Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, April 28, 2017

Wisdom from Jacob the Baker


“I am sending an angel in front of you to guard you as you go
and to guide you to the place I have prepared."
 
The sky grew red and then began to pale to dusk. Jacob and the old man sat together shoulder to shoulder. Their manner with each other was not like men who had just met but as men who were being introduced to a friendship that had long existed but which they were just now discovering. In this way, Jacob met Joseph.
 
“What work do you do?” asked Joseph.
 
“I am a baker,” said Jacob.
 
Joseph laughed. “I used to be a baker,” he said, intrigued by the parallel. “But now I am afraid I am getting too old for my work.”
 
“It is written that ‘although we are not excused from the work, neither are we expected to finish it',” said Jacob.
 
“Yes,” said Joseph, “but what will I do with my time?”
 
“When we treat time as a limit,” said Jacob, then time becomes a wall, a barrier we will die climbing. If we see our days as a river,” Jacob motioned to the waters in front of them, “then we know time as a vehicle and realize we have all been born as passengers.”
 
“Passengers on a difficult journey,” said Joseph.
 
“Perhaps,” said Jacob. “But think about the story of Noah. Even in the flood of death, it is the flood that supports the ark of life.”
 
“And is that the lesson of Noah?” asked Joseph.
 
When Jacob began to speak again, his words came slowly, like a man stepping carefully from stone to stone in a different garden.
 
“The lesson of Noah teaches us that there comes a time in each of our lives when it is necessary to build an ark, to create a structure in which we can hide – a habit or a place or an attitude within ourselves that will shelter us – if we are to survive life’s terrible storms.”
 
“Yes,” said Joseph, interrupting, thinking back on the story he read as a child, “but why was Noah told to put a window in the ark? What could he see by doing this but the sadness of his fate?”
 
“My friend,” said Jacob, “faith sees beyond fate."
 
"Noah was told to put a window in the ark so he could tell when the rain had stopped, and so we can remind others who have struggled to survive that they, too, should put a window in their ark, so all of us will know when it is time to come out from behind the habit of walls we build to survive.”
 
“And what will we see then?” asked Joseph.
 
“We will see,” said Jacob, “that the world is not always filled with a flood.”
 
Joseph listened with his eyes while Jacob spoke; then, with a tone more plea than invitation, he asked, “Jacob, perhaps if you stay with me awhile you will turn my home into an ark.”
 
“If two people accept each other’s weaknesses,” said Jacob, “then their vulnerability is an ark for both of them.”
 
Taken from: “Jacob’s Journey: Wisdom to Find the Way, Strength to Carry On”
by Noah benShea

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

When a young person dies



One of the members of our own Hospice Team suffered the unexpected, sudden loss of a loved one at an early age. Those of us who deal with death and dying were undone by our shared grief and heartbreak for our co-worker.  I kept saying "He was only 37 years old." My Chaplain colleague kept saying, "I just keep thinking about that baby growing up without a daddy." We each had our own hooks on which we hung our grief. We were all asking each other: "What can we say? What can we do?" And, just as importantly, "What shouldn't we say or do?" So, when we gathered this morning for Team, we set aside a time to remember and pray. My chaplain colleague offered a beautiful, deeply meaningful, extemporaneous prayer which I wish I had recorded. It healed many broken hearts in that room. I read excerpts of the "Eulogy for Alex" by William Sloan Coffin, delivered to his congregation at Riverside Church in New York City in 1983, ten days after the sudden death of his 24-year old son. It's a eulogy I return to often as a resource. I offer these excerpts here for you.


As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son--Alexander--who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family "fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky"--my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave.

Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms":

"The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places."

My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength.

When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died I was sitting in the living room of my sister's house outside of Boston, when the front door opened and in came a nice-looking, middle-aged woman, carrying about eighteen quiches. When she saw me, she shook her head, then headed for the kitchen, saying sadly over her shoulder, "I just don't understand the will of God." Instantly I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. "I'll say you don't, lady!" I said.

For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn't go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness. 

Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths--I can think of many right here in this parish in the five years I've been here--deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions, and even the specter of a Cosmic Sadist--….

But violent deaths, such as the one Alex died--to understand those is a piece of cake. As his younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket at the Boston funeral, "You blew it, buddy. You blew it." The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is "It is the will of God." Never do we know enough to say that.  

