Sermon for Proper 28, Year A: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

In 1983, a developmental psychologist named Howard Gardener published a scholarly article posing that there are nine different types of identifiable intelligence:

  • Naturalist
  • Musical
  • Logical/Mathematical
  • Existential
  • Interpersonal
  • Body/Kinesthetic
  • Linguistic
  • Intrapersonal
  • Spatial

Therefore, it would be inadvisable to hire someone who is linguistically brilliant as an accountant if they do not also possess that talent.

Talent. Where have we heard that word in the Gospel before?

If you are a churchgoing person, you’ll probably already know that Jesus told a parable about a master who entrusted his slaves with different amounts of talents. To one he gave one, to the second he gave two, and to the third he gave five.

Let us first clear up the idea of slavery before we go any further. In those days, even doctors were considered servants while citizens of Rome lived lives of opulent indolence. In order to talk about this parable, I do not want you to relate the use of the word slavery as equivalent to how black people are treated in the United States from 1776 to the present. That is another sermon entirely, and one that I will preach, just not today.

It says in the Gospel that the master entrusted this property to them, the message being to go and multiply. Two of them did. The third, the one that was only given one talent, buried it in the ground so that it would not change… and in his mind, this represented safety- it was better to hide the money than to risk losing it all.

Indeed, a talent was a representation of money, although a weight more than a value. For instance, the weight of the silver is what revealed it. The value of even one talent was more money than a servant would see in his or her lifetime.

However, this parable is only about money when taken at face value. You can argue that the pericope is all about investment, and how that investment can be directly correlated to believing in yourself or not… whether you are willing to take the risk of showing your light to the world, or hiding it under a bushel………. and if that’s all you take away from this sermon, it’s a good place to start. It is no less valid than other interpretations.

I just don’t think that’s what Jesus was getting at- as always, his message was much more subversive than that. His story was not about money, but the powers that be.

The servant who was given one talent represents the Pharisees and other orthodox Jews who wanted nothing to change about the law. Bury it in the ground, leave it alone, don’t touch it. It will stagnate, but it will not disappear, either. It is the epitome of the saying, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

If there is no risk, there is no reward, either. For this servant, risk was too scary to contemplate, a feeling that I believe is universal. How many of us are afraid to change our lives, even when the lives we lead no longer serve us? How much greater would we be as individuals, and thus, a community, if we reached out for more?

For the servants that were given two and five talents, they were richly rewarded when they dared to invest. This is a direct tie-in to the start of the new church, one without focus on the law and emphasis on grace, mercy, forgiveness, and most of all, becoming a servant yourself. Humility is the hallmark of the new church, because Jesus was always dedicated to the idea of soft power, that you can more effectively lead from the back. In writer’s language, show, don’t tell.

It would take more courage than a lot of people had to create civil disobedience to the Sanhedrin, or for members of it, to try and change from within. The battle would be arduous and…….. unpleasant. It would take all types of intelligence to overthrow years of history in which the law was more important, in a lot of ways, than God.

This is why I believe there are three servants in the parable to begin with. Not all of us are given the same types of intelligence, and we all use them in different ways.

If you are a person who thinks, I’m not smart enough to take risks, remember that there is no such thing. You just haven’t identified the types of intelligence that you possess.

If there is anything that this parable tells us above all else, it is that you are only punishing yourself with your inability to try. Action begets inertia, so the more you invest, the more work you are capable of doing.

For the early Christians, it was leaving behind the people in their lives who adhered to the letter of the law and would not take the risk of trying something new.

What will it be for you?

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

 

 

Free Beer!

Really?

No, not really. But I got you to click on the link, amiright?

In reality, today is just another day in the life of a writer. The sky is grey, the light is fading, and I need to go to the pharmacy and I just can’t bring myself to leave the house. Two reasons- the first is that everything takes longer when you’re sad. You move under the weight of the world. The second is that the weather does not lend itself to wanting to go anywhere.

