Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Silent Retreat

Somewhere around the first of the year, one of my de facto Spiritual Directors – one of the several people who help me discern which of the many “voices” that vie for my attention are of God and which are not – came to me with a brochure from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit outlining the retreats they offer. He had circled one and told me un-ceremoniously that I needed to go to it.

It was titled “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” I chuckled and said, “Me? What in God’s name would make you think I have issues with imperfection?!”

Being gracious, he said something to the effect of, “I just chose it because it is in the middle of the week; far enough “out” that you probably don’t have anything on your calendar for that time, yet; I know the monk who’s leading it and he’s great; and yes…you could use a little refresher on the fact that imperfection is actually one of God’s greatest gifts!”

So, in the middle of July, I drove 4+ hours to Conyers, GA for a 4-day SILENT retreat (Yep…That’s right! The only talking was during each “session” and if outside of the monastery building, but before 8:30 p.m., after which all were to observe the “grand silence,” until 4:00 a.m. – like anyone is going to want to talk at 4:00 a.m.!).

The very first thing I noticed when I walked into the retreat house was that the AC was obviously not working properly. Immediately, “my knee-pits” started dripping sweat. Thankfully, I was wearing long pants so the fabric just absorbed and locked in the sweat (Yeah…The brochure states that “dress is casual, but please no shorts.” It was soon obvious that I was among the only ones there thoughtful enough to follow the “no shorts” request!).

So, to recap: the first thing(s) I notice are not the beauty, silence, calm, peace of the place, but my sweaty knee-pits and the fact that some of my fellow retreatants (yes, that’s a word) were obviously not as “holy” as me, walking around in their dis-respectful, though really cute, shorts!

Plastering on my most benevolent smile, I went to the receptionist. She went over the schedule, making note of the hours of prayer that we were welcomed to take part in (4:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 5:20 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.) and pointing out that Brother Mark (who looks exactly like a Hobbit) asks everyone to be sure to be present at the first session because there is some “housekeeping” stuff to go over. Then she pointed down the hall toward the dining room, “The dining room is down there. The meals are silent. If you have to talk, you can eat in this room (she showed me where).” Then she gave me my room assignment – Room 209 (BTW, the key to 209 will not work in Room 207, the room I tried for 1 full minute to open…Thankfully, whomever was assigned to that room was not in at the time.), told me that Vespers would start in about 30 minutes and showed me the way to get to the abbey church. Then she said, “Retreatants may sit in the space just to the right of the monks. Worship books will be laid out for you. It can kind of be hard to follow, so just stand when they stand and sit when they sit.” She must have seen that I was less than comfortable with my sweaty knees and frustration at my shorts-wearing colleagues, because then she smiled warmly and said, “It will be fine.”

 

Here are some of the notes and thoughts I wrote down while I was there:

 

“House-keeping session”  

·         Brother Mark: “If you need to make confession while you are here, go to Father Thomas (? can’t remember his name). There is a sign-up sheet outside of this room. When you go, be on time, be quick and be gone. This isn’t a counseling session, and Father Thomas (?) is quite old.”

·         “Please know that you are welcomed and encouraged to come to any and all of the ‘hours of prayer.’ We do a lot of chanting. You are welcomed to join in, but we tend to go flat when we chant, so be patient with us.”

 

Day 1:   

·         Carl Jung said: “Do not trust anyone who doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

·         “Perfect” is an illusion.

·         “God uses our gifts to reach others and our imperfections to reach us (Maybe one of my favorite insights.)”.

 

Day 2:

·         My own thought: If, as Br. Mark suggests, I cannot fully love others or God without loving myself, can I at least practice loving self and God by loving others?

·         Jesus is never upset with sinners, only with people who pretend they are not sinners.

·         I don’t remember who said this, but I really like it. When asked why they pray, someone responded: “I do not pray so much as I just breathe God in and hope somehow to learn how to breathe God out, as well.”

·         Perhaps our greatest commonalities are our imperfection and our loved-ness by God.

