Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Paying Attention in October

C and I talked recently about where I am in this process of self-discovery. We looked for metaphors…..In the chrysalis still metamorphosing from caterpillar to butterfly….in that deep transforming secret darkness? But that didn’t feel quite right. I feel beyond that. I do seem to have found my new self, and for the most part, I think I have started to come out into this brave new world. Newly hatched seems more apt. Just out of my egg, a new chick on the planet. Yes, that one fits! Wobbly and blinking in the light that sometimes enlightens and sometimes simply glares,obscures and confounds. Wandering around, sometimes in circles, trying to figure things out, figure me out, feeling sometimes very small and alone in a world that seems suddenly very big and sometimes very cold. Oh, but also very exciting! There are explorations to be made and journeys to be undertaken. And it’s all fine as long as I can find that wing to hide under now and again when it all becomes too much.

I found that wing that night. We had talked, circling from the Matthew passage that captured me at the clergy conference GBD "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." C wanted to know if I was hearing this as invitation or prescription. “Cod liver oil,” as she so graphically put it. She urged me to be invited. To take time to be deliberate, to give myself the gift of luxuriating in the free time that has sort of “magically” opened up in my life, to spend this time just being, noticing, without worry or concern about where it might end up, where I might end up.

That night I just kept weeping. It just kept coming, overfull, uncontainable. And as I cried, with tears from what seemed like a deep and bottomless source, I felt a warm and tender Presence surround me, tuck me, nestle me. God was there. And for a moment, the chick was at peace.

The idea of unstructured time has always made me uneasy, a little terrified actually. It’s one of many of the reasons I have always stayed so frenetically busy. It’s going to be a challenge to let myself have that, to not fill the emptier days with “stuff” just to have the comfort of a full calendar. It’s not like I have nothing to do in the coming weeks. October is pleasantly busy with commitments of church and work. But given some of the schedule insanity of my past…..yes, there are acres of time to make me anxious here!

But I have decided that I am going to make a choice for. I am choosing to use this opening of time and space as an invitation from the God who, after all, does love me and desires my best. I am going to “roll in it” as C put it. To take my camera and my notebook and go to the open fields and the woods and the trails and wallow in the lovely prairie light. To sit. To listen. To watch. To sink into in silence and solitude. To look around and look within and really try to see what is here, right now in this moment, while I have the time to do so.

And in this time, I have decided to commit to something. A spiritual discipline of writing that I am hoping will be a least useful and at most transformative, in the way that last November’s daily posts on gratitude were for me. I am committing to daily posts in the month of October focused on Matthew 6:34, especially the first part of the first phrase, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now...” I am going to try to see in how many ways in how many places, both internally and externally I can find what God is doing right now in my life, in the lives and the world around me, and do a daily post on that. What I remember from last November is that what I focus on is what I see. So there it is. Spiritual disciplines are enhanced by community, so if anyone would like to join me in this, I’d love to hear about it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thanking God I'm a Country Girl

Cornstalk was advertised as a revival of an old event from the past, a gathering of poets and musicians, an open mike in an open field. Bring a chair, a beverage, a musical offering or writing to share, or just come and listen. S and I went simply to enjoy, neither of us brave or extroverted enough to stand and perform among strangers.

It was a sweet night. The air was cold and laden with the aromas of fire, fallen leaves and the newly broken green stalk smell of harvest. We circled our lawn chairs where a make-shift stage was set up underneath the light of a heatlamp. Outside of that bright circle, the the natural houselights went down to complete black with only a complete astronomy chart of stars above us for contrast. At one point in the evening, those in the back rows could be distracted from the on-stage performance by the eerie beauty of of the coyotes raising their own harmonies in the not-too-distant fields.

The performers, a collection of farmers and professors, students and seniors, brought us essays and poetry, classical guitar, instrumental and vocal performances . There was a sweet high school kid with a honey voice who charmed us with Leonard Cohen's Alleluia, and a "woman of a certain age" who looked like she might have just walked out of the barn from doing chores and sang with a sultry alto voice and whom I'd swear has to (or at least should) have sung with with a big band somewhere. She sang an a capella solo, a Louis Armstrong piece with the trumpet player and did an impromptu request with the guitar player of It Had to Be You and sounded very fine every time. We also heard from the organic farmers. He read from his essay about the connection between social justice and organic farming. She read about the toad who moved into her greenhouse. Both were equally captivating. She then joined a friend in singing an original duet about fish bones. They rocked! Two high school guys played reggae on guitar, electric mandolin and harmonica. We heard some poems from the cowboy poet who writes while swathing and cultivating, and we were treated to various combinations of instrumental selections. The guitar teacher seemed to be able to play with anyone from trumpet players to flautists and he made it all look easy. He also composes, and he shared an original he says is "rough and in process." Could have fooled me! The nursing home lady regaled us with radical poetry on aging and a very funny and satirical riff about going into the home. She is not to be trifled with! The recently retired local newspaper editor shared his poetry, and the news that he has a book coming out next week. He has been very openly struggling with clinical depression and the poems he read were about the spirituality and pain in that struggle. I look forward to his book.

