Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sandy Hook Vigil: Reconciliation

Reflection on the topic of Reconciliation, offered to the Interfaith community, in cooperation with Moms Demand Action, Bloomington, IN

Reconciliation comes from words meaning "to come together." In most religious contexts, it has to do with the restoration of relationships. When we think of being reconciled, we think of broken relationships that are mended or a group of people coming together around a hurt - a hurt that they are able to put to rest. We use the word often to describe how individuals or groups, having been reconciled, can move forward again into a new chapter of life.

I'd like to speak tonight about reconciliation from a different perspective. A perspective that begins, not with the relationships we have with the other, but with the relationship we have with the self. For, if reconciliation is about coming together, that coming together must being with the very different parts of the self.

Any person in her right mind will agree that the self is always at war. It pushes and pulls. It grabs and releases. It holds on then lets go. It agrees then disagrees. The self can at one time want to live a life of ease and simplicity, and then pick up the computer and go on a shopping binge. The self can want a life free of competition and comparison, and in the same moment pick up the phone to see how many likes he has on a Facebook post. The self can crave to be free from the desire to do harm to self, while simultaneously doing that which is harmful. The self is always at war.

The starting point for reconciliation, then, is the self. Our own lives become the training ground for coming together. How can humanity expect to come together with each other, if we are unaware of the coming apart of the self? How can humanity come together with hands that are open and receptive, as long as we are unaware of the warring voices in our own heads and our own lives.

This is why our practices of prayer and meditation are important. These practices call us to look at ourselves with honesty. When we pray, when we practice meditation, we enter into spaces of honesty. The first observation to make is that we are all beautifully and wonderfully made, but as with anything beautiful, it can be equally complex. We are complex creatures, and we can easily turn a blind eye to the places of violence in our own interior landscapes. This is why our faith communities are so important.

In our faith communities, we learn practices and skills that help us look at these places of danger. Our faith communities support our journeys into and through frightening places. Our faith communities create the supportive environment in which to distinguish the true self from the false self. In these holy places, we might even face the startling reality that we are not the center of our own universe.

Reconciliation must begin in a place of brutal honesty. It must begin with the realization that our own inner fears and our own inner struggles and our own inner wars are where fear and division begin. A coming together must begin with a reconciliation of the parts of our lives that are unraveling. And most people aren't skillful enough or strong enough to do that work alone. As David Brooks says, "No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. . . Everyone needs redemptive assistance from outside - from family, friends, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions, exemplars, and, for believers, God. We all need people to tell us when we are wrong, to advise us on how to do right, and to encourage, support, arouse, cooperate, and inspire us along the way" (The Road to Character, p. 12-13).

We don't like to look at the self, and we don't like to ask for help, but I am convinced that much of the violence of the world could be avoided if people were given the space to look honestly at themselves and explore and own their own imperfections, insecurities, and fears. Reconciliation, then, must begin with an examination of the interior life. I like to imagine our faith communities as those spaces, schools, wombs of prayer and stillness that birth right thinking and acting. Our faith communities reflect what should be happening on the inside, giving voice to that which we forget - that which is hard to name or face. Our faith communities remind us that our inner work is as important and worthwhile as the work "out there."

In preparation for our time tonight, I've spent some time asking others, "What is the opposite of a weapon?"

A gift.
A hug.
Open arms.
A shield.
My favorite response: "a life preserver."

But could it be that the opposite of a weapon is reconciliation? For reconciliation seeks to do the opposite of a weapon. Whereas weapons separate us, reconciliation seeks to bring us together. Weapons drive us further and further apart, whereas reconciliation pulls us closer. Reconciliation calls us to drop that which separates us. It is the ongoing, moment-to-moment work of naming that we are different, but not separate.

Reconciliation is a slower go and it takes practice. So, here we are. Practicing reconciliation. I am thankful for our communities of faith that are involved in this holy and important work. And I am thankful to be here, together, with you. Tonight, we may be wonderfully and marvelously different, but we are not separate.

