Sunday, September 30, 2007

Trying to be "good girls"


During last week's Companions in Christ small group meeting someone said something that reminded me of a childhood experience.

We lived in a town near Beaumont Texas. I must've been about 6 and my sister 5. As I've written here before, we didn't really go to church (and when we did, after I was older, it was to the Christian Science church). At 6, I had no experience of church at all.

Carol was a little friend who lived down the street from us. I still have her picture in one of my scrapbooks. She invited me and my sister to her Baptist church one day, and my mother obviously said OK. I suppose we went to Sunday School first, although I have no memory of that. What I do remember is sitting in the sanctuary, on the end of a pew, with my sister next to me during the new and quite alarming experience.

The minister began to preach, and whoa...! My sister and I had no idea what was happening. Hellfire! Damnation! What in the world was this? What did he mean? Toward the end of the sermon he was screaming for us to save our lives! Come down this aisle NOW and be saved! I got SO upset, and I remember looking over at my sister, and seeing that she was crying and scared, too. Be saved in the name of Jesus! We're waiting for you! Just come down this aisle and save your lives! What else to do? my sister and I took each other's hands, moved out of the pew and walked down the aisle, crying and frightened.

I called my sister a few days ago to ask whether she remembered any of this. "YES!" she said. She even remembered going to the minister's office after the service was over, and "it was like we were going to the principle's office!"

I'm sure Carol's mother was embarrassed...I sort of remember that feeling from her when she took us home. We were all at the front door of our house and my mother was there. Carol's mom probably felt she should have warned us, or at least not have allowed us to sit at the end of the pew out of her reach!

I have no idea what that minister felt that morning when he saw two tiny, little, scared and crying girls, holding on to each other for dear life, coming haltingly toward him down that aisle, having no earthly idea what awaited them but trying to be "good girls" and do what they were told.

My sister and I laughed the other day when we remembered this together.

That was 45 years ago now. My gosh, is that right? 45 years. Wow.

babysitting


Had a great time babysitting little Julia this weekend. Oh, she is SO cute! Two years old, blond, blue eyes, HUGE vocabulary, sweet tempered, and loves to laugh. I'm so glad I have friends who are young enough to have a baby! What a joy.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Temporality: living authentically inside time

Temporality has always interested me. What does it mean that "I," a self, am part of the present moment? I learned from my short practice of Zen the importance of the present moment. What else is there but the present moment? But then I go to graduate school and begin to understand how the past and the future are just as real, and part of the present. Even eternity is part of the present, in a way.

I'm reminded of something I wrote previously, that when time and eternity intersect, the present moment gathers the self into a whole that exists fully in this fragmented world. Thus a space is opened for a “yes” to the transcendent call to freely choose ourselves in our “eternal validity,” as Kierkegaard would put it, that is, to risk everything and in faith and true freedom live out who we are given to be. God calls to us from eternity, reaching into time, calls us to be the people we are meant to me. The "extra-temporality" of our existence--we exist in both time and eternity--connects us to God in the midst of time. We are extratemporal beings. This means that although we are inside time in a way unlike other species, we are able to stand outside it, query its meaning, and sense its ethereal appearances and vanishings.

Corey Anton reminds me of the mystery of self inside time. I am aware that before I was, history is, and that after I am, history will be. The past is no more, yet in its elasticity it stretches forward to the present—and is. Who I am now is an continuation of who I was; therefore, because the past is never amputated, I am and am not constructed afresh each moment—I continue. The future is not-yet and nevertheless reaches backward to the present—and is; I am molded now from the formative influences of my future. For others I occupy a slice of time and existence. For them, a piece of me is here and now, there and then. For myself, I am an enduring temporal whole, unfolding in a continuing history.

At the intersection of all this exists the self, Catherine Keller’s "dancing evanescence" that in its transcendence somehow recognizes the reality behind the words, “I am the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega.” It is this subtle (or stark) recognition of the utter mystery of our existence in time and the resulting awareness of our dependence on the divine Mystery of the Alpha and Omega that makes possible a moment of free decision, or perhaps better said, a moment of intensity or intense awareness—a sense of ‘coming alive’ in which we do indeed choose ourselves in our “eternal validity.” This moment appropriates the tenses of time into a unified whole and is the dancing evanescence of the authentic self. The authentic self does not cling to past or future versions of itself, but instead is present—immediately in the now, trusting the touch of the holy Other and accepting the gift and task involved in the mystery of its own ‘realness.’

