Thursday, August 21, 2014

Both sides now . . . or . . . stuck in the middle again

Yes, I know it sounds like an Oldies’ radio station up in here right now, but that’s the reality of my life today.  Let me give you some examples:

The other day I was browsing Facebook and I noticed that a clergy colleague was looking for suggestions on how she could update her 100+ year old sanctuary with more screens and better sound system for worship and events.  Her ideas are, to my certain knowledge, very expensive to carry out.  While I’m glad that her congregation has the funds to do these kinds of remodels to their building, I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t some other use - some “missional” use - for the money.  I happen to know that this particular congregation is in an urban location that has undergone gentrification in recent years . . .

A couple of hours later I answered the door to an elderly, homeless, blind woman.  She was concerned that she was too late to receive food, because it was after the hours that we usually give out food.  She was actually a whole day late, but that wouldn’t have kept me from helping her, if we’d had any food to give.  But we don’t.  I had to apologize because we had no food to give her - none at all.  For some months now no one has brought food to our pantry - not church members, not the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, not any of the groups who meet in our church hall - no one.  The cupboards are bare.  It seems like there simply is no money in our community right now for people to buy food beyond what they need for their own families to eat . . . 

Seeing both sides now.  Church needs to reach out with great tech to bring people in.  Church needs to forget about the tech and out out with food to care for the people.  

Meanwhile . . . a woman and her daughter have been attending faithfully for a couple of months now. They’ve been working hard at our church work days.  They’ve brought the fellowship meal once or twice.  They participate in everything we do.  And then one Sunday they weren’t there.  I remembered the mom had said the daughter would be with her dad that week, so I wasn’t too worried until they didn’t show up again the second Sunday. I emailed, and got a response.  They were with family, and she wanted to call later in the week with a question for me.  The third Sunday they weren’t in worship I called.  Mom is concerned that we are Open and Affirming, that I perform Gay Marriages and how that conflicts with what she learned growing up in a Fundamentalist congregation.  She said she loves all the people in our church but is worried that her daughter will be exposed to things that are against God’s law.  She was, however, willing to accept some reading materials and will come talk to me about her concerns after reading them . . .

A few days later, a lesbian who started attending the same 12 Step meeting that I also attend came to see me.  She had missed the meeting last week after learning that I am the pastor of a Christian church.  She thought maybe she wouldn’t be welcome where I was.  That maybe I was judging her.  She let what she believes to be true about what Christians believe get in the way of getting to know who I am as a person (and as a Christian).  But she looked at my Facebook posts and prayed about it and talked to friends about it and decided to give me a chance, and return to the meeting I attend. . .

Stuck in the middle again. I’m a Christian so how can I accept “those people” over against I’m a Christian so I can’t possible accept “those people.” 

This is my life today.  What’s your’s like?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the office . . .

In April I started sorting out my life.  I went through my home looking for just those things that I truly love and don’t want to live without, discarding everything else.  Some was thrown away, but most was given to people who needed whatever.  When I moved into a much smaller place I was surrounded by those things that bring me joy.  I have since discovered that even some of those things aren’t really necessary.  I kept clothes that I wear but don’t love.  I don’t think I need clothes I don’t love.  And books . . .I have to admit it’s really, really hard to give up books, but I think I kept more than I really need.  Of course, most of those I kept are books that I haven’t read yet . . . but then there are the Harry Potter books and the Narnia books and the Douglas Adams books.  Do I need them?  Will I re-read them again?  (YES! OK, I’m keeping those.  ☺)

Meanwhile, back at the office . . . 

Last month a homeless woman accidentally had access to all the rooms in the church buildings for a number of days.  She is a hoarder, I guess, because she started taking things outside and piling them up in out of the way places on the property.  We noticed some things were missing - like the big coffee pot and the Spanish congregation’s  projector.  She insisted she didn’t take anything that she wasn’t freely given by someone.  I didn’t quite believe that.  After a few weeks we were able to convince her to leave the property (without having to have her arrested) and secure the buildings by changing locks.  Two weeks or so later we started discovering her caches and found so much stuff!  She had stashed things in the electrical closet and in the little emergency exit area behind the preschool building and in the bushes next to the church.  We couldn’t believe what all she took - and kept!  I understood taking coffee mugs but why take the giant, very old dictionary?  There were so many things she could have pawned but didn’t.  The Spanish congregation even found their projector in perfect condition.  