·         Perfectionists don’t tend to celebrate theirs strengths – instead, they focus on their weaknesses.

 

Day 3:

·         Awareness of our own imperfection opens us to grace.

·         “Be perfect” (as in Matt. 5:48) – bad translation…Better “Don’t give up”; “Keep at it”; “Be mature;” and note the context…Work toward “maturing-never-giving-up” love.

 

Day 4 (Final session):

·         Br. Mark: “As a rule – even if you think you know the answer to someone’s problem, don’t give it while they are still talking.”

 

To sum up:

Since the bells which call to worship will have already woken you up, you may as well get out of bed and go to the prayer hour called “Vigils,” which is at 4:00 a.m.…Don’t worry, nobody cares what you look like at that hour (I even wore a pair of running shorts on the last morning – but I changed before breakfast)…But do take note that for the 30-minutes of silent meditation that happens in the middle of the service, the lights will be turned off. So, if you want to move to a different place for this 30 minutes, be careful not to trip, the abbey church is very dark at that hour! Just sayin’.

Breakfast is not served until after morning mass (7:00 a.m.) – there’s even a sign in the refectory that says so.

Monks make really good coffee.

Eating in silence is really pretty neat.

People who wear shorts at monasteries are cool, too (temperature-wise and personality-wise).

It’s easier to “unplug” and be silent than you imagine.

Each time you become aware of your imperfection is an opportunity to thank God for divine grace.

Give yourself a break: It is not only the case that the way you treat others is the way you treat Christ (ala Matt. 25. 31ff), but also the way you treat yourself is the way you treat Christ.

Before you leave, remember to thank the receptionist who told you that everything would be fine.

 

p.s. you should check out the pictures of the monastery. Go to www.trappist.net

 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Living Love

She said, “There’s one for every year I’ve known you.”

They were from my “other” daughter.

Roses were waiting in the entryway when I came in from church on Mother’s Day.

She didn’t leave a note but, since Cliff and the kids had already given me my gift…I got suspicious!

So I texted her and asked if she had anything to do with them.

She texted back, “Oh, good! The cat didn’t get them!”

 

She came by yesterday (Monday). Sometimes she just drops by.

We were eating dinner (her timing is impeccable – like any single young adult!).

Cliff said, “Are you hungry?” She said, “Yes.”

He put food from his plate onto hers, and she ate.

I pointed to the roses I’d put in a vase and asked “Did you see them?”

She said, “Yep! There is one for every year I’ve known you.”

I hadn’t counted them. But her math was accurate.

We met when she was 12 or 13 y/o.

Back then, I didn’t really have any idea that she was paying attention.

Apparently she was.

Her mother was the director of the preschool in the church I served in Asheville. By osmosis, she just “gets” children.

Sometime after she was old enough to drive, she became our “nanny,” and – although there was no ceremony – she became an adopted member of our family.

 

Years later, when we moved from Asheville to Charlotte, it wasn’t long before she moved here, too.

Now, she is a professional nanny (it’s just in her blood).

Her “nanny-family” lives fairly near us…So, from time to time she comes by, lets herself in, hollers “hey” to the kids, pours herself some apple juice and we chat.

I don’t think she’s ever missed one of our kids’ birthday parties or Halloween.

Friday is Henry’s 10th birthday. She is making the cake and playing laser tag with him and his friends (so that I don’t have to!).

 

Lucy will soon be the same age that she (our other daughter) was when we first met…And Lucy is paying attention.

What she sees is someone who is glad to see her every time she sees her.

What she sees is someone who knows her name and her hopes.

What she sees is someone who listens and celebrates and takes her seriously and laughs with her and shows up when she says she will.

 

The congregation I serve, just received a “recognition” from the Center for Community Transitions (CCT).

CCT is an organization that facilitates the transitioning of formerly incarcerated men and women back into their families, work and society.

But, in addition to that, the CCT also ministers (my word, not theirs – although I know that the director sees it as a ministry) with the families of currently-incarcerated folks (in my short-sightedness, I never gave them much thought).

Every third Tuesday, the CCT hosts a dinner for these families. “It’s really all about the kids,” one person says.

A year or so ago, the CCT  changed locations and needed a new place for these Third Tuesday Dinners to take place.

We had the space. So, now they are here.

I’ve been just a couple times to the dinners. But, there is more joy in that room than most anywhere I go.

I’m not really sure why we received any recognition…We just said, “Sure, we have space,” and opened our doors.

It makes me kind of sad, that that seems to be a big deal.

 

It’s the same thing with our Drop In Center – our ministry with the mentally ill, where once a month we open doors to about 60-80 mentally ill men and women for the morning – they eat and laugh and get a little food to take with them, and are something other than their label for the day.

Folks have been coming for decades to be part of it!

It’s not that big of a deal – except that it seems to be.

 

A place where there are folks who are glad to see you every time they see you.

Who know your name and your hopes.

Who listen and celebrate and take you seriously and laugh with you and show up when they say they will.

 

Our mission statement is: “St. Luke’s Lutheran Church – Living and Sharing God’s Love.”

Apparently, even though it doesn’t seem like it, that’s a really big deal. And the extra-cool part is that folks are paying attention…And as simple as it is, simply opening your door and sharing love changes lives (Granted, you may not come home to more than a dozen roses – but your life will be changed and so will the lives of others!).

 

Monday, February 22, 2016

I owe my husband a public apology.

I owe my husband (Cliff) a public apology.

 

Okay – back story…For Cliff’s birthday (which was in December), I gave him tickets to a Yanni concert – because for years I have heard of his, what I labelled “quaint?” “cute?” “sweet?” “ridiculous?”, love of Yanni. Then, anytime I was within earshot when his friends asked what he got for his birthday and he said, “Yanni tickets,” I would jump into said conversation with something like “Yeah…Just shows you how much I love my husband. I am going to see Yanni…YANNI for ‘Sweet Betty’s sake!’” Accompanied with a truly impressive eye roll (one that would rival my 11 year-old daughter’s!).

Yanni…a hair-slinging wannabe pianist!

I know…great attitude. “Oh the sacrifices I make for love!”

I carried that attitude with me all the way into the auditorium last night and even into the first song as Yanni (all 108 pounds of him!) made a grand entrance accompanied by his orchestra and purple/pink lights, throwing kisses and flinging his hair (Full disclosure…I also thought shameful things about the 1500-2000 people in the auditorium with us!)!

Finally, resigned to the reality of my life for the ensuing 2-2 ½ hours, I actually started listening.

About 30 minutes into the whole thing, I actually took out my phone “googled” Yanni…First “designation” listed is “composer.”

In my head: “He wrote all this stuff?...Seriously?!?!”

Then, I found out that he doesn’t read music – but uses some kind of “shorthand” (You should check it out…crazy/amazing). That’s not proper!

Meanwhile, on stage the harpist (also long-haired) is going crazy making a harp sound like a grand piano and drum all at the same time. I mean, like nothing I’ve ever heard!

Then, a violinist (bald) plays with absolute virtuosity and then a trumpeter with clarity that cuts to my heart (at this point I’m feeling pretty stupid about the whole eye-roll, “my great sacrifice for love” stuff!).

Then he (Yanni) starts introducing his orchestra…And there are musicians from Greece, Paraguay, Asia, Russia, Venezuela, the US, Armenia, Canada and Cuba. The UN of orchestras!

 

The text for the sermon yesterday was Luke 13:31-35, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.”

 

Here’s the thing, I am convinced that the statement, “See, your house is left to you,” is simply a statement of fact (not a threat or even a judgment per se)…“Come together my children,” Jesus says, “or you will destroy yourselves.”

“Don’t exclude, separate, point fingers, call names, build walls (!)…just come near to my love…or you will destroy yourselves.”

 

We are living that reality right now, aren’t we?

We are separating more and more all while Jesus (in red letters) is saying “come together,” and we are not willing, and we are seeing the signs of our own destruction.

So sad.

So wrong.

So unfaithful.

 

Really cool to see embodied on stage last night the beauty of “children gathered,” working together across culture, language, gender, age, “proper musical training,” and, no doubt, religion.

 

There’s a quite annoying “chant” that our kids are fond of (from some lovely TV cartoon – you may be familiar with it)…It goes a little something like this: “I knew it. I knew it. I knew it all along. You just wouldn’t listen. I was right and you were wrong!” Thank you my dear husband for simply loving the concert, loving me and not chanting the “I knew it” chant for all the world to hear!

And I apologize for the eye roll!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lord, have mercy...

Lord, have mercy.

 

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed (Mark 13.7).”

 

Following the attacks on Paris, my Facebook page, just like yours, had comments to the effect: “I think this is the beginning of World War III”…The beginning of World War III…Rumors of wars…Nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom.

Sometimes it happens so remarkably, that it is hard to believe…that the assigned reading for the day coincides so incredibly with the events of the day. It reminds me of the call to “do theology” with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. It happened this week (assigned gospel, Mark 13.1-8).

This past Friday, I was on my way to help lead a retreat for 100 confirmation students, when I heard – on the radio – that 19 people, in Paris, had been killed in attacks by ISIS. By Saturday morning, that number had risen to 129…Wars and rumors of wars…200+ killed in an airline bombing attributed to ISIS…40-some in Beirut…Wars and rumors of wars. Do not be alarmed.

Really, Jesus? Are you serious?!

I am unsettled…I am disturbed…And, if I dare admit it, I am alarmed.

I am looking with my most-intent eyes to see where in the world is any evidence of “birth pangs” (Mark 13.8) out of which new life is promised, and I am hard-pressed to see any.

And yet…and yet…I hold on to what I confess…that the promise of life is eternal and permanent.

I hold on to what I know, Emmanuel – God with us.

I hold on to the cross of Christ and the empty resurrection-tomb…I hold on to new life in the face of death and horror (the promised birth of verse 8, perhaps, which my eyes – but not God’s – cannot yet see?).

And I hold on to what I have promised – to serve and to love all people in every situation.

And I choose that despite the alarm that I admit, I will not cease loving and serving.

I choose, I make the conscious decision to choose, to not allow my alarm to keep me from what I am (as you are) called to be about – loving and serving and striving for justice and peace in all the earth.  

 

I do not pretend to know what the right response is to this horror.

I do not pretend to know what must be done when there seem to be no sin-less options, and so I return, with you, to the worship that is part of the rhythm of my life and together we sing or speak (or whisper, or weep):

“In peace, let us pray to the Lord…

                Lord, have mercy.

For the peace from above, and for our salvation (and the salvation of the world), let us pray to the Lord…

                Lord, have mercy.

For the peace of the whole world; for the well-being of the Church of God; and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord…

                Lord, have mercy.

For this holy house, and for all who offer here their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord…

                Lord, have mercy.

Help, save, comfort and defend us, Gracious Lord.

                Amen.”

 

…and I rub my eyes and wipe my tears and pray for the grace and courage to embody, in my life, the love of Christ with which I have been covered and in which I abide – hoping beyond hope that in my life, and in my living, there may be some small evidence of the birthing of the promised coming life…and I rest in confidence that when I do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirt intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

 

 

 

p.s. Although, once I’ve preached a sermon, I do not listen to it again…Some have said that this past Sunday’s sermon may be worth a listen…if you’d like, go to the church’s website (www.stlukeselca.org)  and click on Pastor’s Sermon…Wars and Rumors of Wars on the home page.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Quick Ears and a Slow Mouth

I was presumptuous and didn’t let her get a word in edgewise.

She sent me an article whose title I found offensive – something about the “Black Dilemma,” with the added comment by her, “Amen!!!” (with THREE exclamation points!)…I was angry before I even read it! I received the article from her in an email that I got the night before I was to go to lunch with her. As soon as I saw her, the next day, I told her that I needed to cancel our lunch date, but that I would like to talk to her, please, when she had time.

