Of hummingbirds, Chicken Little and “Suite Française”


At some point, when most days have been warm in the weeks between April and May, Sherod takes down the bird feeders that hung all winter in front of our deck. Then, he makes simple syrup, carefully washes out the hummingbird feeders and puts them out instead.

This year, he and I were out on the deck, visiting in the early evening, when the first hummingbird, back from its migration south, hovered for a bit and then settled to help himself to something to drink. We’ve had lots of visitors to the feeders all summer long and about now, especially in the evenings, the two feeders are crowded with birds dive-bombing each other, jostling and pushing each other away to get another chance to eat. It won’t be too much longer before another season of migration begins and there’s that sense of urgency building, as birds do all they can to prepare themselves to withstand the long journey ahead.

I sat on our deck with my camera, watching, waiting to get a good shot, listening the buzz of their wings in the air, noticing how the lightning bugs were slowly floating out of their burrows in the grass, thankful that summer is not yet all the way over. But everyone’s back in school, and the truth is, there’s little left of the season of sunshine and growth. Usually, I would have felt the quickening of excitement at a new season approaching, how the winds from the north will begin to blow before too long, and how fall will come behind.

On this day, as Harvey has been pouring its misery on Texas, as I think of my transgender friends after that vicious and unnecessary ban that’s been reimposed, as I think of the men and women I have served through my work in Latino ministries, especially in Fort Lauderdale, and the pardon of Joe Arpaio, I have this weird sense of far deeper, more desolating, endings and beginnings as well.

It is not my intention to play Chicken Little and run screaming, “the Sky is Falling, the Sky is falling.” Neither can I say this is comparable to the situation Irène Némirovsky describes in her remarkable book, Suite Française, a novel about members of the Jewish community as they to flee from Paris when it is about to fall to the Germans.

I read Suite Française many years ago and still remember my heart racing in one section in particular. A woman of considerable privilege, is standing next to her car, finishing up the family’s preparations to drive away from Paris. She is worried about trying to get all her Porthault linens and the silver into the trunk, unwilling to part with any of it, so she makes her household staff load and unload the trunk this way and that, losing precious minutes to flee, while all the while, with impeccable precision and order, the Nazi death machine marches towards Paris. Perhaps because fine linens and silver were greatly valued in my mother’s family, and I have inherited so much that is beautiful and fine in a traditional sense, I found myself getting more and more frantic as I read on. “Flee, flee, flee,” I kept wanting to implore her, “None of that matters. The world, as you have known and loved it, is giving out under you and all that stuff is worth nothing.”

It is not so much that I am afraid (though sometimes I do feel afraid), as I am aware of how easily we pay attention to precisely the opposite of what matters. That poem by Martin Niemöller, “First they came for the Socialists…” has made the rounds on Facebook to the point that it is easily dismissed as trite by now. But Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor, spent 7 years in a German concentration camp and spoke a truth that cuts to the quick if we let it.

After hearing about Joe Arpaio’s pardon, I made myself read the DOJ investigative report on the Sheriff’s Office of Maricopa County when he was Sheriff and then, other pieces about him. I read how he jokingly talked about his “concentration camp” –the “prison tent city” where, between 1996 and 2015, there was no explanation given for how 73 people died. I had been reading about him on and off for years now, nauseated by his sheer cruelty and at the same time, always mindful of the need to speak carefully and gently as a priest of the church, so as not to offend. I am infinitely capable of finding distractions that allow me to look the other way.

I can’t any longer. Arpaio was found guilty of felonies that directly undermined our constitution. By pardoning him, Trump has once again thrown his lot in with advocates of a kind of racial supremacy that can only become more hateful and destructive with each nod from him. He has gone another step in subverting the rule of law in this country.

The sky is not falling. For most of us, today, tomorrow, and the next will be pretty ordinary. The Nazi’s aren’t marching into town either. It’s just that in too many ways, I see true evil and darkness gaining a foothold in the country I so love. I will give witness against the harm I see being done. I will resist my temptation to be comfortable at the expense of others’ pain. And I pray for God’s strengthening grace to persevere as I find ways to be part of an alternative to all the hate, the despair and desolation taking hold.