As we went through the stashes I kept finding items that had come from my office.  There were a few things that I had missed but way too many that I didn’t even notice were gone. I could understand not noticing a few books missing from a shelf, but some of the art objects that I thought I loved were in her stash and in the weeks that they were missing I never realized they were gone.  When I looked around I realized that I have a lot of stuff - a lot of stuff that just sits there, serves no  purpose and that I don’t even love.  Stuff that I keep because it is a souvenir of someplace I went or was a gift from someone (not necessarily someone I even like, just a gift.)  

I guess it’s time to start that sorting process in my office.  It’s time to get rid of books I haven’t taken off the shelf in 10 years or more, and decorations that I might use again sometime (but probably won’t) and items that are lovely but that would serve someone else much better.  

I feel a need to simplify, to somehow ignore my desire to own stuff, to make my life so simple that if I want to pick up and go somewhere else it won’t have to be a huge production.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Her name was Geggie.

She wasn't Aunt Geggie or Miss Geggie or Geggie plus whatever her last name was.  She was just Geggie and she was always part of our family.  Not in the same way that Dorothy and Webby were, who came over from Ireland on same boat as my father's mother.  And not in the same way that Aunt Jo was, who was actually my mother's best friend in high school.   Mother treated her like a role model, maybe an older sister or a beloved aunt, but she wasn't either of those things either.

In the early 1920s Geggie (short for Gertrude) came to Philadelphia from a small town to find work and somehow ended up renting a room from my mother's parents.  She became much more than just a boarder.  She ate her meals with the family, listened to the radio with them in the evenings and went to church with them on Sunday morning.  She helped my grandmother with the children - including my mother - and used the family sewing machine to make her clothes. Eventually she  truly became part of the family.

I probably haven't thought about Geggie in decades but lately I find myself sort of in her position.  I separated from my husband at the same time that my church had to cut my salary by 30%, so I had to move from my spacious apartment.  I was hoping to find a little studio somewhere and I actually did, but then the man who was living in it needed to stay so the family asked if I'd like to move into their spare room.

I had to think about that. I've never lived with strangers (unless husbands count as strangers). I'd never lived with any family except my own.  I haven't shared a kitchen or even a bathroom in decades.  And I really, really wanted to live all by myself.  But I decided maybe God was trying to get my attention and that maybe I needed to live with this family for a while.

I've been here for a month now.  It's different from what I am used to, that's for sure.  This is a close family and all the siblings and cousins and in-laws and nieces and nephews and such wander in and out whenever - even when the couple who live here aren't home.  I am free to cook for myself if I choose, but I am always welcome to join them for meals.  Mostly I feel good being in the middle of a family, but on those occasions when I feel a little outside my comfort zone I can always retreat to my room, my sanctuary, where I keep everything I love.  And when I do retreat to my room, no one thinks badly of me.  

I don't know whether this is how it felt to Geggie when she first moved in with my mother's family. I'm just glad she did move in and stuck around for so long because now, close to a century  later, she gets to teach me, too.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Please Don't Walk on the SNR

There’s been an awful lot of conversation about the Spiritual Not Religious phenomenon in the last few years, which seems mostly to revolve around how to get them to show up for religious services somewhere.  I just received yet another invitation to a seminar on the topic of Spiritual Not Religious to be led by a panel of religious experts.  It feels to me an awful lot like a panel of men gathering to discuss women’s issues with no women in the room - and THAT would surely never happen.  Oh wait . . .

Not that I’m saying religious experts shouldn’t discuss the category of persons who identify as Spiritual Not Religious any more than I think men shouldn’t discuss women’s issues.  What I am saying is that someone who actually identifies as Spiritual Not Religious should be part of those panel discussions and seminars.  

For the past 24 years I have been a member of an organization that specifically identifies itself in its literature as a “spiritual - not religious - program.”   When I joined I hated God, I hated church, I really hated church people.  I knew I was going to hell because I was a woman, because I couldn’t believe what I was taught in the church I grew up in, because I did bad things from the time I was a very little girl . . .  That program, that spiritual not religious program, taught me about a God who loves and forgives and cares about me.  That program, that spiritual not religious program, taught me how to form a relationship with a God of my understanding - not the one I learned about in church.  That program, that spiritual not religious program taught me how to be non-judgmental, how to forgive, how to love others, how to love myself, and how to trust.  None of those things were on the educational agenda in the church where I grew up.

I eventually found my way back to church, although I returned to a very different Christian tradition than the one I left.  Since then I’ve met a large number of clergy and other devout persons in many different faith traditions who have a story similar to mine.

But a lot of people never return.  Their ability to trust has been so severely damaged that they may never heal.  Those people, those Spiritual Not Religious people, are not going to be convinced by arguments or panel discussions or carefully crafted advertising campaigns specifically aimed toward them.  Those people will only be convinced by seeing a difference in those persons and institutions that hurt them.  I am often rejected as soon as they learn what I do for a living but eventually I am able to show that I am not trying to drag them kicking and screaming into my church - that I really do respect their belief system.

Mind you, not everyone who identifies as Spiritual Not Religious comes from that program or others like it.  That is just where my personal experience as part of the SNR phenomenon comes from.   

And . .  there is a very good chance that some of the religious experts on some of those panels have  personal knowledge and/or experience with what it means to be Spiritual Not Religious.  But if you are not one of them,  those Spiritual Not Religious folks, please, don’t judge.  Don’t make assumptions.  Instead, listen.  Ask questions.  Be willing and open to learning a new thing.

And trust that God knows what She is doing better than we do.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Purple Day is Coming!

March 26 is Purple Day - World Day for Epilepsy Awareness.
Fifteen years ago this month I was in the hospital recovering from surgery.  While I was there a couple who were (and still are) very important in my life came to visit.  We were talking about everything that was happening on campus and in other areas of mutual interest when suddenly the wife began to have a seizure.  Her husband caught her before she hit the floor and carefully laid her down.  I immediately hit the button for a nurse, who arrived very quickly and then . . . did nothing.  It seems that if one has a seizure while visiting someone else in the hospital, the medical staff are prohibited by law from touching the seizure victim.  Using some pillows from my bed, the husband made his wife as comfortable as possible until she was well enough to go home.  

I didn’t understand what had happened.  I didn’t understand was how my friend could be standing next to me laughing one minute and having a grand mal seizure the next when nothing I could see had changed in the intervening seconds. I had always thought that if an epileptic takes her medication regularly she won’t have seizures. I realized I didn’t know enough about epilepsy became determined to learn more.  

I was amazed at how many things that I consider part of daily life can trigger an epileptic seizure, like strobing patterns of light and shadow, and the electromagnetic frequency of certain light sources.  It turned out that something about the lighting in my hospital room triggered that particular episode.  

I’m not an expert on epilepsy by any means. But I’ve learned some important things since that day in my hospital room.  Today, when a friend says, “I couldn’t get to the event because the shadows the trees were casting on the road were dangerous,” I know she really couldn’t safely continue driving.  

I learned that the best thing I can do if someone near me has a seizure is to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself on anything nearby - not by holding her down but by moving things away from her.  I should not put anything inside her mouth - that can cause injury.  I should loosen her collar and remove her glasses.  I can ask people not to crowd around.  And then I should wait until the seizure ends, help her move onto her side and stay with her until she is sure she’s ok.  If the seizure lasts a long time - like 5 minutes - or if a second one begins right away I should call 911, but in most cases I won’t have to.

Fifteen years later my friend is still embarrassed that she had a seizure in my hospital room. I wish she didn’t feel that way.  The seizure that has caused her so much distress was the trigger I needed to learn more, and to share what I have learned.  

Please - go learn more about epilepsy.  And wear Purple on Wednesday, March 26.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Weather or not . . . we're together

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Common English Bible (CEB)
15 Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong. 16 If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that I’m commanding you right now by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and so are misled, worshipping other gods and serving them, 18 I’m telling you right now that you will definitely die. You will not prolong your life on the fertile land that you are crossing the Jordan River to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth as my witnesses against you right now: I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you. Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live— 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive and live long on the fertile land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors: to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

They say that where treasure is, so is your heart.  I have sort of adapted that to “where ever I have the most email subscriptions and follows on Facebook, so is my heart.”   Every Saturday morning when I open my church email after not having looked at it for two days I find 30 to 50 emails, probably three quarters of which come from organizations whose focus is human rights or environmental justice.  I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone here since a lot of my sermons revolve around those things - care for humanity and care for creation.     

Most of  you know that I spend a day once a year in Sacramento with other members of California Interfaith Power and Light lobbying for bills that will lead toward cleaner air, clean energy and sustainability.  Often those bills propose changes that will improve the lung health of children in our poorest (and most polluted) communities or educate people on how to conserve electricity and water.  Some of them try to restrict large corporations from following courses of action that will almost certainly cause damage to the ecology and/or significant health risks.   Because it is an Interfaith group we spend our time with the State Senators and Assemblypersons talking about these bills from a faith perspective, speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.  We don’t try to sound like scientists or economic experts because that’s not who we represent.  But we do represent may different religious communities so we quote Scripture and speak of God’s commandments to care for the earth.  

Today is the annual Interfaith Power and Light Preach-In, a religious response to Global Warming.  I personally prefer the term Climate Change to Global Warming because it seems a more accurate representation of the weather effects we have been seeing but as you all know, I don’t do science.   I do words, and the phrase Global Warming tends to get responses like, “Global Warming isn’t our doing. It’s just God hugging us closer.”  Climate Change, on the other hand, reflects the increase we have been seeing in unseasonable and record-breaking weather effects, massive storms and other forms of severe weather, intense cold, unusual heat, floods and droughts.  And just to be clear - I don’t believe that Climate Change is solely humanity’s doing.  I know enough history to be aware that the earth goes through cycles of heat and cold.  I do, however, believe that we contribute to it by polluting he air and water and earth.  The annual Preach-In is intended to focus our attention on love for creation as our inspiration for stewardship.  

Today is also the first Sunday for the Week of Compassion special offering   For those of you who may not know, Week of Compassion is the aid agency of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), responding to crisis and emergency situations around the world through our contributions.  Out of every $1 we give, 50c goes directly to emergency aid and most of the disasters WOC responds to are weather related.  For example:

On November 17, 2013, Karla and Jim Buchanan of Southside Christian Church (DOC) in Kokomo, IN returned home from picking up Cassie (the child we are adopting) from a weekend of respite, only to find their home severely damaged by a tornado. Karla wrote:  We were in total shock, and Cassie was overwhelmed. Glass was all over the back family room. A tree sat on top of my father-in-law's van. The shed that held all of our Christmas decorations was flattened. Windows were broken, trees were down, and the roof was in shreds.  [The next day folks from church came to help with the clean up and recovery of cherished possessions and their insurance company had found them a room in a motel.  These were blessings but there was more to come.]

Becky Sundquist, our minister, called that night and told us another amazing thing: Week of Compassion was sending us a grant to help with recovery. You can't imagine how great that was to hear. Although our insurance company was paying for our hotel and eventually would cover expenses, we had a number of immediate expenses to cover. The WOC grant made that possible.

