Friday, November 23, 2012

“deeply saddened” - reflections on CoE's General Synod

A sister of mine in Christ, Katielou+, from across the Pond reflects on the General Synod's vote on women bishops:

“deeply saddened”

Her words below struck a deep chord in me (emphasis mine):
It hurts, not because I want to be a bishop. It hurts because to some this whole thing was not about bishops, not about the quality of the legislation. This is about the validity of women’s orders in of themselves. This is about if I am a fraud when I get up and put my collar on, rather than being truly in holy orders and sent out to work for the kingdom. It hurts because while some people think differently to me, and I try my hardest to respect that they feel differently, they don’t all pay that respect back. Even if I struggle to respect how your reading of scripture and tradition differs from mine, I don’t ever question your fundamental personhood in your vocation. By doubting my capacity for priesthood, you are denying my integrity before God, denying my very identity. Is that really your right to judge? Did the church not spend a load of time in church history lectures worrying about the validity/efficacy of the sacraments regardless of the person of the minister?

I am blessed that most of the people with whom I serve do not question the validity of my orders; however, I still find myself encountering people who reject my call because of my gender. While the former outnumber the latter, I still endure the occasional mildly condescending lecture on a "complimentary scriptural" hermeneutic (i.e. men and women are created by God to be "complimentary" which espouses male "headship" and "authority" over women - others will know this as patriarchy).

I pray for one day when we can affirm the Holy Spirit's work within all of us regardless of gender, sexual orientation, hue of skin, age, appearance, or any other division with which humans can become fixated for the purposes of gaining privilege at the expense of the other.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Something worse than death ...

I had one of those random thoughts yesterday (remember, this blog is about random musings, right?). It came as a question: "What is a fate worse than death?" "A fate worse than death" is admittedly a cliche phrase, but when the question popped into my head while I was driving home from church, the answer appeared quite suddenly: "Yes ... not living."

The fate worse than death is not living. Not being fully alive while you are living is a fate worse than death. We're often held hostage to the things we fear in our lives. We are afraid: afraid of losing our jobs, losing our health, losing our loved ones, losing our security, losing control, losing our independence, losing our life. We are afraid of losing so many things that we are bound up in fear and held hostage to it. So we play it safe and think nothing bad will happen if we just color inside the lines and follow the rules ... and we stop living and merely exist.

News flash ... coloring inside and following the rules doesn't protect you from loss. You can lose it all in a moment. We received news this evening of a woman who, after giving birth to her third child last week, suffered a massive stroke. She is on life support and the bleeding in her brain has not stopped. Her husband is numb - it wasn't supposed to be like this. Where is God in this?

Admittedly, these things shake me to the core. They are reminders that nothing is truly safe in this life - at least not by the safety standards we humans envision. Our safety rests in God alone and not living fully when life is so fleeting isn't a faithful option.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

Doing nothing ... and the guilt which ensues

I've been away for a week at the beach ... officially doing nothing. OK, in truth I finished reading both of Khaled Hosseini's novels (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and delved into C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters (even though I made a personal vow not to tackle anything deep and theological). I went to the beach, did quite a bit of kayaking (and my arms and back know it), watched some of the Olympic soccer matches, hung out with the kids and Beloved Husband.

Yes, I know at one level this is necessary to my well-being and I have been told I work too hard (although I dispute the latter statement). But I still feel a pang of guilt. Perhaps it's the old words of my great-grandmother ... something about idle hands being a tool of the devil. Some sort of Protestant work ethic meeting a strong sense of Catholic guilt (or Anglo-Catholic guilt in my case). I have trouble relaxing and just taking things in.

I've always been this way. My parents will tell you I was the kid who wouldn't go to bed because I was afraid I would miss something. I live with a sense of urgency just under the surface and always have. Urgency for what? I'm not always sure. Just a general sense that life is brief and it will slip by me all too soon. I know it in my bones ... but I don't know how to assuage it or shake the sense that I need to do something productive each and every waking moment.

Perhaps it is the seduction of significance that pulls at me or just the reality of the passing nature of all things and of everything that I am and all to which I am connected. I don't know ... I just know that when I try to rest, it does not come easily and that guilt is never too far behind. Lord have mercy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


A funny for the day care of MadPriest (a/k/a The Rev. Jonathan Hagger).

