A Matter of Light and Perspective

Day before yesterday, Sherod and I drove around for a good part of the afternoon.  As much as anything, Sherod was re-familiarizing himself, I was getting a lay of the land.  We fell in love with a piece of property — 17 acres of gently sloping land with a pecan grove, fruit trees, hydrangeas, daffodils and hyacinths, a creek as one of its boundaries.  Yesterday our realtor friend helped us see the house that anchors all this grace and beauty.  Crazy inside and ultimately waaayyyy too big for us–over 3700 square feet but the reality of a move here became a little more concrete.

DSCN1258But what really mattered on Tuesday was a visit to the cemetery to bring some flowers to my mother and father-in-law’s grave.  Juanita’s side of the plot is not covered in grass, yet, a bald spot of Alabama red dirt.  But the gravestone already has her name and dates of birth and death–seeing all that had Sherod and me both choked up for a minute, and me insanely grateful for the sense of connection to Juanita.  I don’t begrudge my own mother’s decision to have her ashes scattered in the Rio Caldera.  But when we move here, I want to be able to come out and visit that grave, maybe because that is the definition of rootedness isn’t it?  To have our dead beneath our feet, a connection deep into the land itself.

Last February when I came to do the half marathon, I brought Juanita out to the cemetery on a cold winter afternoon.  She was too frail to get out of my rental car but wanted me to go make sure Earl’s grave was OK and to just stand there for her to see.  The memory of that moment abides and represents a moment of such deep connection with a person I had to learn to love, who earned my respect and gratitude.  I understand a whole lot better now, why people visit graves and do such fun and silly and whimsical things as this (imagine, these little solar powered decorations shining in the dark).  I suspect I won’t have quite the imagination but I can see myself honoring the passage of time and seasons.

DSCN1219We head back to Florida today, will be back in Ford Laurderdale tomorrow.  The when and how is still more than a little blurred, but the outline is there, the road is there, for our return.  I will have my ECF job, God willing; I will hang out at the little market where Latinos, primarily Mexican, do their shopping.  Maybe that will lead to a new ministry, or just new friendships.  We will more than likely first rent a house then buy a piece of land to build something with a small carbon footprint. Sherod and I will garden, occasionally do some canning; we’ll have a porch and a swing, the biddies, geese and goat. I don’t imagine I’ll stop marveling at light through the Spanish moss early in the morning.  And one day, I suspect I will wake up and say, “I’m home.”

DSCN1331

Dothan

20140317-165958.jpg

I got into Fort Lauderdale in the evening on Saturday. Maria and Sherod were waiting for me and we had a good evening. Four AM came awfully early but I had two sermons to write and laundry waiting as well. Then my regular two services, a quick run back home to put on my prettiest preacher girl outfit. We were burying beautiful Muriel and it was a small way to say thank you to someone who always dressed to the nines in the prettiest way imaginable. For the first time in my years as priest, I almost didn’t make it through the sermon without just sobbing. As it was, I needed both pieces of Kleenex I slipped in my alb pocket before the slow walk down the aisle reading those magnificent lines, “I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord”. Some farewells are so very hard. But the funeral was the celebration we had planned, the reception lovely. I got home in time to help with a bit of pick up and then have dinner with the friends who had kindly agreed to keep Boo and Daisy for the week. I fell into bed and woke up for long spells three times in the night.

Up at five, packed, had my coffee and Sherod and I hit the road headed for Selma. I’ve worked a lot of the way and been on a video call; now we have driven through Dothan. Tomorrow we will meet a realtor in Selma. We are going to see old friends and new in Selma and Montgomery. And maybe, by the end of the week, When we are driving back to Fort Lauderdale, I will have caught up with myself…

Whose I Am

10007316_10152318869583115_1578241219_o

With My Friend, Ruth Casipit Paguio

The conference is winding down. Tonight there has been all kinds of fun with a talent show featuring the four ethnic ministries in attendance.  I had been sitting with my two ECF buddies when it was time for the Latino community to do our foolishness.  It was not anything I thought about–I was just there, with old friends and some new ones as well, but clearly, unequivocally, in my mind, a part of the Latino community.