May the Holy One prosper the work of our hands, and the work of our hearts.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Article from HT, Bean Blossom Reaction

As I saw the images of the spray-painted words on the side of St. David's Episcopal Church, I thought to myself, "Wow. I thought those days were over." If those days were over (and I don't think they were) they are back. No one gets used to being intimidated, frightened, and bullied. Speaking from the perspective of my husband and myself, it doesn't take much intimidation or bullying to pull the rug out from underneath us.

Words and symbols of hate such as the ones spray-painted on the B-Line trail and the ones on the side of the Church in Bean Blossom are a stark reminder that the Church’s witness is critical. When people throw stones and use words that hurt, we can witness to love and compassion. When people turn our places of beauty and safety into chalkboards of hate, we can witness to justice and truth. Each of us is a witness to something. To quote Parker Palmer, “Our lives speak.” To what does your life speak? What does your witness look like?

My life has been dedicated to creating a safe space in which all people can explore the mysteries and beauty of a loving God. Like so many mainline denominations, the Episcopal Church has taken great strides in modeling God's unconditional love. This message is counter to what some believe about God. The more we make this message apparent, the more vulnerable we become. The wielders of the can of spray paint must have known something about the stance of the Episcopal Church, or they wouldn't have left their marks. In speaking our truths, in voicing our opinions, in standing up for what is right, we make ourselves vulnerable. The word for vulnerable comes from a word meaning 'to wound.'  I think of all the brave souls who have been brave enough to make known their opinions about justice and equality. They made themselves vulnerable - wound-able.

The wounds made by a can of spray paint can be covered over, but they are impossible to erase.

I'm not sure what the days ahead will be like, but I am sure of this: God reigns. I know that a spirit of Light and Love is stronger than a spirit of darkness and hate. I know that, even when we take a few steps backward, God is always moving us forward, and this forward action involves our activity and participation. We are called to react, not to become reactive. So, we carefully and prayerfully consider our reaction. How do we respond? I recall the words of the prophet Micah who, in his time, was asking God for direction, and who also lived in the midst of trouble and confusion. “What does the Lord require?” Micah asked (Micah 6:8). To what are we called to witness? As it has always been: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. May God give us the wisdom to know when to listen, to know when to speak, and to know when to re-act. May God, even amid our struggles and confusions, bring peace.

This type of peace is more than just words and symbols so easily spray painted on walls and fences. God’s peace is of the heart and spirit - a peace that calls humanity to drop its weapons of swords and symbols and spray-paint. It is a peace that brings humanity to a place of genuine respect and appreciation for that which makes us unique, and for that which makes us the same.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the name of our Lord, the bringer of healing and health.

Through the thin wall of my 'academic bubble' at Luther Seminary, the news of the violence in Orlando broke. My classmates and I and were just beginning to read the assigned material for our course on the Psalms, which begins today (Monday). One scholar defines a theme of the psalms as a 'move from disorientation to orientation.' The people of Israel were disoriented.

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 
(Psalm 137:1)

They were no longer in the familiarity and safety of their homes in Zion. They had been moved to a new land - Babylon. They were disoriented, unable to find 'home base.' The themes of the psalms often speak of being in a strange place. This place isn't always a place on the map. The disorientation can be spiritual or emotional.

Regardless of who they are, when sister kills sister and brother kills brother, it is disorienting. Certainly, we have lost our way. All disregard for human life is disorienting. Some of you have kindly reached out to me, as this act of violence hits closer to home. I have to admit that, as a gay person, I can't help but imagine myself in the group of people who were targeted. With regard to my sexuality, my marriage, and my lifestyle, I have become lulled into a place of safety in our wonderful Bloomington and Trinity Church. Clearly, this is not the case in all places and with all people. So, to put it simply, I am disoriented. My center is wobbly and I find myself wondering about many things that I can't yet find the words to articulate. So, I rely on trust.

I trust in the God who reaches into our world, even in the midst of crisis, to surround the sad and suffering with people who will help them and love them and hold them up. I trust in the God who reaches into our world, even when we are angry and lost, to guide us into conversation and holy action. I trust in the God who is the shepherd, even to scattering sheep. I trust in Jesus who stood face to face with conflict in the hopes of bringing about a new kingdom.

