Thursday, February 15, 2018

Litany of Penance

Most holy and merciful God:  We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.
My bishop told me I would be more approachable as a woman priest if I looked more “feminine.”
A parishioner told me I would be more approachable as a woman priest if I looked less “feminine.”
The rector I worked for called me into his office, and when I opened the door, he was standing there with his pants down. When I shared this with a male colleague, he said, “Oh, that’s just the way he is.”

We have been deaf to your call to serve as Christ served us.  We have not been true to the mind of Christ.  We have grieved your Holy Spirit.  
Having a deployment officer tell me, about more than one church, “This parish (almost always a larger one) is not ready for a female rector.” He then proceeded to show me several part-time positions in smaller churches who would be glad to get “anyone breathing.”
I was the only female clergy in the town where I served. At our regular clergy gatherings, the male convener called me, “Little lady,” or “Little gal.” He referred to all the other clergy by their title – Father, Pastor, etc.
My congregation hosted a luncheon for clergy, and a clergy colleague held out his glass to me, saying, “My wife usually gets my tea for me.” I told him my husband usually gets mine for me, but today we could both figure it out on our own.

This piece was co-written with The Rev. Megan L. Castellan as part of a series for the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies as part of a Lenten series of reflections, essays, and meditations on sexual harassment and exploitation in the church.  To read the entire post, click here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Problems of the Past

"I think many people love their problems. Gives them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life."
-Louise Penny

Several years ago I worked with the vestry and pastor of a church that had gone through a time of upheaval but seemed to be finding their way forward. I led the leadership through an exercise that explores our commitments, some of which are counter-productive.

For example, how many of us make resolutions to exercise more at the beginning of a new year? That's a commitment. How many of us, at the end of a long day, find ourselves skipping the gym or our walk around the block because we're tired? That's also a commitment. And these commitments work against each other.

Through a series of questions and reflections, the church leadership explored what they were committed to as a faith community, the changes they wanted to make, and what they may be committed to that would hinder these changes. Most of the leadership seemed energetic to engage.

One person was upset. He repeated over and over again his fear the community would forget the past, that they weren't ready to move forward. After some conversation, another leader observed, "We aren't going to forget the past, but we aren't going to let it be the only story we tell."

In almost two decades work with churches, I've discovered a truth - we love our problems. We love to share how our problems are to blame for where we are in life, the mistakes we've made, and why we can't move forward. We love to not only not forget the past, but enshrine it as the idol that stands in our way. Problems become, as Louise Penny so correctly says, the excuse for not maturing and getting on with life.

Churches as communities of humans have problems. We make poor choices that have long-term negative impacts. Things happen to us we had no active part in, but the waves of the harmful choices can continue to overwhelm us. 

That's not to say difficult, tragic, and unplanned events don't change the narrative of our lives. Problems mix well into the foundation of who we are. They become, if we invite God into them, a source of wisdom, insight, and compassion.

But that invitation takes courage and hard work. We must first acknowledge our problems, the deep wounds in our souls that have changed us. Then we must be willing to undergo the process of healing. Anyone who has had a significant wound or injury can remember the healing process - the removal of dead tissue, the physical therapy, the care and rest - are painful processes.

No surprise, then, how much easier and effortless the self-medication of stasis of our soul wounds and problems becomes. We anchor ourselves not in God, but in the past and all that went wrong. We use this as the reason we can't grow, change, or move, whether in our communities or our personal lives. We blame others for not fixing the problems we created.

How much easier is saying our church can't grow because 40 years ago, the assistant had an inappropriate relationship with the church secretary than admitting the neighborhood around the church has changed and the people who might want to be part of this community of faith are no longer upper middle class and when we talk about church growth, we are limiting our invitation to a particular demographic?

How much easier is it to blame a pattern of problematic relationships on other people than taking a long, vulnerable look at our own unhealthy patterns?

When Paul writes in First Corinthians, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways," he's saying something about maturing, about seeing the problems and challenges we encounter as ways to learn more about our own selves and souls, about the way we interact with others, and about the expectations both reasonable and unreasonable we have in our relationships.

Putting an end to childish ways invites us to set aside our desire only to blame others and instead to stay and engage the process of growing when we encounter uncomfortable and challenging situations.

We cannot change our past, the successes or the deep failures. We can choose to let the past inform our present and future in helpful ways.

We can choose to grow and get on with life.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Horses Speak of God...Coming Soon!

After many months of writing, editing, more writing, and more editing, I'm over the moon about the cover and the opportunity to share how horses have given me a way to experience God more fully when I'm in their presence in this book.

While the book should be available in April, keep checking here for updates, excerpts, and links to reviews.

Whether you've ridden horses yourself and know the deep spiritual relationship they offer or have simply admired them from afar (or enjoy writing that I hope blends undisguised emotion and edgy, humorous insight about just how messy our human relationships with the Holy are), this book has words to speak to you.

Horses Speak of God from Paraclete Press, Spring 2018

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Stable in Our Heart

Christmas in Connecticut is one of my favorite Christmas movies. It stars Miss Barbara Stanwyck, who’d I watch read the phone book if it were filmed. She stars as a magazine food writer Elizabeth Lane.

She fills her articles with recipes of the amazing food she grows and cooks on her Connecticut farm, asides of the antics of her adorable baby, and loving references to her husband. She’s basically that person on Facebook, except the movie takes place in the 1940’s and no one could read how amazing her 25 layer cake made with flour she milled herself while teaching her 18 month old how to speak Chinese as her spouse finished adding a quaint but perfectly decorated guest house to their back acreage while we stand in line at Kroger’s on Christmas Eve hoping no one will notice the mashed potatoes we serve tomorrow come from a box.

Except there’s a twist. 

Because there’s always a twist. 

Elizabeth Lane is single, lives in New York, and the closest she comes to cooking is opening the menu at her favorite restaurant.

Through some twists and turns, Elizabeth tries to live up to the image she’s created for the world to see one Christmas in Connecticut and it, as it always does, all comes crashing down.

One reason I love this movie is that, without really ever mentioning a deeply true meaning of Christmas, it tells that story. Many of us rush around to find the perfect gifts, decorate our homes with the latest ideas in holiday d├ęcor, and strive for whatever image we have in our hearts and minds Christmas should be. We want to write the Facebook post, Christmas letter, or story that is merry and bright.

But the dark streets of life are ever present. The perfect gift can’t make up for the strained relationships we might have. While decorating the tree we hold an ornament that was the favorite of a loved one who died, and the grief rushes up on us. The feasts and parties can’t fill our souls, often weary from the ever-present discord we hear in the state of our nation and the world.

As much as we want to write a story of perfection, the true words of humanity and life twist and turn in us, shifting us off balance, making us wonder exactly what is so merry about this season.

Just as a young couple wondered over 2000 years ago. Two Jewish people living in an empire ruled by Rome, who at best tolerated this sect of people who had the audacity to worship a god they called the One, True God, who promised to send a savior, Emmanuel, God with us, to ransom a people captive in unrest and discord.

In keeping Christ in Christmas, we are called not so much to worry about what the local salesperson says to us as we hand over money, but more that we remember Jesus was not born all those eons ago into a world that suddenly stopped all its wrongs and said, “Wow, you’re here. Now we can get our act together.”

God doesn’t come into a perfect world. God comes into our world, messy and disorganized at best, scary and intimidating at its worst. God comes to us, just as we are – not the we that posts the filtered picture on Instagram that makes us look amazing or the we that seems all together, but the we that is simply where we are.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, may we meet him as we are, in our honest joy and even our honest pain. The world may want the false idol of perfection. We may be tempted to embrace picture, too, thinking we have to pretend to be merry and bright to come to the manger. After all, image is everything.

But not for God. God's love that was birthed into creation eons ago continues to find a way to be born into our lives through honesty and even doubtful faith.

In fact, perhaps in our meekness, our vulnerability, and even in our fearfulness, that is when Christ truly can be born into our hearts.

Into the Darkest Hour
by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.

Hungry yawned the abyss —

and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight —

and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?

Ah! wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.