Monday, July 11, 2016

Washer and Dryer

I have taken to noticing, of late, many of the things I take for granted in our home.  We are getting ready to do a major overhaul of the third floor (the kitchen will require a winning lottery ticket), but the rest of the house is ok. 

I have been noticing, in particular, that lights work at the touch of a switch, and water at the turn of a faucet handle.  I don't know why, but it seems important these days to acknowledge the easy privilege with which we live.

Not that we are talking perfection here.  The washing machine abandoned the delicate cycle years ago, and gave up on consistent spinning sometime last winter.  So . . .  I released the concept of a delicate wash to the universe, and spent many late nights and early mornings heaving heavy, water-laden loads of clean wash into the dryer for two or three cycles.  Whatever.

The final straw came last week, when the dryer ceased to spin.  We could spread wet laundry across the deck and patio furniture as an emergency measure, but that was not a long-term solution.

The new appliances came today, and the delivery guys magically maneuvered them down the narrow and twisting 100-year old basement staircase.  And a   little while ago, I folded the first pile of clean towels in a week.

I'm sure that they smell delicious, but having no sense of smell (another story), I wouldn't know anything about that. What I do know is that they felt wonderfully clean and soft and warm.

And much as I would like to live on the banks of any sort of body of water, I am extremely grateful that I am not required to do laundry therein!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Inward Journey (Sermon)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

I had another sermon planned and prepared.

I switched the readings and prayers between this week and next, because I wanted to preach a two-part sermon on the inward journey and the outward journey of faith.  The journey we make through prayer and contemplation, and the journey we make through action and mission. It made more sense to me to start with the inward journey, exemplified by Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and then to move on to the outward journey, with the Good Samaritan modeling attentiveness to the stranger.  Plus next week is our afternoon service of prayer and music on the eve of the convention, a service that constitutes a statement by us of our willingness as a congregation to participate in the outward journey, to offer our prayers in service of our city and nation.

I had a plan.

And then Alton Sterling was shot and killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge.  And then Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.    And then five law enforcement officers were shot and killed by a sniper in Dallas as they were engaged in the sacred work of protecting Americans who were themselves exercising their sacred right to protest the loss of black lives. 

And then I read an essay by a friend who is the white mother to a black son, a son who is a charming three-year old, and who says that when she and her husband adopted him, people asked her how she was going to prepare to mother her black son.  Twelve years ago, no one asked how she was going to prepare to mother her white daughter.

And then I read an essay by a friend whose white stepson is a law enforcement officer in Florida, and about how she recognizes the risks of his life, and the lives of his wife and children,

And so my plans changed.  And so for the third time in six weeks I am wearing the stole Rev.Rosalind Hughes made for me, the orange stole to protest gun violence.  And once again I find myself compelled to preach about events which affect all of us.

How so? You might be asking?  What do any of these events -- shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas have to do with us, here in Bay?  And what does the turmoil in our black communities have to do with us, in this beautiful lakeside city in which we strive to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all?  And what does any of it have to do with Jesus and Mary and Martha.?

Now I know how many Marthas are here in this congregation. And Marthas are out in full force right now -

bringing casseroles
organizing protests
working to change the underlying attitudes and structures which give rise to this persistent violence in our nation

But today we also see Martha’s sister Mary
refusing to be distracted
focusing on Jesus
on Jesus who is headed toward Jerusalem
headed toward that place and time in his life where he will confront injustice and violence head on, and will himself be subjected to both

Mark no mistake about it
Jesus is not only the Son of God who reminds us over and over again to love one another
Jesus is not only the Son of God wililng to make the ultimate sacrifice
Jesus is also the Son of God born into an oppressed people –

Jesus is the Son of God who fully aligns himself with

those who are poor,
those who are disenfranchised,
those who are subjected to oppression and violence and
those who face daily the destruction of their lives and communities.

That's the Jesus to whom Mary is listening.
That's the Jesus to whom we are called to listen.

We struggle so  to listen intently.
We struggle mightily to grow in our inner lives of the spirit

we are quite naturally do-ers like Martha - in church, at home, at work
we live in a culture in which busyness and achievement are valued and rewarded
we don't really learn to listen
in ordinary conversation - we are waiting for our turn!
to God - we focus on our liturgy and on intercessory prayer
such important aspects of our faith lives -

but seldom on LISTENING
which is where deep prayer begins

You know this, many of you, already, in your personal lives
You pray and pray and pray for someone or something, and the situation does not change,
and eventually you begin to pray for patience
and for courage and for resilience,
and perhaps eventually you begin
to watch and listen for what GOD is saying and doing

This is the prayer to which Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, calls us
We pray -- as we are also called to do - for those killed and injure
We pray -- as we are called to do -- for those who protect and lead us
But we also pray by listening and watching
What is Jesus saying to each of us?

We pray by putting aside our eagerness to defend ourselves,
to maintain the status quo, to stay in our protected world

And we listen to the one who does none of those things --
Who is not defensive,
not bent on maintaining things as they are,
Not seeking to protect himself --

Jesus, visiting Mary and Martha, is on his way to Jerusalem
their home is safe and comfortable, but he is not going to stay there
Jerusalem is the place to which he has to go to confront
and overcome violence and injustice
the cross is the destination which he has to face in order to triumph
over all that seeks to destroy us - over death itself

So this week, like Mary: we re called to listen to him
We are told to put aside our own priorities and preoccupations
We are directed to let go of our own biases and preconceptions

What is Jesus saying to you,
how is he speaking to you,
through the lives and voices of those who have been killed,
and through the lives and voices of the communities who mourn them?

If we are truly sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Jesus’ voice,
Then we know that he speaks for those whose voices are so often silenced
and we know that his call is always to that which gives life. 

How is he calling each of us this morning?

The above is more or less what I preached this morning.  I have been preaching more and more from outlines ~ the briefer, the better ~ but I had some things I wanted to be sure not to forget or garble today, and so I wrote much more than usual, three versions worth.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Falling Out of Time ~ A Stunning Chronicle of Parental Grief (Book Review)

From the first page, I knew that this is a book in a category of its own. No . . . from the title, which I saw when I stumbled across it in a bookstore last week: I immediately guessed the topic, as we who have lost our children are the ones who speak of having fallen out of time.

As a mother and a pastor, I have purchased a boatload of books on loss and grief, and especially on parental loss. Many are straightforward, not a few are little more than drivel, and two (the other being Nicholas Wolterstorff's
Lament for a Son) capture the language and experience of those who have "learned to live the inverse of life."

At first, the narative/poem/song/lament reminded me of Thornton Wilder's
Our Town, with the Town Chronicler serving in a role similar to the Narrator's. Then it began to morph into an epic journey, like that of Odysseus, or Dante, except that the pilgrims are a small, heartbroken community of mourners who seek that which is completely unattainable: a path to their beloved children.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Perhaps not for parents in the first couple of years, but for those who have made it through a few, long enough for the reality to sink in, and who wonder where we might find companionship in the silent solitude in which we now live


The above was my Amazon review, written a few months ago.  I revisited it this morning, after having been shocked into a brief depression by a blog post claiming that restlessness at night is a sinful rejection of the assurance of God's presence.  I could probably count on my fingers the nights I have slept soundly and for more than a few hours at a time since my son died ~ and I wondered, reading the blog post: Do I now have to add the sleepless hours of the past eight years to my litany of sins?

And then I remembered this book, with its small band of pilgrim parents, wandering the nights in circles, seeking their lost children, and seeking one another, those others who know those walks of the wee hours.    I think I have written before of how I used to slip out of my seminary residence late at night, or early in the morning (by which I mean 1:00 am) to walk in circles around the silent campus, peering into the darkness and knowing that I would find only more silence.

The parents - Man who becomes Walking Man, Woman who becomes Woman Who Stayed at Home, Cobbler, Midwife, Mute Woman in Net, Centaur, Elderly Math Teacher, and those who observe them, night after night, are woven into community, a community of those who live in a dark solitude, uncomprehending but insistent upon giving words to their uncomprehension:  It's like a murmur.  ...  A murmur, or a sort of dry rustle inside your head, and it never stops.  So the Centaur tries to explain to the Town Chronicler. 


As I was reading this book the first time, I wondered: How does he know? I have read syrupy, insipid books on parental loss, books in which everything is wrapped up neatly within a couple of hundred pages and a few months of plotline, or in a few paragraphs of well-intended advice.  This book, this poem, this little masterpiece, however, is filled with parents who live by day and walk by night.   And so I looked up the author's name and, of course: he lost his 20-year-old-son to Israel's war with Lebanon. And he concludes, through the final reflection of the Centaur:

Yet still it breaks my heart,
my son,
to think
that I have --
that one could --
that I have found
the words.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Celebrations ~ Friday Five

Celebrations are hard-won around here, but today's Friday Five asks about them and . . . why not?

It’s the time of year when celebrations abound: graduations (the end of that season), weddings, anniversaries, family reunions, and more. I’ve just officiated the blessing of my sister-in-law’s recent marriage, an event that incorporated a variety of celebrations within the celebration. Fun stuff, all around!

The season notwithstanding, causes to celebrate can be found in our daily/weekly/monthly lives, too. For today’s FF, share with us five things you are celebrating these days!

Here's a much younger version of my husband and me, concluding a backpacking trip on Isle Royale:

He turned 65 in mid-June, so we celebrated with kids then, and will be with friends Sunday night, and perhaps with his extended family in the fall when he  . . . retires!  Forty-plus corporate years are yielding to pottery making and senior track competitions.  Yippee for him!  And three celebrations.

I am quietly celebrating the end of a week of Vacation Bible School tonight, in which I was much more involved than I had anticipated being.  It went really well -- kudos to our Christian Ed Director and amazing volunteers --  but I am long past the time in which I would have bounced right back from mornings spent with many, many preschoolers.  (See photo above ~ maybe then?)  The rewards:  Big hugs from small people for Pastor Robin.

I am also celebrating the fact that it's now been about ten years since I finished my year with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  Last night I wrote a note to Spiritual Director Emeritus, now 86 years old and newly assigned to a new administrative position at Georgetown, to thank him (again). Without his patient guidance ~  no Exercises, no seminary, no survival of the loss of my son, no ministry.  Such a huge part he has played in each! At Georgetown a couple of years ago:

In spite of myself, there are things to celebrate!