Thursday, July 28, 2016

Follow the Path of Love

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’m back in the office now for two weeks between last week’s trip to Central New York to meet people in advance of the Episcopal election there and my family vacation, which we’re taking the second and third weeks of August. I heard good things about your time with the Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas, Episcopal Chaplain at MIT, who will be back again for one Sunday in August. (Norm is taking the other.)

As you may know, my husband Noah is a candidate for bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Central NY. Last week they had the “Walkabout” Meetings where the candidates answered questions from the diocese and we all visited ministries of the diocese. The transition and discernment committees’ hospitality was wonderful, even in the midst of long days. From Wednesday – Saturday, we all got on the bus around 10AM each day and got back to our hotel at 10PM. The diocese spans south to the Pennsylvania border, east to the Adirondacks, West to Ithaca and Elmira, and then north to Lake Ontario and the city of Watertown.

I have said many times that there is blessing on all sides—blessings if Noah is elected and new communities and ministries come into our life—and blessings if we stay in Massachusetts with our communities at Grace Medford and Christ Church. All along in this process it has been an exercise in “yes” to invitations—yes to the invitation for Noah to be nominated, yes to the discernment committee’s retreat, and then yes to joining the slate. Now that journey has come to an end, and it’s up to the people of Central NY. (Quick primer on bishop elections in the Episcopal Church: Each parish has lay voting delegates. Every canonically resident clergy person also votes. The final decision is made when a candidate has been elected in both the lay and clergy orders. They begin voting in the morning, and vote until there’s a clear decision. Church wide, there are 7 other couples of a bishop married to a priest; yes, I could still do parish ministry!)

It’s one thing, though, to believe that either outcome is a blessing (which they both would be) and another thing to stay centered in the midst of the not-knowing. The slate was first released on May 1 (after a months-long process of interviews and retreats for the candidates). Ten days now until the election, it’s even harder to know what either outcome would feel like.

Last week’s Gospel told us to pray: “God in heaven, your will be done.” But then what?

In June I quoted in this space a piece from Carlo Carretto, an Italian desert monastic (1910-1988) who wrote the book Letters from the Desert. Stay or go, be active or contemplative, city or country—the only decision there is to make is to follow the path of love. Reading Carretto in this time of my own uncertainty reminds me of an image of one of the speakers I heard at Wild Goose Festival earlier in July. Gabrielle Stoner talked about how we get attached to stories about ourselves— “I always ___” or “I could never ___”. Rather than be convinced of this insistence on narrow identity, in our spiritual lives we are invited to “widen the aperture”: to look wider than just the current moment or current question to a more transcendent consciousness. Spending time with Carretto’s invitation to focus on love rather than endless obsession on personal circumstance and clever understanding takes me out of the current roller coaster of wondering what will happen on August 6.

Here’s more about what Carretto says about prayer:
“As long as we pray only when and how we want to, our life of prayer is bound to be unreal. It will run in fits and starts. The slightest upset—even a toothache—will be enough to destroy the whole edifice of our prayer-life. ‘You must strip your prayers,’ the novice master told me. You must simplify, deintellectualize. Put yourself in front of Jesus as poor—not with any big ideas, but with living faith. Remain motionless in an act of love…don’t try to reach God with your understanding; that is impossible. Reach [God] in love; that is possible. (13)

Reach God in love. That is possible.

Blessings,
Sara+

Miss the sermon Sunday 7/24? It’s here!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Praying for Salvation, Working for Justice

Dear People of Christ Church,
Last week I was out of the office to attend the Wild Goose Festival, a gathering in the mountains of North Carolina my family and I have attended for the last four years. My shorthand description of it is “Progressive Christians in the mud”—speakers come from all over the map from self-titled “recovering evangelicals” to pacifist Roman Catholics to anti-racist suburban mom bloggers. And folk music rock stars Dar Williams and the Indigo Girls!

The workshops I attended were all over the map—I went to one talk by a lay friend of a silent order of Cistercian monks about meditation, one about pilgrimage and laying down your metaphorical and literal baggage, and several talks by the womanist ethicist scholar Emilie Townes (womanism is a politics centered in the experiences of black women). Jim Wallis, founder of the social justice group Sojourners and author of a whole slew of books about American society and Christian faith and politics, was there this year, speaking again about Racism as America’s Original Sin (also his latest book). What I love about Wild Goose is the sense of community that emerges—I can tell our kids to disappear for an hour and they’ll come back jubilant and covered in dirt, along with a new best friend and an invitation for lunch at someone’s campsite. That doesn’t work in metro Boston.

