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Learning to Read: Books for Myanmar

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In January of 2011 I spent five weeks traveling around Myanmar with a group of my classmates from Virginia Theological Seminary. We were there to learn about the Anglican Church in Myanmar and the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, half a world away. During our time there we visited Holy Cross Theological College in Yangon and St. Peter’s Bible School in Toungoo. We were asked to bring a few theology books in our suitcases to donate to the schools. While touring one of the school libraries I was shocked to see an entire set of Hardy Boys Mysteries. On one hand, it is nice that the students have access to a fun set of easy books to help improve their English. On the other hand, I was so sad to see that in this small, one-room library at a theological college there was room on the shelf for a set of kids mystery books. I wished the shelves were so over-flowing with theology books that other texts would be in a classroom or dorm somewhere else on site. But, as we were learning, when you live in a country like Myanmar you don’t have access to the resources we have – and you make due with the donations that come your way.

 

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“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Fredrick Douglas

Growing up, my house was filled with books. A floor to ceiling bookcase, built by my father, was installed in our upstairs hallway and was covered with books. Books about gardening, early childhood education, theology, cooking, special education, and Irish heritage (along with several mysteries, novels, and a few romance novels) graced the shelves. There were bookcases in every room of the house – all of which were piled high.

The irony of growing up surrounded by books was, I was a kid whose dyslexia made even the idea of reading abhorrent to me. Reading made me feel stupid and angry. I hated reading so much it became a source of amusement for my friends. In seventh grade my friends wrapped my birthday present in layers of bubble wrap and duct tape. The anticipation grew as I struggled to open what must have been a magnificently cool present since they put such effort into concealing it. After a struggle that took the entire lunch period, I got into the package to discover three classic novels including the Count of Monte Cristo, Jane Eyre, and one other I seem to have blocked out. I choked back tears as they all laughed. They intended the gift to be a joke, but to me it served to highlight my insecurities about the secret I carried and which felt like a scarlet letter on my chest. (Point of clarification: I never read The Scarlet Letter. When it was assigned, like all assigned reading, I read the back of the book and a few paragraphs inside and then wrote a paper, which earned an A. I was very, very good at fooling teachers into thinking I’d completed my assigned reading.)

I did not read my first chapter book until the age of 15. And even then, the novel I chose (Forrest Gump) was one in which I could anticipate key plot points after seeing the movie with my mother. I graduated high school without having read a single assigned book. I did read chapters in history texts or excerpts from sociology – but reading an entire novel or biography? Impossible. Yet, I graduated with honors. I was convinced I was incapable of reading. I lived in a house surrounded by books I had no intention of ever reading.

Fast forward to college. I went to Wheelock College in the fall of 1999 with grand intentions to become a Child Life Specialist and to make a difference in the world. I struggled with the adjustment to college life – the workload was much more strenuous and teachers actually did notice if I didn’t do my reading. But I wanted to succeed. At the same time my mother was felled by a mystery illness so I attacked the only part of the scenario I had any control over: my work. I made an appointment with the learning center and buckled down. I read my texts and I figured out was that when I was interested, and when I employed the necessary strategies, I could read them. It took me three or four times as long as my peers, but I could read. In the spring of my freshmen year I signed up for an intermediate philosophy course about world religions and I was hooked. Philosophy became my minor. Not only had I learned how to read, I was intentionally signing up for courses that required me to read primary source documents that were more complex than anything I’d ever seen before.

In my sophomore year, my mother, the woman who loved books more than anyone else I knew, died from cancer. My world shattered – but I didn’t miss a single day of school. Mom died during Christmas break, and I was back in my dorm room in mid-January with the rest of my classmates. I graduated college, had a successful career in child life, went to seminary, and now I am a priest. All the while, books have been a source of comfort and nostalgia. In college I learned how to read for knowledge. In the summer after college, when I devoured books 1-5 of the Harry Potter series, I learned to read for pleasure. When I think about my life I realize that I truly learned to read at the age of twenty-two. And since then, I feel blessed each and every time I open a book and understand the thoughts contained in those pages. Bookshelves full of musty pages smell and feel like home. I am a priest who gleefully surrounds myself with books, floor to ceiling – in every room of the house. My books remind me of my mother and the countless hours she spent in used bookstores acquiring her treasures. They remind me of my father, who despite his own severe dyslexia, loved to read books by Patrick O’Brien, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy. I am reminded of the loving work my parents put into not shaming me for my learning challenges but covertly offering strategies to help me overcome them.

