Essence of Water

candleThere are a lot of days, especially since the start of the Spring 17 semester, that I get to the end of my day and wonder what the hell just happened. How is it bedtime already?! I’m running like a crazy woman trying to keep up with everything going on in the family and add homework and papers to that. Yikes!! Forget bedtime, how is the week over already?! But then there are days that suddenly bring a new sense of focus on where I am and what I’m doing. I feel like I’m finding answers to questions I barely knew I had. Those are days I want to hang on to tightly – and trust me when I say this – that doesn’t work. They just slip by that much faster, like trying to hold on to water with a fist.

Taking three classes, all on campus, sounded a little ambitious back in October when I chose my Spring classes. By the third week of February, when I look at the stack of reading I have to do, it starts sounding completely batshit crazy. It’s an odd combination to read fifty pages on spousal abuse and then read eighty pages of Zen philosophy and then write a paper analyzing Cartesian and Lockean theories in the film The Matrix.  And yet, I have never felt so at home and so alive as I do in this set of classes.

The first day, first fifteen minutes into Comparative Theology, my professor declared me the class unicorn – yes, religion majors are that rare, even on a Catholic campus. He was rather excited that I had been closely following the dialogue between Pope Francis and the ELCA and the events surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We chatted about Luther and Bonhoeffer and their views on the Roman Catholic Church. He promises I will absolutely love the second half of the semester. Meanwhile, reading Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice has suddenly made some of the conversations in Alice In Wonderland make sense. I finally get what Absolem was rambling on about. Yeah, I know, not at all the point of Comparative Theology but hey, little things make me happy. And as it turns out all that time I spent over the last nine years reading Rohr and his explanations of non-dualism was time well spent.

Philosophy and theology are comfort zone classes for me, so even though both would be a lot of reading and paper writing, I was happy. But I was genuinely concerned about my third class. I was afraid that taking a sociology class focused entirely on family violence would dredge up a lot of old stuff. It’s been a couple years since anything has triggered a seriously bad reaction for me and as much as I’d like to keep it that way, I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding from would-be triggers. That was a hard choice to make and one I am so glad I made. Unpleasant as most of the subject matter has been, it’s been like having someone walk into a dark room full of scary shadows and turn on a light.Turns out I still blamed myself for more stuff than I had realized. Also turns out some of the things I’d chalked up to my own weakness were entirely not my fault. Being able to talk about some of the reasons why women stay and were the system breaks down has been healing and empowering for me and it’s been important for the 15 soon-to-be social workers, teachers, nurses and cops to hear.

“A Zen master once said that water is of one essence, but if it is drunk by a cow, it becomes milk, while if it is drunk by a snake, it becomes poison.” – Thich Thien-An

The more I’m able to bring my painful past experiences into the light, the more I understand them. The more I understand them at their essence, the more I’m able to transform that pain into something healthy instead of into poison. So no matter how crazy this semester gets, I know I am exactly where I need to be and doing exactly what I need to be doing. Who knows, maybe by May I’ll be be able to stop trying to grab on to answers and be able to hold them lightly and even let them go.

Small, Faithful Minority

candle_in_the_darkEvery man is called separately, and must follow alone. But men are frightened of solitude, and they try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the society of their fellow-men and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loathe to part with them. But all this is only a cloak to protect them from having to make a decision. They are unwilling to stand alone before Jesus and to be compelled to decide with their eyes fixed on him alone.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – “The Cost of Discipleship”

And then Jesus spoke to the disciples saying: Go forth and become the majority. Build for yourself a great nation. Create laws and ordinances to ensure that all of the nation obeys the precepts of that you, as the church, shall create. And those that do not obey or seem a threat, you shall punish, ostracize, and ban them. And I shall pour forth blessings upon that nation and they shall inherit the earth.