What can you and I do to bring about this new kingdom? What can we do to be honest about our prejudices and create safe places to look at them? What can Trinity do to facilitate holy conversations of justice and hope? What can we do to help a disoriented people find their center - their Lord? This is our work together.

For now, though, we pray . . .
We pray for an end to senseless killing and violence.
We pray for the repose of the souls of those who were killed.
We pray for comfort and strength for those who were wounded - and for their doctors, nurses, and families, and caregivers.
We pray for those who have lost daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, friends and colleagues.
We pray for those who wish us ill.
And, when we have come back to a more centered place, we pray for insight and wisdom to be Christ's hands and heart and voice in the world.

May the Lord bless us and keep us . . . all of us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter Wednesday

Do they really have that much to say, these two birds?

Or, is it between my two dumb ears that their conversation is so meaningful?
One arcs yellow, the other dips blue.
But they don’t make green.

No, not green. There is already enough
Beneath the surface,
On the edge of the trees,
Between the two front teeth of the rabbit.

Green is on the way.

Instead, their color is Saffron -
The color of resuscitation, the color of energy, the color of resurrection.

Keep talking, birds.
Swoop and swirl. Arc and axis.
Geometry of life made real by beak, feather, and brittle bone.
Unbashful, unbridled birdsong.




Do they really have that much to say, these two birds?

- C. Dupree

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

John 12:1-8 - Movers

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."


I don't know if you've ever had movers move you, but they are very thorough. While you and I are reminiscing and trying to organize our lives, categorizing our boxes and living rooms and bathrooms and kitchens, the movers just want to get you moved. They want to finish up and get on to the next location. To this end, they will box up whatever is standing still. I might put the soap, the shower curtain, and the box of Q-Tips in a carefully thought-out box magic markered, "Miscellanous." The movers, on the other hand, are just as happy to put the plunger into the same box as the toothbrushes. The movers sweep through your house with a complete disregard of time and place. They leave sentimentality well outside the door. Their primary concern? Getting you relocated. They are as likely to wrap and pack a trashcan filled with used dental floss and tissue as they are the piece of pottery hand-thrown by a western North Carolina artist.

Even so, I was surprised when my entire home was empty and turning left out of my drive way. Years and years of memories were now heading west toward a place I didn't know well. You know the drill . . . I lingered. Even with the whole place empty, I wandered through the rooms, brushing my fingertips along doorknobs, window sills, and countertops. "I learned a lot about myself here," I told myself.  At that moment, my foot brushed across a bump in the carpet. It was a puddle of wax the size of a coaster. Immediately, I remembered a dinner party. Around a farm table my friends and I sat talking about music, art, gossip. We told stories and laughed. Slowly, the candles melted and the wax followed gravity through the large gaps in the board, onto my cheap, light blue, condominium carpet. As my foot brushed across the imprint of that night, I lost it.  Matthew was nearby, "You OK?" I was sad and teary. I wanted everything to return to the way it was. I didn't want to grow, move, change. The movers had left nothing in my home except this puddle of wax, a reminder of friends, warmth, and support. It made me wonder if I had made the right decision.

I wonder if this is how Jesus felt that night. He was at a dinner party with his friends. He was in the home of Lazarus, the friend he raised from the dead. He was in the home of Mary and Martha. You remember them, right? It is not his first visit. Yet Martha, true to form, is still busying herself with many tasks. And Mary - Mary with her long hair - is once again at the feet of her Lord. They are all there together. I'm sure a few candles were lighted and spilling down onto the floor.  I wonder if Jesus thought to himself, "This is the last time I'll be here. . . . This is the last time things will ever look like this . . . I wonder . . . Is there a way to get out of this?"


I can't imagine a more intimate Biblical setting than the one described in John 12;1-8. All of these people have come together. The entirety of Jesus' ministry surrounds him. And Mary, this woman, breaks open a bottle nard. The smell fills the room.  It had to be overwhelming. For Jesus, the scent of the oil, the images of his friends, the presence of his betrayer - they had to overtake him and make him wonder what in the hell he had done.  But, somehow, this intimacy feels appropriate. Jesus' life, his ministry, is based on closeness. None of Jesus' ministry was at a distance. The fact that Jesus was in a room filled with perfume, candles, and his worst enemy only reassures us that Jesus wants to be as close as possible. Jesus' trial and crucifixion didn't only happen in public -  in broad daylight. It happened in the intimacy of his private life, too. His betrayal happens even as soft candles are lit, as food is being cooked, as drinks are being served by delicate hands, and when stories are being told among friends.  I'm sorry that no part of Jesus' life was immune to humanity's rejection and betrayal, not even a casual dinner party with friends.

"I learned a lot about myself," Jesus might have said as he left that night.

"The smell of the fragrance filled the room," St. John tells us.

The sweet, wild smell of outdoors, of laughter and friendship, of bitter jealousy, of blood, wood, and contempt. "Let her do what she came here to do," Jesus said of his friend who washes his feet and dries them with her hair. "Pretty soon, all of this will be packed up, gone, a distant memory. The movers will come to sweep it all away."

Twelve years later, I still remember that cooled puddle of wax on the floor. It reminds me of the need to change and to grow and to move beyond what is comfortable. The memory of Matthew holding me on that spot on that blue carpet reminds me of resurrection. The movers can pack as fiercely as they'd like, but resurrection cannot be contained and squeezed into a box. It is like a fragrance filling the room and breathed deeply into the lungs and the laughter of friends - friends who come together on a Friday night to shoot the breeze, drink good wine, and dream about a world filled with beauty and love and wonder.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Our lives - our sustenance - are borrowed from existence for a few moments, and that is a life. If the body's task is to turn food, air, and water into heartbeat and muscle, perhaps the psyche's task is to turn time into beauty and meaning. Into story, image, music, and dance. For all our capacities for destruction, we are a generous species. We want to make things better. -- Jane Hirshfield

Monday, February 15, 2016

Serve thee with a quiet mind

During the season of Lent, our liturgy concludes with a Lenten prayer over the people. I'm not sure how it came to pass that these short prayers took the place of the blessing during Lent, but one of them sticks out for me.  The prayer asks that we might serve God 'with a quiet mind.'  Boy, do I ever need that!

I don't know about you, but my mind is hardly ever quiet.  It is the brain, after all. Like all of the organs of the body, it works 24/7.  Some organs manufacture blood cells or bile or glucose or whatever (I'm not a doctor). At any rate, you get my point. The organs exist to produce something. What does the brain produce? Thoughts. Constantly. Always. Even when sleeping, our brain is busy doing what the brain does, creating thoughts. No wonder it's hard to get our brains to slow down or, as the prayer says, to be quiet.

Meditation can help. First of all, meditation acknowledges that our brains are an ongoing stream of activity. Meditation isn't about stopping this activity. It does, however, help us manage our thoughts. By observing them, we see them for what they are. Sometimes thoughts are helpful, sometimes, they're singularly unhelpful. Our thoughts can take us to helpful places, but at times, the cycling, irrational, unrealistic thoughts can drive us into places of anger and self-judgement.  Meditation, breathing, prayer, yoga, times of quiet help us cultivate a quiet mind. With a quiet mind, we can be more rational about who we are and what we're facing. When we observe our thoughts, not control them, we gain some distance and our reactions to them are more balanced. The beginning point of meditation is accepting that we'll never stop or control what the brain is doing. Through practice, we can, however, change how we react to what the brain is doing.

Ultimately, our lives, and the world would be a better place if more people would take the time to observe what their brains are doing. If we were better at managing pain, or fear, or anger - if we didn't pick up a gun when we felt threatened - if we just gave ourselves a little more space between how we feel and how we react - more people would be alive and we would be at each others tables instead of at each others throats.

Truth be told, a complex organ creates a complex product. Accepting all that the brain is thinking and doing takes patience and practice - years of practice. I admit, we need our brains to do what it does and, hopefully, we'll never stop our brain from doing it. Even still, we can be more in touch with how it drives us into places of anxiety or places of peace. Slowing down the mind is about acceptance - accepting that we are creative beings, that we have a lot of power, and that have a choice of how we use that creative power . . . for good, or for ill.

May we all serve God, each other, our planet, and ourselves with quiet, gentle minds.