Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Joining Church

After a long period of wandering in the wilderness, I have finally made a commitment to a new church home.  Audrey and I joined First Community Church on Sunday.

During my first year of retirement, I preached twenty times in churches around the state, so it did not seem that I needed to find a church.  Last year, I often worshipped with Marnie and spent the summer filling in for Dawn Remster who was on sabbatical.  That experience reminded me of the blessing of being part of a healthy church community - I experienced the deep friendships, the fun of working together in projects, the mutual seeking through study and the gift of gathering in worship. So, when September came, I began to realize that I needed a church.  Not to pastor - but just for me and my spiritual journey. 

What surprised me on Sunday was how emotional I felt shortly after the very short ceremony of making our promises to the congregation. I started counting and realized that this was the tenth church I have joined - and it may the last. Here is the list:
First Presbyterian West Chester Pennsylvania
First Presbyterian Scranton Pennsylvania
First Presbyterian Madison New Jersey
First Presbyterian Cranford New Jersey
Lebanon United Methodist Church Lebanon, Ohio
Northwest Christian Church in Columbus
First Christian Church - Zanesville
First Christian Church - Bowling Green
Karl Road Christian Church Columbus

This list reflects the years of moving in my twenties and thirties.  I was baptized and raised a Presbyterian and always sought that church first.  It was when we moved to Columbus in the 80's that we tried many churches and eventually ended up at Northwest which was my entry into becoming a Disciple of Christ.  And for the last 30 years - I have joined churches that I also pastored. 

So....Sunday was the first church for me since 1985 where I am joining as a member and not a part of the staff.  I know a handful of people so far and wonder how I am going to fit in here.  There was something in the worship experience for me that has been the touchstone of the decision to make a home here.  As churches move into becoming more accessible and contemporary, I find my soul is touched with what is almost classical and traditional  in worship.  When the choir sings, it harkens back to my years at First Presbyterian Church and their excellent choir that my parents were part of. And some how the words "grandeur of God" come to me as I write this.  I am moved here in ways that are unexplainable but have drawn me to make a commitment.

What I am realizing is that I have longed to truly worship and that is what I am able to do in this place.  And I know that worship is not an end in itself - but will be the engine leading me into expressions of my faith - in study, spiritual guidance, service, celebration.  Sunday  - as I joined my 10th and maybe last church - was a new beginning.  I will celebrate and sing to the Lord a new song.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Prayer for the World

As the bombing began last night in Syria in response to the poisoning of the Syrian people,
as the news continues to be full of the corruption of politicians
as we worry about failing schools in our community, the opiod crisis, and mental health issues I do what I can.  I pray and I clean my basement. 

I have been sorting through papers from years of preaching, from the coursework of Wellstreams, from the various retreats and projects that have filled my desk and file cabinets.  I found this prayer by Rabbi Harold Kushner and share it today.

A Prayer for the World

Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
   help and nurtured over generations,
Let the rain wash away the memory 
   of the hurt and neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
   fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
   wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
   we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
   beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
   of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and 
   fell the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
   be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
   Let the earth nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
   to surround us with beauty
And let the mountains teach our hearts
   to reach upwards to heaven.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Good and Evil, Truth and Lies

I woke up this morning thinking about evil.  The reality of evil.  Last night I watched the HBO documentary about Joe Paterno which covered essentially six days in the Jerry Sandusky scandal during which Joe had to confront the child abuse that occurred under his leadership which led to his abrupt firing.

We watched him try to compartmentalize and for a while refuse to read about it because he had to concentrate on the next football game.  Finally he faced the enormity of what had happened and recognized ultimately his part in it.  It was a story about how people did not pay attention, chose a football program over young boys and dismissed horrific damage.

At the same time I watch our President mired down in the lies that he tells so easily.  The lie that he was not involved with Stormy Daniels set against the payoff that he supposedly did not know about is festering and is certainly weakening his presidency.