I have an appointment for platelet donation tomorrow, so I figure I’ll just get to the Metro station early and walk across to the pharmacy and, of course, Starbucks. I took a Tylenol PM™ last night, which is code for “I slept longer than I wanted to today.” Therefore, I don’t actually need another Lexapro until about noon. I will arrive at the pharmacy no later than 9:30, because if I don’t take it before it’s due, bad things will happen.

It is a common experience with this medication that I watch for meticulously. Withdrawal makes my entire brain vibrate to a minor second, kind of like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. I also get chills & shake uncontrollably while sweating and crying. It is very attractive. I can fight it off with Klonopin, ibuprofen, and an amazing amount of coffee… but it is a stopgap measure and only helps so much. The bitch of it is that withdrawal is almost instantaneous. The clock starts ticking with every minute I don’t take it as soon as I need it.

The last time this happened, I was at work and had to fight through it until lunch, because thankfully, there was a CVS within two minutes of my office and I got my prescription transferred. I can honestly say that those four hours were among the worst of my life, because I had important projects in the air and all I wanted to do was crawl under my desk into the fetal position. I started carrying an entire day’s worth of medication on my key chain after that, but #dumbassattack, I left my keys in my car and they are lost to history. I should have bought a new pill carrier by now, but if you know me at all, I can procrastinate on just about anything if no one else is expecting it to be on deadline.

Additionally, you cannot take any NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium…. Non-steroidal anti-inflammation drugs) for two to three days depending on state law before you go for apheresis. [Editor’s Note: I prefer ibuprofen to naproxen sodium because you can take a fresh dose more often.] I also can’t drink too much coffee, either, because I don’t want to be dehydrated. It makes the process much slower.

So, basically, if I don’t get to the pharmacy tomorrow morning, I will be up shit creek without a paddle. #motivation

The crying comes because I’m in pain, and because withdrawal makes me incredibly weepy. Most of the time, if I can’t remember whether I’ve taken my psych meds that day, I’ll watch a sad/touching commercial and if I cannot hold it together, there’s my answer. For instance, the commercial in the link is basically everything I didn’t tell my mom enough.

Jesus’ message of walking in the light while you have it destroys me now. He’s basically telling the Disciples that they’re going to be on their own very soon, and they need to listen closely to his teachings because he’s not always going to be around to answer questions.

And, just like me, the Disciples took that message for granted and basically the Book of Acts is that end of the rope and it’s fraying and we’re barely holding it together prayer…. shit, God. They’re grieving and trying to remember every conversation, every parable, every direction.

They muddle through, walking with the weight of the world, for they were not the smartest guys in the room…. just the most dedicated.

I could say the same. Most days, my life is just one White Stripes’ song on repeat…. I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself. I didn’t walk with the light while I had it, and I greatly underestimated/took for granted the messages that were being imparted. Now I am just fumbling in the dark, big dreams- so big I can live in them, with no concrete staircase upward. I have always been a big picture person, able to synthesize ideas quickly and summarize. I am not so good in the weeds…. I have no idea how to get there from here, and the thought is overwhelming to an enormous degree. Other people have gone to college and grad school. It can’t be that hard. I mean, it is. I just mean the steps to get in before any course work has started.

I have run around in circles for almost 20 years. It started with promising my then-partner that I’d get her through her senior year of college, if, when we moved, she’d get me through mine. Two things happened after that. The first is that we could not afford to live on one income while I was a student. DC was just out of our price range for that. The second is that within a year and change of the move, she left me, and took her part of the bargain with her.

