Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On endings and new beginnings

It occurs to me that, although I have not written much on this blog of late, I should mark the end of my time as a student since, as of May 20, I will be fully graduated and in possession of a Master of Divinity degree. Then I imagine it will be time to move on to a new blog with a new title and, just maybe, with more frequent posts!

In the intervening months since my post-Sandy Hook post, I have been to the UK twice, once on our senior pilgrimage to Canterbury and another time for a class on Bede and Cuthbert that took me to Durham and York. There's something very sacred about sinking ones roots deep into Anglican soil to understand whence this Episcopal Church sprang. There's also something sacred about the kinds of relationships that are forged when spending such intense amounts of time with travelling companions. I have such love and affection for my classmates after three years, and travelling together only solidified that. I am grateful that our Episcopal Church is small enough that I will be crossing paths with all of them in the years to come. This is a great relief as the goodbyes (for now) begin.

One of my favorite things about England.

As the classwork is ended, and I have some time to reflect (granted for only 34 hours at this point), I am pretty much convinced that I learned a lot while at Yale Divinity School. Academically, it could not have been more rigorous, and my formation in my Berkeley Divinity School community served to form me in our Anglican tradition so that I feel prepared to venture out into the world as an ordained person (coming up on June 2). I'm also convinced that most of my learning and formation did not take place in the classroom. No, that happened in morning prayer and Eucharist every morning at St. Luke's Chapel at Berkeley Center. It took place drinking coffee, worshiping with the YDS community in Marquand Chapel, visiting with professors and staff in casual conversation. It came from getting off the hill into the city of  New Haven, finding places to be in relationship, to offer what gifts I have and opening myself to receive abundant gifts in return. It came from unexpected contacts with classmates, revelations about personal or private aspects of their lives All those moments of grace that I neither sought nor expected all served to form me in rich and life-changing ways. Apparently it's never too late to teach an old dog some new tricks, or to be changed and formed by life and experiences and relationships.

Springtime on the Quad. I'll miss this place.

I need to say that none of this would have been possible without the constant love and support of my beloved husband. We have been apart, except on weekends, for almost three years. Much of our summer months have even been spent in different cities and even continents. I don't think I could tell you how we survived it except that we spent a lot of time on the phone, Skype, text, e-mail, and Facebook when we weren't together and, when we were, we tried our best to be fully present to each other. It also helps that he really believes in my call to ordained ministry, and in this his Reformed sensibilities come in handy because he is convinced that if God is calling me, all the gates of hell will not prevail against it. He also loves God and loves the Church and loves me, and those loves influence how he approaches life. I'm one lucky girl.

Together on the trip to Durham.

And if I could, I'd like to put in a plug for his first book, Head Trash: Cleaning Out the Junk that Stands between You and Success. Today is the official release date! I'm so proud.

What's next for me? I don't know yet! I'm returning to South Africa in June to do some research for a book and hoping that, before I leave, I'll know where I'll be hanging my hat when I return. I'm not worried, though. God has a place for me, and I can be patient until that place is made clear. But I can't wait to get started.

Stay tuned!  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mourning one little girl

Charlotte Helen Bacon, age 6, died on Friday, December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"The family will forever remember her beautiful smile, her energy for life, and the unique way she expressed her individuality, usually with the color pink. Charlotte never met an animal she didn’t love and since the age of two wanted to be a veterinarian."

Those of you who know me well will recognize immediately why I am so particularly drawn to this little girl. Pink bike, pink bike helmet, pink backpack, pink scarves and sweaters, pink coffee travel mug, pink lipstick. Believe it or not, I was not this way as a little girl. Heck, the onset of my pink persona is only fairly recent, and I'm not quite sure whence it came or why, but I know that I am now identified by color when people will comment on my dress on the days I don't wear pink. Maybe I've just reached a point in my life at which wearing a color that I like, that is cheerful and more than a little girly for someone who has never been much of a girly-girl suits me just fine.