Self Care, Self Comfort


I don’t remember if I wrote about this recently or not, but I have heard a very helpful distinction between self  care and self comfort. Self comfort is intended to anesthetize, numb us, when we are in overload. It’s easy to figure out mine: snacking, and not snacking on healthy food, either. Self-care is more actively finding the things that will give us a sense of ourselves, of our agency, of our capacity to keep on keeping on, even when the impulse is to crawl into bed and pull the covers over our head.

I woke up and quickly got overwhelmed, listening to the news. I definitely had a choice since today is my day off: get in the easy chair with a book and goodies, or get going. I’ve had a busy morning. I cleaned out my closet, something I hadn’t done since I moved here in the summer of 2014. In some respects, doing that work made me sadder. I’ve gained way more weight than I should have since I left Florida. I play that weight game with myself: I’m going to hold on to my skinnier me clothes because, by golly, I’m going to lose that weight! Today, it seemed so much more obvious that it really is just that: a game. So one by one, I took skirts and blouses and dresses and pants I can’t use and bagged them up to take to a clothes closet in one of the churches in Montgomery.

I started going back to my vegan ways with the help of a good friend a couple of weeks ago. It’s been both energizing and rocky going, especially in the last week. But it’s a start; my intention is to be back in a largely vegan food plan moving forward. I’m also doing a bit more exercise. That too is a start. Cleaning out my closet meant confronting the shame and the disappointment in myself. And asking myself what I can do differently that is not gamey, or unrealistic, or unsustainable, in an effort to choose self-care over self-comfort.

That closet work was hard but it is done; I fit in all the clothes I kept, and my closet is sparkling clean. While I was at it, I realized it was the week I wash our sheets. That bit of work brought me enormous joy. A few years ago, my brothers and their spouses, my dad and I vacationed on one of the islands in the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden. We stayed in a cottage with a lovely umbrella clothes-line outside in the garden. Though it was cool, the sun shone for so long each day that the clothes dried quickly. As I’d pick them off the line and bring them in, memories of how laundry smelled when I was growing up, because everything was line-dried, came flooding back. The smell is simply glorious.

As we got settled here, I asked my spouseman to put up a clothesline for me, and it went on his to-do list though we both struggled to figure out a good place to put it. Then one day, the solution came to Sherod and he buildt this contraption that folds up when we are not using it, and gets let down to allow us to hang our laundry in the sun and breeze on wash days. Today I used clothespins to hang the pillowcases and got the Mallowman to help me with the sheets. We “wrassled” them up on the lines together and there was this exquisite sense of shared purpose and camaraderie. The sheets have since all dried and I’ve remade our bed so tonight, we will slip in between sheets smelling of light and gentle breezes. A very small way, but none-the-less a way, to make our carbon footprint smaller. Self-care.

This Sunday, the Gospel reading ends with the story of the Canaanite woman who importunes Jesus long enough to make him change his mind and respond to her and her needs. I’m preaching and am both deeply disturbed by the passage with its confrontation not only of what’s happening in our country right now, but also of my own hardness of heart, and grateful. There is wisdom and hope to be found in that story. I’m trying to hold on to the realization that the kind of willingness to open the doors wider, to be more generous, to see myself and the Other in a new way as the Gospel suggests even Jesus had to learn to do, requires self-care, while self-comfort makes it far, far easier to simply look away.  I can’t look away.

Taylor Swift, Laurie Penny and Anger


Many women you know are angrier than you can possibly imagine. Most are pretty good at hiding it, having been taught to do so since childhood. Laurie Penny

There are two sisters in me.   One speaks a lot. She is reasonable. She is nice. Sometimes, she is described as sweet. She is also resilient and determined to make the best of what she’s been given. So I get up on a day like today, delighting in the small joys of life.

On Friday night, Sherod and I sat at table in what can only be described as the Montgomery version of “Babette’s Feast”—lovely company enjoying a slow and sumptuous meal, candle light, wine that was wonderful without being pretentious, laughter. Anne Sexton, in her poem, For John Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further, talks about “my awkward bowl, with all its cracked stars shining”—a wonderful description, it seems to me, of all our lives; so there we sat, late into the evening, cracked stars shining, in a quiet, beautiful, gracious place.