Of Course, I Could Be Wrong...: DON'T BLAME MADPRIEST, BLAME THE NUN: Bob feared his wife Peg wasn't hearing as well as she used to and he thought she might need a hearing aid. Not quite sure how to approach her...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Is there life before death?

I've wrestled with this question this week in light of some of the healing stories in Mark's gospel (especially the woman with the 12 year hemorrhage). I've had some wonderful insights from Facebook friends on this - especially on the nature of life and what it means to live.

Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). I cannot subscribe to the popular prosperity theology that's rampant in our culture which links abundant life to material wealth. Some of the most alive people I've ever met were people who were poor and had short life spans because of where they lived. They invested in relationships not things and conversely, those who spent time heavily invested in things often struggled with relationships.

If we're really honest with ourselves, we'd acknowledge the fact that we are all walking dead. That's right - we all live under a terminal condition ... we all have a death sentence hanging over our heads. We just don't know when, where or how.

So if you began to, as the Tim McGraw song goes, live like you were dying ... what would be different in your life?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Holy Family systems

This week I've been pondering the issue of family systems in light of our Gospel reading from the 3rd Chapter of Mark this Sunday. It's the story about how Jesus' family goes to his house to restrain him because the word is "he's out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-35)

Our image of the Holy Family is not that of dysfunction, is it? When someone says "the Holy Family," our mind leaps to images lifted from Christmas cards showing Mary and Joseph gazing down adoringly at their baby boy in the manger. (As an aside, I always thought Mary looked way too composed in these pictures! As one who logged 38 hours in the labor and delivery ward between two pregnancies, I can assure you no woman looks that good after giving birth. But I digress...)

We have trouble wrapping our heads around the idea that Jesus' family was much like our own - replete with joys, sorrows, and yes, even conflicts and relational dysfunctions. We get a small glimpse in Luke's gospel of the tension when Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem as a 'tween and his exasperated parents return to fetch him. And we get a glimpse of it here in Mark's gospel too.

As the eldest son (which Mark doesn't explicitly tell us, but Matthew and Luke do), Jesus has an expected role to fulfill. He is to learn the trade of his father and take over the work when his father dies or is too old to work. He is to provide for his parents in their advancing age ... a form of first century social security. He is to be the elder of the extended family to whom the family system looks for leadership and guidance. Oh yes, he has a job to do ... but he's not doing it and the family is none too happy about that! They think he's gone meschugge and needs a good talking to in order to straighten him out. They've come to the rescue ... or so they think.

The pull of the family system is strong. The family is the first place where we are told who we are, how we are to relate to the others in the system, and how we relate to the world. Some families affirm their children and want nothing more than for their progeny to be the best they can be. Other families ... well ... not so much. Much of what we believe to be true about ourselves comes from our families and, hopefully, they tell us the truth that we are beloved children of God. Sadly, some families don't know how to affirm and support each other and the distortion of shame and lies can destroy their members.

Jesus steps out of the expectations of his family system in this story. The family tries to pull him back - largely out of their desire for familial self-preservation. But preserving the self isn't what the gospel is about, is it? Transforming the self, both individually and collectively, is where the gospel leads us ... if we but dare to let it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weary of the small god

Looks like I struck a nerve with my last Facebook posting:
I don't want to understand God. To understand and be certain of what I experience as mystery would reduce the transcendent Holy to some rational being small enough to live inside my head. Anything that small has no power to save me. I need a God much bigger than that.
Perhaps I'm just getting a bit weary of the image of the immanent God and how that has played itself out in our culture. I often find that the mystical Trinity is often reduced to something way too small and individualistic.

We live in a culture which values the primacy of individualism and independence - both of which I'm persuaded have taken on an idolatrous status. We value independence in America to the point where we denigrate God's intention of interdependence and balance. My independence and its associated "rights" are worshiped at the altar of American culture while forgetting that rights have associated responsibilities to the greater good of the community (yes, that pesky interdependence thing!).

We say we value individualism and so create a culture of spiritual and emotional isolation which breeds unhealthy codependency rather than healthy mutuality. Intimacy at any level, whether with a friend or lover, becomes less and less possible because of our "me centered" world.

While God is both immanent (personal) and transcendent (wholly/holy other and beyond), I feel as if I have grown up in a world which has erred on the side of portraying the immanent personal God at the expense of the transcendent Holy Other. The immanent personal God can be reduced to a god who needs to be understood and follow the "rules" as set forth in human written documents we call Scripture.

Don't get me wrong, Scripture is indeed God-breathed and inspired, yet at the end of the day, these writings are not magically dictated by the Almighty to human automatons who just wrote down everything in pure form. These are human writings describing how God's actions were seen (and interpreted) within the community. But I digress ...

In this culture where "me" and "we" are the center of an immanent God relationship, it is so easy to distort this into an ecclesiology where me/we/us become the locus and focus of God rather than God's work in Christ being the transforming work of the Holy Other which draws us back into God's heart. We begin to see God's actions as beginning and ending in us ... rather than beginning and ending in the mystery of God. And when we do that, there is no call for transformation or change in us. God exists for us at the expense of our existing for God.

So I guess I'm a little weary of the God who just seems way too small. The "boyfriend Jesus" imagery feels too simple and too reductionist. This has no power at all to save me. I need a God much bigger than this. I need the mystery, awe and transcendence of the Triune God who breathed me into existence, sustains me from without (and within), and fills all things (not just me) with the divine. Come Spirit of the Living God!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Of ultimate importance ... part 2

This question of ultimate importance hit home for us in the last 72 hours. For those of you who know I serve in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, you may have heard about the tragic shooting which occurred in one of our parishes last Thursday. If not, you can read about it here.

I heard about this just before the opening of our diocesan convention. My oldest daughter, who served as youth delegate from our county, was out picking up breakfast for us when I heard the news. I was glad I had the chance to talk with her when she returned to our hotel room and break the news to her before convention opened.

When convention opened and the news was announced that the parish administrator and co-rector had both been shot, we were stunned. Brenda Brewington, parish administrator, was pronounced dead at the scene. Co-rector Mary-Marguerite Kohn+ was flown to Baltimore Shock Trauma and kept alive on life support so that organ donations could be arranged. Douglas Jones, the homeless man who perpetrated this act of violence, was found dead in the woods near the church of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This was the first time my daughter had confronted a senseless, violent death. Given that a priest was dead, and her mom is a priest, this was hard to process and understand. She was very teary at the opening of convention. But we gathered together and other people at our table offered her comfort and consolation. She had a safe place to process this horrible news. And she was surrounded by people of faith who showed her how Christians cope with tragedy:
  • We cried together and had conversation
  • We offered forgiveness to the gunman
  • We prayed the litany at the time of death for Mary-Marguerite+
  • We offered Eucharist in thanksgiving for all who minister in Christ's name
  • Two parishes offered their churches to the family of the gunman for his funeral
  • We recommitted ourselves to helping the most vulnerable in our communities
So where did my daughter learn to cope with senseless tragedy? Where did she hear about the injustice of a society where the mentally ill have less access to treatment than they do to guns? Where did she hear about people recommitting themselves to serve Christ? Where did she hear an affirmation of life? She heard this surrounded by her Church. She didn't learn this on the playing field.

Enough said.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Of ultimate importance

I am continually amazed at how we get confused about what has ultimate importance. I've been pondering this as I wrestle with a culture where kid's sports seems to have become a religion unto itself. My friend and colleague The Rev. Grant Barber wrote the following letter to his local lacrosse league:
To the Officers and Board Members of the Scituate Lacrosse Winter League:
Once again children and families have disappeared from churches on Sunday morning because of the conflict in schedules created by lacrosse matches.
When I have (respectully, gently) asked parents about this choice I've heard the same calculus: church is always there, lacrosse provides one more lynch pin in making sure kids are popular, maybe have something additional to put on their college applications if the kids can continue to play into high school, and the rigid rules that mean if a child misses a practice/game on Sunday mornings there will be consequences for the child in future games.
Almost all parents with whom I have this conversation will also offer up that over-scheduled lives--and they point specifically to sport team demands in general and this winter lacrosse season specifically--are not what they ideally want for their kids. It is not a coincidence that we see rising levels of anxiety and depression in children at younger and younger ages.
I feel that I'm facing a losing battle here with something almost as intractable as an ocean tide coming in, and one change we are making is to offer alternative service times. Still, I would be remiss in pointing out that the program over which you have oversight is being disrespectful of the traditional day and time of worship, Sunday mornings.
Admittedly, our Jewish and Muslim friends have not had the privilege of their sacred worship day being "off limits" to sports and other activities and in light of this, my friend's email might seem a bit off base. However, it points to the deeper spiritual dis-ease in our culture which elevates sports to an idolatrous status while ignoring the spiritual life of our families and children.

