Monday, June 27, 2016

Love is love is love

I confess.  Despite the urging and enthusiasm of some of my best-loved friends, I have not gotten on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Partly because I don't like rap.  Or hip hop.  It's hard to convince myself that a rap musical is something I would enjoy, no matter how clever and brilliant it may be.  My brain is just too slow to follow the rapid patter of words.  Part of it is stubbornness.  Sometimes I resist simply because everyone is telling me that I have to.  I have come late to many good things because I didn't want to join the lemmings, even though sometimes the lemmings are jumping into something amazing, and it would benefit me to be running with the pack!  So until now, though I have smiled at my dear friends' addiction to Hamilton, I have refused to engage with it.

On the Sunday of the Orlando shootings, I heard something about a shooting before heading into church, but somehow it didn't penetrate.  It's like my brain said, "Does not compute."  Maybe it was because the news story was so brief and there seemed to be so little information.  Maybe it's because I've become acclimatized to stories about shootings. 

It wasn't until I got home from church and checked in online that I discovered what had truly happened, and it started to sink in.  But I still couldn't feel anything.  I knew that this was a terrible, terrible thing, but I couldn't connect to my feelings.  Numb.  Depressed.  Discouraged.

After an afternoon of aimlessness, I turned on the Tony Awards.  I used to work in the theatre, and I used to watch the awards show, though I haven't always remembered in recent years.  These days I rarely know any of the plays.  I tuned in a few minutes late but in time to see the brilliant opening number that reminded me so much of a number we did in our high school one-act production of Magic! written by my high school drama and music teachers, Robin Bennett and Janice Folsom.  It was a collage of songs from musicals suggesting that "That could be me" in each one of them. Watching it transported me back to my childhood room where I listened to the cast albums of all those musicals and played all the parts.  

The rest of the night made me so proud of the arts community, for their passion and compassion, for their collaboration and inclusion, for their humor and joy, for their talent and brilliance and dedication.  Their witness shone out against the darkness, and I am grateful.  Watching all the performances made me nostalgic for the theatre.  Or at least for theatre people and opening nights.  Nothing can make me nostalgic for production meetings at midnight!

As expected Hamilton won many awards.  But what blew me away was Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech.  He wrote a sonnet.  If you didn't get to catch it, click here. A couple of the lines really hit me in light of what had happened in Orlando.  "When senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day."  Oh yes.  My heart is breaking for the families and the loved ones of those who died.  Not one day is promised, but they didn't think it was today.  It was so unexpected - and it could happen anywhere at anytime.  This addiction our country has to guns and violence is something I cannot understand.  How do we stop the fear that seems at the heart of it all?

Not one day is promised but the enormous numbers of young people overdosing on drugs didn't think it was today.  We are losing them to heroin and other opioids.  Our country uses 99% of the worlds supply of hydrocodone (found in Vicodin).  Why are we in so much pain?  This may seem a non sequiter, but pain and fear are at the core of all this violence and death. 

Not one day is promised.  All we have is today is today is today.  Dear God, please help us use it for good.

Lin-Manuel's sonnet went on,
  "We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
  We rise and fall and light from dying embers
  Remembrances that hope and love lasts long
  And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
  Cannot be killed or swept aside"

Hate and fear seem stronger, but they are not, despite how it may seem right now.  Love and hope last longer.

Love is love is love is love is love is love is love. 

I believe in God who is love.  God who loves every single person whom God has created, including all of the people seeking safety and celebration at Pulse and even the man who gunned them down.
Love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside. 
Sisters and brothers reading this, we must work together to let go of our fear and to heal our individual and collective pain.  We must. 

I still have not listened to Hamilton, but I'm getting closer to being willing.  Its creator has inspired me.  Thank you Lin-Manuel and the Broadway community, for the evening of hope.  Thank you God, for the love.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Remembering Marlene

Sometimes I walk the labyrinth to honor a person who has died.  On Tuesday night I walked for Marlene Linz, who died from cancer last Saturday.