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The answer to: "Is our children learning?"

Sometimes I do feel sorry for him....I wouldn't want every single word I uttered to be scrutinized. Honestly, though, this was during an EDUCATION event.

An Extra 'S' on the Report Card Hailing a Singular Achievement, President Gets Pluralistic

By Peter Baker, Washington Post Staff Writer, Thursday, September 27, 2007

NEW YORK, Sept. 26 -- As a candidate, George W. Bush once asked, "Is our children learning?"
Now he has an answer.

"Childrens do learn," he said Wednesday.

The setting was, yes, an education event where the president was taking credit for rising test scores and promoting congressional renewal of his signature education law. To create the right image, the White House summoned the city's chancellor of schools, a principal, some teachers and about 20 eager students from P.S. 76.

The visual worked fine. The oral? Not so much. For Bush, it was a classic malapropism, the sort of verbal miscue that occasionally bedevils him in public speaking and provides critics and the media easy fodder for ridicule. Subject-verb agreement actually is taught at Andover, Yale and Harvard, the president's alma maters, but in an unforgiving job that requires him to speak hundreds of thousands of words with cameras rolling, the tongue sometimes veers off in mysterious ways -- and someone always seems to notice.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September 25th

Today is the anniversary of my mother's death. She died September 25, 1994.

I miss her still.

Gratitude!

I woke up this morning thinking how grateful I am for my life.

I am with someone I love and who loves me; we enjoy each other's company (most of the time) :-), and we share each other's burdens. D has so much integrity. And he has allowed his life experience to become wisdom, a wisdom that has sustained me greatly in the last few weeks. I chose well.

I have three wonderful children-by-marriage who are SO easy to love. Btw, Young Man with Integrity has a great job now, a job that he excels in and that he can benefit from in many ways for his future. It's amazing how my heart just leapt when he told us this good news last night. I enjoy all three children tremendously--love it when the girls come home for the weekend, love it when we spontaneously call Lovely Passionate Feminist in her dorm and drive up to have a quick lunch with her, love it when Beautiful Genuine Drummer Girl is here and we get to talk and go to movies together.

I'm doing work that I love. The context may present some problems at times, but I'm not stuck in an office trying to climb the corporate ladder, doing work that I find deadly dull. I'm a minister. Wow! It's not easy to love people who don't share your values and who treat you with disrepect, but my gosh, it's just absolutely amazing to think that it's my JOB to try to do that, to try to put aside my own false ego needs and see the Christ within them, to try to struggle authentically with the ethics involved in issues of justice for self and love for others. Not many careers offer that kind of amazing, focused opportunity to grow spiritually.

I got to study something, for ten years in seminary and graduate school, that stimulated my growth as a human being, that made me a better human being, and that continues to fascinate and mature me.

I have a home and a car and enough money to go out to eat, and to go on small vacations, and to buy a few things that my children-by-marriage will enjoy. What pleasure! Even if I end up leaving my current job and taking something that pays less, even then, we won't lose our home or not have enough to eat. I have a comfortable lifestyle.

So many other things....dear friends, beauty, kindness, even suffering which can teach me so much.

My spirit has been troubled recently with everything going on at the church I serve. But I'm so grateful that God continues to nudge me toward a better way of seeing, nudge me to not close down in anger or fear but continue to be open and appropriately vulnerable, nudge me to trust, trust, trust.

Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More wisdom from the Tao Te Ching

Many many thanks for your prayers...

Let me give my heart some space here...More from "The Art of Pastoring--Contemporary Reflections" by William C. Martin:

Thought 15--Qualities

The qualities of a pastor are impossible to describe.
We can only see them in action.
No noise or clamor, but a careful manner of moving
through the daily parish activities;
clear eyes steadily seeing to the heart;
kindness and humility in the presence of others,
needing to defend nothing, prove nothing --
therefore able to respond
with the sureness of the flowing river.
Hiding nothing,
therefore able to speak truthfully with ease.
Can you do this?
Can you wait patiently
until all the voices that clamor for action settle down?
Can you resist the temptation
to do what the parish seems so desperately
to want you to do
until the Spirit of God reveals
naturally and gently the next step,
and events unfold as they should
without pushing or shoving?
The pastor does not seek success.
She does not see people as tokens to be collected.
Since she does not seek these things,
she is available at the level of the soul to all who seek.

