets going.  You know that voice – the one that tells you prayer is not enough. The one that reminds you that there are children right here who are in just as desperate a situation as those Nigerian girls.  The voice that does not let you off the hook for worrying about something on the other side of the world without worrying about things in your own back yard.

It’s not just me – maybe the media could cover some of our own domestic tragedies, especially those that involve children, especially children who live below the poverty line, children of color.  Maybe our own elected officials could look in their backyards in addition to looking across the globe.

Last year my daughter and I read Robert Coles’ book The Story of Ruby Bridges.  My daughter was amazed that a child was treated that way, and I was horrified by it, though I knew the story.  I think about her courage and her faith and her prayer for those who were doing such cruel things to her and shouting such hateful things at her.  And my wish that God would smite dead all those who abuse and terrify children comes back.  Because I really, really pray that adults will stop using children in their deadly games.

The Earthly Cloud of Witnesses

A friend of mine is in the middle of a tragedy right now.  It’s a tragedy of circumstance, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  There was no evil, no harmful intent.  But she is in the midst of a tragedy, and it is wrenching.

My friend is one of the most faithful servants of the church that we have nowadays.  She has committed her life to serving this funny, flawed, and hope-filled institution.  I consider her a mentor, friend, and yente, as she worked years to get me and my husband together.  I owe her more than I can ever say, and she would never say that I owe her anything.  She’s that kind of person.

Because she has been this faithful servant of the church she knows a lot of people, and I mean, a LOT of people. So when news of this tragedy hit Facebook, our modern and immediate Pony Express, the message boards lit up with prayers that you would not believe.  At the end of the day I read all the comments on all the posts, and I am overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed by the love and the faith and the hope and the presence that these silly, powerful Facebook comments convey.  And last night, after a long session meeting, as I sat on the couch in my pajamas with the dog in my lap, the husband by my side, and Castle playing on the DVR, I realized that as much as we talk about the great cloud of witnesses in the sky, there is the earthly cloud of witnesses, too.

All these people posting on Facebook – and all those posting on the Caring Bridge site, and emailing and calling and showing up: they are witnesses to love, to the power of love and gratitude.  They are witnesses to the power of friendship, and the church, and belief that you tell people you love them and hold them in your heart.

Love cannot undo this tragedy, and my heart breaks at that.  Love cannot fix what is broken in this situation.  But love might be able to make it a little less worse than it is.  As the tragedy is cauterized, love might distract in that good way.  Love might take away an ounce of the pain.  Love will persist, because I know some of these people in this earthly cloud of witnesses, and like me, they have been mentored and loved by my friend.  They will show up; they will pray; and whether they know or care that they are doing this, they will witness to the Good.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overwhelm it.”

Candlelight vigil cups color

Stuffed; or better, My Cup Runneth Over

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarly this morning I was on my way to the grocery store for eggs and Rainier beer, because it’s Thanksgiving, of course.  As I drove along the familiar route, I looked up to the steeple of the Methodist church, and noticed a bird on top.  It took me a moment, because I wasn’t sure if it was a real bird, perched atop the cross on top of the steeple, or some sort of weather vane thing. It was 7:15 on Thanksgiving morning and no one else was on the road, so I just watched for a few seconds until the bird moved its head, and the mystery was solved.  Because I was driving toward what was left of the sunrise the bird was silhouetted, and I couldn’t tell what it was, but I guessed it might be a seagull.  Interesting.

For the rest of the drive I thought about the bird on the cross on the steeple.  Maybe it’s keeping watch, or having its own little vigil for all of its bird-kin who gave their lives today that we might enjoy turkey and dressing and the works.

I got to the store and immediately went to Starbucks, because Momma hadn’t had her morning coffee yet and it would just be better if I did.  I got my eggs, and noted the Safeway does not sell Rainier beer, and picked up a few things to make a pumpkin cheesecake I hadn’t planned on baking.  I thanked everyone at the store profusely for working on Thanksgiving.  They were all quite gracious, and said no problem, that’s why we’re here.  Nice.

