Thursday, August 30, 2007

Away and Back Again

The first of my trips was this week... three days with Beloved where we didn't have to do anything except drive and be together in the location of our choice, a very cool town where were were among Our People. I can hardly describe it, this opportunity to just be.

For one thing we slept. We slept and slept. I think I go through life sleep-deprived, and when I don't need to answer to an alarm, my body takes over and I crave sleep the way the addict longs for her heroin. We never rose until nearly 11 both mornings we were away, and it was absolutely the tonic we both needed.

For another thing, we allowed ourselves the luxury of spontaneity. We were near a college with a famous art collection. Over our very late breakfast we decided to walk there... a glorious summer walk through a beautiful landscape, to see fantastic, thought-provoking art. Later we saw a movie theater offering an Antonioni and Bergman retrospective, so we lined up with all the other acolytes to worship at that curious and disturbing shrine. We spent what felt like hours in a cafe, reading to one another from the New York Times.

Home, too soon, but I was so happy to see my daughter. (Son is off to college... already!). And work beckoned... a visit with an ill parishioner, another visit with one who has had joint replacement surgery, a prickly man who for the first time talked with me about matters of substance, life and death and grief. Good, good work, following my good, good time of renewal and reconnection.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


... for a line of severe thunderstorms to make their way through my town, to break up the humidity. It's 87 degrees here, and the sun went down hours ago.

Praying for people who are in danger from this weather.

Wondering why I can't think of anything to write about.

Loving this virtual community all the same.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back to School

In my house it is that time of year again. My son's books have started arriving for his fall semester... his university bookstore and Amazon are responsible for this. I watched him place the orders the other day... it took him about 13 minutes, a far cry from my (admittedly antediluvian) college experience of actually standing in line at the bookstore with my arms breaking. My daughter is more about the clothes than the books at the moment, but that's only because, as a high school student, she doesn't have access to her books just yet. (Where we live school starts after Labor Day).

I am in a back-to-school mood myself, with regard to the "program year" at church. This is the time to decide what bible studies, other adult ed opportunities, sermon series, youth activities, etc. will be offered this year (not my decisions alone, of course... we are all about shared ministry in my church). But one does have the feeling, when looking through the Cokesbury catalog, for example, that one is in a great big theological candy shop, and the possibilities are limitless.

Beloved and I have two trips planned as well, one by car and one by plane, in the first instance to have a few days alone in a great gay-friendly city and in the second to visit her daughter and grandchildren. When we get home, it will be back to school indeed, for all of us, Beloved included, as she has a seasonal business cycle too.

And so I am wondering: what will it be this year? What will the fall bring?

Friday, August 17, 2007

And another thing...

... about Beloved.

She gave me that book, which I so happily and greedily devoured this week. A book about a minister and her faith journey. And Beloved is, as I may have mentioned here already, an atheist. At least, that's what she says.

And yet she holds some ideas that don't quite go along with atheism. For example. When she was young (in her 20's) she was very ill, and went into a coma that lasted nearly a month. During that time she had a vivid experience of Jesus. She says that she saw him, that he looked like the Roman Catholic depictions in which the Sacred Heart is open and visible. And she felt a tremendous sense of peace emanating from him, as well as a sense of encouragement. She understood from him that she could choose her path: death, which was not frightening except for the fact of leaving her young daughter behind; or life, which entailed a long recovery and significant physical suffering. With his encouragement she chose life and recovery.

But it's all a fairy tale, and he's just a nice idea. She says.

Another belief she expressed recently floored me. She spoke of her mother, a less than ideal human being, and a stepfather who, if there is a hell, is surely roasting slowly on a spit (I hope). And she said, That's one thing I worry about, with respect to dying.

What's that? I asked.

Seeing them again, she replied. How awful that would be. The threat of that will keep me alive a very long time.

It is unfair, of course, for me to ask Beloved (or anyone, for that matter) to have consistency in the matter of her views on religion. I understand that about 33% of Americans believe in reincarnation. That means that a substantial number of Christians believe in it. Of all the things I've been tempted to believe, I have to admit... that's not one of them. But apparently a significant minority of Christians think that the transmigration of the soul is not inconsistent with Christian belief.

