Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Five: Our Favorite Music

"Songbird Says: When I was a very little girl growing up in Virginia, I never missed a Sunday going to Court Street Baptist Church. But there was something else that made Sundays special, and that was "Davey and Goliath." Every week the opening strains of the theme song would find me lying on the floor, chin on hands, looking up expectantly to watch the adventures of a clay boy and his big dog.What I didn't realize was who wrote that music, the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

It was the same Martin Luther who said:"I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor." On this Friday before Reformation Sunday, let's talk about music. Share with us five pieces of music that draw you closer to the Divine, that elevate your mood or take you to your happy place. They might be sung or instrumental, ancient or modern, sacred or popular...whatever touches you.Some of us even love hymns. (Well, I do.)"

FIVE???? Oh surely you jest! Five artists maybe! Nope, can't even do that. Five kinds, five genres, maybe. Music has always been the backdrop of my life, the soundtrack. Varying with time and place from Catholic hymns to Wiccan circle drumming and pretty much everything in between. But just for the sake of "the five" a few that pop into my head this morning......

  • Gounod's Ave Maria. Family legend says it was playing on the hospital sound system as mom was wheeled into the delivery room and again as she was going back into her room after I was born, and again as we left the hospital. We played it at her funeral. It was sung (in Latin of course) at my ordination and will make another appearance next Spring at the wedding.
  • Handel's Messiah. Not just the Alleluia, fabulous though it be, but some of the little and less heard oratorios just make me weep with the sheer beauty of it all.
  • Hymns. Oh my yes...where do I begin? How Can I Keep from Singing, Be Thou my Vision, Taste and See, Amazing Grace, It is Well with my Soul, and a hundred more that come to me to offer comfort in my brain's little soundtrack on dark and stormy nights, during scary drives, when I can't find my center, when there are no words because the feeling is too big for them....well, you know.
  • Gregorian chant sung well by monks.
  • The music of my life....Chicago, Queen, Three Dog Night, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Neal Diamond...and lately of course Mr. Jimmy Buffet....anything he sings can make me cheer right up, especially if heard in the company of a cute sweet guy while tooling down the highway in a red mini-cooper!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just Thinkin'

Well, the "so what" showed up and the sermon got done. The hymns are picked and the bulletin is all neat and tidy and ready to be run. Now if I can continue to ward off whatever bug seems to be wanting to brew up in me....Sunday is good to go. I like being ready for Sunday on Thursday. In this new rhythm of my life, long Saturdays of sermon writing and service prepping just don't do it for me anymore. It doesn't seem to take me nearly as long to write sermons as it once did. I think some of that is experience, just developing an approach to the whole business of sermon-craft that works for me. And I also think that some of that business of spending all my time writing and doing "stuff" for church was clearly other things. That whole overfunctioning business that occupied the first part of my ordained life. It was at least in part driven by my need to be the perfect little priest, which all came before God's graduate courses in post-ordination formation that have finally convinced me that a) I can't be and, b) even if I could, there is no point because God is fine with me as the beloved flawed human priest God called me to be.

It was also driven by a need to fill time and not deal with things, and what better way to be busy! Between my day job, my church life, and oh, yes, teaching when we threw that into the mix, I could just run forever and never have to stop and listen to my heart and my spirit. Except of course that it didn't work. Because it never does. Really. Not beyond a certain point. Beyond a certain point, all it did was leave me frazzled, strung out and exhausted, never mind so far from my center that I wouldn't have recognized her if I tripped over her! At any rate, I am truly truly happy that the Energizer Bunny has gone into retirement.

It was also driven by a little bit of arrogance. "I am soooo busy because I am sooooo important in the scheme of things, don't you know." Every time I "confessed" that I had no idea what the current popular TV shows were because I "simply did not have time to watch them," I have to admit, I felt a little frission of what I must admit was pride. I had to find my self-esteem somewhere, and that seemed like as good a place as any, I guess! There's that functional atheism thing again! It seems to crop up in many guises. I needed people to see me as important somewhere because I did not see myself that way. It's, as they say in the Twelve Step world a character defect...and a long-standing one, this inability to see my true self. I seem to have an internal fun house mirror that pops up and distorts me in my own eyes (and its equivalent in an audio speaker for the critical voices). But the mirror grows dimmer and the volume on the speaker quieter these days. And it leaves me free to hang out on the couch with my sweetie and revel in a good episode of House or even Two and a Half Men for no other reason than it's fun and I LIKE it. Whew! Even now I can hear a little critic screaming in there...."YOU DID WHAT!?!?!" is what it is....and yes, I am doing less these days. But I think I'm doing it with more integrity, authenticity and certainly with more joy. That tight little spring in my center unwinds a little more all the time....and nobody cares, and for this, yes, I am grateful.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ramblin' Thoughts

This month is getting away from me. Someone said to me last night, "October is always such a crazy month for you, isn't it?" And yes, it's true, bracketed on one end by clergy conference and the other end by Diocesan Convention, and usually with some other travel thrown in, either for work or church, October seems to be my peripatetic month.

I am supposed to be writing a sermon right now. It's "some" done. The groundwork is laid, the bones are there...but I'm sitting with the "so what" part. I've noticed since we have been doing Gospel Based Discipleship in conjunction with everything, that my sermons have unconsciously begun to fall into the pattern of ending with the last GBD question, "what is it are we being called to DO as a result of hearing this Gospel" or the so what that's where I am right now. And its not that I don't have some thoughts. It's just putting some language on it, good language, fresh language. So I'm procrastinating. If I were home I'd clean closets or straighten drawers. At work...I blog! I've been enjoying this journey through Mark, Jesus' lessons on discipleship. I've been preaching about every other week, enough to feel like I have kind of a series going that I can hang together, one on the other. That's the good part...themes develop, things can repeat and build. The downside of course is that repetition can get to be simply that if it is not used I'm trying to walk that line.

Speaking of's raining again. Egads! Good news? It's not snow. But it's cold and gray and it's already starting to feel sort of endlessly that season. I'm thinking about doing gratitude posts in November again. I was at a couple workshops last week, one on the brain and one on forgiveness. They were as different as could be...the first all science and brain scans, the second very spiritual and holistic (my two "me's"), but they both pointed to some similar truths. We go where we point ourselves. Our thoughts are powerful things and they change us. The scan guy showed evidence that they actually physically do that! Just as much as the food we eat, the toxins we are exposed to, the amount of exercise we get....what we say to ourselves and others about our daily experiences affects the amount of blood that moves in our brains, which impacts how the synapses fire, the chemistry works and essentially how everything happens, including perhaps how long and certainly how well we live. The other workshop operationalized a way to "do forgiveness." I was the test subject for the afternoon's demo. I worked through an issue with my brother. I have needed to forgive him since 1992 for some pretty big stuff. Was it a miracle? Am I done? No, of course not! But, there is a little a chink of light that was not there before...and as some of us who were also at the other workshop said after the demo...."I bet there is more blood flow in Kate's brain right now!" So I'm thinking about gratitude posts in November. I do remember the last time....that wonderful month of NaBloPoMo on gratitude. I'm not thinking daily....necessarily....but maybe....who knows. I certainly have thirty things to be thankful for! And I need to write more and be more intentional about reflection in my life, as that has slipped a bit. It could happen.

But for's back to that sermon for a half hour or so as the day begins and we will see if "so what?" takes shape.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall Falls

It's hard to believe October is almost half over. Not of course if I look outside....out there it almost looks like it might be November that's passing. The trees have dropped many of their leaves, some without even bothering to change from green, and they wave bare branches against the chilly gray sky. The "s-word" is being mentioned again in the forecast for tomorrow. That would be our third snow already this month. My farmer friends tell me "it's gonna be a long one" and R has ordered a whole pallet of salt for the mall lot. He says he feels it in his bones too. And after fifteen years of managing his mall, his bones know what they know. We scrambled this weekend to get some things done, cleaning the garage to make room for the car, hauling some things to the thrift store, picking the last of the tomatoes before the frost. This morning I brought out the winter clothing bins from the other closet. I can only make layering my summer clothes go so far. It's time for the heavy stuff...and today was a turtleneck day!

Fall is always kind of a strange bittersweet time for me. It feels like a time of new beginnings, probably because I've spent almost half my life starting school every fall! But it's clearly also the end of things...the ease of warm, warm days which I love, fresh produce from my garden, long long days full of light. And out here on the prairie, it's the end of a kind of simplicity of plans. Because from now until spring, everything we do becomes weather-dependent at a more significant level. And for me, winter driving chicken that I am, plans to travel any distance can be scotched at a moment's notice at the mere hint of an ice storm or impending blizzard. The weather channel, NOAA, and the driving conditions sites on my computer get frequent visits, and if a trip is a must, I am pretty uptight about the whole business until I'm sure it's clear skies and dry roads all the way.

Tomorrow has the makings of one of those days. I am due for a 5 a.m. departure for the Big City three hours from here to attend a workshop. A "wintry mix" had been promised earlier in the week. It now looks more like it might be just rain....but it's supposed to be around 32 degrees at 5 a.m. and even rain right at freezing makes me jumpy. I'm trying to do all those things I tell my clients...stay in today, not worry ahead, deal with it when it comes...yeah I talk a good line....but inside I am anxious and fretful, and also hopping mad that I have to start dealing with this crap in OCTOBER! I picked this workshop specifically because I figured the weather would not be a factor. There I go again, thinking I am in control. What was that phrase? Oh yes, "functional atheism," the belief that I control everything. We do not -- can not -- save ourselves.....I believe I heard that preached somewhere very recently. Apparently I am not listening to my own sermons again.

So once again the seasons change. Some things change with them and some things are constant. The trick, I think, is remembering which is which.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday Five: Personal Holy Days

Today on her way to her church's yearly Synod, to be welcomed and conditionally re-consecrated to episcopal ministry Sophia is "...thinking of the special rites of passage in our lives which we participate for ourselves or in which we support and bless others: baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, graduation, funerals, etc. Such important days, so exciting and joyous, but also sometimes anxiety provoking or deeply painful...." She asks in this Friday five that we share five memories of such sacred moments with God and her holy people from your life and the lives of those you love.
  • If I go waaaaaay back in time, one would be my first Communion. The night before, I had suffered a close call with my overdeveloped little Catholic conscience. While playing "Spy" in the back yard I had said what I thought to be a "terrible bad word" (naked) and I was quite sure I had had committed a mortal sin. Yes, really. Since it was after seven o'clock I knew Father was no longer hearing confessions, and the moment it was out of my mouth, I nearly became hysterical with guilt and fear, quite convinced that I had just eliminated the chance that I would be able to receive my First Communion with the rest of my class. I ran to my mom, who bless her, did not laugh at my silly self, but took me seriously. She told me that I should just go in my room and ask God to forgive me, "say a good Act of Contrition" and it would be ok. I did and it was and by the next morning when the priest placed the wafer on my tongue....I knew that in that moment something special had happened for me, that Jesus was really present in a different way. I have loved the Eucharist ever since. And looking back, I think the night before and her tenderness and care as my "Mother confessor" was every bit as holy and sacramental as the day itself.
  • The day my mother died. Thinking about how she dealt with my little crisis before First Communion reminds of her and her faith. She died as she lived, calmly, sure that God loved her and was simply going to take care things for her. I was there when her soul left her body and it was so....gentle....there was no doubt in my mind she was no longer there in that shell that could no longer support her life. But there was also no doubt that she lived on and does still.
  • Baptising L. When I looked into his dark eyes and drew the cross on his head and "marked him as Christ's own forever" he had the most incredible smile on his face. When he had to go back to jail he told me he took strength from remembering that he belonged to Jesus in that way, really held onto it sometimes like a lifeline. Life has taken its turns for him again lately, and I don't know where he will end up. But he knows he is God's own beloved and for that I am grateful
  • My ordination to the priesthood. . They tell me I radiated. They tell me my feet barely touched the ground. I cannot argue the point. My memory is pretty spotty for most of it. I remember kneeling, and promising "with God's help I will" and the weight of the hands of my Bishop and many priests on my head and tears and feeling incredibly humbled and grateful and....somehow changed in a way that I cannot explain.
  • Falling and being in love with my sweet and wonderful R. He cringes when I say it....but I understand the love of God better because of him. He loves me well, he cares for me deeply, he is my nurturing presence, he has my back. Pretty holy stuff, I'd say.

Ok, gotta go get my tissues now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

L's Update

He pled guilty and the judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation and will set a sentencing date in 2 – 4 weeks, at which time she will make a decision. She did today, however, lower his bail from $5000 to $500 cash bail. Not that it matters. He doesn't have it. His friends don't have it and his church doesn't either. And even if he did get bailed out at this point....he's broke and homeless and his family has all his stuff, and I'm not really sure of their intentions towards it or him. His girlfriend D is with her folks about three hours from here. I don't know if he is welcome there or if that is even an option "out on bail." I plan to see him this weekend. I was hoping it would be in church.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Please Pray for L

His court date is tomorrow. This is the "real one." His attorney tells me that the sentencing guidelines for his offense provide for a 15 month prison sentence. With one-third off for good time, that would be 10 months. The prosecutor had offered a settlement to give L a 12 month prison sentence, which would have been 8 months. L had a choice to take the offer, go to trial, or plead to the judge and ask for mercy, leaving sentencing to her. With a plea to the judge in the best case scenario, his PD could make a motion for a “downward departure” asking the judge to give no prison, and just give local jail, like credit for his time served, and he could be out of there tomorrow. L decided to go for that option, pleading to the judge and go with a request for a “downward departure” and leaving sentencing up to her. From what I have seen of her in court with L and others, she seems to be fair and inclined towards giving people chances to make good. The PD told us we could write letters on his behalf, so that also may help. Prayers, I know will too.

On the "bad news" front: My congregants went over to clean out his apartment and found out that some of his family members beat them to the punch. The place was empty. Apparently L's landlord has never heard of the tenant's rights, even in absence, to their own property. The rent was paid through the month, but he let the folks in and let them have L's stuff. "Well," he said, "How was I to know? They were his family." No key, no letter of permission....just "hello here we are and we want it" apparently gets you a long way in small town land. I think perhaps he has not heard the last of this. But for now, getting out of jail will be good. Sufficient for one day maybe. As long as the art is safe. Pray God they have not "lost" his portfolio, that is really all we ask. The rest is really just stuff. The art....that is a little bit of L's soul on paper. *sigh*