Out of sync.

Jesus gathers his disciples together to send them out to the world, knowing that they will be all torn up by the various causes and desires and troubles that pull for their attention. He wants them to focus on what is most important. He says to them something like this. “Don’t be afraid. I have my eye on the sparrows. What do you have your eye on? Want to connect with me? Choose well. Lose your life as you know it and you will find me.”

I can relate to those disciples. Can you? I had the most frustrating and liberating few hours yesterday and wow it was amazing how my spirit fluctuated through it all. It began with a simple annoying thing with my cell phone, which for many of us, is also our camera, our computer, and our connector (apologies here to God who is of course The Connector and don’t you forget it!) Well I did forget it because when my cell phone started delaying and then not sending or receiving pictures and emails and instead putting them in what it so smartly called a “queue” I began to lose it. Slowly and steadily, the longer that my messages got stuck in the queue, the more frustrated I became.

One and then two trips to the phone store only made it worse. A call out to Google was a dead end. “We are free but there is nobody you can talk to!” It was quite weird that I would get so caught up in anxiety – after all I did have email service on my laptop. But that little traveling “small c” connector was slow and stuck and that was not good. Finally I figured out that it was not syncing and then I got the message from the Messenger (aka the Connector.) Marguerite, you are out of sync. You have fallen off the path and you need to take a break from feeling the falsehood that you are in control, able to see and do what needs to be done in a flash, and that all is well if only you are synced. Not.

I pushed the darn sync button (Who is pushing my button?) No connection. Still waiting in line. All cued up. With no connection I left the house and the phone behind and went swimming at the State Forest and got connected big time. Swimming. Breathing. Seeing. Smelling. Hearing. Praying. Letting God back into my day. By the time I got home I was so happy to be still out of computer-world syncopation because I could breathe again. Today the queue emptied out or the phone got synced up. Who knows? I am going to tune in to the God station more often.

 

This entry was posted on June 22, 2017. 2 Comments

Stronger Together

This blog was previously published in a slightly different form in our local daily newspaper, the Greenfield Recorder. It is a message that stands to be repeated.

I am the pastor of Trinity church in Shelburne Falls Massachusetts, a church formed in 1950 from three and then four churches who for many reasons felt called to become one church. I wish I was there at the time to see them struggle with questions of faith and practice, tradition and hope as they found ways to do church. Those seeds of change fell on good ground and made our church stronger over the years to this time in history when we are living into our new identity as an open and affirming church, open specifically now to a group of people who have not been welcomed and affirmed in churches – gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. As a lesbian pastor I know that experience well. Our new church sign says clearly and with a little wry humor “Everybody welcome. Seriously. Everybody.”

“Everybody welcome” is also one message of the Franklin County Pride Walk in Greenfield Massachusetts held this year on Saturday June 24. We are seriously stronger together when everybody is welcome.

The message sounds sweet and old fashioned. You might say “Of course everybody is welcome.” But this statement is radical, fierce, and counter-cultural. It radically challenged what was happening not that many years ago when some of us had to walk in Pride parades with bags over our heads to keep our jobs and our children. This statement is counter to the present hate filled and division-creating idea that some people come first and others come not at all. This statement is fiercely challenging to how my religion, Christianity, has been hijacked by those who testify that homosexuality is not compatible with Christianity; that we are not welcome to come as we are.

I met a woman this week who said she thought we were beyond needing to walk in Pride walks. Equal marriage is the law of the land and so many faith communities including my own have declared ourselves fully open and affirming. What is the big deal? Why bother to walk? Isn’t that all passé?

I disagreed with her because on that very day I had met with a young woman who left a church that told her that gay and lesbian people are sinful and deserve damnation. Within the four denominations that gave birth to my own church the question of sexual orientation is still being debated and schisms are still happening. God talk is still sometimes being used to hurt rather than bless LGBTQ people and their families. It is not a given to feel pride. We are just barely past the first anniversary of the hate inspired killings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Florida. We are still in the age where LGBTQ people are targets because of our perceived “otherness.”