Today has been much more about the domesticity of a day off for a priest like me. Doing laundry and roasting my coffee for the week. Talking to our daughter who is still sick in Fort Lauderdale, so far away I can’t run my fingers through her hair and give her comfort, but connected enough I can order chicken noodle soup from the Tower Deli close to where she lives, have someone it run it over to her, and imagine how that quintessential mama’s cure for so much gives my girl some kind of sense of of the warmth of love.

We’re starting to teach our new family members, Gilbert and Sunny, about finding their way outdoors so Sherod and I stood amused for a good while, watching Gilbert romp the grass, convince himself he’s big and bad-assed enough to stalk one of the chicken ladies, before turning tail and running like his life depended on it as soon as she clucked. I’ve folded and cleaned and breathed in deep enjoying the lavender candle I lit in my office a while ago. It is not hard to be grateful, and sweet, and kind when you are just this side of heaven.

The incredibly hard question for me these days, is ‘what about the anger, the sister of joy’? It seems like everywhere I look right now, there are women holding our awkward bowls with cracked stars shining, trying to keep the light of anger from shining too bright, too harsh in the places where we live, and move and have our being. A peer I respect enormously shared this article on Facebook recently.

That article, and getting to hear bits and pieces of the Taylor Swift trial, reopen the door to an anger that is kept tightly locked in me. There is one small story I am now strong enough and old enough to tell that describes the anger I am talking about.

When I was at seminary, each seminarian had to preach once a semester; we did so at daily morning prayer with the whole community. It was not unusual for a member of the faculty or administration to invite the “preacher” into her or his office for a visit and to give feedback about the sermon the seminarian had preached. It happened once that I gave a sermon about the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

I was invited to visit with a person with considerable authority so I was quite flattered by the invitation. We sat in his office and it turned out that what this man wanted to discuss with me was that  after chapel, he’d been thinking about what “picking up your cross” might mean in his life. His conclusion was that his cross would be if his wife was seriously injured and could no longer have sex with him. He went on at some length about why and how hard that would be and I was left wordless. I was 25 years old and far less experienced than many women my age. All I remember thinking was that I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me because what in God’s name could I say?

I had come to seminary without being a postulant for holy orders but still very much wanting to find a way into that possibility. This person would have very significant influence on my ability to make that happen. There were no witnesses and you figure out quickly as a woman, that in ‘he said/she said’ scenarios, especially with the kind of power differential that existed between the two of us, I wouldn’t stand a chance. So I mumbled some inane bits of response, the conversation ended with him congratulating me on the sermon, and I walked out wanting to scrub myself down, wash myself clean of his garbage.

In the larger scheme of things, this was not a huge deal—this person did not try to grope me, he did not make any advances to me. I am not even sure it would qualify for any claim of harassment. But what I see now, that I only sensed then, was that the difference in power and authority between the two of us was so enormous, that a conversation about his sex life with his wife not only missed the point of my sermon but was beyond inappropriate. I am proud of Taylor Swift, and Laurie Penny, and all the young women coming into their own, who have a clearer voice and stronger sense of their worth—and for a world that has opened up a tiny bit more space for a woman’s anger to matter.

As for me, if you grew up, as I did, fearing my own anger so I got far more comfortable with grief and sorrow, it isn’t only that the light shining out of a cracked and awkward bowl has been refracted and dimmed, though that has happened for sure (and all the while so many of us murmur, “you know, rainbows are so pretty aren’t they? And they are a reminder of God’s promises to us aren’t they?”). But it is more than that. As light broke into a multitude of colors, too many of them, but especially the red, got painted over with pink.

Perhaps the work of women like me is to wrap our hands around the too-dim, too monochromatic light, as if it was a rope, to draw it back in, slowly but surely, hand over hand, “un-refracting ” the light, reclaiming a much more complicated and colorful version of ourselves. In the spaces where fear and a desire to be liked no longer reign supreme, maybe we have the opportunity to weave the anger back into the fabric of our being, and along the way, we can take the time to make sure the light becomes more concentrated. More focused. More steady and unwavering, so what shines out through the cracks and fractures of a carefully constructed life is truer and more complete. And also shines brighter.



For a friend, walking with her mama


Grace Cathedral

This is what I learned in the spring of 2011: When a terminal illness finds its way into the life of a family, we become remarkable resilient finding our way through changing “new normals”. We have time to build up reserves of courage, though we don’t know we are doing that. Then, there comes a point, a tipping point, and we know down in our bones that we have started walking the last length of the journey. That moment came in April of that year. My mom, mami, as I called her, had been through several lines of hormone and chemotherapy, for metastasized breast cancer. Each line lasted a shorter amount of time, each had harsher side effects. The options were dwindling. Mami and Dad were scheduled to fly down from Boquete to Ciudad de Panamá to meet with Mami’s oncologist because the blood work results were getting dicey again. I decided to join them.

I had seen my mami in January and she had looked more fragile, been more emotionally vulnerable than ever, but still lively and engaged. The mami I met at Hotel Plaza Paitilla, our ‘home base’ in Ciudad de Panamá was grey, exhausted and also somehow, clear-eyed. She had had enough. The purpose of this round of doctor visits was to advise them she was done with chemo and ready to move into palliative care.

The first doctor we saw was her neurologist, the person who first figured out my mami’s cancer had metastasized. It was an amazing moment, to sit next to the woman who had been so strong and unyielding in her effort to help me through the childhood challenges of a bum hip so I might have ‘life abundant’. Now, I heard that strength and determination in her voice as she told a middle aged woman doctor that it was time. Dr A. responded in the most respectful, supportive way imaginable. She had no fear in her voice as she applauded my mami’s decision. She made it clear that if my mami needed any further consultations with her, she would be glad to help. And then, she stood up, along with us, came around her desk and hugged my mother, told her how glad she was to have worked with her, and said good bye. No candy coating, no pretend like, just the quiet and freeing truth that it was OK for my mami to say her body was too worn out to withstand any more chemo.

The doctor who my mami had become profoundly attached to was her oncologist, a much younger woman who’d just returned from Australia where she had attended a world congress for oncologists, who, throughout the time she worked with Mami was always on the lookout for any new possibilities for therapeutic intervention against the cancer. My parents had gotten close enough to her that Dr. P travelled to the town where my parents lived when my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. Encouraged by Dr. A’s response, I went into that second appointment filled with peace, in awe of what was unfolding. My dad and I sat on either side of my mami, each holding one of her hands.  Those hands had become bony little birds, lying weak and tired;  I was filled with dread that if I squeezed even a little, I’d break a cancer-riddled bone.

My mami had a carefully prepared little speech; she’d already practiced with Dr. A so it came even more easily with Dr. P., whom she cared for so much.  We had all been looking at Dr P as Mami told her about her decision, and then Dr. P gave her response. “Pues no, Doña Anita, yo quiero seguir peleando”—Sorry, but no Miss Anita, I still want to fight.”  There was a window behind the doctor’s desk; I could see a tall building  as I turned to look out; relieved, I began to count the windows, one by one, floor by floor. Count. Breathe. Be quiet. Count. It’s going to be OK. Count. Breathe. God d%&n. No—you can’t go there. Breathe. Keep counting. Don’t stop counting. The adrenaline pinged through my body, I felt my chest about to explode, and the room got claustrophobically small.

Mami seemed to draw further into herself and now, all the confidence and clarity was gone from her face. Instead, there was this struggle back and forth between unexpected hope, confusion, and the exhaustion that could not be wiped away by the thin and false thread of optimism offered by Dr. P. My mami’s voice became hesitant as she said, “If you think I can have more time, you know so much more than I do. Yes, I’ll do what you recommend”.

Me? Inside my mind, I turned on my mother. I wanted to shake her,  disrespect her even more than her doctor just had, strip her of her dignity by yelling, “Mami, that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard you say! It is your body, not Dr. P’s. It is your choice, not hers. Think about Dr. A’s response and how meaningful that moment was. This is a travesty and I am about to reach out and wring this woman’s neck!” I thank God for the strength I dug out from down deep to sit quietly, to let my mami have the conversation she needed to have with the doctor she’d entrusted her life to 5 years earlier, when the metastasis had been discovered.

My father and I talked a few times during the next 24 hours, struggled to make peace with something that seemed to go against all the brave work my mom had done; it is a fearsomely courageous bit of agency to say, “I will now allow myself to die.” We shared our horror. Our dismay. Our anger. My mother only had the strength to sleep, and wake for short periods of time, distracted and distant. Plans were put in motion to go return to the city a couple of weeks later to start the new line of treatment.

Then it was time to leave. My parents headed back home in the morning and I had a late afternoon flight back to the USA,  so I was able to go with them out to to the airport where they’d take a flight to David. I watched my dad wheel my mami into the security area, her body so thin and bent over now that she was lost, almost swallowed up, in a wheel chair.

I had scheduled a deep tissue massage in Fort Lauderdale for when I returned from this trip, and I kept the appointment the next day. Never before and never after, have I experienced a massage where every single place in my body the massage therapist worked on hurt, and hurt excruciatingly.

Away from Dr. P,  my mami regained the clarity she’d lost in that sterile office, filled with books and magazines, and charts and pharmaceutical samples but little humanity. She did not return to Ciudad de Panamá. Mami died some weeks later, in early June. During the two weeks I was with my parents before her death, the neurologist, Dr. A called 3 times to ask how my Dad and I were doing and check on my mami. At one point in those final days, we tried repeatedly to reach Dr. P because the local doctor needed to check something out about my mom’s last round of chemo as he perscribed palliative meds. Dr. P never returned our calls.

Here is some more of what I learned that awful week in April: I was a tiger ready to pounce on anyone who messed with my mami. But sitting in Dr. P’s office, I had been ready to snatch away all my mom’s agency, her ability to make the decisions that worked for her, because I thought I knew what was best for her. It was my mother’s life and death, not mine. I am grateful for the grace that made it possible for me to sit quietly through that meeting, be polite to the doctor, lead my parents out to the cab that was waiting for us.

My mami, even as she was dying, had the strength and wisdom she needed to honor relationships that were hers, not mine. But it was important and a part of me honoring my relationship with my mami to talk about the beauty of the meeting with Dr. A., to reassure my mom that we’d follow her lead, do whatever she decided.

One of my dearest friends is walking towards that kind of hard place with her own mama. As one who’s already been in similar places, I think I know a bit about the confusion, the warring hopes, fears, needs, the sheer mind-numbing volume of decisions, large and small, that are hers to make now. I don’t think it’s perverse of me to see this as a time of deep holiness in my friend’s life. I don’t regret for her that she finds herself in such a place. Walking with my mami tempered me. Made me have to go deeper to find the living waters and in the process, stripped away a lot of games and half-truths I had clung to in the past. Those days, and the weeks that followed, gave me a connection with my mami that neither angels or principalities, or things present, or things to come, or life or death, will ever break.  I pray for such a gift for my friend.

Our Joy Complete


When María first arrived from México, she was extraordinarily self-contained. She’d had to be. As one who grew up learning to ‘read the instructions’, I had immersed myself in the literature of reactive attachment disorder and already knew that María not liking to be touched or held was a symptom. I’d also read that one way to break through some of the resistance to being touched would be hard at first, and then something powerful and good for her and her family.

I’d pick María up against her will and get into our pool in Florida, slowly walking with her to where it was deep enough that only my head and shoulders were above water. María would scream bloody murder but would cling to me. I’d stand there singing to her, holding her at first fairly loosely and then more tightly. It worked. María became more willing to be consoled when she needed consolation. She also fell in love with swimming and water games and hanging out in the pool. For a while, her games got rough, but year after year while she was a child, there were endless games to invent with each other, all of them wonderful for their ability to allow me to draw close to my girl.

Occasionally, Sherod and I grumble about the pool in our farm—pools require so much upkeep and are of use for a smaller window of time each year. Nonetheless, last year I stumbled on a flamingo float that made for a perfect Christmas present for the spouseman. We have given each other flamingos of all kinds through the years. Yesterday, while I drove to Atlanta to pick up our girl for her last summer visit, Sherod finally pulled out his present. Soon after María and I got home, we stood around him watching him use an air compressor to blow the float up. Mo went nuts. The chicken girls, who’d been out for their afternoon stroll, totally freaked, squawking, flying away as far as they could from the monster that had appeared out of nowhere. I gathered the girls back up into the chicken yard. Sherod tried to reassure Mo (who remains highly suspicious even this morning, looking out the window while he growls at his most fierce). Then, the three of us jumped in the pool and had the time of our life, figuring out how to get on the flamingo and stay on her, playing shark when any of us managed to get on and stay on, laughing and hugging and, in my case, marveling at the power of water to heal, to hold, to renew and refresh and baptize us as beloved.