Backgrounded in all of the beauty, of course, was pain—at this moment the pain of racism in this country and the pain that it is a system that we are all enmeshed in, like a spider web that clings to our bodies and won’t let us free. If everybody believed that black lives matter, we wouldn’t have to say it. The “All lives” of contemporary America does not, when the rubber hits the road, actually include “all.” The Black Lives Matter movement is about changing that.

It is a lifelong task to be aware of how racism works in America and how those of us who are white benefit from that system. We are never finished. We will never have done enough. But it’s not about guilt or innocence, not about being paralyzed by shame or longing for exoneration. It’s a journey. Step by step, thought by thought, day after day paying attention. The way we interact with the racism of contemporary America is a moral and political question. That sounds very “exterior,” but it’s also a spiritual journey. We are called to pay attention to white privilege and racial discrimination because where discrimination happens Jesus is present. Jesus is always present where there is suffering. And white people—we are not suffering in contemporary America in the same way that people of color are suffering. We are not. Jesus is on the other side of that. Always. With Philando Castile and Alton Sterling AND with the Dallas police officers who were murdered. In the same way that the assassin at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando didn’t represent Islam, the shooter in Dallas didn’t represent the Black Lives Matter movement.

Writing about our trip to Wild Goose Festival last year I shared a quote from a talk I attended that year with Paul Fromberg, a priest in San Francisco. He said “I don’t believe in progress. I believe in salvation.” I don’t know if I am making much progress in my own journey around race. Am I doing the best I can? Most of the time. I will pray for salvation, too.

Blessings,
Sara+

PS—Please keep my husband, Noah, and me in your prayers as we travel to Central New York next week for the series of meetings leading up to the bishop election on August 6. I’ll be out of the office from July 19-24. Thanks to the Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas, Episcopal Chaplain at MIT, who will be guest celebrant and preacher on July 24. In case of a pastoral emergency, the clergy from Redeemer Lexington will be on call.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Love, the Motive for All Good

Dear People of Christ Church,
In our Gospel on Sunday, the response to Jesus and his disciples is pretty ambivalent. It seems that people want to follow him, but that they all have something to do first—to care for a dying father, to say goodbye to those at home, we could probably all add to the list. We all have a list of things we “need” to do…

Jesus is pretty unimpressed and appears to dismiss them—“”No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Ok! Leave everything, and right away. Except… Last week, the person Jesus healed says he wants to follow Jesus, and Jesus says no. Stay. Stay and talk about what God has done for you.

So which is it? Does staying home with your commitments render you unfit for the kingdom of God, or is it the most faithful thing you can do to honor God through the care and relationships God has given you?

Both, of course, and more.
Trying to spin out a general rule out of Scripture is like untangling a spider web; each individual story can be read on so many different levels. The soft fibers get caught everywhere in your hair and hands, and all you were trying to do was find one set of instructions. But there is no one set of instructions, unless you step way, way, way, back. Staying or leaving might both be the most faithful choice, or God might have something else in mind. I want to share something I found recently by the Italian monk Carlo Carretto. (1910-1988) He had had a very “productive” activist career and had accomplished a lot, but left to be a monk in the desert in favor of contemplation and simplicity. He wondered if he’d made the right choice, if he were wasting his life. Here’s where he came down:

Only one thing in this world is not problematic: charity, love. Love alone is not a problem for him who lives it. To those who ask me if I am wasting my time, I can only say. “Live love, let love invade you. It will never fail to teach you what you must do.”

Charity, which is God in us, will point to the way ahead. It will say to you “Now kneel,” or “Now leave.” Don’t worry about what you ought to do. Worry about loving. Don’t interrogate heaven repeatedly and uselessly saying, “What course of action should I pursue?” Concentrate on loving instead.

And by loving you will find out what is for you. Loving, you will listen to the Voice. Loving, you will find peace. Love is the fulfillment of the law and should be everyone’s rule of life; in the end it’s the solution to every problem, the motive for all good…

And if the will of God urges you to seek out the poor, to give up all you possess, or to leave for distant lands, what does the rest matter? Or if it calls you to found a family, or take on a job in a city, why should you have any doubts?

Why should you have any doubts? Only love.