And the animals. When even my husband wants to come back to life as one of our dogs, you know that animals are a significant part of my life. My daughter, Rachel, is the same way, and I think we would both rather spend our days in the presence of animals than with most people, which is kind of strange for someone going into pastoral ministry. Or maybe not. Animals calm my spirit. Those of the domestic variety count on humans for care and those in the wild point to a natural order of creation that is beyond my imagination. I can watch the birds at my feeder or live webcams of zoo animals for hours. Animals are part of God's created order just as I am, and there's something about this that is both comforting and inspiring.

I never had a chance to meet little Charlotte, but I think I would have enjoyed her company. And now, when I put on pink in the morning or snuggle with my dogs, I will remember this little girl who expressed herself in color.

I read somewhere that, on Friday, Charlotte's mom finally relented and let her wear her new pink holiday dress and white boots to school. I'm glad she did.

Charlotte Helen Bacon, age 6, was buried today.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

I preached this morning at my former home parish (where I still have deep roots and Tim continues to attend). The response to my sermon was so overwhelming that I thought I would share it here.There were a lot of moist eyes in the congregation, and I admit that I choked up a couple of times as I spoke, but at least I now know that one can weep from the pulpit and survive.

St. Peter’s in the Great Valley
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

This is not the sermon I had planned to preach today. I had a witty, thought-provoking sermon filled with great amounts of Yale Divinity School erudition to share with you. But that was before. That was before a young man with guns slaughtered 20 children with crayons. It was before this one in a long litany of national tragedies where innocents are murdered for no other reason than that, though they had every reason to believe that they were in the right place, they were actually in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was before people I know and love were practically at each other’s throats over gun control or separation of church and state or the absence of God from schools, as grief expressed itself in anger and judgment because to argue over politics or religion is really so much easier than sitting with the questions: why? how?       

So I returned to the readings for today to see if I could come up with something helpful to say on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, something to say that would let us gathered here feel more deeply God’s presence in our darkness. And what did I find? 

The prophet Zephaniah proclaims:

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.

The apostle Paul exclaims:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

And Luke tells us of John the Baptist:

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.          

Rejoice? Proclaim Good News? Where does one even begin to proclaim Good News in the midst of such grief and loss? When I reread the lectionary for today, I wondered: why can’t I preach on John’s text that says, “Jesus wept,” or Matthew’s, “A cry was heard in Ramah…Rachel weeps for her children?” And then I prayed, a lot. And then I remembered.

The prophet Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah, and life was not exactly pleasant for them. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen a century before and they could see on the horizon that Judah was about to undergo the same fate. An invasion from the north threatened to wipe them out, and after a long recitation of woes upon the people, Zephaniah then says what we heard this morning – yes, all these bad things are going to happen, but don’t be afraid. God will not abandon you and will bring you home. So sing aloud and rejoice. God is here, even in this darkness.

And Paul? He was in prison when he wrote his letter to the church in Philippi. In his lifetime, Paul had been beaten, tortured, shipwrecked, and imprisoned, yet he could still write some of the most beautiful words in all of scripture:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 

And what about John the Baptist who did nothing but go around yelling at everyone? Notice, though, that John did not go into Jerusalem to call people names. No, he’s the hairy, smelly dude living in the beat-up Volkswagen bus down by the river. To get yelled at by John the Baptist, you have to go to him!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to find this guy. Why would anybody?

Well, I think you would have to be pretty desperate, wouldn’t you? When the world feels turned upside down, tragedy strikes an elementary school, and none of it makes any sense. That’s the kind of desperation that might lead us into the wilderness to find someone like John.

It’s the kind of desperation that puts us on our knees and makes us realize that nothing that we have - power or possessions or privilege or prestige – none of it will protect us from sadness and sorrow, from tragedy and failure any more than it will make us happy or carefree or keep our children safe or our marriages together or health strong.