She had time almost immediately.

I asked: “Why would you send me an article like this?!?!” And “Why would you write ‘Amen’ with not one, but THREE exclamation marks?!?!?” And “It made me cry!” And “How could you think you know me and send me something like that?!?!?!” And “Did you know that that article was originally posted on a website that is sponsored by a white supremacy group?!?!?”  Then I proceeded to not listen to a single thing she said in response!

That was TWO MONTHS ago…Two very long months during which we have barely made eye-contact.

 

I found out the other day, that she is looking for a new church.

So, I talked to her today, and told her that I understand that she is looking for a new church…and I said that I pray that she will find a place where she can feel blessed and continue to grow.

She told me that she just couldn’t stay where she no longer felt that she had a pastor. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” I said.

 

We talked briefly about the meeting we had together following the email with the article in it…and her “Amen!!!” (with THREE exclamation points). She talked about how she had cried for three days after that meeting and how hurt she was that I had essentially called her a white supremist. She used my own words: “How can you think you know me, then think that of me?!?!?” “And “I don’t feel like I have a pastor anymore.”

“It was the ‘Amen!!!’ that I couldn’t understand,” I said. Then, continuing to exhibit diarrhea of the mouth, I continued: “We are called to figure this out! To figure out how we can live together without blaming the other for being ‘other,’ or insisting that ‘they’ become like ‘us.’” (my voice had THREE exclamation points and italics).

“I agree,” she said (but, again, I didn’t listen).

So, I just kept plowing ahead with something about the Kingdom of God, common good, whatever.

 

So, she said it again: “I agree with you.”

“What?”

She said something to the effect that “Well, it isn’t working, is it?” And “We’ve got to figure out how to make this work.” And “That’s what the ‘Amen’ was about.”

 

Oh, what a fool I have been.

Oh, what a gracious, gracious woman she has been in her mercy toward me.

 

She may well still seek another pastor – one who not only preaches about listening and gentleness and love and on and on and on…but who actually practices those things.

 

What was it that James said: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19)?

 

God, grow in me the gift of quick and sincere listening and slow speech…

 

Friday, July 10, 2015

It Just Takes Courage

The youngest one at our gathering said, “It just takes courage.”

A dozen members of St. Luke’s, most of whom have been attending a series of forums sponsored by Mecklenburg Ministries, called “Let’s Talk” (a weekly gathering which began after the massacre of the Emanuel Nine), came together last night in our living room to talk and share and dream and discern what it is we are called to do about healing and building and bridging and addressing issues of racial tension and inequality in our families and community and world…wanting to raise our children and grandchildren to do and be better.

 

We were three black and nine white.

We shared stories and sadness.

We shared perspective and grief.

We spoke of hope and resurrection.

We started from love and grew from there.

I asked “Why are you here?” And we took turns answering.

And we began to know one another.

 

A retired white pastor, slight in build and soft spoken, shared that he had been in Mississippi in 1964 (or 1965?) registering black voters. He shared a story about how the car he was travelling in was tailed by a pick-up truck whose passengers carried shot guns and “escorted” him, and those he was with, out of town. Then he said, “I haven’t done anything in a long time. I need to do something again.”

A retired black nurse shared a story about having to take her SAT exam, for entrance into nursing school, in the hallway because she wasn’t welcomed into the testing hall where the white candidates sat. She shared that, when she needed to wash her hands, a janitor had to be found to open the janitor’s closet – the only place she was allowed to use the sink. “I don’t know what would have happened if I’d have needed to use a toilet.”

A young white woman shared a memory of a time she was told not to follow-up on a resume, because the name on it sounded like the person might not “talk right.” “ I didn’t do anything about it. I should have.” Then talking to the black sisters present, she said: “ I am sorry.”

A 78 year-old white woman said, “I’m old! Something has got to be done about this before I die! So, let’s get on with it!”

Another young white woman responded “I know…But what about when the racism is in your own family?” “I love my family…what do I do? I don’t want my children to be like that.”

That’s when the youngest one present – a young woman who just graduated from high school and is heading to Duke in just over a month, and who happens to be bi-racial, said “It just takes courage.”

“It took courage to admit that something ‘just isn’t right.’”

“It took courage to go to those forums.”

“It took courage to admit that many of us have been blind.”

“It took courage to say ‘help.’”

“It took courage to come here tonight.”

“And it will take courage to tell your family that you are coming again next week.”

“…And we will cheer for you and love you and hold hands with you.”

And we prayed for the courage.

 

We are not completely na├»ve…We know that many will say, “The confederate flag came down…What else is there to do? Let’s move on.”

So, we pray for courage to continue.

Next week we will gather again…This time to make plans to do some “actionable” thing (or things).

Maybe to just get kids sharing their experiences. And adults.

And we will begin to know one another…And we will come to share love and grow from there.

And we will have courage.

 

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery (or cowardice) to fall back again into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption…[So, be of good courage!].”

~ Romans 8:15 (with a slight emendation)

Monday, March 2, 2015

We are Village People

On Saturday, Henry and Lucy received their “Black belt recommended” for tai kwon do. That means that they actually get to wear a black belt and work to keep it over the next 6 months or so. So, it is not a “real,” their-name-sewn-on-in red-and-a-single-stripe black belt…yet. Even so, we took pictures and posted it all online. Their very first tai kwon do instructor (Ezekiel Delfino…“Seky” to us. “Mr. Delfino” to the kids.) came to cheer for them and took pictures, too…And posted them, too. Within hours, there were hundreds of “likes” and “way to go’s” and “AWESOMES!” from people we knew and people we didn’t know at all! People from Argentina (where Seky is from), whom we have never met (and likely never will) and whose language we do not speak posted comments to Seky’s photos (on which we were “tagged”), congratulating our kids and encouraging them to continue to work hard. Before she tied their belts on, their current instructor – Ms. Granieri – asked them if they were ready for the real journey to black belt. They said, “Yes ma’am.” “Good…because I believe you can do it.”

 

It takes a village.

 

I don’t remember exactly how long ago…maybe 6 months – maybe longer…I was sitting in a hospital waiting room with Carrie. Her son had had a minor procedure, but had an unknown latex allergy. His throat closed and we didn’t know whether he would survive (he has). Carrie is the nearly 80 year-old matriarch of a very large African American family, as well as the matriarch of the subsidized housing complex near our church (although she has been unceremoniously temporarily displaced from her apartment…too long a story for this blog). In many ways, Carrie’s family fits every stereotype of an African American family living in subsidized housing. I can never remember how many sons she has – but one or two have been killed and all have been in jail or prison. In her terribly over-cramped apartment, you will find children, grand-children, great grand-children, nieces, nephews and neighbors. She hosts “back-porch ministries” where she gives food to her neighbors from her back porch (different churches and companies give her their “day-olds.” Thank you Trader Joes). Some while after literally escaping from an abusive husband, she was instrumental in the start-up of Samaritan’s House (a house where homeless folks can go after they’ve been hospitalized…a need I had never considered. If you are homeless and have surgery, where do you go when you are discharged? Back under the bridge? Ahhh…all the things I take for granted.), and active in civil rights issues in the Charlotte area and beyond.

I asked her how she overcame the obstacles that surrounded her.

She said, “My auntie…”

“My auntie believed in me and cheered for me and told me that I could do great things…important things…things that would change the lives of others.”

“My auntie was the only person who told me those things…But she told me...every time she saw me. Everyone else either thought I wouldn’t amount to anything, or assumed I didn’t need to hear it.”

“My auntie believed in me and told me so.”

 

My children have people all around the world cheering them on.

Carrie had one.

Villages come in all shapes and sizes.

 

Never imagine your encouraging word doesn’t matter. It could change lives who will change lives who will change lives.