13 06 2013

There’s a crevice,

below which is a deep darkness

once terrifying, now safety of an unruly kind surrounds this place!

Petals used to bloom above,

memory recalls their sweetness

but years of drought have lasted here.

The darkness thirsts for the Beloved,

’tis life…….giving…….water.

The footsteps above try to avoid the crevice,

occasionally reaching down into the pit

out of gross curiosity,

but it’s too dangerous to risk the fall,

and join the abyss.

…. But, the Beloved hears the cry of the soul below

and floods of love fill the crevice here,

till no crack appears!



The Hokey Pokey, Church Style

25 08 2012

No doubt the first part of my title will conjure up an assortment of memories, body movements, and probably a song tune.  Love it or hate it, this is a song that is pretty universally known:

You put your right hand in,
You put your right hand out,
You put your right hand in,
And you shake it all about,

You do the hokey pokey
and you turn yourself around
That what it’s all about.

2) left hand
3) right foot
4) left foot
5) head
6) butt
7) whole self

This trip down memory lane will probably get halted by the second half of the title.  So, what does this song have do to with the church?  Well, in short, it’s an analogy for how I feel right now in my current congregation.

One foot in: for the last two years I’ve been a member of an ELCA congregation in Nashville.  I’ve tried to immerse myself into the ministries where my gifts could be utilized – hands, feet, head, butt, and whole self – even those activities that I found to be less than fulfilling because the Pastor asked for help (it’s not about me after all ;)).  There have been times when I saw an improvement that could be made in our parish life, even offering to implement/conduct said improvement myself (e.g. training our lay lectors to read Scripture like it was the Word of God, not the bulletin!), only to have it fall on the deaf ears of an overly tired and burned out Pastor.  These times have been frustrating, especially when there are so many things about our congregation that need recalibrated.  I’m not claiming to be an expert on matters of congregational life but I do have some experience in healthy congregations and I know that where I am now, is not one!  As our current interim Pastor pointed out to me, “Our congregation is depressed.”  Each time I find myself disappointed about the current situation, I begin the second half of the hokey pokey and start taking my hands and feet out.  Fortunately, I haven’t been able to engage my butt in this dance. It is firmly planted in the pew each week, despite the under-whelming worship experience, mainly because God keeps reminding me that worship is not about my experience but about faithfully worshiping Him and participating in the Holy Sacrament of Eucharist.  In addition, one of my vows as a Novice in The Order of Lutheran Franciscans requires weekly participation in Communion.

One foot out: my husband and I will be moving to Texas within the next six months.  I’m excited about this upcoming change and ready to get the ball rolling to make it happen.  I feel energized when I contemplate finding a new church home.   A parish family that values good music, good liturgy, knows who they are, and definitely has a firm grip on who they serve!  A place where I fit and my whole self can be engaged in ministry.  A place to call home and a group of people who will become extended family.

So, where’s the difficulty and why is this ‘one foot out?’  Because we are still here in Nashville and, for the most part, I’m ready to give up on my current congregation!

One hand in: herein lies the rub though – I just cannot seem to give up, no matter how ridiculous the current situation becomes. Six months ago I was asked to serve on a Transition Team for our congregation.  The basic function of our team is to help inform the Church Council of the items that need to happen in our church before calling a new Pastor. At the beginning of our team formation, the current interim Pastor provided a list of items that he felt needed to happen before we call a new Pastor – and this list is not short!  We have slowly, and I mean slowly, been working our way through the list.  On paper, our team has a wide array of members (age, socio-economic status) with differing levels of knowledge and experience about the congregation.  At first glance this seems like a positive thing.  Unfortunately, the very understanding about our purpose seems to be an ongoing topic of conversation in our meetings, accompanied by lots of anecdotal stories, some horrific, that I don’t really care to hear about.  Needless to say, I usually leave feeling grumpy and not quite sure what, if anything, was accomplished.  We are no closer to forming a Call Committee than we were six months ago.  Wasted time?  Verdict is still out!

Do the hokey pokey: we’re not gone yet, so I continue to do the dance.  God’s grace, through Jesus Christ, will not allow me to walk away just because I don’t have to worry about this particular congregation once we move.  There is too much at stake and, like it or not, God has made me a living, breathing part of this place, at this time.  This unhealthy and depressed congregation links to the Synod.  This Synod links to the Churchwide Organization.  All three of these belong to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  When I move, I will still belong to the same Church.

