Thursday, July 20, 2017

Church Life

It is good to be back working  in a church.  It is really good.  Yesterday I spent time at First Christian Church in Zanesville where I am filling in for Pastor Dawn and realized the unique blessings to being part of a church.

 - First it is a real gift to get to preach and to prepare to preach.  This summer I have been preaching on the stories of Genesis and I spend my week with the events of these  characters - Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac spinning around in my head.  This week the sermon will be on the "Binding" of Isaac which is a tough story to think about in this day and age. A Father thinks God is telling him to sacrifice his son - his only son.  And only at the last minute there is a "ram in the thicket."  What does this story have for us today?  THAT is what I think about this week.  And I like it and hopefully, by Sunday, I will have something to share.

 - It is a gift to be with old people - even older than me.  Yesterday I visited with a couple who have not been able to come to church because he is being treated for bladder cancer.  In September, they will celebrate 70 years of marriage - 70!  And they are sweet and loving with each other as they shared stories of their life together.  He calls her "honey" and gives her a kiss every morning.

 - It is a gift to be with children.  Vacation Bible School is this week and I got to take pictures and "ring the bell" between the events of the evening.  There were 70 plus children and lots of caring and fun adults helping.  The laughter and the smiles were really infectious and I just loved their energy and joy.

 - It is a gift to be with people who are on the spiritual journey.  I love it when someone shares a story about how God has revealed Godself to them.  I am teaching a Sunday School on the spiritual pilgrimage and at the end one woman took me aside and told me how she heard God's voice when she was 11 years old.  God said: "Go to church."  She told her mother and they did and now 60 years later she is still going.

 - It is a gift to see how people care for each other in a church.  I served at this church 30 years ago and many of the people are still there.  And during these years, they have worshipped together, cared for each other's family, and had many. many memories.  There are friendships that develop because of this commitment to being part of this "organization"  which we call the "body of Christ."

So, I am grateful for the gift of this summer of being a part time pastor in a very alive and loving community.  It is bringing me immense joy and will move me into finding another community to be part of when this is over.

Yesterday at our little Wednesday worship we sang this song.  One of my favorites.  The line I like - is "she is his new creation."  There really is nothing like a church that is alive - it is a new creation and I have been blessed by  one this summer.

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cracks in the foundation

This is not good!  In moving into our house Audrey alerted Chuck and I to the horizontal crack she noticed in the basement.  As he moved shelves away from the site, it was clear that we had a problem.

Yesterday Patrick from Basement "Authority" came and gave us the bad news.  After almost 50 years of existence, the earth has been pushing against the walls of the basement.  There are cracks, bowing, and shearing.  This is not good.

As I sat on my porch this morning I can see that it is much the same with my body.  It is showing the effects of the wear of life.  As I look ahead I have concerns about heart, mind, bones and strokes.  And so exercise is about more than weight - but also heart and brain care.  And I take my blood pressure medication, calcium and Vitamin D pills.

With both the basement and the body I wonder how much denial and unconsciousness there has been over the year.  How long have these cracks been developing?  How long have I denied the need to look long and hard at my overall health?  But really, those questions seem to me to be dead ends.

This is life.  Things fall apart over time and then we take steps to shore up the wall and attend to the body.  And accept as inevitable  - but not defining - the decline and decay of everything.  And trusting - at the same time - the possibility of repair that may not bring us back to where we were originally - but a place and person that will persist, persevere and be adequate to the purpose for which it was created.

As I write this, I realize how helpful Pema Chodren's writings have been to me.

 “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”
Pema Chödrön

And so we are going to spend some money soon fixing the wall.  We still need another quote - this time from the Basement "Doctor."   I like my house, Chuck loves the basement and we will do what we need to do.  And the same with this challenge of aging - we like our lives and our bodies have been really a blessing up to now so we will do what we need to do.  And most of all enjoy it - ALL.

I will end this with a story from Pema Chodren.

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines.
 Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well.
 She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging.
She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down.
 She looks at the mouse.
Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below.
This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death.
Each moment is just what it is.
 It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat.
We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gathered Together

That is the way I feel right now - I am being gathered together from being extremely scattered.
For the past three months much has happened and the first thing to go was this blog.  This morning I sat on the flowered couch on my back porch and finally, finally, finally felt centered enough to come back to this writing.

There are two major shifts in my life - my daughter Audrey has come home to live with us for a while.  Much of my attention and energy has been on her - the practical details of making space for a third person in our home.  And the time of just being present with her as she begins her life over again in Columbus.

I am now halfway through working at First Christian Church in Zanesville filling in for Dawn Remster, the minister, who is on sabbatical.  I am not really filling in - basically preaching Sunday and Wednesday and doing a little bit of pastoral work.  It has been extremely satisfying to be back in Zanesville and to be back into sermon preparation and pastoral life.

What I realize is that I have sort of lost my rhythem and feel kind of scattered which is why I titled this blog "gathered together."  It really is only when I intentionally find some quiet time for writing and reflection that I start to feel centered.

Today as I wrote in my journal for the first time in a while, I found myself full of gratitude for all of this change and work and literally new life.

Audrey has  - in the space of a few weeks -  found a new job as well as some part time work.  I watch her as she reconnects with family and old friends and seeks to find new ways to connect with people.  She truly is an inspiration to me.

Also, she comes into our home and brings new life.  She is working with Chuck in yardwork as well as selling some of the "treasures" that he purchases at estate sales.  She is kind and patient and hard working.  She is my companion in netflix viewing and political and spiritual discussions.  It is beyond good.

I find myself really enjoying the process of sermon preparation - the times of thinking, pondering, reading, praying over the text and eventually emerging with a product that is of interest to me, at least.  It is good.  I also am glad this is limited because it can truly be a grind as well.

I started a Sunday School class last week on the Pilgrimage of the Soul which I had both attended and led last year.  One of the first assignments was to discern or receive a seven word mantra for the month.  I have struggled with this until this morning.  I read a wonderful poem which I will share which really speaks to me.  It speaks of my desires for allowing God's spirit to work through me and I realized that this may be the mantra:

(10 words - sorry!)

In this time of fullness and abundance  I only want to be faithful to the one who brings new life.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through the widening channels
into the open sea.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Up In the Air

That is the title of the sermon that I am going to be preaching tomorrow in Zanesville as I begin filling in for Dawn Remster on her sabbatical.  I am preaching on the Ascension of Jesus who goes "up in the air" and ascends to God the father.

I finished - even printed (!)  - the sermon this morning and after hours of struggle found that it made sense and I look forward to delivering it tomorrow.  But all during the struggle of writing I was truly "up in the air."  That is what I talk about some - that part of what I think is the human condition - all the ways in which we are "up in the air."  On the computer I learned that "up  in the air" is an idiom that means "not yet resolved, finished, answered, decided or certain."  That says it all for me - that is how I live most of the time.

This week I did a funeral for Yvonne Hardenbrook a poet who lived at Oakleaf who I came to know and love when I preached over there in the past. I spoke after the service with one of her friends and we talked religion and how open we both were to different paths that lead to God.  However, I found myself saying how much I liked being a Christian for one reason only - the grace of God that is taught and lived out  in Jesus.  As I said to her - I live my life in a lot of confusion and self doubt and the understanding and the experience of grace is what is really my anchor.  That is what gives me peace.

And so, I guess I just wanted to write this morning about how blessed I feel by my faith as I venture into a summer of service to First Christian Church in Zanesville.  Completing this first sermon of the summer reminds me that the spirit that can guide and inspire is real as I moved this week from being up  in the air writing to this place of peace as I prepare to pastor these people.

Yvonne wrote a beautiful poem that I read at her funeral that really speaks to me

What We Miss Awake
by Yvonne Hardenbrook

What we see
is never all there is.
We drowsily salute the bright-edged
clouds of dawn, in full sun
close our eyes. Again
at sunset we comment on the flame,
say nothing of the subtle
easter sky.

What we miss awake
we see in dreams, distorted
for paid seers to explain
If not dreams then letters,
your words of love I saw and never
recognized. These forty years
the ink has dried on pages folded
tight and ribbon-tied.

They spill into the fire, the ribbon
last. I tell you, I did not see
till now the face of love.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Grace upon grace upon grace

I keep learning over and over again about the grace of God and the constant invitation that is being made to me (and to all of us) to come home again.  Like the prodigal son....

This week I wrote this in my journal:

I spend as much time
running away
as I do looking for

I spend as much time
hiding from
as I do searching

I spend as much time
as I do feeling

I spend as much time
as I do listening

I spend as much time
as I do emptying

And when I come back - looking, searching, feeling, listening, emptying
there you are waiting

This is what grace upon grace upon grace means to me today.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Little bit of Clarity

Sometimes I feel like I am living in a sort of fog.  I feel discontent and confused especially since the election and watching the chaos that is coming out of the white house.

Yesterday I watched a documentary on Netflix that helped a little bit.  It is called Get Me Roger Stone and it was fascinating.

It is described as a " documentary exploring the life and career of notorious Republican dirty trickster and longtime Trump advisor, Roger Stone, who helped create the real-estate mogul's political career."

What was helpful to me was that this documentary delineated the values that he espoused throughout his life.  He talked about in 6th grade learning the power of "disinformation."  He was present during  Watergate  and  cared  about winning at any cost.  Nixon is his hero and he even has his a tattoo of his face on his back!
He and his partners - Paul Manafort and Charlie Black  - formed a political consulting firm that was instrumental in electing Ronald Reagan.  Afterwards they were lobbyists for Marcos and the Congolese dictator Sese Seko. There was no concern about morality or ethics - only the making of money.
Roger Stone is a fighter and his response to attacks it to attack back and when confronted with accusations his first response is to deny, deny, deny.  He has a whole political history of dirty tricks and cruel innuendos in which he "promoted a number of falsehoods and conspiracy theories."  Finally, there was no respect for the idea of service to others - he thought those people were chumps.

He has been friends with our president for years and encouraged him to run for president for decades.  His values and Trumps seem similar - the fighting back, the denials, the lying, the grandiosity.

It is, of course, easy to point to Roger Stone with disgust and revulsion.  Yet on reflection I realize that it may be that they are almost an exaggeration of the  values of the culture that we are all living in.  We are breathing the air that says that we must compete,  win at all costs,  the material is most important,  we must be ambitious and defend ourselves.

Where the clarity came for me was in conversation afterward. What I realized is that these values are diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus.  Our spiritual seeking leads us into a path of:
 - humility
 - truth
 - compassion
 - service to others
 - unity
 - reflection
 - love
 - forgiveness
 - grace

And how does that happen?  There is, of course, choices that we make but much of our path is about grace.  The pre venient grace that came before we were even born for many of us.  We were blessed to be born into homes that  lived these values and to grow up in a community that taught us about that alternative way of life.  But the choice remains always.  We are surrounded by people and media that promote comparing, competing, division, and materialism. And in our pride and unconsciousness it is so easy to point fingers at the Roger Stones of the world and miss the ways in which we can easily fall into all of those behaviors. It is easy to live in scarcity rather than abundance, it is easy to worry about our security and not other people's needs, it is easy to be a taker rather than a giver.

So, I begin this day in prayer and praying the spirit will guide me to seek "The Way" that really leads to peace.  Here is a wonderful prayer by Walter Brueggemann:

You are the giver of all good things.
All good things are sent from heaven above,
rain and sun,
day and night,
justice and righteousness,
bread to the eater and
seed to the sower,
peace to the old,
energy to the young,
joy to the babes.
We are takers, who take from you,
day by day, daily bread,
taking all we need as you supply,
taking in gratitude and wonder and joy.
And then taking more,
taking more than we need,
taking more than you give us,
taking from our sisters and brothers,
taking from the poor and the weak,
taking because we are frightened, and so greedy,
taking because we are anxious, and so fearful,
taking because we are driven, and so uncaring.
Give us peace beyond our fear, and so end our greed.
Give us well-being beyond our anxiety, and so end our fear.
Give us abundance beyond our drivenness,
and so end our uncaring.
Turn our taking into giving … since we are in your giving image:
Make us giving like you,
giving gladly and not taking,
giving in abundance, not taking,
giving in joy, not taking,
giving as he gave himself up for us all,
giving, never taking. Amen.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rejoicing in Ordinariness

Finally!  I have not written in this blog for over a month.  This may be the longest break I have ever taken from writing here.  And I have to confess that it is because I was going through a time of desolation.

Just writing that is a confession.  Because I fall prey to the delusion that because I am an ordained minister, a spiritual director and an avowed optimist that somehow I should (that's a loaded word!) be exempt from times of desolation.  Especially when I am retired with a sufficient pension, in good enough health, with a loving husband and close family.  Why should I be desolate?

Last Sunday I went to the church I have been attending with Marnie and her kids and afterward spent much of the day in my form of compulsive behavior - eating, playing computer games and watching Law And Order SVU.  Finally at the end of the day I could not sleep and was able to really identify the feelings that I have been avoiding.  And it is a sense of disconnection.  And there are a whole lot of ways in which I feel disconnected.  Later in the week I wrote in my journal about feeling "Unmoored".  Here is what I wrote in my journal

I see a boat at twilight
 - in the soft grey mist of the evening
 - floating untethered from the dock
 - the water lapping at the sides
  - a rope floating in the water 
 - it is unanchored

Where does it belong?
 - is there a slip somewhere?
 - it is adrift
 - it is unmoored. 


As I saw this image I wanted to "solve the problem"  except
 - my children do not need me
 - there is no church for me to serve
 - there is no plce to work
 - there is no uniform to put on
 - there is no office with my name on the door
 - there is no task to do today
 - there is no deadline looming.

I think of my most favorite poem/ prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - "Who am I?"
And I think - who am I?
Am I the one who goes to churches and preaches with confidence, or the one who sits in meetings with assurance, or the grandmother who listens and laughs and drives kids around
Or am I a woman waiting for something more, feeling, irrelevant and inadequate.  Wondering where I fit and where I belong now?

As I ponder honestly these essential questions and talk to my retired friends I hear echos of my own story./  And at the same time I continue to try to be faithful.  To be HERE with God even as I feel empty and confused. To read, to write, to pray.

As I write this I know that something is stirring within me.  I have found myself playing the piano for the first time in years and that is bringing some sense of creativity and peace.  As I ponder the situations that cause me pain write now - both the challenges of the regional church and the concern over the nation under the leadership of Donald Trump - I believe that I need to step back from judgment and gossip and negativity and trust God is at work here in unseen ways.  And I continue to read, to pray and now again to write about the reality and the messiness of the spiritual path. 

This morning I returned to a book by Richard Rohr that I have been slowly reading - Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi and this  really spoke to me:

"This core Christ Identity was made into a worthiness contest. or moral contest, at which almost no one wins and so most do not even try.  Francis and Clare undid the whole contest by rejoicing in their ordinariness and seeming unworthiness - which I believe is the core freedom of the Gospel itself.  And I must say it again: this is something you can only fall into and receive - and nothing that you can achieve, which utterly humiliates the ego, the willful, and all overachievers."

And so, this morning as I have put laundry in the washing machine, cleaned the kitchen, and spent time in prayer I rejoice in my own ordinariness.  Trusting that God is bringing me closer to the harbor where I will find peace and a place to serve.

Here is that wonderful prayer by Bonhoeffer:

"Who am I?  They often tell me
I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as through it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely question of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine."