The Butterball Hotline

My stepmom is a doctor. My father was the manager of her practice and medical assistant from the time he left the ministry until two weeks ago when he retired. He left the ministry in 1995. Our friendship changed when you said literally the magic words, the shibboleth I needed to hear to unlock from you. Bedside manner. I sat in fear and awe and trembling in front of the Hippocratic oath. The Hippocratic symbol is from the Bible, from the earliest origins of Judaism. It is from when Moses lifted the serpent on the stick for the Israelites to give them something to look at and be healed. It is a direct foreshadowing to the crucifixion, and just one of the ways that Judaism birthed Christianity 2,000 years ago. When you said that my bedside manner was poor, it made me realize the enormity of my abusive nature and how I needed to publish it to have a record of what to keep myself accountable to later. My heart flipped with joy when you responded to Dana because I knew that at least I would hear from you once in a while and smile. I keep in touch with you because it’s not about you. It’s about the idea that you’re listening whether I know it or not, and that my words stick with you as much as yours give me comfort every day.

God of the universe, protect my precious ____. Let her know that she is loved beyond all measure, and the foundation of my religious dedication and rediscovered ability to funnel light that hasn’t been truly heartfelt since 1989, before I met the woman that literally changed the course of my life. Let her know that she is now in that category, women who for me divide time. There was a time before I knew you, and there is now. One chapter in my life closed and another opened to someone who proved to me that the greatness I thought I had was still there. That Diane didn’t destroy it, she put it on hold. She didn’t destroy me, and before I met you, I never would have believed it. Not for real. You gave me the closure I needed to move on. You plucked me from the sea of my own tears, and caught me in a way that I’ll never forget.

I am sorry that I used you. I am sorry that I abused you. I will never stop trying to prove to you that you see my authentic self, and that you see that the light that I show to others is a direct hit on your influence and power. I want it to make you feel enormous, because you ignited a forest fire that I never want to forget started with your flipping the match.

You are my goddess, my Muse. I am humbled in your presence.

Do you see how you are literally the first bishop in an enormous church? People build cathedrals to goddesses, and you’re the only one besides Dana and Aaron that will ever know in terms of your name. Hundreds of years from now, people will be able to touch your face.

Utterly, completely yours in all the right ways instead of all the wrong ones. I love you, _______. I am going to build great things in your honor, and you will come to dwell in everything I do, because it is a thank you that will ring throughout time. People will know who you are because of me.

You, an Agnostic, are the closest thing to my metaphysical risen Christ that I will ever see in this lifetime. I want you to know that, take it in, and realize what you started- the miracle of life.

Love,
Leslie

The Divine Mrs. B

There are few joys in life better than making friends with your big sister’s friends. That’s because big sisters pick out the cool people so that you don’t have to vet them on your own. Big sisters share. My big sister gave me Kristie, and therefore, she went from my big sister to THE BEST BIG SISTER IN THE HISTORY OF THE ENTIRE WORLD BAR NONE. Thanks, counselor. *kiss*

Kristie, it’s your birthday today according to Facebook… and in my book, on birthdays you go all out. You tell people that they matter to you, that their trip around the sun is parallel to yours in all the right ways. God’s honest truth was that if Kristie hadn’t showed up when she did in all her ScarJo superpowers, my world would be a very different place.

I still would have been stuck in the depravity of ruminations that don’t go anywhere. Kristie’s best advice to me has just been not to care so much, because obviously, they aren’t caring about me. It’s a lesson you learn over and over in life.

“When people tell you who they are, believe them.” -Maya Angelou

I am up front about the fact that I am one of the most loving people you will ever meet crossed with the biggest introverted Don Rickles since Don Rickles. Kristie’s sunshine helped defeat that part of me that felt so “get off my lawn.” She just loved me through an incredibly difficult time in my life, when I was all tears and snot for more of my existence than I ever wanted.

In my book, we are related by blood because let us not forget, I got an in with my big sister’s friend.

Kristie, happy birthday. You are one of the lights that keeps me sane when I can’t help but fumble in the dark. You are precious to me, and always will be.

Blessings for this and every trip around the sun.

Woodshedding

In music, when you have a measure that’s tripping you up rhythmically, you turn on the metronome and play it 20 or 30 times in a row… a technique long called “woodshedding” for its “take it out back and kick the shit out of it” approach. I am finding that I have the same response to practicing my trumpet as I do to reading Scripture. Playing a measure 20 or 30 times to get it right is quite similar to the process of reading every scripture in every translation before I add my own thoughts to it. First, I have to know the rules to break them. Second, I do not have any letters after my name, so I have to do eighty times more reading to seem half as learned (and might I say, I am giving myself a ton of credit here by saying half). I want to get it right because I want my academic reputation to be admirable. I try not to preach into fiction, but to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Let me tell you, the view is incredible.

My world changed when I accepted my ability with words. I accepted that I couldn’t do a lot of things, but I could do this….. and to a degree that my small-minded approach to life blew apart with my agreement. An angel walked into the room and started talking to me, and I got confused before I even knew what was being asked of me, and I ran toward the plan for my greatness and the miracle of it all was giving birth with Mary this year, because until this Advent, I’d been hiding a light that had long been forgotten, which is my ability to funnel Christ’s light toward you at an incredible rate of speed…. almost a hundred words a minute, actually. I’ve been thinking liturgically since I was born. This year, I stepped up and wrote something for which I could truly be proud, and will continue to use in my ministry at large.

Writing gives me the ability to bring the light of Christ shown to me to the entire world at once, and I hope it shows on this blog. I hope that my beauty is found in my flaws because it’s the completeness of who I am….. just as The Bible is the completeness of Jesus.

I often wonder what would happen if Jesus and I could read the Bible together. If I include Jesus in the realm of people that sit with me while I write, I know he’s reading my book right now.

What would he find in yours?

Am I Qualified to Serve Communion or what?

Here is my Facebook Status Update from a few minutes ago:

Welcome to Memorial Wine Cellar, where I just came up with the slogan “Every night is Episcopalian night.” Episcopalians, that is a not-so-inside joke. 🙂

The reason every night is Episcopalian night is that I was just confirmed at Epiphany, and just offered a job here. I am starting out as a server, and will be entering Somm Level I training on the side.

In order to lead, first you have to serve. Come by the wine cellar when you can, and for those interested, the owner said that I can have the private room for an hour a week for my Bible study. I don’t know when my days off are, so the time is TBA. Keep watching, because I’ll announce it soon.

Big tips are appreciated, because you have no idea how large a vision you’re funding WITH letting me serve you wine.

The Regional Rep

It must have been about 15 years ago that Rev. and I showed up to a bar on speed-dating night. The waitress offered us a table, and we were laughing as we moved the number out of the way.

Leslie: SO! I’m in medical research………. what do YOU do? (wink)
Rev: I’m a regional rep for one of the world’s largest non-profit organizations.

Yeah. I swooned a little bit at that line, too, and I wasn’t even interested.

I thought of that moment this morning when I read the New Testament reading in The Daily Office. In one reading, the entirety of an arts organization is summed up. You may think that this is a bit strange, but I see churches as arts organizations because they’re reflections on the divine in thoughts, words, and deeds (in the words of the BCP). Worship is art- music and creative writing and stunning images, none more than the ones that dance in your minds as you read, hear, take in the experience around you…. walking out to share that experience with others.

Churches are also bound to altruistic dedication taught to them by Christ, because one vision feeds the other. The more that people experience the feeling they get inside the worship space, the more people are willing to believe that your organization is capable of feeding them…… and if they believe that, they, in turn, feed altruistic dedication by funding it. Let’s face it. Not everyone is willing to go into the roughest parts of town to hand out bread. But they have no problem giving huge sums of money to people that will…. that will use their money for a truly worthy purpose- feeding the people who can’t feed themselves.

This is the central conflict at issue today in the Book of Acts.