Don't get me wrong - I do think there are important lessons to be learned by playing team sports. Learning to work with others, putting your own ego needs aside for the good of the team, supporting fellow team members and developing physical and emotional skills on and off the field are important life lessons. But when it comes to ultimate importance, sports falls very, very short and leaves our children and youth spiritual bankrupt.

What do I mean by ultimate importance? Ultimate importance has to do with our core identity as children of God, who are beloved of God, and accepted by God just as we are. Sports can never teach that because sports always is about measuring and comparing who are the "best" and "better" players - these are values which leave some as winners and others as losers. As my friend pointed out, we have rising levels of anxiety and depression among our children and youth who often feel under the microscope and under tremendous pressure to achieve more and more. This is not of God.

And so this lowly parish priest asks of the parents out there: Who do you trust to teach your child about their truest identity as beloved of God? Their sports coaches or the church? Where will they learn the spiritual lessons which will help them weather the storms of life?

I know where I learned about what is of ultimate importance: at church (and thanks Mom and Dad for making sure we went to church on Sundays).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Things hidden

Those of you who know me IRL, know that I love icons. The parish church where Beloved Husband and I had our marriage solemnized had many icons in the nave. I spent a semester in seminary with the Greek Orthodox where I was introduced to more icons and the realities they represent. This one is one of my favorites ...

It's called the Anastasis icon in Greek but others call it the Harrowing of Hell. It is the icon of Holy Saturday in the Orthodox tradition. In it, Christ is shown raising Adam and Eve out of their graves. On the left of the image are King David, King Solomon and John the Baptist - all Jesus' ancestors/kin in this life. On the right side is a young Moses with the staff, Elijah and another unnamed prophet representing the prophetic tradition of Israel. Below Jesus' feet are the gates of Hell skewed at an angle because they are forever broken. Below that are broken shackles, chains, and keys representing the liberated souls who have been redeemed and released from Death. Finally, there is one skeletal figure still bound up under the feet of Christ - that's Death itself personified.
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And to those in the tombs
He is restoring life
In the Western Church, we often think of Holy Saturday as a day when Jesus "rested in the tomb." This icon reminds us that there was more going on than met the eye! Christ was not resting at all - he was destroying death forever.

It is a reminder to us that when it appears on the surface of our lives that nothing much is happening or perhaps we find ourselves stuck ... God in Christ is doing something beyond what we can perceive in the moment. What we can see is only a small and limited view. There is more going on that meets the eye!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Proud moments in parenting

This has been a week of dealing with disappointments. It began with a post-Easter letdown of having to kick start another search for an organist at Grace (my stuff) but then began to include other's stuff too.

Our oldest daughter was bumped from her varsity lacrosse team back to junior varsity. It was a bruise to the ego, but the truth of her gifts and graces is that she's not so much a team athlete as a team intellect. She's amazing at Model United Nations and has been asked to lead the group next year. She loves international affairs and issues. She's a theater techie. All in all, a lot like Mom.

Nonetheless, it was hard news when the freshman JV goalie leapfrogged her to varsity. We had a long talk and I was amazed at how she handled herself. She agreed to stick it out for the remainder of the JV season to make sure they were covered even as she made plans for her senior year which will not include lacrosse.

I am so proud of how maturely she's handling this and told her she was learning a hard lesson in coping with a difficult situation. This won't be the last time she finds herself in a hard place and learning to deal with it now is a growing (although not fun) experience.

Our youngest daughter, who is a natural athlete, injured her foot in a soccer game and has been forced to wear an orthopedic boot. She thought she'd get her boot off this week only to find out she needs to wear it another two weeks. She was heartbroken! She was sure her soccer team no longer needed her. We reminded her that yes, her soccer team could get along without her ... but that's because they have built up a resilient team and that's what's important. They will be even better when she returns but she should be happy that the loss of one player doesn't bring everyone down. She's coming around on it.

I'm continuously amazed at my girls and how they have grown - physically, emotionally and spiritually. Makes a mom proud.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

For those who believe ...

American economist and engineer Stuart Chase once said: "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible."

Beloved husband and I just returned from a few days away after the rigors of Holy Week and Easter. I absolutely love the liturgies of Passiontide and Easter ... but they are rather exhausting in the preparation they require. Beloved husband made plans for us to go away for three days to a remote cabin outside Berkeley Springs, WV where we could relax and recover. It was a lovely place and well appointed - including a hot tub which helped take the tension out of my shoulders and back.

The second night we were there, the weather was absolutely crystal clear. Being that far out and away from city lights, we could see many more stars than we can at home. We sat in the hot tub and watched several satellites make their way across the sky - definitely not something easily visible where we live! We were able to lay on our backs in the contoured seats of the hot tub and view the starry heavens.

As we watched the night sky and identified the constellations we knew, I began to think about one of my former hospice patients. His name was John and he was a confirmed atheist. He wasn't sure if he wanted a chaplain at our teams initial meeting. I told him I wasn't there to convict, convince or convert him - my role was to help him work through the moral and ethical issues of dying and to find those things which maximized the meaning of life for him. He told me what gave his life meaning was his family, science (especially astrophysics and cosmology) and music. We agreed to try meeting to talk and, if it didn't work out, he could give me the boot.

My pastoral visits with John were the longest ones of any of my patients. He really was a delightful guy. Sure, he ribbed me about believing in "Santa Claus in the Sky" (his initial favorite moniker for God). I didn't let it knock the cheese of my cracker ... I laughed along with him. As he began to trust me, he also began to talk about the God he didn't believe in - one that was really angry and judgmental. I told him I didn't believe in that God either. "Hey! Maybe I'm really an atheist too!" I said. We both laughed. He asked me about the God I believed in and I told him I believed in a God beyond the right and wrong, the God outside of tribalism, the God who breaks all the rules humanity projects onto God. Later, he told me he could believe in that God too.

John then told me that if there was a life after this one, he would give me a sign to let me know he was OK. "Of course, you could be waiting a long time for that," he said. "I'll take my chances ... and I'll be looking."

John died last July and I've been looking for that sign. I told Beloved Husband about John's promise. As we looked at the sky, he said, "You know, there aren't any known meteor showers going on right now. If a meteor shot right overhead right now, I'd take that as a sign."

"Well, I would too. But you know the Bible does tell us not to put the Lord God to the test."

No sooner had those words left my lips than a meteor shot directly over me following the length of my body from my toes to my head. We both let out a shout! "That was DIRECTLY over YOU!!!" he yelled.

"I KNOW!!! If you hadn't been here to see it too, nobody would believe it!! Of course, some will think we're nuts." We both laughed.

I'm taking that as my sign ... John's OK.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday 2012

Today marks the beginning of the Triduum - Latin for Three Days. For Christians, this is the most holy time of the year and marks the three days from the Last Supper, through the arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ. Experiencing the Triduum is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

Tonight we'll hear the Gospel of John where Jesus washes the disciples' feet and gives them a new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you."

St. John of the Cross said that when we die, God will ask but one question of us: "How well did you love?"

Love is the ability to both give of ourselves fully and completely as well as to receive the gift of others with grace and gratitude.

How well do you love?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

State Occasions

I'm now in the throes of Passiontide (a/k/a Holy Week) at Grace Episcopal Church. I'm furiously finalizing bulletins, prayer lists and sermons ... Oh my! I don't know what it is about Christmas and Easter but I find them to be a homiletic nightmare. It goes beyond the whole writer's block of the blank page staring at me on my laptop. It's the struggle with what to say.

For the 2.75 people who read my blog ... rounding up to the nearest 3 ... you may find it odd that words fail me on "state occasions." I guess I find difficult is that Christmas and Easter are days when lots of people show up for lots of different reasons and I'm not sure how to connect with all the differing expectations in the room.

It's one thing to preach on a Sunday to Sunday basis with our members who faithfully attend worship. I have a relationship with them. They know something about me and I know something about them. But on Christmas and Easter, there are a significant number of visitors whom I do not know. Some of these visitors are seeking a Christian community and checking us out to see what kind of message gets preached and lived in our context. Some come because it's "what you do on Easter." It would be nice to see these folks regularly but that's something they need to decide - I'm not there to judge them and I do want them to feel welcome. Some are there because they are visiting relatives. It's all kind of a spiritual stew and it intimidates me.

I do take this to Christ in prayer and faithfully follow with study and exegesis. But even so, the blank page stares at me. I take some consolation in reading other preacher's Easter sermons, especially sensing they too struggle with this. A few of these sermons are good ... many, not so much. I take consolation I'm not alone.

Come Holy Spirit!

Monday, March 26, 2012

OMG! You're a priest!

It's always amusing to me when people don't know what I am and then find out in some roundabout way. I was posting on Facebook under a fellow clergy's comment having something to do with living our faith authentically when I ended up in a back and forth conversation with a friend of this clergyperson in another state. The friend described himself as a "recovering Catholic" and we kicked a few ideas back and forth (in true versicle response style). After a few postings, he posted the following:
OMG! I just looked up your FB profile ... you're a priest!!! Why didn't you tell me that??
Me: Um ... yeah. You were expecting?????
It's not like I'm hiding it or anything (really, check it out here). He admitted his surprise was more about his Catholic upbringing where women had no business being ordained and also said he thought it was pretty cool that the Episcopal Church recognizes the ministerial gifts of all people.

I'd like to think that after 33 years of ordaining women in the Episcopal Church (traditionally, as many years as Jesus walked this planet), this wouldn't come as much of a surprise. But I guess it still does catch folks off guard. Or maybe it's just they can't believe I'm a priest - that still surprises me too. Not that I didn't feel the priestly ministry within - I had a call when I was 12 years old (back when "no girls were allowed"). More like I'm surprised that I'm getting to live this vocation out in the Church where I feel most at home now. It wasn't that way for a long time.

One of our beloved home bound members told me when I initially visited her, "I gotta tell you something. I don't like women priests." That came at the end of a pastoral visit that appeared to go pretty well. I said, "Well, it's not like I haven't heard that before." She replied, "Well, I'm old school and thought women should be nuns." I said, "That could be a just a wee bit of a problem for my husband and children." She laughed and said, "I know. But you're different - I like you! You come back any time you want to." We've since built a relationship where she told me recently, "You know, you're not like any other priest we've ever had. I feel like I can tell you anything and I've never felt like that with a priest." I was humbled ... and deeply honored. I'm blessed to be where I am being what God created me to be.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Don't it always seem to go ...

I've had the song Big Yellow Taxi going through my head today. I'm old enough to remember Joni Mitchell's original recording of this song but young enough to give props to Counting Crows for their respectable cover of it. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?

I lost a fellow sojourner in the faith this week. The Rev. Mary Pat Ashby was well beloved in the Diocese of Maryland and certainly there were many who knew her better than I did; however, she graced me with time and care, especially in my call to serve as a priest.

I met Mary Pat+ at Diocesan Center in the summer of 1996. I had been selected to be part of a five woman delegation to the Diocese of Tokyo to discuss women's ordination to the priesthood which had been considered by their national synod convention the prior year. The vote was split with the House of Deputies (lay persons, deacons and priests) voting in favor of full ordination for women and the House of Bishops voting against. There was discouragement among the people, especially those women who felt called to the priesthood and had to continue waiting.

That September, the five of us journeyed to Tokyo for a whirlwind 12 day trip. I say whirlwind not just because of the pace of all our visits and presentations (and there were many panel discussions with lots of question and answer sessions), but also because Typhoon Violet made an appearance that first Sunday we were to visit our sister congregations! We all made it to our various churches in spite of wind, downed trees and flooded streets. We were all greeted most warmly and shown amazing hospitality.

Midway through the trip, we went into the Japanese Alps (yes, they have serious mountains there!). There we spent two days with women and men in retreat where we were housed in a dormitory style setting. Mary Pat+ and I went walking early the first morning we were there ... and found ourselves locked out of the building. No matter, there was an open window and with a boost, up Mary Pat+ went and scrambled through the window. We had a hard time stifling our laughter so as not to wake our companions.

After the retreat, Mary Pat+ and I were slated to go on to Nagoya for a Sunday service and to speak at "St. Matthew's Church" while the rest of our group went to Osaka. Our guide was Yoko Tachikawa - a very short Japanese woman who spoke no English. We figured we stood out in a crowd, so English or no English, Yoko would be able to find us if we got separated. We boarded the train to Gifu City where Yoko's husband Paul+ was the priest at the local Anglican church. Paul+ spoke a little English and drove us from the train station to our hotel. As Paul+ sped along the narrow road, he got just a bit too close to the railing on the right side of the car and BAM! off went the side mirror! Mary Pat+ and I about jumped out of our skin but Paul+ seemed rather nonplussed about the whole thing ... which made us politely stifle our laughter until we got into our hotel room. I swear we laughed until it hurt!

In hindsight, that trip, and our misadventures on it, inched me closer to ordination to the priesthood. Mary Pat+ quietly supported me and gave me encouragement. As a former transitional ministries officer, she helped review my resume and my CDO profile with helpful suggestions. She knew how difficult my first year of ordained ministry was. Closing a church is never on a new priest's radar and to find myself on Good Friday saying good-bye to the members of that church and knowing I had nowhere to go on Easter Sunday was just devastating. My first Easter as a priest ... all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Last year, Mary Pat+ retired from Grace Episcopal in New Market. She called me before she left and basically set me up to be the supply priest for a few months while the congregation took the time to call an interim. It was the first Easter where I was the chief celebrant at the Eucharist. Yes, I had assisted in other congregations in prior years, but it wasn't quite the same. Mary Pat+ made sure I would be chief celebrant at Grace on the holiest day of the Christian year - and for that I will always be grateful.

Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? I will miss Mary Pat+ and will wait with patient expectation for the day when we will see each other again.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How'd you get into the business?

In his book Have a Little Faith: A True Story, Mitch Albom asks his rabbi Albert Lewis this question: "How'd you get into the business?" How indeed? Tweaking this question a bit, how did we get to this point in our life and faith journey?

I don't have some kind of Pauline Damascus Road story of conversion. I was baptized as an infant and I've never known a time when I was not part of the Church - and that's the "capital C" Church universal. I certainly had my time of straying away in late high school and my college years. But in 1988, I moved to Maryland to be with my beloved husband. On the morning when I left my home and my parents, amid many tears, my mother said, "Find yourself a good church when you get to Maryland. The church will be your family when we are far apart." No truer or wiser words could have been said in that moment.

I joined All Saints Episcopal in Frederick when I arrived in Maryland. I'll be honest - the reason I chose them was because of the size of their ad in the Yellow Pages (remember, web sites weren't around then!). Having come from California where the churches are all large, this was the milieu in which I was most comfortable. I had a morbid fear that if I joined a small church, I'd be asked to run for vestry the minute I darkened the door. Yes, an unfounded prejudice, but I was only 24 years old so chalk it up to inexperience.

I spent 13 years at All Saints and in that time my husband was baptized and confirmed, I gave birth to two daughters (both of whom were baptized there), I served as an usher, assisted the altar guild, taught Sunday School (for middle schoolers, no less) and served a three year term on the vestry. But with the arrival of our daughters and a move west of the city, our lives changed and All Saints was no longer a fit with our schedules.

About that time, we started looking at other churches. OK, in fairness, we only looked at one - St. Mark's Lappans. After our second visit, our oldest daughter asked if we were "going to stay here forever." I told her forever was a long time, and she replied, "Well can we at least come back next week? We're in the Sunday School program." I thought that any church which could make room for my kids that quickly was where we needed to be. Case closed!

It was during my time at St. Mark's, a church much smaller than any I had ever attended, that God's call to priestly ministry became unavoidable. I had wrestled off and on with this call since I was 12, back when women could not even serve at the altar, let alone be ordained. In the end, God persisted and I surrendered. I had no idea how God would make this work ... I could not see a way forward.

Well, long story short ... God did make the way. It was the roundabout way which seems to be God's preference (Deuteronomy 2). I was ordained a deacon in June 2007 and a priest in February 2008. But ministry was roundabout too. My first call resulted in shepherding a congregation to a healthy closure, followed by an uncertain period of semi-employment as a supply priest, a short stint as an interim in an inner-city church, a year as a part-time visitation minister at Calvary United Methodist in Frederick, part-time assistant at St. Mark's, Lappans and then almost two years as a hospice chaplain ... before landing in my current call at Grace Episcopal in Brunswick, Maryland.

So, how'd I get into the business? God called and I questioned. God called and I reminded God of my inadequacy. God called and I tried a few lame excuses. God called and I said ... "OK, you got me."

Friday, February 10, 2012

And other duties as may become necessary from time to time

"To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a recycling operation ..."

Admittedly, this isn't in the Bible, but perhaps it should be. There is no waste in the Kingdom of God. The economy of God finds use for all things, all people, and all skills - regardless of whatever judgments we might put on those things, people, and skills.