Before I go any further, I would never suggest that someone stay in a parish that is abusive or heretical.  Educate yourself regarding the denominational doctrines of where you worship and make sure it aligns with your own theological understandings.

And shake it all about: with that disclaimer out-of-the-way, I would encourage anyone reading this who finds themselves frustrated, angry, hurt, dispossessed, or complacent about where you worship, do all within your means, first seeking God’s assistance, to discern your place in the current situation and then use whatever power you have to help make the necessary changes.  Your actions, no matter how small, might make the difference for the newcomer who walks in next week seeking the space and community that becomes their new home.

I am reminding myself daily that it is God’s church after all, not mine.

Behold, the empty Altar, and remember

5 04 2012

I work for an organization that identifies itself as a Christian Publisher. Because of this fact, we have the opportunity to gather in worship for certain Christian Feasts. Because our environment includes people from many different denominations, the flow of services is often different from what I am used to observing.  Today, my work unit was responsible for leading the Maundy Thursday worship service.  I was asked to deliver the “message” although in my own tradition I would call it a Homily.   Humbly, here is what I offered to our group.

We gather today to worship in Word and Sacrament. This day, what we call “Maundy Thursday,” or “Holy Thursday,” is the beginning of what is often called “The Easter Tridiuum” – three days of remembering the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. The word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “commandment.” In the act of washing the Apostles feet, Jesus gives them the commandment to love and serve one another as I have loved you. 

It is also the day Jesus celebrated The Last Supper with his Apostles during their Passover meal, thereby instituting the sacrament we know as Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, The Mass, or Holy Eucharist. Jesus commanded his guests to “do this in remembrance of me.” This serves as a link to connect The Passover meal to The Lord’s Supper and that Jesus was the new, and final, Passover Lamb.

We’ve just celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion. We listened to the words of Scripture tell us the story of that fateful evening and the events which led up to it. We know that in three days, there will be great rejoicing. But…..let us not get ahead of ourselves. We cannot get around the fact that we must first witness the betrayal, a trial, great suffering, and a crucifixion.

Some of you will attend worship services later this evening. You may hear sermons about the significance of The Lord’s Supper and the Commandment we are given to love and serve one another. You may wash one another’s feet. You may witness the beauty of your worship space stripped bare and left empty. Memories will no doubt be formed in your mind. When my own son was three years old I took him to the Maundy Thursday service at our church. I tried to explain what would happen prior to entering the sanctuary, mainly in hopes that he would remain quiet and civilized.  We entered the Nave, armed with crayons and paper. To my amazement, and relief, he was not only quiet but attentive to what was going on around him. As if he knew the solemnity of the events were important and meant something. The altar was stripped, and at the end of the service we all departed in silence while the lights were turned off. I was carrying Gabe in my arms … he leaned into my ear and asked in a saddened tone, “Why did God turn the lights out, mommy?”   Remarkable!

Why did God turn out the lights?  Indeed!
Let us go to the Mount of Olives for a moment. Jesus is praying and asking God that he not have to suffer.  We can sense in his words a great deal of fear and anxiety. He is overwhelmed with grief when he finds that even his disciples were unable to keep vigil. Jesus is arrested; he has been betrayed, he is alone, in agony, despair and feels the deepest levels of loneliness. Look at our empty altar here and remember.
The disciples scatter in the midst of the arrest.

Peter denies Jesus; bitter weeping ensues.

Darkness and emptiness enclose upon those who were closest to Jesus. Look at our empty altar here and remember.

We live with an interesting dichotomy in the next three days. We are on this side of the Resurrection and yet we spend these few days in repentance and mourning, or at least we should. I understand that we have been redeemed and should give every thanks for it; however, I cannot help but stop and think about the utter chaos, fear, loneliness, and despair that the scattered disciples must have felt. Their beloved teacher and Lord was gone! They had not yet witnessed the Resurrection. From where we are, is it even possible to know how they felt that night or the next day watching Jesus die on the Cross?

Well, maybe.  Have you ever spent any part of your life outside of the Church? There is no doubt in my mind that you, or maybe a family member, a colleague, those we encounter on the street have experienced some form of grief, depression, sickness, utter hopelessness. I recall going through a period of time in that state. After God led me back to the Church, and specifically to our Lord’s Table, I’m unable to fathom now how I survived without it. There have been times when I have had to cling tightly to the promises of my baptism.

But we also run into those same people in the pews next to us. We try to tend to those in our midst with care and compassion. In general though, we often run from suffering and despair. We hide it in ourselves because we don’t want to make others feel uneasy OR we discreetly step away from those we encounter in this state because we’re not sure what to say or we end up offering some platitude. Silence often makes us feel uncomfortable. What we really want is to make it all better, and QUICKLY!   I have a close friend, a deeply committed Christian, who was suffering from depression. A fellow parishioner told him that what he really needed was to have a more “Christian attitude.”  Needless to say, that wasn’t helpful and only added to his grief and guilt. Our society is consumed with the need to ‘be happy’ and individuals the need to feel special.

I know, let’s all go to the empty tomb and we’ll know then that it’s going to be alright!!!   Yes, but….it’s not really about me, is it?

Look here, at our empty altar, and remember. We cannot go to the empty tomb without first standing at the Cross. John Henry Newman wrote in his sermon, The Cross of Christ

…the doctrine of the Cross is not on the surface of the world. The surface of things is bright only, and the Cross is sorrowful; it is a hidden doctrine; it lies under a veil; it at first sight startles us, and we are tempted to revolt from it. Like St. Peter, we cry out, ‘Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee.’ And yet it is a true doctrine; for truth is not on the surface of things, but in the depths. (1242)

We cannot get around it today or tomorrow – the altar is empty!  Despite the desperate need to do so, don’t run from it or from those who do not yet know the joy of the Resurrection. For the next couple of minutes, we will sit in silence. After the Benediction you may depart in silence or remain here in prayer and meditation. For the next couple of days, allow yourself the space to contemplate what the Cross means for our world. The next time you gather for Holy Communion, give thanks and praise that our Lord is present and real!

Newman, John Henry.  Parochial and Plain Sermons. “The Cross of Christ: The Measure of the World.” Ignatius Press: San Francisco. 1997.

Ordination vows: “This is what I’m actually doing!”

19 02 2012

In the last week there has been a series of photos going ‘viral’ amongst clergy on Facebook.  Thus far I’ve seen at least five different versions posted. I’ve included just one rendering of this supposedly funny and ironic photo. 

First, let me state that I do have a sense of humor and am willing to laugh at the most ironic humor.  However, I don’t believe these photos to be funny or ironic.   It actually saddens me to think that clergy I know, and consider good friends, found these photos to be true and didn’t think twice about posting them for all their friends and parishioners to view as well. But, I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me step back and explain why I don’t think these are ironic, at least not in the way the joke was intended to be ironic. Ironic statements imply a meaning that is in opposition to the literal meaning.  Based upon the comments that were associated with these pictures, clergy seem to see an element of truth in the situation and therefore their role is not in opposition to the literal meaning of the last picture.

Now, as to the funny factor.  I’m sure that those who posted the picture thought it was humorous because again, they see truth in the statements provided, and despite their best efforts, clergy usually end up doing a great deal of bureaucratic administrative work rather than tending to the flock, as it were.  Unfortunately, most clergy fail to realize that they are the ones who have the power to change the situation. It may not be an easy task but ordained life was never meant to be easy.

What is this power of which I speak?  The power rests in the ordination vows you professed and provides everything you need to reverse the clerical nightmare that this picture depicts.  The vows within an Episcopal Ordination of a Priest, found on page 531 in The Book of Common Prayer, clearly state that you are to called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher.  While some of these three functions might require paperwork, none of them should require the type of response that was given in the ‘joke.’

The ordination service of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a similar set of vows, except that the function of lay people is much more prominent in the service itself.  The ordinand is asked,

Will you assume this office, believing that the church’s call is God’s call to the ministry of word and sacrament?  Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions? Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and faithful in your use of the means of grace?

And later in the service the prayer to God asks “Make her/him a faithful pastor, patient teacher, and wise counselor.”

Now, I realize that most of you might say that there is nothing you can do about the work given when you are also supposed to be obedient to your Bishops.  In addition, I would venture to guess that many of you are too nervous about standing up to your parishioners and telling them that you are not in fact a CEO of Church, Inc. and a major fundraiser, but instead a Pastor, a Teacher, and an administer of word and sacrament.  However, it might help to remind you that during your ordination there was a Bishop and a group of lay people, speaking on behalf of the church body that calls you to this office, who ALL vowed to uphold you in your ministry*, to pray, help and honor you for your work’s sake**

Another important reminder for you is that you are to be an example for your flock.  Have you ever noticed how harried life is for most people?  Do you not complain that the average parishioner has their priorities all out of whack, choosing a soccer or football game over Sunday worship? Most lay people spend their time running from one event to another, working long hours, and reaching for an ever elusive successful life – family, home, cars, vacations etc. You need to be modeling a different kind of life.  A life modeled on the “teachings of Christ.”***  In the Lutheran service it states “Name/s, care for God’s people, bear their burdens, and do not betray their confidence. So discipline yourselves in life and teaching that you preserve the truth, giving no occasion for false security or illusory hope.”

I will admit that I am not ordained.  I would probably be accused of being a ‘bench-warmer’ and so how could I possibly come across so critical when I haven’t actually walked in those shoes.  There is probably bit of truth in this, however, I spent enough time in seminary and with various clergy to know what is possible. There ARE clergy who I see making their vows a priority.  They see a picture like the one above and cry for their colleagues who just don’t get it.

Wake up clergy!  Your church is watching you!

Refers to the BCP service, pg. 527

** Refers to the ECLA Ordination Service, pg. 6

*** Refers to the BCP service, pg. 532

…Mary Magdalene

28 12 2011

Two weeks ago I began reading a book, specifically a biography about Mary Magdalene, that was given to me as a gift. Unfortunately, I had to put it down after two chapters and have no intention of picking it up again. In the first chapter the author defines what they plan on covering. In the second, interspersed with certain Gospel selections that discuss Mary, they outline their own conclusion about her, despite the fact that they clearly stated in the same two chapters they had no intention of doing so until the end. The author seemingly wanted to exegete scripture and debunk many of the claims made about Mary but ended up with their own myth anyway. As a reader, if you want me to read the whole book, do not tell me the ending before you even have the chance to provide a scholarly basis for your claim. Exasperating!

By mere chance, I stumbled across an excellent essay about Mary, written by Garret Keizer, that includes a well designed social commentary of our own time. If you enjoy learning about Mary Magdalene I commend you to read it, not so much for a scholarly approach to her personhood but as a reminder of how to approach and read things about her in a critical and thoughtful way. If anything, it will give you barometer for ‘how not’ to waste your time when reading a book about this amazing women and Disciple. 

If you are not particularly interested in Mary Magdalene, but enjoy a good writer, read the essay anyway! 

In Praise of Mary Magdalene

The Two Trees

19 10 2011

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about trees. There has been a poem ruminating in my mind for a couple of months but nothing on paper yet. Today, I ran across this poem by William Butler Yeats and decided to share it. There are many interpretations of the poem online. For me though, on this day, the words give meaning to a struggle between what I often feel inside and what God wants me to know without a doubt. 

BELOVED, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
From joy the holy branches start,
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
The changing colours of its fruit
Have dowered the stars with metry light;
The surety of its hidden root
Has planted quiet in the night;
The shaking of its leafy head
Has given the waves their melody,
And made my lips and music wed,
Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
There the Joves a circle go,
The flaming circle of our days,
Gyring, spiring to and fro
In those great ignorant leafy ways;
Remembering all that shaken hair
And how the winged sandals dart,
Thine eyes grow full of tender care:
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile.
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For ill things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged wings; alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.

The Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi: Praised be Thou for our Sister Death

4 10 2011

Today I learned that on October 3rd of each year, the Transitus of St. Francis is celebrated and honored by most friars, sisters, and seculars who follow the Rule of St. Francis.  The Transitus is a Franciscan devotion to ritually remember the passing of Saint Francis from this life into God.  This particular devotion has lasted for over thirty years.



From research done on the internet, it appears that the most common rite involves some or all of the following components:

1) Set within the context Evening Prayer

2) Francis’s Testament given shortly before he died (in the Franciscan Omnibus, P. 67)

3) An account of his death (the one most often used is by Thomas of Celano)

4) Read John 13:1-17 (it is the story of Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper including when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles. When he was dying, Francis asked the brothers to read this gospel).

5) Reciting Psalm 142  (recited by him just prior to his death)

The significance of this day became important to me because I am currently in discernment (as a Postulant) with the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. As part of my journey I am reading a biography of St. Francis by Omer Englebert.  In addition, I participate in conversations with our Abbot and other community members via online methods (the Order is diaspora).

As I am just learning about this particular devotion myself, here is a helpful video about this commemoration.  I was especially moved by Francis’ prayer “Praised be Thou for our Sister Death.”  I hope that I can welcome death like a sibling when it is my time to die unto The Lord.