I Will Change Your Name


Ordinary things made holy by the children at Camp McDowell

It doesn’t happen often. A moment, or in this case, a stretch of time, when it seems that all the different strands of life have woven together into something seamless, sturdy, ever-so-real, and also of transcendent beauty and joy.

If you’ve read my blog with any regularity in the past few weeks, you’ve probably had some sense that this was a hard summer, with the departure of the rector of Ascension, the uncanny number of deaths in the parish. At one point a couple of weeks ago, death got mixed up with the kind of messy church politics that are inevitable, and really human, and sometimes painful and confusing. I’m now seasoned enough to know when to refuse to allow myself to take it in the least bit personally so very quickly, the questions resolved themselves and life went on. But that happened in the midst of the grief of euthanizing my sweet cat Dot, and as I was taking time to visit with a gentle man who’d been released from the hospital with hospice care, who was struggling mightily with fear and desolation as he slowly walked that lonely path of dying. It happened on the day a very dear friend and remarkable priest of the church, Stefani Schatz, died as well. On the very next day, I had another funeral to do. That was a lot, and then, my duties at Ascension were done for long enough to get in my car to go be program director and chaplain for Bethany’s Kids, the inclusion summer camp program I wrote about in my previous blog.

I had started to plan and prepare for the session with a small group of women a few weeks ago. All of them were either trained, or knew a lot about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. One has a daughter with some special needs. Somehow, we all clicked and though I had the responsibility for coming up with an overarching theme, what came together was so much better than anything I could have done by myself. Our theme was “refreshed by living waters”—a 5 day exploration into the holiness of water. That thing that happens when a team clicks and its members call out the best, most creative selves in each other? That happened and though we were all probably more than a little apprehensive about what we’d prepared and whether or not it would work with the very broad range of needs, abilities and maturity levels of our camper peeps, the plan worked remarkably well.

Then, the week began, and the team grew to include a set of college students who are working as core staff members at Camp McDowell this summer. I get so disillusioned so often, that when a bunch of young people blow me out of the water with their kind competence, their sense of humor, their beauty and the faith-driven commitment with which they work, I just want to stop and stare.

I was acutely conscious of the responsibility I had to help us all see through the lense of faith, hope, charity and love—in other words, I knew I was there as a priest. In a post I left on this blog several years ago, I shared a portion of the sermon my friend Michael preached at my ordination to the priesthood, as he switched back and forth between English and Spanish, as he and I had done throughout our friendship. This is part of what he said:

 Ahora entras en el sacerdocio, donde lo que Dios pide de ti es una confianza sobrehumana: la capacidad de alzar tus manos, levantando las plegarias de un pueblo y distribuyendo el consuelo y la bendición de Dios por medio de los sacramentos.  Creerás de un momento a otro, que no eres digna, que hay algo impuro en este atrevimiento.  Pero ya el serafín, si te atreves a creerlo, te ha limpiado en el brasero de tu vida.  Cree, a la vez, que lo que has sufrido te ha simplificado y abierto y es, con paciencia y humildad, el tesoro que depositas en el templo.

Now you enter the priesthood where, what God asks of you is a superhuman confidence: the capacity to raise your hands, to hold up the prayers of a people and offer the consolation and the blessing of God through the sacraments. You will believe from one moment to the next that you are not worthy, that there is something impure in such audacity. But dare to believe that the seraphim has already cleansed you in the crucible of your life. Believe that what you have suffered has simplified and opened you, that this is the treasure, which, with patience and humility, you will bring as a gift to the temple.

I have never understood those words like I did at Camp McDowell. I drew on everything I have—my education, my life, my parenting of a special needs daughter, the things I’ve learned about work and friendship, and beauty, and liturgy—to do the work of the week. There was a sureness in my work, and the work we were all doing together, that was possible because in the words of the woman who runs this program, it had required “we plan tight and hang loose” once the week began.

