And Another Powerful Voice

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I could write a whole book.  I would not come anywhere close to being as eloquent as the writer who posted on the link below.  While you are at it, this particular blog has a whole bunch of wonderful writing.  A definition of hope that cuts through all kinds of first-world fluff and lays bare how much harder hope is than we want to allow ourselves to understand.  This blog also has some powerful women’s voices well worth hearing.  I am proud as I head out for an incredibly busy afternoon and evening, not of having words to write today, but of engaging the ministry I have been to do in this time and this place.  I exist.

Women in Theology aka WIT

From Today’s Notebook: the Pilgrim and the Owl

I have a wonderful, talented dear, dear friend in Len. I am tickled, thoroughly amused, and touched by this post.

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I have a dear friend, more sister than friend, her name is Rosa.

Rosa is on a journey, dare I say,  of  enlightenment . She would never say such a thing, she is far too modest, but it is a fact I am witness to.  Rosa who is an Episcopalian priest,  lives in our old Fort Lauderdale neighborhood with her husband Sherod, also a priest, our priest. I miss them terribly, if anyone  can help me have faith in man and god it is this duo.  I see far too little of them and their daughter Maria but I do keep abreast of Rosa through her musings on her blog, Cenizas, Estelas y Senderes: Ashes,Trails and the Wake We Leave Behind.

Recently Rosa wrote about her rather frequent encounter with owls, most likely a saw-whet owl, her post entitled I Don’t Believe in Angels, describes the  seemingly chance appearances of these nocturnal sentinels…

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What My Daughter Has Taught Me

Image 24For María’s first birthday with us, in May of 2001, we had a pool and piñata party.  In those days, FAO Schwarz still had a store in Aventura that included an amazing candy section.  I went down and bought gummy fishes, starfish, even a gummy sting ray and an octopus.  I baked her cake from scratch and used the 7-minute frosting recipe (from the old, old version of the Joy of Cooking) my mom taught me to make when I was 8 or 9.   It was a lovely party.

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Image 25And my daughter’s beauty just took my breath away.

This week, she turns 17.  For those of you who live in Fort Lauderdale (or who are familiar with the chain), it may amuse you to hear that she’s wanted us to take her to Morton’s Steakhouse to celebrate.  Those plans were actually in place but because it is so critically important for her to finally get some kind of grasp on her behavior, going out to dinner for her birthday was contingent on making her days at school this week–that is, following the rules, not losing control, doing her work.  Already today, I have a note from her teacher that it was a pretty God-awful day in Whispering Pines.  We will wait until she has made a different set of choices to celebrate.  As long as she gets back on track between now and Thursday, her actual Birthday, we will see her and give her a hug that day and I will keep her presents for another day.

It is awfully hard.  It is not what I would want for her and I remember the illusions that went with that first little party all those years ago.  In the intervening years there have been plenty of disappointments and so much to learn about the nature of love.  The hardest and best thing I have learned about is forgiveness. I have had to forgive myself for everything I didn’t understand or know about mothering a child like ours.  Forgiving her begins with a far clearer sense of boundaries than I would ever have learned without my daughter.  It has meant understanding that she is not in this world to please me or meet whatever needs, hopes or dreams I might have harbored for myself. Love can grow and flourish even when the other person’s ability to reciprocate is limited and fractured and even distorted. I have also come to understand that I simply cannot take her failures personally nor demonize her when she does the truly harmful things she is capable of.  I do however, have to understand that what is in her best interest may not  be easy to do.  Forgiving her is not the same as allowing her to do things that keep harming her and others.  That I cannot do.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  Unexpectedly it turned painful and sad as I began the Eucharistic Prayer at the main service at church.  My mother’s absence was overwhelming right then.  But I also got to look up and there was María, singing in the choir.  At the end of the service, she came up and knelt for the lovely Birthday prayer found on page 850 of the BCP.  Others gathered around her and their hands and mine were on her as we said those beautiful words of blessing.  If that is all that I get to do to celebrate the absolute wonder of her existence, of the fact that she survived rejection from her birth mother and the woman who had bought her before her birth, and a million other horrible things as she began her life, then I have gotten to do something absolutely magnificent and it is enough.  That too goes to the heart of the forgiveness that has found its way into my heart and life.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to get to go to a writer’s workshop at what was the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral in DC.  The chapel had a simply amazing cross that I have thought of over and over again through the years since then.   This, this is what there is to learn about loving a child, my child, my forever child…

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Some More Pics From Reno & Tahoe

DSCN2193I love that strange combination of aridness and fecundity.  In Reno it is both-and.  Clearly, this is a desert town.  I am always amazed by how much can grow in the midst of great desolation.

DSCN2177Another contrast–the tumbleweed and sage and snow so close you think you can reach out and touch it.