Beloved is understandably skeptical about religion. She thinks there are an awful lot of charlatans out there, preying on the gullible masses and doing lots of damage along the way. She thinks I'm alright... at least we know I'm not telling people that gays are an abomination unto the Lord. She thinks I'm more than alright, actually... she came to my church the Sunday after Christmas a couple of years ago, and heard me preach, just once. She told me it was very beautiful, and that I have a gift, and that she'll not be coming again.

That is fine with me. I don't need my lover to accept the tenets of my faith in order for us to be together. I hope that we knit together something fine, my faith and trust in God and in her, and hers in me and in her skepticism. I hope that together we can see more clearly than either of us can see alone. I hope that, through me, God can show her a Christianity that celebrates who she is and offers welcome at love's table, should she ever decide to come back.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bullets of a Summer Day, plus a Book Review

* Beloved and I walked this morning. It is incredibly humid and oppressive... thunderstorms on the way.

* Summer is rushing by as if hurrying to meet her chilly lover.

* Children grow so fast... and they have different tastes than I ... and they don't take my advice terribly seriously, either... and I can hurt them so carelessly, with a single sigh. And... I can hear the two of them singing in harmony, even as I type this... what wondrous love...

* Recurring dream: my mother is subjecting me to some kind of medical procedure... one with shame attached to it. A voice in my head asks, Whose body is this?


Beloved gave me this book, for my end of summer reading. I cannot remember devouring a book with such fierce pleasure in a long time. It is the story of a woman (a writer) whose husband (a Maine state trooper) is killed in a traffic collision. She decides to go to seminary, and winds up a chaplain for the Maine game wardens (no, it's not so that she can bless the moose). This memoir, in which she addresses her grief, her life as a single parent to four children, and her extraordinary call to ministry, is not sentimental or maudlin. She gently mocks the Plucky Widow archetype she so brilliantly embodies. She tells her story simply and clearly, and talks about her work, in which she is called upon to minister to families and officers as they await or participate in search and rescue and recovery missions. She has found her calling being with people who touch her in her place of deepest woundedness and loss, and at the same time enable her healing. And she's funny. I would be weeping and suddenly snorting with laughter within a single paragraph. Oh. Read it, I beg you.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Gird Your Loins

I have a seminary friend who is an out Metropolitan Community Church pastor, working hard to plant a new congregation. She and I often exchange sermons in the writing stages... we chat on the phone. The other day we were talking about this morning's passage from Luke, and she began to tell me excitedly about the girding up of loins, and how it is used only three times in the gospels... in Mark and Matthew, referring to John the Baptizer, and here, talking to disciples and the various crowds and hangers on who comprise Luke's "little flock."

Girding up the loins... i.e., my friend says, hitching your skirts up through your legs and being ready to run, a la Elijah... running towards the kingdom, or as she refers to it, the common wealth (two words).

As I preach this text, it occurs to me yet again that it is God's word to me (amazing how I constantly, consistently miss that). That I must be ready... you all know for what.

I have entered again a period of some complacency, in which it seems I will be able to fly beneath the radar for a while... I want to do this. I want to attract no attention to my relationship with Beloved. (Perhaps I shouldn't have parties on my front porch, you say?). I want to be a simple country parson, tending my little flock (or, really running around yipping at it, since I'm a sheepdog and no shepherd). I want to blink innocently and say, "Whatever do you mean?" if someone should ask me about Beloved, because I truly think it has not a damned thing to do with whether I am a good pastor or not.

And Jesus is telling me, hitch up those skirts girl. Run towards it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Six-Year-Old Recounts VBS

My daughter is babysitting the daughter of the contractor for my roof. This child is six years old, but with the voice of a 40-year-old, two-pack-a-day woman. She has been telling us about Vacation Bible School.

"OK, so we were learning about the Jewish army?" she said, between bites of her popcorn chicken. "And we had to make this wall? By, you know, climbing on top of each other? And I had this kid on my back, and let me tell you..." and she paused for effect, "I thought I was gonna lose it. And we just..." and she flung her arms out, "collapsed!"

She ate thoughtfully for a few moments.

"Then, instead of being the wall, we were the Jewish army, marching around the wall. But instead of marching," she whispered conspiratorially, "we started to skip. It was hilarious!"

Moving on to her coleslaw, she began to describe a song they'd done with gestures. "It starts like, 'Jesus,'" and she touched each palm with the opposite middle finger, and her voice trailed off as she raised her hands above her head, and then brought them back in front of her in a gesture of prayer. "I know the motions, but not so much the words," she said. "But the other kids... man, they were singing and rocking out. It was crazy!"

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Found this over at Father Jake's, in the context of all the unpleasantness in the Anglican Communion.

Most people who have ever entered into an online debate will be familiar with the concept of Godwin’s Law.

This law – formulated by Mike Godwin in the 1990s – suggests as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler becomes inevitable. This is not to say that the comparison will be right or justified, but rather that at some point the comparison will be made.

This is brilliant. And we all know it's true.

The defendant pleads "guilty," as charged.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Closeted Pastor

Up at 6... couldn't sleep, would have liked to sleep 'til 7. I met Beloved at "the usual place" and we took what has become our regular morning constitutional... actually, one of two options we normally choose between. As we walked early morning mist followed us, rolling along the riverbanks and burning off with the warming of the day.

By 8:20 I was home again, and showering. The team of people who are repairing my roof was also here, which means that the same hammering and banging that has been going on in my house for three days had already started. (This made writing my sermon this week... interesting.)

An hour later I was dressed and breakfasted and ready to preach and administer the Lord's Supper at my church. I was a tetch nervous about the sermon... honestly wasn't sure it was at all comprehensible given the conditions under which it was written. But it seemed to speak to the congregation (which included the rarely-sighted-at-church Closeted Pastor Offspring!).

During coffee hour I spoke with two women whom I know to be housemates, but whom I don't know well, otherwise. We ended up talking about all the texts that never get preached (either because they're appalling, or too difficult, or simply because the lectionary can't fit them in). Eventually the conversation turned to Sodom and Gomorrah, and we discussed the sins of Sodom (violence, brutality, inhospitality, in my opinion and in theirs). As we ended our conversation I noticed that the women wear identical silver bands on their left ring fingers.

After coffee hour I ran to the bank to withdraw cash for my construction folks (they needed supplies), picked up an incredibly unhealthy fast food lunch for myself and Offspring, came home to eat too quickly, and then went out again for two pastoral calls.

First visit: C, a man in his 70's, suffering from complications of diabetes; he called the office earlier this week to request home communion, which I took to be a sign of his growing increasingly disheartened by his physical challenges. C is a very smart man, chairman of the finance committee for years and years. As we prepared for communion he talked at some length about the church roof with the church officer who had accompanied me. I did what I normally do for home communion. I read the lectionary text on which I'd preached, and gave a very abbreviated version of the sermon. (I love it when this sparks a dialogue. Today it didn't.) Then, prayers and communion, and lastly, the prayer of thanksgiving, in which I thanked God for the nourishment of the meal and asked that it strengthen C and uplift him, and give him hope for healing.

After leaving C's house I saw that I had a text message from Beloved: X

Second visit: M, a woman in her 90's, who has been completely and utterly healthy until the last week, when she suffered a stroke. She is in a nursing home, doing rehab, struggling with her verbal expression, and very teary (something I've seen in lots of folks post-CVA... I don't know whether it's a physiological symptom or a psychological one). She clasped my large, strong hand in her soft, small, cool ones, and wept. She struggled to say things like "I have been here since ____", but was able very quickly to answer "I don't know" when asked a question. After a while I spoke, told her about the scripture reading of the day, spoke of God's promise to be with her, as a loving, caring parent, and asked her if she'd like to sing. She nodded. I sang "Amazing Grace" very softly (so as not to disrupt her roommate's television show) while she wept. Then I prayed, prayed that God would let God's loving presence be known in the frustration and waiting, in the hands and hearts of her caregivers, in the prayers and visits of her congregational family, who love her so very much.

Then, home, to a good book, and the promise of dinner out and a movie with my fantastic children.

I love my life.