Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Poem For Marathon Day 2013

I wrote this poem last year the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. Having lived in New York City on September 11, 2001, so much of the experience of public tragedy felt familiar, but on a smaller scale. In New York we were a mile and a half from the site; this time, eight miles away in Medford. I still struggle with how the lives of those lost in that tragedy--because it seemed so random--are perceived to be more publicly grievable than others (I blogged about this for my parish--see that post here). "Urban violence" is seen as somehow expected, and therefore less worthy of the attention. This is, obviously total bullshit.  But that fact also doesn't make it less traumatic for a bomb to go off on a clear April day.

Marathon Day, or April 15, 2013

This is the day as it becomes
the date
4/15, 9/11, 7/7 the list
goes on

Our faces know this pinched expression
tightly turned in lips
lines deepening between tired yes

Our faces will stay this way
for some time.

Then we forget.

Not from apathy, but survival
or compassion for ourselves

(though some can never forget, the loss so great)

And what is forgetting, after all
we overestimate the moral weight of our own feelings

longing for substance, weight
but still, it is a luxury.

Our faces will stay this way for some time
we forget
it happens again

(it happens to so many, every day)

We reckon with this world
confronted by its suffering
always someone

whose face is lined with grief
broken by sorrow
healed by love

even as it happens

and our faces

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Making the right mistakes

 This year, again, my parish will participate in “Ashes to go,” a newish practice in the church in which we go to wherever the people are to share prayers (and dust)  for Ash Wednesday. I and a smallish team will be at the Waltham Massachusetts Commuter Rail Station, a few blocks from the parish.  Last year we were on our own—about seven people participated throughout the morning—but this year, we’re partnering with Chaplains on the Way, a mostly-homeless ministry. I appreciate this especialy because, in a way, the street is their church. I wonder about how many people, who, for whatever reason, don’t feel comfortable coming into a church, and how powerful a witness it is to leave our comfort zone of having people come to us.  Will someone have a more “deep” experience in coming to church? As a priest I’d probably hope so, but I also shouldn’t make assumptions about what happens between an individual and God, no matter where they’re standing. I heard a quote about meditation once that said that you could open the window, but you couldn’t make the breeze come in. That probably applies here—when fewer and fewer people having traditional church backgrounds, we need to throw open as many windows as we can.

It’s not an easy question, though—how far can you go from tradition before you’ve lost the center of what you’re committed to in the first place? What are we inviting people toward if we compromise too far?  How much do we ask of people who come to have a child baptized? Do they have to come for a few weeks, months, a year? Do they have to officially join the parish by making a financial pledge? What about receiving communion? It’s the practice in our diocese in many places, including Christ Church, to offer communion to everyone, whether or not they’re baptized. The prayer book and church canons say baptism should come first. Here, again, we are trying to open the windows.

Adherence to tradition is one of those places where we strive for faithfulness, not necessarily the 100% always-and-everywhere-iron-clad rule.  Faithfulness, it seems to me, is deciding which side you’re going to err on.   Will we be devoted to orthodoxy or openness? What’s at stake on both sides?  There are a lot of times when I defer to tradition—the Nicene Creed, for example—but here, I think there is actually something to say for asking what Jesus would do.  His first goal, most often, was to get people to the table.  Once you’re there, you can talk more, debate, pick sides.  As the parable in Luke 14  tells it, when the nice, qualified guests wouldn’t come for the feast, the host told his servant quite unequivocally: “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”  When he does that and there’s still space, he goes out to make everybody else come in.  Would it have been a better party if the well-educated and polite people had come? It’s completely possible. Would they have appreciated the expensive wine more? Maybe. But that’s not what God’s table is about.  (see my post from last year in which I had just been the parent helper in my kid’s Godly Play class in which we did the lesson on the Great Banquet when we were going out for ashes).  

I do appreciate, though, that it’s a discussion to be had. It’s not an uncontroversial stance, it’s not necessarily an “of course!” moment.  And once—if—this gets settled, there will be something else to struggle with. As we grow into the church we’re called to be, we are trying to follow a Jesus who’s always just a little ahead, taking us a little further than we thought we could go.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fall Over (or, please don’t read this blog post)

  Can we please stop talking about Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In?
There have been so many excellent critiques of the book, from Susan Faludi on Baffler talking about feminism and capitalism to bell hooks talking about the white supremacist capitalist hetero patriarchy on the feminist wire. Please read them. I’m not going to add to their substantial and brilliant analysis of how having more women “at the top” won’t make things better for all women. It is worth it to repeat hooks’ point that if the media hadn’t anointed Sandberg the Voice of the Feminist Movement the book wouldn’t matter as much.  It would also be great if we could channel this energy for fury against war, greed, and inequality instead.