My parents paid for some of school, but once I was on my own, I was on my own. Therefore, it’s been a neverending tail-chase as I get a job to get money to pay for school and then either can’t save up enough to quit or can’t manage a full-time job and school. It seems lame to say that out loud, because people do it all the time. Being single, it might be more achievable because I have no family commitments and few social engagements/distractions. Being there for everyone else has cost me taking care of myself. But the last time I was in school and working, I was living in southwest Houston, working in Sugar Land, and going to school at the main campus at UH. School at UH only lasts until 9:00. There were two class times that “fit my schedule-” 5:30 to 7:00 and 7:30-9:00. My job ended at 5:00. With the commute, I rarely, if ever, made it to my 5:30 class- and not for lack of trying. I passed by the skin of my teeth by watching all the lectures online, but since I got a D, I don’t think those hours will transfer to another school. I could stay at UH via distance education, but there’s something about showing up to class. It may be a better option to stay at UH, anyway, because I might have to add extra classes to get the hours needed in residence to graduate. But all these thoughts are for naught right now, because I need a way to pay for tuition, first.

I really thought that my mother would leave Lindsay and me some money in her will, but she didn’t. This is not a slam against her in any way, because that’s how wills are  normally done- everything goes to the spouse. I thought the one good thing  that might come out of my mother dying was allowing myself to finish my education, but that is not to be. So it’s back to the drawing board, easy because I never counted on that money in the first place, because I never expected my mother to die so young. In short, I’ve got what I’ve always had- a conundrum.

The thing that’s different this time around is that I am a fiend about saving money. Even when I make a lot, I live on nothing. I saved up $4,000 in less than a year during 2016. I’ll do it again, so that worry is taken off my shoulders. It would be damned convenient to still have that money, but I was so destroyed by my mother’s death that I couldn’t think about going to work right away. My mind was never in the present, lost in the past. I would spend entire days doing tasks, seeing them done and having no memory of how they got that way.

My biggest mistake was underestimating how long it would take me to find a new job, because it takes longer to find those companies that will take 20 years of work experience over a newly minted degree. Plus, with no work experience and just a degree, employees are cheaper, and labor dollars matter.

I am also starting to believe that because my resume is full, employers have some idea of how old I am, and that isn’t attractive to them, either. I could be totally wrong about this, but 40 is just the age where not being 25 matters. What doesn’t is that I take care of myself, and in terms of energy, I still feel 25. When I dye my hair, I barely pass for 18/21, because I get carded ALL THE TIME, even when buying cigarettes. I don’t smoke, but my roommates used to, and when I was the one that would run into the convenience store to buy everything for everyone, I’d get so flattered. One clerk thought I had a fake ID. What doesn’t feel young about me are cultural references and my sometimes internal monologue of “they’re so young I’m not even sure how they manage to tie their shoes in the morning.” I also don’t want to do anything fun with young people after work, or at least, not often, because I can’t party like that anymore. Right now my average is two alcoholic drinks a month, which means my tolerance is through the floor. I can’t “hang” and make it to work in the morning.

It’s nice to have the built-in excuse of, “I’m sorry, I have to get to class,” or “I’m sorry, I have to go and write.” It seems that going for a run is also an acceptable excuse, but you wouldn’t catch me running unless there’s an ice cream truck involved…….

or free beer.

Train-ing

Because I am dealing with an enormous amount of grief, I try to look for simple things that become huge because my expectations are low. I suppose that’s one of the things the death of a parent changes about you. Generally, nothing can get any worse, so it takes very little to make things better. One of the things that always gets me is the train. Someone else is in charge.

I can just sit there and listen to music, or podcasts, or read my current favorite book (I don’t have a favorite book, just the next one, always hungry). It is comforting not to worry about pissing off other drivers, or other drivers running into me, or any number of things that could go wrong when I have control… or think I do.

There are also times I just stare out the window, writing in my head. I can’t do that while I’m driving because I get too distracted to think about what is happening around me. I think so hard I go deaf.

I think about Hannah, my niece, still in the hospital but out of PICU. I think about my mom and what she might have become since she’d just retired about six months before she died. I think about how much it hurts me to know she was only retired long enough to get bored, but not long enough to think about fixing it… not because she wasn’t creative enough to get a new life together. She took a couple of vacations and was then confined to her house with a broken foot. I suggested that when she got better, maybe she should think about yoga, or any number of classes just to get out of the house and see what she liked.