My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

That's why immediately after such a tragedy people must come to your rescue, people who only want to hold your hand, not to quote anybody or even say anything, people who simply bring food and flowers--the basics of beauty and life--people who sign letters simply, "Your brokenhearted sister." 

In other words, in my intense grief I felt some of my fellow reverends--not many, and none of you, thank God--were using comforting words of Scripture for self-protection, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness they simply couldn't face. But like God herself, Scripture is not around for anyone's protection, just for everyone's unending support.

And that's what hundreds of you understood so beautifully. You gave me what God gives all of us--minimum protection, maximum support. I swear to you, I wouldn't be standing here were I not upheld.

And of course I know, even when pain is deep, that God is good. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Yes, but at least, "My God, my God"; and the psalm only begins that way, it doesn't end that way. 

As the grief that once seemed unbearable begins to turn now to bearable sorrow, the truths in the "right" biblical passages are beginning, once again, to take hold:
"Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall strengthen thee"; 

"Weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning"; 

"Lord, by thy favor thou hast made my mountain to stand strong"; 

"For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling"; 

"In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world"; 

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
And finally I know that when Alex beat me to the grave, the finish line was not Boston Harbor in the middle of the night. If a week ago last Monday, a lamp went out, it was because, for him at least, the Dawn had come.

So I shall--so let us all--seek consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Could YOU be a White Supremacist?

I went to a Unitarian Universalist Church this morning.

It was quite intentional.

The sermon was on White Supremacy.  Which is why I went.

I mean, can you imagine such a sermon topic in an Episcopal Church?

Well, I can. But, I can't imagine too many rectors who would be brave enough to step up to the plate and take on a topic like this on a Sunday morning.

Maybe in the parish hall in an adult forum. But, never from the pulpit.

Okay, I can think of one or two but they are rare as hen's teeth in this beloved church of ours.

The Minister there is presently an interim position. (The final candidate comes at the end of this month for a long weekend where she will preach and teach and mix and mingle and then 90% of the congregation has to approve her before she is presented with the 'offer'. Not 90% of the search committee. 90% of the congregation. Pay attention, Episcopal Church.)

However, the entire Unitarian Universalist Association is participating in these sermons on White Supremacy over the next few weeks. This is due to a serious shake up at the national level during which the President of the Association resigned over controversy about problems with - you're not going to believe this - diversity in the staffing practices at the national level.

Yes, I'm still talking about the Unitarian Universalist Association, one of the most overtly and obviously affirming and inclusive of diversity of all the religious denominations or movements.

A white male was chosen to lead the group’s Southern region, replacing another white man who was retiring. Christina Rivera, a Latina laywoman who has served on the UUA’s board of trustees since 2014, revealed that she was a finalist for the position.

In her blog, "On being a good fit for the UUA" Rivera wrote:
I do not reveal this lightly…in fact it is with real fear that I am jeopardizing any future career within UU communities. But as I consider what has happened, I keep coming back to the thought that if they weren’t willing to hire me for this position then what makes me think that will change for any theoretical future? And ultimately how do we hold the UUA accountable for racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy if no one stands up in the public square and says “me, it was me, you did this to me and it is not ok, I demand you make this right!”
Yes, she said, "racial discrimination".

And yes, she said, "upholding white supremacy".

About the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Which begs the question, if it's possible for a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association to be a White Supremacist, could I be a White Supremacist?

Could YOU be a White Supremacist?

The UUA minister handled the sermon / reflection time brilliantly. She began by framing the issue in terms of what had happened at the the national level and then invited four people to share the reflections they had at their "Tuesday evening UUA Seven Principles Reflection Group."

I so want to hit the pause button here and imagine what it would be like if The Episcopal Church could articulate Seven Principles and then had reflection groups around them but in most places we can barely gather 3-4 people of a Sunday morning - much less mid-week - to a Bible Study or to reflect on the lectionary for the coming Sunday so I'll just stop right here.

The topic that evening was the Fourth Principle:
"A free and responsible search for truth and meaning." 
Apparently, this principle was discussed in terms of the charge of White Supremacy. Three very different women and one TransMan each gave a very short presentation which ranged from righteous indignation tempered by open, honest questioning, to a wonderful comparison to the early days of the feminist movement when women burned their bras publicly and charged men with being "chauvinist pigs". (Oh, yes we did.)

This had been preceded by a reading from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." It was followed by the UU Interim Minister giving her reflection - which was intelligent and eloquent, honest and passionate and deeply moving.

She reminded us that, at the end of the service, the congregation would meet in the Library for refreshments during which there would be a "Twitter Storm" to support groups/individuals seeking to promote environmental awareness.

Following that, there would be "Circles in the Sanctuary" were people would be encouraged to share their reactions to the day's service.

I just have to press pause again here and note: Twitter Storms and Circles in the Sanctuary. Not to mention moving Shells of Joy and Concern and Lighting the Chalice. I've always said that no one can beat an Episcopal Priest at ringing at least 3 sermons from one symbol or metaphor but, ya know, ya just gotta love the UUAs.

So, here's the deal: No one in that church this morning was a White Supremacist.  Of course. If they were, they wouldn't have been in that room - or, in fact, anywhere near it.

And, we would have been able to easily spot them with their skin heads and tattoos, right? Or, the white sheets over their head? Or, surely from the red baseball cap with "Make America Great Again."

In academic usage, particularly in usage drawing on critical race theory the term "white supremacy" can also refer to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy a structural advantage (privilege) over other ethnic groups, both at a collective and an individual level.

I believe Ms. Rivera, in making her charge of "White Supremacy" was talking about the assumed, unexamined privilege of being white. And, who, indeed, will be held accountable if someone - if she, herself - didn't stand up and say, loudly and clearly, "OUCH!"?

If we don't - if she didn't - put a face on an ism or an ideology and say, "ME! It's ME! Look at ME! The Chicana, Latina. See ME! The same woman that has been serving on the national board for the last three years. The same woman you carefully considered for the position. The same person you said was equally qualified for the position. It was ME. You did this to ME and it is NOT okay. I demand you make this right." - then how will it ever have a chance of being made right?

It was a personal, political decision and she was personalizing the political.

She was also using the same technique the early feminist movement used to wake people up from their complacency. No, not every man is a male chauvinist pig but making that charge caused a few men to wake up and pay attention.

It's like that old analogy from the early days of the feminist movement: Fish don't know they're in water.

If you tried to explain it to a fish it would say, "Water? What's water?" They're so surrounded by it that it's impossible to see. They can't see it until they get outside of it. And then they are also able to see how polluted some parts of the pond have gotten.

That's what happens when you charge UUAs - or any nice, polite, white person - with "White Supremacy". It's like taking a fish out of water and saying, "Look! Look what you've been surrounding yourself with! Look what you've been living in! Look what it's doing to some of the other fish."

Our service bulletin this morning included this "White Supremacy Pyramid" which makes it pretty clear that being White carries with it assumed, unexamined privilege which can, and does, negatively impact people of color.

Add maleness to the white supremacy model and you get the culture of Fox News and most of the culture of corporate America.

And now, the Oval Office of the White House.

Like most pyramid or ice bergs, the tip of it is just the obvious, presenting problem. It's what's below the tip, the bottom of the pyramid, where the covert, socially acceptable behavior exists - and becomes more dangerous the more attention is paid to the tip and the less is paid to the base.

I don't know about you, but from time to time in my journey I have wandered around the base of that pyramid. I confess that I've been an ardent subscriber of the "But We're Just One Human Family" perspective.

It's a lovely thought.

It's a marvelous goal.

It's not our reality.

Not unless you don't know that you're swimming in water. And, it's polluted.

I have come to believe this: Western Christianity is built on a frame which assumes the supremacy of Caucasians. It begins with the blond, blue-eyed Jesus and works its way through various manifestations like pew rents and tithes, and continues to ascribe higher value to literacy, social and educational status and social location than the content of human character.

You can find it in more subtle manifestations of spiritual disciplines which ask people who may not be able to afford food to "fast" and asks people who are are suffering the indignities of the oppressed to subscribe to Lenten disciplines which "sacrifice" something in order to better understand the "sufferings" of Jesus.

We've got an awful lot of work to do in order to dismantle the framework of an institution which is so immersed in the waters of prejudice and discrimination that it doesn't even know that there is a different environment in which we can all swim freely.

Please hear me clearly: Wealth and educational and social status are not inherently evil. It's the arrogance and greed that prevent the wider distribution of wealth and opportunity that is evil. It is the valuing of individual wealth and social status over human ability and potential based on race, ethnicity, gender, etc., that is evil.

Especially in the church or any religious community.

If you need a recent history lesson in this, just watch the movie Hidden Figures based on the book by Margo Lee Shetterly. 

As the service came to an end and the candle in the chalice was extinguished (I know, the images are confusing to me, too), we sang a song which was written by one of their former Ministers who has since retired. The hymn has become a closing tradition for them:
We extinguish the flame in this chalice, but not the one in our hearts.
This is the light of our soul that shines forth when the world seems too dark;
it is the spark that ignites hope when that seems lost.
Your light is precious; carry it with you.... always.
I came away from that service with a hunger that was nourished with a renewed committed to the work of justice.

And that work begins, once again and as it always does, with me. With "this little light of mine".

My light is precious. And, so is yours.

Could YOU be a White Supremacist?

That's a question I encourage you to explore for yourself.

Start by tending to your own light.

Then, take a look around at the water in which you swim.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pink Moon Rising.


It has begun.

As early as Sunday night, desperation notes started popping up on social media.

"I want to die," posted one person. I checked in on him. He said he wasn't suicidal. Said he just felt like he wanted to die. Said it wasn't anything new. He was just tired of it all. Felt like he couldn't go on one minute more.

Then, he started responding publicly to everyone with a rant about, "Oh, so NOW you want to talk? Where were you when I needed you? When I needed to talk? When I felt all alone?"

In a strange way, it was like he wanted to be noticed and then got embarrassed because people did.

Or, maybe he wanted to make us all feel the same way he did: hopeless and helpless.

Or, something.

Crazy, right?

Well, maybe not.

The phone starting ringing at 7:30 this morning.

"We are just a few hours into Holy Week and I'm not going to make it," said one voice.

I think that one was the third that morning. Or, maybe it was the fourth.

"Don't worry," I said, "by Friday evening the ERs around the country will be overflowing with suicide attempts."

I might have been a bit sarcastic but that was not a joke. I wouldn't joke about something like that. That's from experience.

I can't tell you how many Good Friday evenings I've spent in the ER with a parishioner or a student or a neighbor or a colleague.

And they weren't all religious. Some weren't even Christian.

This year - 2017, this week - there is a convergence of four major holy days  - three of them the holiest, highest of high, holy days - of four of the world;s major religions.

Hanuman Mistakes the Sun for a Fruit by BSP Pratinidhi
"Hanuman Jayanti" is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman Ji, the monkey God. He is the symbol of strength and energy. Hanuman is worshiped for his unyielding devotion to Rama and is remembered for his selfless dedication to the God. He is widely believed to be immortal.

Passover has begun for the Jews - the time they observe the history of their people when God saved them from the plagues in Egypt and set them free from centuries of bondage.

For Western and Orthodox Christians, this is Holy Week - the time we observe the history of the Passion of Jesus who set us free from the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law and win for us Life Eternal.

It's also the time of Pink Moon Rising, so named by Native Americans because it heralds the appearance of the moss pink or wild ground phlox - one of the first spring flowers. It is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon.

"Pink Moon" is the opening track from Nick Drake's 1972 album of the same name. It perfectly captures - well, for me, anyway - the tone and tenor of this time.
"Saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink Moon gonna get ye all
And it's a pink moon."
Nick Drake was an English born singer-songwriter, noted for his soulful guitar ballads. By the time Drake wrote this song, he was deep in the throes of his life-long battle with depression. He died two years later, in 1974, from an overdoes of antidepressants. He was 26 years old.

The power of the song for me is that, even in the midst of the deepest part of his depression, Drake could see the power of the undercurrent of life - the cycle of dying and death and rebirth.

There is no doubt in my mind that this week there is a powerful psychic-spiritual undercurrent which has been set loose in the cosmos.

Few of us will be left untouched by it.

You don't have to suffer a major depression to experience it.

You don't have to practice a particular religion to feel it.

You don't have to go to Temple or Church or Mosque and read a Holy Book to know it.

"None of you stand so tall/Pink Moon gonna get ye all".

None of us knows what stories others are carrying around in their souls, especially this week. Betrayal has a very long shelf life. So does cruelty. Violence buries itself deep in the marrow of one's bones.

And, pain? Well, a wise pastor once told me that "Pain touches pain."

Please be kind and gentle and compassionate to yourself this week, that you might be kind and gentle and compassionate to others.

You don't know what cosmic forces will tug and pull at some ancient scar deep in the crevice of the heart.

You never know what a tidal surge will wash up on the Shores of Memory.

Who is to know that which was once safely buried will be unearthed when the tectonic plates in the earth shift with the waxing and waning of the moon?

We have no idea what part of the soul which was once thought dead will be stirred back to life by the moonlight dancing on the water.

In the midst of the darkest part of the night, remember to look for new life.

