Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Many Faces of Christmas...

Confession: in this different and difficult holiday season, I have been
unable to get into the "Christmas Spirit". Part of it is due to the fact
that I have been coping with a particularly nasty upper respiratory
bug since December 7th- only now beginning to feel like myself...to
have any energy at all. During those weeks, I found myself unable
to read- eyes burning, no powers of concentration- instead binge-
watching "Madame Secretary" and coughing- and coughing and
coughing. Finally saw the PA last Friday, was diagnosed with a sinus
infection (which I had already self-diagnosed) and have been taking
an antibiotic ever since, plus having my sleep aided and abetted by
a powerful cough medicine, thanks be. I had not slept through the
night for nine consecutive nights due to the coughing and I NEED
MY SLEEP!

And so, today, feeling like ME for the first time in two weeks, I
began doing things to help me get into the spirit of the season,
only to find that Christmas this year (perhaps every year, but
especially in this year of our Lord 2016) has many and varied
faces, not all of them expected or joyful. As I went through my
day, they began revealing themselves in ways both surprising
and heart-rending...and humbling. Perhaps you've seen some
of them, too.

*the joy I can imagine on the face of my Rwandan "son" when
he receives the birthday/graduation gift I sent via Western
Union this morning, the combined gift of a number of amazing
and supportive and caring women.

*the beautiful baby-face of the newborn daughter of a precious
Rwandan friend in Kigali.

*the deeply-grieving face of a friend who told me, after our chance
meeting at Harris Teeter, that her daughter had lost her baby after
only two month of pregnancy, a baby much desired and longed-for.
There will be empty arms for this family this Christmas, even as the
rest of us celebrate another birth. And this dear woman is also facing
the first Christmas since the death of her husband earlier this year.

*the can't-look-at-without-weeping faces of the children of Aleppo,
Syria, as they are experiencing what no child should ever have to
endure.

*The smiling, beautiful, healthy faces of my grandchildren gazing
back at me from my refrigerator door.

*the faces of the dear departed in my family, ever-present for me
on the small credenza in the upstairs hallway, this year's addition
my sister, Kathy.

 *The incredible smile on my own face as I gazed at the beautiful,
special Christmas gift commissioned for me by my eldest grand,
Lindsay.


And even as I baked the first of my Christmas cookies, listening to
favorite holiday albums on the CD player (yes, I am hopelessly
old school), my mind and heart were filled with all of these faces of
Christmas, and I find I cannot look away, cannot stop the tears from
falling, cannot stop my heart from breaking again and again as joy
and sorrow mix as surely as the snickerdoodle ingredients in my glass
mixing bowl. Even as my house is redolent with the odor of fresh-
baked cookies; even as the mantle and windows are alight, offering
a welcome; even as the fireplace is aglow with a comforting, warm
fire, I am aware of the melancholy which is creeping over me,
stealing away the joy I am supposed to be feeling, these five days
before Christmas- but don't.

And so, tomorrow evening, I will go, with bowed head and heart, to
the Longest Night Service at our church, a service of prayer and
comfort designed especially for those of us who are struggling with
Christmas this year. There, I will join with others to be the Body of
Christ in this place, fully aware that the precious Baby in the Manger
we so delight in welcoming also became the Man of Sorrows, the one
who enters into and understands our pain. And in that truth, I can
rest and find peace. Perhaps you can, too. A blessed and peace-
filled Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2016

This and That...




I've been going through some of my journals and notebooks
lately and have come upon poems which were written at a
variety of times in a variety of places. So, dear reader, I
thought I would share them with you, as a gift for your
Advent pilgrimage.

hope springs
Re-member
re-covery
re-storation
   so many re- words...
   so many beginnings again
re-newal
re-surrection
   speaking in tones both soft and sweet
   both truthful and terrible
re-minding me
   that life moves ever onward
   with many stops and starts
   and new beginnings which are not new
   at all but simply are placing one foot in front
       of another yet again-
              in re-signation
                   and in hope.

taste and see
the soul can only
be spoken of in
a whisper...in
picture-language and
metaphor...
it cannot be grasped
but flows like sand
through your fingers,
like a stream of living
water through your heart,

speaking of a Source
beyond all your knowing,
your small rivulet joined
to the roaring universal
river pressing relentlessly
and joyously onward to
the waiting, receptive Sea.

taste and see...
drink deeply...
be refreshed and renewed-
   she whispers her invitation
   in the dream-world between
   sleeping and waking
now, arise...
begin a new day
bathed in the holiness
of this moment.

how, then, shall we pray?
if all of life is linked, the atoms of each living thing
entangled with the other and the other and the other
in one holy enmeshing of existence, then
instead of asking God to intervene, to alter things
to our desires, to change the ways in which the
very nature of the world unfolds, perhaps we need to be
aware that in the linking lies the medium through which
our prayers may more- my hope and love and caring moving
through the essence of creation to reach your mind and heart and life.
the connections are already there, forming the very fabric of our lives,
the gift of the wisdom of the Infinite Mind, the Ground
of Being, the Creator of Life & Love-
      my prayer is my way of being linked-
                                      of giving love-
                                      of wishing peace & blessing
                                      even as I myself am
                                                      being changed and blessed.

the adoration of the magi
"The human creature does not
live by bread alone..." so the
wisdom of the ages tells us.
Our souls long to be fed by
what will never fade away-
though in this time of want and
deprivation, so many stomachs
cry for food and heads for shelter
and hearts for safety. Yet, in the
midst of want and need, a
yearning rises...for beauty,
for the gifts of music, poetry,
and art of every sort...for the
impractical necessities
without which our spirits starve.