She did not get better.

The broken leg beget an embolism, which beget a full day of picking out a casket, a grave site, and trying like hell to hold it together. No one expected me to, I just did it. I am not okay with breaking down in public. It scares me to be that vulnerable. I used to be. Now I’m not. As I’ve gotten older, the anxiety outweighs the comfort of people seeing that I’m upset and responding. I don’t want you to respond. I want to be left alone. Right up until I don’t.

As painful as it was to divorce Dana before my mother died, I am somewhat glad she wasn’t there through the process. She was the first person I called, the only one I wanted in those first few moments. As time progressed and I became internally angry at my friends who still had mothers, I wouldn’t have wanted to be jealous and emotionally crispy with her, because it wasn’t a passing thing. It was constant. She would not have had a frame of reference for my pain, and I wouldn’t have had the words to explain it.

Though I later treasured these words because of how True™ they were, I even got irrationally angry at an e-mail that said, my mother is still alive, but her death will bring me to my knees. Over time, they became a mantra, because I wasn’t expected to have it together. It was supposed to hurt. But in the exact moment that I read it, I popped off and thought, well, lucky for me I’m dealing with it and not you. By the grace of God I did not say it out loud on my usual “think it, say it” plan. Time had a way of softening that first reaction, and those words run through my mind often, because she got it. She didn’t have to experience it firsthand to know how much I was hurt, and would continue to struggle my entire life. The fight uphill changes, but it does not leave, not ever.

If I am so lucky as to live another 30-40 years, even those birthdays will still be bittersweet. Even though having a birthday is a happy thing, the traditions that my mom started for me will not be there. Just because that much time will have passed does not mean I’ve forgotten anything.

There are moments I forget, though, because since my mom wasn’t a part of my daily life for most of my adulthood it is very easy for me to pick up the phone to call her. With the phone in my hand, the crippling realization will often bring me to my own knees. The jigsaw puzzle that is my mind is permanently missing a piece, like it was shoved under the couch three houses ago, but the box is still on the shelf. You can’t throw away a puzzle you’ve been working on that long even if there’s always going to be a hole in it.

In retrospect, I should have sold my car when my mother died, because I did not realize that I would not be a capable driver for a long time to come. Studies have shown that distracted driving is sometimes worse than having a few drinks. Although I couldn’t have blamed my accident on distracted driving that day, I often non-maliciously cut people off or had a near miss because I just didn’t see them…. and if I’d had a wreck with actual people, my mother’s death would have just been seen as an excuse if their parents were still alive, because they would not have known what a permanent daze it causes, and how you don’t even realize it at the time. I liken it to breaking a bone and being more likely to break another one because you’re off-kilter. You don’t realize your capacity for extra disaster, but it happens. There’s no way to avoid being clumsy on crutches.

I am thankful that I have been alone through this process, because extra disaster could have been emotional. I couldn’t hurt anyone because I wouldn’t interact…. or at least, not enough to move past small talk. I began hiding my grief, because I couldn’t stand That Look.™ If you’ve ever lost anyone close to you, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The moment the subject of your parent or parents’ death comes up, the air changes and awkward becomes onomatopoeia. People don’t know what to say, are afraid of saying the wrong thing, and without meaning to, you’ve sucked the life out of the conversation. Death is gravity’s rainbow, the verbal parabolic trajectory of a missile that launches without warning.

Me: My mom used to X.
Them: Oh, how is your mom? I haven’t seen her in ages.
Me: She died about a year ago.
Them: ………………….

And like that, the whistle with Doppler effect begins.

There’s just no way around it. You can’t just say she’s fine and move on for avoidance, because first of all, it’s a lie, and second of all, I don’t want to have to deal with why didn’t you tell me?