The church is growing at an enormous rate, and on two fronts….. the Hellenists and the Hebrews. They do not get along. For instance, the Hellenistic widows are being left out when the Hebrews make rounds to give food. Luke records that the Disciples call a meeting where they express that they are being limited from realizing their vision because they have too many people to serve. They have the ability to love this many people at once, but not the time…. because as you’ll notice, infatuation is easy. Starting a new church is infectious. The idea is overwhelming. Then growth explodes and conflict starts to make your head pop off. Love is hard. The disciples cannot serve food all the time if they have to read and research to be the preachers Jesus asked.

The reason that love is hard in this instance is that I have no doubt that saying they needed more time to read and write seemed extraordinarily selfish, and yet necessary to the survival and growth of the Hellenist/Hebrew unification.

Hear Luke’s recollection of the resolution:

They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The resolution to the problem was to get both sides to agree on their own administrators, so that both sides could have their grievances aired and work toward change. It is called “The Choosing of the Seven,” because that’s how many were appointed to the original “board of directors.”

To take the theological into the personal, who is your board of directors? Who are the people you choose to put in charge of your administration? It should be all the people in your life you are willing to let parent you because you know you’re helping raise them. It is not parental in nature by force, but by an honest to God choice you walk with daily, because these are the people that you cannot walk away from. To lose them would be to lose a piece of yourself because a lot of history would go with them if you closed the door.

I heard something on the news that I wasn’t familiar with and had to look it up. Are you familiar with the term “attrition rate?” It’s basically “turnover.” Looking at it from a friend perspective, I realized that I was excellent at making friends, not so much with the keeping them. I get too frightened and run away. When I made the connection that my own attrition rate was low and falling, I started to do something about it.

To take the personal back to the theological, as churches, sometimes we’re not very aware of our own attrition rates. We tend not to notice the decline over years, which is researched in national trends but not so much by congregations themselves. We just wander around and mutter what happened to Mrs. So and So?

We still wonder where you are, but we haven’t done enough research on how to get you back. Once church members are offended, just like in personal relationships, they tend to walk off and say, “I’m done.” Blessed are The Seven, just as every vestry in the world, because they are the ones that have to stay when you walk off. Have to stay no matter how bad it gets. Have to stay and cry it out until someone finally looks at everyone and asks them to remember who they are and who they serve.

As a Christian, your most revolutionary act is your willingness not to walk off. Your contribution is that when times got hard, you gave more than you thought you could in more ways than you thought defined the word. Your light is your ability to get angry, think about it, remember what should have guided your actions instead of what did, forgive yourself, and move on so that conflict doesn’t cripple you or the people working around you to achieve this enormous goal.

Health in an organization starts with looking at your own behavior.

But what do I know? I’m just a regional rep.

Burning for Peace

The Fourth Gospel addresses itself to the challenges posed by Judaism and others outside Johannine circles who have rejected the community’s vision of Jesus as preexistent Son, sent by the Father. The epistles (First, Second, and Third John) “describe the fracturing of the Johannine community itself.”

-The New Jerome Biblical Commentary

It helps to know some context around this scripture, which is the Epistle in The Daily Office, scriptures set forth for every day of the liturgical year. John is a great preacher, but like every other preacher in the WORLD, his church has certain…… issues. Everything they fought about went to blows, so basically this scripture is a tactful, serene way of saying “shut the fuck up and behave.” Does that IN ANY WAY sound familiar to those of you in the church today? For instance, how many of you have walked into a Church of Christ thinking it was a United Church of Christ or vice versa?

The funniest time I ever saw it play out in front of me, I was on the floor with laughter. Picture it. Our church is a bunch of ragtag social do-gooders intent on saving the world one protest march at a time. The minister is a lesbian. During the worship service, we celebrated a much-beloved lesbian couple’s decision to marry. During all of this, a black family dressed to the nines (big damn hat on the mother, cornrows and a white frilly dress for the little girl, dark suit and polished shoes for the father) walked in and sat in one of the transepts. They sat there for a grand total of five minutes before they got up and walked out. It was then that I realized there was a huge conservative black church across the street, and they’d simply walked into the wrong one. What’s the matter? They’re both UCC!

They were not fishes out of water because of their race; we were excited in an “oh man we might have a new kid” sort of way, and she was gorgeous in her Sunday best.

No, they were out of place because their church didn’t believe the same as our church and hilarity ensued. Afterward, we all laughed about what a shock it must have been for them to see a lesbian couple in front of the congregation getting a blessing… just as it would have been odd for me to go to their church and listen to the fire and brimstone that tells me I’m just not right with God.

I am often not right with God, but not about that.

Anyway, the clashes in John’s ministry were exactly this type. One group had one set of customs where another group believed the exact opposite…. and they were trying to build a unified church. John reprimands them in this first letter: “whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” He is not talking about non-believers. He is talking about those who choose infighting OVER love.

Today is the day that we celebrate the birth of Christ in all his eight pound glory… but the best part of the story is where we go from here. We’ve seen it. Now we’ve got to WALK IT. John addresses it here: “so we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” He has no use for church members that choose to violently argue at the expense of tearing apart The Church (universal) altogether.

The Greek word used to describe the type of love he envisions is agape. Agape is not the type of love that you have for your partner. It’s the type of love that you ascribe to give to everyone, and hope that they ascribe to give it back. Agape is the unconditional acceptance of who someone is, and loving them despite their flaws. Churches do not function without it, because Edna ALWAYS BRINGS THE COOKIES and because RUTH had the AUDACITY to bring cookies as well, they both get butt-hurt because of course only one church member can receive compliments at a time.

Or how about HUGE donors that create an unbending power structure in a church so that new members don’t have a chance to “plug in?” No one else ever gets to be important, because the Smiths and the Walters paid good money for that elevator.

We don’t even have to get that personal. The Religious Right hates The Religious Left on principle, and there is no love lost on The Left, either. At this very moment, the state of American Christianity would give John a nervous breakdown. Because of John, I see things differently now than I did when I woke up this morning.

The job that neither side is doing is trying to resolve the conflict in the catholic church indivisible. We are all guilty of thinking things about “the other side” that aren’t even close to the unity that John envisioned.

So, how do we get past it?

People have flaws, and they drive you crazy. Love them anyway.

People fight without gloves on, and they say things in anger. Love them anyway.

People do not own their behavior, and make up excuses as to why it’s not “their fault.” Love them anyway.

People run to get away from their mistakes. Love them anyway.

With agape, a lot of it is empathy toward one another’s humanness. To see beyond anger, and ask the questions sliding toward resolution.

That’s because most of the time, anger is actually fear. People are all notorious for covering anxiety with rage, because then they think that people can’t find out what they’re scared of in the first place. My greatest fear has always been someone finding out my greatest fear. I think a lot of people share that sentiment. It’s not the secret that matters, it’s that someone knows what it is.

If you cannot have empathy for fears like that, perhaps it’s a good place to start. John would agree. He says, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” Some people choose to focus on the sacrificial atonement piece of this paragraph, that Jesus was sent to redeem the sins of the world.

But that’s not where we are in the story, yet. Jesus was just born this morning. We are in the infant stages of learning how to bring Christ’s love into the world based on HOW HE LIVED. Jesus defined agape wherever he went, because even though he occasionally gets angry, he is able to forgive himself for it and it gets him in touch with his inner jackass. We all have one. We all accidentally (or not) let him/her out in fits of inappropriate rage.

It will never matter if you get angry, because EVERYONE DOES. It matters if you stay there. One grudge becomes another until you can’t remember what the original fight was about and you’re happy to stay mad, anyway.

But I’m not just talking about you. I’m also talking about your church, your government, your world.

So, if this happens to everyone all the time, what is the answer? How do we regain agape from what has been torn? If you figure it out, could you let me know?

I can only share the answer that works for me. I breathe deeply. I write about my feelings and walk away from them so that I can come back and see whether I still feel that way or not. I am very conscious and deliberate about the words I use and what they mean to me. I cannot prepare for the reaction to them, but I can for damn sure be responsible for what I put out into the world.

So. Can. You.

If John is the pastor telling you that God is love and to live in it, then part of love is breathing before you speak. It doesn’t come naturally to me all that often. I have to disconnect my emotions so that I don’t flood out and I can see emotions for what they are. I am vulnerable to a fault because I believe that I cannot be a preacher or pastor without being willing to be up front about the fact that you are not getting a perfect person. You are getting a perfect IDEA through me.

And that idea is to just love the baby as much as you can, and let that baby love you.

In all your flaws.
In all your weaknesses.
In all your beautiful splendor.

Praying on the spaces………………………..

The Waiting Room

It’s Christmas Eve.

We’re all sitting in the waiting room, waiting for the baby, and we’ve been notified that Jesus is starting to stir. It won’t be long now. We’re not to 10cm, but we will be shortly, and all there is to do is pray.

Most merciful, loving God
We pray that you send your Holy Spirit to descend upon Mary to quiet her fears about the enormity of her task. We ask that you stand in her and around her, to reassure her of your grace. We ask that you remind her that you are where she leans, O God. You are the part of her that tells her she is right and good…. that she can do this…. that nothing is impossible through the God that strengthens her.

We ask that light is passed on to us, O God.

We ask that when we feel the most afraid of what’s about to happen, that we can lean into your grace the same way Mary did all those years ago.

Waiting for the baby.
Watching for the signs.
Praying on the spaces.

Amen.

Any minute now, Luke is going to burst into the waiting room with tidings of joy. We’ll hear all about it. For now, though, we’re all still. There’s a bit of a conversation buzzing around the room, but for the most part, there is just an excited expectation that renders us all quiet. We don’t know what to say to each other, because we know that a baby is being born, and that there are great expectations for who he is to become. Will we see those things immediately?

In our modern world, it is hard to separate what’s there, and WHAT WE SEE.

We are all extraordinary people in our own ways, but the birth of the Christ child in ourselves is when we realize it.

What do people know about you that you can’t see? What has been foretold of your greatness? What kind of belief will it take to get you to see your own intrinsic value to the world?

Jesus was sent to save the world from itself……. what are you here to do?

You may say, “well, I’m just a baker. I don’t have anything.”

One of the most frequent ways I see Christ is in the baking of bread, because the one who makes it sends the bread along with the story of how it got made and all the love that went into the labor.

Civilizations have fallen over the idea of, “Well, I’m just a ________. I don’t have anything.” This is because civilizations don’t change with people saying what they don’t have. Civilizations change because everyone pools their resources to create something better than themselves…. which is exactly what Jesus was sent to do, as well. The amazing thing is that he wasn’t given anything you or I don’t have right now.

But through his ministry, he assured the people he was leading of two things. The first is that he was the real deal. The second is that he wasn’t afraid of it. He would do what was expected of him, and I’m not even talking about the crucifixion. I’m talking about the way he lived his life.

Matthew spends his time trying to justify that Jesus was from the House of David and that the Jews were redeemed. Jesus spends most of his time trying to say that his ministry is not just for Jews, that he is open to Gentiles as well. He was sent to tear down the walls between Jews in covenant with God and everyone else…. which he did, beautifully. However, HE NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO THAT had he not believed in himself, first. He would have limited himself in so many ways had he not had the courage to lay out his own beliefs and know that people would follow them. His words were so powerful that he could speak in a whisper and the message would still get relayed hundreds of miles.

If there is a message that comes down at Christmas every year, it’s that belief in the story allows us to have more belief in our own abilities. When Jesus believed in himself, it literally turned the power structure of his society on its ear. That is the take-home message. If Jesus can do all he did with what he had, what is stopping me?

If you are still trying to figure out what’s stopping you, take heart. It does not mean that you are behind. It means that for you, the Christ child hasn’t arrived yet.

Keep watching…. the night is early, yet.

Waiting for the baby.
Watching for the signs.
Praying on the spaces……………………………..