Case in point, when I was a high school student (and yes, my daughters, I can still remember back that far), I took algebra. I shared Fran Lebowitz's sentiment: "In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra." I went through the exercises of solving for x - although I could not for the life of me understand why x couldn't solve his own problems. No matter ... what I did learn was an obscure form of division called "modulo division." This form of division allowed you find a remainder as in 12 divided by 5 equals 10 remainder 2. Modulo division would give you the answer of 2 (the remainder). In the moment, I could not for the life of me see why I was learning this.

Fast forward 20 years to when I owned an IT training and consulting firm. One of the services we offered was custom database design. I had a client who needed to track employee training. In their system, 8 hours of training converted to 1 training day. But, if you went to a 10 hour training, that converted into 2 training days. I needed to convert hours to days ... but this was not simple division with rounding up to the next number. I had to program in a division process that would look to see if there was a remainder ... and then add 1 to the number of training days. 20 years after learning about modulo division, I actually used the darned thing! And it worked beautifully.

Yes, I'll admit to being more geeky than the average priest. I've stepped away from arithmetic work and canons do not allow me to touch money or finances in any way in the parish (be thankful for that). But, occasionally, duty calls me to use a skill in my new call that I had not counted upon using ... at least in the Church. Remember, no waste in God's economy!

Our boiler was acting up and we had a rather chilly worship experience a couple of weeks ago at Grace. When the service technician came out to check, he found that the thermostat was not working as programmed. Admittedly, this was a very old programmable thermostat - my first clue was having to know Morse code to program it (one step above the "smoke signals model"). Anyway, it was time to consolidate the two thermostats we had (one for the boiler, one for the heat pump/AC) into one. When I received the estimate from our technician of $235 to install a basic programmable thermostat, my frugal self about fainted. I knew I could do better at the Home Depot.

The result? For $125 and a little bit of time and geeky research, I installed this 3M Filtrete WIFI enabled thermostat:

And yes, it is in the pulpit! Odd location, I know, but mounting it on a stone wall wasn't the best solution. Besides, when those "hellfire and brimstone" sermons need to be preached, the congregation can get a Sensurround experience. Only kidding ... really.

The best part is if I have a lapse of memory (which is getting more common than I want to admit) and I forget to set the thermostat for a special program only to realize I forgot after driving home, I can use my Android phone app to set the thermostat remotely. Coolness factor - about 10 I'd say.

I'm always amazed how God can find interesting, and often unexpected, ways to use our gifts and graces for the welfare of God's people.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dropping into Grace

For those of you who know me, my spiritual journey has been marked by many random acts of "Huh?" Søren Kirkegaard said, "Life is lived forwards but understood backwards." Hence most of the time when God is at work, my general response is "huh?" ... until much later.

My work at Hospice of Washington County was abruptly terminated in September 2011. Officially, I was terminated without cause. Essentially, I was placed in a position where I was told to ignore a legal obligation and violate my ordination vows - neither of which were acceptable.

The upshot of this is I had been scheduled to begin a stint as a long term supply clergy at Grace Episcopal Church in Brunswick, MD ... which began the Sunday after I was fired. Now being supply clergy is a few shekels in the pocket - but it doesn't really pay the bills. However, I had a place to be and an altar at which to celebrate and I somehow had a sense that God was at work. Maybe it was getting the phone call from a parishioner the same day I was fired who said, "I just heard you're coming to Grace and I'm so excited!" Or maybe it was later that same day when a deacon friend called and said, "Hey, I just had a call from the bishop's office - I'm coming to Grace Brunswick." Somehow it felt like, "Here's your sign" (and I don't mean the "Stupid sign" either).

After spending a few weeks at Grace, it became clear that their traditions were pretty high church. First hint, thurible hanging in the sacristy ... and a full boat of incense! My heritage is pretty high church having come from California, so I felt like we could work well together (and yes, the incense came out on All Saints Sunday and Christmas Eve).

In November, the vestry voted to call me as their Priest-in-Charge ... that's a priest who really isn't in charge of anything. Who said Anglican terminology is always accurate? I'm pretty much doing the work of a rector but in a "try before you buy" kind of way. The folks at Grace get to check me out and work with me and I get to check them out and work with them ... and after a year or three, we decide whether this is working and convert the position into rector if it's mutually agreeable.

So how'd I end up here? Only by Grace ... God's grace and the power of the risen Christ to make new things happen. Where will we go? I hope we'll go forward in the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples, to be healers and reconcilers, and to bear the light of Christ in the community. I don't know how that's all going to work ... but I know it will be interesting.