Friday, August 08, 2008

Our Olympic Games - Hear that, Felix?

So we're fixin' to watch the Olympics tonight (over take-out Chinese food).

We just love watching the Olympics around here. One of our very favorite things about the Olympics is our own silly game that we invented back in 1992 when the Winter Olympics were in Lillehammer.

We thought Lillehammer was such a funny city name, that every time someone said it on TV, D. or I would say, "Beg your pardon?" It only took a few times of calling out the phrase before we turned it into a competition to see who could remember to say it first.

And then we have done it every single Olympics ever since! Only we change the phrase for each Olympics. For the most part, we try to keep it in the vein of "Beg you pardon?" So, for instance, Atlanta was "Huh?" And Kyoto, when I was pregnant with Monk was "Hear that, Baby?"

Oh, and Athens was "It's Greek to me." (Of course.)

And so this year, we're looping back to Kyoto's phrase, only modified a bit. (No worries!!!) Whenever they say Beijing, we'll call out: "Hear that, Felix?" [Felix is our cat.] Poor Felix! Because we get to shouting the phrase when it really gets going!

But, in addition to calling out the phrase for Beijing, whenever the announcers say any of the city's names, going back to 1992 when the game started, we also have to call out the old phrases. So, Athens' "It's Greek to me," will still be very much in play this year.

The Torino Olympics, two years ago, were Monk's first entry into our Olympic Games. And he so totally rocked it! D. and I didn't know what had hit us! So I think this year we're really hoping to at least have a respectable showing! We've all been in training for weeks now, during all the Olympics trials.

Hey, if you decide to try the game out youselves, let me know here. [Make up your own phrase that works for you.] We get such a hoot out of doing it ourselves, we'd love to know if it catches on with anyone else.

PS If anyone visits our house during the Olympics, we rope them into the game, too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What's the Point of Balancing on a 4-inch Beam?

This is the question my brother asked in a recent Twitter and Blog Entry. I started to leave a comment on his blog just now, responding to his entry, but decided my comment was getting too long. So I figured I'd post it here instead. I invite you to read his entry first: Board Balancer.

I don't really have a clear articulation about the relationship between art and sports, but I do think there is one. And I'm not sure that "producing" a "product" of some kind is necessarily the dividing line. There are too many arts where nothing remains after it is performed.

I'm aware, in particular, of the sand mandala in the Buddhist tradition in which an artist creates a most beautiful work of art with sand--and then destroys it.

The thing is, I really do relate to Cyen's rant--what's it all for, basically? But I feel really hesitant to go with it all the way. Maybe especially because he mentions an Olympic sport which is different in my opinion from professional sports (a bloated business for sure!).

But I see the Olympics and gymnastics in particular, say, as a celebration of what the human body is capable of doing. More than that, though, it's also a celebration of the human imagination caught up with the human body. A gymnast on the balance beam doesn't merely stand on a four-inch beam, but she also bends, and leaps, and flips, and gracefully traverses that beam in every way she can imagine.

Most people trudge through life never imagining anything can be different than it already is. But a gymnast takes the same human body and puts it in astounding positions on the thinnest slip of wood.

That makes me want to ask: what else is possible?

Back in the 80s, Joseph Campbell urged folks to follow their bliss. I imagine, for whatever reason, that a gymnast's bliss is balancing on a four-inch beam. It's not my bliss, but I celebrate that it is her's. I'm hopeful that if we were all given the chance to follow our bliss, then the world would be a more beautiful place.

It's a totally non-utilitarian view of things, I admit, dear Brother of mine. :)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The United States Post Office is a Joy to Work With

(1) The hold on our mail delivery for vacation was supposed to end as of yesterday, but no mail was delivered. (Including an express package for D's work.)

(2) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS this morning to inquire. First time I call, I receive an automated message that the phone number is invalid. I double check the number I dialed and it is accurate.

(3) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS again and I am connected this time. After speaking various commands into the phone, I am connected to a human. (I think.) She tells me that if the mail wasn't delivered yesterday, it would not automatically come today. I can pick up my mail, with a photo ID at my local post office, or schedule a new delivery for this Saturday. We are waiting on bills that must be paid, so would like to pick up the mail today. We live in a fairly Big City, so I ask her which post office would be holding my mail. She types something into her computer, but does not come up with any answer. Instead she gives me the phone number for our Main Post Office.

(4) I call the Main City Post Office. The phone rings at least 40 times before someone answers. I explain the situation to the person who answers the phone. She asks for my zip code, then tells me my mail will be at Neighboring City Post Office. This seems very odd to me. (Would it seem odd to you?) So I clarify (politely): "Even though we're located in fairly Big City, our mail is delivered to Neighboring City?" She answers in the affirmative with as much impatience and exasperation as she can muster. She does not give me a phone number to connect with Neighboring City Post Office.

(5) I go back to to find phone number for Neighboring City Post Office. They list only 1-800-ASK-USPS.

(6) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS again. It rings twice then goes into a black hole of nothingness.

(7) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS again. I answer various voice commands, and realize there is one that will tell me which local post office is mine. I speak the magic words just to see if it matches what the woman just told me. It doesn't. I cajole the automated system to tell me the phone number of this post office.

(8) I check the website and notice that this latest post office is not even listed on their site. I decide to go back to Neighboring City suggestion. I notice that if you click on one more link ("more info") then rather than listing 1-800-ASK-USPS as the contact phone number, you are given the local post office phone number. WHY?!

(9) I call Neighboring City Post Office. The belligerence of this Customer Service Representative far outpaces the last human I spoke with. Without getting any address information from me, this person gives me a phone number for my Postal Supervisor and tells me to contact him to have my mail delivered. I tell her we would like to pick up the mail at this point, and can she tell if our mail is being held there. She spews, "This post office has nothing to do with delivering mail." I have no clue what that means. I pause a moment, trying to take in what seemed like a nonsense statement. "Hello?!" She says in a bitter tone. I say, in mock sweetness, "Thank you so much for your wonderful help." And hang up.

(10) I call the Postal Supervisor number. He puts me on hold. Several minutes later he comes back and says, "We don't have any mail here for you at all. I guess the Postal Carrier has it with him already." I clarify, "So the mail ought to be delivered to us today?" He answers, "I guess so."

Ah, the joys of a Bureaucratic Monopoly. I hate the United States Post Office.

Friday, June 13, 2008


After a month or so of daily countdowns, today we reached it: the last day of fourth grade for the Monk. How can this be so? And will we ever stop asking that?

Monk has had a great year this year. He seemed to fall into his groove with making new friends, taking things in stride, doing his homework without much complaint, growing more responsible. He had a couple projects in school that he really poured his heart into. Especially he worked hard on his Mission Project, in which he made the case that the California Mission system was largely responsible for the destruction of Native American cultures. He made a very sophisticated argument in his essay where he was able to recognize that although some of the intentions behind the Missions were good, in fact they had some very negative, unintentional consequences for Native Americans. For a fourth grader to be able to realize such complexity is pretty remarkable, in my (humble mom) opinion!

This was the year that Monk's parents saw way, way more closed bedroom doors than ever before. It used to be we couldn't get Monk to play in his room for anything: toys were always strewn around the living room floor when he was small! Now it seems we can't ever get him to come out of his room for more than an hour at a time. Of course, given that our apartment is roughly the size of a shoebox, we're never really far apart. :)

I have always seen the end of school years as opportunities to re-evaluate things. And I've been doing that these past couple weeks. Some of that I've been blogging about here and there--about looking for ways to live more faithfully in a broken world. But I'm also seeking ways, living as an academic, to be more embodied. Or, maybe put better, to pay attention to the fact that I am a body.

Having gotten sick at the end of May with a pretty serious (and painful) staph infection, I realized just how much the stress of these past few months had affected my immune system. And I saw that my ability to keep pushing on, no matter how stressful things are, while good for the short-term, is not a long-term, sustainable lifestyle.

This past week, inspired by PeripateticPolarBear, I decided that I wanted to start walking to work this summer. (I would have started earlier, but needed to recover my health first.) Although I haven't exercised for ages upon ages, I jumped right in this week and started walking the three miles to my office and back.

I made it a day and a half (9 miles in 24 hours) before I realized something pretty important. That is this: not exercising for twenty years is rooted in the same disrespect for one's body as jumping in and walking nine miles in 24 hours. I wanted to be able to do it all, every day, rather than understanding that I needed to gradually ramp up my expectations. It's a humbling thought, to be honest, that I can't just immediately begin walking 6 miles a day.

But realizing that I can't do it all, well, that seems to be the thing I must be working on these days.

I took a day off from walking on Wednesday, to let my aching muscles get their rest. And then yesterday, rather than walking to work, I went to the Bay and walked briskly for thirty minutes. And that felt great.

Gradual change feels so much more, what? tenuous? vulnerable? less likely to succeed? not dramatic enough? But I have an inkling that it is sustainable change in a way that drastic change is not.

Yes, this is what I want to try and pay attention to right now. Small things I can do, not trying to change everything all at once, looking for ways to live sustainably.

Oh, and as of 2:30 today, I am the Mom of a fifth grader.

Lord have mercy.

P.S. Oh! Speaking of changes! Much thanks to Mrs M for generously posting code for how to use a photo as a backdrop on blogger! And also thanks to my Brother, who edited the photo so that the sailboat could be seen in the left margin of the page, rather than in the center. He's so cool.

P.P.S. The picture here is the view I have when I take my half-hour walk. Yeah. Kinda nice.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Will Never Be Able to Do Enough...Even So... Part 2

Jesus started a global movement by paying attention to one person at a time.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

I Will Never Be Able to Do Enough...Even So

...I can do something.

These past few months I have been profoundly grieved at the worsening global food crisis which has emerged as a result of a perfect storm of global events. In recent days the the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been holding an emergency summit in Rome to address the current food crisis. Today they announced a significant increase in funding which will allow the hardest hit countries "to grow enough food for themselves in the coming planting seasons, as well as [help] them to achieve continuing food security through investment in agriculture and research."

Earlier today BBC News reported significant resistance to this plan at the Rome Summit from Latin American countries as they are apparently benefiting too much from the cultivation of crops for biofuel (not the sole cause of the global food crisis, but undoubtedly one element of the perfect storm).

I have felt overwhelmed by this global food crisis, especially once the catastrophes hit in Burma/Myanmar and China last month. All of these have been spinning around in my mind particularly in relation to the scripture from several Sundays ago in which we are reminded that God's eye is on the sparrow. It is so difficult for me, as a person of privilege who wants for nothing, to read that scripture of God's loving care for human beings even while unfathomable numbers of people are dying daily from hunger, catastrophically in natural disasters, and horrifically as a result of corrupt government practices.

In their 11th Hour Preacher Party for the Birds & Lilies week over at the RevGal's site, many of the preachers were focusing on the command Jesus issued for people not to worry. This was also what my own pastor focused on that Sunday in worship. I know it is a hugely important focus for our 21st century, North American context. But I found myself struggling with it in light of everything I've already mentioned here.

"I am wondering," I wrote in a comment on the RevGal site that day, "how I can better incarnate God's eyes and hands to help provide for others in an aching, suffering, starving world? I do worry: that I'm not doing enough and never can do enough."

Since articulating those words for the first time a few weeks ago, they have stayed with me like some kind of irritant, like sand in an oyster. I am letting it work on me and in me. It is variously confrontational to my spirit and my living; it is upsetting; unsettling; and it is asking of me to do something.

Even in the midst of this ever-present irritant, I have found myself, well, hungering for hope. If I cannot do enough, if I cannot fathom these many unrelenting deaths, if governments and corporations are just so corrupt--then what? How do I have hope in the face of these realities? In the face of death?

I have glimpsed hope in two people over the past couple weeks, two witnesses to hope: Howard Zinn and Dorothee Solle.

In his article "The Optimism of Uncertainty" published in The Nation on September 2, 2004, Howard Zinn writes:

"If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

I absolutely love this image of the future being an infinite succession of presents. And the notion that by acting even in the smallest ways, we contribute to the shaping of that future in significant ways.

The other witness to hope came to me this morning as I was re-reading Dorothee Solle's fantastic book Thinking About God. She writes:

"In a conversation about the situation of the peoples oppressed by Western countries, a young Swiss teacher recently asked me from where I could derive my hope. At first I wanted to reply to him, 'From my faith in God, who once rescued an oppressed people from slavery under a great military power.' But then it struck me that it is not 'my' faith which bears me up. It is really the faith and the hope of the poor who do not give up. As long as they do not despair and give up, as long as they go on, we do not have the least right, whining and resigned in an analysis which counts money and weapons but does not see the pride and the combativeness of the violated, to say, 'There is nothing one can do'" (20).

Despair, Solle seems to be suggesting, is an emotion of the privileged. Tossing up my hands, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this aching world, is a privileged choice. I will never be able to do enough...even so...I can do something today.

For about ten days now I have started my morning by visiting The Hunger Site. I click through each tab on the site, which manages to bend even our consumerism toward justice. It is, in the spirit of Zinn's reminder, a very small action. But I am hoping that by making this small action a part of my morning spiritual discipline, it will be a part of that infinite succession of presents that contribute to the future.

Even as I click on each tab, the irritant troubles me again and again. It is not enough! And I must not be fooled into thinking it is. But it is an action which, done prayerfully, roots me in the world's need, enacts a small contribution toward justice, and troubles my spirit to continue to look to do something more.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

His Eye is On the Sparrow

I was hoping my brother would blog about this experience--and he did! So I'm posting this video in honor of him. I'm convinced my dear brother incarnated God's eyes and hands the other day and through him, God's eye was on the sparrow. I give you Mahalia Jackson...

Monday, May 12, 2008

We Have What We Need

This month I have been preaching at a small congregation in The City, filling in for a friend who is on sabbatical. All last week I planned to rework a sermon for yesterday that I'd preached some years ago that reflected on the same text from the gospel of John that was one of the alternate readings suggested for Pentecost.

I had a very restless night sleeping on Saturday night. I felt like God was working on me. (Though I've never actually been to a chiropractor, I imagine it would feel quite a bit like that kind of work out--a realignment that's not particularly comfortable in the moment, but feels oh so better afterwards.)

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. Sunday and looked at the sermon I thought I was going to preach. All wrong. Instead, I preached the one that follows here. Whatever it's worth, it was the one I felt I was given.

John 20:18-23
Acts 2:1-21

Last Sunday, we read the texts in Scripture that were preparing Jesus’ followers for the time when they were no longer going to be able to enjoy Jesus’ physical presence with them anymore. In our readings last week, we got the sense that Jesus’ followers were gripped by fear; fear of the unknown, of the threat, maybe, of violence, fear of loss.

“How can we go on?” the disciples seem to ask, “Without the one that we love?”

But Jesus replies, in some ways to their unvoiced questions more than the ones they actually ask, that the Spirit will come and give them power so that they might become his witnesses on earth.

It is the coming of this Spirit that we read about in this morning’s scripture. The story we might be most familiar with is the one that appears in Luke’s account, in the books of Acts. The Sprit comes upon the gathered followers with the sound of a loud wind rushing over them. It is an overwhelming presence, even described by Luke as a violent one.

There is no mistaking that something has happened to the gathered followers: they have experienced the radical freedom of the presence of the Spirit in their midst, which has loosened their tongues, broken down barriers, set them apart from those who would scoff at them, and truly empowered them to go out, as Jesus had assured them they would, to become witnesses of Jesus’ on earth. This is the more familiar of the Pentecost stories—often referred to as the birthday of the church, when the Spirit that had once hovered over the waters before creation, now sweeps over a bedraggled group of followers and brings something yet again into being: this time an empowered community of witnesses of God’s astounding love.

But the text I felt more drawn to this morning is a much quieter Pentecost. This one happens so gently, comes to Jesus’ frightened disciples so peacefully, that it can almost be missed entirely. This is the Pentecost of the Gospel of John.

Once again, we encounter Jesus’ followers huddled together with their seemingly ever-present companion: Fear. This scene takes place in the upper room, on the evening of the resurrection. And the disciples have locked themselves in their room in fear. Their beloved leader had been killed only days before. And though Mary had come to the disciples that very morning to tell them she had seen the Risen Christ, still they sought out the comfort of close quarters, and the reassurance of locked doors.

One of the most astounding things about Scripture, I believe, is the extent to which it invites us into a profound confrontation with our own selves. It is so often the case, with Scripture, that when we’re able to hoist ourselves over all the centuries that have passed between these ancient texts and our contemporary lives—we are brought into an encounter with our own soul’s condition. There is no other place that this seems more evident than in the reactions and questions posed by the disciples. While we might find it easy, at first, to laugh at all of their blunderings and missteps, when we are truly honest with ourselves, we have to admit that their mistakes graciously illuminate our own.We know fear. We know the tendency to lock ourselves away from those who wish to do us harm. We know self-protection. We know how to close ourselves off from experiencing the presence of God’s extravagant love. We know how to shut out the world with all it’s horrors, brokenness, despair, and disappointments.

There is only so much we can take. This past week, as the horrors have unfolded in Burma, it is more than we can take in. How can we, really? The loss of life from natural disaster alone is unfathomable. But it is compounded unbearably by the inexplicable, inhumanity of corrupt government officials who leave people to die even as they seize the humanitarian aid sent by outsiders.

In the face of such overwhelming grief and horrific brokenness, if we’re honest, I think there is at least some part of ourselves that wants to lock ourselves away: protect ourselves from feeling the pain that is surrounding us.

Many of our churches will gather for worship this morning in just this way, don’t you think? Cloistered from the pain of this past week (whether in a global sense or in a personal sense), sometimes our worship takes place in rooms that are securely locked away from the reality of our lives for fear of the pain we all too often encounter there.

But here is the good news: We cannot lock away the Spirit of God. Because it is through our most hidden-away, locked-up places that the Spirit desires to move. It is to the most broken, horrific, grief-filled moments that the Spirit is drawn. The Spirit does not know separation or boundaries, but moves freely into them, always with the desire to reconcile, to draw out our wholeness for the healing of the world.

The followers of Christ locked themselves away in fear, but the Risen One entered the room. It is a divine breaking-and-entering, if you will. And, unlike the violent coming of the Spirit as we read about it in Acts this morning, in this account the Risen One stands in their midst and reassures the fearful ones: “Peace be with you.”

Then he shows them his wounds. And the disciples, John tells us, rejoice as they recognize Jesus for who he is. They rejoice when they see the evidence of his wounds. Why do they rejoice?

Well, maybe it is this: when we see the Wounded/Risen One, we see a few things:

First, we see the worst that can be done to any human being by other human beings. Second, we see the Divine One who did not self-protect, but willingly entered into the brokenness of the world. And finally, we see that brokenness is not the final word. Despair, abandonment, military might, betrayal, even death: none of these is the final word.

Again, Jesus says to his followers, “Peace be with you.” And I like to think that just as God spoke the world into being with commands as simple as “Let there be light,” so in the same way, Jesus spoke Peace into being with this simple phrase: "Peace be with you.”

And in doing so, the room that had once been close and humid with fear is now flooded with peace. It is in the reality of that saturating peacefulness that Jesus, the Wounded/Risen One, tells his followers what is expected of them: he sends his followers out of the room and into the world in the same way that he had himself been sent. In the same way, we must be reminded,
that wounded him so.

And it is at this point that we come to John’s depiction of the Pentecost—of the gifting of the Spirit to the bedraggled, beleaguered community of followers.

Jesus breathes on the disciples and says to them: Receive the Holy Spirit.

No tongues of fire. No violent wind. Just a breath.

John writes this as if it were a single moment, but I can't help but wonder if it actually happened over and over again. Jesus breathing on each disciple one by one. Much in the same way that we passed the peace this morning: a singular encounter, each one of us with another, coming in close enough to each other that we can feel each other’s breath.

In the same way, I imagine Jesus drawing each one of his followers close to him, in a warm embrace, close enough that they can feel the gentle breath of the Spirit move across their faces:

Receive the Holy Spirit.
Receive the Holy Spirit.
Receive the Holy Spirit.

and again
and again.

Receive the Holy Spirit.

The first step in opening ourselves to the pain in the world and in our own lives is to open ourselves to God’s love for us.

That love comes in many forms—sometimes in dramatic, unmistakable ways. And sometimes in the most intimate, gentle, and almost miss-able ways: a breath.

Despair, fear, abandonment and betrayal are not the final words. But what are the final words? In John’s Pentecost, they are these: Peace; I send you; Receive the Holy Spirt; And, finally, forgive.

This is the message of Pentecost. This is the message that birthed the church. This is the mission at our center. No matter how many times we forget it or how many times our sisters and brothers in faith forget it, it doesn’t essentially change: Peace, Go, Receive, Forgive. The outpouring of God’s love for God’s broken creation never ceases, never stops pouring itself out. Never stops breathing into the hidden-away, locked-up, broken places. Never stops inviting us out into a world we think we can’t face.

We can face it because we have received all that we need. When we look at one another in love
even in all our Wounded/Wholeness we know this to be true: We have all that we need.



Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Be With Us, God-With-Us

Over the past several years I have been teaching worship to seminarians. And part of teaching worship includes working with seminarians as they think about and begin to prepare prayers for Sunday morning worship experiences. Of the many things I love about the work that I get to do, this is one of my favorites. I consider it one of the most incredible privileges to be able to accompany people into the deepest waters of their faith. And the space of prayer will often plunge us into the deep-end of faith fairly quickly.

But over these past few years, I have noticed a pattern that has consistently emerged in the prayers I encountered from my students. And it is this: the most commonly repeated phrase, in all the prayers I read, is this one: “God, be with us.”

Actually, it was so often repeated by so many people that my first inclination was to treat it as a cliché: as a phrase that was written or spoken more out of habit than because it was particularly meaningful. Or maybe that it was not much more than a nervous tic in our prayer-speaking, much in the same way we might say “um”—as a way of buying time until we figured out what it was we really wanted to ask of God.

So I started out by circling the phrase and asking the students to reflect on what it was they were really asking of God, when they asked for God to be with us. This was for maybe the first year or so. But as the years went on, and the phrase “God, be with us,” continued to appear time and again, my attention was drawn back to it in new ways. Something about the request – and the number of times I was encountering it – suggested to me that something more was going on than was at first apparent.

This time, I noticed that there was a certain strangeness about the phrase, especially when we realize that we are praying to Emmanuel, the title or name that appears in Isaiah and shows up most often during the seasons of Advent & Christmas. Emmanuel means, translated, “God-With-Us.” So the strangeness of the prayer request is highlighted when we place the phrases next to each other: “Emmanuel, be with us,” or, literally: “God-with-Us, be with us.”

There is something about putting the prayer that way which reminds me of one of the greatest statements of faith recorded in the gospels: when the Roman centurion responds to Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief.”

“God-with-Us, be with us.”

The thing is, if we are to take these prayer requests seriously, not as clichés, or as means of buying time, but rather as true cries from the hearts of those praying, then we start to wade into the deeper waters of faith. And it often seems that it’s in the deepest waters that two things can be true at once: I believe; help my unbelief. God-with-us, be with us.

So the question becomes this: If we begin our prayers by asking for God to be with us, what does this request say about our experience of God’s presence? Or, maybe more precisely, what does it suggest about our experience of God’s absence?
In this morning’s scripture readings we have two different moments in time folded in next to one another (like the back cover of an old issue of Mad Magazine), which, when taken together, form a distinctively new picture for us.

The earlier moment is recorded in John’s gospel and takes place shortly before Jesus and his disciples head to the Garden of Gethsemane where he will be turned over to the Roman authorities and eventually crucified. In this account, Jesus has just finished giving what is commonly referred to now as his Farewell Discourse—a long, looping, poetic, evocative plea and promise to his followers just prior to his being violently taken from them. In this morning’s text, Jesus has just stopped addressing the disciples directly and has, instead, started to pray for them (and by extension, most commentators point out, for the earliest Christian communities and for us)—all in anticipation of his leaving them.

In the Acts reading, we find ourselves on the other side of the cross post-resurrection, at the end of the forty days that the Risen Christ had to remain with his beleaguered followers (according to Luke, the author of Acts). This time it is the Wounded and Risen Christ who is addressing his disciples as he prepares to leave them one more time.

In both instances, Jesus the Christ is preparing his followers for the experience of his absence. These two liminal, or in-between, threshold moments fold in on each other and we find that we are facing a community of people who were themselves facing the loss of their most beloved one: Lost once to the violent convergence of religious fear and imperial oppression. And lost a second time to a cloud of unknowing, when the physical presence of God could no longer be grasped or, perhaps more importantly, clung to, possessed, or owned.

As strange and alien as some passages in scripture might strike us at times--and it is a strange thing to imagine Jesus slowly being lifted up from the midst of the disciples and taken into the clouds—one image I encountered when looking for a bulletin cover looked for all the world like Jesus was doing his best David Blaine impression and was levitating in front of a gawking crowd of frightened spectators—But as strange as scripture can sometimes be we can also almost always find something within that opens us to something true about ourselves and about God.

And the truth is many of us have experienced the loss of someone who was our most beloved. And many of us have experienced, maybe at that same time, but not necessarily, a sense of God’s absence in our lives or in our world.

And, no less jarring, many of us have experienced moments in our faith journeys when something we once understood, had a firm grasp on, has started to slip from our hands. It was true for a time, yes; but in order to continue to grow we find we need to let go of what was certainly true and open ourselves to not-knowing for a little while:

God, I believe; help my unbelief.

God-with-us, we pray, be with us.

The liturgical theologian, Don Saliers, writes: “Praying begins not so much with a sense of presence, but with some intuitive or even painfully concrete sense of God’s not being immediately present.” It is for this reason that prayer, according to Saliers, is always “a profound act of hope.” In fact, he pushes us even a little farther, and suggests that we do well to recognize our insecurity around God’s presence, because otherwise we begin to assume that “God is at our beck and call.” [See Worship as Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 108, 109, 111.]

How to say it? God’s presence is always a gift. But the certainty of God’s presence with us is not necessarily a gift. And perhaps most especially in North American, dominant culture where everything imaginable can be turned into a commodity. You know, last Sunday in church, my congregation sang the beautiful hymn, We Cannot Own the Sunlit Sky as the closing song for our Earth Day celebration. And as we were singing, my ten-year-old son glanced up at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Yeah, we can’t own the sunlit sky, but we can digitize it and then sell it.” We even talk about time as a commodity: time can be spent, wasted, borrowed, shared, stolen, or lost. I have tried for years to divest myself of economic ways of talking about time, but I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to do so completely. Because I am, we are steeped in a culture that commodifies everything it possibly can.

It is in this sense that our experience of God’s absence becomes as much a gift as God’s presence is a gift. Even when our experience of the absence of God is, as Saliers says, painfully concrete.

When the disciples watched as the Risen Christ disappeared into the cloud, don’t you think they experienced that rising absence with great dread? And yet, as they stood there gazing into the now-empty sky, they were called back to the present: Do not look for what used to be; Do not cling to the understanding of the Divine that you once held so dear; Do not seek to possess God. Rather, go and be the community that never stops seeking God.

In a little while, we will gather together around the table to break bread and share the cup in remembrance of the Risen One. And as we do so, I invite you to notice that the bread is always broken and given away; the cup is always poured out and given away.

The presence of God is only momentary before it becomes us as we eat it together. The presence of God is only ever a gift, given to us, given away by us, so that we might never stop seeking God, our beloved one.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Memory & Identity: I Am Who I Am Remembering Myself to Be

So two of the main themes in my dissertation are memory and identity--two things that fascinate and confound me. Both are fluid, contested, constantly being shaped and re-shaped, negotiated, constructed, forgotten, and re-constructed.

There have been several seasons as I've been working on my PhD that I've had to burrow deeply into a cave in order to concentrate fully on my work. I'm just now emerging from one of those caves, after having the proposal approved by my Area a little over a week ago. I come out, stretch, blink, and re-acquaint myself with my surroundings.

Part of that re-acquaintance, this past week, included locating a dear friend of mine from college. He met a French woman our junior year and married her a few months later. As soon as he graduated, he moved to France and has never lived in the States again. We remained close for several years, back in the dark ages before Al Gore invented the internet. We wrote long letters on actual paper. Some of the letters I wrote, I actually sent. (Which is saying something. Most letters I wrote to folks usually languished on my desk for months until I finally gave up and threw them away. Apparently the post office confounds me as well.)

The two of us lost contact, though, after I moved out West. But this past week we were finally able to reconnect. When I opened his reply to my email, I could immediately hear his voice coming through. There are some friends where it doesn't seem to matter how many years intervene, you can always pick up exactly where you left off.

Then, strangely, the very same day that I reconnected with S, another old friend contacted me. This friend goes back even farther than college and is someone I grew up with in church. We went through confirmation together, and youth group, and also attended the same camp for a couple years.

The confluence of these re-acquaintances was disorienting to me at first. I talked about it a bit with my spiritual director yesterday. I told her that I feel like there is an invitation in this to pay attention to the threads that have made up my life over the years. Even as I work on this project that centers around memory and identity, I am being invited to deepen my own experience of those themes in my life.

Last July 1, I officially started my position as a professor. It turned out, though, that I was still back on the East Coast for a previously planned, annual trip. Coincidentally (if coincidences happen at all), that particular day we happened to drive over to my old neighborhood where I lived until I was 18. It was the first time Monk had seen my house. We walked around the neighborhood and I told D and Monk many, many stories of the things I'd done as a kid--most of them involved mischief making of some kind, to Monk's great delight.

In fact, the picture to the right on this page was taken that day, as I stood by the old creek (now very overgrown) and held onto the rope we used to swing across until some kid broke his ankle and we weren't allowed to do it anymore. (And, yes, I did swing across the creek one more time that day, as did Monk!)

When we pulled up in front of my old house, (sold hastily after my parents' divorce), we saw there was someone out tending the lawn. He was gracious enough to let us go inside the house and look around a bit. It was a powerful experience for me to be able to show Monk at least a little of the house that I'd grown up in--to see his nine-year-old self moving through the same space that had held my own nine-year-old self, once upon a time. Of course, it wasn't the same anymore. The kitchen cabinets my grandfather had made weren't there, for one. Even now, sometimes when I can't get to sleep at night, I imagine walking through that house as it used to be, trying to remember every thing I possibly can about what used to be there.

But there was something significant in that experience for me. As I began my new identity as professor, I walked in the house and along the streets (and by the creek) that had helped make me who I was still becoming.

The year has continued to be full of such things: I've reconnected with my best friend who grew up a few doors down from me as well as with my best friend from high school. My high school class had it's twentieth reunion, and though I wasn't able to attend, I suddenly had a flood of names and memories come back into my life that I'd thought I had long forgotten.

All of these people and places--and so many more--have woven into me somehow, made me who I am, or who I am becoming. I do think the invitation, these days, is to re-member just how much this is so.

I think I'll try to write about it here some more over time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Heater Dance

I'm sitting in the living room at the moment while someone is dismantling our heater in the hallway.

Our landlord called a bit ago to confirm that we would be around for the appointment. I was glad that I thought to ask him what he expected to be done--would they repair it? clean it? replace it? He said that the plan was to repair it or that it would be replaced if they determined that was necessary.

So when the workmen came in, I immediately said: "We'd love it if you erred on the side of caution and determined we needed a new heater."

Well, it turns out he didn't need a moment to decide. He took out a flashlight and looked in there and said, "Oh, yeah, you need a new heater alright."

Joy! I didn't realize I had a new heater dance until the occasion arose, but when he went back outside to collect his tools, I was dancing away in the kitchen: "We're gettin' a new heatah! We're gettin' a new heatah!" Much to D's delight, as you can imagine.

I am glad for the news, though. Last week's events put a bit of the fear of God in me. And I don't think I ever would have trusted that the repairs had entirely fixed the problem. So this will be a relief to me.

He showed me where the damage was--there was a piece that had broken off. Who knows how long ago? I can tell you we never found it laying around, though. And then he also showed me where the residue had built up. I actually took pictures of it and can post 'em for the curious.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Follow Your Nose

Thank you, God, for tragedy averted!

This morning we went to hear Monk give an oral presentation on his Mission Report at school. (He did a wonderful job!) When we got home and opened the door, D & I both immediately noticed the smell of gas.

Actually, a few weeks ago we thought we smelled it, too. But couldn't quite convince ourselves that it wasn't our imagination. The thing is, we have a gas heater in the wall of our hallway--common in temperate climates like we live in, I think. And the smell of gas seemed to be present while the heat was running. This didn't make any sense to me, because it means the pilot obviously was lit. And I think that was what led me to think it might just be my imagination.

But this time we decided to call the gas company and ask them to check it out. I'm so glad we did!

The man just left a bit a go. After inspecting the heater, he told us that it seems to have been malfunctioning for some time. Soot had backed up inside so that it wasn't exhausting properly. This was preventing the gas from being all burned off causing it to recirculate. He said it was also causing carbon monoxide to be released as well!

So he has shut down the heater and filled out forms for our landlord so that the heater can be repaired and cleaned. We've already called our landlord who will follow up on this right away. (He's very good that way.)

D and I just sat down and shook our heads for a while after the man from the gas company left. Wow. That could have been a lot worse.

I am both tremendously grateful, but also annoyed with myself. Just last summer I told a friend that I would buy a carbon monoxide sensor for the apartment, but I never followed up on it. And I've also been ignoring the feeling that I should ask our landlord to clean the heaters (in the whole apartment building) once a year. And, of course, we ignored the smell of gas just a few weeks ago.

I'm glad God doesn't work on the three strikes and you're out principle.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Moments with Monk

1. Our dear friend SRF sent Monk two volumes of Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States for Monk's tenth birthday. Monk has been devouring the first book. Tonight, as we were eating our Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Monk remarked: "Howard Zinn is the most skeptical person about American history that I've ever known. He doesn't hold any U.S. document as sacred--not the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Sedition Act. He thinks Christopher Columbus was a dingus. He thinks Andrew Jackson was a major dingus. And he thinks that half the Revolutionary War was just a business plan for the leaders in America." [Edited to add: After reading again for a little while, Monk commented, "This guy actually makes communism sound pretty good compared to us. I mean, he makes communists, socialists, and anarchists sound a heck of a lot better than the way we're running stuff!" Now aren't your proud, SRF?! :D]

2. I've been under Haaa-yooooge stress lately and haven't been sleeping well. I remarked a couple morning's ago that I knew we must have gone to bed early the night before because when I woke up in the middle of the night it was only 12:00! Monk thought for a moment, then commented, "That's weird. When I woke up in the middle of the night it was 3:30."

3. We're still thinking about renting a 3 bedroom house. Tomorrow we may go see one that is available. I read the listing aloud to the family: "3 bedroom, 1 bath small house with living room and large kitchen." Monk remarked, without missing a beat: "What would we need with a kitchen?" Yep. Guess I don't cook that much anymore.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Life's Soundtrack

This meme went around ages ago, but I didn't have an ipod to participate. I grabbed the format from Stories from the Red Tent. If your life were a movie, what would the soundtrack be?

So, here's how it works:
1. Open your itunes library
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don't lie (As astoundingly appropriate most of the songs turned out to be, you'll know I didn't lie because you see Enya below. Not once. Not twice. But three times!)
7. I added one more feature, though. I listened to each of the songs (except the first one) that came up then included a line or two from the lyrics which seemed especially fitting.

So then, the soundtrack of my life:

Opening Credits
"Instant Karma" by U2 Instant Karma: Save Darfur album

Waking Up:
"Beloved" by Minnie Driver
You'll be my beloved one...

First Day of School:
"Orinoco Flow" by Enya (oooh, embarrassing that you know Enya is on my ipod!)
Sail away, sail away, sail away

Falling in Love:
"Hey There Delilah" by Plain White T's (okay, this is humiliating.)
Don't you worry about the distance, I'm right there if you listen

Breaking Up
"Choral" by David Darling
Very moody, cello instrumental

"River" by Joni Mitchell (Blue)
He loved me so naughty made me weak in the knees,
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on

"Ebudae" by Enya
lyrics are in Gaelic, which is somehow appropriate because I understand life about as well as I understand Gaelic.

Mental Breakdown:
"One Man" by Eulogies
I learned something in the nick of time: I'm only one [wo]man.

"Hearts" by Yes
Set your heart sail on the river, look around as you drift downstream (Sheesh, noticing a theme going here about sailing away???)

"Kyrie Eleison" by Taize
Yeah. Lyrics in Latin and French. Flashback to seminary?

Getting Back Together:
"Hard Times Come Again No More" by James Taylor on Appalachian Journey (cool!)
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary: Hard Times Come Again No More

"Brain Damage" by Pink Floyd. (Oh no! I totally disagree!!!)
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon (so is this, like, for better or for worse?)
You re-arrange me until I'm sane
(okay, I can go with that)

Birth of Child:
"Dark I Am Yet Lovely" by Sinead O'Connor (from Song of Songs)
Say I delight in his look, he is the one my soul brought
Rivers can't drown love

Final Battle
"Our Friends Appear Like the Dawn" by Bodies of Water
Water gushed out from the rock; he breathed and the face of the earth was renewed; the depths of the ocean convulsed.

Death Scene:
"The Great Gig in the Sky" by Pink Floyd (ha!)
I am not afraid to die; any time will do, I don't mind. Why should I be afraid to die?

Funeral Song:
"Working Class Hero" by Green Day on Instant Karma: Save Darfur album
A working class hero is something to be

End Credits:
"Hope Has A Place" by Enya
One look at life and you may see it weaves a web over mystery although all the threads can rend apart for hope has a place in a lover's heart.
...Hope is hope and the heart is free...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Small Improvements

I don't think I could have asked for a better work day - and not just because there was no one working with a jackhammer outside my window. Though I bet that helped. :)

This afternoon we went out and bought Monk new hockey skates for his birthday next week. We got them just a little early for him so he'll be able to wear them for his first-ever tournament this weekend.

We also bought a big ol' mirror (not at the hockey place, ha!) and hung it on the wall across from our large window (the one the cat and I were gazing out yesterday). Some months ago I started to keep an eye out for a mirror because I thought it would help expand the space of our teeny apartment. I also think it will pick up on the light and multiply it. And, okay, truth be told - my spiritual director gave me a complementary Feng Shui consultation for my office a few months ago and she told me that every room is supposed to have a mirror in it. Or something like that. D is tremendously patient with me when it comes to these kinds of things. He couldn't care less if it were just about him. But I am always, always, thinking about how to improve our space. It's unending.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moment of Contentment

Just now...

After my hard day's work, I stretch out on the couch just below the giant living room window on the second floor. I break open the binding to start a new Connie Willis book in hand from the Public Library. Out the window, all I see is the sky and the California Bay Tree in full bloom. The fog is pouring in from across the bay and starting to stack up in huge, inviting clouds against the hills. Someone is flying a kite in the park across the street. I watch the green and black kite dancing between the shifting colors in the white and blue background of the sky. All of this is wonderful enough. But it gets even better when the cat jumps into my lap, clearly with a nap in mind, but then spots the same kite I've been watching. I feel his whole body tense up with the eagerness only a cat can express so full-bodied perfectly. He's convinced the kite is a bird. Together we marvel.

How To Know the (Work) Day is Done

Phew! Intense day of work on the dissertation proposal today and I am fried! I'm continuing to simply shape and refine the proposal, making every sentence as packed full of meaning and intent as I can.

One of my tasks today was to write down each of the major terms or concepts I'm employing in this dissertation and work out a definition for each one--so that I can precisely and concisely talk about them. That felt like pretty important work.

I also wrote a bit of an introduction which I think (I hope!) helps to situate where my project fits in the overall field.

All this while someone worked a jackhammer outside my office window. Can you say headache?

Now my weary brain has turned its attention to Target--where I need to buy some girly-girly hair stuff. No more big words for me today, I'm afraid. Just a vague sense of needing to buy pretty smelling shampoo.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Random Things Entry

The longer it's been, the harder it is to write anything here at all. Vicious cycle. But my brother sent me an encouraging note this morning that reminded me my blog is only here to serve me--not to be an obligation or to try and craft the most lovely entries I can write. But he also reminded me that the blog helps family on East Coast get a little window into our lives here. So I decided to break the silence (again!) and try to write simply a Random Things Entry.

1. Our seminary is on break right now, so I have the week to concentrate on revising my dissertation proposal which is almost, almost there. I've been more hopeful (which doesn't mean terror-free, of course!) these past couple weeks than maybe ever before. Although doing the revisions will be intensive, difficult work, I woke up this morning very aware of the privilege of getting to work on it full time this week. No chapel to plan for tonight; no faculty meetings; no classes to prepare--just dissertating (my new favorite verb).

2. Yesterday at church we were given the opportunity to call out Signs of Resurrection in our world today. It was a rite paired with one the week before, in which we called out places where crucifixion still occur. I realized, in participating in the rite, how much I thirst to acknowledge resurrection and hope in the world today. I see and feel the painful things about life, the broken places are all too evident. And yet, I know I live in hope. I don't get to name that hope very often, though. Maybe this can be a spiritual discipline for me during this season of Easter.

3. Monk never ceases to astound me, everyday. He has been hilarious lately. He loves to make us laugh; and he feels like he's finally figured out how. The two of us have been playing the card game Spit together lately. And I don't think we could laugh more than we do as we play. I am delighted, here on the eve of his tenth birthday, that he can make just as many jokes when he's losing as when he's winning. We finally seemed to have moved through that stage where losing isn't the end of the world.

4. Sometimes I take Monk's hand into mine and I'm amazed at the substance of it, the boyness of it, the strength I can tell that's in it, the otherness of him from me--how can it be? The umbilical cord still isn't entirely cut, though. The other night he was being very silly, jumping around the living room. And he flung himself into the air and onto the couch across the room from me. But he was just off kilter and landed a little on the edge of couch; I heard him hit the more solid part of it rather than landing square on the cushion. And I'm telling you, I felt it--my hands tingled in response to the sound I heard. He was fine, of course. But I marveled that we aren't entirely separate human beings quite yet.

5. Last night I showed Monk how to lift comic pictures off the page with Silly Putty.

6. We've been keeping an eye out for larger apartments in our area. Actually, we'd love to rent a single-family home with a yard. But I think D and I both have the sense that we ought to try and stick it out in this apartment one more year. But not without some changes around here. So we've set up a consultation with a professional organizer! I'm very excited about this. The appointment is set for April 9. So I'll try and remember to update about the process here.

OK, 6 random things.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In Treatment

I am totally and completely hooked on this new show on HBO.
See full episodes at
or YouTube.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Learning from the Monk

I walked with Monk over to the protest today, figuring it is an opportunity for him to see a pretty significant event in the life of our country. I had seen, before leaving work, that the riot police had been called in at lunch time today, but it sounded like all was relatively calm again.

The anti-war protesters are set up right in front of City Hall and the counter-protesters are located directly across the street in the park. The road between the two remains open and is not even backed up with traffic. I'm terrible at estimating crowds, but I'd say there were probably about 200 people present. I expect the crowd will grow on both sides as the 7:00 meeting draws near.

As we approached, we heard a speaker on the counter-protesters' side shouting into a PA system. She was maintaining that the anti-war protesters were traitors of the United States. "And what do we do with traitors?" she implored. "We lock them up and throw away the key!" she answered her own question. (I was so thankful she didn't invoke the death penalty as I'd feared when I heard her question!) A sparse cheer went up in response. Huh.

As we walked in among the Code Pink protesters, I tried to place my body in front of the poster-sized photographs of torture victims from Abu-Ghraib on display so I could hide them from Monk's view. I think I succeeded. We stood for a little while and listened as the women from Code Pink sang We Shall Not Be Moved. There were maybe a dozen women, arm and arm, dressed in pink, swaying and singing the song. Although my first reaction was disappointment at hearing another one of the old sixties protest songs being dragged out of the dusty past, I noticed, as we listened to them, that because they were singing, they couldn't hear the hurtful things being shouted about them from across the way. I noticed, too, that it was only women's voices that I was hearing on both sides of the street. That intrigues me no end.

We didn't stay long. As we walked away, Monk began to speak angrily about the counter-protesters calling folks traitors. He was upset by the rhetoric. You know, he probably talked for about 45 minutes nonstop after that. He is at an age where things are very black and white, right or wrong. Clear moral principles and clear ways to live them out.

I found myself wanting to temper his comments, to try and lift up the subtleties at work on both sides of the street. But he was frustrated by that. He was angry that the "other side" (the counter-protesters, from his perspective) were resorting to weak arguments that were off-issue, basically. They were not arguing their perspective from its own merit, but using inflammatory and distracting language instead.

Eventually, it brought him to theological questions. He wanted to know why Christians are not all committed to nonviolence when that was everything Jesus was about. He wanted to know if President Bush even went to a church. (I assured him he did, though I marvel at it as well.) Ultimately, he wanted to know how God could love people who said hurtful things and deliberately mislead people. I told him that God surely loves everyone. And Monk said he imagines God pulling his hair out at night, fretting like a sixth grader with a big project due the next day.

When I tried to offer my understanding of why some Christians (most?) are not nonviolent, Monk was not satisfied. He shook his head: "Love is always stronger than death!" He asserted strongly. Then he offered an unlikely analogy: "It's like a Great White Shark and a hunk of raw steak. The Great White Shark would totally destroy the steak! The Great White Shark is love!"

"But," I suggested, "a lot of people might have to die before love defeats an oppressive government."

He was quiet for a moment. "True," he said, feeling some of the weight of it. "But violence, killing someone, never leads to a better situation. It never accomplishes anything."

"It is a statement of faith," I said, "to say that love is stronger than death."

"Yeah," he responded. "It is."

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Six Republican Senators Attack Those Most Vulnerable in Berkeley

This news story makes me absolutely furious. It points to the abusive employment of power and the moral vacuity of six Republican Senators with Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina at the lead.

Whether or not one agrees with Berkeley City Council's decision to oust a U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station from the city limits, the punitive legislation introduced in response is sickening.

Senator Jim DeMint introduced legislation that would transfer federal monies totaling $2.3 million from Berkeley institutions to the U.S. Marine Corps. $243,000 would be stripped from the Chez Panisse Foundation, which provides 10,000 daily school lunches for Berkeley public schools. An additional $243,000 would be robbed from the Ed Roberts Campus whose mission is to ensure that people with disabilities can live independently and without discrimination. And $94,000 would be ripped away from police and fire emergency communications systems. The remaining money would be taken from water ferry service planned from Berkeley to San Francisco and nearly a million dollars from U.C. Berkeley - a university with an active ROTC service and that allows military recruiting on campus.

How do these men sleep at night, knowing that they are taking food out of children's mouths and denying services to those living with disabilities and those in need of police and fire services? How do any of the programs they have targeted relate one bit to city government? There is no relationship, no correlation! It is a mean-spirited and spiteful action that attacks the most vulnerable citizens of the City of Berkeley--people who had nothing to do with the decisions of Berkeley's City Council.

The senate bill was introduced by DeMint, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas; Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.; and Sen David Vitter, R-La. Rep. John Campbell, R-Newport Beach, introduced the companion bill in the House.

If you live in any of these states, please contact your senator and express your outrage at the hateful and harmful way they chose to respond to this situation. The children in Berkeley, many of whom come from poor families and rely on the healthy meals they receive at school, will be profoundly grateful.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Yes, We Can


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

15 Years Ago Today...

D and I were married. Well, as the pastor who performed the ceremony told us, we held our wedding. We had already made our decision to be married before that and were going to live into being married for the rest of our lives. "A wedding," he told us, "is simply making public our decision to be married."

Implicit in making public that decision was the an invitation extended to our community to become actively involved in our marriage. I don't think we ever understood marriage to be a private thing, but something that was only ever possible when it was rooted in community. We needed to know that our friends and families were a part of our decision to live together in partnership, to travel this life's journey together as best we could.

Rather than having my father "give me away" (although he did joyfully walk me down the aisle), and rather than asking the congregation if anyone "protested the union," instead we wrote our own litany of promises that extended the words of support out in concentric circles--from our four parents, to our closest friends who were standing with us as members of the wedding party, and finally to the gathered community.

These were the words we composed for that day, the words promised by our loved ones:

Pastor: The marriage of J & D unites two families and creates a new one. Will you, their parents, support D & J's decision to enter into this covenant?

Parents: We will honor their commitment to one another and encourage their love. We offer them our love, our experience, our wisdom, and our prayers.

Pastor: For D & J's marriage to stay strong they will need friends who will rejoice and mourn with them, listen to and guide them. Will you, who stand with J & D today, support their decision to enter into this covenant?

Wedding Party: We will honor their commitment to one another and encourage their love. We affirm them as individuals and as a new union. We offer them our love, fellowship, and a hopeful word.

Pastor: Because D & J will grow in their marriage through interactions with this community, will you, as people of God, support D & J's decision to enter into this covenant?

People: We will honor their commitment to one another and encourage their love. We will be mindful of their need to be nurtured beyond the context of their marriage. We offer them our prayers, our concern, and our help in the future.

Tonight we celebrate quite far away from everyone who attended our wedding. And we are both quite mindful of that reality. If we could, I think we would gather a good number of those who were closest to us, and celebrate the years that have passed since this marriage was made public.

But even with that distance, I'm aware that our parents, our friends, and our community has remained faithful to the promises they made on that day. And I celebrate the ways this partnership has been made stronger because of that.

We will celebrate with someone who wasn't present that day fifteen years ago. In fact, he'll be treating us to dinner tonight, dipping deep into his allowance to do so. Even with the distance from loved ones on the East Coast, I don't think D & I could imagine a better person to celebrate with today!

Friday, January 11, 2008

These Days

God is breaking my heart at every turn.

1. On Monday night at 9:00 I went to Target to get some food options in for Monk's lunches. While there, I encountered a mother, her friend, and a baby girl--hardly a toddler, just big enough to stand in the cart and cry. Which she did. Wail. Not a temper tantrum cry, but a heart-wrenching, hold-me-Mama, grief-stricken, lonely cry. Her mother was utterly, viciously indifferent, even cruel. At times screaming back at her daughter (as the adult friend laughed) in mimic of the baby's cry. Around the store I caught the eyes of other women (all women) who were as bewildered, horrified, helpless as I felt. There was nothing I could do, I was convinced, that wouldn't further endanger this child. A confrontation of the mother, I feared, would only be taken out on the baby before the end of the night. I came home and wept myself--for all the unloved, inconvenient babies.

2. The next morning I parked in my spot at the seminary. There was a small basket of brilliant yellow tiny narcissus flowers on the ground just beside my car. I park right next the dumpster and wondered if they'd meant to be thrown away but missed the mark. I got out of my car and picked them up. It was drizzling rain, getting ready for another rainy season, January drenching just as we'd suffered last Friday. As I picked up the flowers (turns out they weren't real, but still lovely in their own right), I saw something stir in the dumpster beside me. I looked over and there was a man sitting in our dumpster. He was rolling what I can only hope was a joint and not something worse. "Are you okay?" I asked him. "Yeah," he said, hardly looking up. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Yeah," he said, not looking up from his rolling papers, "I'm alright." I took the flowers into my office and set them on my windowsill beside my Julian of Norwich icon. Now whenever I notice the flowers I pray for the man in the dumpster and the baby in the cart. It doesn't seem like enough.

3. The past 24 hours at the seminary we hosted a conference on Restorative Justice. The hopefulness of the gospel message was muted by the whiteness of the presentation, making the gospel ultimately unhearable. As much hope as was instilled in me was matched by the hopelessness of unreflective whiteness.

4. Soon after the conference, a psychotic homeless woman was forcibly taken into custody from in front of the seminary where she had been raging all day.

4. Came home to burgeoning gang members hanging out in the park across the street.

And that is why I say: God is breaking my heart at every turn.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Things to Remember

Sometimes I like to use this space to quickly write a couple things that I simply don't want to forget as time goes by. Here are two of those things:

Monk always gives me handmade cards for holidays and birthdays. I love them. This year, this is what he wrote on the inside of my birthday card.

Dear Mom,

I could not love you more. Every day you greet me with a warm smile. Every night you hug and kiss me goodnight. That is what makes a good mom. Not being a celebrity or really rich. You are the Best Mom Ever, hands down.


P.S. I love you. XxXOOoX (repeat)

And here is the other thing. Over the holidays I baked and baked and baked. I was inspired to open the old recipe box I inherited from my grandmother and make all the cookies she used to make at Christmas time: peanut butter, chocolate chip, thimble, molasses crinkle, Russian Tea cookies and on and on.

Although I mailed many dozens away to loved ones on the East Coast, I still had a bunch here. And I've been giving a few to Monk in his lunch every day. (In our Progressive City, we're not supposed to send any sweets in lunches--but I thought that I could defy that rule as long as the cookies were homemade.)

Turns out Monk has been sharing his cookies every day. He eats one, then gives the others away. First it was to one friend (I'd only sent two cookies). Monk came home and said that Friend #1 declared my cookies the best in the world.

Yesterday I sent four cookies--so Monk and Friend #1 could each have two. Instead, Monk gave away a third cookie to Friend #2, and then they tried to divide the fourth cookie into thirds. Monk said that three cookies is ideal.

Friend #2 declared that my cookies "are like little charms from heaven."

Now that makes my day.