Because I wanted to keep having a normal conversation is not a valid answer. For me, the answer has been in avoiding all conversation. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are verbal processors, and I can’t say that I’m not…. but it’s a different kind of thing to process in writing without expecting or necessarily wanting a response. I only have to keep up my end of the conversation, and I’ve been good company so far.

Or at least, that’s what I tell myself as I see the train arriving.

The Sitrep

Hannah is very sick. She went into the hospital with bronchitis,hannah_solo and was admitted to the PICU almost immediately. The doctors now think she has a bacterial infection in addition, so we’re all sending our best thoughts her way. If you have an extra minute, could you send her some love? I know she’ll get it. Love doesn’t even have to have a postmark…. it just wings its way there. Though she’s having a rough day today, her doctors are fantastic and her prognosis is that she’ll be out of PICU by Tuesday or so. But as every parent and worried aunt knows, outlook means nothing until it actually occurs.

She looks so tiny hooked up to all those machines, but having held her in my arms, I know she’s bigger than she seems and a total fighter. Hannah Solo, indeed. #lightsabernotincluded

I’m going about my day, but thinking about her. This has led to some very interesting events, such as accidentally putting cayenne in my oatmeal instead of pumpkin pie spice.

It’s hard to be away from my family when things like this happen, because thinking good thoughts and hoping for the best is literally all I can do from here. I just have to put my faith in both The Great Physician and in hers….. praying on the words, and the spaces in between.

#prayingonthespaces

 

The Resurrection Has Begun

Yesterday was red-letter for me, albeit a bit scary in multiple ways.

At 1:00 PM, I met with a recruiter in downtown Silver Spring face-to-face, something about which I was incredibly anxious. I felt the fear and did it, anyway. My comfort zone is Zip Recruiter, LinkedIn, and the hundreds of e-mails that come to me from recruiters in the area because my job profiles are listed as “actively looking.” I’ve gotten lots of bites this way, but as my father reminded me, my personality is usually what gets me jobs- impossible to show off over e-mail… well, not impossible, because I’m generally funny and engaging in cover letters to stand out, but the whole package is somewhat hidden.

I got lucky because the recruiter had literally gotten a call not an hour before about a job, therefore I was the first and so far, only candidate. He looked at my resume and thought I might be perfect for it, given my wide range of past experiences. He said to call him back on Monday at 11:00 AM and he’d tell me what the employer said…. but he didn’t think it would be a problem. My only issue is that it’s a contract that only lasts until August, so there are two things I need to do in response. The first is to continue my job search starting in June, and the second is to try my best to make myself invaluable so that there’s no reason for the contract to end…. possibly getting hired as a full-time employee.

The job itself is part customer service, part marketing analyst. It is responding to surveys in the Office of Government Affairs given to it by the Library of Congress, and creating new surveys after the response part is complete. Basically, the Library of Congress wants to know how it’s doing when people visit. I’m a voracious reader and writer. The Library of Congress is my jam. If I get this job, I will be over the moon. It will be a chance to showcase what I do best- talking to people and writing content for both web & print. You’d think I’d be awful at talking to people, but I am engaging and funny and not anxious at all when the conversation is for work. Anxiety about cold-calling is not an issue, because I don’t have to come up with things to say on the spot. Writing? Amazing. Off the cuff? Hit or miss (in the moment, it is often “I’m sorry, what are words again?”). Plus, working for the government I’d get more days off than everyone else. 😛

The hourly wage is more than I’ve ever made in my life, but there’s a reason for it. Because I’m not a full-time employee, I have to cover my own insurance. At that rate, I cannot continue to be on state-run programs. Now THAT irritates my anxiety. No private insurance is as good as the one I’ve got now. All my doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions are free (no-copay at all), and my medications are a dollar a bottle. Plus, Vesta does not take private insurance, so I’d have to leave both Leighton (my psychiatric nurse practitioner) and Sarah (my therapist).

