Friday, September 29, 2006

"My son": a reflection on a sermon

In his sermon last Sunday, which folk can listen to at:

Scroll down and click on 'sermon'

Fr. Mike spoke of a dinner he had attended with the Anglican Archbishop of El Salvador. One of the things this man has to do as Archbishop is to negotiate kidnap and hostage situations. He told a story of being awakened at 2 Am with a demand for $1 million in exchange for the release of a little girl.

He replied "My son, neither the family, I or anyone have $1 million. Please (and here I paraphrase) do the right thing and let her go."

Then there was a long pause and the kidnapper asked "Why did you call me 'my son'?"

The AB said "All in El Salvador are my children."

The kidnapper said "No one has ever called me that before."

The sermon went on to tell how those 2 words opened communication between the teen gangs in El Salvador and lives were changed for the good.

After listening to this sermon, I couldn't get it out of my head. In my neck of the Anglican woods, the Episcopal Church of the USA, debate rages over who can or cannot be this that or the other within TEC, who fits or who doesn't, who belongs or who should leave or be kicked out. This debate is often conspicuous for its lack of unconditional love.

Yet the story of the Archbishop of El Salvador shows us the power of unconditional love. The story shows us what happens when we cease to insist on our human terms of categories and limitations and embrace and begin to practice God's all encompassing unconditional love.

In my opinion, we in the USA have a lot to learn from the example of the Archbishop of El Salvador. Maybe we could get out of our heads and into the streets of the USA or our own corner of the world to follow the example of the Archbishop of El Salvador or St. Benedict to see the face of Christ in every human being we meet.

Because His face is there. If we don't see it, it is not the other person's fault, but our own.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wisdom of God, Foolishness of Us Humans

I must also acknowledge that I struggle with my own demons. The major one of course is mental illness. There are times when I cope well and times when I cope miserably. My life has often resembled a juggling act. It doesn't help that even in this day and age, mental illness carries a stigma. Maybe if we gave it a more accurate label, such a brain disorder, the stima would go away.

In the early days of being disabled, I ran into this stigma over and
over again from people I liked, respected and some I loved. I saw
that if I allowed myself to continue to be influenced by their, let's
face facts, prejudice and / or ignorance, I would get no where and I
wanted health.

So I decided to go public. On the Internet, in face to face
encounters, I have named my condition and been very open and honest
about where I am on the day to day continuum of depression and what my struggles are like. I did this because it was necessary to my survival to live my life defined not by my diagnosis but by my faith, values and goals. Another reason is because there are millions of people out there who don't seek help with depression because of that stigma and I don’t think they should have to.

I would fall on my face a lot. I have had depressive episodes that
lasted years. Thoughts of suicide have consumed me. But I was
nonetheless out there high wide and wonderful struggling for all to
see. Some judged, but I learned to ignore them. Many more called me
on the phone and wrote email and told me how depressed they were and I
urged them to get help. Some even emailed in a public setting and were
encouraged by more than one person. Over the years, I have heard back
and heard how people's lives were changed all because someone in the
midst of the struggle and the Insidious Dark herself spoke up. I
never claimed to have answers. I only ever claimed the struggle. That my uttermost weakness is of service to others is a concept that boggles my mind and I am humbled and grateful and lost in awe and wonder over God’s grace.

A side bar to this: All my life I have been terrified of the psych
ward. I never ever wanted to find myself there. But at one point in
my life it was either the psych ward or suicide and I voluntarily
checked myself in. It was the lowest point in a life full of many
lows. I took my knitting with me, of course. after a while I was
realized from the psych ward and transferred to a day treatment
program. During this time I made the acquaintance of an
administrative assistance in the psych unit who was deeply fascinated
by my knitting and every morning stopped me for a 5 minute chat to
look at my knitting or the results of my spinning yarn.

Several years later I met up with her again and she is now a
passionate fiber artist. She says it is all because of me and I
changed her life and gave me direction and purpose and meaning. And
the irony of this story is that I was at my worst, I couldn't sink any
lower, I thought I was waste of oxygen exhaling not carbon dioxide but

So I guess the wisdom of God does indeed appear as foolishness to us
humans. And since that day Heather told me this, I have been
experimenting to learn if living my life in a way that appears foolish to
humans is a way of life that in God's eyes, accounts as wisdom.

It is not our strength God wants from us but our weaknesses.

Which come to think of it, is huge difference between Jesus
and the religions of the East. God wants our imperfections, our
stumblings, our emotions and our passions. He wants our very
humanness. He doesn't want us to be anything but splendidly human, to be the very person He created us to be.

May the Holy Spirit dance in your heart!

Sunday, September 10, 2006


I am on an email list where one of the members consistently writes something that challenges me to consider or re-consider my own thinking. She has sparked privous blog netries. Here's another example.

She wrote:

> don't know (that is to say, I am thinking out loud) the beauty of beautiful,
> old and honourable rules - versus the beauty of spontaneity, new creativity
> and life without fomulas. one voice in me says 'rules are the old way', but
> one says 'this is the narrow path ( an order) - miraculously it is still
> here, and you may, god willing, still have time to get on it - what are you
> going to do?' how does me, changeable mutable me, commit to an order? maybe
> i can't - maybe i can only do it through god and that is the point.

My response:

Ah, there are times when I can hear myself talking through your words.

Thinking out loud is a practice in which I frequently engage. Sometimes I have no idea what I think on a subject until I either talk or write about it . It is a constant journey of discovery that disarms me. I don’t know if readers practice Lectio Divina, ( , , ). Anyway, a short description is that it is a mode of Bible study that allows the texts to permeate our very being until we discover ourselves not only thinking , but talking, acting biblically as if it were second nature to us. That is one of my goals for myself and those who know me, know how far short I fall of this.

I suppose all of us must be tempted by the old vs the new, keeping our options open in case something better comes along. Goodness, I have done that, chasing after every new spiritual whatsis. What I discovered about myself is that in so doing, I never grew. Not as a person and certainly not as a Christian. I didn't stay with anything long enough to have it make a difference as I was always chasing after the next big thing.

This has been a pattern in my life. Partly this is due to the fact that I simply enjoy the process of learning. It doesn't matter what the subject matter might be, I just love the whole process of learning something new. The pitfall, of course, is that I have ended up learning something that doesn't particularly add anything to the quality of my life. And it can be even dangerous to me, as I discovered when I allowed this joy of learning to suck me in to the American business world of out-to-get-the- competition corporations and I ended up disabled. What I see pretty clearly **now** is that I gave into temptation, instead of proceeding a vocational path then.

I also did this with crafts. I'd try everything and one day I realized that I was a Jill of all trades, a mistress of none and I didn't want to be half-good at a lot of things, I wanted to excel at one. So I turned to knitting and that has been wonderful. To really sink into an art form and let it shape and mold me.

This realization about knitting was a lifesaver. It opened the door for me to say 'no' and to see that there are more positive fruits when I limit my options than when I leave them limitless. This is what got me off my own spiritual tourist gig and caused me to choose to sink into something I had loved a long time: the Rule of St. Benedict.

Can it get more old-fashioned than the 6th century?? And yet every generation of Christians rediscovers the RB and finds in it a document that is still relevant to us today. Ok, sure, maybe some of the details aren't too applicable. At one point Benedict addresses what the monk is to do with his knife while asleep. Few of us take a knife to bed with us these days, but the basic principle of safety is still with us.

We might find Benedict's approach to discipline harsh and inappropriate. In this way, he was very much a product of his times. But here again we can distill the basic principle that the Christian life is to be taken seriously, that there are consequences to our actions when we act in a manner harmful to our community and most importantly, that we much take the concept of personal sin very seriously.

I suppose the Rule of St. Benedict could be considered a "narrow" path. The irony is that this narrow path has opened the doors for me to have everything I have ever most long for. So how narrow can it be when it is a path to infinite love, infinite grace, to the Most High God?

May the Holy Spirit dance in your heart.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Current thoughts on chastity

Chastity is not only about sex. Sure one aspect of chastity
is faithfulness to one's status. What's chaste behavior for a married
couple is not the same as chaste behavior for me as a single woman.
There is more to chastity than being faithful to one's partner or
abstaining from sex outside of a committed relationship.

I have been chaste in this manner for almost 30 years now. Over those
years I have come to understand that the primary relationship of love
in my life is with the Lord and not with a man. I am frequently
reminded of something Evelyn Underhill wrote about the vertical and
horizontal directions of love. She said that if a person truly loves
God, than that love which God and the person shared must be so great
as to overflow the containment of human skin and come out the very
pores to all of humanity and show itself in very specific acts of
love. I am paraphrasing badly. But this is a theme in any number of
her retreat addresses. So it seems to me that chastity includes loving
service to my fellow human beings.

Of course, this service can take a number of forms: intercessory or
contemplative prayer as well as getting out there among the senior
citizens as does Sr. Molly. In this service, one's attention is
redirected from self to God and other people where we can often find
the face of God.

Love is, of course, a verb and I believe it is a deliberate act of our
mind and will, of good will toward others and I don't think until I
grasped this that I ever really loved anyone because to some degree my
love for them was predicated by what they could do for me. A very
self-centered way of loving and chastity teaches me that love is

Love looks like generosity. And not just generosity of money, but of
the giving of ourselves, from our hearts. Giving someone our full
attention to their issues, needs, desires, hopes, gifts. Love is
inclusive, giving freely to others on basis of need, without

Love looks like gratitude. In loving, we also, I think, have to learn
how to receive the love of others graciously, without embarrassment,
discomfort, false modesty or false humility because loving means
always receiving. A loving person, it seems to me, is one who is not
so presumptuous as to think one could do without the love of others.
We need i think to be attentive to even the smallest expressions of
concern from another. Love gives and received freely, without
expectation or demand. Love shows appreciation.

Love looks like friendliness. I believe this means giving the benefit
of the doubt in favor of goodness, rather than suspiciously assuming
hidden agendas. Maybe that's naive of me, but I believe love inspires
others to do the same.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Liberals vs Conservatives?????

In my society, the USA, my culture is all about slapping labels and
categorizing. As a general principle, I have tried to live my life in
opposition to the general tone of my society. My reasoning is that
things of this world are not applicable to the kingdom of heaven.

Another aspect of my culture is one that measures success in terms of
measurable accomplishments be that measurement one's wealth, career
position, getting elected bishop, number of committees one is asked to
chair, being named Senior Warden or whatever.

I find both of these concepts, the categorizing and the measures for
success, to be in opposition to living the Gospel. There is too much
either/ or thinking going in my society and in the Bible there is a
lot of both / and thinking.

On the liberal/conservative discussion, I think we very much need to
lose the labels and we need to live with the paradox that seemingly
opposite approaches both have something to offer and that maybe the
purpose of the opposites is to shake us up out of our complacency, be
it liberal complacency or conservative complacency.

It is no secret to anyone that the Episcopal Church is in dire straits over polarization, diatribe,
stereotyping, categorizing, etc. Each "side" is claiming that the Holy Spirit is on their side and there is always someone to point out the HS can't be on both sides when both sides are mutually exclusive alternatives.

What didn't get any press at our recent General Convention, is that every single day of the Convention, certain "liberals" and certain "conservatives" met for noon prayers and daily Eucharist. That is where the Holy Spirit acted, in those who came together. Those who shunned each other acted under the influence of some other spirit altogether and I am not qualified to identify which one. But, then, I believe everything we do is motivated by a spirit. The only question is this: which spirit?

In my opinion, the action of the Holy Spirit is not to be found in
endorsing this or that position, but to show us how significantly we
fail in love of neighbor because we are much too in love with our own
opinion and our own rights. Here in the USA we are in the position of
preferring our ideologies, be they liberal or conservative, over love.

It's ironic really, when I remember the Cold War and the great enemy
of the USA was an ideology, communism. Yet here we are, embracing
different forms of ideology.

Personally, I find value in classic conservatism and classic liberalism. I find no value in the post-modern neo-liberals and post-modern neo-conservatives. But I find even less value in slapping labels. I am so utterly weary of that. So exhausted by it.

I think the question Christians should address is not what is the
liberal approach to X or the conservative understanding of Z. The
challenge to Christians everywhere is to identify our need stereotype,
categorizes, separate, and repent of that behavior which only leads to
the sins of factionalism, divisiveness and judgementalism.