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There are a couple of Episcopal retreat centers on Lake Tahoe.  This one has a small apartment over the church.  My colleague, Joe was a Jesuit before becoming an Episcopal priest. He and I are discussing an alternative to my doing the 30 day Exercises at a traditional Jesuit retreat center.  One possibility involves staying here for 30 days by myself  if I can work out what will amount to a sabbatical, doing the exercises in a more Anglican style.

DSCN2202 DSCN2203I also had a good laugh, looking out at Tahoe from Galilee Episcopal Conference Center.  Sometimes it seems to me that my dearly loved Episcopal Church has a very postcard kind of faith.  The view was not merely stunning, it was divine…

 

 

Vegas, Baby!

Image 1There is an apocryphal story about the early days at FedEx that circulated in the days I worked there.  It seems that Fred Smith, founder of the company,  had flown to Chicago to try to get a bank loan; times were lean and he was having a hard time making payroll.  Back at O’Hare with nothing to show for his effort after the banks said no, the story continues. Fred Smith stood in front of the departures screen wondering how he would go back home empty handed.  He noticed there was a flight leaving soon to Las Vegas and he took it.  By the time he got home to Memphis, he had won enough in Vegas to pay his employees.

I am heading home after a pretty remarkable pair of days of conversation and planning.  This morning though, they found a hydraulics leak in the plane for my flight from Reno to Las Vegas where I had a connection on a direct flight to Fort Lauderdale that would get me home early in the evening (a good thing, when the next day is Sunday and church).  I ended up on the next flight assured that we would make it in time to make my connection.  Literally, what followed was a scene from the movies with me running from gate 32 to gate 9 only to see my flight pulling away from the jetway.

The new flight I’m on is late and I’ll be home late tonight, without my checked bag.  Maybe I should play the slot machines while I wait, maybe I will be fortunate like Fred Smith and come home with sorely needed funds for our ministries.  I rather doubt it though. I can’t bring myself to go into the endlessly noisy ‘game salons’  I see all up and down the terminal.  But I am bored so maybe, I’ll do this:

ImageNext stop, Kansas City…

 

Choosing Life

DSCN2180Today I am driving with my colleague and friend, Joe Duggan, to Lake Tahoe, some miles away from Reno where he and I spent yesterday in intense conversation about vulnerable congregations and the future of ministry like the one I am involved in. Today is a sparkling beautiful day in this part of the world and I am glad for the chance to feast my eyes on beauty after yesterday. At one point in our conversation, Joe said “no amount of money will prevent a dying organization from death”.  Joe speaks in a very quiet, forthright way—this is not about drama.  But there was much power and truth behind the simplicity of those words.

I speak carefully, and I hope, gently, as I try to put some words around what this insight means to me personally, and the people I serve.  This week we went through another round of “maybe”. We’d been approached about the possibility of leasing much of our space to a charter school.  In the end, the outfit found out that bureaucratic issues prevented them from pursuing this possibility further.  But for about 3 days, I worked intensely to try to make that work without compromising our ministries and mission beyond recognition.  In the crucible of stress created by tight deadlines and high stakes, much about who we are and the state of relationships in community stares us in the face—the good, the bad, and the ugly.  This time was no different than others in that respect.

The situation has been depressurized because this possibility is no more now.  But the reality remains—a business plan that needs some more pieces in place “to work”, some enormous, disquieting questions about business plans and mission and the faithful way forward, folks who are tired, often scared, fractious—all of us. No saints here, just folks.   And for me, now, the quiet phrase repeated in Joe’s voice—“no amount of money in the world will stop an organism or organization that’s dying from death.”  Of course, this is almost a truism.  It applies to all of us, to all that has life.  Death is an inescapable part of our destiny.

The journey I’ve been on for the past 2 years informs what Joe said, it informs how I look at the ministries I am involved in.  Watching my mom die on June 5, 2011 and then making María’s bed at BARC, exactly one year later, on June 5, 2012, because from that day on I was entrusting my daughter into others’ more capable hands, happened.  There is no denying that they were thrust on me, not in terms of choice but as moments to find a new way to live in the midst of loss.  I’ve managed a fair number of accomplishments since those two days of total bleakness but what I am most grateful for and aware of is the meaning that I have found in my life by not avoiding the grief.

Now, in other parts of my life, including my ministry, I am faced with a different kind of loss that has to do with learning more about what it means to be true to myself, the principles that guide my life, the history that has shaped me.  It would be easier to remain in the status quo.  Walking away from it involves loss and for a long time continues to beckon and call like the sirens of ancient myth, offering a life built on the comfort of what is safe and known.   The church, including our ministry, has a similar challenge.  We have ways of doing things that are tried and familiar.  Easy to replicate because so many of us who make up the church know how to do that work, you build the business plan, you raise the money, you start, then you grow the programs.  The thing is, there has already been loss, and death that has revealed parts about what it means to be people of God that were not as clear and visible before but now are undeniable.