The voices of the wise of every
age and culture, rising in
collective resonance, tell us that
to value only practicality is to
deprive ourselves of that which
truly feeds our humanity,
which makes life a worthwhile
pursuit- a taste of chocolate
on the tongue, roses in winter,
a good book, a child's painting,
kindness, respect, reverence,
laughter, joy...reflection of the
beautifully impractical gifts of
the Magi as they knelt in
adoration before a child,
recognizing in him the presence
of the Divine, acknowledging
in him the holiness of the Human.

taking time
Once upon a time,
in old Anglo-Saxon days,
"haste" meant "violence"...
and as the days are hastening
by toward the holy festival of
Christmas, we are hastening
to complete just one more task,
buy just one more gift, send just
one more care, attend just one
more party, the days marked by
the all-too-familiar litany of
"hurry-hurry-hurry"...
doing violence to ourselves- to our
hearts & minds & bodies- as meals
are eaten on the run, or not at all...
and tempers fray when lines are long
and courtesy gives way to curtness...
as multi-tasking becomes the order
of the day, a struggle to keep a multiplicity
of plates in the air...as time becomes
the task-master driving us, with every clock
the accusing enemy chanting
"hurry-hurry-hurry"...

Where, oh, where, is the slow,
awe-filled anticipation of Advent?
Where is the silent, solitary moment
to sit before the fire and think of those
beloved ones no longer here? Where
is the mealtime shared, by candlelight,
with one we love, satiating body & soul
with food & laughter? Where is the quiet,
early-morning walk to feel the frigid air
and hear the hymns of the birds? Where
is the pause to listen, really listen, to the
oft-told stories of the elderly as they
recite the rosary of their cherished memories?
Where is the moment of just breathing in,
breathing out, pausing in gratitude for all of life?

Dear friend, there is still time...
time to go slowly-slowly-slowly...
to walk in awe-filled peace to
the manger...to the cusp of the
awaiting new year.
Will you make time?
             take time?
or only make haste?

Blessings. Advent blessings. And peace.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Haiku

         
    
              

















          Voices crying out
     Pain, frustration, fill the air
         Fear striving to win

            I cannot listen
     Cannot let hatred take me-
        I watch swirling leaves

       Wind makes a whirlwind
     Of yellow, red, and orange
          While I am sobbing
 
         I cannot see the wind
    Or chart my own breath's pathway
        Yet I know both are real

            Nor can I see love
     Or hate- yet I know their fruits-
             Tangible and real

            Can cruelty win out?
       Hatred of others triumph?
                 Not if I say NO
                                           
           So I walk Love's path
        But stagger, feeling all alone-
        Please reach out your hand

          Grab hold, my dear friend
          Form a wall of daring love
             Hatred cannot breach.
 
                     Love wins.

            

Sunday, November 6, 2016

May Both Be Blessed...Thoughts for Election Sunday

As we worshiped together this morning, remembering those saints
in the faith who had completed this earthly part of their journey
during the past year...as we sang the lovely, heart rending words
of John Ylvisaker's "Borning Cry"...as we heard Pastor Jennifer's
proclamation of the Gospel message- "Do to others as you would
have them do to you."...as we lighted candles in remembrance of
those loved and lost since last All Saints'...as we shared in the
holy meal, enacting in our very own flesh our one-ness as the
Body of Christ in this place...as we shared in the prayer for this
election, asking the one God to grant us wisdom and discernment,
respect and compassion, even for those with whom we disagree...
as we were a part of all these things on this beautiful, glorious,
sunny Carolina day, my mind and heart were filled to overflowing
with the words of the baptismal blessing in our Lutheran tradition,
the words said over every baptized person (usually an infant) as
the pastor traces an oil-tinged cross on his or her forehead.
"(Name), child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit
and marked by the cross of Christ forever."

And as I looked around the sanctuary, I could see that cross
traced on every forehead- on Jennifer and Mary Kay, on Monty
and Stan, on Susan and Veronica and Chol, on Ford and Jackie
and Hans and Phil, on Katherine and Joan and Indigo, on every
person there, acknowledging us all- each and every one of us-
as children of God- not one in thought or opinion or political
affiliation or race or economic status, but ONE people, sealed by
the Holy Spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever, a
truth which binds and blesses us, no matter our differences.