One of the things that’s galling about Sandberg is that she is not 100% wrong. As one of the women of privilege that she’s talking to-- well-educated, professional, etc--yes, I do lots of self-undermining.  Women are not taking our places at the table, both literally and metaphorically.   Sometimes I don’t because I’m too tired. Sometimes I want to be with my family instead. Sometimes I’m just afraid.  Sandberg is full of things I’d tell my six year old: Believe in yourself!  It’s OK to make mistakes. You can do it!  What’s wrong with that?

Here’s an example.
Just this week, the slate of bishop candidates for Maryland was announced. They are all women. Sounds great, right? But here’s the thing: it’s a suffragan position. Suffragan bishops have few choices in their role and limited power vis a vis the diocesan bishop (also: all the candidates are white). Our diocese has long had a woman suffragan bishop. Gayle Harris serves in that role now.  Before her, it was Barbara Harris, the first woman to be bishop anywhere in the Anglican Church (and African American, too).  Our next bishop election is in April, and there was one woman on the official slate of five. On facebook, ambivalence reigned about the Maryland group. Some shared enthusiastically: “All women!” and others shared with no comment.  Many women of my age, the younger Gen X or older Gen Y folks, were kind of baffled. 

I wouldn’t find it remarkable if a slate were all men, necessarily, so for parity’s sake maybe we ought not find it remarkable that a slate is all women. The candidates are strong. We need more women bishops, particularly since it’s a life appointment and, for church-wide governance purposes, a bishop is a bishop.  Still, I can’t shake the feeling that for Maryland, with a male bishop safely at the helm, it feels creative and cool to have a woman in second place when the stakes don’t seem as high.   

I want female bishops. I want us all to “lean in” and take our place at the table and not be ashamed to ask where the women’s bathroom is. The thing that the Maryland election reveals, though, is the impossible place that this patriarchal double bind has put us in.  Yes, we want women to be in these jobs.  But for every candidate in one election to be a woman, it just feels like gender is being elevated to the level of qualifying credential. And that’s where we can’t win.   That’s where having all women feels almost as bad as having no women. And that’s where it’s so clear what a broken system this is: when something that you 100% want to be the outcome (more women in senior positions) is sure to happen, but you just don’t want it to happen this way.

So here we are.
Here’s the other thing: I don’t want to just swallow the lie that human worth is measured in our salaried accomplishments and that speeding back to our smartphones after the kids are in bed is any way to live a life. I can’t imagine not checking my email after 6pm or on weekends. Can. Not. Imagine It.  My work as a priest is part of my life all the time.  But I also don’t want to buy into the narcissism that I have to—or can—fix everything, or that the sun rises and sets on the speed of my reply.   I want to be sure to regard my vocation as a whole person, priest, mother, spouse, all of it, as equally important. In helping me to find this path that God has presumably invested some energy in my doing all of it.  Not doing it all perfectly, but doing it.  I want to remember that I can fall over into the grace and compassion of God, that I don’t have to work so hard all the time to prove myself.

My feelings about an obscure ecclesiastical election in a place I don’t live are not the point here. The point is that for as long as we look at hierarchy and accomplishment as the metric by which we judge ourselves, we’re still going to be slogging forward, second place win by second place win. Wanting a female CEO to make 500 times what the average employee of her company makes is not progress for all women. We’re still going to argue over our small piece of the pie, envying the apparent “have it all” success of women like Sandberg at the same time as judging her as too capitalist and out of touch.  Closer to home, as long as our church operates on a hierarchical model where being a bishop is the crown of your career instead of a particular vocation to which people of any age or gender or shape of parish career might be called to, we’re going to fail to see the skills of women as well as men.

And with that, good night. I have some pointless PBS shows to watch whilst ignoring my professional potential.  
ps: thanks to Nicole Janelle and Sasha Killewald for reading the first draft!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013: On vulnerabilty, holiness, and human statues

 “Do not be afraid.”
This is what the angels always say. They said it to the shepherds, overwhelmed by flashes of lightning. They said it to Joseph, telling him to still get married, even though his wife was pregnant. They said it to Mary herself, to whom the invitation for the Holy Spirit to come upon her certainly could not have been an easy choice.

Do not be afraid. Everyone in our story has been told not to be afraid.

The world that Mary and Joseph and those shepherds lived in was pretty different from our own.  They were all on the margins, Jewish people living in an occupied land. For the shepherds, even more so, they were viewed as being particularly untrustworthy, living as they did outside the bounds of polite society, instead keeping the company of sheep. There is not a lot of cleanliness or polite society to be had spending your days with a flock of wooly animals out in the field.  None of our protagonists tonight would have fit in very well in a world like our own. They didn’t even fit in in their own.

And that’s exactly the point.
There’s a universalism that is implied in these texts—if God could be born of a girl like Mary, if a guy like Joseph could go against his culture and his family and marry someone who would waddle, rather than glide smoothly down the aisle—if the shepherds were the ones who would declare that there is peace on earth now, who would say that God’s goodwill extends to everyone—then certainly, certainly, there will be room in that manger for us. In my sermon on Sunday, I talked about all the questionable people in Jesus’ lineage through Joseph—he was related to prostitutes, liars, and adulterers—and those are the ones that the Gospel of Matthew included!

Theologically, we can probably get on board with the idea that the core message of Christmas is that this miraculous child of God and child of humanity is born for all of us. If I asked each of you, you’d probably say, “Yes, Christmas is for everyone.” Yes, of course, it doesn’t matter who you are. Salvation for all. Sure.”

What is in question, I suspect, in many of our own hearts, is whether this child is actually born for us.  Do we believe Titus—I mean, who ever reads Titus—do we believe him that the we are heirs of the hope of eternal life, do we believe that it’s not because of our righteousness but only because of God’s good nature that we are reconciled, saved, treasured, beloved—is that really for us?

I don’t always behave as though it were, and I wonder if you don’t, either.

There is a lot about our culture that’s different from that of the shepherds and Mary and Jesus.  But what we all have in common, I’m guessing, is fear. What we fear might be different, but we still fear.

I think one of the scariest things for all of us is our vulnerability. As a parent, I feel vulnerable on behalf of my children. As a priest, I feel vulnerable on behalf of Christ Church. I’m vulnerable as a spouse, as a daughter, as a friend.   I’m vulnerable standing right here.

The common denominator for each of these is the simplest, hardest thing: it’s love.  I love my children and I fear for them. I love this church and I worry about the leaking roof and the pledge income. I love my parents as they are a little greyer and a little slower with every visit. I love my husband and trust him with everything I have, but I also know that he is human and we will both disappoint each other. Love is about vulnerability.  It’s being willing to show up, to be judged, to admit your need.

This week, I heard an incredibly moving TED talk by the performer Amanda Palmer. She’s become controversial over the last year for beginning to just give away her music; she invites people to pay, but they don’t have to.  She says that we need to stop talking about how to “make” people pay. Instead, we need to let them.  It can be up to each individual to offer their gifts, whether a couch for the band to sleep on or ten dollars for a music download. Let the artist do their art, and let the people give from their gratitude. Let them be in relationship with each other. Whether, as she says it is, this is a way to run a music business, I don’t know—it does sound a lot like church, this relation of trust and love, creativity and hope.

She says that some of her courage for this came from her work as a street artist, when she spent time in Harvard Square as the Eight Foot Bride. So she stood there, and people would drive by and say, “Get a job!” and, despite that that was her job, she said that she had the most amazing interactions with people, standing there on a crate, painted white in a long dress. She said that when someone came by, they’d put their dollar or whatever in the hat, and she’d give them a flower and look at them. She’d really, really look at them. And she says that sometimes, someone would look back, and there would be this astonishing moment of gratitude: thank you for seeing me. Thank you. No one ever sees me.

This shared vulnerability, of her standing there, being seen, of the passersby seeing her and engaging with her, I think, that’s what holiness is. Palmer talks about the art of asking—how terrifying and wonderful it is to admit that you need something.  You want to be seen. You want to see. You want to acknowledge the other.

That vulnerability of love is the core of what this day is about.  It’s about us seeing each other. It’s about God seeing us. And it’s about us seeing God. Every place where love happens, every place where we trust each other with who we are, it’s holy.

At point of Christmas isn’t just God becoming human. It isn’t just all of us coming together with those shepherds for a night of wonder and awe.  What happens at Christmas is all of this, and more. At Christmas, God—God Godself, offers us an example of the vulnerability of love. God offers God’s very self to us, in this soft, needy, human form, and shows us. This is what love looks like. Love looks like trust. It looks like need. It looks like hope. 

Joseph and Mary ask for a place to stay.  It’s holy.
The shepherds are amazed at what they’ve seen. It’s holy.
Mary ponders in her heart. It’s holy.
The angels say “Don’t be afraid.” It’s holy.

This day, this day when the power of God becomes vulnerable, this day, the power of God comes in this tiny child. This day, we open ourselves to each other.  This day, we refuse to be separated. This day, we won’t be afraid.  This day, we, too, will be holy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Purple elves and blue virgins

This week, my facebook feed has been roughly divided evenly among two hot topics in church geekery: pronouncements on the Elf on a Shelf and pronouncements on the eternal war between blue and purple for Advent colors. You will be forgiven if you did not realize these debates were a thing.

As 3 year old Henry pointed out in church on Sunday during my children’s sermon when I asked what was different and he exclaimed, "You should be wearing green!" my parish has mostly noticed that the colors have changed for church. Advent is purple, after such a long season of green since Pentecost last June it's no wonder Henry thought it was Just Wrong.  He's not the only one who would say that, though, as the partisans in the Blue vs Purple war are all aflutter. Remember what other season is purple? LENT! Do you immediately think of Lent's solemnity and penitence when you think about Advent? You probably don't. Enter: blue. The tradition of using blue for Advent is a medieval tradition that goes back to a knot of ritual practices from the Salisbury Cathedral in the eleventh century that were distinctly English as opposed to Roman.  They were Anglican before Anglicanism was cool but also still really "Catholic," pre Reformation as it was. And so in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century enjoyed quite a revival, today revealing itself in the use of "Sarum blue" in Advent.

The idea with blue is that it visually shifts the emphasis to expectation, not penitence; Lent is when we thing about amending our lives, not Advent. It reminds us of Mary, too.   So why don't we use blue at Christ Church? Because in defining Advent against a too-sin-focused Lent, we miss the boat on both Advent and Lent. It's not that our usual understanding of Advent needs less Lent. It's that our usual understanding of Lent needs more Advent (and, of course, we're not going out to spend a bunch of money on new altar hangings).

Here's the thing. What Lent and Advent both have in common more than penitence is grace: the joining of human and divine at Christmas happens for everyone and for all time. You don't earn it. You don't prove yourself. Nobody's reporting back to tattle. Whether you read the Gospel of Matthew (magi) or Luke (shepherds) the birth is heralded by some pretty sketchy characters. Like the resurrection we prepare for in Lent, it's an act of crushing generosity and love that flattens any of our own pretensions to earning our way in.  It's a pure gift. Here's where the elf on the shelf comes in: that sucker is supposed to be watching, reporting back to Santa every night. Elf on the shelf is old-style Ash Wednesday, when we catalogue our failures and focus on all the ways we don't measure up. But we only do that for one day-we don't spend a whole season on it, and it's always grounded in the love of God that makes it even possible for us to withstand that honesty.

As a parent of young children I don't hold anything against anyone for trying to extract some better behavior for a time. I also love the idea of an enchanted world where the humdrum stuff that surrounds us come to life.  Have you seen Dinovember?    You probably want to give your kids Christmas presents, right? Because it's fun.  You don't love them any less when they're behaving badly. I mean, the elf probably makes them happy too, but I just wonder if it could seem a bit less failure oriented?  Christmas is about so much more. And so is Advent, and Easter, and Lent.  Now I have to go find my coffee cup because I think St Peter climbed out of his icon and hid it again.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Now that it's October:

Here comes the summer...finally some poems I wrote from our cross country trip--I caught up with the family in Minnesota after they'd been on the road for a week, and then to South Dakota to visit our dear friends Rob and Jeanne Schwarz, who work on the Standing Rock Reservation (Rob as a priest, Jeanne as...everything...).  You will note that the South Dakota poem comes with reference and photographic evidence of target practice, though it's hard to call it "practice" when I've never shot a gun before and am not eager to do so again. Kids were heroic, husband drove our hopelessly out-of-its-league-with-trailer Subaru wagon brilliantly. There was about 90 minutes in Montana when I drove it and I am not proud of the outcome so I'll leave it at that.

Some numbers:

Over 10,000 miles driven
Visited 8 National Parks, (or 7?) 
Purchased  8 new tires (five for the car, two plus a spare for the tent trailer), one clutch, one back windshield
One song on constant repeat: This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie (thanks, 3 1/2 year old A.)
And one best quote: “Your’uns problem is y’uns ain’t from here” (Gary W., Hot Springs, NC, charitably observing that the choices that lead to the lost trailer in the woods were "misguided" rather than "[expletive deleted] stupid."). 

Washington State

July 22: Washington State.
(10:30 pm)

Having now
crossed this country,
Massachusetts to Washington,
exchanged sea for desert and back again.

Today we fell apart.
Two hours became six,
all of us wanting 
to fall asleep in the backseat,
to be awoken
when it was all over,
prying sticky fingers from our seatbelts
washing our hands before falling
into bed.

really, when?
When does memory become nostalgia?
When is the relief
that a child fastens her own shoes
replaced with longing
for the time everything
could be
so easily repaired 
with an absently offered breast.

When does that happen, when—
when does it become
that sweet-sour ache
bittersweet familiarity of how
it will never be again.


July 17, 2013: Montana, Route 90