Ashy Heart

We had unicorns at last night’s Ash Wednesday service, and by that I mean two young families with young children who had not been to our church before.

I wondered why they were there. Renegade Methodists? New to the neighborhood? Curious about what goes on inside this big stone fortress of the church? They left before I had the opportunity to introduce myself. But still, I wondered.

It was, I suppose, a rather typical Ash Wednesday service. We went out into the courtyard as the service started to burn last year’s palms, and as the flames danced a bit in the damp evening, the acrid and distinct smell of burnt palms may have made the neighbors wonder exactly what was going on.

The liturgy was straight out of the Book of Common Worship, as I wasn’t feeling too inspired to write anything of my own. Good stuff there. I am grateful.

So we burn the palms and sing and pray and confess and have communion and do the ashes. These families come up for the ashes. The first family comes up with a wee girl who’s maybe three or four, looking at me with wide eyes, innocence and trust.

I cannot tell her she is dust.

I want to tell her she is light and joy, she is wonder and curiosity, she is neutrons and cells and mitochondria and if she has to be dust, she shares that dust with stars. So I bend down and look her in the eyes and ask her if it’s okay if I put something on her forehead. She nods yes. I make a heart of ashes on her sweet skin, and tell her she is so loved. Then I straighten up, look her mother straight in the eyes, make an ashy cross, and tell her – this complete stranger – that she is dust and to dust she will return.

I’m so tired of death I just didn’t have it in me today to say those words to a child. When I started in ministry I was more hardcore. Everyone got ashes – the matriarch with dementia, the dad with cancer, the baby.

Now I want people to live and live fully. I want children to grow without fear of getting killed at school or nuked at home. I don’t want them to have to know about death for a few years. Maybe when their goldfish dies, or when their teacher’s mom dies, maybe then, but not this year on Ash Wednesday.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to think that life just goes on and in and in, and all the people you love stay around?

It would be quite lovely.

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Lovely Human Beings

Do you know some lovely human beings? I hope you do, because I just spent a few days with a dozen or so of them, and they are restorative and inspiring.

I go back a few years with this group, and the thing about staying with folks for a decade or more is that you begin to see the facets of their loveliness, and how it deepens over time.

I have a friend who is a lovely human being whose thin layer of snark has melted over the years and now all your see is holy contentment and gratitude. Another friend, also a lovely human being, has persisted over the years despite some wrenching slings and arrows and has emerged not victorious, but even more kind and gracious. One such lovely is going through an unasked-for and undeserved hard time and it flattened me to see the care that surrounded her in the midst of all of it.

“Loveliness” is akin to “loveable” but they are not synonymous. It’s a noun of the adjective lovely, which might mean pleasing to the senses in some way; lovely human beings are pleasing to the senses. We like to see the way their eyes crinkle when you know they’re thinking of something hilarious but don’t want to say what it is. We like to hear the sound of their laugh; to feel their embrace, to remember their brand of soap or hairspray.

But their loveliness goes beyond the senses and into the heart and maybe even the gut. When you are with lovely people, you feel safe. You know they will respect your pain, and make light of your failures, and rejoice with you as the situation calls for.

So I hope you have at least a few but better, many lovely human beings in your life, and more than that, I hope you get to be with them occasionally.

And if so, remember that one of the things that makes them lovely is your love.

Some lovely human beings I was with this week

Sitting with despair, again

I went to bed with a headache

I woke up with a headache

I awoke to heartbreak.

O dear God, I am tired; aren’t you?

Aren’t you sick and tired of seeing the morning news about death, destruction, and violence? About human indecency and cruelty and depravity? About inaction and apathy and resignation?

As a person of faith, I’m a bit beyond prayers, and scripture citings, but I think it’s good that churches are opening up their doors so people can sit in consolation, light a candle, say something or say nothing or cry or be numb.

Holy Christ.
Holy Christ.
Holy
Christ.

Every so often I go back and read the marvelous Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin. In one of the books, spells have lost their power, and words have lost their meaning.  There is a hole between life and death that must be filled in order for the power and the meaning to come back.

We live with a gaping hole somewhere.  A tear in the fabric of kindness.  A split seam that held together differing opinions.  A rock was thrown through the evidently flimsy wall that kept us from acting on our basest instincts.

Holy Christ.
Holy Christ.
Holy Christ.

I have no hallelujahs left to give right now, no glories, no praise.  Just numbed tears.

What will tomorrow bring?

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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.

Perhaps it goes without saying 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I am horrified by the events in Charlottesville. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I know I have not done enough to confront the racism in my heart or my community. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I believe white supremacy is an evil lie. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I think all of us – and I mean all – are created in the image of God. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I find Facebook a great place to say things that aren’t followed up by action. 

Perhaps all those things and more go without saying. 

But the thing is, I haven’t said them, so there is no way anyone can really know what I think or feel or believe. 

So let me say this:

Hate is wrong. 

Racism is evil and has deep roots and long tentacles. 

White supremacy won’t make America great; in fact, it will be the death of us. 

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. 

Taking a break

Well, dear readers, I’m taking a break from this blog for a little while.

Everything is fine, I just haven’t felt inspired to write, and I haven’t felt the need to write anything.  I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps the blog-o-sphere doesn’t need another blog by a middle-age white woman.  I’m also a little word-weary right now.

I’ll continue to post liturgy on occasion, and if I find I must write something, I will!

In the meantime, be well, have hope, and fight the good fight.

Rock on,
Beth

ps: I have been doing some art. Here is my paper mosaic of Martha, Patron Saint of Clergywomen 

Words that break our hearts, again

On Friday, May 26, a white supremacist began threatening two teenage girls -one African American, one Muslim, wearing a hijab – on the Max train in Northeast Portland.  Three men came to their defense, and were stabbed.  Two died, Rick John Best and Taliesen Namkai-Meche; the third, Micah Fletcher, was wounded but survived.

The first inkling that something had happened showed up on Facebook, as friends wondered why there were so many sirens, why so many police were racing down Broadway.  Then a post that there may have been a stabbing at the Max station.  Then the news.  Then the disbelief.  Then the tears.

What do you even say?  That the violence was so sudden and vicious?  That hate is ever present, and love is too?  The words of my sermon on Sunday felt flimsy; I’m not sure there are even the right words to say.

Except when I read that Taliesen’s last words were about love, his love for everyone on that train.  Except when I read that Micah is a poet, and he has spoken since the attack, words that I find encouraging and courageous and challenging.  Maybe words do matter.

Later that same evening I learned that one of my favorite crafter of words, author, prose-poet, essayist Brian Doyle, died, having succumbed to the ravages of a brain tumor.  I wish I could have read what he might have written about the Max train and the girls and the men.

I went to bed that night with my heart broken in new places.  I woke up Saturday and worked on setting aside all the feeling and thinking about all of it.  Oregon has a terrible history when it comes to welcoming people who aren’t white.  Portland does too, from red-lining to KKK presence to new threats.  While researching how to pronounce Taliesen’s name, I ended up on a white supremacist blog, which I quickly exited but not before reading part of a ghastly post.

The president, by his thrown-off, impetuous words, has opened the door to freedom of hate speech, which took the form of harassing two young women who were sitting on a train, doing nothing more than that.  Haters are emboldened.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will terrify us.

Words led to actions.  Words of hate led to a knife being brandished.  Words of love led to quick courage.  Words led to death.  Words led to fear.

And now words are bringing our community together and tearing at it too.  The mayor tried to limit a free speech rally.  The ACLU said he couldn’t.  Words of sympathy are pouring out, as are donations for the families of the victims.  Words of blame, words of being afraid are heard and printed.

What would happen if there was silence?  What would happen if all the words written in chalk at the Max station were erased?  What if there were only our tears, and the flowers, and quiet?  Would our silence be understood as cowardice or defeat or acquiescence?  Would silence be healing or hiding?

Are words hollow, or all they full?

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος