Thursday, November 14, 2013

Becoming... 20

Circle of Grace, this small, progressive, ecumenical, feminist, church will be 20 coming up in December.  
Hard to believe. 
Hard to believe it has been 20 years. 
Hard to believe we've made it through so many ups and downs. 
Hard to believe that we are still figuring out who we are.

Or perhaps not hard to believe. We are always 'becoming'. 
As we learn through explorations of theology and the Word we become more intentional. 
As we work to make room for our different understandings we become more expansive. 
As we struggle through life changes we become less arrogant. 
As we grapple with our shadow sides we become wiser.

The wise feminist theologian Sally McFague teaches us that  when we make our religious symbols absolutes we become rigid in our religious thinking . She suggests - and we are committed to - understanding images as metaphor: fluid, with open meanings and always expansive.  

I bring that up because it harkens back to the idea that we are still becoming. We are still in process. Still discovering what it means to make spiritual community that is both Christian and feminist. Twenty years later and I am more aware now of how much I don't know. I know less now than when we started and yet I have gained the wisdom of fools.  I have come to trust in the process of becoming as we learn again and again to trust in Godde's crazy leading rather than in what seems to make realistic sense. 

Twenty years and this I have learned: we will never arrive, we will never be codified and we will always - and I mean always - be on a learning curve! 
I am grateful for twenty years of lessons, some of which I will have to re-learn and some that  are engraved on my heart. 
I am grateful for a community of the Spirit that is willing to wrestle with Godde and one another.
I am grateful that Godde is always doing a new thing. 
I am grateful that we are still becoming. Even after 20 years.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Desert Times

Today I am grateful for those saints who taught me that there are desert times.
Dry times.
Times where your bones feel like dust and yet you carry on.
Where Godde does not seem so much absent as irrelevant. And that it is okay.

For many that may seem like a real heresy.
A pastor who is tired? Dry?
Without passion?
A pastor who is not seeking Godde in each moment?
A pastor who seems to have no hope?

I wonder why it is so difficult for people to see pastors as regular old people with real struggles. 
Some of the answers I know: we fill the roll of embodied Presence during times of worship, rites of passage, transitions, illness and death. 
For those who find it difficult to trust their own relationship with Godde, we are often the trusted authority.
For some, a pastor is the one who points the way and says "all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well." 
For some, a pastor is one who offers answers to life's questions.
Those are all big and important things. 
And may be why the ministry is top-heavy with sociopaths.

But what makes me a pastor? 
Is it greater piety? no. I have exchanged piety for a passion for justice.
Is a closer relationship with Godde? no. Anyone and everyone can be deeply in relationship with Godde.
Is it that somehow I am more special than the average bear? no. I put on my socks one foot at a time.
Am I more deeply aware, more spiritually developed? only as much as my years and experience, prayer and time allow, less than many and on the same road as everyone else.

For me, being a pastor is being in service. I am in service to Godde. I am in service to my community. I am in service to the world. That is what makes me a pastor. To be a good servant I am called to prayer, to study, to walk my talk, and to be spiritually, physically and mentally healthy. I am also called to cook and clean, set up and break down.

I am not always be a good servant, though I always wish I were.  Sometimes my life is difficult and my prayer life suffers - as does my spiritual, physical and mental well-being. 
Just like most people. 
Lately, my life has been filled with unforeseen changes, loss, grief and anger. 
It makes me no less a pastor, just not as good of a servant as I want to be. 
I am dry and dusty and ache with malaise. 

But I know that Godde is with me, in me, between me and all that is and all who are.
I  trust that I will find my way back to joy and energy and service that is never grudging.

And all of this is to say, what? 
What, especially in Christian feminist community, does this mean for for all of us?

I hope it means:
That there is enough room for each of us to be on our journey.
That when one falls down, the others gather 'round. 
That 'pastor' can be about call and training, gifts and skills... but not about better or more than.
That we remember that we are not a hierarchy but a circle of servanthood. 
And sometimes that pastor needs you to hold the Christ-light for her.

In my dusty time, many of my community have not only held the Christ-light, but Christ-torches!
And I am finding my way back to the well of living water one day at a time.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nomadic Church

We move into new space this week.

A sanctuary. 
That was a church.
That is now a full time school.
Soon to be a full time school and part time church.

Jesus said that foxes have their dens, and birds their nests but that he had no where to lay his head. He didn't own property. Didn't own a building. Trusted there would be a space for him at the end of each day.

I wish I had that much faith. Every time we change locations - for good reasons or ill - I wonder where we will land next. Will it be worshipful? Will there be room for our few belongings: chalice and paten, altar cloths, candles, hymnals... crayons, children's books, offering basket, things that make our worship space lovely?  And since we inevitably share space: will our 'stuff' be there the next time we gather for worship? Even more important: are we welcome in our space? 

The answers have been: sometimes it is worshipful and if not we will do what we can to make it so. Sometimes there is room for our belongings. Sometime the trunk of my car becomes a rolling storage area. Sometimes our stuff is there, sometimes it is broken or missing or...
Sometimes we are deeply welcomed into the space we share. Sometimes not.

So this week as we enter new space these things I know. 
It is worshipful. We will meet in a former sanctuary where gospel has been sung, sermons preached, weddings celebrated and funerals held. We share a building filled with the children during the week. Children laughing and running and singing and learning and playing. How sacred is that?

There is room for some of our things. For the things we need each week, the rest to be stored offsite. The room for our things is secure.

We will discover how welcome we are, but my gut (or experience) says I'm feeling pretty good about it. The attitudes and energies of the people we have met are warm and friendly.
I am excited and hopeful. 

We have a place to lay our heads. Not a place to own. Not a place to define us. We have to define ourselves in other ways. We have to own our spiritual walk in different ways. 

The question of space overloaded council discussions for years. For me it boiled down to: how do we provide hospitality with space we have access to only a few hours a week?

It is a question we still wrestle with. So far, this is what I know: worship has to be as welcoming  as we can make it.  (we're better at some times than others) And hospitality has to do with expansive spirituality, expansive community, expansive thinking, expansive prayers.  We start with a small scale of being hospitable to ourselves and to one another. We stretch to be hospitable to all we meet.  We stretch to make our thoughts hospitable, our prayers, our lives. And we stretch to be hospitable to the making of justice for all people, not just the ones in our comfort zones.

We have learned a lot by being a nomadic church. When I finally accepted that we were never going to own or have a building I let go of the stress and judgment I had about what makes a 'real' church and leaned into who we really are.  Like Jesus, not owning a building frees us to do and be other things.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Baptism-It's not a slam dunk

Okay. I had to go there.
But as the community prepared for an adult baptism last week we had to ask again how do we as a Christian feminist community, in which all do not subscribe to any one way of thinking, make room for our different understandings of this important and sacred event?

We do have some traditions around baptism. 

One is that whatever method we use (sprinkle, pour or dunk) for the actual rite of baptism, a bowl of water is lifted from the whole (font or pool) and passed around the community. Each one holds the bowl and offers prayers, silently or aloud, for the one who is to be baptized and for their  journey with Godde.  The water is then returned to the font or pool that we will use for the baptism, mixing our prayers of blessing with the blessings of Godde.

The other is that we each tell the story of our own baptism. We actually do the work of remembering and telling. There are as many stories, experiences, understandings and meanings, from many different traditions, as there are people. 

Finally, when all have remembered and the one has been baptized, we turn to one another and say: This Godde says to you 'You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased!'

This time I heard from one of my Quakers parishioners who was feeling excluded by the event. Quakers do not baptize with water. They believe they are baptized by the Spirit.

I firmly believe that sacred rites and sacred rituals should not be events that exclude anyone from Godde. So I had to ask, "How do we hold that different understanding in one hand ,honor it and claim the power and importance of baptism by water in the other?" 

The conclusion is (of course) that we honor all baptisms. I encouraged her to reflect on her baptism by the Spirit and to share that when we got to that part of the service.  

I met with the person to be baptized (also a life long Quaker) and talked about what it meant to him, especially since ritual is not a part of his tradition. We talked about baptism as a communal event: we recognize the Christ in you and the claim it has on your life. We claim you as a child of Godde. We see you as Godde sees you. We recognize that you are called to embody Christ in the world. And we remember the time when we were claimed and how we are called to embody Christ.

When the time came, our Quaker friend, shared her experience and it lent us new wisdom. As did the memory and reflection of each  one. 

I preached on this passage from Mark 1:4-11 (NIV)
          And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with[e]water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.”
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

I hope we never approach sacred rituals believing we share some unspoken or rote understanding. The richness that comes from our differences can be trying but is mostly a blessing. For which I am deeply grateful. 

This week I learned again that some of the most important work I do as pastor of a diverse spiritual community is to make room.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thinking about Baptism

Tomorrow we baptize a member of Circle of Grace.

One of our traditions during an adult baptism is to go around the circle and have each of us  share the experience and memory of our own baptism. What did it mean to you? we ask. Tell the truth, we say.  There are many right answers and no wrong ones. What does it mean to you now? We reflect on and claim baptism's meaning for us then and now.

Then I will share this reflection:

Parents carry in their deepest places the memory of the miracle of you. 

As a mother I know that even when my daughter has disappointed me or made me angry or frustrated me beyond belief, I still and always see in her the miracle of who she is.  

And I’ve learned through loving her and through knowing myself as a child of Godde, daughter of Barbara and Lenny that even when I stumble and back track and stall in my journey I am still that miracle,
            …that my daughter is that miracle
            …that you are that miracle
            …that this one about to be baptized is that miracle.

Our age and experiences, our shortcomings – even our disasters can never negate the deepest truth of who we are:  we are a miracle.  Your “you-ness” is the miracle of you and that is the knowledge Godde always holds of you.

Thinking about baptism as birth helps us claim the deep way that we know Godde and Godde knows us.  With the miracle of each one’s birth we remember Godde’s laboring to bring forth creation. Godde sees the miracle in us not only in our first moments or months of life but in us each and every day of our lives…  When we emerge from the waters of baptism Godde claims our Christ-self and invites us to claim our Christ-self.
The miracle of the oldest among us is as sweet to Godde as the miracle of the newest among us.  Godde sees and loves each of us and treasures each of us as intensely as we treasure a babe newly thrust from the womb.

 In our baptism that is the truth we are called to recognize about one another.  At the table where we share the Eucharist that is the truth we are called to recognize about one another – not to the exclusion of the rest of humanity, but out the depths of our own humanity we experience the universal nature of Godde's love. Invited into an awareness of our deepest being or witnessing and affirming another through baptism impels us, obliges us, urges us, to see the miracle of every member of the human family.

When we are able to truly see ourselves or one another in the light of baptism we can  encourage and remind each another to claim it. Claim what it means to be a miracle. Claim what it means t be a child of Godde.  And  as brothers and sisters, as family and friends we also claim it for you.

Years ago in the mini-series “Roots” the character played by Cecily Tyson said that each time a baby was born into the slave community that parents and friends would peek into the tiny face and ask, “Are you the one?”   Are you the one who will liberate us?  Who will heal us?  Who will free us? Are you the one who will be Christ in the world?
… Mary, singing the Magnificat claimed that her child was “the one” as did Hannah, Samuels mother, who sang the song ages before Mary.  In “Roots” the questioners knew that each one could be “the one” because at birth we see more clearly the miracle of that one.  The potential of that one.  The capacity of that one… The sacredness of that one.
So when we meet together to claim the sacredness of a sister or brother in Christ through baptism let us challenge ourselves to be who we are called to be:  children of Godde, builders of the kin-dom, the embodiment of Christ in the world.

            Let us look around the circle and ask, “Are you the one?”
            And let the people say, “ I am.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Here's the thing...

Here's the thing.
My last post was so carefully expressed in general terms that, I don't know, it was tepid.
That's the nicest word I could come up with- and it's not about self-negation or judgment- it's just plain true.

This is what I wanted to say:

I am a gutsy, earthy, intense, deep-feeling, kind of person.
I can be transported by a breath of wind or the squish of water in my rain-soaked shoes.
Godde enchants me with all of Creation- including my body and the wonderful things it does: every taste and soft touch, every scent, every time I behold beauty, every pulse of sexual energy- all  are occasions for me to experience the Sacred.

When I center in meditation and breath it is never about distancing myself but about entering more and more deeply into my breath, my body, the pulse of blood in my veins.
I work to enter into the sense that I am breathing with all who breathes.

And when I pray. Well, it's not always pretty. Sometimes I pray while wallowing in the depths of my pain, or frustration or anxiety. But, by golly, I am praying. I guess conversational prayer feels sacred to me when I am being most honest, most real, most vulnerable, most struggling, most me... Not prettied up, not trying to 'act nice' with Godde but to be as real as I am. Even my profanity is holy sometimes. 

So grace and grit go hand in hand for me. 

I honor those who center peace. Who pray peace. Who transcend self as a way of entering into the Divine.  I'm just saying there is more than one way to be in an energetic, intentional 
relationship with Godde. 

It is good. It is a good and right thing to grapple with Godde in all our humanity.
In the past year I have grieved without ceasing. I have gone to a sleepless bed each night and risen to sawdust mornings. I have heaved great gasps of pain and anger. I have struggled to get through a day and given thanks when the end of each day arrived.

In every moment, feeling and being myself all the way out to my edges, and swimming in all my tangled emotions... Godde has been with me.

That's the thing I was trying to say in my last post. Godde isn't only in peace and centeredness. 
Godde is in the body and the blood and the struggle. 
Sometimes it is the most intimate place that Godde comes to us. 
Or we come to Godde. 

That's what I was trying to say.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

 Grace and Grit

         I sometimes hear people talk about spiritual experience as if it something that only takes place in the lofty ether-sphere. It certainly does happen there. We have 'mountain top' experiences - those times and places when we are transported by the Divine and know ourselves to be one with ALL. We are overcome with compassion. We feel deeply connected, deeply loved and deeply loving.

        Those times feed us,empower us and expose us to our sacred identity. We come to know not only the truth of who we are, but who we can be. Who we aspire to be. 

        Then the demands of twenty-first century life fracture our attention. Time becomes our most precious commodity. Living in the now, in each present moment is a godly challenge.

        The experience of deep connection happens when we are completely rooted in the present moment. Our focus, our thoughts, our bodies, our breaths are all now. Those  transcendent moments are difficult to sustain. So we long for them. Sometimes we even try to manufacture them. And often we carry about this niggling doubt that if we cannot sustain those moments then we are not truly spiritual.

        But there is another aspect of authentic, deep relationship with the Divine. We have stories about this other way of being deeply, spiritually engaged. In fact most of the stories in the Judeo-Christian tradition are stories of dynamic engagement with Godde. 

        We have gobs of stories about people who feel inadequate, who worry, who sulk and get angry, who wrestle with Godde all night and are walking wounded.    We have stories of laughter and grief, of people encountering Godde while farming, baking bread, threshing wheat, herding sheep. Or while trying to get away from one horror only to encounter another. We have stories of people taking great risks, sometimes succeeding and often failing miserably. And we have lots of stories about people who are sick and struggling to make ends meet or privileged and afraid of losing that privilege.  

        Our stories remind us that living a life engaged with the Sacred is not an other worldly experience.  We experience Godde within our very selves and between us and among us. Godde is not a separate reality. Godde is everywhere and ever present.

        Most of us don't recognize our encounters with Godde unless it is the 'mountain top' variety. But Godde is here. In the grit of life. The sweaty, stinky, achy, risky, scared, not-knowing places. If we wrestle with Godde all night and wake with an emotional or physical limp - now that is real intimacy. 

        Those messy, difficult places open us to profound, sacred experience. We only need to name it. 
        When we are angry with Godde or cannot make sense of injustice or disease or hunger or fear. Or hurt. Or despair. Godde enters. Not as a 'feel good' experience but as deeply present in all places and all times. It doesn't get any more spiritual than that.