The first time I met Marlene (I believe) was on the weekend that Peter proposed to her.  We were at Camp Mikell, where Peter and I had met as campers and served together as counselors and summer staff.  The first week I knew Peter, I was a rising sophomore in high school, and he was a senior.  I fell head over heels in love.  Sadly for me at the time, Peter fell head over heels for another girl in my cabin.  He was kind and gentle, but he had eyes for someone else.  At the end of the summer I wrote him a letter proclaiming my love for him, and he wrote back telling me he hoped we could be friends.  We have been ever since.

Over our years together at camp we grew close.  I so admired Peter for his enormous talents.  He could sing, dance, act, lifeguard, tell stories, and play guitar.  He loved puppets and hoped to become a puppeteer.  Best of all, he loved the kids at camp like I did.  Over the years I redeveloped crushes on him, but we were always best as friends.  We commiserated with each other through broken relationships and celebrated together when things were going well.  I often caught rides with Peter to and from camp sessions.  Once Peter drove 3 hours up from Atlanta to Sewanee, where I was in college, to sit and comfort me for a couple of hours during a particularly difficult time, before driving back 3 hours so he could be at his internship at the Center for Puppetry Arts the next day.  One of my favorite things in life was sitting around a campfire while Peter played the guitar, and we all sang along.

Peter and Marlene at Guest Camp
When I met Marlene at Guest Weekend at Camp Mikell one Labor Day weekend, I knew that Peter had found the perfect woman for him.  She loved him, but she did not get pulled into the "Peter fan club" behavior that some of us had a tendency to do.  She was beautiful and down to earth.  She was creative and practical.  I heartily approved and was thrilled when I learned he was proposing to her that weekend at camp.  I was blessed to attend their wedding and have visited them on and off over the years.

Peter's dreams came true as he began working on Sesame Street and then Bear in the Big Blue House and Between the Lions.  He and Marlene moved to New York where I visited them many times.  I was always impressed with how grounded Marlene was and how devoted she was to her children.  She also had a passion for pottery.  I prayed hard for her when she had to stay on bed rest for months during her first pregnancy with twins.  I don't remember exactly what it was she did during that time, but it was something creative that she could do from her room, and I remember appreciating her determined spirit. 

I later prayed hard for her when I learned she had breast cancer and again when I learned that it had moved to her brain.  Peter says that she did not fight cancer, she lived with it, and that is true.  Oh how she lived.

Jan and I spent New Year's with Peter and Marlene and their children in 2012.  Marlene was undergoing chemo and had her head wrapped in beautiful scarves.  I wasn't sure whether she would be up to company.  Jan and I were taking someone to a treatment center about an hour from their house, and they told us to come and stay.  Marlene sat in the dining room as the whole house centered on her.  She was very practical, resting when she needed to but still directing things from her spot.  It was clear that her strength fed the whole Linz household.  She told Jan that she drank 2 glasses of water every morning.  Jan has done the same ever since, and she thinks of Marlene each morning while she drinks her water.  Marlene was talking about dreams of helping women and children in Africa, even while she was in the midst of cancer treatment.

I didn't know the cancer had gotten worse until I received a message via Facebook that Marlene had died on Saturday.  I cannot imagine how Peter and their kids must be feeling.  I am glad that Marlene is no longer in pain, but I am deeply sad for her loss.

On Tuesday night I went to the labyrinth in her honor, even though it looked like it might storm.  Dark grey clouds loomed overhead.  Raindrops plopped down on my head as I wound through the first turns of the path, and I wondered how bad it would get.  Not bad at all.  Just a few sprinkles before the wind blew the darkest clouds to the east.  A mockingbird perched in the top of a crape myrtle nearby and sang through his repetoire of tunes.  As I traversed the outer circuit of the labyrinth, I heard an inner voice say, You have to let me go, Lauren.  I didn't feel Marlene's presence in quite the same way as I have for some others, but I realized I was, indeed, hanging on to her.  I didn't want to let her go.

As I walked I kept looking to the east, hoping for a rainbow.  It would be so perfect, I thought.  A rainbow for Marlene.  It didn't come.

When I reached the center, I looked west, where the sun was descending behind some clouds.  A few rays of light streamed out from behind the clouds - it was like paintings you see that make you think of heaven.  Sunlight and clouds and blue sky in the background.  Stunning.  No rainbow, but a glimpse of heaven instead.