Nights like this fill me with peace and gratitude for the simple sweetness of this transplant life I never even had the sense to want or know I needed. But God, in God's dream for me, found a way. It will be six years this week. I stand amazed.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Update on L

I visited L at the jail today. The visits are harder to arrange and manage now that he is over an hour away. Visiting days are Saturdays and Wednesday nights, so I can only get there once a month. We talked about that distance factor today and the impact that has had on him. Not only that I cannot come as often, but that he appears to have lost his girlfriend, who did visit when he was still in the jail here, but who did not return my calls with an offer to accompany me there, and who has not written to him since he was moved despite having an address to do so. Other friends also cannot visit, nor can folks from church, the time factor and the distance is just prohibitive.

He says the time is going a lot slower than when he was in jail here. But nonetheless, he was in better spirits than last time I saw him. Hiq quirky humor surfaced a few times. He says this jail is a strange place. He says when he tries to do right he gets in trouble and when he messes up he does not get caught. He says even he knows there is something wrong with that!

There have been no further incidents of violence against him, like the previous stabbing in the shower. That is healed and he has not caught the staph infection that has been running through the institution. He says "I wash my hands a LOT!!!" He's been in one fight over a card game, but it was more of a scuffle, and he admits to landing the first blow after being accused of cheating. I must have given him "the look" because he once again had to set me straight. I don't, he told me, understand how it is in there. You have to constantly prove yourself, that you are not weak, that you cannot be intimidated. So you have to make displays of your power, your fearlessness, or at least what passes for it. No, I don't get it. I don't want to. I will be so glad when he is out.

He says that this is IT, he really really does not want to go back to jail EVER. Even, he says, when times get hard outside and he thinks that it might be easier to do what he knows so well and be "institutional." He says he is done. "For real this time, RevKate." I hope so. I pray so. He says he has been looking at the old guys. "Skin and bones with nothing to show for their lives" and he says he does not want to be like that. This jail is so much more like prison than anything he has been exposed to before. Perhaps this transfer was not a bad thing, after all. Perhaps it was enough of a glimpse of the future that awaited him that it did have an impact.

He has a little over a month left. November 7 is the date he has been given. There is still some confusion over whether ir not he is really done at that point or if there is more time to serve, more probation, or if he is free at that point. Clarification to come. But as far as he knows at this point, at least on November 7, he leaves that place. Thanks be to God. Not that he has any idea where he is going. Some of the time is thinking maybe he will move out by his brother about a half hour from here. But that might depend on probation. That would also mean that he would lose his church community. One family for another perhaps? Time will tell. But then in the next breath, he wants to stay here, to see if he can get his old job back, talk to his old landlord, ask for a second chance all around. At least he is thinking about the future. This is a good sign, a hopeful sign. He says he is drawing and reading his Bible. He was going to church and Bible study until he got put on restriction for apparently misunderstanding the schedule and showing up at the wrong time for one of those things....so they banned him from them for two weeks. Yeah. OK, they have an institution to run and a schedule to keep and I care about him....different agenda. I'll check my attitude at the door. Maybe. But let me say that he is not the only one with a calendar with x's on it!

He says thank you to my "peeps." You know who you are. Those cards mean the world. Blessings on all your little heads!

I can't wait to see him not wearing an orange jumpsuit and a number. It's good to know that day is getting ever closer. And until then...I just pray on that God will hold him and keep him safe and help him be wise and think before he acts.

A Blog Award

Ruth has generously gifted me with this award for my blogging efforts durung my life changes over the last months. Thanks Ruth! I in turn would like to pass this on to some of the folks whose blogs I have been loving a lot lately. These would inlcude:

Diane at Faith in Community ...who makes me think and wonder and often laugh and sometimes cry.

Eliza at Praying (a) Way who is in so many processes at once she amazes me and is managing to do them all with grace and integrity and to write about them very articulately and honestly

Imingrace at God-incidences who is writing with great honesty about the adjustments to life as a first call pastor in a small towm.

The recently rechristened Josephine at Left Turn at Joy who used to write as Tandaina at Snow on Roses and who now is sharing her new life as a seminarian with great eloquence.

I love these blogs and commend them and their writers to you if you are not familiar with them. Go. Read. Please and Thank you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Detours on the Way to Transformation

I have been on the road a lot in the last five days and as a result I have encountered a lot of detours. There was at least one between every two points in my travels. Some were just a few blocks long and were more of a minor blip. Some were a significant distance, and hauled me a long ways around the countryside, threw off my schedule and my mileage checking on mapquest and in one case almost got me lost due to really bad signage. But the detour I was saved from by the Gospel was not on a highway at all

Our clergy conference last May was a thing of wonder. So bright and shiny and full of retreat-like peace...I kind of had a feeling going in this one could not possibly measure up. So I thought I had my expectations in check. I said to myself all those good and requisite things. "It will be it's own conference." "It will be what it will be and to expect it to be other is to set myself up for a big fall." I had a sense it would be more business-like. We are heading toward convention, we are working on some big things, including a new way of being a diocese together. It's hard work. Gritty work at times. We have been at it a while now and sometimes it's hard to see progress. Sometimes it seems like we talk about this all the time. And then we talk about it some more. One of the things we talk about most is how we must improve our communication and our ability to work together if we are going to survive and thrive as a church and be a transformative, missional presence

The first night at dinner I found out that a communication breakdown had occurred a week or so ago and I had not received a notice about the last Commission on Ministry meeting. They met and I had not a clue, so I was not there.

Then I discovered that I team I thought I was part of had made a rather important decision. I found out about it when someone affected by the decision called me to task on it because they were upset about the outcome of the decision. I had no idea it had been made.

By last night I was tired and cranky and ready to cash it in and go home. We had done a small group exercise that I found frustrating and not a good use of our time. Despite my essential hopefulness and what may even pass for cockeyed optimism about the future of my church at times, I was finding myself getting lost in cynicism and cycling down into those old dark conversations that only hours earlier I had heard myself telling someone that I knew with all my heart we needed to stop having if we really believe in the transformation we are trying to live into. I had seriously thought about getting up this morning, having breakfast and leaving. But I am still enough of a rule-follower that if the conference ends at noon, I stay till noon. And sometimes rule following has its benefits.

One of the things that has come out of our process of transforming ourselves has been a commitment to Gospel Based Discipleship. We have varied experience across the Diocese with this. Some of us have been doing GBD with our congregations and leadership groups regularly for a while now, others are just being introduced to this process of putting the Gospel in the center of our lives and work. The May conference was the first time we did this practice together as a clergy group and it was quite wonderful. This conference, like everything else, the GBD groups had been uneven, some good, some a little meh

This morning we gathered right after breakfast to begin our day with GBD . I sat down with a random group. Three guys, only one of whom I feel I have any connection that goes below a superficial level. We read Matthew 6:25-34. Do not worry..."Oh," I thought immediately. "That again....hmmmm." Cuz surely I had been worrying. Fuss, fuss, fuss, for sure. Worrying about my connections with these two groups I supposedly belong to. Worrying about our future. Worrying about my place in it all. Worrying about my little congregation and where we fit and if anyone even cares that we exist. Worrying about all the stuff of life, bloggable and un- that keeps me up at three a.m and decorates my dreams. The night had been one of sleep that was deep but not restful. I'd had a nightmare about having to crawl through tiny endless little gates that dropped me into nothingness and just kept coming.

GDB asks that you read the Gospel three times and after each reading answer a question. The first question is "What word or phrase stands out for you?" What I heard was "God knows." It was very comforting and somehow "settled" me immediately into a different space and mindframe than I had been in for the last twelve hours. The question after the second reading asks "What is the Gospel (or Jesus) saying to you?" The second time we read "The Message" translation, and Peterson has Jesus say the following at the end of the passage: "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." I had no doubt that this was exactly what this Gospel was saying to me. "Pay attention to God. Get your head out of all this other crap. Just listen up." One of the other people in my group was captured by this as well and talked about the difference between God's time and ours and what does "tomorrow" mean in God's universe and how does that change what tomorrow might mean for us. He also mentioned that what God is doing is God's business and that we don't always get it. And that is another reason why it might be good not to get so worked up. Earlier in the morning he had shared his journey over the summer with me. It made his comments very credible and powerful. We read a third time. I was still pretty lost in the quote and J's comments. The third question is "What is the Gospel(or Jesus) calling you to do?" No moving from that last quote....other than the idea that I should perhaps make twenty or so copies and put them up everywhere I spend any time so I can meditate on this every day for the next six months or so and use it for my mantra and spiritual discipline....yeah. Just that. There is, I think, something there I must attend to. Because it seems to have been the thing that brought me back from being lost on the detour on this little leg of the trip. This one thing. God, it appears, has very good signage.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fall Equinox Friday Five

Songbird says: "It's that time of year, at least north of the equator. The windows are still open, but the darned furnace comes on early in the morning. My husband went out for a walk after an early supper and came home in full darkness. And yes, where we live, leaves are beginning to turn. As this vivid season begins, tell us five favorite things about fall:"

1) A fragrance The smell of leaves....not just the burning ones though that is good too, but the smell of them on the trail floor, earthy, damp, smelling like life but with a certain aged richness that is not there in spring....smelling like something that has done some living and is resting and changing all at the same time.

2) A color That dark purple blue of the autumn dusk, or the color of the October light on the prairie that I have yet to find words for...honeyed, almost a presence in itself. In some places there is earth, sky and that light and you feel like you could reach out and touch any one of them equally.

3) An item of clothing Anything fleece, preferably hooded.

4) An activity A walk through crisp leaves at the state park on a crisp day in good company.

5) A special day The anniversary of my ordination in mid-September. Special for all the obvious reasons but also because we did not get snowed out. At my deaconal, the Bishop had to leave immediately after ordaining me and couldn't even stay for the rest of the service because it was starting to snow and there were blizzard warnings and we were afraid if he did not go then he might not get out for days!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Moment and a Lifetime Ago

Two years ago today in the presence of my Bishop, my congregation and a whole host of assorted friends of every denominational stripe I was ordained a priest. I promised with God’s help to obey my bishop and “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church....to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion my life in accordance with its precepts…to love and serve the people…caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor...to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood... to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.”

When asked if I believed I was called to this I answered fervently that I was. And I did and I do. But on that day, which sometimes seems only a moment ago and sometimes a lifetime….I had no idea. I think sometimes I still don’t really. But I’m getting it….I’m getting it.

There’s been a lot of on the job training. I sometimes wonder if this is because I was locally trained and did not attend seminary. But then I talk to my seminary-trained friends and they tell me that there are a lot of things that seminary does not necessarily prepare you for either. Much of that has been the interpersonal stuff. There is no way to learn this academically. You have to be there. You have to trip on it, fall on it and find you don’t die of it. Messing up and making up and going on in the same church with the same people day in and day out. Reaching out. Forgiving. Turning that other cheek. Over and over and over. Just like it says in the Gospel. Golly. Who knew? I have been learning some things about reconciliation and forgiveness and peacemaking. I have been learning about not judging and about letting go. I have been learning that praying for people who hurt you (and those who simply annoy the crap out of you) does really work.

I have learned that I can be really, really scared and do it anyway (and not a soul knows but me). That I can be completely clueless about how to do something and look like I have done it at least once before. I have come to rely on the Book of Common Prayer as a priceless resource. It really is all there in the fine print if you just know where to look!

This came as no newsflash but has been reinforced over and over….I love doing liturgy! I would celebrate the Eucharist or officiate at any kind of liturgical service any time any place any day! I have used this analogy before, but to me it feels like being the hostess at the best party in the world. When I was first ordained I was a bit of a perfectionist freak about things. It was the anxiety, I know. I am no less a perfectionist now, but I hope I’m less of a freak! I see my job as the presider as making the worship experience seamless for the congregation. There should be no hiccups in the proceedings to distract them (at least not coming from me). I should be able to kind of become part of the landscape of the worship event, like the music and the liturgical atmospherics. I’m finding the more I do it the easier it gets to also relax and enjoy it. I still have to pinch myself most of the time though to believe it’s really me there doing this amazing thing. I still cry a little bit more Sundays than not a some point in the proceedings just from sheer joy.

The “getting off the altar” part was quicker and easier than some of us had feared. I was clearly seduced into the priesthood by liturgy. That is no secret. I’ve been a closet mystic since I was twelve. I’m Celtic, I’m a writer, I come by it honestly! There were some among us who feared that I would become one of “those” priests who lock themselves in a holy ivory prayer tower and forget about the needs of the world. God’s dream for me was bigger than that and I am grateful that I had the sense to pay attention. The altar is the place to bring the concerns of the world, the place to come and offer them and be strengthened to go out again. If we have not been in the world, what is there to bring?

I’m liking preaching more all the time, too. Of course don’t ask me about that some Saturday night when I’ve been struggling with some recalcitrant sermon for hours and hours….but as a whole, contrary to what some folks say, I think it has gotten easier. Or maybe I should say, I’ve gotten easier. Easier with my expectations of myself. But in some ways, I’ve got riskier with myself as well. The personal life events of the last year have been good for my preaching. I have let go of so much and accepted so much, and that has made me more authentic and courageous, and has given me so much more certainty about being loved by God and other people….and well, that preaches!

So as I celebrate this two year anniversary, I find as always I am amazed and grateful that I ended up here, living this impossible dream. It’s clear to me that it’s really true that with God anything is possible. I wonder what the coming years will hold.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Sentence Completion Meme

I saw this on Chorus’ blog, and really enjoyed reading hers and thought it looked like a good Sunday afternoon activity. So Chorus, hope you don’t mind that I “borrowed” it….

1. My aunt once sewed her money in the lining of her coat.
2. Never in my life would I say “never in my life” again.
3. When I was five I attended public school for the only time until graduate school over twenty five years later.
4. High school was academically and culturally challenging and socially disastrous
5. I will never forget my first trip to Mexico
6. Once I met William Hurt
7. There’s this boy I know who seems to be veeeerrrrrry slow about calling back for the third date....sigh.
8. Once, at a bar I danced out of my slip
9. By noon, I had done a whole lot of stuff and was ready for a nap!
10. Last night was way too short
11. If only I had more time to do all the things I really love in life
12. Next time I go to church
I won't be in charge of anything for the first time in six weeks. Yee-Ha!
13. What worries me most...is that people will believe everything they hear about her.
14. When I turn my head left I see
Maggie chewing on a bone looking very contented
15. When I turn my head right I see a beautiful quilt that my coworker gave me. Her mom made it and she said it "just didn't match" her house. How cool is that!
16. You know I’m lying if I start crying.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties
..you don't think I'm really going to admit that now do you?
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be Portia
19. By this time next year I hope that all my student loans are paid off
20. A better name for me would be The Dust Bunny's Best Friend
21. I have a hard time understanding why war is ever a good idea
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll get a D.Min
23. You know I like you if want to spend time with you
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be the person who gave me the award....
25. Take my advice, never touch your eyelid with Super Glue
26. My ideal breakfast is
The Perkins Traveler Breakfast....Two eggs over easy, hash browns, whole wheat toast, coffee and tomato juice....have it about twice a year!
27. A song I love but do not have Imagine
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you plan a RevGal meetup with me!
29. Why won’t people
try harder to get past stereotypes?
30. If you spend a night at my house, you will probably end up with a cat on your head
31. I’d stop my wedding for someone who objected to " these people should not be joined.... because I'd want a darn good explanation!
32. The world could do without more television stations
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than ...eeewww....is this a meme or Survivor?
34. My favorite blondie is Maggie the Peke
35. Paper clips are more useful than staples because I don't break my fingernails on them as often
36. If I do anything well it’s liturgy
37. I can’t help but be amazed by how my life turned out
38. I usually cry when I hear certain pieces of music
39. My advice to my nephew/niece try not to take things personally because few things really are
40. And by the way remember to be grateful every day.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 18:21-35

On October 2, 2006 a man entered a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines Pennsylvania and killed five young Amish girls and seriously wounded five others. Like all of the others acts of senseless violence in our country, this made headlines. The response of the Amish community of Nickel Mines soon became just as newsworthy. They were extending forgiveness to the shooter! Within hours of the shooting, community members went to the killer’s family members and offered statements of forgiveness and condolence for their loss. Members of the Amish community came to the gunman’s funeral, and perhaps most amazingly of all, they voted as a community that his family should share in a fund that was set up to aid the victims. Some of them even contributed personally to this fund. This Amish forgiveness is so striking to the outside world that it has drawn the attention of theologians and sociologists. The Amish are being asked over and over on what it is they base this “extraordinary” forgiving. And what they repeatedly say is two things…the Lord’s prayer and Matthew 18:21-35.

Jesus is teaching the disciples about how to be community. That hard task of being God’s kingdom here on earth. In our Gospel last week we heard about what we are to do when our brother or sister “trespasses” against us….to go to them, at first alone, with the intent of bringing them back, and how it is always about bringing them back. And that even when we take witnesses with us, or bring in the community, it is always about love and justice and always about recapturing the lost ones. It’s that larger vision that God has for reconciling to God and to one another. That countercultural vision that is challenging for us as humans. Today’s Gospel simply continues the lesson. Peter, in all his glorious humanity may have thought he was going to the head of the class on this one when he asked Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" a symbolic number that signified enough or completion. But Jesus, as always, taking it to an even greater vision, the kingdom vision, to God’s vision, says, “No, that’s not quite enough Peter…” In God’s kingdom even our usual understanding of what is enough is not enough.

In God’s kingdom vision, we must do the kind of forgiving that does not count at all… a kind of forgiving that is extravagant. The parable tells us that the slave owed the king “ten thousand talents” a huge amount which was more than the national debt of the Roman Empire at the time. It was so large that even if he were “to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions” there would still be no hope he could pay it back. When the king took mercy on him and released him from the debt completely, he was practicing the kind of forgiveness that Jesus was talking about. But then what happens? The forgiven slave turns around and does not forgive the relatively small debt another slave owes him, an equivalent of about four months’ wages for manual labor, and has him thrown into debtor’s prison. Hearing of this behavior, the king is outraged that this man to whom he has shown great mercy and forgiveness has not extended forgiveness in kind. He says to him “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” and throws him into prison “until he would pay his entire debt” – which, of course, can never happen! Here was a vision of the Kingdom. The king forgave abundantly without keeping count of the cost. Forgiveness, Jesus may have been saying, like God forgives. But then the slave withheld forgiveness, and found himself imprisoned, Here is God’s kingdom where there is forgiveness and mercy, but also judgment and justice.

Forgiveness. Clearly it is held before us as a standard of living a life as followers of Jesus. But what does it really mean? Can we do it? How do we do it? Do we have to be Amish? As you might imagine, this is an issue that comes up frequently for the people I encounter in the other part of my life. Many of the people I see in my clinical practice have been deeply wounded by the acts of others, and they struggle with this question of forgiveness. Sometimes we have conversations about what it does mean to forgive, and in those conversations we talk about what forgiveness is and what it is not, and sometimes that turns out to be a useful thing. So I thought maybe spending a few minutes thinking through that together here this morning might be helpful for us as well as we try to find ways of being faithful followers of Jesus.

One of the things we know is that forgiveness is a choice. Someone always can choose to forgive or not. Often when we have been wronged by someone what we hold onto most tightly is our resentment about the wrong that was done towards us, usually toward the person who committed the offense. In forgiveness, we freely choose to give up the right to carry that resentment. And we do so in essence as a gift to the offender who may or may not have done anything to deserve that gift. In forgiveness we make a choice to replace resentment toward the one who has harmed us with compassion. This does not mean that we change our minds about the act. We recognize that as the victim of an offense we have a moral right to anger, but we choose to release the anger—in essence as a pure gift to someone who may be completely undeserving, and indeed who may be completely unaware of the gift. But we choose to release them from a debt that they could never repay anyway. Just because we can….and not count the cost.

Forgiveness is not about the event. We do not say the offense did not happen, or that it was not serious if indeed this was case. We do not pretend we were not hurt by the act. We do not condone or excuse the behavior that was done. We still take it seriously. We still uphold its wrongness, its unfairness. We do not condone it or excuse the behavior. We do not forget it or sweep it under the rug. All of this does not preclude forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not the same as pardon. Pardon implies repentance on the part of the wrongdoer. Forgiveness is only about the forgiver. In forgiveness the wrongdoer is not absolved of consequences for his or her behavior. Justice takes it course if that is to be the case. That does not preclude forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. That is about restoring a relationship which might involve developing trust or communication between the person who was hurt and the one who offended. This may never be possible or even desirable. It does not preclude forgiveness.
Forgiveness is decisional as well as emotional. Decisional or intentional forgiveness is a commitment to control our behavior not to act in revenge or avoidance towards someone who has hurt us even if our emotions have not yet caught up to the point where we feel less unforgiving. Emotional forgiveness often is a much longer process than decisional forgiveness. The two of course can be related. The decision to forgive and the commitment to act in a forgiving way does not magically make emotions change, but it certainly may make it more likely that the emotional transformation will happen.

Why forgive? Is it indeed about “forgive or you won't be forgiven?” This is not the way the God I know operates. The parable tells the story. The people I know who are having the hardest time with forgiveness, the ones who are holding on to the biggest resentments are often in a great deal of pain. Like the forgiven slave, the illusion of control given by holding on to their resentments locks them in the prison of their own creation. Freedom was granted him and his to pass on. The example was there before him but he could not make the choice for forgiveness, and it was his own inability to make that choice that imprisoned him. God’s kingdom is one of mercy and love, but also of justice. Forgiveness is granted in great measure, we are asked to pass it on as it has been given to us.

And fortunately, as with all of these hard things we are asked to do as followers of Jesus, we are not alone with this one either. We have the Incarnate One as God with us, both to show us who God is and to show us how the Kingdom here on earth can be lived out and who we can be what we are truly capable of at our best and most authentic. We have Jesus’ ongoing spirit alive with us, in Word and Sacrament and in community to strengthen us for the task, to remind us who and whose we are. May we forgive as we are forgiven and be forgiven as we forgive. Amen.

Contributions from Amish Grace by D. Kraybill, S. Nolt, D. Weaver-Zercher

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Five: Back to School

Mother Laura says: "It's time for a Back-To-School Friday Five!"
1. Is anyone going back to school, as a student or teacher, at your house? How's it going so far? Not this year, and I find I must add a "Thanks be!" to that. I always wanted to teach at the college level and I gave it the good try for three semesters. Perhaps another time it will work, but with my current job and clergy responsibilities it was too much. That said, there is still something in me that feels a little left out that they are there and I am not.

2. Were you glad or sad when back-to-school time came as a kid? I was always happy to go back to school. Would have stayed there all year if I could have. I still want to go back!

3. Did your family of origin have any rituals to mark this time of year? How about now? Just making sure my uniform was all pressed and ready and that I had enough knee socks and fresh white blouses, shoes that fit. The school supply list was blessedly short...not like ones I see now in the stores. One year ours went something like..."two number two pencils, box of crayons (16 colors), art gum eraser, pad of paper--wide-ruled, one ruler and one cartridge pen with three refills." I think that was fifth grade and I have no idea why I remember it. Maybe because of the ink pen. It was a Big Deal.

4. Favorite memories of back-to-school outfits, lunchboxes, etc? No outfits (uniforms...and they WERE uniform, no choices within). I went home for lunch except on the day my mom volunteered at hot lunch so no lunchbox. Mostly it was just being glad to be going back.

5. What was your best year of school? Freshman year of high school. I had fought hard to get to go to the all girl academy and it met my expectations. The world opened up for me academically and culturally. I made friends and had fun. It was a good year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Wish the Earth Would Weep

Well it never did rain. The humidity hangs heavy in the air. It parallels my spirit this morning. I'm thinking about E, the young man who committed suicide. I read his obituary. It talked about his love for his family and his passion for music. He has a huge extended family. He is survived by all of his grandparents. I am sad for them all.

I am thinking about our Gannet Girl and her loss. What a blessing it is that she and family are surrounded in such love and beauty. And yet, and yet....

I am thinking about S, whose funeral is ready to be celebrated on Saturday. I have done my best to make this a small gift to him, to honor his life...which I think was not an easy one.

I am thinking about this day seven years ago. It was warm and sunny and bright. When the first plane hit the tower, for a brief innocent moment I thought it was simply an accident. Before. Before the innocence was lost. Before the horror, the unthinkable that changed us all.

I still wish it would rain.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Life and Death

It's 4:50 and the last client of the day just walked out the door. I should be doing notes. I can't seem to get myself to log on to the documentation program. I have been late to two events today. Both times it has required phone calls from the other persons involved inquiring if I planned I to grace them with my presence to remind me the event existed. One is an every Wednesday staff meeting. Yep. Same time every week. I forgot to go. Well, actually I forgot what day it was. The other was lunch with a friend. It was in my planner....I just forgot to look. I have been distracted....

There is a heaviness in the local world today. A seventeen year-old junior at the high school took his life yesterday. It's like back at the time of the bus crash...we are small enough that though I have no direct personal connection, there are all the webs of linkage. A couple of coworkers go to his church, a friend works with his aunt, his pastor is a colleague and ministry friend. His manager from his part time job talked about how the boy seemed to be kind of alone in the world and wondered if having more of a sense of community would have made a difference. We are all wondering...what happened, and what might have made a difference?

Tonight I will plan a funeral for a fifty year old man I do not know. A man his sister called a "gentle giant" who loved fishing and photography and once went to Alaska. A man who lived a simple life and found love with a "lady friend" only a few years ago. Once again I will fall back on the beautiful language of prayer and scripture, finding readings that seem to fit and hymns that I hope speak to them as they do to me. I will try to craft a small sermon that says something of the love of God for this fine-sounding man I never met. I will make some little service booklets to avoid the prayerbook shuffle.

It's supposed to rain tonight. I hope so. That would seem right somehow. It just would.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I love My Life...I Just Wish It Moved Slower

I really should have vacuumed on Sunday. Instead of driving 35 miles to the Fall Harvest Festival. The one that ended on Saturday.

The sun was hitting the floors just right last night when I flew in to feed Maggie and let her out. It illuminated the layer of dust on the hardwood and highlighted the dust bunnies under the table by the stairs. But I did not have time to stop and admire how picturesque it all was. I had to do my dog duties, grab fast food and head back to work. It's one of those weeks when there are not enough hours. The vacuuming is going to have to wait.

In addition to the usual things the week holds, yesterday I got a call asking me to do a funeral on Saturday. This will be my second one, ever. It will also, like the last one, be for a person I do not know. One that few people in my church know. It's kind of the same story as the last one....used to go here long ago, went away, coming back to be buried. Only this man is the son instead of the parent, a person younger than I am, who happened to mention his wishes to a sibling "randomly" a few weeks before his completely unanticipated death to be buried in his home town, from his old church. Perhaps this is my new call....to bury the unknown soldiers of this congregation. To bring them home for the last time. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do, to provide for families and friends that come from all walks of church and not, this gathering place to say goodbye, to offer this dock, this threshold where they can gather and remember and comfort one another with the message that this not an end but simply a transition in the way they know this loved one, in the way they are with them. To offer simplicity and beauty, comfort and hospitality. That is, at least my hope.

So there's funeral prep and Sunday's sermon. I'm still behind at work. Those twelve reports the government needs are still staring at me along with some regular daily stuff. My peer review is next week for my annual raise so I should be primping and fussing with all my charts to make sure they are all bright and shiny, but there is no time. So I will simply have to hope that either I was thorough or the reviewers are not! Today at noon I have a meeting with two of the local clergy guys to plan the community Thanksgiving service (yes, I volunteered!) And the season is flying by which means there is a house and a yard and a car to get ready for winter.

And yesterday my boss came by with a "new and exciting project" for me. We meet at nine.

I wonder if this is why when I woke up this morning I could not unlock my jaw.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

Instructions. From Exodus to the Gospel our readings this morning are just filled with detailed instructions about how things are to be done.

What happens when we get instructions with something? What does that tell us? Well, it might give you hope that a thing that initially seems overwhelming can be done. Recently a pastor friend of mine in another town told a story about getting a new office desk. When the desk arrived it came in a box in what she said felt like a million pieces. She said if it had been up to her she might never have gotten it together, but that by faithfully reading the instructions (with the help of a magnifying glass) two of the men in her congregation worked for two days and assembled the desk out of all it’s myriad parts.

Or it also might say that this thing you are undertaking is so important that even HOW you do it matters. And we all know that sometimes if you ignore that, things may not work so well. I am famous for following my mother’s line of “if all else fails follow the instructions.” I’ll get something that comes with instructions and I’ll be so sure I know how it should be done that I’ll just ignore them and start setting it up or assembling it. Only later on I’ll discover that there was an order I should have followed, or something important I would have known…had I followed the instructions. Sometimes my not having done so means I have parts left over. Or sometimes I have to take things apart and begin again. Or sometimes it won’t work at all.

We know just like with the instructions that come with the things we have to assemble, the instructions in our Gospel reading this morning are telling us something. Apparently human nature has not changed a lot in the last couple millennia. It sounds like the people back then were having the same sorts of interpersonal struggles and conflicts we find ourselves in and were looking for answers just as we are. Matthew records Jesus trying to give his disciples some instructions about how to be the church, how to be together in a community based in love, to handle the inevitable conflicts and struggles that arise when people are in relationship....and to handle them from a new perspective, the perspective of building God’s kingdom among us. Unfortunately, like the instructions we get with things, these instructions can be ignored, or what’s even worse, in the case of Scripture, they can be misconstrued or misused. This particular text is one of the ones that has been misused in various ways. It has been quoted at people to silence them, and keep needed truths from being told, it has been used as an excuse to gang up on people who held unpopular viewpoints, and it has been used to justify shunning and exclusion “in the name of God.” That clearly was not what Jesus had in mind, so let’s take a few minutes to look at what these instructions are really telling us….First I’d like to re-read you the first few lines in the King James translation, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”

Suddenly we are up close and personal here…the brothers and sisters of our daily lives….not some anonymous “church member” but someone with whom we are in close and intimate personal relationship, someone with whom we have kinship, like a brother….or sister. And what does Jesus say to do when this brother or sister has “trespassed” or done something that has damaged the relational bonds between us? He says “GO to them.” Now how countercultural is that? I don’t know about you, but often the last thing I want to do when someone has upset me is approach them! Oh, I want to talk about it, I want to get it off my chest….but often the temptation is to do it with anybody but the person whom I feel has wronged me. But Jesus is pretty clear, go and tell that person, and do it when it is just the two of you. And why? Is it to chastise, or to fix? To punish or correct? No. It is to “regain” that one. To bring them back to you, to restore the relationship, to heal the breach in the communal connection, the wound in the body of Christ. To try to bring that sheep that might otherwise be lost back into the sheepfold. Then Jesus continues the instructions. Suppose things have not gone well with you and your brother or sister in this conflict resolution. The problem continues and you have not reached resolution on that first try. You are at an impasse. In our language perhaps we might say we are stuck at “he said/she said.” Then, he says, take it to the level of the larger community and bring witnesses. Rather than talking about ganging up on someone, which is what our modern Western minds might conjure, what Jesus seems to be really talking about is an application of justice which incorporates the biblical provision that charges must be supported by at least two witnesses. Jesus’ listeners would have understood this, and if we think about it a bit, we can too. Jesus will even help us with it…”where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there” he says. So take heart, we are not working without a net here. And if we are still stuck, even there, let’s widen the circle even more to include even more community in trying to bring this lost one back. Bring it to the church...to this whole loving community who can surround the struggling brothers or sisters with their collective strength and wisdom. “And even after all this effort is applied, if the one who has offended is not able to hear us, then what? “If they refuse,” he says, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This is the place where we might get confused. Those people after all were not part of the community. They were excluded. They were outsiders. Precisely. And what did Jesus do with the excluded and the outsiders? He drew them in, he ate with them, he included them….and we are back full circle….all about the returning and the regaining….all about the love.

Because really Jesus was saying what Jesus is always saying, “Go in love. Do this in love. Act in love.” As we heard in Romans: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It’s that countercultural thing again…if someone has hurt us, wronged us, upset us….we are to make the first move, take the first step. Go to them in love. All by yourself. Tell them. That takes a level of radical trust and vulnerability that few of us come by naturally. It truly is an act of faith to do this. And to have as our hope and our goal to restore relationship, to bring the other back towards us, back into connection with us in loving communion. This too is not always our first impulse when our feelings have been trampled or we perceive we have been “trespassed against.” Sometimes that takes a bigger vision than we might come by naturally….perhaps that takes God’s vision prayerfully and faithfully discerned in God's community. And if a true breach in relationship has happened, if someone has “become as a Gentile or a tax collector” to us…it truly does seem almost superhuman to expect that we could reach across that breach and welcome them in, welcome them back. And so it would be, if we were on our own. But the thing is we’re not. We have this Jesus…this self-same one who gave these impossible-sounding instructions, the one who offered his own life as an example that it can be done….who came as the Incarnate one to show us God and show us what is possible for us. We have his ongoing presence in the Spirit always present among us. We have strength in the Eucharist and in the Word and in community. The church that Jesus was talking about….it is us…. and it continues in us…not just when we are gathered in this place together on Sunday, but every minute of every day of each of our lives. We, you and I, each of us, is the only church there is. And if we are willing to try to live our lives according to the instructions that Jesus gave, we can bring the world just a little bit closer to God’s vision for God’s kingdom here on earth. May it be so. Amen.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Five in Part.....

After hearing the news about Gannet Girl's unthinkable loss, I don't seem to have a lot to say in the Friday Five. But this Wendell Barry poem is one that speaks deeply to me about becoming more and more authentic and also more flagrantly generous with ourselves.

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility that you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.
Wendell Barry

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Life Going By

I've been wondering if there is any deep meaning to the fact that a piece of fiction has been sitting on my blog for almost a week while I haven't seemed to have anything to say about my real life. Nothing going on? Nothing to say about it? Neither of those, for anyone who knows me, would seem to be likely. I'm not really sure myself. The days just seem to wander into each other, full of the stuff of everyday life. I kept myself busy over the long weekend in pursuits both useful and recreational. In the house projects department I tackled the nasty wood floors in my bedroom with furniture refinsher. I know that's not what the stuff is intended for ( it says so right on the can "Do not use over large surfaces") but I figured it was worth a try. I checked out a small spot under a dresser and it did the trick, so I went for it. They are not perfect, but what once was ugly dark reddish brown, scratched up, paint splotched, stained and only done in the middle is now a reasonably even sort of golden-oakish finish that covers (almost) the whole room. I still have to finish the part under the bed. I ran out of refinisher and energy. And I had to sleep downstairs on the couch due to fumes one night...but hey, I have better floors! And the whole thing is going to cost less than $50!

On the fun front on Monday I went to the State Fair up in the Big City with friends. It's the home of food on a stick....which for some reason I didn't have. We didn't really have a plan but wandered through various exhibit halls, listened to music, people-watched and generally enjoyed what seems to have been the last day of summer, judging from the weather forecast. I hadn't been to the fair in a long time, so it was interesting to go back again. I didn't remember it as being so much about "stuff" you should acquire to make your life better in some way. Maybe those just weren't the places I wandered before, but I was amazed by all the things that were for sale. The slicers and dicers I expected, the Ginsu knives and the Miracle Mops, collapsible boats that fit in your car trunk, those kind of "get 'em here cuz you can't get 'em anywhere else, folks" things. I remembered them....but shoes and furniture, pianos and children's toys, jewelry, clothing, dishes, pots and pans, just everything and anything. It was just like going to the mall. It was strange. All that stuff. And then we went to the "Eco-building" where there was a Trash Mountain. It was about the size of my office at work and represented the amount of trash that the average family generates in a year. Lots of stuff. Hmmmm.

Then it was back to work. We have a new piece of documentation one of our government programs is requiring. It's a summary of information that is already contained in another document, but apparently these folks can't extrapolate it from that that every three years when they come and do chart reviews, so for each client that is in this program we must rewrite this information into their format in the "interpretive summary." We must do them retroactively for clients previously enrolled. I am twelve behind as of today.

The ministerial association meets for the first time this morning, so I will duck out of here for a bit to attend. It will be good to slip into the other part of my life for a time and reconnect with my clergy colleagues. We catch up on each other's lives a bit at this first meeting as well as plan the coming year. I think I'll volunteer to help plan the community Thanksgiving service this year. It seems like a good year for that.

I'm preaching this weekend and next. So far the texts have not spoken, but I remain hopeful.

So that's what's been happening in my real life while the fictional heroine of Chapter Three has been waiting for her next chapter. Not a whole lot, but I do feel blessed by it.