I will be marching with my church on June 24. We will be showing with our feet and our banners that it does get better and it is not better yet. I am grateful to be with people who believe that Love guides and puts us on the street, in houses of worship, and in communities so we can make the world better, one step at a time. We are one. We are stronger together.

This entry was posted on June 13, 2017. 2 Comments

Tendering

My Spiritual Director is a Friend – both in the Quaker and in the personal sense. She is a blessing to me – someone who listens deeply and wisely and who helps re-direct me back to Spirit when I go wandering down another road. I am so grateful to have this tender and helpful friend, someone like the Advocate who Jesus promised to send his friends when he had to leave the planet. Advocate, Friend, Counselor, Holy Spirit. How wonderful it is to find that we are still on the receiving end of this promise.

This week after our session, which these days is Face Time rather than “real-time” my director sent me a reading from the Quaker tradition on the concept of tendering. I have been meditating on what it means in my life and how I continue to be tenderized by the Word and the words, and the way of the world. According to the reading, “someone is tender if they are open to feeling, especially feelings of compassion, love and pity. … Often however we must be made tender, with our defenses broken down, or our pride disarmed, so that we are malleable, and willing to hear where we are in need of guidance towards a closer walk with the Guide who is both Breaker-in and Mender.”

Breaker-in and Mender. Oh that one caught me by surprise. I thought first of a meat tenderizer – a mallet that you use to hammer meat to make it easier to chew and easier to digest. By pounding on the meat the cook is able to make that meat more tender and palatable. So meat, and who of us is not meat, is made tender by persistent pounding, making our hard hearts softer and our misguided minds opened to new insight. Life itself, through all the ways that God intrudes and sidles up against us, makes us “available, vulnerable, and receptive to change and transformation.”

After the meat tenderizer association I thought of all the beautiful and tender people who I know and love – people who well up with tears when they see someone being hurt – people who seem to see through the walls that other’s put up and find on the other side another broken soul – people who are full to spilling over with love and compassion.

I wonder now if these tender souls have been tenderized in ways that I know not of. Has God blessed and blasted them, broke and mended them so they could be this available? Or are some of us just born that way – open-hearted, tender, and receptive to change? I think that The Tenderizer works in mysterious and complicated ways and is not above working through nature and nurture (and even lack of nurture.)

Thank you dear Friend for opening me to this lovely and painful concept of tendering. May it and you and all my tender friends be held and loved and accompanied on this tender road. Grace and Peace.

 

This entry was posted on June 9, 2017. 4 Comments

Totally, absolutely, absurd

One of the hardest things for me to believe in the Bible is the story about Jesus ascending into heaven. I can grasp the birth, death and even the resurrection but the picture of Jesus being lifted to the clouds was a stumbling block. Until I read the story more carefully and I found the disciples at the heart of it. Wherever the disciples are, I am. What I stumble over they do too. Sometimes in that stumbling I get a wake up call.

The disciples asked Jesus; Give us a little more information. Is this when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Always the disciples are stuck in their time and their expectations. They expect Israel is going to come back into power. They don’t get that the kingdom of God is not limited to one nation, no matter how powerful. Like me trying to grasp what is clearly over my head, they want to know “Will it be today, tomorrow, next year? When?”

Talking was clearly not working so Jesus showed them a whole other zone of time and space by surrendering his place on the planet and giving in to being lifted up. He showed them what it means to have God call the shots.

Here is where the shocked friends helped me take a great leap of faith. They stood there, gawking, staring up to the skies. If there was one of those little bubbles over their heads that tell you what people are thinking, I am sure that the words would be “This is absurd! People don’t fly. Birds do!”

If the first and most intimate friends of Jesus could be baffled by this absurd ascension I can be too. Absurd means wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate and that totally describes what happened. But absurd does not mean untrue – just unreasonable, illogical, and inappropriate.

What has even been appropriate about Jesus? Born in a stable to an unwed mother, teaching heretical things like “the first shall be last” then dying on a cross and resurrecting three days later – none of this is what anyone would call appropriate. All of it, from start to finish, if there is a finish, is the heart and soul of Jesus.