One of the pivotal books for me has been The People of the Lie by Scott Peck.  Evil is real and some of its characteristics include:

 1. Is consistently self deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self image of perfection
 2. Deceives others as a consequence of their own self deception
 3.  Maintains a high level of respectability, and lies incessantly in order to do so .
4. Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim

He has more attributes than these to define the person who is evil in his construct - a character disorder.  But what I know to be true is that each of us is able to fall into these kinds of behaviors.  Alexander Solzhenistant wrote in the Gulag Archipelago:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” 

And so i wake up thinking about evil and wondering what is the message for me this morning? What I know to be true is that I have and probably will again  have times of failing to see what is right in front of me, having distorted values and dismissing the pain of others.  Self deception is the easiest thing in the world for human beings as we like to see only the best in ourselves.  Kind of like what happens when I prepare to look in the mirror.

This spiritual journey is one of paying attention to everything.  It is about being fully alive - seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking. And it is in seeking the good and finding the truth about ourselves, others and the world.  The blessing - the inordinate blessing of being a Christian - is the reality of grace at the heart of our faith.  Grace means that we are loved by a loving God no matter what.  Grace means that we are able to see ourselves as we are and offer ourselves up - not only to be forgiven but also to be changed.  I always like the idea that we are on a journey to become more like Jesus.  And that happens as we have the courage to see everything God wants us to see.

Evil is a problem to understand, accept and see.  I decided to look at what Frederick Buechner had to say about it this morning and this is what he writes in Wishful Thinking:

"Christianity, ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all.  It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene - not even this - but that God can turn it to good."

Monday, April 9, 2018

Power and Love

Not the power of love, love power - but Power and Love.  What is the guidance of my life?  What is the ignition of my life?  Is it love?  Is it power? (control?)

I watched a 4 hour documentary this weekend of Garry Shandling and followed by  the end of the Netflix series "Wild Wild Country" about the controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shee Rajneesh and the community Rajeeshpuram founded by his followers in Oregon in the 80's and ended with a brief documentary of Ram Dass as he nears the end of his life.  And feel full of the images and ideas of the weekend.

What was interesting about Garry Shandling was that the  overview of his life was almost like reading about the saints I have studied through Wellstreams.  He went through a lot of  hard experiences over the years (death of brother, betrayal by friend/ agent, health issues) and developed an interest in Buddhist spirituality.  I love comedians and am intrigued by their art and their drive and their lives.  Usually it is one creative person who is able to reflect authentically on life and through their art are able to "take charge" or a room or a stadium and entertain.  There is real power there.  Garry was a brilliant comedian and obsessive about his work. You could see his ego/ambition in the beginning and over the years and through both hard experiences and reading and prayer learning to  let go and become more loving. . After watching the first half I thought he was so self absorbed and narcissistic but at the end he truly learned that doing his work - comedy - could be joy and that mentoring others and caring about them was really important.
The fascinating Wild Wild Country documentary describes a utopian community formed to be full of love.  It was idealistic and truly amazing how they came and created a city in the wilderness of Oregon.  However, there was a need for power and control at the heart of it.  As a result they came into conflict with the local people and some eventually got involved in arson and poisoning.  You could say they were infected by a desire for power even though they talked about love.

The  Ram Dass documentary was a picture of a man who moved his focus in life from power to love. .  He began life as Richard Alpert, a Harvard professor of psychology.  His research on the religious use of psychedelic drugs  led to his dismissal from Harvard.  His journey included travels to India and the influence of a guru Maharaj Ji. The documentary was about him preparing to "Go Home" .  He has had a stroke and is now greatly dependent on others and facing death.  He said the beginning of his life was "Power, power, power" and the end is "Love, love, love."

And it all spoke to me.  I am not a Buddhist or a follower of any Guru but I am a follower of Jesus.  The message is the same - the movement from wanting power to wanting love.  It is about trusting the one who gave us life and letting go of our need to be in control.  And living in the reality that LOVE is at the center of the universe.  God is LOVE.

As I begin this week I hope that love will be my focus. I will leave shortly to give a "Reiki Treatment" to a fellow minister who is recovering from open heart surgery I know that all of this "love work" is like Reiki - both ephemeral and real.    And a blessing.