On the way home I thought about food.  I thought about my plan to eat so that I’m full but not stuffed, and my intention for exercise today.  Then I thought about all the people who will be getting their Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter or soup kitchen, if they get any Thanksgiving at all.  I thought about the cut in food stamps, and the food that flies off the shelves at our local food pantries, and maybe yours, too.  I thought about the woman at my parents’ church who died recently, about her personal ministry of collecting food from  local stores and driving it out to the fields to feed the migrant workers.

Last night at dinner our daughter asked about the Great Depression.  She’s reading the American Girl “Kit” books, and wanted to know what a depression is.  I told her that her grandparents remember the Depression, and how her great grandmothers would give food to anyone who came to the house who looked hungry.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but it does stir stuff up, stuff about the privilege of having a table of friends or family to eat with, the privilege of drinking good wine and eating an ethically-raised turkey.  It stirs up stuff about people who don’t have community or food; it stirs up stuff about the gloss of the first Thanksgiving story.

We’re joining friends whom we love for dinner today; I am grateful that they invited us.  They’re not particularly religious people, so I imagine there will be no grace said at the table, which is fine, because I can say many graces of my own today.  So here goes – and a happy Thanksgiving to you.

God of bounty, who calls us to see the scarcity;

may we be full today.

May we be full of your stuff, and not ours –

full of gratitude, of course;

full of mercy for the things that go wrong;

full of sorrow for those who hunger;

full of hospitality to those who are lonely;

May our cups runneth over.

God who loves the widows and orphans, who calls us to look far to the margins,

may we hunger today.

May we hunger for your graces, and not ours –

hunger for some justice;

hunger for some healing;

hunger for kindness, humility, and faith.

Hunger for our suffering kin who are so depleted they cannot even wail.

Our cups do run over, God, because you love us.

Let us fill each other’s cups today.

Amen.

Pride and Humility, with maybe a bit of prejudice thrown in

But maybe it's humble pie...

But maybe it’s humble pie…

So I was pretty sure I was about to get my gluteus maximus handed to me on a platter.  Instead, I received a more gracious lesson in humilty than I could ever have imagined.

Someone else handed that part to me on a platter in a different matter, but that’s another story.

A friend of mine just posted “I’ve been learning a lot about humility lately” and I replied “me too.”  I have a new-found respect for the beatitude about the meek, because if they’re anything like the few meek people I knew, I do believe they deserve the inheritance of this beautiful earth.

Maybe like a lot of people, I have a lumpy ego – strong in some areas, wilted in others.  In my role as pastor, and particularly as female pastor, I’ve assumed a strong stance.  Just because I’m a lady minister does not mean that I am a pushover, so I will assert myself in meetings and sermons  and emails and all sorts of places.  And sometimes I really am working from a strong place; sometimes I’m just pretending and praying that no one will pull the curtain and discover that, in fact, I am not Great and Powerful but just pretending to be.

I want to be strong, smart, articulate, assertive, on top of things.  But I learned today that sometimes being those things is off-putting or discouraging to someone else.  There I was, talking to someone whom the world might disregard, overlook, or write off, for reasons of prejudice I won’t go into.  I was pretty sure this person was mad at me and was going to let me have it.  So I had girded my loins and prayed my version of the Sinner’s Prayer: “Dear sweet Jesus, please help me to keep my mouth shut and help me to channel just a little bit of your grace.  Amen.”

Well, Jesus didn’t need to help me keep my mouth shut because my Meek of the Earth person did.  In an elegant, direct, kind way, this person helped me understand that when I put forth my Miss Smartypants self, I can be intimitidating.  The wilted part of my ego finds it hilarious that I could intimidate anyone, but the reality check I had today confirmed it.  At some point during our conversation I had the big a-ha.  Oh, this is what Jesus means by the least of these.  These are the ones we are to care about and to care for.  I have gotten it wrong, wrong, wrong.  It really is so not about me.

Anyway, I’m humbled today, and that comes from a strong place, if you know what I mean.

The Kindness of Strangers

kindnessSo I’m at Target, because it’s my day off and one pair of jeans evidently isn’t sufficient for our second grader.  Because I have been very, very good at Target, and bought only two pairs of size 6 pants and one package of trouser socks (as opposed to $150 worth of stuff I don’t need) I treat myself to Starbucks which, quite conveniently, is right there in the Target.

The woman ahead of me in line is chatting up quite a storm and I keep telling myself “this extra minute she’s taking will not throw off your entire day’s schedule.”  I breathe in through my nose and breathe out through my  mouth.  I imagine I am one with the universe, but I know this is a lie, because really, all I want is my skinny latte, thank you very much.  There’s only one thing standing between me and my latte, and that is this chatty woman.

She finishes her order, then turns to me and says, “Would you mind signing a birthday card for a complete stranger?  My best friend is stuck in a hotel room all by herself on her birthday and she’s going through a nasty divorce and I thought this card signed by random people would cheer her up.”  I say yes, and get my comeuppance for my impatience.  The Universe is right more often than I am.  We meet at the pick-up counter, and I have plenty of time to sign the card, because her mocha latte with four pumps of peppermint is taking a long time.  While we wait, she asks another few folks to sign the card, and then leaves.

I’m still waiting for my drink, but I notice she is on her way out the door without her Minty Minty Special, so I go after her and ask if maybe she would like her drink.  She smiles, and makes that face I make at least three times a day – I believe we call that “chagrin” –  and I get my latte and go on my merry way.

That was a kind thing for her to do  – to picture her friend ordering room service in her jammies, all alone on her birthday in some generic hotel room and to want her not to feel sad.  She put herself out there, a little bit, risked some foolishness so she might cheer up her friend.  I’ve always appreciated the kindness of strangers; I haven’t depended on it, but I do appreciate it.

So I’ve been wondering how I can be kind to our congressmen and women right now.  Really, they are strangers to me.  Our congressman attends our Christmas Eve service, but other than a handshake, I don’t know him.  I don’t know any of these people duking it out at the capitol.  I know what I think of them, especially those on the other side of the aisle than mine.  But this little voice – maybe it’s Jesus – keeps tickling my brains saying, “You have to be kind to strangers.  And you have to love your enemies.”  Sigh.  Why does Jesus have to make everything so hard?

So I guess I have to pray for all those people, the red state people and the blue state people.  (Honestly, I can never remember which is which.)  I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to pray for God to change them, but I think I’m on the right track by asking God to help them.  I’ll pray for Pam, alone in a strange city in a Hyatt on her birthday.  I’ll pray for her friend, too, because she pretty much made my day.

Here’s to some kindness all around.

Auld_Lang_Syne

The God of Second Chances

(This is a wedding homily for a couple at the church.  When discussing the service, which is very simple, the bride commented that it would be great if the homily could be like one of my blog posts.  It is posted here with their permission.  So here you are, Libby and Randy: may love continue to lead your way.)

lego bgWe stand here, at the beginning of a new thing today, because of the ending of some other things: the ending of solitude and loneliness, the end of the crush of grief, the end of the fear of loving again.  We stand here, today, on this glorious afternoon in this glorious spot of creation, because of second chances, because of this God we have who gives second chances to us beloveds.

The fact that you two stand up here this day says something about your confidence in second chances.  With this second chance you kind of know what you’re in for, or what you may be in for – the good and the bad and the heartbreaking of it.  But this love, this relationship, this commitment to each other is compelling, and here you are.

But maybe all of this isn’t really about second chances.  Maybe it’s not about that at all.  Maybe it really is about that stuff Paul described: faith and hope and love.

Faith in each other: the faith that this is a person I can trust; that this is a person who’s been through as much hell as I have and like me has come through to the land of the living; that this is a person I want to waltz with early and often.

Hope that something good was learned the first time around; hope that some of the things that happened before won’t happen this time; hope not that I will change this person, but that I will  be changed for the better because I am committed to this person.

And love, that four-letter word we toss about like a frisbee on a spring day.  You two know what love is, what real love is.  You know how love gets you through the grief and the loss and the disappointment.  You know how loves makes a tarnished old piece of life look shiny and new.   You’ve watched each other love your parents; you’ve watched each other love your brothers and sisters; you’ve watched each other love and raise your sons.  And you admire how each other loves, and you’re inspired by that, and you want to be in the midst of all of that adorable radiance.