Off they went – walking back to Jerusalem to the room where they locked themselves in, men and women, for a 10 day prayer fest. We might call it a silent retreat. They did not say “Forget it, I quit.” They said “Lord, what now? You who prayed out loud for us so that we could feel how you and God and the Spirit are one with us…even when we are scratching our heads…now what?”

Nothing about Jesus is understandable. Knowing the One God Jesus Spirit means sitting and holding the space and waiting. Waiting on God – a good enough definition of worship – is what we are left with. And that my friends is how I have made my peace with the whole story. Eternal life with or without an ascension is not about death or rebirth or coming back home. It is knowing and being in love with God and each other. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen. Thanks be to God.

This entry was posted on May 26, 2017. 1 Comment

In love’s service.


Thorton Wilder said “In love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve.”

In his first letter to the struggling early Christian communities the Apostle and letter writer Peter tried to bolster their strength by telling them that suffering in itself is worthless so do not take it on. “Who can harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” But suffering that is laced with love and speaks of hope can save lives. And that is a blessing indeed.

Last Sunday I trekked to Greenfield for the Cathedral in the Light street worship service after already leading two worship services at my own church. I had already broken bread and passed the cup. I had sung hymns and loved up the little children in our family service. But I was not ready to call it a day. Last Sunday I needed more help, more consolation, and more truth to make it through another week. I understood on Sunday why during Lent my father walked all of his children to church every morning before school. He knew we needed to develop a hunger for the bread of life so we would know when we needed bread as adults.

In the on and off again rain the piano player called us to worship. I saw weather beaten expectant faces and eager hands. We prayed – God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  We sang and prayed and huddled under the flimsy shelter.

Then came the offering. What do the wounded and the hungry, the hopeful and the wondering have to offer? At Cathedral in the Light money is in short supply and love spills over. Because “in love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve” when it is time to take the offering we pass a basket and everyone gets to take out, not put in, but take out, a token that represents something of who we are. A stone that says “love” or “peace” or “hope.” A shell that is broken. A piece of drift wood. Our choice. And then we get, in our own timing, to put the item on the cross.

In his lifetime Peter had seen Jesus suffer, die and rise again. Peter knew first hand what it meant to love and betray and be forgiven. And so he said with the certainty of one who was there “Jesus Christ made alive in spirit made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.”

Jesus proclaims to you and to me, to all the wounded, the sick, the sorrowful, and the broken. If you love me you will do my commands. In love’s service the wounded soldiers serve. And we did. We served bread and juice on the street and we thanked God for all the help we got. We were hungry for justice and bread and we were fed the Spirit of Truth, the courage and the love that knows no bounds. Thanks be to God.

Signs of the times.

Christians are known for looking for the “signs of our times.” Whether the three Magi searching the sky, the followers of Jesus searching for signs that the Messiah has come or is about to come, or the skeptics asking for clear and indisputable signs and miracles, we are a people who think about where we are in time and space and who look for direction for “our times.” We hearken back to our religious ancestor Esther, hiding her identity as she hid out in the Persian harem, and her uncle Mordecai who called her out of the palace to face her destiny. “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this.” And who, Christian or not, does not relate to the call to respond and push back that echoes in the folk song “Signs, signs, everywhere are signs.”

I enjoy looking at the signs coming up lately in my local community as we all, in our own different ways, struggle to make meaning of the signs of our times. The signs of our times are all mixed up with political and cultural messages, screaming hate speech and a daily read of fear mongering. So what signs am I seeing that give me hope in such a time as this? What do I see?

I see signs on the churches that go farther than the bland “All are welcome” and instead say more specifically “Immigrants and refugees are welcome here.” Or the ones that bravely put out a rainbow flag (talk about a sign of promise and hope in itself) and say with humor and directness “Everybody welcome. Seriously, everybody!” And how about the signs like “Respect your Mother” that popped up everywhere this Earth Day when Mother Earth is melting at a rapid rate. Or the one that I saw carried by a protestor at the Science March in New Haven Connecticut “Feeling crabby? Take action!” Signs of the times give clarity to the times and to our responsibility to those signs.