 

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis

 

During my vocational discernment I met one of my mother’s friends whom I’d never met. She told me about my mother’s own discernment about a call to the diaconate. Suddenly, all of my mother’s theology books came alive for me in a new way. She had countless books about God – many focusing on feminist theology and the roles of women in the church. Suddenly, this knowledge that my mother was discerning her own call before her untimely death at forty-three, made abundantly more sense and introduced me to a side of my mother I’d never had the privilege of knowing. My nineteen year-old self was not ready to know that part of my mom, but my twenty-seven year-old self desperately hungered for her presence.

Five years later, with a crisp new Master of Divinity in the back of my overloaded Lancer, I arrived in my new apartment following a grueling 15-hour drive from Virginia Theological Seminary. I walked into a home filled with boxes. My bed was made for me. The living room was set up. Fresh towels, soap, and shampoo waited in the bathroom. And my mother’s prized collection of religious books waited for me in her antique bookcase: A gift from my father. I have loved those books. They’ve been a blanket around my heart reminding me who I am and from where I’ve come.

 

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.” – Vera Nazarian

 

As Chris and I have begun to seriously think about our impending move I’ve had to seriously look at my collection *hoarding tendencies. I read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and decided to use those strategies to begin to pare down my belongings. The book’s author, Marie Kondo, suggests one-tackle books first. Oh dear. As I really considered the question of whether or not my books were bringing me joy I came to the difficult answer that they were not. Aside from Harry Potter, I did not plan to reread any of the books on my shelves. Moreover, many of the books had never even been opened. They were solid theological titles, but at this time in my life and journey I did not want to read them. I realized that my books were holding up the walls and reminding me of a happier time when I could moodily slam the door of my teen-bedroom and hear the thumping of mom’s books falling from the shelf outside. I was reminded of hours spent in the used bookstore as mom browsed the shelves. I was reminded of my dad sitting in his ugly recliner reading a novel before bed. But they were not necessary for my joy.

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After coming to that realization I initially decided I could donate them to the Virginia Theological Seminary library. I had benefitted many times in my seminary career from library book sales and I could just see the joy on the current seminarian’s faces as they purchased my mother’s books for a dollar or two. Then, I remembered those sparse library collections in Myanmar. What if, instead of enabling the hoarding tendencies of American seminarians, I found a way to actually enhance the education of Burmese college students? Could it be possible? The answer, as you’ve probably figured out, is yes. For a price, I could mail my mother’s and my b168404_10150171443704606_573547_nooks to Myanmar to the Diocese of Toungoo for them to share with the students there.

I wrote to other Myanmar “alumns” who’d visited the country with the seminary and asked for donations to help offset the cost of
shipping. Several came through and generously made the shipment possible! Once you’ve been to Myanmar and met the amazing people there and learned their stories it is impossible to walk away unchanged and this project is evidence of that.

20151020_133450 copyFinally, after months of sorting and packing, this week, I collected a lot of steps on my fitbit as I ran up and down the stairs packing over 300 pounds of books into my car. The amused post office employee asked me what I was mailing, assuming I was a Peace Corps volunteer mailing supplies to myself. When I explained he paused for a moment, looking at me seriously, before saying, “That is kind of awesome.”

It is kind of awesome. In a few (?) weeks my mother’s collection of books – all of which have hand written book plates in the front covers and the year of acquisition written inside, will be shared with students and priests in Myanmar. My parents who loved God, each other, their children, and reading will be memorialized in the form of love and knowledge being shared with our friends half a world away. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute than that.

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Vegetables and Mindfulness

Trisha’s daughter, Lydia, in the Whole Foods. We agreed she

looks a lot like I do when I am on a juice kick.

