Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Moving On -- Already Missing Communion at Cathedral of Hope

It saddens me to leave Cathedral of Hope, where I've served as Assoc Pastor for Spiritual Life for 2 and a half years.  Monday was my last day there.  This coming Monday I'll start something new--hospice chaplaincy.

I've always felt drawn to a ministry with those who are dying and their loved ones, so I move on with a sense of rightness, a feeling that it's a ministry for which I have some gifts, and that I'll find it extremely meaningful.

Still, leaving pastoral ministry is going to cost me.  I'll miss the excitement of Sunday mornings:
  • 800 people at two services
  • being at or near the center of a worship service that 20,000 people around the world would watch online, big screens in the sanctuary, getting the microphones just right
  • orchestra and choir -- music that moved the heavens
  • beauty of the sanctuary, with its color and light and movement
Most of all, though, it's the way CoH serves communion.  When David and I first visited there on the Sunday after I was hired, we sat on the second row, so we received communion and a blessing from one of the ministers, then returned to our pew.  And then we watched.  We witnessed.  It went on and on and on and on, a SEA of humanity -- all kinds of people, black and white and brown, people dressed beautifully and people dressed in old dirty clothes, mostly gay but some straight, a couple of folks in wheelchairs . . . all coming forward to receive the bread of life and the cup of grace.  And the ministers placed the wafer, dipped in juice, on their tongues and gave them all a blessing.  Oh, oh, oh, it was beautiful to behold.  

Little did I know that serving communion would be even better than receiving it!  I got to dip the wafer in the juice and place it on each person's tongue.  They came individually, in couples, in whole families and friends together.  Each one coming forward down those long aisles, as the beautiful music played, to receive the LOVE of Christ.  The unconditional love.  The love that knows NO BOUNDARIES, includes absolutely EVERYONE -- no exceptions.  No kidding.  I always smiled as they came forward, for I was truly so happy to see them.  I always looked them in the eye, and gave them the blessing that came to me from the theme of the service, and I prayed that for each person the bread of life and the cup of grace would truly nourish their very souls.

And then, when the last person had received, I was often the one designated to "clean the dishes," as Dawson would put it.  With everyone seated, I went to the communion table, lifted up the loaf, which an LMOW (lay minister of worship) had placed there, eat it.  Then lift up the cup, and drink the juice. The LMOW would then pour a little water in the cup, which I'd swish around, and drink it.  Then I'd stand back and sing with the congregation.  Each communion song was well known, and each had a place in which the whole congregation knew to rise up AS ONE, everyone holding hands across the pews, and we'd SING, SING, SING -- SING OF THE ALL INCLUSIVE, RADICAL LOVE OF GOD.  

And I'd stand there, with my arms outstretched, singing, and looking at the LMOW's in their white robes who always sat on the first pew.
And without exception, there were always several who would be looking UP, up, up at the cross, with TEARS streaming down their beautiful faces.  Their loving gratitude to God was so naked on their faces.  Oh my God, that was THE MOST beautiful experience for me...I often cried, and often nearly started dancing with joy at the sight of their faces.  Oh my God, THANK YOU for giving me that experience.  I will miss it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Box of Letters -- Life, Ephemeral

We don't often get a real window into our childhood past, but today I did.  Wasn't a wide open window, but cracked enough for a little glimpse through time.

My brother, who lives in Thailand, asked me recently to retrieve some boxes he's had in storage with an old friend in Dallas.  I'm going to inventory them so he can decide what to do with them.  The first box I opened, and the only one so far, was filled with stacks and stacks of old letters, many of them from my mother who was writing to her son in the early 1960's.  Denny had just joined the Army, and Susan and I were between 5 and 8 years old.  

