Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Communing

I'm vacating this week this week – taking a staycation (or cottage days). Jennifer Johnson, from First Church, shared this story with me last month, then graciously gave me permission to include it in this blog as a vacation post. Thank you, Jen!

My curly hair boy and I deliver communion for people who are not able to come to church. We have an elderly woman with whom we meet. She lives in a memory care facility with her cat. Pearl (not her real name) always remembers us—especially my son. They have such a sweet friendship. The facility where she lives also has a cat that lives on the premises and he often visits Pearl and her kitty. It was a sunny afternoon that we found Pearl sitting in her chair, with the building kitty snuggled down in her lap sleeping. Her own cat sleeping soundly on her bed. In her small room we pulled chairs around her. The sun was shining through the window as we all sat close together.

The communion kit was all ready for us. Bread and grape juice that had been blessed by our minister the previous Sunday. A small communion reading and a prayer written out on a card. My son was eager to lead in the communion and with Pearl’s permission he began. I could see the seriousness on his face as he read what was written on the card. Stumbling over some words he didn’t recognize as I helped him out. Pearl patiently waited and smiled at him in a way that encouraged him to continue. He then served us the bread and juice and I served him. Afterward, we prayed together and then sang some Country Western songs. The kitty on her lap sleeping through it all.

In those moments, our chairs smashed in the small area around Pearl, with sleeping kitties, and a 10-year-old curly hair boy so seriously reading the card and serving us the elements I felt such a deep connection with our Creator. We were there caring for her by providing communion and friendship. She was there caring for us by patiently listening to my son read and encouraging him with her smile. Helping him to grow in his faith and understanding of connectedness. Helping me as well. I grew up believing that God is Love. That Jesus is the great teacher of this love. In that sunny room, draped with sleeping kitties, in that small circle that we formed, listening to the curly hair boy reading the words of our faith, Love was indeed present. We were indeed in communion with the Almighty.

I think about ways that God is in communion with us as we go about life. If I have enough mindfulness as I go through the day, I find Him in many places. My husband, son and I recently went to a Willie Nelson concert. There were various other bands before him and it was going to be a great show. I looked around the packed auditorium and marveled at all the different people there. Young people and elderly. People with all types of beliefs, ideas, and hopes. And then the music started. A whole group of strangers connected through music. There wasn’t any negativity. People were not fighting. Singing and joy could be heard. And I thought about how God is present in such a moment. Teaching us through the music of the artists. Showing us how we are more alike than different. Even with our differences there are things we agree on. We have common ground.

And then I look around and God can be found everywhere and in communion with us. In the budding tree of spring time. In the old dog happily groaning in his sleep. In the sink full of dirty dishes. In sadness and tears that are shed and the fight for justice. In the sing-song voice of a boy calling me “mom”. In the echo of voices that will never be heard again. And at the beginning of a new day with birds singing their ancient songs. As Mies van de Rohe says, “God is in the details”. Albert Einstein says “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”. God is in the miracle of the ordinary. He is the Love in the room that communes us together.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Radical


Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 (NLT) 

Living in love is a radical concept. It was radical when Jesus practiced it two thousand years ago; it’s radical when we do it today.

I’ve been a practicing Christian all my life (expect maybe for a few young adult years when I was inactive). So living into last month's commitment to “live in love” should have been easy, right?

Babies love. They don’t know any better. They receive love and they return it. They're accepted and they accept. Only as they grow and face the hard reality that not everyone accepts them and that even the loving ones in their lives don’t accept everyone do these children learn to withhold love.

I like to think of myself as a loving person yet I was not always loving to my ex-husband. Nor have I always treated family or strangers with love. I could blame it on the ways we’re brought up but at some point we’re each responsible for how we live – now. I haven't always been loving. I want to change that. I don’t believe that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. New tricks are what keep us alive.

I’ve been working on this goal for a month, when I remember. Like most new practices, I’ve had successes and missed opportunities. Successes, like when young Fran asked one Sunday morning who my favorite person at church is. "I don't really have a favorite, Fran, but I really like you!"

Missed, like when a man was driving through the park last week calling out, “Happy Mothers Day” to random females. I just nodded and focused on locating the trailhead. Later I remembered seeing someone in the passenger seat. My imagination suggests that maybe the driver was being strangely friendly in order to bring joy to that other person. Is her family too far away? Are they estranged? Is she sick and he was hoping to lift her spirits as the people he greeted shared greetings in return? I’ll never know. But I’d rather err on the side of love next time.

Things like this didn’t used to concern me. If someone gave dreadful service at a restaurant or store, I was bothered. I expected better. I still expect better, but now I expect it of myself. Does she have a sick child? Did his girlfriend just dump him? When I meet each person as a child of God, I don’t need to know their story; I just need to love them.

I’ve been surprised at how easy it is. Sometimes. I hadn’t expected this. I mean I’d been working on Mercy practices as part of my Covenant Discipleship (CD) for three years – finding ways to practice compassion and justice. That was very much a work-in-progress but going okay. Yet I'm finding more success with this “living in love.” What gives? 

The one difference I come up with is motivation. I worked on acts of mercy because I was committed to the CD group idea. Practicing compassion and justice is important – for the ones I practiced on and for my own spiritual growth. While I was in the group, others helped me hold myself accountable. And during our weekly meeting, I could usually come up with a story to describe how I'd practiced each.

No one is helping me to live in love. Well, no one except the Holy. And yet I feel I’m doing ... well. Is it only because I’m being loving simply to be loving, simply to reflect the love God shares with me?

I don’t have answers today but I thought I'd let you know where I was.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Decisions, Decisions


I’ve been contemplating a choice I had to make. As you can guess, it wasn’t an easy choice. For the last month, I’d been trying to think of more options to consider and I’d made it to five. But I didn’t like any of them.

They include: running away from the problem (in my mind, to Tahiti, actually); giving up on an idea I’ve long felt strongly about and thereby surrendering something of value; pretense and subterfuge (lying and hiding); and doing the deed anyway while feigning ignorance. (Yes, you counted right. I didn’t name the fifth.) During my admittedly scarce free time, I wracked my brain. Surely there must be some better alternative.

Finally, one evening in desperation I asked God to send me an idea as I slept. (Why did I wait so long?!) My sleep had been disturbed lately, because of this puzzle and because of spring’s longer days bringing daylight through the bedroom blinds much earlier. Yet on this night, I slept easily.

In the morning, I didn’t remember I’d asked the favor. It was actually a few days until I realized that I had a measure of peace. And an answer – of sorts.

The word integrity had been rolling around the edges of my mind since the previous Thursday when I’d weed my library and seen To Walk in Integrity. (Now that I’d like to see it again, I can’t find the book– in the stacks or the boxes. I want to discover what truths it would reveal to me ten years after my first reading.)

Anyway, in the peace I'd discovered, I found that I was walking in one of those previously untenable alternates, now repackaged. I’m living fully where the Spirit leads me in spite of what might come. I am not feigning ignorance. I'm aware of possible consequences. Yet, to walk in integrity has been a goal of mine since I first read the book, so I’ll proceed in this best, most right path.

When Martin Luther stood before the Diet of Worms, he told those who would excommunicate him from the Roman Catholic Church that he could not and would not recant anything “for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” He continued with, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Short term, his was a painful experience to live through. Long term, it was for the best.

While not meaning to compare my experience with his, we each face times when we have to make decisions whose consequences may be distinctly unpleasant. I encourage all of us to err toward integrity.

I don’t know how my decision will play out. But I do know that for now, at least, it’s the right thing to do.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Big Reveal


I’ve been waiting since July to bring up this topic. Waiting until the people at my church had gotten to know me and (hopefully) trust me enough to hear it with compassion.

In February I came up with a plan for when and how to break my news. I'd do it from the pulpit so many would hear it all at once with no one left out, on the first Sunday of the month because attendance is usually better on "Communion Sundays." I actually created a sermon series around this one event. For weeks, I'd write out in my mind what I wanted to say, alway when I was supposed to be doing something else – until finally, just after Easter, I wrote a draft. After that, I could work on what I needed to do in that moment.

The message came together surprisingly easily. I hadn’t expected that. And I believe it had some impact even though attendance was low. (It was the first lovely weekend weather of the season.) I usually print 15 copies of the sermon. This week I’ve had to reprint twice; we’re into the third dozen. (Maybe someone’s just swooping them up and tossing them, though. Who knows?)

The message is about acceptance, something I’ve too often felt was absent in my own story. Here’s part of what I presented:
Jill never realized she was different. It didn’t show like it does when someone’s accompanied by a guide dog or has trouble walking or speaking.

Jill grew up doing all the things children did. She didn’t have many friends but as she grew older she chalked it up to being a quiet person. After graduating from college, she got a job and started a family. Jill was a fairly well adjusted person, so she expected to have a good life.

But there were snags along the way that made it harder than she expected. Little things, like laughing at the story only to find the others around her looking at her curiously. Or having to look at the floor or out the window when she talked about something close to her. Big things, too, like missing all the nonverbal stuff in any conversation. And without ever meaning to, regularly offend people with her words. She misinterpreted friendliness for true friendship or romantic interest, and, because of this, she was, as one person put it, the frequent victim of other people’s social weaknesses.

Jill followed rules, but by studying other people, she learned that there are many shades of gray. Only newspapers or Dalmatians are black and white.

She came to accept that she was odd. She acted as if it didn’t matter. But her friendless state was her secret shame. Jill longed for close connections, but as she looked back, even in school, her closest friends always had other best friends.

God makes us for relationship. We are hard-wired to be in connection with not only the Holy, but with each other and our world. We deny this at our own peril.

Jill’s story is my story. It was simply easier to tell it in the third person. Three years ago, I found out that I have Asperger’s Syndrome.
I have no doubt that God loves me, as God loves you and the man who lives under the bridge. We all need to work on accepting whoever's hard for us to accept. April was Autism Awareness Month. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This seemed like a good time for a reminder.