It’s been a week since this “no food” resolution began. The plan was simple: nothing but vegetable juice for Lent. It was a cute idea. Really it was. It was also unhealthy and unrealistic. A friend mailed me a great book that arrived on Shrove Tuesday called Christ Walk: a 40-day Spiritual FitnessJourney. I started using it on Wednesday along with my ridiculous all juice no food plan. The walking has continued; the juicing has… changed.

I was thinking entirely of discipline and sacrifice when I came up with my planned Lenten practice. In the year since my dad died my healthful habits have all but disappeared. I think often about going for a run or eating a salad instead of the pasta, but then I make the easier choice. I’ve never spiraled out of control, but I have longed for the consistency that discipline brings to my life. I’ve longed for the easy connection with God that has felt more like work this past year. I started running again last fall and promptly tore my calf muscle. I have resolved over and over again to watch my dietary habits – but each time I’ve not paid enough attention.

This week of paying attention – of changing my plan each day in response to how my body feels or studies I’ve read – has shown me that my discipline was never juicing, my discipline was mindfulness in health. I feel healthier and stronger than I have in months – and that is after just a week of *almost entirely clean eating. (Sunday was tough – note to self, Sundays need more calories.) I’ve gone from a stringent attitude to one of listening. I listen to my body and my heart and in the listening I am starting to find God again.

God is in all of this. God is present in the hunger pangs and the reminder to get up and walk away from my desk. God is in the grocery store when I want ALL OF THE PRODUCE despite knowing my fridge is only so big. God is in the moments of overwhelm when I desire nothing more than to feel held.

So the new plan has been to juice during the day and then eat mindfully at night and on the weekends. Nothing is “officially” off limits, but I know what will nourish my body and what will work against me.  In a meeting with a lovely parishioner this morning I learned that she is actually doing the same thing! So we have a lunch date to swap juices coming up – and I couldn’t be more excited.

Why Do We Fast?

For Lent this year I am taking on the one discipline of which I have been most afraid. Each year as I consider what to eliminate or take on there is one thing I have been unwilling consider seriously: food. I have always found some way to mark the season – whether it is giving up television or adding a daily devotional time. These disciplines have usually been positive spiritual experiences and have helped me refocus my eyes on God. But each year the first thing I think about doing is fasting from food, yet I always find a way around it. It seems too challenging – impossible, even. It will be the most difficult thing for me; and that is why it is my discipline this year.

As a penitential season of preparation on our church calendar, Lent is a time set aside for introspection. But that introspection is squandered if it does not result in a strengthened call toward discipleship and service. Lent is a season that mirrors the time of Jesus’ temptation in the desert and when he was called upon to search deep within himself and discern his path forward before he began his teaching journeys. Jesus prayed through his forty days of temptation before going out into the world. For us, Lent is a time when we are invited to fast from the things that distract us from following God with our whole heart. Lent, like Advent, is a season of preparation. We are preparing to go forward doing the work to which God has called us.

The spiritual discipline of fasting is woven throughout our canon of scripture. Moses was compelled to fast for forty days twice while on Mt. Sinai: first, after receiving the law from God (Exodus 34:28), and again when he discovers the Israelites worshipping their self-fashioned idol (Deuteronomy 9:18). The Ninevites fast for forty days to abate God’s anger with their infidelity and to save their city (Jonah 3:1-10). Saul fasts for 3 days after his encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9:4-9). In the book of Isaiah, the prophet learns from God the nature of true fasting (Isaiah 58:1-12).

In his sermon about that passage from Isaiah, Rowan Williams preaches: “Real fasting, says God to the prophet, is breaking the bonds of injustice and sharing your resources. And it is fasting because it means denying yourself something – not denying yourself material things alone… but denying yourself the pleasures of thinking of yourself as an isolated being with no real relations with those around… denying yourself the luxury of not noticing the suffering of your neighbour. This is fasting that reconnects you with reality. And in the context of the gospel, this is the fasting that the Holy Spirit makes possible for us, breaking through our self-satisfaction.”

Fasting is a form of depravation aimed at focusing our senses and removing distraction. Fasting from something upon which we are dependent forces us to find another source of strength – for Christians, it points us towards greater dependence on our Triune God. In this season of Lent as you consider what discipline to adopt, consider even the things that might sound crazy. Consider the things that illustrate instances of injustice. Consider the things that scare you. As Jesus told us, “You must first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Luke 6:42)

Love Builds Up

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany – Year B

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 
(listen to it here)

 

I have never in my life heard a sermon preached about this passage from 1st Corinthians. In fact, earlier this week I got an email from Brett, who expertly read this passage for us this morning, making sure it was the right reading and we joked that he should do an interpretive reading complete with crumbly, gluttonous foods as props. I am slightly disappointed we didn’t have that pleasure this morning. But, kidding aside, there is a reason this passage is still important today. The challenge of exploring this type of seemingly outdated piece of scripture is vital in our lives as Christians and so, we must, if you’ll forgive the pun, dig in.

The Corinthian Christians to whom this letter is addressed are a well-off group who converted from a number of pagan faiths under the spiritual leadership of Paul. They are highly educated and socially adept. Thus, their question about whether or not they can enjoy feasts comprised of the meat of animals burned in sacrifice to gods and idols they know to be false is, for them, a question to confirm their assumptions – not one they actually believed needed to be answered.

For the Corinthians, they were – in a way – kissing up to their teacher. Paul, we know the idols those other folks worship don’t exist, so it’s still okay to go to their dinner parties, right?!

The surprise for them comes when Paul writes back to explain how their actions affect others around them. And what’s more, Paul uses this as an illustration to explain the concept of Christian freedom. Paul explains to the people how the seemingly innocuous act of participating in a celebration featuring food from sacrifice is actually creating a stumbling block for those who do not understand on as deep a level as the members of the church.

Paul is telling the people that it isn’t enough to understand for themselves – they need to let their actions communicate their convictions, even when that goes against the grain of what society expects.

For these aristocrats of Corinthian society, abstaining from eating the food from sacrifice is tantamount to social suicide. They must avoid the most popular parties being thrown in the community. They asked Paul thinking he would commend them for their knowledge, when really he explored more deeply the concept of Christian Freedom. To paraphrase John Philpot Curran, “The condition upon which God ha[s] given freedom to [hu]man[s] is eternal vigilance.”[1]To be truly free, is to be a slave to Christ – making us responsible for all people. Christ commissioned his disciples to go into the nations and share the Good News – we cannot do that if we are keeping our knowledge to ourselves and allowing our actions to disparage that which our Savior taught us.

So how, then, does this apply to us today? What is the food of idol sacrifice in which we partake?

A documentary series was released out of Norway this month and it has caused a stir all over Europe. The series, Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion, takes 3 young, Norwegian fashion bloggers and sends them to live and work with Cambodian sweatshop workers. The bloggers, all interviewed before leaving for their trip, admit they have know about sweat shops and are aware they exist but figure that earning a wage, even if it is low, must be better than earning no wage at all. They know it isn’t fair, but that is how the industry works so they haven’t really paid that much attention.

Over the course of the series the audience watches as the doe-eyed young adults go from looking like they are on a world travel adventure to being horrified by the atrocities committed against the people they are getting to know on their journey. “‘The truth is, that we are rich because they’re poor,” [One of the featured bloggers] said. “We are rich because it costs us 10 euros to buy a T-shirt [at] H&M. But somebody else has to starve for you to be able to buy it. Those who make the garments should also be able to afford them,’ he said.”[2]

The idols in Corinthian society were false gods and prophets while the idols in our own society are just as damaging: vanity, wealth, popularity – just to name a few.

It feels overwhelming to consider how to change the world and so oftentimes we decide instead, like the Corinthians, to look the other way or ask how to change, hoping our own knowledge of the problem will be enough. Change is uncomfortable and confusing – but you know what? Jesus never said it was supposed to be comfortable.