When we’ve hit rock bottom, that’s when we go down to the river to hear crazy John shout at us. But don’t forget: Luke says that it’s Good News. No, it doesn’t sound like good news, this business about throwing the chaff in the unquenchable fire, but what John is announcing is that the Messiah has finally the come. The long-hoped-for savior of Israel. This is why these desperate people have come out here to be insulted and criticized. Messiah. The Anointed One. He will make all things right, but we need to be ready, and in order to be ready, we have to make some changes. And John is going to tell us what we have to do.

            Repent. Repent. Repentance is not about beating ourselves up. It’s about turning around. When nothing makes sense and whatever is going on in our lives and the world around us seems upside down, turn around.  Turn away from our broken selves and turn toward a new way of being. “One who is more powerful than I is coming.” Turn toward that one.


          Archbishop Desmond Tutu, no stranger to tragedy and suffering, included a litany in his African Prayer Book, part of which says:

When will we ever learn, when will they ever learn?
Oh when will we ever learn that you intended us for Shalom,

for wholeness, for peace,
For fellowship, for togetherness, for brotherhood,
For sisterhood, for family?
When will we ever learn that you created us
As your children
As members of one family
Your family
The human family— Created us for linking arms
To express our common humanity.
God, my Father, I am filled with anguish and puzzlement
Why,oh God, is there so much suffering, such needless suffering
Iam dumbfounded and I am bewildered
And in agony
This is the world
You loved so much that for it
You gave your only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ,to hang
From the cross, done to death
Love nearly overwhelmed by hate
Light nearly extinguished by darkness
Life nearly destroyed by death
But not quite
For love vanquished hate
For life overcame death, there
Light overwhelmed Darkness, there
And we can live with hope

          You may have noticed that we lit a pink candle today. It’s gaudete Sunday – a Latin word that means "rejoice." It comes from the tradition of the introit, or sung prelude, on the 3rd Sunday of Advent being gaudete in Domino semper – rejoice in the Lord always. There’s that word again. Rejoice.

The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything. Go on. Go down to the river and get yelled at. It may be hard to hear, but our very lives depend on it. Even in the darkness of the past three days, we can turn toward the light that we know is coming.    

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

Turn around. Our savior draws near.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On politics and grief

Four years ago, late on election eve, my phone rang.

"Hey, Ma. You watchin' this?"

"Yes, I am," I said through a quickly developing lump in my throat.

"I can't believe it's really happening."

"Me either, Seth. Me either."

And then we sat in silence, he in Brooklyn and me in Downingtown, and watched as the newly elected president of the United States and his family walked around a Chicago stage to rock-star-caliber cheering, and, still holding our phones to our ears, we listened to a soaring acceptance speech from a person of color, an attribute which I was not sure I would ever see in my lifetime.

I had intended to write today about the end of a bitter and divisive campaign season and all those people whom I love and admire for whom the election results turned out to be disappointing and even devastating.

I had intended to write today about the promise of last night's acceptance speech which was hopeful and inclusive and even exhortatory - we can all do better, and we can all do better working together rather than pushing others away.

I had intended to write today about the graceful concession speech by Governor Romney, encouraging his supporters to put people before politics and offering his prayers for the re-elected president.

I had intended to write today about my disappointments in this administration over the past four years: drone strikes, Guantanamo, rendition of prisoners, lack of attention to the environment and the Mideast peace process and the structures which keep people in poverty. It's a long list.

I had intended to write today about my hopes that someday health care reform will adequately address the needs of the addicted, depressed, and mentally ill.

And that's when this became about that phone call on a November evening four years ago. Because this year, Seth is not here to pick up the phone and call me to talk politics or sports or theater or music or love or anything else. Because he died by suicide barely three months later.

So today, I'm remembering a mostly-silent phone conversation that  began (as they all did) with

"Hey, Ma."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My South African adventure

I've been in Cape Town for nearly three weeks now, and it's almost time to go home. At dinner tonight, the six of us living in the Burnley Lodge were beginning to feel the approaching separation, having bonded so closely in the intimate sharing and vulnerability we've experienced through the Institute for Healing of Memories (IHOM). It's been our own little United Nations, with England, India, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the US gathered around the breakfast and dinner table each day. The rest of our workshop group includes South Africa, Zimbabwe, and a South African expat living in the US, and I love them all, but there is a special bond between those of us here at this location. I'm feeling quite melancholy about the very real possibility that I may never see these friends again. We've exchanged Skype addresses and are Facebook friends (at least some of us), but our world is so large and leisure time and money for international travel is not so easy to come by. I suppose I'll have to leave this up to God's good provision.

