Saturday, December 23, 2017

Old Gold Star and New Ladybug

On the day I went to buy my car, a friend texted me and asked, "What is the name of your new car?"  My brow furrowed and I thought, I haven't even bought it yet, how could it have a name?  As I considered her question, I realized that I had never named the car I've been driving for the past 13 years.  Every once in a while I thought about it, but I never came up with anything.  My first little grey Toyota Corolla SR5 with its pop-up head lights was Mouse.  The next car, a white Saturn stick shift that I couldn't even drive when I bought it was White Lightening.  I never really used the name, but that was what I called her in my head when I called her anything at all.  

As I rode to the car dealership and pondered my friend's question, what popped in my head for my new car was Ladybug.  At first I rejected it.  Ladybugs are brighter red than my new car, and they're really tiny.  My car is compact but not tiny.  Ladybug would fit better for a Smart Car.  So I started trying to come up with other names, but each time I thought about it, Ladybug was what came.  Ladybugs are lucky, and I feel lucky to find this car.  Ladybugs can fly, and though I'm not much of a racer, there's something that feels a bit like flying when I drive it.  During my week at the Hoffman process after my middler year of seminary, I received a ladybug stuffed animal that has been meaningful to me.  So, Ladybug it is. World, meet Ladybug, my new car.

Today I will part with my old car, and the name came to me at last - Gold Star.  This is the car that I bought just before I went to seminary with money that my grandmother left me when she died.  This is the car that replaced my White Lightening after someone drove into me on Colley Ave. in Norfolk and totaled the car.  The damage wasn't that severe, but at ten years old, insurance wasn't going to pay to fix it.  I bought my gold star on March 31. I had gone to the Saturn dealer to begin the car shopping process, and they were having a 0% interest deal for March Madness.  As it was the last day of March, it was the last day of the deal.  I bought my car, even though I wasn't really ready. We've been together ever since.

Gold Star has been with me through three Chicago winters and ten Virginia summers.  She has traveled up and down the East Coast.  She has served congregations right along with me and has carried me safely wherever I needed to go.  She has always had a few quirks, the most noticeable being that in recent years when the door is locked and the key is not far away, some kind of error in the security system causes her to start honking as if she is possessed.  A quick touch to the unlock button on the key fob turns it off, but sometimes the event happens at inappropriate times. As happy as I am with my new car, I am sad to say good-bye to this old friend.  But she is going to a new family who needs her, and I trust she will serve them well, too.

I know I'm anthropomorphizing, but I feel a bit disloyal at how quickly I've fallen in love with Ladybug.  Yesterday I cleaned out Gold Star to prepare her for her new owners. Letting go is hard, but it's time for her to move on.  May she be a blessing to those who drive and ride in her.  May they be safe and secure.  May she serve them well.

The old and the new, side by side.  Grateful for them both.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Don't Buy Your Priest a Beer Today

I understand that September 9 is International Buy Your Priest a Beer Day.  I don't know where this pretend holiday came from, but I would like to invite those in the Episcopal Church to stop sharing it, promoting it, and participating in it.  I'm not for prohibition, and I don't think drinking alcohol is a sin.  I do have a sense of humor.  But this is no longer funny.  The Episcopal Church has created a culture of drinking that is contributing to clergy impairment and is harming the body of Christ.  And we need to stop.

General Convention 2015 passed Resolution A159 that deals with the role of the church in the culture of alcohol and other drug abuse.  Part of the resolution states that the church has a "moral and ethical responsibility to:
  1. Confront and repent of the Episcopal Church’s complicity in a culture of alcohol, denial, and enabling,
  2. Speak to cultural norms that promote addiction,
  3. Promote spiritual practices as a means of prevention and healing,
  4. Advocate for public funding and health insurance coverage for prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, and collaborate with qualified community resources offering these services, and to respond with pastoral care and accountability."

The picture posted above is of Tom Palermo's ghost bike, a bicycle memorial to the man killed in 2014 by then Bishop Suffragan of Maryland, Heather Cook, who was drunk and texting. Heather Cook is responsible for her actions, but what if those around her had offered her help instead of a culture where her alcohol use could go unchecked?  Meetings, conferences, and conventions of the Episcopal Church are prime times for misuse of alcohol.  Frequently these are places where impaired behavior is a result of excessive drinking.  Not only do those drinking pose potential harm by getting behind the wheel of a car, but frequently they engage in sexual misconduct and abuse making these meetings and conferences dangerous for others in attendance.

Instead of buying your priest a beer today, ask your priest about his or her self care practices.  Ask yourself why it's desirable to drink with your clergy person.  Ask if the risk of harm is worth it.  You wouldn't want your surgeon or pilot to be drinking on the job. We all need to ask ourselves why alcohol is one of our selling points in the Episcopal Church. Is Jesus not enough?

I went to Sewanee for my undergraduate work, and I learned to drink there.  I was proud of it, and I loved that it was okay to drink in the Episcopal Church.  I repent now of the ways that I was complicit in a culture of alcohol.  I am sorry.  

Six years ago I gave up drinking alcohol.  I had seen too many lives devastated by it.  Today I work at a recovery community organization with people who are healing from the ravages of addiction.  I gave up drinking to stand in solidarity with them.  

Not all of us who drink will become addicted or drink excessively.  Not everyone needs to give up alcohol.  But as a church, as part of the body of Christ, don't we owe it to our sisters and brothers in Christ who are in recovery or are at risk to be a place where we can all be safe?

Buy your priest a root beer or ginger beer.  I'm all in for that.  But please, whatever you do in your personal life, be part of creating a culture of health and wellness for the church. May our focus be not on alcoholic spirits but on the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Soul Heaven

I never met Big Jerry.  Until today, I'd never heard of Big Jerry. Today I accidentally attended his "Coming Home Celebration."  To Soul Heaven.

Jan and I are in Memphis for the weekend.  She was invited by Grace and St. Luke's Episcopal Church to preach and lead the adult forum for their recovery Sunday tomorrow.  I'm tagging along.  On Monday night we'll be on the Eastern Shore doing a service for the recovery community there.

When we got into town yesterday our first stop (after checking in and seeing the duck march at the Peabody) was the Lorraine Motel, the place where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  The motel has been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum.  It was eerie, standing in front of the motel, looking at the spot where such a great man had been shot.  It's like it has been frozen in time, with a wreath on the balcony rail to commemorate where he was standing, and a marble plaque below that is inscribed, "Behold, here cometh the dreamer...  Let us slay him...  and we shall see what will become of his dreams."  Genesis 37:19-10.  Scripture referring to Joseph, a story that we just heard read in church last Sunday.  Joseph's dreams were fulfilled.  What about MLK?  The day Barack Obama was inaugurated president, some might have said yes.  But on the day of the protests in Charlottesville, it felt like Joseph was back in the pit dug by his jealous brothers.  We stood for awhile paying our respects to the motel, playing the videos at the listening stations on the sidewalk.  They told the story of the sanitation workers' strike and the injustices that they faced.  We were too late to go to the museum, but we walked around the area, visiting the museum gift shop, being approached by a man who said he'd just gotten out of jail and needed a few bucks so they would let him into the shelter, witnessing Jacqueline Smith's protest banners across the street from the museum that claim people should stop worshiping the past and should not support the museum but should be working to stop gentrification, and taking in the sights, sounds, and the smell of barbecue in this little corner of Memphis.

Last night we walked down Beale Street after dinner, where we heard blues or rock blasting from every joint along the road, each with its own neon sign beckoning people in for beer, music, and food.  Many of them had oversize painted guitars out front or signs relating facts about historical figures or musicians who were known in the area.  We saw B.B. King's bench and blues cafe, Coyote Ugly, Bill Withers' museum, a plaque commemorating Ida B. Wells, and the Hard Rock Cafe.  The street is closed to motor traffic, so people stroll (or stumble) down the middle of the road, drink cups in hand, cigarettes wafting smoke to join with the scents of alcohol and roasting meat, watching street gymnasts turning handsprings and flips or stopping by the park to hear live musicians playing the blues.