And as I drove home, I found myself thinking about, overcome
by, these words of blessing, and in these final contentious pre-
lection days, I offer them up for both of the major candidates.
Though I do not know if Donald Trump has been baptized,
today I am bold to trace a cross on his forehead with the words,
"Donald, child of God, you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit
and marked by the cross of Christ forever." Knowing that she
was raised in a Methodist home, I feel certain that Hilary Clinton
has been baptized, and as I trace a cross on her forehead, I say,
"Hilary, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit
and marked by the cross of Christ forever." For today- only three
days away from a presidential election during whose season both
candidates have been vilified and dehumanized and disrespected
by those on the other side- it is, I think, the very best I can do,
acknowledging that both are children of the God of Love in whom
I live and move and have my being.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How Do We See God?

I suspect it is often through our own
  self-reflection in life's fun house mirror
  with its distortions and trickery
  making us believe that what we see
  is real- and true- and so,
      worth defending zealously, unaware
      and uncaring that
      she sees a different image,
      he experiences a different truth...
  and instead of driving us to our knees,
  this perceived holiness
       drives us to war with one another,
       while Divinity weeps...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Silent Sunday, Thank God

I love Sundays.
I just returned from walking to the public library, about five and one-
half blocks from my house. Not only was the library quiet, with far
fewer people than on a weekday, but the streets were quiet. Few
cars, no other pedestrians. I had that lovely walk under a Carolina
blue sky all to myself, and I found myself thinking about this peace
and quiet which so feeds my spirit. Now, don't get me wrong: I love
people. Came away from worship this morning feeling blessed
and energized, cared for and seen and recognized by so many dear,
dear people there. I had a conversation with someone I had not met
before and several with people who have been in my life for years.
I nearly floated to my car for the drive- the very brief drive- home.
Wonderful. Lovely. Life-affirming.

But my solitary walk this afternoon was exactly what my spirit
needed after the energy-draining experience of this morning. For you
see, as much as I loved every moment...the music and the preaching
and sharing Holy Communion...loved seeing and being with every
person there, this Introvert finds such times truly exhausting, in
every sense of the word. I used to think that I took a nap on Sunday
afternoons because I was tired from teaching and preaching and
leading worship that morning, but I am realizing more and more
that the sense of exhaustion comes simply from the energy-drain
which happens to me in the midst of so many people, even
people I love.

I realize that those of you who are NOT introverts at heart, at
your very depth, simply cannot identify with this...cannot begin
to understand why interacting with groups of people is such a
difficult undertaking for those of us who are. For you, being
with people energizes you, fills you with a sense of well-being,
a kind of "people high". I know and love lots of you. And at a
deep level, I envy you. Oh, I have taught myself how to "be
there" when I am in a group...how to interact and participate
and be fully present. And I'm good at it. Most people would not
begin to guess the very real toll it takes being "on" all the time.
My preferred mode is "one-on-one", so I can truly listen and
relate, can know and be known.

Which is all the more reason that this afternoon's walk was a true
gift. No talking...no interacting...no being anything other than a
solitary person taking a solitary walk, soaking up the peace and
quiet and beauty of the natural world, and so, refreshing my soul.
Is it any wonder that I love Psalm 23? "He restores my soul."
And that kind of restoration can only happen when I am alone-
though not unaccompanied. For there is always a Presence, an
Energy, a Life Force, which walks with me, filling and loving me
back to life so that I can give of myself again, over and over again.

And there's my front door, dressed for autumn and offering a warm
welcome, both to me and to anyone else who comes. You are
welcome, my friend. My refreshed arms are open wide.




Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Remembering...

October second is the anniversary of the death of my husband, Carl, many years ago, but each late September, as summer turns to autumn, a miasma of depression grasps me, coloring many of the days with a grayness which saps strength and purpose. I have been here often enough to know it is temporary, but it always sneaks up on me and hits me in the solar plexus with a sucker punch of a grief I long felt was over and done. Guess the work of grief never ends...really.


"Tears on my pillow,
  Pain in my heart..."
Words from long ago,
sung in a different time,
    for a different reason-
the bemoaning wail of
young love gone wrong-
but for me, on this autumn day
in my seventy-fourth year,
the dirge-like sound echoes
the grayness of the day,
the brokenness of my heart,
as I grieve for a lost love,
       a lost life,
       dreams shattered,
        a family bereft and adrift.
Try as I will, I cannot lift
the fog of depression
drawing me into its depths
where each September finds me,
holding me captive in the thrall
of memory and pain and loss
       and sorrow.
Tears on my pillow,
pain in my heart...
         even as I whisper to myself,
          "And this, too, shall pass."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Poetry from a Questioning Heart...


reading the Bible
It is not in the book
but in the being
that we find spiritual truth...
and yet scriptures are
revered...elevated to a holy place,
words cherry-picked and
                         chosen,
used as weapons and as warnings,
not as wisdom or as welcome...
words quoted, cited, spoken with a towering authority-
     and all the while, the very ones who claim the words
     promote fear and hate, exclusion, war...
     while words of love, acceptance, and forgiveness
     get lost somewhere...forgotten...
and the One called God,
      the One called Love,
      the One Creator of us all
           gets pushed aside and
           Book takes center stage...
as we forget to LIVE the message
                   to BE the truth
                   to co-create a world of love
                   to worship with out daily lives

tell me
Tell me, someone, please...
tell me when 'salvation'
changed from living out God's will
on earth, in the here and now, in
the everydayness of our lives
to being a ticket to paradise
in the sweet by-and-by.