Sure you can point to a whole bunch of other signs of the time that speak to a whole different view of the world. Signs, signs everywhere are signs. What the signs of our times means to me is that what we show and stand for, to some real extent, does create the climate of our times. For such a time as this we have been called to come out of the closet of silence and say what we see and what we trust and what we are willing to stand for. God said “You are my witness.” What we see and what we speak makes a difference about our time and our place and the future. What are you a sign for?

I surrender. A Holy Week reflection

I am afflicted with a chronic condition. My condition is living with real and seemingly endless worry about some aspects of my own life and worries about the suffering and sorrows of other people that I know and love. The chronic nature of this condition is a blessing because that means that I am alive and aware of the world inside and all around me. It is also a hard reality, what in my religious tradition we call, a cross to bear. We bear the cross of love and concern, compassion and a great desire to make things better. We also bear the cross of some fleeting awareness that we are not in control of almost anything. We strive for health and wholeness, peace and serenity, and for the courage to keep going forward in hopes of a new day. And we so often fall down with the weight of it all and with own inability to bear up alone.

On good days I surrender. I accept my discomfort with the truth of life. On really good days I reach out and take the hand of the One and the ones who are with me and who share this condition. On super good days I even laugh about this sweet human tendency to love and to run like heck from pain.

Today was one of those good days. I began the day remembering to do my yoga practice. How is it that on so many days I forget or think that I can just skip it? I felt the night time stiffness in my joints and I started to pray, Christian yoga style. “In love, humility and devotion, I submit to thee and thee alone. And thou will raise me up spiritually.” Stretch, breathe, pray, stretch, breathe, pray. Thou will raise me up spiritually.

I left the mat and went to the chair with coffee and daily devotional readings. In the sitting and sipping I read a message from someone who also suffers with a chronic condition and who had stopped berating herself for “how long O God how long” her suffering was continuing and how impatient she was for a quick fix. She wrote about the grace that comes with giving up and giving over.

On a good day we surrender trying to make something happen. We accept the discomfort (which of course is a mild word for what is sometimes anguish) of not being able to move a situation. We pray for guidance.

Praying for guidance means trusting that someone is there with guidance to give. Someone who cares about us and is close enough to us to know our desperation. Someone who does not have to be called in from afar. Someone here.

Today I prayed for guidance and this is what I received. Take the hand. Surrender your attempts to go it alone. Accept your discomfort. Trust that change is already happening because change is life’s given name.

My yoga teacher talked once about how we might practice letting go, even for a moment or two, of “joyless striving.” She was talking about the joyless, wound up, forced striving to get better, be better, do more, do less, to get somewhere else and get there now.

I was taken with the word “joyless.” It reminded me that we all strive to make changes in ourselves, in the world, and in our very core, and that striving is active participation in life. Watch a baby strive and struggle to learn to roll over or crawl forward, to reach for something enticing or to babble her way to communication. Without striving we would collapse into despair or hopelessness. Sentient beings strive. But where is the joy and the thrill in being alive when we spend our days in anxiety and needless worry about what is not ours to be or do?

Our condition, my condition, is not terminal, even if it is chronic. Even though we seem to be wired to anxious joyless striving we do not have to stay in a perennial fight. We can surrender and accept our “discomforts” and accept the hand which I believe is the hand of God which looks a lot like what your hand in mine looks like. We do not have to carry our cross alone. In fact I don’t think that is possible or desirable. When we share our lives the weight is halved. And while I am not the One who left the cross behind I look to that One for a new day.

Thank you friends and family for being there and for reminding me that surrender can be a really good thing. I can accept my full life. When I pray for guidance about the way forward I do so, today at least, trusting that someone is listening and that I too can be joyfully alive and active in the world.

This entry was posted on April 12, 2017. 2 Comments