Here is a blessing from Maxine Shonk

May you be blessed by the God of LOVE whose greatest desire is to be one with you.
May you draw close and know the thrill of God's beating heart against your own.
May this Love God be a listening presence in every word and thought and experience of your existence.
May the fire and passion of God's love for you move you to be a compassionate and loving presence to all you meet.
May the God of LOVE be with you.

PS - at the end of the Garry Shandling documentary he skyped with Ram Dass!. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Soul Work

I begin this day with reflection on yesterday and what I realize and am grateful for is the way in which I have had many "soul" experiences.  As I spent time in solitude and wrote about my day, I realized there were several ways in which my soul was fed:
  •  Through morning prayer and solitude.  
  • Through writing in my blog (finally....after a month away!)
  • Through doing spiritual direction.  One of the directees told me that she has spent time with Parker Palmer's writings lately and that brought me to peruse that book today.
  • Through going to the movies - Audrey and I saw "The Death of Stalin" which was a comic and horrifying look at the transition of power in Russia following the death of Stalin.  
  • Through attending "Women Writing for a Change."  What I realized this morning is that listening to the writing of others is really a time of reflecting on the human condition and this amazing journey through life that we are all on.
This morning I began the day perusing my copy of A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer.  One of the blessings of underlining books is that you can then just read those sentences and spend time with the thoughts and words that had meant something to you on your first reading. Here is some of what I underlinds:

"There are places in our landscapes of our lives where no one can accompany us."  (this is the reason that solitude is so important.)

"Community is equally essential to rejoining soul and role".

"The soul can feel safe only in relationships that possess certain qualities."

"This is the first, wildest and wisest thing I know - that the soul exists and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness."

I have a true self when my self protective heart opens up and another person's joy or suffering fills me as if it were my own."

After this I spent a few moments with the lectionary of the day.  It included both God revealing Nebuchadnezzer's dream to Daniel and in Acts 4, a prayer of boldness for the believers:

 27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant[d] Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants[e] to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant[f] Jesus.” 
  31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

I share all this to say that the conclusion I come to  - again and again and again - is that God can be trusted.  And that what I want in my life is to be faithful to doing the soul work that brings life.
Clearly, soul work is more than a few minutes of devotion in the morning.  It is developing a life of attentiveness so that we can see God is really working in this wounded and wounding world.  When we see it - then we can trust it and join in and bring whatever healing help we have to offer.

Here is an appropriate blessing from Maxine Shonk which really says everything I just wrote with clarity.

May the God of AWARENESS be with you.  May you always be attentive to God's activity in our life and in tune with God's desire for you.
May your awareness of God's total love for you bring you to a keen appreciation of the gift of your creation.
And may this awareness move you to an appreciation of all created beings as expressions of God's love.
May the God of AWARENESS bless you.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Morning Ponderings

I am still reflecting on the many lectures I attended  at the “Virginia Festival of the Book”.  The very first talk we went to included the author of a book called Two Charlestonians.  It traced the life of two Charleston natives born a mile apart.” Captain Thomas Pinckney and Sergeant Joseph Humphries Barquet.  One was a white rice planter and scion of America’s founding families and the other was a free man of color and a brick mason.  One joined the confederacy in order to maintain his way of life and the other joined the union to bring freedom for those who were enslaved. I found myself thinking about the whole idea of being born  “on the wrong side of history”  -  and in this case it was being born a slaveholder.  The premise of their lives -the lens through which they viewed themselves and the world -  was white supremacy.  It was taken for granted.

At the same time I am now slowly reading  Stepping our of Self Deception  and was stopped in my tracks by these sentences:
Our personal tale with its conflict, pain, drama and momentum is predicated on the single untested and unquestioned belief that “I” exist.  Any student of logic will tell us, if the premise of the story is wrong then everything built upon that premise is incorrect.”

And I wonder about many things. I wonder how  I ––born  100 years after the civil war, after decades of Jim Crow, as  the civil rights laws were enacted -  still am affected by the premise of white supremacy.  I grew up in the north in the fifties and the sixties and certainly lived in white privilege.  Of course, I didn’t understand it or recognize it for years, but that was my reality.