But a strange thing happened today at breakfast.  Apparently, someone decided a picture was needed of the ‘Euro-american Allies” of the Ethnic Ministries Office attending the conference.  The photographer came by my table and started insisting that I come out too and get my picture taken.  I kept insisting to her that I was a latina.  This pinged back and forth between us about 3 or 4 times before she finally gave up but she was obviously irritated and so was I.  With the benefit of hindsight, I think I understand a little better why she had been so insistent–I am here not representing El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos, or even as priest missioner of the New River Regional Ministry, but rather working with ECF.

Later in the day, I was walking by a group of Latino guys I hadn’t really spent any time talking to; they started whistling and saying, “Allí va la güerita que dice que es latina y que no se quiso tomar la foto con los europeos” (there goes the little blonde who says she’s latina and didn’t want to have her picture taken with the Europeans)–not in an ugly way, but actually with a mixture of confusion and admiration.  I didn’t even go for a full throttle generic Colombian accent–I pulled from every fiber of my Caleña being and answered them in Spanish–“Qué güerita ni que pan caliente–caleña”.  (Like heck I’m güerita–I’m from Cali).  That broke the ice and we went on to talk and giggle a bit before we went our separate ways but that has stayed with me all day.  I have gone to work with ECF precisely as a woman with the experience of serving in the church with and as a latina, and in fact, I think that’s part of the strength I bring to the job.  It was also incredibly important for me to have the freedom to identify myself and not have it done for me.

Even so, I am mindful that identity is so fluid for me–just like the question about being in the center or being on the edges confounds me, whose I am can get confusing too.  When I am in Sweden, I feel so very Swedish.  When I get to come to events like this, when I am celebrating the Eucharist saying the words from the Eucharistic Prayer of the Immigrant in Spanish, I am latina both in an existential and ontological way (I know, big words, but they really get at something important to me).  And all those years, when I lived with Sherod in the deep south and hardly ever even had occasion to speak in Spanish except to my family by phone, I was about as American as the person next to me.  Maybe the best way to understand myself is to say I live in the in-between places where those neat lines of demarcation simply don’t make anything clearer or more lovely or more true.

Opening Eucharist

DSCN1176

I sat at dinner with a really interesting man with whom I had a great discussion about the ministries of Navajoland and how leaders, lay and ordained, get trained and raised in the context of the withering hardship people in reservations endure.  This person was curious about the wanderings that eventually led me to be ordained a priest and how now, I find working with ECF. Turns out he is the Bishop of the Navajoland Mission Area and I’m going to go out to Farmington, NM sometime relatively soon, God willing, to see the leadership development process he has put in place.

Then it was time to go to the Opening Eucharist.  I’m not great with protocol but now that I’m with ECF, I have to be a lot more conscious of things like that.  I had travelled in clericals and jeans, got here and saw no one wearing one and took my collar off.  Whew, that was liberating.  But then at dinner, everyone of the priestly persuasion it seemed, had put theirs back on or had arrived wearing it and I hadn’t noticed.  I have purposely chosen to stay in one of the most remote parts of the conference center which is way cool and quiet, but it’s a real hike to get to my room and back. I scrambled to get my daggum collar back on and and make it on time to the opening eucharist at 7:15 PM.

The Presiding Bishop is here, along with two more bishops and all sorts of folks.  At the very beginning of the Eucharist,  people from the Native American Ministries Office led a Lakota “Four Direction Prayer”.  It was gentle, dignified and beautiful and we said it turning to face each of the directions of the compass.  The second petition says this:

Let us pray to God in the North
North (Waziya), your color is White.
From you we receive Snow.  Winter comes from you.
The Snowy Owl brings messages of our mortality and teaches
us endurance in the face of hardship.

Last week I tried to be flippant about all these encounters of mine with owls, and the website I found that had an explanation of the owl totem.  Tonight, at the Eucharist, I realized those strange and brief encounters are not to be taken lightly but rather with reverence and gratitude.  At the Liturgy of the Word a young Lakota man unexpectedly found himself in the position of having to give the sermon. He was nervous and he was sad.  Late last week, a wonderful deacon from one of the tribes of North Dakota died very unexpectedly and our preacher was obviously deeply grieved.  He gave us a simple and very beautiful description  of how many meanings the word “Relative” has in Lakota and how it defines our relationship with everything in God’s creation.  Including mine with the owl.

We had gathered for Eucharist and it wasn’t people with a lot of power or polish.  We were certainly of all sizes, shapes, stripes and colors.  We are bound by some real despair and discouragement.  No point whitewashing that.  But we rocked Siyahamba (We Are Marching in the Light of God) with exuberance. We sang some other wonderful pieces and prayed with dignity and solemnity and joy.  I learned something new about having relatives tonight.  For that I am grateful.

Building the World We Dreamt Of

Living Quarters for My Stay in Kanuga

Living Quarters for My Stay in Kanuga

In the past two weekends, I have been a part of conversations where complexity seemed as intractable and confounding as anything I have ever encountered.   Increasingly, I see three essential elements to healthy ministry (and community life in general, for that matter):  transparency, inclusion and mutual accountability.   None of that is rocket science.  It’s surprising how many relatively homogenous congregations don’t practice these disciplines particularly well.  Bring together people with real differences in race, language, class, theological starting point, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation and nationality and then, stir in several years working together  by the seat of our pants and I find myself in a maze of endless complexity and dead ends.

At the end of 2013, all the stresses and strains of the effort to be the New River Regional Ministry  finally shook the community to its foundations and we are all still trying to figure out how in heavens name one does the work of healing and reconciliation, keeps what’s working well afloat, and continues to try to dream and build for the future.  It is still not clear that the pieces will hold and a way forward will open.  Even the first passes at conversations that acknowledge this complexity are hellishly painful and fraught.  Not many of us have the stomach and there are so many other things that need to be done.  After two weeks of mind-bending intensity, I looked forward to coming to a conference because with my ECF job, a big part of what I am doing right now is networking and getting to know who is doing what in the denomination.

The conference I am attending is called, Together, Advancing the Sacred Dream-New Community Clergy and Lay Conference.  It has been organized and sponsored by the Office of Ethnic Ministries and brings together Latino, African American, Asian and Indigenous members of the Episcopal Church.  The first major plenary session is titled “Building the World We Dream About–Addressing White Privilege, Internalized Oppression, Racial Justice and Reconciliation, and Capacity Building”.  That’s a mouthful.  I rode on a small Kanuga bus from the airport to the conference center and listened to several different conversations that clearly had to do with folks who are standing at the edges, who have a pretty significant experience of marginalization, who are more than a little raw and vulnerable.  The things I was struggling with in Fort Lauderdale writ large.

Part of me wants to run as fast as I can from these topics.  In fact, on some days, I seriously entertain the notion of just leaving the church completely. Isn’t racism, classism, privilege and exclusion so yesterday?  Hasn’t this all been worked out?  The fact of the matter is, not yet.  Not enough.  Not so the most vulnerable among us can came to the table and experience transparency, inclusion and mutual accountability.

In some respects, my ECF job, puts me in the very center of the life of my denomination.  We are being challenged to work on leadership development programs and resources that bring lay and clergy people together beyond the clergy-centric models of the past–the ones where a clergy person with a few trusted advisors really made the decisions and so much of who was welcomed and how was implicit and resulted in congregations where everyone pretty much looked the same.  If we don’t understand and build programs that respond to the extraordinarily deep roots of power and privilege and the consequences, I wonder what we will accomplish.  And the same is true with NRRM:  if there isn’t an honest engagement with the unexamined dynamics that drove the conversation and the decisions of the last 4 years, how can this be a work of discipleship?

So here I am.  In one of the true bastions of white Episcopal privilege, a gorgeous conference center that exudes rustic elegance and Southern hospitality.  Can you be at the center and on the edges both, at the same time?  I think that’s one of the questions I have to answer for myself as a member of the church.  The glimpses I see of the answer have nothing to do with comfort and easy dispensations…