I hate the thought of starting over with a new therapist, especially if I do not get a job right away after August and am back with Sarah again, having missed over eight months with her. Perhaps that will not happen, though, because this recruiting agency seems solid, and even if I have to go a couple of weeks to a month without a contract, that’s ok. I can save up enough to float me if necessary, thanks to that insane hourly wage. I have no doubt that my hourly would go down as a permanent employee, more than made up by a government benefits package. It’s exciting to think about embarking on this new path, because for over a year, I have felt dead inside.

One of the hallmarks of a parent dying is that a part of you dies, as well. The will to live life to the fullest is wrested away from you in favor of “what’s the point? They’re not there to see it.” Looking for a job is the one area of my life in which I have no problem, because applications are rote. Trying to fund my own dreams is another thing entirely. I’d like to work for myself by starting a homeless ministry, but that is the point at which I’ve felt the most ennui. My mother will not be there when I graduate from college and grad school, will not be there for my ordination ceremony, and will definitely not be there to play the piano and direct the choir while I find my own “Ed McMahon.”

Things looking up has provided me a way to start believing in myself again. This has been a garbage dump of a year, being so close to getting several jobs and then not, fighting the worthlessness of having nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Well, that’s not entirely honest. I’ve enjoyed working on myself and several different writing projects that may or may not earn money in the future. Time will tell once they are finished. I decided early on not to do NaNoWriMo this year, because it requires an entirely new idea and not a work in progress, as well as a time commitment I planned not to have. My works in progress are more important to me than trying to come up with something new. I dropped working on -frog.-, however, because the original idea was to explain the trilogy of Dana, Argo, and me in fiction…. and I just don’t have it in me to spend that much time thinking about them anymore. However, my memory is long, and maybe I’ll go back to it in five or ten years, once the grief has faded and I can look at the situation without exploding the land mines therein.

My main work in progress is a child/young adult novel called Fish Ralph, of which you can read an unedited and entirely off-the-cuff first chapter. I sent it to several middle school kids and teachers. The feedback I got encouraged me to not ask the teachers anymore. They thought it was too wordy, and something kids wouldn’t like. The kids ate it up.

Restarting that work was just one more step in raising my self esteem, especially when my sister said she was dying to hear what happened to Sarah and David Michael. One note- when you get to the part about geez, is the bike ok?,” I stole that from a story my first boyfriend, Ryan, told me about his dad. Now, his dad was just being funny. Sarah’s dad is just that clueless. Credit where credit is due.

On to the rest of my yesterday.

At 3:00, I went to donate platelets. I was pleased when I found out that my iron level had gone from 11.7 to 13.9. I passed with flying colors and they hooked me up to the machine. I wore all the winter clothes I could find, because when you’re giving platelets, your body temperature drops significantly and you cannot stop shivering. About 30 minutes before I was done, my body temperature spiked and I was so warm I had a vaso vagel reaction and almost fainted and vomited at the same time. They gave me some ice cold paper towels and orange juice, but it did not help, so they brought me a trash bag in order to try and keep me going. It didn’t help, either, so they stopped the treatment early. Because I was only 30 minutes from finishing, I don’t know if they had enough platelets to be useful, but the important thing is that I did it. It was excruciating to get ready, because you cannot take any NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug- basically anything in the aspirin category) for two days before you give, so my arthritis was extraordinarily painful despite Tylenol. Plus, it was pouring down rain, so I took an Uber pool both because I did not want to wait for 30 minutes for the bus in the rain, and because I was running a little short on time. This backfired, because two other people joined my pool and I was dropped off last, making me 45 minutes late for my appointment. You only have a 15-minute grace period, so I was lucky they took me at all. Sometimes a couple of dollars cheaper is not better.

Even though I felt like death warmed over, I pushed through to make it home on public transportation, because Uber was spiked at that hour. Even a carpool was $20. I was so out of it, though, that I added time on my commute because I completely walked past Farragut North and ended up at Farragut West. However, that’s not important. I wasn’t trying to make it to another appointment, just home. My biggest concern was not throwing up on another passenger, which I thankfully did not. By the time I reached Silver Spring station, the Uber spike had ended, so I gratefully paid the four bucks to get home. My Uber driver was new to the area and despite navigation, missed every turn. But that was okay- we were having a wonderful time talking. I wish I had gotten her number, because we could have talked for another four hours…. and what person new to the area doesn’t need friends?

We were in the same boat- she’s two years older than me and still has a year and a half left on her Bachelor’s thanks to having two kids very, very young. Now, her kids are both in college and I told her that was somewhat lucky, because as a young empty nester, she actually has the energy to work and go to school. She laughed and said, “truth.” She said her youngest just started at Howard, and I became animated- “that’s where I want to go!!!” I started talking about my dreams to finish my degree and go on to their UCC-affiliated seminary, and for the first time in a year, I felt passion about it.

It’s funny how things change. When I first got to Maryland, I wanted to go to seminary in Virginia to become an Episcopal priest, jokingly joining what they call “the Virginia Mafia.” What changed my outlook is that I did not want to use the Book of Common Prayer at every service, because I am talented at writing my own liturgy. In the Episcopal church, this is just not done. My ultimate goal is to create an Anglican-inspired service, because there are elements I love. For instance, the choir will have to be in cassocks and surplices. There are just no other options. For starters, they are WAY more comfortable than those polyester piece of crap robes. Plus, most cassocks have slits where you can reach your pockets. Invaluable to me as a singer for Kleenex and cough drops, as well as being able to pull out my phone for pictures, video, and recording the sermon…. although I don’t know how I feel about recording everything I have to say. Sometimes my sermons are brilliant and engaging. Sometimes I feel as if I am a danger to this profession…. there is no in between.

It is weird how the sermons you think are total pieces of crap you phoned in are sometimes the ones people like, and the ones you think are brilliant and engaging just don’t connect. Every Sunday is just a complete crapshoot, and pretty much every preacher alive would agree with me. I remember a story from long ago about a bishop who was asked the best thing about retirement. He said, stopping the interminable march of Sundays. It’s funny ’cause it’s true. Coming up with sermons and liturgy is not unlike the writing schedule at Saturday Night Live. Sometimes your best ideas come to you at 2:00 Sunday morning. Even better ones come to you the moment you step down from the pulpit. 😛

All I have to say in conclusion is that it’s nice to feel something again…. regaining the piece of me I thought was lost to history, feeling the resurrection coming in the middle of the mess.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

On Death and Dying

So, in my last entry, I mentioned my friend Donna Schuurman. What I did not say is that she used to be the Executive Director for The Dougy Center, a place for kids to go when someone close to them dies, such as a parent or sibling. Donna is often called in when tragedies happen all over the world, because grieving children know no national boundaries. But this story is one that has to be told, because she was preaching at Bridgeport UCC when she told it, and I laughed so hard that I thought I was going to asphyxiate. Whenever I feel really, really down about my mother dying, I remember this illustration, and I feel 100% better.

I’m not sure if she still lives in the same house, but when I lived in Portland, her next door neighbor was a five-year-old boy named Jackson. Now, Jackson had a much beloved cat that unfortunately passed away, and his mother was not sure how much, at five, Jackson knew about death. So, she told Jackson that his cat had gone to be with God.

Without missing a beat, Jackson turned to his mother and said………

Wait for it………

What would God want with a dead cat?

Shoes

I screamed at God for the starving child until I saw the starving child was God screaming at me.

-Unknown

I am getting more and more angry that responding my thoughts & prayers are with you is becoming a sarcastic joke. I live by two axioms. The first is Anne Lamott’s saying that there are really only three prayers:

  • Help
  • Thanks
  • Wow

The second is what I call “the Donna Schuurman corollary.” Now, Donna is a personal friend and I doubt you’ll find this in any of her published books…. but she says that there is one perfect, end-of-the-rope and it’s fraying prayer…. Shit, God.