Thought 71--Confidence

A confident pastor is not one who knows
what a congregation should do.
A confident pastor is one who knows
that she does not know.
Her confidence comes from being healed
of the need to know.
Having been healed, she brings wholeness
to the congregation.
And the knowledge of what to do
emerges naturally.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In case you haven't heard this one....

President George W. Bush was scheduled to visit the Episcopal Church outside Washington as part of his campaign to restore his pathetic poll standings.

His image handler made a visit to the Bishop and said, "We've been getting a lot of bad publicity because of the president's position on stem cell research, the Iraq war, hurricane Katrina, and the Veterans Administration. We'll make a $100,000 contribution to your church if, during your sermon, you will say that the President is a saint."

The Bishop thought it over for a few moments and finally said, "The Church is desperate for funding - I'll do it."

Bush showed up for the sermon and the Bishop began:

"I'd like to speak to you all this morning about our President. George W. Bush is a liar, a cheat, and a low-intelligence weasel. He took the tragedy of September 11 and used it to frighten and manipulate the American people.

"He lied about weapons of mass destruction and invaded Iraq for oil and money, causing the deaths of tens of thousands and making the United States the most hated country on earth.

"He appointed cronies to positions of power and influence, leading to widespread death and destruction during Hurricane Katrina. He awarded contracts and tax cuts to his rich friends so that we now have more poverty in this country and a greater gap between rich and poor than we've had since the Depression.

"He has headed the most corrupt, bribe-inducing political party since Teapot Dome.

"The national surplus has turned into a staggering national debt of 7.6 trillion dollars, gas prices are up 85%, which the people of America cannot afford, and vital research into global warming and stem cells is stopped cold because he's afraid to lose votes from religious kooks.

"He is the worst example of a true Christian I've ever known.

"But compared to Dick Cheney, George W. Bush is a saint."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The merging of doing and being

I saw God at work today. Wow! A woman came in for her second appointment. She is working on perfectionism issues and how perfectionism pushes her to do, do, do--to the point of feeling totally stressed. As we talked, she began to see the connections, all those times in the last five years when fear of failure, which has plagued her for years, has dissipated. Each time that's happened, she's been doing a certain kind of work, work for which she is now being trained and educated. When she does this work, she is unafraid to ask for honest feedback. When she does this work, her ego seems to empty and she allows herself to float in the midst of God's surrounding grace (my words). When she does this work, she is energized and has a sense of joy, and the notion that "love must be earned" is no longer the dominant motivation. When she does this work, doing and being merge.

I wish everyone could have seen her face when she 'saw' her true self emerge like this. Oh! what a gorgeous, breathtaking moment. She and I both just sat there in silence for a while, filled with gratitude to God.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Interview

Thanks to Jiff for the interview questions! Here we go...

1. I remember that you and D are big movie fans. What movie have you seen recently that you really enjoyed. Are you looking forward to any of the new films?

The last movie we saw, just this week in fact, was "3:10 to Yuma." Western remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Bale's performance was especially good. D and I both liked it (in the sense that it was entertaining and thought provoking), but neither of us thought it was a 'great' movie. I don't think I've seen a 'great' movie in the theaters for a LONG time.

Looking forward to another movie about Elizabeth I. D tells me it will be out this Fall sometime. "Elizabeth" was a wonderful movie, unexpectedly dark and very powerful. I hope this new one, which is again starring Cate Blanchett, is equally good.


2. Tell us about your name. Is there a story behind why you were named Katherine Elizabeth?

I had two aunts named Katherine, plus my mom's middle name was Elizabeth. I'd say it was a family name, but my mother told me once that she chose Katherine Elizabeth for no other reason than she liked both of those names.

When I was little my name was Katy. I changed it to Kathy in 7th grade, and to Katherine when I started work after college. I guess I've been trying to find my true identity my whole life long!

3. I’ve loved reading about your faith journey. What advice would you offer someone who is wondering how to begin to pen her/his own faith journey?

I wrote a spiritual autobiography when I started seminary. I organized it around the themes of Home, Power and Justice, and something I called The Size of Christianity, which was about my movement from a narrow to a broader view of Christianity over the years. I re-read that paper before I starting writing my faith journey here on the blog. Of course it was too long, but I also didn't like those categories any more. So I just took it chronologically and started writing. I guess my advice would be--if you can do both, that might be good. I mean, chronologically but within certain themes that recur through the years.

4. Do you have some favorite hymns? Tell us why they’re special to you!

"Here I Am, Lord"--we sang this at my ordination. It rarely fails to awaken my passion for ministry.

