29 November 2011

Emmanuel?

Tap, tap.

Is this thing on?

Anybody there?

Yeah.  I thought so. 

Here it is Advent again.  I find myself struggling for inspiration as I consider the second Sunday.

Peace.

 Hummmpf.....

 Oh!  Yes.... yes.

The inspiration came as I was writing that first bit.  Let's try this:

Occupy us, O God, that we may know P E A C E.

I guess I'll be offending the conservatives again.

Nevermind that.  Jesus never seemed to.

The thing that is so difficult about this idea is that I am not a total "occupy head" -- though I believe in the values of the movement.  Absolutely.

I believe that big business has no business in politics.  We have so sold our souls that even the temple of democracy has been desecrated by big business money changers.  Money does not make democracy, though the greedy are certainly willing to buy influence, and the corrupt are absolutely willing to be bought.
 
The Prince of Peace invites us into world in which the first is last and the last is first. 

The Prince of Peace tells us to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner....

The Prince of Peace tells us to bind up the brokenhearted.

The Prince of Peace says that the biggest sacrifices are the best.

The Prince of Peace tells us to take nothing for the journey, no staff, no bag, no extra cloak......

The Prince of Peace uses his anger as a sword to separate right from wrong.


The Prince of Peace was unwelcome in his homeland.....


Occupy us, O God.  Occupy us so that we may become the kind of peace that will change the world, the kind of peace that has justice and mercy and love all intertwined in its messy, complex beauty. Occupy us that we may Occupy the world in this moment with our simple, empire shattering, faithful demands.

Occupy us, O God.  

30 March 2011

Lurking, Disengagement, and Stuff

I have been lurking on my own blog. I don't know what I expect to happen-- perhaps that a new post will magically appear? Funny, that. I suspect that I will have to write a new post if I want one to appear. I figure that if I'm lurking maybe somebody else is, too? Or not.

I skipped my annual Ash Wednesday hit and run. I haven't felt particularly theologically/spiritually centered lately. Ironically, I have been reading more theological material, catching up on more current events, hanging out with colleagues, and devoutly reading my Bible. I've even been super faithful about my Lenten discipline. I've only slipped once in three weeks, and it wasn't even a big slip. Not too bad.

In case you're wondering, I spent $10.00 on a tee shirt. One of my Lenten disciplines is that I won't spend money on anything but the essentials during this season. But the shirt had a really, really cute pencil drawing of pandas on it.

The problem is that it's all happening in my head right now; my heart is pretty disengaged.

This is out of character for me. Really, if it doesn't make me feel something, I'm not likely to stick around for very long. I have to feel it. But this is God. I don't want to walk away from God or church or Jesus or spirituality or ministry. The question, though, is how to stay with it when I feel mostly worn out and sad about the state of the world and specifically, the state of my church.

One might argue that the 'state of the church' is some kind of a reflection on the pastor's mental/physical/spiritual/soul health. I've decided that that may be marginally true but that it is mostly an unhealthy projection made by people who are badly in need of a boundary check: This is your simple, real, self-contained, beautiful pastor body; that, over there, is the lumpy, contagious, beautiful, unruly church body. Any questions?

Looking at this week's lectionary texts is not helpful, either. The story of the man born blind is a little about healing, a little about family, a little about faith, and a lot about conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus.

It is that conflict part that gets under my skin most. I feel constant conflict between my faith and the structure known as church. It has become worse in these last few months as I have tried to help some young people find a home. The church has been their home for a few months now. It can't go on forever. We all know this. But, people in the church are officially upset. Some of them wrote an anonymous letter to my boss's boss -- the bishop. My favorite line reads something like, "We love Pastor Orangeblossoms, but we believe that she has taken her Christian charity too far."

Since when is Christian charity mine.... and what exactly is too far? Who keeps track of these things. Perhaps we should ask Jesus?

This has kind of sucked the happy right out of ministry and church lately. Actually, it's kicking my ass.

I struggle with many pieces of this experience. Beyond the obvious, I struggle with the the pharisee-inside-of-me who wants to condemn, rather than forgive these folks wilst I use this as a teaching moment to help them understand. Like Jesus here, I want to "look at them and love them". Instead, I feel betrayed. Just plain betrayed. I think it is probably not that kind of noble Jesus-was-betrayed-by-his- followers-and-forgave-them-anyway betrayed feeling, either.

Sigh.

I also sort of feel like a failure as a pastor. How did I not communicate the Message? How did I become so invested in the institution that my own witness is hampered or even invisible? Being a good "pastor" by any definition makes it difficult to live the gospel. Being a pastor means maintaining a church, growing a community, supporting a denomination. On a really, really good day it means taking a small risk for the gospel. Being a Christian means risking for the Gospel every single day, without hesitation... I think it is harder and harder for me to be a pastor and to live the Gospel. One price of that is that I am not effectively modeling Christian discipleship and action. But I am talking about it. A lot. The other price, I think, is my soul. But that's another blog entry, isn't it?

I know. The good people of my church are just scared that they will have a lawsuit on their hands. They are scared that the kid who lives in that room will do something bad or become someone bad. He won't. He just won't. I know it.

I know it because I have taken the time to know him. I have seen him, seen through his defenses.... I have been in his vulnerability and allowed myself to be vulnerable with him. He is okay. Beaten down by his past, hurt by the present... struggling with the ravages of it all. Here we are. We have all that we need to help him find his future. But, he isn't quite there. YET.

If King Josiah (among others) could soften his own heart before God to plead for his people, surely I can soften mine toward this congregation; surely, they can soften theirs toward these kids.

Surely, God will intervene.

This is not the right moment for me to lose faith in that possibility; neither is it the right time for me to quit.

13 January 2011

Fitting it all on one screen

My life is not a one screen life, nobody's is.

However, I do like the template editor that allowed me to change the margins of my text boxes. Expanding the margins makes a long post seem shorter and a short post seem pithy, don't you think?

With my posting patterns, I'd better be both pithy and occasionally profound. At the very least, it had better all fit on one screen.

At this moment, the person whom I most love in the world is about to be admitted to a hospital in a different city. I cannot be there. I am supposed to be writing a eulogy for a thirty-six year old woman who died two weeks before Christmas. Her funeral is day after tomorrow.

In the past eight months I have officiated at funerals for a twenty-eight year old graduate student, a forty-two year old homeless drunk, a forty year old preschool teacher.... and now this.

I think she suicided, her family insists she did not.

I think that it is unlikely that she was assaulted by a stranger and forced to drink poison. Twice. Um, over the course of three days. She made a police report to that effect, so her family believes her. Her family also believes that she was not involved in a same-sex relationship with her female partner, er house-mate. And, while we're at it, they believe that: She's-with-God-so-her-death-is-a-okay-We-sure-don't-know-what-we'd-do-without-our-faith! (Hold hands and sing, What a friend we have in Jesus, here.)

They are of a different religious tradition... well it's Christian flavored.... but definitely more apocalyptic and excited about death than mine.

I believe that she is united with God, too. But there's nothing okay about taking one's life so young. There is nothing okay about her glorious skills and gifts lost, wasted. There is nothing okay about any of it. Her partner doesn't think so, either. Neither of us is ready to sing Kumbayah over it.

I can barely come up with eulogizing words or the words to weave a sermon for the following morning or the right way to breathe, even.

So, I blog because writing anything else seems impossible. Crafting a sermon for a service that her mother said should be entirely focused on bringing people to Christ, feels insane.

Her mother wanted to eliminate the eulogy altogether in favor of a longer sermon. I prevailed. I think she's afraid I will say something that makes her uncomfortable.

I may.

But that's not the whole problem, either. Saying uncomfortable things is not the problem. The death itself isn't even the whole problem. It is the people who are left behind, what they are doing and how they are doing it that is the problem. It is also this:

When I die, the woman who is going to be admitted to the hospital tonight will have never met my parents, will have lived closeted for a big part of our life. Because I am clergy she will struggle to be recognized as my partner. When she dies, my family of origin will not know or care and my church will wonder what role she really played in my life and why it matters so much that she is gone.

I don't want that. I am watching it unfold before me and I don't want it.

Tonight, I just want my love to be okay. She will be. This is not life-threatening.... though it is important and scary... and if it gets worse, it might be life-threatening. So she's following doctor's orders. She's following orders and I am doing my job here. This is what has to be in this moment.

27 May 2010

insecure much?

It has come to my attention, once again, that I am horribly insecure. Horribly. Little things can send me right over the edge. I don't trust people when they say that I did a good job or that I look pretty or that I am smart. I surround myself with people who love me, yet I am plagued by this notion that nobody really loves me at all.

I think I am doing the right thing and then I second guess myself. My mistakes are epic. My successes are harder and harder to see. I try to make decisions and wind up spend way too much time in the ambiguity deciding whether or not I should even be making decisions at all. I think that I cannot trust my choices. My experience makes me wary of my judgment.....

I have sunk hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars worth of therapy into this broken vessel. What has it done for me? Well, now I KNOW that I am insecure-- yet, I still don't know what the hell to do about it. Nice. These things really should come with a money back guarantee.

Maybe I am a good writer. Maybe I am a good singer. Maybe I am a good preacher. Maybe I am a good pastor. Maybe I am a good person. Maybe none of this is true. What are the measures of these things, anyway?

Maybe I will simply drive away all of the people who love me with this insecurity-- with the insatiable need for affirmation and reinforcement -- and then it will fulfill itself.... I will be unlovable and alone for real.

Maybe I am just really good at being insecure.

17 March 2010

beauty and terror

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

--Rilke

It is all so serious right now.

Lives hang in the balance, loves lost and nearly lost, relationships broken.

So, when I wake alone at 3:45 with this poem cycling through my head, wondering if anything will ever feel right again, I remember that letting everything happen as it happens is an invitation to surrender and to embrace life--to be present to the real experiences all around me. I recognize that beauty and terror are consequences and riches. They are invitations to a deeper relationship with my God who dances in the shadows-- those that I find and those that I cast. It is God who works with the fear and who doesn't want to be lost in the chaos... it is God who reminds me that feelings are not ultimate or final.

In this uncertain early morning I think on these things and I am almost reassured.

17 February 2010

From Dust Have I Come, To Dust Shall I Return

A moment in earthly time evaporates into eternity.

So the gift is Love, love and compassionate service. It is the sacrament, the flame, the refining fire. It is penitence, earnest returning to God. It is hope. It is the shadows made by the flame. It is the flicker of recognition and the moment of forgetting. It is belonging and being. It is community and continuity. It is recognizing that we are all things and no-thing.

So I will pray this Lent for those who are captive.

I will recognize my own captivity, too.

I will pray for those who are oppressed.

I will recognize when I am the oppressor.

I will pray for those who are alone.

I will notice when I become isolated.

I will pray for those who live in the dark.

I will remember how to bring light.

I will pray for those who are blinded by the light.

I will remember to hold out my hand to lead.

I will pray for my own sin to be transformed to learning.

I will recognize when my actions lead others astray.

I will pray for the indwelling spirit to move me.

I will look for ways to serve,

I will listen.

I will stop.

I will be.

So be it.

Amen.

15 February 2010

Once a year, much?

I come here more often than you would think, since I never add anything new. I come to visit the blogs in my sidebar. I come to reread what I wanted you to read about my life. Sometimes I reread your comments. But more often than not, I simply ponder what it means to put something into the ether and know that people will either read it or not. Will comment or not. Will care or not.

For a long time, this place was about a certain exhibitionism, a place to give my words a home and to combat isolation. It was a place to work out some of my angst and confusion. A place to make some small, albeit anonymous, wholeness out of the fragments. I do not live an ordinary life. Ordinary does not suit me.

The closer I get to my truths, the harder it is to want to breathe them out into the world. The more content I become with my complexity, the less I know how to write about it. The more I know my audience (the more you all know me) the less I want to say.

This is the opposite of my experience as a preacher. The better I know my congregation, the more I listen for the Spirit, the deeper I understand myself-- the more I have to say. Then I go out and say it in front of God and the world. Here, I hide. Ironically, I hide mostly because of what the "church" would do if it put my name with my experience and tried to square it all up with their rules. Go figure.

My last entry was at the precipice of Lent. Day after tomorrow, I will participate in the same ritual. The smudge of ashes, the call to live a faithful life transformed by grace and defined by the movement of the Spirit. I will hope to be changed by the ritual and by my own earnest seeking. I will try to open myself again to be changed by God ... and I will stumble along the same road as yesterday: earnest, sometimes repentant, hopeful, inspired, deeply conscious, and sometimes entirely unconscious. In this way, we are all alike.

From dust have we come, to dust shall we return.

26 February 2009

real life stuff

Lent is here again. I was smudged with ashes last night, preached a sermon, felt inadequate. I didn't feel inadequate because of the day, though maybe I should. Rather, last night I felt inadequate to my task as priest/pastor/preacher. That doesn't happen to me very often anymore. I love my work and it seems to love me. Once in a rare while, though, it all feels a little foreign and I feel ill-at-ease. Last night was one of those insecure nights.

One of my most beloved parishioners is in the hospital. She is 73 years young and a tap dancer. I believe she is dying. I hate this. Today, looking at her bloated, ventilated, overly hydrated body, I cried. Her vitals were a little more stable than they have been but they cannot wean her from the ventilator and she is still unconscious. She went in with a bowel problem and was diagnosed with a giant case of pneumonia in the ER. One whole lung is full of the disease. Next thing we know she's unconscious and hanging by a thread, a beautiful silken thread, but a tiny thread all the same.

Larry is on a tear again. He's manic and struggling hard. He is having significant urology problems and has managed to offend nearly every urologist who takes Medicare in this area. He needs help so badly. I keep trying to intervene and he keeps spewing his colorful, angry vitriol everywhere. The worse his problem gets, the more angry he is.... it is a vicious cycle. I am not sure what to do to help. But I want to so badly. Today I called around to doctors begging them to take him as a patient.

I just hung up from one of those calls. They didn't want to see him because he was so rude to their office staff the last time. I can only imagine how he treated them. I wasn't there. But if he actually said half of what he told me he said, it was ugly. Really ugly. I want him to get better... to be more comfortable. Everybody deserves that, no matter how unpleasant or rude or mentally ill they are. For some reason, no matter how rude Larry is or how much his mental illness gets in the way, I love him. It hardly makes sense. It just is.

As the economy falls apart and people lose jobs and homes, somehow my church community grows stronger. This community of grace is trying hard to function from faith rather than fear. Together, we are trying to remember that we share vital ties, strong bonds of love which will sustain us when we find ourselves in need. We are really at our best right now. For this, I am deeply thankful.

Also, I know that I am loved and that I love fully in so many ways. I am thankful for this, too. My world is rich and complex--like full bodied coffee or excellent wine. Really, it is more of a feast or a banquet with a variety of flavors and carefully prepared, incredibly tasty dishes. Every day is a little bit hard and a little bit good.

Lenten ashes, daily dust.... maybe even stardust.... It's all here. Laughter, pain... beauty.

I did a wedding for a friend two weeks ago. The 'for' line of the check she gave me read "eternal bliss." Yes, friends, eternal bliss for $150.00 and a few words.

The real truth is that it's free.

Love,
Orangeblossoms

07 January 2009

The Room in My Heart

This room-in-my-heart is one of those Mexican papier mache dioramas, a Kahlo-esque, Dia de los Meurtos shrine in blood red, its primary colors practically dripping with the juice of pulverized blueberries and the thick yellow of rotting papaya; the inner seeds articulated, black and velvety. Vivid it is-- vivid and disturbing-- folk art simple; yet, the orange-red complexity, the midnight depth, the tiny details baffle. You cannot see all of it without inserting your hand deep into its pulsing recesses to be stained indigo and caressed by its engorged, misplaced tongue. Gristly and alive it is open simply for view --and for pleasure --if you can bear to enter it.

Careful, you remove your clothes, for they will be stained, and you stand at the entrance knowing that you must enter this labyrinthine mystery as you were born-- unprotected by anything but your own skin and living flesh.

And as you come, I will proclaim: "This! This is my home. Welcome."

You will smell the lamb roasting in the oven, the bread rising on a board. You will see the glistening wine decanting. You will smell the dusting of spice, of cumin and coriander, the distinct tang of lemon.

In the flickering candlelight, you will step forward to be received.

"Come," I will say, "Come."

25 November 2008

...belonging to Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.