Still, on my way out, I kept straining to see a rainbow.  Surely it's going to come.  And then I realized that it wouldn't.  That's for you and Peter, I seemed to hear her say.  I don't need anything so dramatic.  Ever practical, even in my imagination.  She died in her own room in the house she loved, surrounded by her family.  She is at peace.

As I left the labyrinth, I took a picture of a tall sycamore, illuminated with golden light, leaves quivering in the breeze.  It reminded me of Marlene, deeply rooted, its presence offering strength and comfort.  When I see it I will remember her. 

Although I didn't know her as well as I would have liked, I am so glad I was blessed to know her at all.

Farewell, Marlene.  May you rest in peace and rise in glory, and may God bring comfort to all who grieve.  Your spirit will linger in our hearts.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Marathons and Miracles

The past 10 days have been like running a marathon for me.  I'll bet some of my clergy colleagues will chuckle, thinking I'm a bit of a light weight, but I'm not sure I've ever been responsible for so many liturgies in one week - not even during Holy Week.  This was my schedule:
   Saturday - Blessing of a Civil Marriage with homily and Communion - outdoors at Kingsmill
   Sunday - Preaching and Celebrating both services at St. Stephen's
   Monday - a few pastoral care needs
   Tuesday - 7:30 am Eucharist at Bruton
   Wednesday - 11am Healing Eucharist at Bruton with noon Bible study following
   Thursday - 11am Daughters of the King Installation and Eucharist and luncheon
   Friday - First Fridays Recovery Eucharist
   Sunday - preaching 3 services at Bruton
Each one had a homily or sermon.  I'm ready to keel over in a heap.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining.  If there are two things that I love to do, it's preach and celebrate the Eucharist.  Doing that every day?  It just doesn't get any better than that.  And when I think back to the hours I kept when I worked in the theatre, this is like a jog around the block.

However, just as a marathon runner could probably sail through the race as long as there are no injuries, bad weather, or unexpected occurrences, so too I would have found the week a challenge that I was ready to meet.  Except.

My nemesis.  The Common Cold. 

For the past two weeks I have been struggling with some kind of upper respiratory thingy that has turned into a nasty cough this week.  My head has felt like it has been stuffed with clouds, preventing me from hearing much of what people have said.  I am so grateful for my lifeline of Halls lemon-honey cough drops that has gotten me through each service, though I would be happy if I never had to stick one in my mouth again.  I have drunk enough hot tea with honey and glasses of water to drown a hippopotamus.  Actually, my liquid intake has made me feel like a hippopotamus.  I have spent several hours on several nights sleeping propped up on pillows on my downstairs love seat because lying flat makes me cough too much.  This morning I woke up at 4:11 with a coughing attack that didn't let me go back to sleep. 

I have taken Mucinex.  I have taken NyQuil.  I have taken lots of vitamins. 
I have taken my temperature.  It goes back and forth from 97.5 to 99.

Yes (to all the moms out there) - if my symptoms continue this week, I will go to the doctor.

Plus I've had ants invade my home.  Have you ever battled ants?  They are persistent and ubiquitous little bugs.  Enough said.  

Today in my sermon I talked about how we're often so busy praying for the big miracles that we can miss the small ones that are right in front of our faces.  I have prayed and prayed this week for God to heal me from this cold, but to no avail.  In the midst of my marathon, I have enjoyed the blessing of some of those small miracles:
   -Jan Brown's prayers that I'm convinced got my voice through the last three services today
   -a man who stopped by at the end of the 7:30 service this morning and brought me a fresh picked rose that he said would boost my immune system for 5 days.  Not sure of the veracity of that statement, but it sure made me smile.
   -Hearing Ralph Vaughan Williams The Call played and sung multiple times this morning - one of those hymns that speaks to my soul.
  -the delicious salads at the DOK lunch.
  -the beautiful, sweet faces of all the people at worship.

One of the gifts of starting my time at Bruton not feeling well is that I've been forced to stay grounded.  I haven't felt well enough to be "on," trying to impress.  I've stayed quieter because talking makes me cough.  I've stayed present.  It's given me an opportunity to listen and watch and begin (as I have in each church I've served) to fall in love with the people of God in this place.  

This marathon has ended, and I am grateful to rest.  I am also grateful for the gifts that I've received.
(But if you'd like to take the cough away now, God, I wouldn't complain!)