The old familiar ways run the risk, not of killing us all the way, but of leaving us as the walking dead.  Working so hard, giving so much of ourselves, many of the people who make up the ministry I am a part of are tired and it is hard to face into what, in some ways might be even harder, even more painful work.  I’ll be the first to say that it was death and loss thurst on me that made me even consider that I am capable of living more fully into my future by choosing some more loss and the grief that will surely come with it.  I would never have chosen my mother’s death, or to institutionalize my daughter.  But I would never, in a million years, go back to who I was two years ago.  Death has given me life.

On Wednesday evening, my friend Joe and his wife Stefani served dinner out on their deck as a cool evening breeze rustled through the pine trees in their back yard.  I had my back to the pine trees when I heard a loud “whoot whoot” and Joe explained there was an owl at the top of one of the pines, a tall one, almost 30 feet high.  I turned and saw an enormous, Great Horned Owl.  Five or six of my little burrowing owl friends from Fort Lauderdale could have fit in him easily.  He swayed and balanced in the breeze, and we could see him turn his head completely this way and that, looking for prey. Stefani is able to do a wonderful owl call and she and that magnificent creature whoot-whooted at each other for several minutes and in the end, I got to watch him fly away, an enormous wing span carrying him away.

As Joe and I talked yesterday, as I walked later in the afternoon, as I said my prayers before I fell asleep, I wondered what that might mean.  My owl companions, my talismans, my fellow creatures and I, watching each other, watching for each other, finding our way in the darkness, towards what?

We Found Ourselves, Abiding

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About 6 weeks ago, the community I serve decided to rise to a challenge–to have a Cinco de Mayo celebration on our campus.  It started out that this was going to be another fundraiser; we have been under such intense pressure to hold our own financially.  From the first planning meeting, though, the focus shifted. Yes, we would do our best to earn some money.  But this was about learning to work together on a major project.  It meant working across languages, across cultures, across divides between the old and new, and across generations.  More than anything it was about hospitality.  We rose to the challenge and found ourselves as a parish that abides.  We abide with each other, we abide with our neighborhood.

The whole day had the feel of a small-town fair.  We weren’t very glamorous or fancy or sophisticated.  The food was good. No alcohol but some dancing. The weather was absolutely perfect.  It was mellow and gentle and kind with delicious children everywhere–children who paid 25 cents to whack at piñatas and run in Tostito races.  The children’s chorus sang and then most of those same children danced to everyone’s delight and pride. There had been good planning so there weren’t a bunch of hitches or problems.  We laughed a lot and as things wound down, as far as I could tell, those who had worked most actively seemed to still like each other.  Our emerging thrift shop was open and we had a steady flow of people who came to eat some taquitos and tostadas and chili hotdogs.  We’ll have the final counting on Monday but it seems that we actually cleared about $1300 along the way.

There was this one moment of almost mystical joy for me.  I had one of our babies in my arm and realized I had to help one of our aging parishioners whose eye sight has failed to move from one place to the other.  The picture my spouseman took of me is not very flattering, but it goes to the very best of what it means to be a parish priest.  Tomorrow I preach from John 14–all about abiding love, abiding peace.  Makes my head spin to have caught a glimpse of all that today…

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Singing to The Dying

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Having ended one meeting and waiting for the next to begin, I had a few moments and decided to check out Facebook. I found a post by my old seminary professor, Phil Culbertson who had posted some comments about this article and “Threshold Choruses”.  It wasn’t so much a flashback as a flash of time to acknowledge the reality of so much that happened two years ago…

Phil, in the late afternoon of June 5, 2011, it was clear that my mother would die soon. Her lungs had filled with liquid and it was getting harder and harder for her to breathe. We were in a small mountain village in Panama and despite our best efforts, we had been unable to get the liquid morphine that would have made her last hours more comfortable. It was living hell for my dad, my brother and I as we kept vigil.

Hans, my brother, and I had done the typical teenager guitar thing of the 60’s and 70’s when we were growing up. Without even talking it through, all of a sudden we began to sing to my mother. We sang all the old Cat Stevens songs, and a bunch in Spanish, and we both wept singing Bridge Over Troubled Water to her. When we had run out of the ‘standards’ of our playbook from when we were teenagers, we found ourselves singing the lullabies that she had sung to us. It seemed to help a little bit in terms of her comfort. The end was still brutally hard–we fight so hard to stay alive. But at least I am grateful for one final way to tend to my mom.  

I pray she heard us, I pray it did help.  I hope that our voices blended with voices of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who were there with her Creator to receive her into peace.

ADDENDUM:  Someone else posted this youtube video on Philip’s page.  Amazing…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pA5UhNaYw0