I suppose that it would fall under “help,” but just doesn’t have the same impact…. but it helps. It’s the prayer I prayed when Dana and I got a divorce. It’s the prayer I prayed when Argo said, no more. It’s the prayer I prayed minute by minute, hour by hour to get through those first few days of my mother’s death…. although I will say that I found “thanks” and “wow” when I bothered to look.

I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea what happens when I pray on the other end of that connection. In the words of C.S. “Jack” Lewis, I don’t pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me. You, and only you, have to decide if it really matters whether some celestial being is listening, or whether the function of prayer is to find your own still, small voice, uninterrupted by the noise of the world. In that space, something happens. Does it matter whether it comes from an internal or an external source? I believe it does, but not enough to be rigid about it.

My philosophy 101 class was very interesting. We spent the first half proving that God exists, and the second proving that God doesn’t. Of course, I use “proof” in the geometric sense, not that there is any real evidence one way or the other. Pete Rollins, in an interview with Rob Bell, said something that’s stuck with me for over a year. He said that atheists and theists are one of the great love stories, that each needs the other…. that there is God/Not God, and the truth is in the slash…. but before I ever heard of Pete Rollins, I discovered that religion was not unlike sexuality… a spectrum in which some people stay at the poles their entire lives, and some move freely back and forth.

This is because too much happens in the world for most people to eschew doubt…. and still others in their piety are too ashamed to admit that when the shit hits the fan, they wonder where in the hell God has been, is, will be………………..

I have said it before, and I will say it again. I choose to believe that God is not the Actor. God is the Responder. Where is God as people are being gunned down in the streets, at concert venues, movie theaters, schools… or worse, in a place that has long been identified as sanctuary…. literally and figuratively. When you claim sanctuary, that is the moment that violence is supposed to stop. Because it didn’t happen to me, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have that feeling ripped away. We of the Religious Left chose to move away from Jonathan Edwards’ now famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, long ago. We do not believe in the hand of God that would drop us, but catch. So if you ask where God is, know that God is weeping with the families of the dead, and supporting the injured in their hour of need. Not only that, if you need to feel angry with God and rail at all the injustices, go right ahead. God is big enough to handle it.

I am tired of seeing “thoughts and prayers” as some people’s choice shitty retort. This is because thoughts and prayers mean two things to me:

  1. We live in a dangerous world with many injustices that will not get fixed overnight without our help. I hold space not only for my own responses, but for the worry and care of first responders. I am not fire, police, military, or diplomat. Prayer is a way to get in touch with the part of me that bleeds for the people in front of and behind the news. As an empath, I feel pain all across the world, and it needs somewhere to go. Every single person I’ve known in those dangerous fields has said not to worry- if something terrible happens, we will have died doing something we trained for because we love what we do. I have found over time that those words bring me little comfort, but my worry is not their problem. Whether or not there is a God, it brings me peace to pray for the lives of the victims and the people in charge of rescuing them and getting them to safety, or getting their bodies back to their families so that they may say a proper goodbye.
  2. Prayer is not always solitary. Once you find the center of your being, your True North, it is time to act. One of the greatest prayers I’ve ever prayed was walking downtown with thousands and thousands of women as we fought for our rights whether anyone was listening or not. I was one of the first “crazy liberals” to march like hell against the Iraq war, before the rest of the country caught up to what we were screaming. I’ve talked to homeless people in my own city, asking them what they need, rather than trying to guess. Prayer is almost nothing without shoe leather, but one has to beget the other. It is the first line of defense against pouring from an empty cup.

Prayer is holding space for the safety and security of the people you love, as well as being able to go deep and figure out what you really think. Some people call that meditation. Some people enter that space while exercising. I am not worried about the semantics, only the function.

I will never be worried about the semantics, unless you (plural) are using it as a euphemism for lazy. Like Jesus, I go into my room to pray and close the door…. but I emerge with my shoes on.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces