grief

I live in these days with a pervasive and powerful sense of grief.

I love the vision of the nation in which I live.  All are created equal, right? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are certain inalienable rights.  But the whole precious – and who knew how fragile? – vision of what I thought was shared and sacred has been huckstered and profaned through and certainly beyond this past election.

What to make of a nation squandering its heart in fracture?  What to do with earth and women and the poor and the vulnerable collateralized by powerful elite who have no concept of what it is to be other than privileged by gender, race, orientation or social status? What to do with the falling-in-behind the dismantling of compassion by those people who espouse the teachings of Jesus as bedrock in their lives and hearts?  How can Jesus be used as mascot for the impoverishing of millions and the despoiling of this precious earth?

I love the vision of the United Methodist Church.  Transformation of the world is sore needed and the hope of the living Christ as lived through the followers of Jesus is call to lived compassion.  We are called to be antidote to fracture.

What to make of a denomination that condones hate speak?  How can we be about transformation and open hearts, minds, and doors as we participate through our polity in the shutting of doors to the called and the beloved?  How do we preach the Jesus message of dismantling systems of oppression whilst enduring the realities of ministering through a denominational structure bound by just such oppression?

Grief is real.

I’m choosing to feel it.

This coming Sunday is Pentecost.  Pentecost celebrates the ways the Holy Spirit took up dancing on the heads of the fractured and frightened.  Through the power of that Spirit barriers were eradicated and people could hear the hearts and behold the sacred humanity of those they never thought they would understand.

Oh come, Holy Spirit, come!

We are sore in need of the dance.

 

 

anniversary

mom and sibs hands

I am feeling this anniversary.

A year ago at this time, my mother was touchable.

A year ago at this time my mother Barbara Jane Fawcett Macaulay Forrest had determined that the pain and the ongoing struggle of remaining alive was no longer her calling.

A year ago my mother turned toward death.

My siblings and I and our children gathered by her side over the course of three months. We respected her sense of her own life and her own death.  She had trained us well in this way.  We wanted to hold onto her with all that we had:  Her wonderful laugh, her titanic power, her tiny frame.  The way she cleared her throat, her soft hands, her delight in savoring morning coffee and the newspaper, and dearest of all gifts, the way she took us all in with her eyes and heart.  My mother was the center of our family.  No question, ever.

She had a gentle death.

And of course, it was a precious piece of us all that passed with her into death and resurrection life.

No more are we children of a living parent.  There is no grandma to mend and fuss and offer correction.  There are no bran muffins and no one standing by the window to mark our comings and goings.  I cannot pick up the phone to share with her a sunrise or a heart break.

But oh, the ways she lives and the ways we each live are forever more the fruit of her being.  When we gather together, she is in our midst.  When I pray for courage or strength, she is one of the guardians I feel amplifying my prayer.  I catch glimpses of her in my mirror and I see her in the creping of my hands.

I walk these days in grief and in wonder.  How is it God sparked me into the womb of my mother?  How is it we raised each other?  How is it I learned so much and chafed so much and wrangled so much and was blessed with so much through being my mother’s daughter?

I encountered the living Christ in the company of the woman who gave me life.

May God continue to bless and keep you, Barbara Jane.

We miss you so.

 

 

Struggle

 

…Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Jesus, Luke 9:23

Day by day we make choices.  We discern how it is our words, our actions and our thoughts are cross worthy.  On an individual basis, this makes for daily discernment.  As a people who are citizens of a larger world, our decision to take up the cross of Jesus the Christ matters; it matters greatly.

This is a challenging time to approach a pulpit, brothers and sisters.  I want to share a bit about that.

The UM church teaches that the world is our parish.  John Wesley and United Methodists who followed espouse a faith that is individual and communal.  There is no such thing as a private faith.  Wesley taught that the cross of Jesus must be taken up by the people of Jesus as we together work for the teachings of Jesus to be made tangible here, in this world and in this life.  There is no holiness but social holiness.

Jesus, good Jew that he was, echoes the teachings of the prophet Micah.  It turns out the Lord requires of us that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.  (Micah 6: 8)

Scripture is full of teachings about how it is we are to care for the poor, the immigrant and the refugee.  Scripture is full of admonitions for a people who forget that God’s vision for full life is not found in our own individual comfort.  God’s vision for fullness of life is lived when we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly knowing that God is the ethical and foundational ground of our being.

During the month of February, when our president was issuing orders that will scatter families and deeply impact the lives of countless human creations of God, we followed a series of readings from scripture used by people of many denominational affiliation.  Our scriptures have been about tending the needs of the poor, about making sure that the poor and the immigrant are fed, and about turning the other cheek rather than nursing outrage.  Those readings are being shared in congregations and parishes across the world.

As an ordained minister of the gospel, I simply cannot ignore the teachings of scripture and the ways our world has yet to learn and live them.  The world is our parish.  The teachings of our faith are not meant to be cloistered in our sanctuaries, they are meant to be taken up daily as we seek to follow Jesus.

There are those who visit our church or who have long shared community here who bristle at what they term “political” sermons.

There is a difference between partisan and political.

I seek with all the wisdom I can to craft sermons that are not partisan.  To endorse one or another political party from the pulpit is a misuse of the privilege of preaching. Neither justice nor Jesus belongs solely to Democrats or solely to Republicans.

And, I will not and cannot preach the gospel of Jesus the Christ without considering what it is to deny self and take up the cross of Jesus in this day and this time.  I seek to follow Jesus and I keenly seek to unpack what it is to take up the cross of Christian discipleship as we encounter questions of the life we share.  How will we name the challenge of racism, violence, oppression and poverty?  How can we “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” (UM membership vows) if we are not willing to name them and voice the pain of those too long oppressed?

Taking up the cross of Jesus means we Jesus followers are unwilling to go along. It means that we will suffer the pain of knowing that we have participated in systems that oppress. To take up the cross means that we pledge allegiance to Jesus the Christ before any power or principality, including our nation.  It means that we are willing to hear voices and opinions that are not our own and we are willing to bear the discomfort of being a cross bearing people.

I know that across this city and across this land each preacher tussles with what it means to bear the cross of Jesus.

Here at Christ UMC, bearing the cross of the Christ means that we will not pretend that systems and humans have been redeemed and that all is swell in the world.  We know that systems and humans continue to harm each other in ways grievous to the heart of our God.  We believe that we are called to take up the cross of Christ in order to learn and live another way – in our hearts and in the polis.

We know we need each other in order to live the message of Jesus in this church and beyond this church.

We trust that God is in this with us, breathing and leading us to the living of justice, kindness and humility.

Come to church.  Struggle in community as we seek to lift high the cross of Jesus the Christ.

 

 

new old year

I am home sick on New Year’s Eve.

This was not my plan.

Instead of playing games and eating food with great folks I am tuned into a concert being broadcast from Lincoln Center.

I turned it on and my mother swooped into my heart.

For many years we gathered at my brother’s house to celebrate Christmas on New Year’s Eve. We would eat and play and then gather around an outdoor bonfire with the stars dancing overhead.

That tradition morphed for my mother into symphony concerts in the company of my sister and her husband.

And then, as the years made getting out harder, she took in the concerts available to her on television. I would call her and she would fill me in on what the orchestra had played.

So I am carrying on her tradition, I guess. She would have enjoyed this concert.

On this first turning of the calendar without her, I ache with missing her as I wonder at this living of life without her.

This year would have worked her fierce heart.

The falling from the sky of her grandson and his miraculous healing would have made her near sick with worry for Miles and Brook and for her beloved daughter Margie.

The finding of cancer in the body of daughter Cynthia would have been anguish for her.

And this election? She would have been spitting mad.

I dreamt about my mother last night. In my dream, she was dying. I remember thinking in my dream that I thought people only died once. But there she was, readying herself for death. I was grateful to be with her.