"Be Thou My Vision"--If I can keep God in my line of vision, I'll see reality. If I can stay aware of Christ, then no matter the circumstance I can be grateful and loving. Oh, I love this hymn!

Communion hymns like "When You Do This, Remember Me," "Seed, Scattered and Sown," "One Bread, One Body," "Come, Share the Lord," "Eat this Bread" (Taize), "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart." These hymns often help me experience Christ at the table. They are wonderful!


5. Gratitude time…. Can you name five reasons for being grateful?

Oh, goodness, only five? :-) Hmmm....Well, the gift of life itself, the gift of my husband, the gift of wonderful family and friends, the gift of knowing and living out my vocation in life, and .... number five--I'll say the gift of suffering. I've known God through joy and nature and study and other people, but it's been through suffering that my faith has really blossomed.

And the bonus question, passed along from RevDr.Kate: Is there a question you've always wanted someone to ask you but it's never been asked? If so, what is it and what is your response?

I can't think of one...probably something like "How did you get so skinny?" but the response would baffle me! :-)

And the “mandatory rules”:
1. If you are interested in being interviewed, leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by posting five questions for you. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Yes, let me know if YOU want to be interviewed!

Thanks, Jiff! (is there a story behind your name, by the way?)

Piddling

I took Monday and Tuesday off from work this week. Monday was mostly spent seeing MR, which meant driving in the pouring rain to City to the East. Traffic jams galore. It took a good portion of the day, but the time was WELL spent. I have felt so free since then. The joy has returned to my work.

Tuesday was a "piddle" day. Do you like to piddle around the house? Oh, I LOVE it! Didn't accomplish one single thing, but it felt great to just clean a bit here and there, read, play Free Cell, peruse different websites. I had it in my mind that I would work on my lecture, but I didn't, and I didn't feel a bit guilty. D and I had a "date" that night--just dinner out and good conversation. I love that. When he asked me how I felt about going back to work the next day, I was able to say "I'm looking forward to it!"

Today is my regular day off. The carpet-cleaning guys are here right now--what a relief it will be to have clean carpet! I'm going to work on my lecture this morning, and who knows? maybe even have time in the afternoon for more piddling! woo-hoo! :-)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cross to bear

I've been feeling unsettled lately. I think there's a significant change on the horizon for me (more on that perhaps in another post), and it's thrown me off-center. Nothing I was doing on my own really helped more than a few hours...before I knew it, a vague sense of anxiety would creep back in.

So I saw my wonderful therapist this morning. MR combines incredible life wisdom with a compassionate heart, not to mention amazing therapeutic knowledge and memory. Today she incarnated Christ for me.

MR knows my history very well. She carries an image of me as a two or three-year old, standing in the middle of the room screaming--she's thinking of a photograph that I brought in a few years ago when I did group therapy with her. One has to wonder about my parents having a camera ready to catch me doing this, but my mother told me once that I was "always" doing it: I'd just suddenly stand up--arms at my side, hands in a fist--and scream at the top of my lungs. That photograph is one of the clues I have regarding the wounds in my level of basic trust.

Erik Erikson wrote about "basic trust" being the task of infants and very small children. I've conjectured that I didn't complete that task. My mother was pregnant again when I was only four months old. It's not hard to imagine that having two babies in such a short period of time, in the midst of a marriage that was never great, left her stressed out, to say the least. I think her care for me was probably ambivalent--the best she could manage at the time. I'm sure I never lacked anything I needed physically, but emotionally I'm betting that the care was not enough to help me establish a really healthy level of "basic trust."

That would explain many things, including the existential crises that haunt me at times. As MR was commenting this morning on my sense of unsettledness, I suddently felt a twinge--not the full-fledged crisis, but a reminder of the existential plunges I've taken in the past. She was commenting that I go through a clearly identifiable pattern each time significant changes threaten, when that old feeling--it's primal, I think--drew near. At the boundary of my awareness was that terror of being All Alone. In the past I've likened it to Paul Tillich's "threat of nonbeing," but MR was saying something about my fear of having to negotiate life alone, so this time it wasn't death that threatened so much as what if there is no God? What if God does not really exist?