Last Sunday night a wonderful group gathered to hear more about our upcoming medical mission to Haiti. Folks raised money for this worthy cause to share healthcare with friends who would not otherwise have access. Today, after the service when we all go to the annual meeting, a team of women have prepared a delicious lunch for us to share to raise money for El Hogar – a school aimed at bringing education to some of the most at risk children in Honduras. Each day volunteers from Epiphany head to the Blackstone Library to help ensure children of low-income families in the south end of Boston have access to all of the resources they need to succeed in school and beyond. Right now, on the Episcopal Relief and Development website there a “giving Super Bowl” happening between Pats fans and Seahawks fans in a pseudo contest to see who can donate the most money to help others before kick off tonight. (I guess there is some big football game on tonight? — Team Patriots is still down by $2,000 – click here to donate now!)

The Corinthians felt like they couldn’t take on this problem and affect real change. They were afraid of what their neighbors would think if they did things differently and separated themselves from what was popular.

We should be afraid of exactly the opposite. What will our neighbors think if they see us enjoying the rich blessings of this life with no regard for those upon whose backs we’ve built our lives?

If true Christian freedom from the law means that we are, in fact, free to live the life we choose because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us – then aren’t we then obligated, by the blessings we enjoy, to give all that we have to ensure others have that same freedom?

The fact that we are free is by the Grace of God who loved us enough to send Jesus to walk among us. We now, in the midst of that freedom, must ask what we will do with this gift of life we’ve been given. By some lottery we were born into these lives that we live where we have roofs over our heads and warm food to eat. We know to come to this safe place each week and to learn more about the God who creates, redeems, and sustains us.

The idols are still here, as they were in Corinth 2,000 years ago. By virtue of our status and citizenship in a country, which protects our rights to free speech, we have a unique voice that much of the world does not have. So as we consider what we will eat or what we will drink, or about our bodies, what we will wear – we need to remind ourselves of the freedom we enjoy. As Jesus asked in his sermon on the mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” So we too must ask each morning when we wake up, “How will I use my freedom, today?”

***Update: as of 6:07PM Team Patriots is up $24,181 to $12,418 over the Seahawks – but the real winner is Episcopal Relief and Development who are going to do amazing things with this $39,774 (and counting!) that has been raised!


[1] http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/eternal-vigilance-price-liberty-quotation#footnote4_4pha5x2

[2] http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/business_models/caitlin_kauffman/norwegian_reality_series_shows_fashionistas_dark_sid?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=schtweets&utm_campaign=social

Getting an ‘F’ in Sabbath

I was reading an article today and I started to cry. Not ugly sobbing, just gentle tears. As I stopped to ask myself where it was coming from I realized quickly how much the article resonates with where I currently am. I am just “so busy.”

A couple days ago my fiancé and I were sitting down trying to figure out when we could get away for a day. We quickly came to the conclusion that we could get away for a day sometime in late January – hopefully.  How sad, that we have to plan 2 months in advance to get a single day away from the chaos.

Why is it like that – why am I like that?

One of my favorite books on Sabbath is Abraham Joshua Heschel’s, The Sabbath. In it, he writes: “Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” Saying ‘no’ to things is at the root of Sabbath. We say ‘no’ to external and internal desires and distractions so that we can say ‘yes’ to God.”

I have not been saying ‘no’ enough – To others, to myself, to distractions, to anything – really. This frenetic pace of the world has seeped into my bones and I find my head trying to keep up against all better judgement. My heart is crying out and seeking space while my unconscious self has pushed passed the boundary of what is healthy and good.

Enough.

For the next few weeks I shall be intentionally engaging in true Sabbath on Fridays. No email. No facebook. No cleaning. No Twitter. No TV. Yes reading. Yes writing. Yes painting. Yes hiking. Yes napping. Yes praying.

 

My reading list for these next few weeks include some tattered old friends:

  • Freedom of Simplicity, Foster
  • Sabbath Journey, Nouwen
  • The Sabbath, Heschel
  • Sabbath as Resistance, Brueggemann

I am getting a jump-start on Advent this year. How will my life change if every week, for the next 2 months, I intentionally engage in Sabbath for one 24 hour period every week? It’s not going to be easy. I can already identify some things that are going to have to come off the calendar. I can already identify weeks when I will need a moveable Sabbath, like a moveable feast, in order to succeed. But here goes everything!

And if you get an email from me saying I am unavailable for a meeting because there is something on my calendar, please congratulate me as we try to reschedule.