The letters are filled with news-- 
  • she's going to make the cookies soon 
  • she misses him and wishes he'd write more 
  • how Charles (my dad, Denny's stepdad) thought that Beaumont, where they had just moved, was a fisherman's paradise
  • usually something about the weather
  • it hasn't rained since "Carla," the famous hurricane (I have a vague memory of us all going to my father's trucking terminal to wait out the storm--Susan and I would play out among all that freight with the big carts and dollies, and how fun it was to run the length of that HUGE terminal)
  • how much she loves him, and misses him
  • she's found some ladies who need a sub to play bridge with
  • Katy (me) was chosen for a big school "sing-song"
  • they moved from rent-house to rent-house, most of them not that great
  • she wrote about her loneliness, bordering, she said once, on depression
  • "the girls" miss you -- and there are a couple of little letters to Denny from me and Susan
  • she finally found a pattern that fit so she's sewing herself a new dress
  • she's painting the furniture in his room, so it'll be nice when he comes to visit
  • "bugs! bugs! bugs!" are everywhere and "the girls" are terrified of them
  • mosquitoes cover "the girls'" legs when they go out to play
  • "the girls" had a little friend over to play, but Susan doesn't get along with her very well--probably because she's jealous of anyone playing with Katy (that made me cry)
  • she chastises him for not calling on Sunday--she waited all day for him to call and he never did
  • then another letter apologizing for that
  • her excitement at finally buying a house -- the only one I remember from this time period: 316 S. 2nd St. in Nederland -- it was there that she made several friends
A small window into a period of life about which I have very few memories.  She paints a picture of domestic life, a good life for the most part.  Of course, I know my father always drank too much, but she never mentions that.  

I got the visceral sense of how much she GAVE to me and my sister.  We were her world -- she sewed our clothes, packed our lunches, took us to school and picked us up, led our Bluebird group, baked cookies for us, all of it.

And I feel so badly that I disappointed her.  As a teen I rebelled--from about 11 until I left home right after high school, I remember it as one long fight.  Over the years my therapist has helped me see why I did that and how it was necessary for me to do it, so I understand it and in a certain way it's OK.  But reading these letters leaves me with a profound sadness.  She was proud of me, she loved me.  She was my mother, and from the time my childhood was over we rarely connected.  

A few letters were written after she moved to South Carolina to live with Susan and her family.  No mention of me at all except one cryptic line about "Katy and I did pretty well on the drive."  She seethed with anger toward me during that whole drive from Texas to SC while, in the midst of the excitement of "finding myself" in therapy and a big career etc., I was full of self-righteousness, sanctimonious certainty that I was doing the right thing for myself, and further certain that putting myself first was the absolute right thing to do.  

In some narrow way perhaps there's a bit of truth there, but I've regretted for years that I didn't handle that whole period of time with much more grace toward my mother than I did.

Here's the thing . . . Today, reading those letters, I feel awash in how ephemeral life is.  I was a child, and now I'm not.  My mother was on the earth for 75 years, and now she's not.  The ropes of steel that connected us when I was 5 and 6 became slender threads barely able to support anything, to the point that I believe her last words to me, as she lay dying in that hospital bed, were intended to wound me.  

And God knows they did.  

And yet the threads never broke, did they?  Here, now, all these years later (Sept. 25, 2014 will be the 20th anniversary of her death) there remains a connection.  Memories connect and sustain a relationship, for good or for ill. 
Is her consciousness alive somewhere?  somehow?  Does she have memories?  Does she see now what's real and true and good and beautiful, and does she forgive me?  Does she ask my forgiveness?  
It's like that box full of letters.  It's a big box and it's FULL of letters, not only from my mother, but from my brother's lifetime of friends.  His connections extend all over the world -- former students, friends from Zen, Army, his boyhood, writers and editors and photographers.  My brother is amazingly connected to SO many people.  

All those letters, artifacts from days that no longer exist, and yet remain. 

David's father died on July 10.  On one of our drives back from Georgia (we thought his dad was getting better, so we came home, but then had to return to Georgia shortly thereafter), David said something about having memories of his grandfather who was born in the 1880's, I think he said.  And Morgan and Eddie, our grandchildren, who will carry memories of us, may live into the 2080's.  
So our lives extend 200 years, through the connections of our memories--those gossamer rememberings that undulate through time.

I'm reading the science fiction series The Expanse, the context of which has humanity moving out for the first time beyond our own solar system.  Time and space.  Immeasurable.  So mysterious that their remoteness chills me and yet I live and move and have my being within them.  

The weather here has been so strange lately...mid-July and it only reached 86 degrees today.  Polar Vortex Redux?  :-)  As I type, the sun is behind our neighbor's house across the street and the light has a pinkish cast to it.  I can hear the television going in the living room--David's replaying Band of Brothers.  "Just because," he said, although I sense that it's an homage to his father. Tomorrow I'll get up early for church in Dallas where I, along with three other pastors, will lead our congregation in the worship of God.  And I'll be moved, with both profound humility and brilliant joy, as I always am.   

Monday, June 30, 2014

Racism and Spiritual Growth

Gracious God, forgive our small-mindedness, our assumption that the way we see the world is the only or best way to see it. Give us a glimpse of your perspective; help us see through your eyes of love and grace. Amen.
Our recognition of Juneteenth in worship this year was a powerful experience for me. Rev. Darnell Fennell’s sermon spoke volumes—he articulated beautifully both why and how, in Christianity, there is no separation between our spiritual lives and the lives we lead in the here and now. To think of the importance of our spiritual lives solely in whether we end up going to heaven or hell misses the whole point of Jesus’ life and ministry among us. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly—in the here and now!

How do we experience abundant life? I think we experience it by courageously deciding to follow Jesus Christ, to undertake a spiritual journey to become more and more like Jesus, who was and is the Christ. This spiritual journey of following Christ entails a whole range of decisions, times of sufferings, times of bliss, a commitment to deep reflection, and true engagement with both issues of the soul and with issues of our time, that is, the issues that confront us culturally and socially. One of the most important of these current issues is racism.

After worship, Rev. Fennell led a “conversation on racism,” sponsored by H4PJ. One thing that struck me in this conversation was a word of hope about how many young people today have been raised in a culture that is much more diverse than in the past, and how these young people feel so comfortable in environments that are rich in racial diversity. That is indeed hopeful. As I listened, it occurred to me to wonder about a fundamental human anxiety: fear of the other, fear of difference.

I learned about this fundamental anxiety in an ethics class taught by Dr. Darryl Trimiew. I recall him saying to the class, “We are all racists.” My liberal consciousness rebelled at that idea, and it took me many weeks of study and questioning of myself to understand what he meant. Yes, we are all racists in the sense that we all carry this basic fear of difference—our first ancestors survived, it’s assumed, by learning to fear those of other clans and tribes, and that fear is passed down through our DNA. I don’t know how anyone could be sure of that—and even if it’s totally accurate, perhaps when young people are raised in a milieu of racial difference, this basic fear is ameliorated.

Still, I think it might be helpful spiritually to assume a kernel of truth in this idea, that we have a deep, perhaps unconscious, anxiety about differences in other people. It could be helpful spiritually because it means that part of our spiritual journey of becoming more Christ-like entails examining and making conscious this anxiety. When we become more aware of it we can confront it, and in that confrontation lies a seed of powerful and beautiful transformation.

I’ve always loved the story of the Canaanite woman who had the courage to confront Jesus about his biased attitude. She asked him to help her daughter and he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She immediately countered with “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.” She was saying, Look at me! I am a human being, created in God’s image! Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” I think this woman’s confrontation allowed Jesus to transform, to see beyond the “only” to an “all” way of thinking and loving.

And this is our example—to be like Jesus, who, when he allowed himself to hear this different point of view from a woman of a different group of people, had the courage to allow the truth to transform him. In recognizing the humanity of another being, I think Jesus grew more authentically into his full humanity.

I’m fond of pointing out that “we’re all more alike than different,” which is true and valuable, I think, but it’s also just as true that “we are all different.” And our differences—racial, sexual orientation, gender, able-bodied or not, age, etc.—must be acknowledged and valued. They must be valued because these differences give us a unique point of view, a unique experience of the world, and if we dig deep for the courage to allow a different point of view/experience of the world to actually change us, then, like Jesus, we too might move more fully into our full humanity.

Racism is an evil in the world that can take many forms, some blatant, others subtle and hidden. If we want to grow in our faith, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we must do the heavy spiritual work of making ourselves aware of the subtle ways that our fear of “the other” entangles us in the ugly web of racism.

One way to do this work is to join with others in a “Sacred Conversation,” a group that will soon be offered through the Cathedral Academy for Life and Learning. I hope to learn much in such a group, and I invite you to join me. It’s not always the most comfortable place to be, but in my experience the discomfort is a powerful portal to spiritual growth.

Prayer
Gracious God, forgive our small-mindedness, our assumption that the way we see the world is the only or best way to see it. Give us a glimpse of your perspective; help us see through your eyes of love and grace. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Inter-Relatedness

Our "modern lesson" this morning in worship (we sometimes use something other than a secondary biblical reading) was from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1967 sermon on Christmas Eve, which said, in part:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. ...Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

I love that.  Our guest preacher, Rev. Sandhya Jha, used it in her sermon on "Ubuntu" and anti-oppression.  She's a dynamo...really excellent.

She also led about 40 folks in a Diversity Workshop on Saturday, helping us identify our "intersectionality," those things that tend to identify us -- our race, socioeconomic status, class, age, sexual orientation, gender, etc etc.  We talked about how difficult it is to see beyond those differences into our common humanity.  And people were SO open about it, so eager to have this conversation with each other.

Stimulating.  Deeply gratifying to be part of it.