This morning we returned to Beale Street looking for breakfast after we watched the march of the ducks down to the Peabody Fountain (one of us really likes ducks!) and the scene was much different during the day.  Music still poured out from several of the establishments but more were closed.  We considered eating at Miss Polly's where the sign said, "Love Peace, and Chicken Grease," but we decided to look a bit farther.  A few people walked down the street, but it felt like the street itself was a bit hungover.  As we got to the end of the shops and bars, we saw a hearse coming toward us.  Behind it marched a mixed band of mourners, a few dressed for a funeral, a few dressed in Memphis Blues Club t-shirts, and a few who were dressed in clothes that were well worn.  They were singing "When the saints go marching in," as they walked.  We stopped to show respect, but we couldn't figure out where they were going.  Halfway up Beale Street at the park we had just passed with a few old guys playing some music, the hearse stopped.  The funeral home people and a few of the mourners took a white casket draped in flowers out of the hearse and carried it into the park.

Curious, we walked back up the street to see if we could figure out what was going on.  Jan surmised it was the funeral for a homeless person, but we later learned it was for Big Jerry, a Beale Street musician.  His family had come from out of town, and his Beale Street music community had gathered to celebrate his homecoming.  One man who had been a friend of his for 30 years, sang "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," and described how Jerry was sitting on a new dock.  "Save me a seat," he said.  One woman covered in tattoos sang with a powerful voice about going to church to pray.  And then musician after musician came up to play guitar or sax or drums, one blues song after another. "From the bums to the aristocrats, everyone respected Big Jerry."

I did not know this man.  But as I stood on the concrete in Handy Park and listened to Memphis musicians sing the blues and pay tribute to Big Jerry, I felt like I got to know him.  It was clear he was part of a strong community that had loved making music with him.  It was clear that he had been someone who had given young musicians a chance and who had loved making music out with the people more than he wanted to play in the clubs.  The history of the man and the place was palpable.  His blood family - his son and sisters, his uncle and nieces and nephews were all there along with his chosen family of Beale Street.  And a couple of out-of-towners from Williamsburg.  They didn't care who was gathered in the park.  They welcomed everyone.  They were honoring their friend the best way they knew how, by making the music they love in a place that they love with the people they love.  Soul heaven.

Soul heaven.  A place where all kinds of people get together to sing blues and praise, honoring the dead and treating old and young alike with respect.  A place where even those who didn't know a man can come together to pay their respects to his memory.  A place where we make music and peace, not war and violence.  May soul heaven be present here as well as when we make our final journey home.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Patrick's Rune

Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet has come to mind often in the past few days.  I'm sure I'm not the only one having that experience.  It's been awhile since I've read the Wrinkle in Time books, but I've pulled number three off the shelf because I feel compelled to read it again.  Something about madmen and nuclear weapons.

I'm grateful to Madeleine L'Engle for many things, one of which is introducing me to Patrick's Rune which she puts to such good use in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  The Rune is from a longer piece, "The Lorica," which is attributed to St. Patrick.  Here it is:

At Tara today in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness,
       All these I place,
       By God's almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

I had forgotten about this rune until today when I saw someone else post it.  In this time of threats of fire and fury, of violent rhetoric, and hair triggers, I am grateful for words of power calling for God's almighty help and grace.  It's so easy to get caught up in the anger and fear, and I can't help worrying when I hear world leaders suggesting the use of nuclear weapons.

I share this rune/prayer in case it is helpful to anyone else.  We all have a part in shifting the energy toward peace, and I have gratitude for anything that helps us do so.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Writing Retreat

I spent the better part of this week at The Porches, a retreat for writers.  It was my birthday present to myself, to escape for a few days to the mountains to work on my book and to rest and to hike.  I did a bit of all three.  One of the other writers staying there came to the shared' kitchen while I was eating breakfast on my last day.  She was amused at the human capacity to forget what we've learned.  She was remembering how it takes some time to settle down to a writing rhythm, how she's learned that before and how she always forgets.  I also forget that.  The first day, I was so exhausted that all I could do was sleep.  And then I was disappointed in myself for not writing much.  The second day I got up early and took a walk and puttered and did some writing, but it was hard to settle in.  By the third day, I got right up and started writing.  When I do these retreats, I need to remember to plan to stay for a whole week if I really want to get something done.  Especially if I also want to hike.

My goal had been to finish the current draft of my book.  I knew I needed to finish some editing on the 2nd section and complete the third section and Epilogue.  At the beginning of the retreat the book was about 112 pages.  Now it is 135.  I did do a bit of polishing of the second section.  Now I'm thinking there may be 4 sections instead of three and the Epilogue turned into part of the 4th section, and I need to add a whole new beginning to the second section, and I wrote a bunch of new material that reads like a diary - first this then this then that happened.  So that will need lots more revision.  It's like a big sticky gooey mess, and I don't know how to clean it up.

Sermons.  They're not easy, but I can hold them in my head.  They are 4-5 pages, space and a half, 14 pt. font.  I haven't forgotten the beginning by the time I get to the end.  I have a scripture passage to work with, and I understand the structure.  Books are long, and I forget what I've already said.  This piece started out as a short essay for a magazine.  But it has grown and grown and grown, and I can't wrap my brain around it.

It reminds me of a time at my parents' house when my mother was trying some kind of hash brown/potato dish in the microwave.  The microwave was new to us at the time.  Now usually we had real potatoes, but I guess she was trying something new.  At any rate, the hash browns never cooked.  They kept growing and growing, and the more she cooked them, the more they expanded like paste.  We laughed so hard.  I think she had to throw the whole thing out.  Hopefully that won't happen with my book!

After writing all morning on the third day, I treated myself to a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a hike to Crabtree Falls.  I wanted to get into my body in a way that only a strenuous hike can do.  The first time I hiked Crabtree Falls was with two guy friends of mine on a cold November day in 2003.  Over the years I've hiked them many more times.  The trail is 1.7 miles straight up with switch backs that carry you close to the falls and then away through the trees and then back to the rushing water once again.  At the top there's a view of the surrounding mountains.  I don't always make it to the top, but this time I did.  Whenever I'm in the area, I can't resist returning to the Falls; they are like a magnet pulling me in and restoring me.

Now it's time to get back to my sticky, expanding book and hope that I can knead it into something readable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Comedy is Hard

I wish I were funny.

Seriously.  Being able to make people laugh is such an awesome superpower.  Think about how humor can cheer people up, lighten a heavy mood, diffuse tension, help people relax.  Laughter is healing.  It helps people take things (and themselves) less seriously.  It provides release.

Having a little humor at the beginning of a sermon (as long as it actually relates to the sermon) helps the congregation settle in and trust the preacher.  It opens people up and makes them more receptive to the deeper message that's coming.

But I'm not funny.

I try to be funny.  Jan cringes on the rare occasions when I get to make the Sunday morning announcements at Bruton parish because my brain thinks I'm supposed to be funny.  And inside my own head, I'm hilarious.  Only, the words don't come out right and I end up rushing through the rest of what I have to say because people are looking at me with a blend of confusion and compassion with a dash of irritation and I know I'm taking too long and I just want it to be over with so we can start singing a hymn and I can go back to reading the words of the Prayer Book which definitely don't require me to be funny.  Sometimes Jan reminds me on my way to make announcements, "Remember, you don't have to be funny."

I want to be funny.

But I'm not.  I'm earnest.  Earnest isn't funny.  At least not intentionally.  I did bring down the house one Sunday morning last fall.  It was the Sunday prior to our pet blessing.  It was also the Sunday before the parish oyster roast.  As I was advertising both events, I was struck with the irony that we were saying special blessings for pets in the morning and then eating oysters and shrimp in the afternoon.  What came out of my mouth was something like, "Next week we will have our annual pet blessing at the 9:15 service.  Those who have pets may bring them for a blessing, and if you're allergic to some of God's creatures, you might want to choose a different service.  In the afternoon we'll have our oyster roast where you can eat some of God's creatures like oysters and shrimp."  It just popped out!  Judging from the roar of laughter, most people seemed to be amused, but I was afraid I might be fired for being too ridiculous during announcements. And there were a few looks of horror at the thought of eating our beloved pets.

Another problem with earnest is that I often don't know when other people are being funny.  I don't hear the sarcasm in the question, and I start explaining.  Or I don't realize someone is joking and I'm giving an honest answer.  It's not funny when people have to tell you they're being funny.  Then I have to sort of fake laugh and try to make a joke about my own inability to understand a joke.  And I'm still not funny.  Sigh...

I know that being earnest has its moments.  Although I want to use humor to lighten the mood when I'm making a hospital visit, and sometimes I do, I've found that a little bit of earnest care and concern goes a long way toward helping someone in a vulnerable and frightening position feel more comfortable.  Laughter can be healing, but it can also be a way to deflect what's really going on.  In my attempt to be funny I may miss someone's cry to be heard and seen.

My high school drama teacher frequently used the quote, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," when she was talking about acting.  In life, it doesn't seem like dying is easy for most people, and yet I understand the sentiment.  Earnest is easy for me.  Sincere comes with little effort.  But comedy?  Man, I wish I could be funny.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

You can sleep when you're dead!

When I graduated from college, I had the honor of being selected as one of the 2 stage management interns at Actors Theatre of Louisville.  Before I accepted the position, they told me that I would be working long hours for no pay for nine months.  I thought I could handle it.  At first I could.  I was tired, sure, working 60-80 hour weeks.  There was a space of 6 weeks in the fall where I only had one day off.  Mondays were supposed to be off, but sometimes I worked 10-12 hours.  Short days compared to the normal 16.  Sometimes, sitting in the curving halls underneath the stage of the Pamela Brown Auditorium, leaning against the cinder block walls, I would feel my head starting to fall forward on my chest.  "You can sleep when you're dead." was the apprentice/intern motto that year.  You can sleep when you're dead.  

During the Humana Festival of New American Plays, I got the chicken pox and was quarantined for 10 days.  I should have been hospitalized.  The day I came back I worked four hours, and after that it was straight back to 16+ hour days.  Sometimes I would fall down while doing changeovers between shows, tripping on the steps while carrying props or set pieces, and I would just lay there and hope that no one would notice.  Eventually I'd push myself back up on my feet and keep trudging ahead.  After all, you can sleep when you're dead.  

I'm not sure that's what God had in mind for people.  I've been reading books about Sabbath this year and how difficult it is to keep in our current time and culture.  God commanded us to keep Sabbath because God rested.  God.  Are we more indispensable than God?  I'm reading Wayne Muller's book, Sabbath.  He writes:  "Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest.  And for want of rest, our lives our in danger." (p.1)  

Today Jan and I sat in rocking chairs on the porch of the Inn at Kanuga.  Partly we were discussing the workshop she was about to lead, but mostly we were just sitting.  Rocking.  Looking up through the leafy hardwood trees in front of us to the clear blue sky above.  Gazing at the white cross on the opposite side of the lake.  Feeling the soft breeze brushing against our faces.  
We had a few moments of Sabbath in a long conference day.  

Jan commented that you have to feel comfortable in your own skin to sit and be and that many people wouldn't allow themselves to take the time because they would be too worried about what they weren't accomplishing.  I am so grateful we took the time.

Tonight we walked the Kanuga labyrinth and it called us to dance and play.  Silly walking and jumping and laughter.  Renewing after a day of heavy conversation about addiction and opioid deaths and how to reach the different generations of the church.  

Yes, life is full and rich and carpe diem and all that.  Yes, we can sleep when we're dead, and we want to be awake while we're alive.  But if we don't sleep, if we don't take time for Sabbath rest and play and prayer, we're dead on our feet.  Rest, my friends.  Allow yourself to rest.  Don't wait till you're dead.