I wonder: Do we die more than once? Do we leave incrementally?

The gifts of those who touch our lives sound on in Copeland and in Strauss. Stars shine over bonfires. Hearts ache with missing.

Blessings on that which was.

Blessings on that which will be.

Blessings.

Happy New Year.

power

There is power in blood.

By that I mean, there is power in blood ties between people who are family.

I spent a day with my two sisters.  One is seven years older, and one is seventeen months younger.  We have been elastic in our ways of relating; bodies and souls.  Sometimes life has brought us under the same roof and into proximity and sometimes life has found us far distant from each other.  We have gone our ways into and through life.

And, we are home for each other.  Our mother has recently died.  We are finding that home is a moveable tabernacle.  One of us recently grappled with the heart terror of loving a child who literally fell from the sky.  Given a one percent chance of survival, her son is alive.  Today we found a dress for my sister to wear to her son’s miracle wedding.

How did she have the courage to endure?  How will we each find the courage to face all that life has yet to present us?

I believe in the power of the song of the blood.  We are part of a tribe of almost relentlessly positive, foolishly tenacious people.  We curse and we weep and we reach for and we hold one another and somehow we remember who we are and from whence we came.

Eternal is this line.

Eternal is this power.

 

 

 

holy fool

“…As we grow in wisdom, we realize that everything belongs and everything can be received. We see that life and death are not opposites. They do not cancel one another out; neither do goodness and badness. There is now room for everything to belong. A radical, almost nonsensical “okayness” characterizes the mature believer, which is why we are often called “holy fools.” We don’t have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignore reality anymore. What is, is gradually okay. What is, is the greatest of teachers. At the bottom of all reality is always a deep goodness, or what Merton called “a hidden wholeness.””  Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr writes a daily message that arrives in my email box.  The quote above was today’s bit of wisdom.  And, the above quote represents today’s bit of challenge, truth be told.

On a regular basis I get to sit at table with beautiful souls.  On Wednesday nights I am part of a Covenant Bible Study.  We are making our way through scripture through reading and great discussion.

Last night, one of the people at the table made a comment that provoked a snap response from me.  What I said in response to said comment was not out of line, but the speed and intensity of my response let me know that my sense of equanimity (“Okayness”, as Rohr names it above) is far from matured in me.

In truth, I agree with Rohr and Merton that a hidden wholeness grounds all that is.

And, we live in a fractured and fracturing time.

Author Barbara Kingsolver says that the time for speaking up has come:  We must name the things we can no longer countenance.  Instead of politely nodding assent (implied through our silence) to statements and actions that harm the hidden wholeness God’s heart has created, we need to find ways to come to voice in cadences that challenge oppression and build community and wholeness.

I apologized to the individual and to the group for my quick response last night.  I named my desire for the foolishness Rohr names above.

And, as an aspiring holy fool I wonder:  How do we ground ourselves in wholeness and hope whilst challenging systems, words and actions that create fracture?

God has given us this day and this time.  What deserts are crying out for voices?

Grounded in goodness, how will we witness to the light?

 

 

 

waiting

I just finished writing worship for Sunday.

Malls and gas stations and near every other establishment on earth are pumping Christmas Carols into the air.

In the church, we are marking Advent.  It is a time of waiting.  It is not yet Christmas, so we practice the pain of waiting.

It is the musical waiting that makes it hard to write worship this time of year.  I want to break out the songs that so need to be sung:  Songs about joy and love and glorias ringing from the choirs of angels.

I want that.

Instead, we wait.

Scripture from Matthew on this coming Sunday features John the Baptist calling people to change their hearts and lives in order to live God’s vision of grace.

Isaiah speaks of the peaceable kingdom and a world in which  those who have long been enemies will find harmony.

Paul prays that the God of hope will fill the new followers of Jesus with joy and peace.

Harmony, heart shift, joy and peace.

Perhaps this time of waiting isn’t so bad, after all.