I have been a Disciple all my life, and I have given to Week of Compassion when possible, but I never imagined I would be a recipient of a Week of Compassion grant. Of course, I never imagined I would live through a tornado either! Words cannot express our thanks. We hope soon to be on the giving end of disaster recovery, but for now please accept what we can give: our thanks and prayers.  May God bless the work of Week of Compassion!” …   

When I realized weeks ago that the Preach-In on Climate Change and Week of Compassion were falling on the same day as a passage in which God tells the people “if you follow my laws your land that I am giving you will be blessed,” and “choose life so that you and your descendants may live,” I felt that there must be some divine guidance going on.  God says, if you do those things that I have told you to do - if you care for each other the way I have told you to, if you take care of the land and its creatures the way I have told you to, if you treat each other with justice and compassion the way I told you to, if you love me the way I told you to love me, then you will be blessed in the land I am giving you. 

But if you don’t - “if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and so are misled, worshipping other gods and serving them, I’m telling you right now that you will definitely die. You will not prolong your life on the fertile land.” 

The Law of Moses is multifaceted.  It covers all the many ways that people live and interact with each other.  It also covers the ways in which people interact with the rest of God’s creation.  The Law tells the people to rest on the Sabbath and also to give the land rest by letting it lie fallow for one year out of every seven.  The Law tells the people how to treat their servants justly and how to treat their flocks justly.  The Law says, “Don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk.”  Not because God has a problem with milk gravy, but because it would be unfeeling and cruel to treat any living being as if her feelings don’t matter.  If a person will be cruel to a goat he will be cruel to humans also.  Lack of care for other forms of life is a one sign of a sociopath.  Cruelty to animals is one of the early indicators for a serial killer.  If an entire people are encouraged to treat even goats justly, then surely they will want to treat other people justly.    

Choose life”, God says, “so that you and your descendants may live by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive and live long on the fertile land.” 

The thing about fertile land is it only stays fertile if it is cared for.  If it is used and overused and used some more without being allowed to rest and be revitalized it won’t remain fertile.  Farmers learned to solve that particular problem through crop rotation, apparently never realizing that crop rotation was actually prescribed in the Law of Moses.  We have seen the mudslides that come when we cut down all the trees on a hill, the barren desert that follows when we strip away ground cover from our prairies, the destruction of plants and animals when we dump slag on a mountainside, the death and illness that follows when we dump waste into our rivers and spill oil in our oceans.   When we choose to bring death to God’s creation, then we will find that we cannot live on the land we have been given to care for.   

If, however, we choose to treat the rest of creation, all the not human parts of creation, as if they, too, deserved to be cared for even as we wish to be cared for - if the choices we make in our use of God’s creation are for life, then the land may return to fertility, the air may become sweet again, the water will bring comfort to those who drink it.    Our treatment of all the not-human parts of creation, our choice whether to bring life or death to the other creatures that share the planet with us, our decision whether to put caring God’s creation ahead of filling our own desires will always affect us because all of us - human and not - are interconnected in ways that we don’t even understand.  

When we make choices that contribute to global warming, when we add to the reality that is climate change, those choices will always effect us one way or another. We may be inconvenienced by getting stuck in an airport in a hurricane. Or lose our home in a drought caused fire.  Or lose our life in an ice storm in the deep South. When we make choices that lead to the pollution of a river in Africa, or the death of honey bees in Colorado, or the destruction of the rain forests in South America, these choices will effect us.  The earth is a very small planet.  Each and every part of it, every blade of grass, every snow covered mountain, every sea and stream, every breathing creature from polar bear to mosquito, every water bound creature from coral to manatee, every part of this planet is related to every other part.  If we are to survive in this fertile land God has given to us then we must obey the voice of God, cling to God, love God.  If we are to survive in this fertile land we must choose life - for our selves and for the farmland, the tree-filled hillsides, the air we breathe and the water we drink.  If we are to survive in this fertile land - if the fertile land which God has given us is to survive - we must choose life for all of creation, from the biggest creature to the smallest.  Let us go from this place dedicated to loving God and every facet of God’s creation.  For our God is not just our God - but also God of the Sparrow and God of the Whale.