Tell me, someone, please...
tell me when 'in heaven' became
far more important than 'on earth',
when doing unto others became
a Brownie-point accruing enterprise
rather than a holy way of life.

Tell me, some one, please...
tell me when and by whom it was
decided that only one path leads
to God, while the rest are
only detours leading to perdition.

Tell me, someone, please...
tell me when and how the
God of Love became a repository
for exclusivity and judgment.

Tell me, someone, please...
tell me how you can decide the
validity and value of the God
I have come to know.

Tell me someone, please...
                       if you can...


decision-making power
Who decides how things are
'supposed' to be? Who has made the
determination that having white skin
is better than having black...or brown..
or red...or yellow? That being male and
having balls is preferable to being female
and having a uterus which can bear life?
That bringing a child into the world
to be neglected and abused is morally
superior to choosing not to have it at all?
That by denying something you do not
want to believe is true over & over & over
again, you can make your opinion reality?

Who decides what is truly 'true'? For
once some believed (some still do)
that slavery was right- denied that people
with a darker skin were even really
'human', seeing them as unthinking,
unfeeling creatures. Once some
believed (some still do) that women
were the property of men, fit only to
do the bidding, bend to the will of
father or husband, denying their
intellects, denigrating their minds.
Once some believed (some still do)
that homosexuality was a sinful choice-
seeing those whose sexuality was
different from their own as a threat
to home and hearth and family.

Who makes the rules and sets the limits,
doles out punishment or reward? Who
determines which religious path leads
ultimately to unity with God? And who
decides that my path, my thoughts,
my beliefs, my ideas have less validity
than yours? or his? or hers? or theirs?
Who decides???

Monday, September 12, 2016

There is Nowhere the Divine is Not...


Divinity
Infinity
Mystery
     all beyond my human understanding
     even as scientists seek solutions
     and theologians develop creeds...
     even as philosophers question
     and psychologists explain...
in and through and beneath it all
breaths the Holy Energy which enlivens-
     whether or not we can explain
     or comprehend...
I AM WHO I AM, Holiness whispers...
WHO I WAS, WHO I WILL BE...
     and i- finite  creature that i am-
     can only open wide my arms and
     fall into Divine Acceptance-
           no explanations necessary.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August Thirty-First...

Another year passed... another year gone...
another year older- perhaps a bit wiser,
but perhaps not.
And the spectre named Grief lurks in the
shadows, never far from sight or mind.
but on days like today, oozing out into the
open, a slimy ribbon staining the corridors of the hours with an indelible, insoluble mark of pain and loss.

He would have been fifty-two today,
my golden boy, my firstborn child.
Instead, I sit here with a misshapen heart,
a piece eternally missing-
though I have learned a heart can mend,
can still beat on,
sharing love and hope, blessing and peace,
even when a part is gone, forever gone.
For family and friends abound; children
and grandchildren fill my life and so
my heart with joy and love and laughter,
and through it all, through passing years,
a smile persists through veils of tears,
a smile of gratitude and wonder,
of hope and gentle joy,
even as my mother's heart weeps quietly for my precious boy.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Asking...


Do I still have questions about God?
Even now? At seventy-four?
Of course I do...
about the why and who and how...
the why-nots and the no-ways...
The wondering and the wandering
never end...
even as my earthly end looms large, well
within my sight-
And then I see the verdant green of trees
   towering high above me
hear the familiar call of the scarlet cardinal,
    the small brown wren, and the chatter of
    the ever-present squirrels
watch the children riding bikes down my
    quiet street
see my neighbor lovingly tending her lovely
    garden
hear a beloved voice on the phone
learn of earthquakes and wildfires and
    raging floods and the many helping
    hands offering aid
And I know- in spite of still-unanswered
    questions- that I have seen...am seeing-
    each day- the face of God.
 No further explanations necessary.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Holy Fire...

Preached at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, High Point, on August 14.