And racism is only part of our story.  I was  born into a culture of rating and ranking and the implicit understanding that some were better than others.  Those who are more important might be  smarter, faster,  prettier, more famous, more powerful,  and have the most money.   We may not live with a caste system like India or the aristocracatic rules of the British monarchy but I wonder how much  of the  unconscious premise of our lives is affected by a sense of worthiness based on external achievement and attributes.   And unconscious is the operative word.

It seems to me that the spiritual work that we are called to  is to discover the premise and to remove the  lenses that distort our understanding of ourselves, others and life itself.   When we say we are followers of Jesus,  we are living in a new premise  – that every person is of equal value, that we are loved as we are and called into a deeper relationship with the God of love. It is a journey of receiving grace so that we can face every part of ourselves and allow God to guide us into wholeness.  It really is a movement away from judgment and division into love and grace.  

So, here are the questions of this morning:
What is the premise that I am operating under

             Is it that I must earn my way
         Is it that I am a victim
         Is it that I am special in a way that others are not
         Is it that I am gifted
         Is it that I am flawed
          Is it that I am called
          Is it that I am insignificant
           Is it that I am world changing
           Is it that I am inadequate
           Is it that I am blessed
           Is it that I am growing
What is the premise of my life?
Here is a wonderful blessing that is appropriate to these musings:

May the God of TRUTH be with you,
enlightinging your heart, clearning your vision,
calling you beyond yourself,
and gently leading you to the truth at the heart of your being.
May fidelity to this TRUTH be your gift to others and the source of your own peace.
May the blessing of TRUTH be with you. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Journal Notes

I have kept journals for decades and have most of them still.  They are collected in the basement in a big box, in shelves in a closet and the most recent ones in a corner of the prayer room.  Not all of them are finished - sometimes I start and after a couple of weeks stop and then never go back to it.
And when I return to journal writing, I need to buy a new one.

Yesterday I finished a journal and started a new one.  I spent some time perusing the book which is more than just my own morning musings.  I have been taking a "women writing for a change class" and there are "fast writes from that" and also have been to some workshops and a class on Diamond Heart and there are notes from that.  I also recorded thoughts from readings about supervising spiritual directors. It is generally a record of what has been going on and seemed important to me for the last three months.

So, I thought I write here twelve of  the key quotes and thoughts before I relegate this journal to a box.
1. "Prayer is not gritting your teeth, but falling in love."

2. I reflected on "hyper awareness."  I enjoy watching "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" by Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Jessica Parker mentioned to him that she was like him - hyper aware.  That is, a life of noticing the little things and for Jerry it is about finding the humor, the joke, the bit in what is going on in daily life.  My reflection is that as people who take seriously the spiritual journey - our hyper awareness ( as opposed to unconsciousness) is about seeing the signs of God's activity.  It makes life much more interesting and alive.

3. I have been carrying a wrapper from a piece of Dove Chocolate which says "Be proud of your age."  I felt like it was a divine message as that number keeps getting bigger. (part of my hyper awareness)

4. Quote from Diamond Heart - "You are either filing a hole or tolerating a hole"  And the invitation is to inquire about and explore the hole.

5. Quote from Diamond Heart - "Essense is the elixer of enlightenment, the golden thread in everything"

6. Quote from Diamond Heart - With holes - you either experience them or act from its deficiency.

7. My own reflection - when Jesus was in the wilderness, it was a time of exploration of hole.

8. Random quote "you are alive today because the universe wants you to be alive"

9. The journey - seeing beyond the surface to the depth of being

10. In spiritual direction (and in life) - those who are coming to us are not problems to be solved but mysteries to be plumbed.

11. Responsibe listening is "a long loving look at the real."

12. Most dissastisfaction comes from not being ourselves.
Thomas Merton: "How much false self are you willing to shed to get to your true self?"

I will end this post with a poem I really like that somehow speaks to this time in my life

"The Way It Is."
There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of the thread.
William Stafford