Sunday, November 30, 2008

We always begin again

I just finished reading Kathleen Norris' book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. I had heard snippets of it in my Rural and Small Church Ministries class at Gettysburg Seminary with Gil Waldkoenig. He was reading it at the time I took that class and used it for opening reflections. It's been on my shelf awhile, courtesy of a priest friend who bequeathed her library to me.

It's a fascinating book about monastic spirituality ... not agriculture. Ms. Norris is originally from NYC and moved to Lemmon SD when she inherited the family home there. Lemmon is due north from where my mother's family came from, so I felt some connection to much of what she described about living in that environment. It's hard for anyone who's never been there to really grasp how vast the sense of space is. You can stand in one spot and turn 360 degrees and see horizon in all directions. At night, the lights in the distance are towns 40-50 miles away. The sheer vastness of space is only equaled by our great deserts. It's a place where you really understand how small you are. The isolation makes you face two realities: your true self and God. Both prospects can be terrifying.

Norris talks about how she became connected to a Benedictine monastery in South Dakota. She eventually became an oblate, living the Rule of Benedict but as an outsider. Interestingly, her monastic retreat experiences and her friendship with the monks brought her back to her Presbyterian tradition and exorcised the "Monster God" her fundamentalist grandmother had imparted to her as a child.

One aspect of Benedict's rule is that we always begin again. Our lives are to be a continuous beginning again and again. I find this concept helpful when I find myself thinking I have things all "figured out." Just when I think I know somebody or something or I think I understand about the nature of God ... well, that's the time to set my thoughts aside and begin again. If I don't, I run the risk of rigidity and hubris. When I think I have things all figured out, I start to miss so many little details precisely because those things don't fit my perception of how things work. I've constructed a box that only lets some things in and leaves so much out.

Benedict's reminder to always begin again challenges me to let go of the boxes I construct and start looking at my relationships again with new eyes. Seeing others and God again for the first time is a challenge, but one which keeps me humble and sharpens my ability to get past my own filters and perceptions.

Advent is a time to begin again. It's the beginning of the new church year. I don't know where God will lead me and my family this year, but I've asked God for the grace to dismantle the boxes I've been holding on to. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Join the Conspiracy

We're entering a time of year that gives me angst. It's "the holidays." My dad calls it the National Eat-a-Thon and says it lasts from Thanksgiving to New Years. But eating isn't what gives me angst (although putting on the extra weight is getting much easier as I get older and harder to take off once it's there).

What gives me angst is the distortion of priorities that goes along with our consumerist culture. Last year, I blogged about the Buy Nothing Christmas and Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping (check it out here).

This year, we are facing a serious economic crisis caused by the false god (small "g") of consumerism. We have depended upon consumer spending (and wastefulness) to drive our economy since we shifted from an agrarian focus to an industrial one just over 100 years ago. But consumerism has failed us and now I believe we are in a place where our economy (and the world's for that matter) can no longer be sustained by shopping. I don't know what will replace consumerism, but I hope for something more holistic.

I was sent this video by friend today:

If this doesn't put it all in perspective, I don't know what does. Even in our current situation, we still live in one of the wealthiest places on earth. We have poor with us, but remember that if you have a job, access to transportation, access to health care, housing, food and clothing, you are wealthy in comparison with most other people in the world. That's right ... you are wealthy. No, not super wealthy like Bill Gates (super wealthy being a relatively recent historical phenomenon), but you are part of the "ordinary wealthy."

As Christians, I think we need to bury the god of consumerism and heed the call of the Advent Conspiracy to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Vision Quest

In the Navajo culture, a young person makes a vision quest as a rite of passage into adulthood. They go into the wilderness for a number of days to spend time in fasting and prayer. This experience prepares them for their life's direction. It can involve a change of their name to one which suits their new identity and self-understanding. This is not unlike the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel at the ford of the Jabbok where he receives his new name: Israel.

I think I've finally figured out what my new name should be:

Sticks Face in Fan

Yep, that's pretty much me. It doesn't really matter where I am or what I'm doing, but a constant red thread in my life is sticking my proverbial face in the fan. This past week, I did so at a vestry meeting over the issue of facilities usage, all the while not having a clue that there had been some friction over this with a group who is using the St. Luke's undercroft. Amazing how those issues arise during the 30 hours a week you aren't "in the house!"

I'm still amazed at how people think I know what's going on when I'm not there. It's the persistent belief that the bishop conferred mind reading powers when he put his hands on my head last year. I wish he had ... but he didn't ... either time!

I suppose if I have to either fall off of someone's pedestal or shatter people's expectations of who I should be or what I should be able to do, I'd rather fall sooner than later. Maybe after that, we can find realistic ways to work together.

Sticks Face in Fan ... yep, that's me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If it's Tuesday, I must be a Methodist...

I'm living my life in two different worlds. For those who follow this blog (all three of you ... ok, maybe four ... maybe!), you know I'm now the Interim Rector at St. Luke's Episcopal in Franklin Square. It's only a 10 hour per week position where I'm in the office on Wednesdays from about 10am to 4pm and Sundays from 8:30am to 12:30pm ... and additional hours of work from home which puts me over 10 hours per week regularly. Here's the truth, there really are no part-time calls, just part-time pay! But that's what they could afford and I do my best to keep my hours near the 10 hour mark. Things are going pretty well there. When I started, the attendance was around 18 on Sundays ... last week it was up to 25 and yesterday it was 26. In percentages, that's a pretty big leap. I'm seeing new faces too and that gives me hope.

BUT, a 10 hour/week call is not enough to pay the bills. Yes, Beloved Husband works, but working at our diocesan retreat/conference center was a huge cut in pay from where he was in the corporate world. So I need a full-time call, but being restricted geographically means I must wait for the right call to open up and hope the congregation will call me to the position. That's a lot of hopes!

So, in the midst of all this, I also was approached by the senior pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick to be their half-time minister of visitation. Fortunately, my bishop was gracious enough to let me take this call, with the understanding that I would be open to a full-time call when one becomes available. I began working with Calvary on All Saints Day (11/1).

As Minister of Visitation, I get to visit with our shut-ins and nursing home residents. It's great. I bring Holy Communion to those who want it and get to visit with a whole bunch of wonderful people. I hear stories from them about Frederick county from long ago, when our diocesan retreat center was the Buckingham School for Boys, when most people still used horses and buggies to get out to the farm because the roads were still largely dirt.

I figure that going to a Lutheran seminary and serving both an Episcopal Church and a Methodist Church makes me an Episco-Luthra-Dist. The thing that's really hard is keeping things straight. I'm at Calvary on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays ... and at St. Luke's on Wednesdays and Sundays. I have to keep situations, stories and names straight between the two places and I'm struggling with that. It's complicated, but I do know that if it's Tuesday, I must be a Methodist. ;-)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Slam dancing

Last week, I went to my first poetry slam. I'd heard of poetry slams, but having never been to one was a function of timing. They rose to prominence in the cities after I left LA and moved to Frederick, MD. The closest I ever came to a "slam" was the punk slam dancing of the 1980's ... I think I still have bruises to show for the mosh pit. Anyway, it was an evening to remember and I was awed by the talent!

This slam is held at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where I serve as the interim rector. It's called "Live in the Undercroft" and is held in ... the basement (which Episcopalians give the fancy name "undercroft" in order to make it sound more ecclesiastical). We usually hold them on the third Friday of each month at 8:00PM. Consider this an open invitation: if you're in Baltimore on those evenings, come on over and check it out.

I heard more social commentary through these poems than I had heard in a long time. Sharon launched us with "What the hell is so convenient about convenience stores?" which decried the lack of fresh and healthy food in the inner city. Stephanie Okonkwo, who I believe should be named poet laureate of Baltimore (or at least Carey Street), read several of her works and talked about being an intelligent woman and being "old school." (Stephanie has just published a book of her poetry called Far Above Rubies - check it out!). Keisha presented for the first time and her poem "I Scream" was so inspiring, I had her come and read it on Sunday to lead into my homily. Uncle Daddy called his brothers to stand for something more than the violence which claims young black men in our cities. And we even heard a poem celebrating bisexuality. The whole of human experience was expressed: hopes, fears, pain, anger, dreams, addiction, healing, and love.

I came to support the program and the poets gave me a gift in return. I've asked some of our young women to help with poems for Advent which we'll include in our liturgy ... kinda turn it into a "homily slam" of sorts. I believe our faith must be relevant to our lives and poetry is a means which can make that connection. And our gifted poets have something to say!