On Friday night, when all there was left was one more morning, we gathered for our evening worship. That day, we had talked about baptism, about the ways in which we are washed clean, given new hearts throughout our life. Allie, the young woman in charge of the music for the week, who is studying to be a biochemist, chose the closing piece, a song I’d never heard of. It’s called “I Will Change Your Name”.

Allie’s clear voice melded with the voices of many in the space who also knew the song. Who was priest and who was being ministered to blurred in that moment. The words come as close as any I’ve ever heard to describe what being a part of the Episcopal Church has done and been for me.

This is not to deny the failures, the disappointments or the very real brokenness of the church. And still, God’s grace runs like a clear and clean river of life, enough to have changed at least one person’s name. AMDG


Going down to the river to pray


Bethany’s Kids Session 1 Staff

I started out my adult years with some definite ideas of places I would not go. Headed to the USA to college, with the hope and dream of staying in this country, I said I would absolutely, positively, never, ever live in Alabama. After I graduated from seminary, I added another “not never, ever, ever”: “I shall not, no will not, no cannot, not ever be a priest.” We all know how that one turned out. When I moved to Huntsville, when Sherod and I got married in ’88, I added a new “heck no”: Camp McDowell signified something I neither understood, nor valued. It felt like the meeting place of the Diocese of Alabama Episcopal clique, and I wanted nothing to do with cliques, especially not Episcopal Church cliques when I could not see a place for myself in that place with those people. I was adamant that I had neither the desire nor need to go anywhere near McDowell.

What’s more, I had heard my mother tell the story of the year her father was really struggling with alcoholism, and her mother, trying to shield her from some of that, sent her to some posh summer camp in Maine. I watched my mom shudder describing the icy lake water, the mosquitos, the strenuousness of it all. For my own self with my bum hip, a summer camp program, with hiking and canoeing, and swimming and all those other outdoor activities that define summer camp was so removed from the realm of my being, desire or imagination. Between the mamacita’s story and my own limitations, all I could really say was, “isn’t going to happen.”

Then, not only did I get married in Alabama, to an Alabama boy, but when we actually had the freedom to choose where we would live as Sherod retired, I was as enthusiastic as Sherod about coming back to Alabama. After thinking I’d never get to be parish priest again after I left Ft Lauderdale, I went to work at Ascension and our vestry vestry retreats where held at McDowell the last two years as was the Diocesan Convention in 2016. It was no longer a matter of whether I’d find my way to Camp McDowell. I was going. Full stop.

What I found shattered every single one of my preconceptions. Since I left Alabama with the Mallowman in 1990, Camp McDowell has launched a folk school program. An organic farm is up and running here too. There’s a program of environmental stewardship that just knocks the socks off me. And under the leadership of our current bishop, a whole new section that’s totally accessible and hospitable to people with all kinds of “exceptionalities” and “disabilities” has been built. Earlier this summer, my girl got to attend a McDowell camp session for adults with the kinds of life challenges she faces; though she gave everyone here a run for their money during the first days, she was welcomed, she was made to feel that she belonged and she wants to come back.

About 10 weeks ago, I got a call from one of the members of McDowell’s leadership team. Along with offering camp sessions for persons with significant challenges, McDowell also offers a camp inclusion program—4th-6th graders with typical abilities and special needs attend camp together for a week. Each session is led by a priest of the diocese who sets the theme, helps develop the program and serves as chaplain and worship leader. The priest who’d committed to take the first session of “Bethany’s Kids” had backed out unexpectedly and the call was a plea for help: would I take his place?   Yes. Yes of course I would. I’d be honored.

I’m at Camp McDowell, today working with the college-aged staff who work through the summer as counselors, life guards, activity directors and musicians. On Wednesday, “camper buddies,” high school students who will be assigned to work 1-1 with the children who need a little extra help, will arrive for training; close behind will be the campers themselves. We will have time together to explore, and I hope, experience the wonder of one of God’s most wonderful gifts: the gift of being “refreshed in living waters.”

I am so glad all those rigid “I won’ts” of my younger years are not as strong as curiosity, and a capacity to eat humble pie when necessary. Me and about 75 other people, young and old, fragile and strong, all of us rich in grace, will be here this week.