Blessings,
Sara+

Miss the sermon on 6/19? It’s here!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hearing God in Sheer Silence

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’ve been continuing to think about the sound of “sheer silence” that we heard God speaking in to the prophet Elijah in the book of Kings reading for Sunday. At vestry we always have a check in question for people to share something of themselves before we start our work. My question for this month was “Where have you heard God in sheer silence lately?”

Our answers were, I think, pretty typical for any group of 21st century people. Kissing a sleeping child goodnight is about as exquisite as any silence can be, and holy, too. There’s silence in listening for God to invite us into the next step in our lives, silence in being with a person who is dying, silence in being finished with a huge project, our anxieties stilled for a moment. We’re all doing our best to find God in stillness. The lovely thing, too, is that you are also all doing your best to be present with God in the noise. That came up in our Episcopal Church newcomer class as well—as people of faith we long for a deeper sense of connection with God and want to include God in more places in our lives, wherever we find ourselves and whatever we’re doing. Praying for others and finding ways to pray always—and all ways—is all part of a life of seeking God.

This message from the SSJE brothers’ daily “word” came through on Tuesday morning:
Silence invites slowing down, restoring sleep, savoring food, being attentive to self and the Divine. It’s a “healing gift” we intentionally foster to give and receive. Compared to the cacophony of the world, silence keeps catching us off-guard, inviting wonder at being so loved by God. —Br. Luke Ditewig

Brother Luke, I think, nails something here—that any time we can be more intentional and focused on what’s in front of us is a time for interior silence, no matter what is going on outside of us. Silence leaves us open to God, allowing us to close off our own busy-ness and sense of anxiety and responsibility. Silence isn’t the same as quiet. You can have an interior monologue that shouts all alone in an empty room; the background noise can take over: What do you have to do later? What’s the weather going to be like when you’re on vacation? What if your babysitter is late again? And on and on. Not silent. At the same time, you can have an enormous crowd around you shouting and laughing, while you take a single sip of the drink in front of you and feel an interior stillness that can’t be shaken.

Where’s your quiet? Where’s your noise? Where is God waiting in the silence under both of those?

Blessings,
Sara+

Miss the sermon on 6/19? It’s here!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hear Our Prayer

Dear People of Christ Church,
As we continue to unfold ourselves, both personally and culturally, from the grief of the violence in Orlando last week, I wanted to share instead of more words, more prayers. Others have offered wonderful words of challenge, comfort, and Christ—most recently two posts from my Lutheran friend, The Rev. Angel Marrero, pastor of Santuario Waltham: A Pastoral Response from a Gay Latino Priest and, for considering the place of the church in anti-LGBT sentiment, The Pulse Martyrs: Confession Before Communion.

In the meantime, I offer only prayers—here are some I compiled for our Interfaith Vigil service on Monday. We had a beautiful service of light and prayer, and our collection for Waltham House, our local LGBT group home for teens, raised close to $300.

___

From one another and from God, we pray forgiveness for our part in the way our communities have been bruised and our world torn apart. We repent for words and deeds that provoke prejudice, hatred, and revenge. God of compassion and healing
Hear our prayer

Deliver us from suspicions and fears that stand in the way of reconciliation, particularly holding in love those who are Muslim who experience discrimination. God of compassion and healing
Hear our prayer

Deliver us from our unwillingness to confront our own privilege: racial, economic, by gender or sexual orientation, God of compassion and healing
Hear our prayer

For the community of the Pulse nightclub. For bartenders and bouncers, for DJs and dancers. For all who made it a place of refuge and safety, that a sanctuary may be restored. God of compassion and healing
Hear our prayer

We pray in hope that our beautiful world can be transformed through love and beauty. For all who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. For hearts to know God’s love revealed in all God’s children. God of compassion and healing
Hear our prayer

We pray in thanksgiving for our many religious traditions, and for the many names by which you are known, O God. For Yhwh, Allah, Spirit, and Christ. God of compassion and healing
Hear our prayer

We pray for fair politics and brave leaders. For an end to gun violence, for an end to the quiet assumption that nothing can be done and that carnage is inevitable. Give us the gift of holy hope,
And by your grace and healing presence join our hearts to yours.

Blessings,
Sara+

Miss the sermon on 6/12? It’s here!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

In the Season of Church Retreats

Dear People of Christ Church,
In the “institutional church” structures where I run, this is the season of the long-meeting-masquerading-as-retreat. I serve on several diocesan bodies, and we are all having our annual “retreats” this time of year—actually, just really long meetings that are labeled retreats so we’ll all feel better about blocking off huge time chunks on our calendars. We had our “retreat” for the Commission on Ministry, the group that works with the ordination process for priests and deacons and came out of it with a whole lot of great “fixes” for our work together, but it was short of a retreat. Next week I have a 5 hour meeting with the bishop and the council of deans—my guess is that we will come out of that with some great ideas, too, but that it might be just short of spiritually refreshing. I’m proud to say that our own annual vestry retreat is, in fact, a retreat!

Today, though, I had the pleasure of one of those long meetings that actually was a retreat. A small group of those ministering in Waltham have been meeting for many years as the interfaith “Waltham Ministerial Association” for support and community. Rabbi David from Temple Beth Israel led us in a storytelling workshop. Rev. Marc from First Parish made lentil soup. In the afternoon, Becky from Chaplains on the Way offered us the labyrinth that COTW uses in their ministry. Since COTW has moved to Christ Church, they host monthly labyrinth walks for their community right here in our parish hall, most recently this past Wednesday.

I’ve always really loved the labyrinth as a symbol—the idea is found in all kinds of spiritual communities. In Christianity, though, they began to catch on in the middle ages when it became popular for people to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and other sacred sites. For those who couldn’t, the labyrinth was presented as a way of engaging the prayer of movement and spiritual journey without the hardship of actual travel. One of the most famous ones is in Chartres Cathedral. There’s one on the cover of our Pentecost bulletins. I have one on my ankle, too.

In a labyrinth, the pilgrim has a destination: there is a center to it, and each step brings you closer. This is as opposed to a maze, which tries to get you lost. The circuits of a labyrinth bring you closer to the center, then further out, then close again. You think you’re almost there, but then find yourself in a different direction. You think you are furthest away from your destination, and suddenly it appears close on the horizon. As you walk, your breathing has a chance to calm, your body settles, and, ever so silently, you might hear God whispering.

Blessings,
Sara+

Have a few minutes? “Walk” a labyrinth with author Jan Richardson. The video is 9 minutes long. Find it on youtube.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Finding our Moral Footing

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week, our Episcopal Church Class will take on “Contemporary Moral Issues,” and wow, there seem to be a lot of them swirling around. On Sunday in my sermon I mentioned how God had “shown up” in a powerful (and surprising to all of us, I think) way at a conference I attended in Portland, OR the week before. What was going to be a fun and creative time for a group of Millennial and Generation X clergy to hang out and talk shop became a revelatory witnessing about sexism in the church. Sexism is a moral issue.

On Sunday, I, along with many clergy across the country, will wear orange stoles to remember victims of gun violence. Why orange? It’s the color hunters wear for safety. The idea came about from friends of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15 year old high school student who was shot to death on the south side of Chicago a week after marching in President Obama's second inaugural parade in 2013.  June 2 is her birthday. Gun violence is a moral issue.

Today, Charlie Baker has announced that law enforcement will be permitted to be detain undocumented immigrants on behalf of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement authority. How we treat “the alien who resides with you…as  a citizen” (Leviticus 19:34) is a moral issue.

This week, the MA house and senate voted on bills to protect the right of public accommodations access for  transgendered persons. How we respect the dignity of every human being, of every gender identity, is a moral issue.

The Boston anti defamation league announced today that just halfway into the year, Massachusetts has already seen almost as many anti Semitic acts (56) as in all of last year (61). Such events were reported at 23 schools and colleges. How we treat those of other faiths is a moral issue.

All of these are moral issues, yet we live in a world that so often tramples the bodies of the oppressed and seduces us into the lie that who we are is determined by how much we have. In baptism we make all kinds of promises about how we’ll engage the world and each other. We study a Bible that’s full of stories of Jesus Christ going toward the margins of society and toward people in need. What happens next?

The “next” is our whole lives. The “next” is how we go, day by day, examining how we treat others and how we create communities of care, concern, and hospitality. We are also called into lives in which we “love our neighbors as ourselves”… sometimes the “love yourself” part of the equation is the one that comes out with the shorter stick. Sometimes we internalize the false stories of our broken-yet-precious world, and oppression turns inward. I came out of last week’s conversation about discrimination against women last week with some critical questions for the wider church. I came out with some critical questions for myself, too (and will hopefully have something on my own blog about it in the next few days).

What moral issues are you struggling with these days?
How can this Christian community help you to find your footing in responding to them?
What issues aren’t we seeing?

Blessings,
Sara+