I would not even know where to begin to describe the experiences of this training in "Healing Individual and Collective Wounds," which includes facilitation training in the Healing of Memories workshops for which IHOM is known. We all experienced one of those workshops, spending three days on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 28 years imprisonment. My room there was a former cell for common criminals, bars intact on windows and door. In our training, we've had presentations on all manner of trauma from the apartheid era and beyond, including war and unrest in South Africa's neighboring countries. One of our eleven participants is a former political prisoner on Robben Island (serving 11 of 15 years). One lives in one of the townships that surround Cape Town where blacks and coloreds were forcibly relocated under apartheid rule. Some of these townships stretch for as the eye can see, houses of scrap metal and other salvaged materials, electricity self-wired leading to fire hazard conditions, too hot in summer and too cold in winter and always susceptible to flooding. Still another participant survived the Rwandan genocide. There is so much pain and suffering just among our group, yet we have shared so much laughter and joy and music with each other. I've never experienced anything quite like it, and I want to hold onto this place and these people, even though I know that we will all go home, back to our lives, and it won't be like this again.

I am so grateful for what I have learned and experienced, the places I have seen, and, mostly, the people I have met. I have even discovered an inspiration for a book on reconciliation and forgiveness that I have been pondering for many years. That's certainly something I will carry away from here because it may also be the thing that brings me back again! I want to share this place with Tim, show him all that I have seen and introduce him to all of my new friends. This last may not be possible, but I will carry them all with me: Simbarashe, Silishebo, Leena, Violette, Robin, Thandikhaya, Lindsey, Nyasha, Vincent, Merlyn, Fatima, Madoda, Mercy, Alphonse, Mabongi, Patricia, Ian, Bukiwe, Phyllis, and Fr. Michael.

God Bless Africa;
Guard her children;
Guide her leaders
And give her peace, for Jesus Christ's sake.

(The Most Rev. Trevor Huddleston)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer snapshots

My summer internship at Trinity Wall Street is more than halfway complete. How did that happen? The craziness of living in New York combined with working at a parish with its fingers in multiple pies has been rewarding as well as exhausting. A simple visit to bring communion to a shut-in can require a couple of subway lines plus a few blocks of walking in this searing summer heat. The steady daily cycle of Eucharist at 12:05 daily, Prayers for Peace at 12:30 at St. Paul's Chapel, and the morning and evening offices at 8:15 and 5:15 help to maintain a sort of rhythm that holds the rest of it together for me.

Unlike most Episcopal Churches I know, I could go days here without encountering a single parishioner if I chose to do that (which I don't). The congregation has its small groups (or "vitality groups" as they are known) that provide a constant hum of activity that does not require the presence of ordained clergy or seminarian interns. I do, however, show up from time to time at bible study, yoga for the seniors, or congregational council meetings, just to have interaction, to try to understand what's going on in their lives and in this place. I've also just completed on Sunday a very successful book study of the Presiding Bishop's new book, "Gathering at God's Table: The Meaning of Mission in the Feast of Faith." It contains a series of essays centered on the five marks of Anglican mission, so it lent itself well to a five-part discussion series. 

I was introduced to this book when I was asked to write a review for the Episcopal Digital Network. I was happy to do that, and it gave me the impetus to do a close reading (which I didn't want to let go to waste, hence the book study!). The end result was a bit disappointing, though, because the critical parts of the review were not published. It seems to me that when there are factual errors in a publication, they need to be pointed out so that, perhaps, they can be corrected in any future editions. In an essay on border crossings (page 148), Katharine Jefferts Schori talks about Samaritans, likening them to the mestizos of our day. She describes them as being descended from intermingling of races during the Babylonian occupation. In fact, the Samaritans intermarried with occupying Assyrians more than a century earlier, and, since the Assyrians were also a Semitic people, to call the Samaritans mestizos seemed, at best, a stretch, and, at worst, patently incorrect. Well, that part of the review was left out. There's another place in the book (page 4) where she has Abraham meeting the three angels in Genesis 17. It was actually chapter 18. Maybe if I publish a book someday, that kind of thing will get past my editors, but it will have to get past me first!