     "Do you think I have come to give peace
on earth? No, I tell
you, but rather division..." These are the words I just read to you...
proclaiming them to be the GOSPEL of our Lord... the Good News.
And you- all of you- responded, "Praise to you, O Christ!" Seems
a little ironic, doesn't it, to be calling such deeply disturbing words,
"The GOOD NEWS of our Lord"?
     Or perhaps you weren't really listening... so hear the words
again... spoken by the same Jesus we call "the Prince of Peace"...
   I HAVE COME TO CAST FIRE UPON THE EARTH...DO YOU
   THINK THAT I HAVE COME TO GIVE PEACE ON EARTH?
   NO, I TELL YOU, BUT RATHER DIVISION...EVEN WITHIN
   HOUSEHOLDS...FAMILIES...
The hard truth, the seeming harshness of these words, takes the
breath away...sets our teeth on edge...makes us cross our arms
and lean back, prepared to reject whatever comes next, doesn't it?
     John the Baptist, who baptized with water in the River Jordan,
predicted that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with
FIRE!
    FIRE- which ignites...which burns;
    FIRE- which refines, cleanses impurities...
Jesus, the Living Word, breathes out a red-hot message to ignite
the listener, to refine and cleanse away all the impurities which
prevent us- ANY OF US WHO HEAR...from answering his call to
discipleship.
     But how does this message... this image... fit with our picture
of "the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay"? the Jesus we all love to
love and cherish? The Good Shepherd who cherishes and loves his
flock? Who is this- STRANGER- who challenges us...burns us with
with the fire of his words...his message...his CALL?
     Well, our Jesus- the Jesus we love and trust- was a REBEL,
whether we realize that or not. He antagonized the religious
authorities at Nazareth- and they sought to stone him. He
challenged the religious leaders of Jerusalem- and they put him to
death. His message of truth was one which so unsettled the world
of his day and time- as well as the world of every day and time,
including our own- that the establishment did and often continues
to do everything it could to discount and discredit his message...
his message which teaches:
TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM TREAT YOU...LOVE
YOUR ENEMIES...DO GOOD TO THOSE WHO HATE YOU...IF YOU
HAVE TWO COATS, GIVE ONE TO THE PERSON WHO HAS NONE...
FEED THE HUNGRY...VISIT THE PRISONER...CARE FOR THE SICK...
WORK FOR JUSTICE FOR THE POOR AND HELPLESS, FOR ALL
PEOPLE...WORDS FILLED WITH FIRE!
     And then he backed up his fiery words with actions...as he ate
with tax collectors and prostitutes... those whom society deemed
"sinners"...as he touched lepers- those whom society considered
unclean...as he taught women- those who had no status or clout
in society... as he spent time with children- those whom society
saw only as property...teaching, healing, loving those whom the
rest of society considered unimportant.. undesirable... unworthy.
     This long-awaited Messiah came, not to primarily overthrow
the political systems of his day...not to lead might armies as
people of his day expected and hopes, or to wear a crown of gold...
but to KINDLE THE FIRE of the Kingdom of God in the world...to
FIRE UP those he called and calls as disciples...to refine and purify
them and us so that each day, we reflect the Christ in us more and
more purely...more clearly...refining away the OLD...that which
was before...to make way for the coming of the NEW KINGDOM...
a new way of life...a new relationship with God and with one
another.
     The fire of Jesus separates the true from the false... divides
faith from unfaith...good from evil...easy from hard. The coming

of God's kingdom, God's reign, drives a double-edged sword into
the world...Christ's coming brings peace on earth- AND DIVISION,
and here are those other HARD WORDS...
   DO YOU THINK I HAVE COME TO BRING PEACE ON EARTH?
   NO, I TELL YOU...BUT RATHER DIVISION...
     And we shy away from that...at least, I do...we pull back from
those FIERY words of the Gospel and cry out for the comfort...the
peace. After all, as Christians, aren't we called to be peacemakers?
To bring healing and reconciliation and love to our relationships
and to our world?
     But there is another face...A HARD FACE...to that call...for that
call...for the peace we are called to makes is not always sweet...
for ourselves or for others. Sometimes it shatters our best-laid
plans...burns up our fondest hopes... destroying the status quo.
It wipes away the illusion that following Jesus, living the Jesus Way,
will ONLY bring serenity of life and peace of mind. For, in reality,
Following Jesus will bring INDIVIDUAL & PERSONAL WARFARE!
(And I don't use that terminology lightly, as I eschew the language
language of war whenever possible.) There will be constant and
continual skirmishes of conscience over agonizing decisions about
how to spend out time and our money...internal battles over our
internal battles over our moral compromises about whether or not
to take a stand on an important issue, as well as the awareness
of the very real cost of that decision...the deep inner wrenching
as we see our neighbor's need night after night on the TV screen
from the comfort of our living room couch...
    Our Jesus, you see, is a DISTURBING LORD as well as a
comforting one. He comes to disturb the comfortable and comfort
the disturbed...and the peace he came to bring was-IS- the very
peace of God...not peace as humans define it... for human "peace"
is basically an exchange, a "trade-off"- "I'll scratch your back if
you scratch mine"...giving something in order to GET something-
and as long as the arrangement is MUTUALLY satisfying, there is
'peace"...we avoid hostilities. We see this all the time at the inter-
national level, don't we? And within the peculiarly contentious
midst of this election season.
     But the peace of GOD is basically a matter of TRUTH...
INTEGRITY...LOVE...saying, feeling, believing, "I'll do this
because it is the RIGHT and LOVING thing to do- even if I get
NOTHING out of it." And how counter-cultural is that? How out-
of-this-world? Where trade-offs seem to be the very stuff of
human relationships...where our very identities are built on the
trade-off of playing a role in exchange for approval from others?
     But the people of the Kingdom...those set afire...refined...
purified...claim that they can build their identity on ANOTHER
foundation...GOD'S LOVE...GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL, ALL-
ENCOMPASSING LOVE...and proclaiming...laying claim to
that reality shakes up the entire system of human relationship
To its very roots...to its heart and soul and core...for it tells us
that our value is NOT in what we produce...or who we know...
or how much we make...or how we dress...or what car we drive...
or where we live...or the color of our skin...or our sexuality... or
our age... or how perfectly we behave... but rather in the FACT-

the FACT of God's TOTAL UNCONDITIONAL LOVE for us- ALL OF
US- as God's own children, created in the Divine Image...the LOVE
made real to us in the person of Jesus, the fire-breathing Christ.
     Ernst Kasemann, a German theologian of the recent 20th
Century, wrote these words: 
     The church has managed to reduce Jesus' red-hot
     message, which promises to kindle fire, fire throughout
     the world, to room temperature.
Or in the words of one of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard:
     It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats
     to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.
     Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
     they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God
     may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God
     may draw us out to where we can never return.

DO YOU THINK I HAVE COME TO GIVE PEACE? Those red-hot
Words sear across our brains, our hearts, like a lightning strike...
Or SHOULD!!! NO, I TELL YOU...BUT DIVISION...HARD
CHOICES...A CALL TO COMMITMENT...A CALL TO COURAGE...
TO COURAGEOUS LIVING.
     Do you feel the HEAT of Christ's call? His word of truth is cast
upon us like fire...burning up every false foundation upon which we
try to base our individual and communal identities. And for
speaking the TRUTH, he was crucified. Never forget that, this price
of truth-telling, of true discipleship. Neither then nor now can the
powers-that-be permit the status quo to be confronted by the
TRUTH...the truth which burns with a flames so intense that we
cannot escape from it untouched...for this truth divides for the sake
of justice and righteousness...this kingdom come to put down
Other kingdoms to make way for the ultimate truth of GOD'S ALL-
INCLUSIVE LOVE...this love which is incarnated in and among us
in so many and varied ways:
    Martin Luther King, Jr., leading the march in Birmingham...
    Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of the bus...
    North Carolina A&T students refusing to leave the Wool-
        worth's counter...
    The unnamed young man facing the tanks in Tiananmen
        Square...
    Sister Helen Prejean accompanying a murderer to the death
        chamber...
    The Dalai Lama, continuing to speak out for the Tibetan
        people, even at risk of his own life...
    Nelson Mandela, spending thirty-three years in prison in
        behalf of the rights of his people...
    Dr. William Barber, leading people in North Carolina week
        after week in Moral Monday peaceful protests for fair
        wages, better schools, equal justice for all...
    People in towns and cities all over the globe quietly pro-
         testing injustice of every sort...

This IS the Good News... and we celebrate it always at our
Eucharistic table...where the unity we affirm requires that we
relinquish every false unity, every human trade-off... drop every
mask we wear... and take up instead the cross of love, in Jesus'
name. PRAISE BE TO YOU, O CHRIST, indeed. Amen & amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Speaking Out...Finding My Voice...

   I have tried to refrain from making political posts throughout this
election season, not wanting to add to the already-contentious and
vitriolic miasma swirling through our nation. I had admittedly
re-posted published columns which reflect my views, but I have
mostly kept my thoughts and comments to myself.

    But the latest accusations spewing forth from the mouth of
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, have gone beyond
the pale, and I can remain silent no longer. Trump has accused
President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Clinton of 
co-founding ISIS. Shall I repeat? Donald Trump, at a rally in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, has accused President Barack Obama and
former Senator, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton of being the
co-founders of ISIS. And though the story has been reported here
and there, I have seen or heard no one in the media taking Mr.
Trump to task for these incendiary and slanderous statements.
Apparently, it was not enough for him to encourage his NRA
supporters into action against Ms. Clinton if she is elected, words
and insinuations for which virtually any other U.S. citizen would find
him- or herself being questioned by the Secret Service- or worse.

    Why is Mr. Trump being given so many free passes by the
media? (two notable exceptions being retired newsman Dan Rather
and N.Y.Times columnist NIcholas Kristof.) Why are intelligent
people refusing to fact-check statement after bizarre statement
emerging from this candidate, candidate for the highest office in the
United States and arguably the most powerful and influential office
in the free world? I find the seeming disregard of Mr. Trump for truth
and accuracy both reprehensible and deeply disturbing.

    Please, fellow citizens, PLEASE make it your business to be
adequately and accurately informed. Make use of these six web-
sites to vet the words coming out of the mouth of candidates,
whomever they are:
  • FactCheck.org
  • OpenSecrets.org
  • PolitiFact.com
  • Snopes.com
  • TruthOrFiction.com
  • HoaxSlayer.com
If you have not yet registered to vote, DO IT NOW. And then, in
November- or even better, in early voting, please VOTE. Remember,
only 57.5% of eligible citizens voted in the presidential election in
2012. This means that the President of the United States was elected
by 28.75% of eligible voters, or just a bit over 1/4 of the possible
voting citizenry of this nation...hardly a majority...which doesn't sit
well with me at all...perhaps not with you, either.

    As citizens of these United States of America, it is not only our
privilege but our responsibility, our duty, to be part of the process,
to make our voices heard, to BE "we the people". After all, fellow
Americans, we will only get the government we deserve, the govern-
ment we are willing to work for and speak up for and vote for. Let
us be sure that the candidate for whom we vote deserves our vote,
deserves our faith and confidence, regardless of the office for which
she or he is running.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Can We Just Start from There?

Back in May of 1996, I attended a conference in Greensboro to
discuss racial relations, the ways in which people, black and white,
relate- or don't relate- to one another, and how this could be
improved. I do not recall the name of the church which hosted this
all-day meeting, but I do recall very well some of the feelings I had,
both during and afterward, as I listened to the voices of some very
angry black sisters and brothers talking about the special problems
faced by those in the black community which we white people
never face. At one point, late in the afternoon, I went to the micro-
phone to share my frustration with the assembly, saying- haltingly
and with deep emotion- "I don't know what it is like to be black, but
I hope you will believe that I am trying to understand, trying to be
part of a solution, trying to be part of building a better community
for all of us"...or something like that. The exact words elude me all
these years later, but I can still feel the sense of frustration and
sadness which welled up within me...the feeling of not being heard
because of the color of my skin, of being discounted because of that-
all of which, in retrospect, was an existential lesson in what it must
often be like to have a black face in an all-too-white world.

When I got home, I sat down with my journal and what emerged was
a poem of sorts, which I ran across quite recently as I was cleaning
out some of my closets. Reading it again, in the light of all that has
been happening over the past two decades since this conference,
over the past several years in our recent national history, makes it
feel very current to me, as if the words had been written yesterday
or today...as if they had only recently emerged from my heart and
from my pen. And so I share them with you, (with apologies if this
speaks too much from my white, heterosexual  privilege.)

A Beginning
I am a woman.
I was born that way...
   it was not a choice I made,
   an option given me...
   to be or not to be female.
       It is who I am...
             as surely as you are a man.
My skin is white.
I was born that way...
   it was not a choice I made,
   an option given me...
   to be or not to be white.
       It is who I am...
              as surely as you are black- or brown, yellow, or red.
I am heterosexual.
I was born that way...
   it was not a choice I made,
   an option given me...
   to be or not to be heterosexual.
        It is who I am...
            as surely as you are homosexual- or transgender or queer.
I know I cannot get inside your gender...
   inside your skin... inside your sexuality...
      As for walking a mile in your shoes-
      they don't fit me and I stumble and fall...
             get up and fall again.
I want to know you...
I'm willing to try to understand...to feel...to hear your pain...
   to walk with you.
Please don't shut me out because of who I am...
   don't turn me off...
   don't look away...
Please don't discount my being who God gifted me to me...
   Female...
   White...
   Heterosexual... true.
But I can't help being me any more than
you can help being you.
It's something that we share, you see...
    You created you...
    Me created me...
                     SO-
CAN WE JUST START FROM THERE?

Monday, August 1, 2016

God Be with You Till We Meet Again


Preached at Nazareth Lutheran Church July 31

    As I thought and prayed this week about what I would say to you
this Sunday morning, my last Sunday morning with you, my mind was
filled with so many things, so many images, so many remembrances
that I will carry with me as I take my leave from you. I think I will
remember most the funerals: four in these last three years- Cody
Nelson, Paul Newsome, Sara Anderson, and Sabrina Suarez. Each one
as totally unique as were the four saints for whom they were held. Each
one touching my heart in a deep and special way. Each one leaving a
lasting impact on my heart and life and spirit. Why funerals? you might
ask. Because they draw me near to the One who comforts, the One in
whom I must place my trust if I am to find the words to say to comfort
and bring some sense of peace to family and friends. Because they
remind me of my own finiteness and mortality and lack of control in the
affairs of this life. These four gifts of ministry dwell in the innermost
places of my heart and there they will remain.
     But of course, there have been happy times, times of rejoicing and
celebration and wonder and hope. I have wonderful memories of the
year spent with my four confirmation students, as we learned and grew
together…as we came to know each other better…as I came to deeply
appreciate just how remarkable these four young people are- Alana,
Caley, Ruthie and Toby- and I commend them to your continued
support and care as they go through these next often-difficult and
always-challenging years of their lives, their parents’ lives, and yours
as a congregation.
    And how could I possibly forget the many covered-dish lunches
we’ve shared? Good food was never in short supply here at Nazareth
and it seemed that each dish was prepared not only with skill but with
love...which made them taste even better. I will cherish the recipes
shared and will remember always the laughter and conversation as we
gathered around the table together, a very holy communion, indeed.
    Special for me, too, when I could be here, were the Pickin’ and
Grinnin’ evenings, with good music and good company, as well as an
overflowing of joy and incredible music from talented musicians, some
of them our own. And I will never forget the three concerts which were
part of Advent 2015, these very different and very gifted teams of
musicians bringing and sharing the joy of God’s delightfully abundant
gift of music with congregation and community. The walls of this
sanctuary rang with their voices and instruments, filling us all with an
ever-deepening sense of the Holy, of the very presence of Immanuel-
God with us.
    And sharing together our “God’s Work- Our Hands” projects was
another highlight of my time with you. Of course, I received the
added pleasure of being the one to deliver those personal care kits to
the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter…to receive the expressions of
thanks which rightfully belonged to all of you. And I will never forget
my visit to Scott G**** at the West Virginia Correctional Facility,
spending nearly two hours in conversation and prayer with him- after
the hair-raising drive up the mountain!- and learning yet again more
about what it means to minister in every place and circumstance of
life- and isn’t that what Jesus tells us to do?
    I know I’m missing something- perhaps many things, but these are
ones which remain foremost in my thoughts and in my heart. So
perhaps I should go to the thank-yous. Because you see, I have much
to thank you for, people of Nazareth. For three years, you have not
only tolerated, but loved and cared for this aging pastor whose liberal
theology and philosophy of life and ministry and politics is far, far to
the left of so many of you. I’m sure there were times when my words
ruffled feathers…perhaps even stirred considerable ire in some of you,
but you took the high road with Jesus the Christ and loved me in spite
of our differences. And in doing that, you helped me to better learn
how to deeply love and care for people whose point of view is very
different from my own. That, dear friends, is a gift I will cherish always.
Always.
    Thank you, too, for praying for me. Oh, you didn’t have to tell me
you were praying for me; I could feel it. On days when I was tired
and discouraged and at the end of my rope from things which were
happening in this world and in my life, it was your prayers of love and
care which lifted me up, enabling me to write yet another sermon,
prepare yet another worship service, face yet another day with hope
and equanimity. And throughout the illness and death of my sister,
Kathy, no congregation could have been more thoughtful and
supportive and loving, and for that I give you my heartfelt thanks. I
will never forget that, rest assured.
    I hope that I have also gifted you, individually and as a
congregation. I hope that I have provided an adequate example of
servanthood, of living the Jesus Way, and so, have been encouraging
you to do the same. I hope- deeply hope- that my words have
challenged you, at times discomfited you enough to make you think and
reconsider your own ideas and opinions, to enlarge your point of view.
I hope that I have been able to make you aware of the pain and
suffering and needs of the greater world, the world beyond Nazareth
and Rural Hall and North Carolina and the United States. I hope that I
have given you a greater vision of what it means to be the church in
this place and time, of what it means to be a disciple of the Living
Christ. I hope that I have encouraged you to do justice, to love
kindness, and to walk humbly with God in a world which so needs that
kind of discipleship. I hope I have encouraged you to live, as individuals
and as a congregation, with arms and hearts wide open in welcome to
whomever crosses your path, to whomever enters these doors, seeing
each and all as children of the same loving, caring, welcoming God.
    Some of you have asked me what I am going to do, now that I am
sort of retiring- for the second time! Well, I am planning for a workshop
on aging that I am leading this October in Summerfield at Healing
Ground Retreat Center. And I have writing projects all over my study
which are crying out for my attention. I am actively and deliberately
caring for my physical body, with yoga and walking and water aerobics,
in the hope that I will get to the place where travel will once again be
comfortably possible for me, since New York City and Prince Edward
Island and Iona, Scotland, and California and Rwanda, Africa loom
large. Still on my Bucket List is a train trip across the United States,
while on a much smaller scale is travel to visit friends and family in
Pennsylvania and Virginia. So you see, I will not be without  things to
do. But you will still often find me doing much quieter things: reading
the countless books which line my staircase and stand in piles on book-
cases all over the house. Cooking for family and friends, as I
experience the joy of trying new recipes and sharing the bounty of my
table- and my heart. Perhaps even trying my hand at painting, which I
have always wanted to do. A new chapter begins…who knows how it
will be written?
    And so I enter into tomorrow with a sense of enthusiasm and
expectation. The Japanese have a word for it- Ikigai. It is what gets you
up in the morning; the sense that the day matters, that there are new
experiences awaiting you and that you have a contribution to make. It
is how you spend your time, what you give your energies to, what you
say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, what new challenges or risks you take…and it is
always a work in progress. And it takes, will take, patience and insight
and courage and honesty to follow where my curiosity and passion are
leading me, calling forth once again just what I have to give the world
in which I live.
    Know that you are and will ever be in my prayers, as I hold up this
congregation, its leaders, its members, its mission and ministry. I will
be praying for that person whom God is leading to shepherd you into
the next chapter of your story together. And of course, dear and
precious members and friends of Nazareth Lutheran, it is not goodbye
that I am saying but simply, “God be with you, till we meet again.”
Amen and amen