Monday, March 18, 2019

Under the Wings

Just a word about the Gospel for yesterday, Sunday.  I love this passage more each time I read it.  Jesus is the mother hen, who loves us and will die in order to save us.  We don't have the sense to get in under the wings most of the time; we think we know what to do, so we run around and get picked off by foxes and other predators, in our own hearts as well as "outside."  Jesus calls us, and grieves when we run the other way.

When will we let go of the idea that Lent is a time of sadness and grief?  It begins that way, but each week we are reminded instead of God's overwhelming love for us.  We may read God as angry, we may project our anger onto Her, but She is waiting with open arms and big wings.

Spend some time this week visualizing those wings embracing you.  Whatever storms and dangers are out there for you, take refuge under the wings.  God is crazy about you.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Give Me Lent!

A week after Ash Wednesday, Lent is starting to sink into me - or I'm sinking into Lent.  And this is a gift.

Benedict says that the monk's life should be a perpetual Lent.  He doesn't mean (only) the deprivations or disciplines we associate with Lent.  He includes that, but the real point is that the monastic life is aimed at conversion of life.  This is a continual journey, not a destination we reach in our lifetimes.  Lent is a time when all Christians are reminded of this call to conversion and intentional seeking after God, laying aside whatever stands between us and God.

We don't have to wait for Lent.  We don't have to be monastics to live that life all year round.  But monastics also don't get a pass from Lent: "I'm already doing all that one might do in Lent."  No.  Our lives are continually dogged by entropy, by slackening and forgetting and falling away.  Just so, we are continually in need of returning, of starting over, of tightening up.  However and wherever we live, we humans live between entropy and intention.

So here it is, another Lent.  Another spring.  Another call to start over, to return.  Another chance to remember how much God loves us, and to respond with love in turn.  What a gift!

I resist the whole "giving up" thing about Lent, especially if I think I will return to that practice after Easter.  But sometimes I can let this time be a time to change me, to let God begin the work that continues after that glorious day.  Yesterday I realized that the mystery novels I've been reading the past two weeks are sordid.  I love a good puzzle, and some writers manage to offer one in a world where characters love and serve one another.  But I've run out of those, and as I look for a new author I see I settled for some who write well, but create a world I don't want to live in.  So I'm giving up fiction for Lent.  When Easter comes, I'll see if I can find an uplifting author.  But for now, I have plenty to read that will feed me, and more time to pray and walk and listen to God.

How are you with Lent?  Are you eager to return?  Do you just ignore the whole thing?  Perhaps your tradition doesn't include Lent; how is that for you?  Whatever your practice, or lack thereof, do take the opportunity today to hearken to God's voice.  She's singing love songs to you.  Listen.

And, for fun, our flowers.  The geraniums don't know they're outdoor plants.  The orchids don't know they're supposed to be hard to keep growing.  Don't tell them.

Monday, March 4, 2019

On the Mountaintop

I've spent a lot of time these past few days pondering the readings for Transfiguration Sunday.  Moses' time with God on the mountain especially struck me this year (Exodus 34:29-35).  The intimacy of that converse really landed.  Moses has these moments with God, speaking face to face, but no one else is invited.  And no one else is invited.  It matters that these moments are so private.  The people see the impact of that encounter on Moses' face, but they do not share in the encounter itself.  And Moses knows better than to try to explain.  He covers his face with a veil, to make things as ordinary as they can be for people who can't stand the full-wattage presence of God.

Just before this, in the daily Office readings Jesus told his followers to pray in secret (Mt 6:1-6).  He'll say it again on Ash Wednesday.  His point, it seems to me, is that true prayer is precious and intimate.  To really encounter God we need to pull in a bit, to shelter that tender thread, to let it take root in us rather than run around exclaiming and announcing that we've prayed, or received a message.  There's a time for proclamation, of course, but the deepest encounter with God takes place in private.

This past week I celebrated a milestone in my recovery.  On Saturday my home group makes a big deal out of these milestones, and I was looking forward to sharing the message that continued recovery is possible.  But I got a greater gift.  There was a snowstorm - not a bad one, but sufficient to spook some people.  A lot of people.  My group, which usually runs about 20, had five people including me.  But those five people included some of my favorite companions on the journey.  So instead of a lot of hoopla, and gifts I don't need, I got deep sharing and love with a few people.  It felt, not like Moses on the mountain - that came during my private prayer time - but it felt closer to God.  I found I was grateful for the small group.

I wonder if you can relate to this.  Have you had moments when your encounter with God needs sheltering?  When you need to not tell people what happened?  When you need to veil your face because it shines too brightly?  I hope so.  If you haven't, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Mother in secret, and your Mother who sees in secret will reward you (Mt 6:6).

And when the light comes, hug it close.  Cover your face, close your door.  Be with God.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Et tu, UMC?

Now, this week, it's the turn of the United Methodist Church.  At a special conference in St. Louis, the worldwide body voted to specifically exclude LGBTQ+ people from marriage and ministry.  Not only did they not move forward; they took a step back.  They are willing to lose congregations, pastors, members to avoid the taint of "impure" love.

I went to a Methodist seminary, a truly Spirit-filled place where all were welcome (including traditionalists, evangelicals, Pentecostals).  I sat with Methodist friends as they struggled with each conference refusing to include them or those they loved.  But somehow, I thought time would keep marching toward inclusion.  Now, I should know that every action generates reaction; witness the United States in 2019.  I know that the arc of history bends toward justice - or, I choose to stand in that belief.  But ouch.

It would be easy to say, "welcome to the Episcopal Church!" Or the UCC, or the ELCA.  But that's not an answer.  These aren't just places we happen to gather; each denomination, each parish is a culture unto itself.  It confers identity and belonging.  At this moment, we are generating a new wave of refugees.  This is nothing to celebrate or capitalize on.

And yet it is incumbent on me, on us, to reach out and welcome those who have lost their homes.  As surely as people are traumatized by physical dislocation, they are traumatized by rejection and expulsion.   Now is a good time to find a Methodist friend and sit with them, to post a welcome sign on your actual or virtual home, to stand with those deemed outside the tent.

"Jesus bent down and wrote with his finder on the ground.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 'Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'  And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus straightened up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, sir.'  And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.'"  (John 8:6b-11)

Good advice for us all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Lambeth, O Lambeth!

Yesterday I read that the Archbishop of Canterbury has specifically decided not to invite the same-sex spouses of bishops to attend next year's Lambeth Conference.  Although this currently affects only one bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, that won't be true forever.  Last week the diocese of Maine elected the first diocesan bishop who is married to a same-sex partner.  (Language is tricky here.  I can't say "the first married gay diocesan," because I'm sure many diocesans have been gay and married; they just weren't married to a person of the same gender.  That seems to be OK with the archbishop.)

I understand that Archbishop Welby met with Bishop Glasspool and her wife last December.  I know they were all very adult, seeking to find common ground or something.  But I keep thinking: how about the bishops in Africa who endorsed capital punishment for same-sex relations?  How about those who have expelled LGBTQ people from congregations and offices?  How about those who call us perverted or diseased or demonic?  Are they invited?  Are their spouses invited?

I know the rationale for the anti-gay hatred.  In those countries, standing with the outcasts would amount to giving Christianity a bad name, ammunition in a culture war,  I don't recall that Jesus made decisions that way.  And if it works in Africa, can't we say the same over here?  What does it do for the "name" of Christianity in North America when the Anglican Communion won't recognize our changing culture?  So many people hunger for a church where they can be at home.  I hunger for them to know one.

Would Jesus attend this gathering?  Likely he would.  He went to the homes of Pharisees.  But when he went, he taught them a thing or two.  He made sure that some "sinners" got in the door with him.  He would not, I believe, have gone and acted like it was OK to leave out the woman who loved him so outrageously.  He would not have asked Levi to stay home because a tax collector was tainted.  He went to Zacchaeus' house, daring people to tell him not to.

Oh my church, my church!  How often Jesus has longed to teach you, to comfort you, but you were not willing!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Our visit to Omaha was illuminating and inspiring.  Our Companions there are eager to share what they have, to create safe space to talk about what matters to people, to share in a rhythm of prayer, to be accountable to each other.  We had conversations that went deep, and played games that made us laugh our heads off.  We made that space, and dreamed about widening the circle of access to it.

On Sunday Elizabeth and I led a forum at St. Martha's Episcopal Church.  We talked about the Companions, how we came to be and what we are trying to do.  At one point we were asked to talk about what we believe and what we don't believe.  This was an invitation to speak frankly, to model the safety and welcome we announce.  I won't share my answer here; anything I name is just a beginning.  Rather, I'm intrigued by the ways our Christian communities are still formed around ideas rather than relationships.  "What do you believe?" usually translates into doctrines, creeds.  They become like loyalty oaths, outlining to whom I belong and on what terms.

I don't think faith is like that, really.  I think faith, and belief, are about trust.  Where do I put my trust?  With whom or what am I related?  As some people would put it, "Who are your kin?"  And people, unlike ideas, cannot be encapsulated and summarized.  We try: we use codes like Myers-Briggs types, Enneagram, astrology, psychological diagnoses.  We use ethnic and racial categories, or gender or age or sexuality categories.  And each of them tell us something.  We may mention other belongings: religion, denomination, faction, community or society, interest groups.  Again, not wrong, but they don't substitute for the actual encounter with another person.  And God, while more than a person, is a person.  Jesus was and is a person.  The Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the living fabric of the universe: persons as well as energies and forces.  Known by me as person.  Trusted as person.

So what do I believe?  I trust in the power of love that creates and recreates the universe.  I trust in the boundless creativity of that love, working in and around me.  I trust in a force I cannot ever name adequately, but that I can share with others.  I trust in the incarnations of that love.  I rely on the community of those who share that trust, that joy, that wonder.

That may not satisfy you.  But I don't really believe that satisfaction is possible for the hunger that burns in me.  I can glimpse it, but the hunger is meant to lead me on to the banquet bigger than I can imagine or describe.  I'm happy to be hungry, happy to live beyond words, happy to rest in God while traveling to God.  I pray you will also be happy in those ways.  I pray that we will continue to build communities where people of faith can learn that what they "believe" matters less than what they love, and that God loves them in ways they cannot believe!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Scattering Seeds on the Plains

Today Elizabeth and I are going to Omaha Nebraska.  We have two Covenant Companions there now, and one new covenant group member.  They want to see how to become a local community of CMA, how to deepen as a face-to-face community, and they want to know us more.  We are so excited to watch this seed grow.  I hope their story may inspire something in you.

It began with Dario, who attended one of  Elizabeth's retreats in 2015.  He then joined the second covenant group, and became a Candidate for Covenant Companionship in 2016 and a Companion in 2017.   With the priest and the deacon on his church, Dario tried to start a community in Omaha, but they didn't really find the way to get off the ground.  Dario told them about CMA.  Ernesto, his priest, joined the covenant group in 2018, and after six months he asked to become a Candidate.  The third covenant group member, Kaity, is a parishioner at St. Martha's who also wants a community for prayer and exploration.  So now they are three.  That's plenty to start something.

Without our commitment to online communication, this wouldn't be happening in this way.  We know that many people hear "online" and they think distant or lacking, but we have seen differently.  Another covenant group member, who will soon become a Candidate, told us last night of how surprised and pleased she has been with the depth of sharing and intimacy we can achieve.  "It's like we're in the same room," she said.

That's true, but it's still even better to be together in person.  Our hope is that over time other local communities will sprout, carrying and living the Charism in their own way in that place.  We've learned that it's the Charism, more than the details of the Covenant, that bind us to one another.  So we are letting the Spirit lead us, and them, into new paths.

We expect to begin another covenant group sometime this spring.  Prior to that we will have a "virtual open house" to let you see how easy and powerful the Zoom technology is.  Stay tuned for that, and pray for the Omaha seed to sprout in new and wonderful ways.  May you be blessed in all your communities, and all your searching for community.