The Pink Moon is on its way.

It has been promised.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Obladi Oblada

MacKenna Jane and her Mom at Hamilton
When MacKenna Jane, our eldest granddaughter, turned five, we convinced her parents to let us take her to New York City as part of her birthday celebration.

Convinced? Is that what I said? We pleaded. We begged. We cajoled. We promised.

Her mother was nervous. Her father was near apoplexy.

Nevertheless, we persisted. And, she came.

We knew just how nervous her parents were about this Very Big Trip to the Big City when we got out of Penn Station and came up the escalator onto Broadway and decided to call a cab.

"Oh no," said Mackie.

"What?" we said.

"Look at all the yellow cabs," she said.

"Yes, honey," we said, "Is there a problem?"

"Well, yes . . . Nana," she said, trying to mask her rising anxiety.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"Well, there are so many yellow cabs and none of any other color," she said, tears beginning to well in her eyes and catching in her throat.

"Yes, honey," I said, "taxi cabs in NYC are yellow."

"But, Daddy said that it was okay to take a cab but I just couldn't take a yellow one."

Yes, that's right. He's Irish.

Anne Hathaway's House, Stratford-upon-Avon
Tonight, ten years later, she's on a plane with her Drama Club, headed to London.

They'll tour London and take in the sights and then head over to Stratford-upon-Avon and study some Shakespeare and watch a few performances.

I sent her a text this morning (Isn't that the only way kids communicate these days?).

I told her to be sure to have some Shepherd's Pie (because I know my granddaughter and she would never order fish 'n chips).

I also recommended she order a plate of "Bubble 'n Squeak".

She simply wrote "Thank you, Nana."

As I remember her anxiety about not taking a yellow NYC cab, I wonder what she thought about my recommendations for culinary explorations while staying in UK. 

I probably should have told her not to take any yellow cabs while she's in London.

I'm thinking she might not get the joke.

And, I'm thinking that those past ten years flew by fast.

Too fast.

In three days, Willow Elizabeth turns two years old.

Her baby sister Ivy is turning the corner on four months old. 

Obladi Oblada life goes on, bra!

La la how the life goes on.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Hospice Hands.


NB: Every now and again, I'm asked by one of our extended care facilities to do "a little something" with and for the staff, especially after they have suffered a series of losses of long-term patients.  The challenge is to do "a little something" over staff break time (15-20 minutes). Today was one of those days. And, this was one of those "little somethings" I did.

What I remember most about our patient was his hands. Big hands. Gnarled hands. A man’s hands. A man who had worked with his hands all of his life. I especially remember the back of his hand which he swung at me occasionally when he didn’t want to be disturbed.

I also remember the hands of the CNAs who cared for him. I remember how they gently but firmly settled the spoon into his hands so that he might enjoy the dignity of feeding himself. That seemingly insignificant sight moved me deeply every time I saw it. It was such a kind expression of generosity and compassion: allowing as much human dignity as possible to a person whose dignity had become compromised by advanced age and infirmity.

So, I offer this little meditation on hands. Your hands. Hands that are vehicles of kindness and generosity and compassion. Hands that do the work of Divine Love. My hope is that this meditation will lead you to appreciate your hands as much as I do – and all of your patients.

MEDITATION ON HANDS.

I invite you into a space of quiet and peace, to ground yourself by noticing your contact with chair and floor, by sitting straight, by becoming aware of your breathing. 

Look at your hands. 

They've been through a lot, those hands. They have strength, scars, beauty.

I invite you to remember that it is your hands that do the work of love in the world. 

These hands may hold another's hands.

These hands may write letters to teachers about a child’s illness, sign permission slips and report card notices, sign legal forms, type emails to politicians, mail cards of consolation at grief and congratulation at success.

These hands may patiently teach, or quilt, knit, crochet or sew works of warmth and beauty or write words urging reconciliation and peace.

These hands may bathe children, feed elders, nurse the ill, work the earth, organize communities.

These hands clasp in prayer, open in release, grasp in solidarity, hold up and guard in self defense, proclaim compliance and vulnerability, clench in righteous anger.

These hands are God's hands, your hands, our hands; a great mystery of flesh and intention, a great potential of embodied love. 

God's work of touching and caring, healing and hope happen through your hands.

Now, press your hands lightly together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. Turn to the person on your right, bow your head slightly and say, "Namaste"

Now, turn to the person on your left, bow your head slightly and say, "Namaste."

Amen.