We may well be here because of second chances, but really, I don’t think there’s any chance to this at all.  You’ve worked too hard to suggest that your marriage is the offspring of whimsy or serendipity or luck.  You’ve been loved by people who didn’t want to see you alone; you’ve been encouraged by your family and your friends and some professionals; you’ve been held up by each other.  You’ve been wise and patient.  And now you get the joy, and the rest of your life, together, and the waltz.  A future in 3/4 time: now that’s a second chance.

libby randy

Prayer of blessing for the marriage

Loving God, we thank you for the gift of this day, and for the gift of love, and for the gift that Libby and Randy are to so many of us.   In our gratitude and joy, we ask for your blessing on these two people as they make official their commitment to each other, to life together.

Bless them as parents, as they raise boys into men, and give them patience and wisdom and discerning hearts when the Legos have taken over  the living room and when curfews are broken. Bless their sons in this new version of family, and give them patience with their parents, and wisdom, and discerning hearts. 

Bless Randy and Libby as professionals in their careers, with a sense of accomplishment and challenge, with gratitude for the talents they have,  and with work that is meaningful and rewarding.

Bless Libby and Randy as daughter and son, as they care for their parents and demonstrate all that they have learned from them.

Bless them as brother and sister, as they discover again and again the camaraderie and friendship of their siblings.

And mostly this day, O God, we ask that you bless them as husband and wife, in their care for each other; on the days when everything is sunshine and a good IPA, and on the days when it’s gray gray Portland and the toast burned and washer backed up and tempers are short and relief feels an eternity away. Bless them with joy, at least a drop every day, and sometimes buckets. Bless them with joy, knowing that their joy is infectious, and becomes ours as well. Thank you, O God; thank you.  Amen.

Too Soon

There are certain things that are not supposed to happen while on vacation.  It is not supposed to rain (which it did.)  When visiting a quaint beach town, one is not supposed to encounter protesters at the local post office who want to impeach the president and make their point by drawing a Hitler mustache on the leader of the free world (which also happened.)  And young adults whom you once knew as teenagers aren’t supposed to kill themselves.

As much as we might pretend to vacate the world or our own little realities from time to time, life presses on.  Good things happen while we’re away, and tragic things too.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  I am not Queen of the Universe; the world doesn’t stop because I have set aside a little sabbath time.  But some things are hard no matter when they happen, like the death of a person you still remember as a bright, crazy-talented, slightly pimply teenager in your church’s youth group.

I served that church ten years ago, and have since lost touch with so many of the folks there.  I was a bit of a tertiary staff person to the youth program, but when the youth went on a retreat and they needed a pastor to celebrate communion, I was on deck, so I got to know these kids.  “These kids” – they are now adults, holding down jobs, finishing grad school, getting married and starting families and starting careers.  When I hear about them through the ecclesiastical grapevine, or one of them friends me on Facebook, I am so glad and so proud.  I have no reason to be proud, but I am.  They are on their way, and doing great, or at least doing as well as any of us might hope to, given our flaws and foibles and the general human condition.

But this kid.  This kid.  My heart aches for his parents and his sister.  For his friends, too, because I know that particular class from the youth group was tight.  Maybe they knew what I did not, that mental illness was a burden he carried, along with his talent and friendship and handsome gawkiness.   I picture his parents – devout, faithful, loving, possessing a patience and concern I never realized.  I picture his friends – the one who worked at Starbucks and made me a latte at 7:00 on a Sunday morning as I made my way to church.  The woman who was smarter and more beautiful than she ever realized.  The guy with the crazy hair who got ordained and now wears tabs on Sunday mornings.  The one who went into the Peace Corps.  The one who’s a doctor. All of them, tonight, grieving.  Grieving the death of a peer, a friend, maybe someone they would even call beloved.

This is about all I know tonight:  that he left the world a little more beautiful because of the talent he shared.   That he left the world a little more fragile because of that cusp of anxiety and depression that he teetered on.  That he woke us all up to the present, to the gift of right now, the gift of old friendships,  and the gift of community.

My prayers are with that community tonight.  Rest in peace, all.saugatuck