Undercover Priest

I went through my first year of ordained ministry wearing my collar every day. I did so intentionally on the advice of a couple mentors who recommend wearing it daily for the first year so I would then better understand when to wear it and when to go without. At the beginning of the experiment I “knew” I didn’t want to be a daily collar wearer. Nope, I just “knew” I would be a priest who only collared up when I was serving in a liturgical or sacramental capacity. Sure, there would be those gray areas of pastoral interactions or evangelistic opportunities – but all in all, I’d “made up my mind.”

(Isn’t it cute how we know so much when we’re fresh out of seminary?)

And then I was ordained and launched into this grand adventure. There were arduous days of paperwork and emails when I pulled at my stiff, plastic collar thinking, “this is so unnecessary.” There were days when I walked downtown forgetting it was there only to be met with stares and sideways glances. There were days that it felt like it was God’s hand on the back of my neck reminding me I wasn’t alone. Then there were days when I would be reminded of who I am by virtue of my office and it would help me to alter my behavior or language because of that physical reminder.

Somewhere in the course of that year I discovered that I am actually an *almost daily collar wearing priest. The funny thing is, while the black shirt and white collar immediately identify me as a clergywoman to the outside world, I rarely wear it for them. I wear it for me. I wear it on days that I need to remember my role as priest. I wear it not because it makes me better than anyone else, but because it reminds me to be my best self – to be the woman God is calling me to be.

There are still days when I wonder if I should put on a collar. Painting with the Thursday afternoon formation class? Leave the collar home. Spending the day updating calendars and emailing with parents. Wear the collar. Meeting a parishioner for dinner? Depends on the context of the situation. Going to the state house to lobby for equal wages for youth workers? Wear the collar. I have begun to recognize the signs – both inside and out for when I need to bust out that lovely piece of plastic.

But then there are situations like today…

I am writing this from the jury assembly room at the Middlesex Superior Court. Hooray for civic duty! I’ve been anticipating this day for weeks and have debated back and forth whether or not this should be a collar day. I know the collar is polarizing in some cases – so wearing the collar could bias folks in one way or another based on their context and history. I’m not sure which way it would bias them and so part of me feared being immediately excluded for wearing it while the other part of me contemplated if I would be chosen over others by virtue of my calling.

 

Those who know me know I am terrible at making decisions – especially minor, seemingly trivial decisions. Every decision is earth shattering to this ISFJ. The pros and cons list ends up being tremendously long and usually quite even. This was no different. I can think of 100 reasons why I should or should not wear the collar to jury duty. But I cannot escape the fear I will be seen as “using” that symbol for something other than it was intended. My friend Scott voiced that concern perfectly on the facebook status I posted to solicit feedback to aid in the decision-making process: “Whatever you do, don’t compromise your office to exert privilege from a symbol of the church.” I do not want to be seen as trying to use my priesthood as leverage – ever.

My calling as a priest is to a unique, sacramental ministry. My calling means that I often wear a visible symbol of the church I represent. My calling took years to accept and will take a lifetime to live into. My calling puts me in a position of authority, which is a humbling and awesome responsibility.

I wear my collar most days; often to remind myself who I am and what has been entrusted to me. I wear my collar most days, but not today. There are days when I should wear my collar in the world to serve as a reminder to others that the church is active and relevant – even today. But wearing my collar today, in this room, would not be seen as such. Wearing my collar today would be wearing a neon sign that says “I’M A PRIEST!!!” It would be screaming for attention in a room where my job is to blend in as a randomly selected peer. There are doctors, lawyers, students, teachers, parents, cashiers, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Universalists, etc… sitting here and none of them are wearing neon signs. I couldn’t categorize these people even if I tried and that is the point. I was worried that leaving the collar home would be a denial of what I am – but a piece of plastic doesn’t dictate my identity. I know who I am and so does God. If justice is blind than she couldn’t see my collar anyway. She can see what is in my heart and that is the place where my priesthood is seeded.

 

Changed not ended

Fall seems to have caught me by surprise this year. It is as though in the blink of an eye the trees have turned golden and the night air catches me up short. What happened to August – or even September for that matter? Last I knew it was the end of July and now we drive by neighbors with Halloween decorations up. Life is like that sometimes – change happens suddenly whether we are prepared or not.

Last Sunday night, over dinner at YPF, one of our members was talking about the memorial service that St. Mary’s held for Winchester High School Senior, Patrick Gill, on the night his life was lost in a tragic car accident. This teenager was wide eyed as she said that the priest at St. Mary’s told the congregation that their relationship with Pat had not ended, it had changed. This turn of phrase, so central to our faith, was heard and made new in the circumstances our community has been walking through these past two weeks. In the blink of an eye we went from a community not quite ready to admit that autumn is upon us, to a community in mourning.

Parents have commented that they are hugging their children more tightly. Death somehow seems more real to our children and teens. A touch of innocence has been lost. But in the midst of it all our God reminds us, in the form of leaves the color of Holy Spirit fire and crisp air that invites us to walk more closely to those we love, that time continues moving forward. Our relationship changed, not ended.

I do not know the Gill family, but from all of the reports I have heard they are amazing people whose love is a force from which others are drawing strength in this time. As Christians we believe that our Lord entered into death in order to prepare a place for us. So as we watch the seasons to change and begin to root once again, we are invited into a time to remember what is sacred to us and to shine our love as a light to others who might need a guide out from darkness. My friends, we are an Easter people; “even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Responding in Love

Sometimes… no… Oftentimes, the most difficult thing we are called to do as Christians is to respond in love. When we are met with anger, we are asked to respond in love. Greif? Respond in love. Hatred? Respond in love. What if I just want to be human sometimes? What if I want to respond with anger, sadness, frustration, or indifference? What then?

Then it’s time to take it into the stillness that is the heart of God. It’s time to ask God to remind us what is ours, what is theirs, and what is God’s. We can only do our best. We can only be ourselves. But when we consider that we are children of God, that God walked among us to share this crazy world with us, and that, at the end of the day, we are just a bunch of imperfect people trying our best to emulate the example of our Divine brother – it might not make it easier, but it reminds us it is possible and that we are all in this together.

All things are possible through Christ… even and especially, responding in love.

 

Thank You

A thank you letter to my parish – that really applies to my Facebook family as well:

How do you say ‘thank you’ for a greater act of kindness than you could have ever imagined? That is a question I’ve been blessed to meditate on for the past month. After emerging from the ocean of grief I swam in following my father’s sudden passing, I opened my eyes to see the life rafts all around me. I saw the care and love and prayers of an entire community enveloping me as I learned to move forward into a new frontier. Through this experience, I’ve come to understand that the Parish of the Epiphany is not simply a community: we are a family.

I’ve received literally hundreds of cards from members of the parish I know well, members who I only see once in a while, and members I’ve never met and who live far away but remain on our mailing lists because even when you are far away – you are still part of the family. Acts of kindness have surrounded me since I joined this family two years ago. From a rousing welcome as I moved from DC, to hugs in passing “just because,” to cards and meals and love these past few months of illness, grief, and recovery – I have been enfolded into a new and loving family by coming to the Parish of the Epiphany.

That question, how to say ‘thank you’ for an unimaginable act of kindness, is truly an Easter question. How do we thank our God for coming to Earth to live among us, die for us, and come back to lead us into a new frontier? The answer is: just say it. Our culture tells us we are supposed to repay the favor but we can’t pay it back nor is God asking us to do so. When someone does something that big for us all we can do is be grateful, say thank you, and continue on. The greatest way to demonstrate our gratitude and to say thanks is by living fully and well.

I know the family that is the Parish of the Epiphany is grateful. We live well and try to do better each day. I am grateful. I am grateful for the love with which you’ve buoyed me in this time. And now, I hope we are all ready to dive into the life of God and build up our programs so we can continue to welcome more people into our family. We have an opportunity everyday to say ‘thank you’ to God and to one another for the gift of this wild and beautiful life.

So, thank you. Thank you from the depth of my being. Thank you for being part of this family. Let’s be grateful and let’s make it great.

 

Move past the fear

Click for audio for my sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday – the one in which I yelled at my congregation a little. Ok, Miss Holy Spirit, let’s go there.

Based on John 10:1-10

 

 

 

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