Haltingly, I was able to tell her about the feeling. Yes, she said, at its deepest level, this is part of the pattern for me. When significant change threatens, I return to the "little Katy" response. Those early neural pathways are deep and wide in my brain. As a toddler receiving ambivalent emotional care, I didn't learn to trust that significant changes can be negotiated in life without pain/fear. There was some level of existential terror that accompanied change. I needed more reassurance than I received. The "little Katy" response is to get thrown off-center and immediately start to think (much of this is unconscious) what if I can't handle this? There's no one to help me. I can't be sure that there even IS a God, much less that that God would help me. How can I trust?

MR: "It's true that God is so big, so awesome, that we can't really know, we can't be completely certain. Trust is difficult. Even trust that God exists."

K: "I guess there is some rationality involved in faith." I was thinking then of the way I've learned that God is with me and does offer help. My mind had gone to the way some children are taught about God before their ability to reason is fully formed. In their "pre-critical naivety," they never have a problem believing in God and simply accept it. I didn't get that, so I've had to learn and understand some things before I could take that "leap of faith." I have wrestled with epistemology my whole life. How can I know? How does anyone really know anything? But I have experienced Paul Ricouer's "second naivety," a coming to real faith after a struggle to understand. Yes. But MR didn't let me stay with just that.

MR: "Let's talk about all the times in your life when change has threatened and how you've handled it."

She knows how I've handled it. When push came to shove, I have eventually chosen to trust, to have faith. And where is God in that? I think it must be the Spirit of Christ at work within me that nudges me toward this choice each time.

It helped tremendously to see this so clearly. Yes, this is my cross to bear, so to speak. Given the depth and breadth of that neural pathway in my brain--the pattern established at such a very young age, I doubt that I will ever be able to completely overcome my response when significant change threatens. I'll probably keep improving, but it's highly likely that I will continue to respond with some amount of fear, vague anxiety, or feeling "off center." And I will continue, at times, to become aware of the much deeper existential primal threat that underlies it all, as I did this morning in my conversation with MR. This does feel like a cross to bear.

At the same time, to see so clearly how I am always offered a choice to trust anyway is so freeing, so exciting. I told MR that I'm aware of both sides of this. It's "pissy," I said (in my natural eloquence), that I bear this woundedness from childhood, a wound that will likely cause me distress and pain the rest of my life. Yet part of me is also so grateful for the way that same woundedness has led me to who I am today. Each time I finally reach the point where the choice is visible to me, I realize that choosing the way of trust is the only way I can continue to grow and mature and learn to be authentic. Choosing to trust is the only way I can continue to heal the woundedness and move toward wholeness.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Tao of Pastoring, Abilities

Part of the stress I feel is coming from not being the "perfect" pastor. William Martin's The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections helps me remember that it's authenticity I seek, not perfection. Mistakes are part of being human.

Thought 10--Abilities

"A minister of the Word has certain abilities:
the ability to gently return a noisy mind
to a quiet place of communion with God;
the ability to release tension from the body
and to remain supple and relaxed;
the ability to cleanse the soul
of accumulated negativity
so the pure light of God is undimmed;
the ability to lead the people in the parish
without needing them to behave as you see fit;
the ability to let even the most important events unfold
without worrying or tampering with the process;
the ability to detach from your own plans for the church
and see the grace of God unfold
in a gentle way.
And if you are truly among the wisest of pastors
you create a safe place for your people's creativity;
you guide without agenda;
and you enjoy all without possessing any."

"(These are not the kind of abilities usually found on a pastoral search committee's list of hiring criteria. You will have to develop a deep conviction that they are of value and stick to them when everyone else is clamoring for a piece of your flesh.)"

Detach....let it go...God's grace surrounds me...

The Tao of Pastoring, Future

I've allowed myself to feel some stress regarding the church I serve. Today I picked up a book that my sister gave me when I was in seminary, The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections. The author, a pastor himself, took the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching and "translates the essence of each thought into a message for the Western pastor."

Thought 73--Future

"Anxiousness about the future
destroys the life of a congregation.
Out of this anxiousness the pastor and people
try to control events.
This is a tremendous waste of energy,
and drains the people of spiritual power.
Events are always changing
and nothing can be grasped.
If a pastor can free herself and her people
from the fear of death,
there is nothing they cannot achieve."

"(Do congregations die? Of course they do. They have birthdays and go through stages of growth. They search for meaning and struggle against fear. They eventually die. Realizing this can be a wonderfully freeing insight for a fearful congregation. "We will die. Therefore, how shall we live in the meantime?)"

God's grace surrounds and infuses me....detach....let go....
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear