Thursday, March 28, 2013

Four Clergywomen Walk Into a Chain Restaurant...

Actually, we do that every week. Wednesday mornings, 8 AM, most often an establishment that is locally owned, but every once in a while, a big chain place with a gift shop and really, really good biscuits (which I have not allowed myself, thus far, to order. There's always next week.).

And we talk lectionary. That's what we call ourselves, a lectionary group. Only... mostly, the time we actually spend on the readings and our sermon plans can range anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of our 60-75 minute total. The rest of the time we would more accurately be known as what they call a "peer supervision" group. Which means we tell stories.

Oh, we keep confidentiality and all that good stuff. We get the seriousness of all that. But we do tell stories. And we laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Not at people. More like, at us.  At how we do or do not live into being the pastors we really would like to be. At how the diet thing is going. At how we did (or did not) nail that prayer, at that particularly delicate moment. We laugh. And that is very good for us. (It also causes the occasional patron to stop by our table on the way out and say, as one woman did yesterday, "Next time I want to be at your table." Her husband shrugged and went out to the gift shop.)

This week, one of our number said, "Hey, I heard this thing. Did you know the Wednesday of Holy Week is called 'Spy Wednesday'"?  (I did, thanks to a Jesuit poet I had the pleasure of knowing and reading in college.) Then we needed to make sure we knew the names of all the days in Holy Week.

"Monday's the day Jesus cleansed the temple," I piped up helpfully.

"So, Pissed-Off Monday?" one of my colleagues suggested.

Icon of Christ the Bridegroom, from the Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha Website.

Actually, it's "Great and Holy Monday," according to that fount of knowledge, Wikipedia. But here's the really fascinating thing I've learned in the aftermath of our conversation: In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the matins (i.e., very early morning) services are the Services of Christ the Bridegroom. Which, given that this week has seen many of us hanging on every word that proceeds from the mouths of nine Supreme Court Justices on the subject of whether there might be room in the constitution for a marriage composed of either two bridegrooms or two brides, is kind of interesting.

And behold, a 9th century hymn of Saint Cassia, an imaginative entering into the story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus at the end of Luke chapter 7:

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. "Woe to me!" she cries, "for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gather into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy."

The gospels, of course, are earthy accounts of an earthly ministry (well, 3 out of the 4). Jesus talks about seeds and soil and weddings and sheep and banquets and sweeping up... and about the heat of flames and the digestive system, too. And he touches people and they touch him, and the ways in which they touch him, let us be frank, before they are appalling, are fascinatingly sensuous. Women touch his feet. (Shall we have an excursus on feet in scripture? Perhaps another day...) They bathe them with tears, they kiss them and dry them with their (long, unbound) hair, they pour expensive oils on them. It's all very... bodily.

So if anyone's trying to make an argument that Christ the Bridegroom is purely and simply about a theological and spiritual concept, I call hogwash and say, Jesus was a human who knew all about being human, the good and the bad, the painful and the pleasurable. And even a prayer that purports to be about trying to get away from a 'dark and moonless love of sin' ends up being pretty darned erotic. (Even that phrase... dark and moonless. Heavens.)

So, this week we all got to watch as church and state got all up in one another's faces, and people tried to discern where religious freedom ends and civil rights begin, and whether losing the right to oppress people constitutes being oppressed.

You probably know which side I'm rooting for. I'm even going to suggest I know which side the Bridegroom is rooting for: the side that is for love.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dinner with the Girls

One down... Four to go.

I don't mean to be flippant. Truth be told, I savored this morning's service. Our attendance is up-- 20% over the past year and a half. I don't know why. The energy is good. I am happy, the people are happy. I am busy, the people are busy.

God shows up.

I was talking to Beloved about the service tonight, as I put together dinner for her and Petra and myself (Petra's home all of Holy Week on Spring Break! Yay Artsy College!). For non-church-goers, I know it all sounds strange and somewhat mysterious. But we have been together long enough, and I have been talking about my work long enough, that Beloved gets the gist of it. She has heard me agonize over my late-in-the-week-sermon-writing process, and then come to a place of peace with the fact that, hey, this is my sermon-writing-process. She has heard me celebrate the good numbers, and then try to back away from depending on numbers to measure success, and she nods with a knowing look.

Bottom line is this: I believe if I keep trusting in God to show up, and I keep showing up (even in my late-in-the-week way), it all comes together. TBTG.

Dinner tonight was a SparkPeople Recipe for something called "Slow-Cooker Salsa Chicken," plus a family recipe of Beloved's involving rice, spinach, lemon and dill seed. The three of us gathered around the table and put on Lena Dunham's HBO show "Girls" (Petra gave us season 1 on DVD, and we didn't want to watch it without her, so now's our chance).

It was all pretty perfect.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday Eve...

He Qi "Triumphant Entry Into Jerusalem" He Qi Gallery

... and, like many pastors, I am writing a sermon. Well, really a sermonette. A meditation.

It is the custom of my congregation to have a cantata on Palm Sunday. (Also the third Sunday in Advent). Sometimes I quietly rail to myself, because... well, I do love preaching. It feels very central to my role and responsibility to the congregation.

But there are many ways to proclaim the Good News... which, by the way, is: God is love. Nothing changes that. (This to some angry commenters who have found this largely inactive blog and still feel the need to say otherwise.) So. God is love. And that is very much a part of the Palm Sunday story, in which a God who is love comes face to face with those who think God is Anger, or God is Smiter, or God is Collaborator, or even God is Gay-Hater. Nope. God is Love.

Nothing changes that.

Tomorrow I will be preaching a tiny sermon/ meditation because, guess what? Our cantata is a little shorter than usual. So I get to preach, which makes me happy.

Do you know what else makes me happy? You.

I keep stepping away from this blog because, some time ago, I lost the joy in writing here because of a response to something I wrote. I think (and hope and pray) that relationship is mended now-- I think it is where it needs to be.

But I keep hearing... through comments to old posts, through Facebook interactions, through the grapevine... that you are there, and you still feel that there is a community here worth gathering again, Still.

So. Once again. I will try to be present here. I will try to reclaim the joy in blogging, the same joy I find in my work, in my love, in my family, in my God, which caused me to start this blog in the first place.

On the eve of the day in which God who is love rides humbly into the holy city and weeps, I say to you: thank you for all you are, for all you bring to this place, and for all your encouragement to tiny sparks of community here and there and everywhere.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Just Can't Quit You

So. I am, once again, in that coffee shop in my daughter's college town.  I am here to see her in a musical that is probably one of my very favorites, an amazing combination of 19th century German and 21st century US pop/rock. Petra is playing the part of a young woman whose parents abuse her, and singing a heart-rending song along those lines.

It is a long drive from home to here. But, God, I miss the girl, and it is really great to anticipate seeing her (which I shall, as soon as her opening night performance is over. I see the show tomorrow.)

So, multiple times over the past months I have thought, I should just shut down this blog. It has been a source of consternation for me since the revelation that my content here was being read by someone near to me, who was hurt by it. (Read the word "near" and understand that it carries significant complexity.) Since then, I have hesitated to write in a very personal vein, though I certainly shared lots about my dad in my most recent posts (from five months ago. Ahem.)

Anyway, each time I think, yeah, I'm done, it's time to shut this puppy down... a comment comes in. Which astonishes me. People find this blog and they read it and they comment, and then I think, well, perhaps it still serves some kind of purpose.

So, here I am. Still. I have recently had the joy of seeing my church and my ministry welcome in more members of the LGBTQ community, in small and subtle but still somehow significant ways. No one in my church (I think I can say this with a lot of confidence) wants to see the feel of the church changed. No one wants a "gay" church, including me. That may sound self-hating, but all I mean by it is, I want everyone to feel welcome. I know that is complicated and not always easy to achieve, but it is my goal. For LGBTQ folks who hanker after a faith community with all people who are 'in the family,' there are options, including the wonderful and amazing MCC. My church, though, is a place where I hope that LGBTQ people other than I can be made to feel as welcome as... well, as I have felt. Big old lesbian that I am.

Once again, we had a Holy Week and Easter experience that was amazingly wondrous. Once again, on Easter Sunday afternoon, I was so tired I thought I might lay down in the tomb myself, but after a three hour nap awoke to make bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with my Beloved feeling that, my, we DID that. We DID Holy Week. We were there, from Palms through betrayal and anointing (I preached on Mark 14 on Maundy Thursday) and meal and arrest, the long walk to the cross, and the surrendering, all of it, every pain and every breath. We were there. Our hearts were, at any rate. And Easter Sunday was as joyous and transcendent as I could have hoped, from Sunrise Service to Festive Worship... to nap. God, I love Easter. Goodness is stronger than evil. Indeed.

So, UnCloseted Pastor blog, I will not quit you, not just yet, not now. I will attempt, again, to be present here. Perhaps a post soon on a recent continuing ed experience I found also to be transcendent. Perhaps more on Beloved. But I will still be here, from time to time. Thanks for continuing to show up. I'll try to do the same.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where You Do Not Wish to Go

It occurred to me that I threw out this statement at the beginning of my last post, and never truly unpacked it.

"I don't know that I'm the same person who wrote in June."

Well, I'm still a 50 year old woman, I'm still a pastor, I'm still a mother of two adult-type young people, I'm still in a relationship with my Beloved, still living in the same place, etc, etc.

And I still have an aging father with health concerns.

But now I am his caregiver, in many very tangible ways. For better or for worse, the reversal of roles that is often threatened, resisted, bemoaned between adults and their elderly parents--- it has happened. It is, more or less, complete.

I have made decisions for my dad (with my brother's help, of course) that he was not able to make for himself in the last year.

The week he was in the hospital was probably the most frightening week of my life. I awakened every morning an hour or more before the alarm, my heart racing. "I'm not ready for this" ran through my head on a continuous loop. "If only" was a close second in frequency, though my wise Beloved helped me to stop that in short order.

At the point at which I was told he would need rehab, I knew with complete clarity what had to be done. He needed to be near me. I couldn't imagine him in a rehabilitation facility with no family nearby to stop in daily, to encourage him, to let him know he wasn't alone. My brother agreed, and it was done. One day, in a very lucid moment, even my dad agreed, though the narrative has shifted since for him. He is convinced that he was kidnapped.

I imagine that's exactly how it felt. One day in a life he knew intimately, in a house he'd inhabited for about thirty years, with a view that was etched on his heart, and all his memories encircling him like a blanket. The next, in a completely new place, with, sure, some photos on the wall of children, grandchildren, himself and my mother. But even more than that: with the dramatic loss of ability.  He went from being able to walk (with great difficulty) unassisted, to needing a walker and/ or a wheelchair, and assistance from nurses and aides. He needs to wear a webbed transfer belt whenever he needs to stand and move himself (with help) from one place to another.

"Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

So my dad has had to go where he does not wish to go, and so, in total honesty, have I. I now have a host of responsibilities, financial, legal, medical, and moral that perch somewhat uncomfortably on my shoulders. But this is my life now, and this is my role.

I try to see my dad at least every other day. I was going daily, but a good friend (who happens to be the chaplain at the facility where dad is living) told me that it might actually help the transition for me to give dad a day in between. So I do.

The learning curve for me in terms of what my dad's dementia means is steep. I was recently truly shocked to find that a move from one end of a hallway to another end of an adjacent hallway was utterly confusing and anxiety provoking for him. I was also not shocked, but surprised, to learn that he conveys more happiness and contentment with his situation to the staff and other residents than he does to me. The family, it appears, hears the unhappiness. I'm the safe person, and I'm also the person who might be able to help.

I think the biggest change for me, though, has been one of attitude. Before his hospitalization I spent a lot of time feeling very frustrated with my dad, even angry, at his unwillingness to make changes. Once he had his fall, once the clarity came, it's as if I had an attitude transplant. Now, the whole point is, is he ok? Is he being well-cared-for? Is he happy? Or, is his unhappiness something I can help with? Or, perhaps this: Can I at least hear his unhappiness, let him know he has been heard?

In a strange way all this trauma has brought my dad and me closer to one another. I know he no longer considers me a meddling kid who's trying to cramp his style, though I suspect he has discomfort with the role reversal (as have I). But we are both trying, struggling, muddling through, even though life has taken us where neither of us wanted to go.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's Been Up

I don't know that I'm the same person who wrote in June.

But that is probably a good thing.

In the middle of July my dad had "the fall." The one I had been hoping we could avoid, if only... Well, as Beloved told me when I called from the hospital in New Jersey, the time for "if only" is past, and the time for "what's next?" has arrived.

What came next for my dad:

A week in the hospital.

Several weeks of rehab in a wonderful facility in my town--midway, as it happened, between my work and my home. He loved it. He loved the people. He  loved the food. He loved Physical Therapy.

Then, the flood. A fairly terrifying (though very well-executed) evacuation from Wonderful Facility to another place--place that, like all subsequent places, would be compared (unfavorably) to Wonderful Facility.

A week later, a move to another wonderful Assisted Living facility.

Three weeks later (we're in late September now), two hospitalizations, one after another, for undiagnosed episodes of unconsciousness that resulted in our being told that dad need a skilled nursing facility.

Finally, an move to said facility, the dementia unit, because that seems to be progressing rapidly.

Dad is doing ok. He is at that stage in which he knows something is wrong ("Will I ever get my brain back?"), and is distressed about it. He can no longer walk unassisted by either a walker or helpers. He is encouraged to be as independent as he can, but help is a buzz away. He is encouraged to take part in all manner of activities, which he does, they tell me, with a very open and fun-loving nature.

When I see him, what comes through is his sadness and distress.

Today I am several hundred miles away, at Petra's Parents Weekend, the first of her college career. As of a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling fairly burned out by an intense summer of transitions and my new role as caregiver for my dad. On top of all this, my church was affected by the flood, both to our physical structure (many thousands of dollars  in damage, plus damage or total loss to the homes of many members) and to our lives as a community. I had cut my study leave short in the summer (when my dad had his fall), and Beloved and I had cancelled our September vacation together, scheduled as it had been immediately after the flood.

I learned of a conference in a city roughly halfway between my town and Petra's college. I signed up for it. And so I took three days of study leave, followed by three days of vacation. I am on day five of my time away, sipping a skim latte in the coolest coffeehouse I've ever found. (Petra tells me I've logged enough hours here to officially be considered a student.) We will meet (for her breakfast and my lunch) in a little while.

Tomorrow I will drive home, to my Beloved and my church community, and, energized, I will begin preparations for Reign of Christ/ Thanksgiving Sunday.

Next time: Life with Petra in the Land of the White Squirrel

Sunday, June 26, 2011

So Many New Days

As I write this the ink is just about dry on Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature on the bill legalizing marriage between persons of the same sex. And in just fifteen days, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s newly constituted Book of Order will go into effect, including Amendment 10-A, of which I have spoken/ written before.

So, now GLBTQ persons may marry whom they will in the state of New York. And there is no anti-gay litmus test in the PC(USA) Book of Order.

It's like waking up in an alternate universe.

Did I mention that today is Beloved's and my anniversary, of the "date, not a date"? Seven years since the beginning of what has become... so much more than words can express.

I am most truly blessed.

Ahead: preaching, Petra's high school graduation, and dinner with the whole (local) family. It is a new day.