I'll be on hiatus from the internship beginning on Friday the 13th, when I head out to Cape Town, South Africa for a three-week training program at the Institute for Healing of Memories. If you want to know more about the history of that organization and its founder, check out Fr. Michael Lapsley's new book, "Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer." This is the next step in my exploration of reconciliation ministry in the world. I expect it will be a life-altering experience.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summertime, and the living ain't so easy...

Can you imagine not having art in elementary school? No finger paints. No glitter. No construction paper projects? I couldn't either until I accompanied a group of staff volunteers from Trinity Wall Street to PS140 on the Lower East Side. This is just one of the schools in Lower Manhattan that Trinity has partnered with under its All Our Children initiative to provide enrichment opportunities in areas the schools are lacking. It was almost the end of the school year, and these young children had not  had art in their classrooms all year beyond what the teacher was able to fit in from time to time between required subjects if, that is, there were any art supplies to be scrounged up. Some of the graphic arts folk from Trinity accompanied the Faith in Action team (of which I am a part) for a morning of marble painting, paper-ornament making, and pipe cleaner fun (for the younger ones). The enthusiasm of the kids was matched by that of the adults as projects came to life, and young faces lit up with delight as the stack of folded paper really did create an ornament or the marbles in the box really did mix the paint on the paper. Things I always took for granted, that all kids know how to use scissors and glue, for instance, were not the case here, and I can't help wondering what the end result will be of the lack of art and creative projects at this age as the children grow older.

My summer internship at Trinity is providing me training in areas of pastoral leadership that I will need once I'm finished with seminary and (God-willing and the bishop and people consenting) I am ordained. Granted, this is not your ordinary, struggling-to-keep-the-lights-on parish as are so many in the Episcopal Church today. But I've discovered that Trinity faces many of the problems every other church faces, just on a much larger scale. It is, though, just a church, and it's filled with people trying to make sense of a world filled with pain and doubt and fear by embracing a Gospel of hope that sends them out into the world to make a difference. Also in my first week, I was privileged to meet this year's Trinity Transformational Fellows, three South African women recognized for their work in HIV/AIDS communities who were provided with a generous grant and sabbatical time over the past year to improve their skills, network with others doing similar work, and to simply rest. This is the kind of financial support of vital ministries that Trinity is uniquely situated to provide, and it is exposure to this kind of ministry and such a wide variety of people that will likely be invaluable to me over the long course of my life in ordained ministry.

Of course, Trinity is also very much engaged with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement which has heated up once again as the hearings for those who trespassed on Trinity property are scheduled for this week. I arrived early this morning to protesters camping in front of the church, and last week, the service was disrupted by a protester shouting in the middle of the Eucharist. In the month I have been here, I've spoken with many of Trinity's clergy and staff about Occupy, and I've become even more convinced that the church was committed to working with the leaders of the movement and still supports the general message that the way financial empires control our economy is unjust and negatively impacts millions of very human lives every day. What I also have learned is that Trinity long ago lost control of the narrative and has been hammered repeatedly with negative publicity over its refusal to allow the movement to camp out in church-owned Duarte Square, even though it had opened its doors to the movement, providing hospitality, meeting space, Internet access and pastoral support from the very beginning. The message that isn't getting out is the good that continues to flow into the surrounding community, in schools and prisons, and around the world in New Orleans and Haiti, Panama and Burundi, as well as areas of conflict in Congo and Sudan. Many people whom I love and respect share the OWS opposition to Trinity Wall Street and no doubt question my presence here. To them I would say, if nothing else, I am getting quite an education!