Wait… What?!  That’s not at all how scripture reads. Jesus came into this world 2017 years ago and we’re still fighting petty moral battles, much as the religious authorities were during biblical times. Why? Because we human beings are a damn stubborn bunch. We are also social creatures and thus, we seek safety in numbers. We prefer to be surrounded by like-minded people, with similar goals and aspirations. As American Christians, whether we admit it openly or not, we hope to secure our moral authority through attaining a majority rule. Somewhere a notion has arisen that we must establish a Christian nation. Is that really what Jesus taught? I don’t know about you but as a follower of Jesus, I don’t go to bed at night reciting the Pledge of Allegiance nor do I awake in the morning to meditate on the Bill of Rights.

Jesus told the disciples that they are salt and they are light. The kingdom of God is a tiny seed and a small bit of yeast. God has chosen the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised. Those who are blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who desire righteousness (note that says desire, not enforce), the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers (again, not enforcers) and the persecuted. Do any of those sound like a majority?

One uses a bit of salt to flavor the whole dish. If the whole dish were salt, it would be inedible. One lights a lamp to light a dark room. If the whole room were filled with flame, everything would be burned. Mustard seeds need room to grow into large bushes. Planted in a clump, the plants would be stunted, and likely not survive. Yeast alone cannot produce bread. It must be a tiny portion mixed into the dough.

It can be hard when the darkness becomes powerful and we begin to feel overwhelmed to remember that we were never told to subdue or conquer the darkness. Our calling is to stand against the darkness and we may fail at times. And when that minority feels impossibly small, we must remember that Jesus started, not with a conquering army, but with a wandering band of 12 average men who brought the flickering light of hope into a dark world. You can look around for the secure religious majority or you can decide with your eyes fixed solely on Jesus. Love God. Love your neighbors. Love yourself. Love your enemies. Do good to those who curse you. Defend the widow and orphan. You are light that holds back the darkness and gives hope to the people in darkness around you. Or not. Your choice.

 

Salt and Light

I’ve been know to ask (beg, plead, whine, demand, politely request) God to be a bit clearer at times. An email would work. Three foot flashing neon sign would be nice. Text message would be awesome. Ha ha – right? I mean, God doesn’t work like that. Except that all three of those things have happened to me over the years that I’ve been writing this blog. God speaks through the people and the world around me in ways that never fail to catch me off my guard – and that is impressive because I’ve had a tendency to be fairly guarded.

The thing is, little by little, God has been undermining my defenses in a thousand little ways and while I’ve noticed, I haven’t resisted. Does that count as surrender? I don’t know but it’s about as close as I get to it. I’ve learned that God actually does answer me – not on my timetable and not in ways I expect – but answers nonetheless. So I’ve learned to watch and listen and while I’ve cracked the joke to friends that God has picked up a megaphone lately, I suspect the truth lies less in God’s megaphone usage and more in my being open and paying attention.

So paying attention to a bunch of little things stretching all the way back to last Easter led me to these words on the twelfth day of Christmas:

‘Ye are the salt.’ Jesus does not say: ‘You must be the salt.’ It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received.

The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And in case that wasn’t quite clear enough…

‘Ye are the light.’ Once again it is not: ‘You are to be the light,’ they are already the light because Christ has called them, they are a light which is seen of men, they cannot be otherwise.

The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ever read something that so rocks your world, you have to put the book down and talk a walk?  Yeah. This was one of those. I’ve spent so much of life trying to grow into or step into or become some ideal that I’d made up in my head. I had some vision cobbled together from a hundred different sources but not one of them was Jesus. And having realized my error and going to the only source that mattered, I was now reading as direct an answer as I could have dared to ask for. By virtue of following Him, I am salt and light, whether I like it or not, and cannot be otherwise, even when I can’t (or won’t) see it in myself. That means all that work of “becoming” really isn’t up to me. Which also means I’m not really in control of it. That is both a relief and scary as hell. Relief because I have been known to make my life way more complicated than it needs to be. Scary because… well…control.

Mary Schmich once wrote: Do one thing every day that scares you. So I made up my mind to do same thing every day until it no longer scares me. I will trust the One I’m following.

The Story Continues

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I took six weeks off from writing publicly. I can’t say that was a planned hiatus but it was one that was very much needed. Jesus and I had some things to discuss off the record. So here I stand at the start of a new year and like most people, I looked around on New Year’s Day and said, “Okay, now what?”

Looking ahead, I have a whole new year, full of possibilities. I have a challenging semester starting very soon. I have a child preparing for his trip out of the country. I have another child preparing to graduate high school. A vacation is planned and a retreat is too.  My summer classes are planned out and thoughts about the fall semester are swirling as well.

Looking back, my Advent season was a blur between the craziness at work and finals at school. But at the same time, I bought myself a book. As usual, I bought it with the intent of reading it during my winter break. And as usual, I read a page or two and soon found myself completely sucked into a 624 page tome that I legitimately did not have the time to read. So, being me, I read it anyway to the neglect of everything else and finished it late in the night on the night before my sociology final, for which I was should have been studying. By the time I finished it, the semester was over, Advent was over, and Christmas was upon me. Christmas was the way I like it to be – full of quiet and family. There was silliness and laughter and time to just be together without the pressures of school or homework for any of us.

But even with all that 2016 has been and all that is to come in 2017, New Year’s Day started as every day does, with a strong cup of tea, sipped slowly at the kitchen table. The journal that had absorbed all of 2016 was filled. A new one sat waiting. One journal was closed while a new one was opened, but the story is the same story. It’s my story and so as much as things change, they stay the same. I’m still who I am. What became apparent to me during my blogging hiatus is that I finally have come to feel at home into my own skin. As much as I have always felt that I am an outsider, an observer, set aside from the world around me, I am who am I supposed to be and I am where I am supposed to be in life. I know some of what lies ahead. Not all, but enough.

For Christmas, I was given another book, which has captured me even more than the last. All of the questions that came up during my retreat in October are being answered one by one in a book that feels like it was written in answer to my private journal questions. It is a gift of the year that has past which will carry me into the year that has just begun. And so the story continues.

Evening Came

I took some time, during this craziest time of my year, to make a silent retreat. It was not my first choice of weekends. Actually, it wasn’t even on my list of chosen dates. But after asking for nearly every weekend between the end of August and the end of February, the only weekend that had an opening was Halloween weekend. God’s decidedly questionable sense of humor: Come spend time with Me. How about Mischief Night?

I had four days of silence to pray, to read, to write, and mostly to listen. Except for Sunday, which was Mischief Night. God likes surprises. I hate surprises – as in with a capital H. After taking my morning tea back to my room, the last thing in the world I would have expected was a knock at the door and an order to leave the property for an undetermined length of time. Bizarre circumstances landed me and three nuns on the front porch of a home about a mile away and, by lunchtime, I was at a diner having lunch with 15 Catholic nuns of at least three different orders. My private silent retreat had given way to a lively discussion about ordaining women and the election. By the time lunch was over, we were allowed to return and I was back in the silence of my own room. Less than an hour before that knock on the door, I had been writing about the lovely energy that radiated from that same group of nuns. It spread across the dining hall like sunlight. To have ended up chatting with them over lunch under what was referred to as ‘never happened before’ circumstances was definitely God’s mischief.

The following day was Halloween and also the day I was heading home. I stood outside and watched the sun come up, soaking in the silence and watching the light explode across the water. I had my tea and then met with my director one last time before packing up to go home, carrying with me graces I had never anticipated. By nightfall, I was at the top of my little dead end street with my teenagers dressed in spooky costumes, playing creepy music, scaring some adults, and handing out candy to the neighborhood kids. The shifting of gears was little surreal but isn’t all of life about shifting gears? We juggle. We balance. We shift and shift again.

Over these last two weeks, shifting gears has taken on whole new meaning. My house has known elation as my Mom’s beloved Cubs finally won a World Series, ending her nearly 83 year wait. We saw large-scale celebratory gatherings in Chicago and wished we were there singing Go Cubs Go. A week later, we have known shock and trepidation as Donald Trump won the White House and incidents of violence and intimidation have broken out around the country. We’ve seen protest marches, some peaceful and some devolving into riots. I have friends and family who are happy with the election results and I have many friends and family who are deeply afraid of many things that an all-Republican government could bring. But most frightening of all is the sense that white supremacist groups and even racist individuals are feeling emboldened by this election. When I read that the Ku Klux Klan is throwing a victory parade because they feel this president-elect is a savior for the white race in this country, I am deeply alarmed. These are turbulent days. Evening has indeed come and we must all be on guard that, no matter which side we stand on, violence and intimidation must not become a part of our national norm. I find myself re-reading the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Midnight is a confusing hour when it is difficult to be faithful. The most inspiring word that the church must speak is that no midnight long remains. The weary traveller by midnight who asks for bread is really seeking the dawn. Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come…Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, he knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those that love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.

And so we shift gears. Baseball and Halloween are forgotten. We wait. We watch. We pray. We stand with those who are afraid. God is a God of surprises and sometimes mischief, but God is also our steadfast hope. So long as we stand for what is right and just, we will not stand alone. Evening has come. But morning will follow as it has since the very beginning of Creation.

mercy

Perennial Hope

phoebe 2

I had the opportunity this past week to attend a lecture given by Dr. Phyllis Zagano. In fact, it was her last public appearance before leaving for Rome in November to serve on the papal commission convened to examine, yet again, the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate. She will not speak publicly again until the commission’s work is concluded.

Dr. Zagano spoke in great detail about the history of women in the diaconate. This has been her passion and her life’s work and, as she quipped, every word is not only researched but footnoted. She spoke of rights, of justice, and of mercy. She stressed repeatedly that no one, male or female, has the right to be ordained. Thus, ordaining women to the diaconate is not about a woman’s right to be ordained. There is no such thing. Rather it is about the right of the community to be ministered to by women who have been called to serve.

In addition to preaching, baptizing and officiating at weddings, women ordained to the diaconate would be able to serve in offices reserved for those in the clerical state. It is the right of parishes, dioceses, and the entire Church to be ministered to by women in these ways, women who bring with them the unique gifts and perspectives of womanhood. This isn’t just about positions in the Curia, but also about looking much closer to home where it could mean women serving as an canonical judges. Under the new guidelines for annulments, a single judge may issue a decision without the need for a second trial. While women currently serve on tribunals as canon lawyers and judges, their work is overseen by ordained men and cases overseen by a single judge must be decided by clerics. Ordained women would be able to fill this role.

She spoke of justice in the Church and how that carries out into the world. One of the arguments that has long been championed as the central reason for the all-male clergy is the maleness of Jesus. This flawed line of reasoning holds that women don’t match Christ’s image. This carries an implication that women, simply based on their gender, cannot image Christ or do so in away that is fundamentally flawed. It runs counter to the understanding that all people are made in the image of Christ. That is an injustice and one that radiates out into the world. Indeed, the long history of the subjugation of women is based entirely on the view of women as being less than a man. The Church has the opportunity and the responsibility to correct that worldview.

Finally, she spoke of mercy and the role of the Church to recognize and touch the suffering within the community. Women within their communities are often willing and able to be ministers of mercy but are limited by the roles they are currently permitted to hold. Whether that means a woman serving as a deacon in Latin America, traveling to the remote villages where the priest can rarely visit or a woman serving as a deacon in a suburban parish down the street, preaching the gospel and touching the lives of those around her in service and charity.

Ultimately, there is a wealth of historical evidence, including rites of ordination, that women served as deacons. The topic of reviving this role for women was raised at the Second Vatican Council and at the close of the council, it was slated as a topic that warranted further study but was largely neglected. In 1997, a commission studied all of the evidence and created a detailed report which concluded that yes, women could be ordained to the diaconate. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time served as President of the International Theological Commission, refused to sign it. In 2002, a new commission was convened to study the same question. It subsumed the entire 1997 report into its own 78-page report, which concluded that there was no conclusion. Dr. Zagano summed up the discussions of the last 50 years in one succinct statement: They know they can’t say no, but they really don’t want to say yes.

They know they can’t say no, but they really don’t want to say yes. 

 

Now, Pope Francis has handpicked a new commission made up of twelve highly respected scholars. There are six men and six women. Dr. Zagano said she has no idea what the outcome will be. And she refused to entertain questions on women serving in the priesthood. She did, however, state that Benedict XVI defined the diaconate as a ministry entirely separate from the presbyteriate and the episcopacy.  In simple English, ordaining women to the diaconate poses no theological challenge to maintaining an all-male priesthood. There are some who argue that the diaconate, presbyteriate, and episcopacy are inextricably entwined.  If that were ever determined to be an inviolable theological truth, then women would have to be ordained to the priesthood based in the historical evidence of women serving in the diaconate for many centuries in the early Church. But that is not the role of the current commission to determine nor to consider. Their role is solely to determine whether women can be ordained to the diaconate. Dr. Zagano plainly stated that all of her work leads to a clear yes, they can. They were in the past and should be again.

The sheer volume of historical evidence she traced out for us was nearly overwhelming. And for me, just being in that space, surrounded mostly by women of a certain age, women who really know how far we have come, was an amazing experience in and of itself. There was an air of excitement and hope, not optimism or wishful thinking but a true, deeply held, rarely displayed, soul level hope. It was the kind of perennial hope only progressives, and maybe lifelong Cubs fans, would truly understand. Maybe this is our time. The Cubs finally had their year. Will we?

Find Your Voice

speak-out-dont-be-silent

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. ELCA’s presiding bishop, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, released a video calling on people find their voice and to use their voice to make a difference. She pointed congregants and pastors alike to the ELCA Social Message on Gender Based Violence, an open, honest and pragmatic seventeen page document intended to shape the way communities address these situations. I wish I could say the same about the Catholic bishops but here we are mid-month and I have yet to see any sort of statement from them. Although I did notice there was plenty to say about who was in and who was out when Pope Francis named the new cardinals. Now, don’t get me wrong. The US bishops do have a statement about domestic violence. It dates back to 2002 and it’s on their website, if you go looking for it.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” and his bragging about forcing himself on women just because he can. There’s been a lot of talk that Bill Clinton’s behavior was no better. There was Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire where she talked about what it’s like to be woman in a world when some men feel like this behavior is acceptable. So clearly, everybody is talking about respecting women, demeaning women, what constitutes sexual assault, why consent matters and defining rape culture. And I have to wonder, with this topic of violence against women so high on the national radar, why is it that the my Catholic bishop is silent, despite having an active and engaging social media account and an existing church document to point to? And why is it that my Lutheran bishop has not only pointed to an existing church document but also taken the time to create a short video for social media specifically to highlight it? Is it simply because 49% of those ordained in the ELCA are women? And perhaps having women’s voices at all levels changes the way a church approaches ministry? Could it be that having an all-male clergy colors the way violence against women is perceived and dealt with in the Catholic Church? I want to say no. I really, really want to say no. But my experiences say otherwise.

So I throw out a question to my ordained Catholic brothers: when was the last time you preached about domestic violence? Really preached about it, not just some passing comment in a ten minute homily on the sanctity of marriage? When was the last time you preached about the dignity of women as human beings in their own right, married or not, and not just used a woman’s dignity as a launching point into a homily about abortion? When was the last time you held Jesus up as an example of treating women with decency and respect regardless of her social status? When was the last time you told the women in your congregation that they deserved a man who would treat them as Jesus would, with respect, kindness, gentleness and compassion? When was the last time you used the authority given to you by the Church to hold the men in your congregations accountable, calling for an end to off-color comments and boys-will-be-boys attitudes?

What are you waiting for? God knows we all need to hear it.

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