Monday, October 12, 2009

Preacher Mama

Well last night was extremely interesting. And so Feminary. I was assigned to preach 5 mins at our worship service we're helping run at Church of our Savior, and then lead a discussion after, St. Gregory's style. I wrote what I thought was a very nice little sermon (I'll paste it below). But I guess I was thinking too much of my writing or preaching abilities, or something, because Somebody decided to take me down a few pegs. Well not really God, actually - my daughter. I was not two seconds into the thing when she decided to have a major meltdown of Biblical proportions. She'd never done this during a service before. J tried to remove her from the room, but she was screaming so loudly that everyone could still hear her a block away. I realized I was losing them fast, and I also couldn't keep it together (I was alternating between frantically trying to think of how to rescue my sermon and wanting to crack up at how ridiculous she was being - I did actually snort once, I believe).

Anyway, round about paragraph four, when I was about to start quoting Jesus re: little children (what a fortuitous choice of text!), I said, "Excuse me" and I walked out of the church and went and got Maggie, brought her back in, and finished the sermon holding her in my arms. That was that. And of course she totally behaved (except when she tried to grab the candle behind me at one point but several kind congregants yelled out before she got it).

It was totally not what I was hoping for, for my big return to preaching. But I guess it didn't bother anybody, from the comments I got afterwards. And although my perfectionist nature was disturbed, J said he almost could have thought it was all planned, that Maggie was my dramatic illustration of the text.

When I got to the end, about how crazy trusting you have to be as a child - how you have to completely throw yourself on the mercy of those around you - having a sniffling, but now content, baby in my arms was the perfect picture. I could not have planned that better.

So hats off to the kiddo. Guess she & God had that planned better than I did.

Anyway, here is what I intended to preach. I got through about 2/3 of it, skipping a lot of the middle section (the depressing stuff anyway, ha ha), and focusing on the bits about being like a child. Enjoy.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” [Mark 10:29-31, NRSV]

Leave your house, your family, your fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, and you will receive it back – a hundredfold – now in this age.

Leaving your family meant losing your place in society, your inheritance, and really, your identity. Identity, in the first century, was not about your job, or where you lived or where you were from. It was based on whose child you were. Giving up family meant giving up your self.

Leaving house and fields means giving up your place in the world and your means to make a living. When Jesus suggests leaving family, house, and fields for his sake, he is saying you’ll lose your identity, your livelihood, your security, your home – all the things that make you who you are (or so you think).

This scene follows several gospel texts with a similar theme:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.

I admit that as a new mom, I might be a little obsessed with children. But I don’t think I’m just seeing things here. Jesus is also a little bit obsessed with children, because they are one of the best ways, in first-century society, to explain the powerlessness and loss of self that must come with following his way. So, if you haven’t understood yet what Jesus means when he tells you to be like a child, here he is explicit: you have to give up everything that makes you who you are, that gives you security in this world – house, family, fields – everything that you rely on to take care of yourself.

The promise that goes with this sacrifice is that you will get it all back. Not the same, but more, a hundredfold, and in this age, to boot. But it will come to you Jesus’ way. He adds that little preposition: “with”, and a nasty noun: “persecutions.” The way of Jesus is the way of the one who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Getting it all back a hundredfold – your identity, your life’s work, your home – is not some kind of health-and-wealth joyride. It means living a tension-filled existence: one in which you look around and you know who you are, what you are to do, and where and to whom you belong, but you also are living that Kingdom reality in the midst of the present age, in which living Jesus’ way rains down persecution on your head. At best, you will simply be misunderstood, perhaps labeled “weird”, certainly thought of as confused as to what’s really important in life. You will not pursue the same goals as others: you will care less about the size of your house, the schools your children attend, the car you drive, the advancement of your career. At worst, you will be ostracized, humiliated, or even killed. You will almost certainly be poor. You may never have what others would consider security. But you will know what you have. You will know who you are. And you have a house, a family, and a life’s work. It is just under Kingdom jurisdiction.

This is what the rich man in the beginning of the story could not understand nor accept. Giving it all up. Not just your stuff, and your home, and your livelihood, and your family – but your security, your purpose, your identity, and your destiny.

I understand why the man walked away from Jesus. How can we do this? “Who has any chance at all?”

“Jesus was blunt: ‘No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.” [Mark 10:26-27, The Message]

God has to do it for us. God can handle the things we don’t understand, or fear, or are simply incapable of doing.

Maggie wakes up each morning and her breakfast magically appears. She doesn’t worry about what she will wear, or if there will be milk in her sippy cup. Confusion and insecurity are easily dealt with by grabbing Mommy’s leg. She knows she doesn’t need to be afraid, or worry, or even understand anything, as long as her parents are around.

This is what God wants to do for us. To be for us. Not just Lord, but Father. We have to become like a little child: that helpless, that trusting, that humble. And we must reframe our thinking so that we can be happy with the “house, family, and fields” of the Kingdom. That’s our challenge.

You don’t need a house because the whole creation is your home. Your “fields” are those in which the harvest is ready, but the workers are few. Your life’s work is to sow the seed of the gospel. As for family, the Father has adopted you, and your identity is now determined by whose child you are.

Your home, your security, your identity: back, a hundredfold, now. And in this age – and in the age to come – eternal life.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Why I Don't Pray (Killing the Buddha)

This puts into words how I've been feeling for a good long while.

Why I Don't Pray from Killing the Buddha

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The System Will See You Now

It’s practically a cliché by now: I’m over-educated and under-employed. Now for me, it’s pretty much by choice: I recently had my first child and I want to stay home to care for her. My husband, however, is also highly educated, and he does want to work. But in the current economy, that’s not happening, so we find ourselves in an interesting situation.

We have, between us, three master’s degrees and a doctorate (almost). We both come from low-income families; my husband, the one who’s almost a PhD, was only the second in his family to go to college. We are the American Dream. But we also, to our great surprise, find ourselves navigating the world of Social Services (detrimentally known as welfare). The worst part of this scenario is that we aren’t stupid. We can’t just accept what we’re told. We are, in fact, so smart that we see how incredibly ridiculous this entire system really is. We see the waste, the holes, the fraud, and the punishment doled out not to those who won’t help themselves, but to those who, like us, are trying to maintain responsibility, respectability, and honesty.

We tried to be responsible. Knowing the layoff was coming, we saved like never before. Although hubby had the best paying job of his life, we continued living in a 400-sq-foot apartment and spending frugally so that we would have savings to get through what we assumed would be about six months of unemployment. That has now turned into a year, a month, and counting.

Because our unemployment income was too low to qualify for the state’s Healthy Families program, I applied for no-cost Medi-Cal to cover my daughter (age 1). But I was told by a social worker: “It’s a waste of time for you to apply right now because of your savings. Go spend it down, then come back and see us.” Yes, I was told, go waste whatever security you have in your bank account, so that you can get your one-year-old some health insurance.

We had too much money in our savings account to qualify for Medi-Cal, even though our income fit the guidelines. And we had too little income to qualify for Healthy Families, which will not count the savings as an asset.

This is a black hole to which we will return.

What nobody told us is that if you plan ahead and try to be responsible, it comes back to bite you. In the world of welfare, you’re not expected to have had any foresight – nor any discipline around money – and therefore having savings immediately disqualifies you from most programs. I can see how if, say, you were a trust fund baby with no job, trying to get Medi-Cal, this could be abused – but honestly, has that ever happened? Instead, we lived off our savings, and we could not apply for insurance for our daughter until every last cent of it was gone.

I then had the distinct lack of pleasure to spend several mornings at the Department of Social Services office. This is, surely, one of the circles of hell, filled with a completely confused clientele growing more agitated by the minute, and well-meaning but ultimately clueless employees. Once a manager came out and made the following announcement: “We do not make the decisions about your services. The System makes the decisions. We only enter your information. The computer makes the decisions. We only submit what you give us to the System.”

Big Brother, anyone?

Half the time I couldn’t get questions answered because, really, the employees only know how to put the numbers into “the System”, which then spits out a “yes” or a “no”. They couldn’t even tell me the income ranges for which my child might qualify for health insurance. It’s all in a mysterious computer somewhere. A computer my intelligent brain would seriously like to hack. [I did eventually find the numbers online, but it was not easy – and the social worker was not gonna give them up.]

After spending way too many hours of my life in this soul-sucking place, I eventually learned that “the System” had figured that we make too much money – on unemployment – to qualify for free Medi-Cal for our daughter. Now, we have employer-based health insurance in this country. So wouldn’t it make sense that the income limits set by the government for low-income health coverage (at least for kids!) should match up to unemployment income, to cover those without jobs? And I’m not talking about getting health insurance for my husband or me – I only want it for my daughter, at this point. But the monthly income limit is $2,030 for a child ages 1-5; our unemployment compensation is $450 per week. But wait, you say, that is only $1,950 a month, isn’t it?

Ah, that’s what we thought. But then the economy tanked and the federal government, in a gesture of goodwill, started putting an extra $25 a week into our checks. And bam, just like that, we got stimulated out of Medi-Cal (we are exactly $29 over the monthly income limit, and only because of the stimulus money). I would personally rather not have the extra hundred bucks a month – or even have it cut in half – so that my daughter could have health insurance.

So fine. We are not happy about this, but we will deal. The state has Healthy Families, right? And it’s only like four bucks a month, so we can totally swing that. On the advice of our social worker, then (by the way, every time I say “our” and “social worker” in the same sentence, I cringe), we apply.

The letter arrives from Healthy Families, and I eagerly open it, ready for the whole ordeal to be over, for my daughter to finally resume her well-child visits and immunizations, and…it says No. You can’t get Healthy Families.

Why not?

Oh, because your income is too low. You should be applying for Medi-Cal, silly people. So we have kindly sent your application over to them for you.

(insert scream-into-pillow here)

Here’s what I found out: Healthy Families will only look at your check stubs as proof of income. And for some completely insane reason, our unemployment check stubs (and award letter) say we are paid $450 per week. The “stimulus” of $25 is in the check, and the stub says the check “includes a stimulus payment” – but the amount, per the stub, is $450, not $475 (while the attached check for two weeks is for $950, not $900).

I say to them: “But we make $475 a week. Medi-Cal figured our income at $2,059 a month.”

They say: “We can only go by the check stub.” Can you look at a copy of the check? “No, only the stub.” But how can we make too much money for Medi-Cal and not enough for Healthy Families, when your income guidelines are consecutive dollar amounts? “Oh, it happens all the time.”

I bet it does. Only usually it’s the problem with the assets that I mentioned above. We don’t have any assets anymore (having “spent them down” – for nothing, I might add). We simply have a case where the government has upped the ante of the stupidity to levels previously unimaginable by folks like us. We believe in the system – heck, we’re still in favor of a public option, even after all this (because as awful as this has been, we’ve been flat-out denied by privates) – but when we can see the problems, and explain how ridiculous they are, and we are still told that “the System” makes the decisions or Healthy Families has to toe the “check stub” line…well, let’s just say I start to understand why people shoot up post offices.

I’m now working another System – I’ve gotten my state assemblyperson’s office on the case. We’ll see if they can cut through the red tape that is choking me.

You cannot understand the hellish mire of the social services system until you have attempted to navigate it, and the vast majority of those with power in this country have never and will never do so. I wrote this because I know there are others – probably thousands of others – like us, losing their minds because of how asinine and wasteful the system is. But because we are Educated, and Middle Class (ha), we tend to be too embarrassed to talk about these things publicly.

Well, I guess I have no shame. No, scratch that: I have no choice. Somebody has to speak out about this. And that has to be an over-educated, under-employed person. Because honestly, who else would have faced this – and figured it out?

(I’m working on making this into an op-ed piece. I would appreciate feedback to improve it, and suggestions of where I might submit it for publication. Thanks!)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I'm published!

What started as an inquiry into this blog led to my contribution of a couple entries and now I am really pleased to say I am a published author, a contributor to the collection Jesus Girls: Growing Up Female and Evangelical, edited by Hannah Notess, out now from Wipf & Stock. (I'm still thinking it's a mistake but I guess when I see my name in the book I'll have to recant)

Thank you to everyone who's kept reading over the years. It's given me the confidence to try for such crazy things. Who knows....maybe more to come...?

Down to business, a few relevant links: press release and purchase info

Please spread the word!

Is it just the greener grass?

Hey there.

I won't ever retire this blog completely because I need a place to write some thoughts sometimes. At least most of the readers are probably long gone, so I can regain that sense of anonymity that I once had. Well, except for my big 'ol picture over there.

So here's what's weird: I actually miss several things about living up north. Most of all, and I really didn't expect this, I miss our church. And totally shockingly, J does too. He of the nonstop critique. He of the rant all the way home every week. He of the "I don't feel welcome here b/c I'm not liberal enough." Yes. Him. He actually wishes we were still going to St. Gregory's. And so do I.

I guess it's like you spend a year at this place that's so experimental and while there are flaws and annoyances, at least it's very alive and pretty much everybody's really happy to be there and enthusiastic to participate. And then you come back to these churches that are...well, there is no other word for it: they are boring. I mean, I didn't think they were, until I got sucked into St. G's culture. Now I can't deal with mumbled half-hearted liturgical prayers, or priests who are practically yawning while breaking the bread, or parishioners with eyes glazed over. My butt hurts when I'm in church here. There's far too much sitting. I miss dancing. Hell, I miss just standing up. And I mean, you do stand, in our services, in the regular TEC services...but still, not enough. And there's no color, and no costumes, and no life. I mean, there's life. Sure, I never would have gotten into it if there weren't. But even though St. G's drove me up the wall in so many ways, I was also drawn so strongly into the style and the culture that now I feel like a fish out of water. I can't abide "normal" church. Not any kind, not Evangelical or Episcopalian. I've tried regular ol' prayer book services, super high-church anglo-catholic liturgy, and alternative pseudo-Evvie church (i.e. one guy singing/talking for the vast majority of the time while our butts get sore). None of it is fitting anymore.

Man, I almost feel like I did when I was ready to abandon the church altogether, right before we transitioned into TEC. So much of loving your church, it turns out, isn't about the liturgy and the worship at all (despite my best efforts to nail down the magic that makes it work). It's the people. Of course. It's all about the freaking people.

And I loved my people up north. I didn't realize it until now. I was so anxious to get back home to LA that I didn't notice a new home was taking up residence in my heart. But it's not just them, either; it's also the people who made the church down here my home. So many of them are gone, moved on, retiring, or just too busy. It's not the same place anymore. Not much has changed on the outside (actually that's not true - a new building project has completely changed the outside, but I mean the worship), but the soul has shifted somehow.

And it's not just going to church. It's the Food Pantry. I miss it like there's a hole in my gut. That was really my church, you know. When the Sunday folks drove me nuts I knew I had a congregation to go to on Friday that would embrace me. And vice versa. It's just depressing to work at the food distribution here. It's so paltry, and so disorganized. Yeah, it's probably a lot like the FP was when it started. But I'm not Sara Miles, and I don't think I have the heart, conviction, or frankly time (her baby was a lot older than mine when she started) to make the lightning strike down here. It was such a grounding thing for me, such an incredible high (I realize that's a weird paradoxical observation). Plus I really miss the food, in all honesty. I miss being fed - in all ways - by that place.

And I had veteran mama mentors up there. Down here, my friends are all figuring it out with me or I'm the supposed vet. I mean, there's one great friend who's got a two year old, but even that, it's too close to my own predicaments. I had these women up there: the one who showed me how to be a godly parent, the one who helped me brush stuff off and let me vent when I couldn't, even the one who guided me through the world of eco-parenting. I had people to ask about extended breastfeeding; about why I can't get pregnant again; about the phases Maggie goes through. And I feel like I have none of that anymore. I've lost them. I miss them. I need them.

It's especially hard because I want to be pregnant again so badly, and it's not happening, and it seems like all my friends here are preggo again without even trying (or they don't want to be at all, which is also unrelatable).

I even miss my house. I really miss its size. Especially the kitchen. And the two bedrooms. Through which you could actually walk. Currently my one bedroom is so full with a queen bed and a crib that you have to crawl across the bed to get from one side to the other. That's depressing. This house is cute and cozy and so damn stuffed that it will never feel like a grown-up house. It's more like living in a storage space.

And I'll admit it: I really, really miss the weather. Probably the smoke currently burning my eyes isn't helping, nor the week of 100+ temps.

So am I just a big baby who can never be happy with what she has? Am I doomed to always realizing what I had just a little too late?

Don't answer those, please.

Damn. Who would've thought we'd miss St. G's so much? And have so much trouble finding a place to fit in here, HERE in our home!? How can it be so hard? We are different people now, it's true: we are parents. The things we could do before we can't now; I'm sure our friends think we've become aliens. Or reverse vampires who are only really awake when the sun first comes up. I hate it that I can't stay awake past 9. But I wake up at 5. So I can't. I hate it that I can't go out for dinner at 7 pm, but that's my daughter's bedtime. I hate missing movies, and parties, and all manner of outings, because I have a baby and mostly because I'm so damn poor.

Oh. That's really what I miss.

I don't know why, because we didn't have more money up there. But somehow it was more secure. There was more in the savings. And our groceries were taken care of by the church. And there just seems to have been more free stuff to do. I had a cadre of other poor moms willing to run around with me doing free things. And FUN outings, not just sitting around houses. I am so grateful to have friends here with babies, but they are all so much more well off than us. They have houses, pools, cars with air conditioning. I feel like a stupid kid who doesn't have her act together. Maybe I'd be better off getting to know some of the parents at Fuller; at least they would be poor too. It really is very hard to be in such a different tax bracket than your friends. It makes you feel like an idiot a lot of the time. What is wrong with us? We have as much or more education than all of them! But apparently education can't ensure jack squat when it comes to income and employment. In fact, it kind of screws you, since you wind up with student loans that cost more than a house.

Anyway, I just needed to get some of these thoughts out. I needed to say out loud (?) how much I actually miss my church. And my pantry. And my friends. And my house. And maybe the whole area. I want to visit so much. But there's no way I can drive up there without a/c, and there's no way I can rent a car. So I'm stuck. Bum MER.

Well the child's awake so my musings will have to go back into my head now. At least I got a little out. Was starting to feel like I might explode.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Help for Hector?

Feminary's coming out of retirement for this story: I've been following it for some time via my CDSP list-servs. Basically, the custodian of the school was laid off, along with several other staff members (including the director of admissions?!), at the end of last semester. Hector was 2 years from retirement. To say he was beloved of students and alumni is a gross understatement; rarely have I seen people rally around another human being as they have for Hector - to the point where these people, most of whom are in the ministry (and therefore not rich) have offered to pay his salary to get him to retirement (an offer the school turned down in fairness to the others who were also laid off, at least as far as I understand it).

Read this article from the Oakland Tribune, and if you can help at all, please let me know and I can put you in touch with his advocates. [I'm looking at you, Fuller people! :)]

[be sure to click on the pics to see the one of him accepting his service award from the Dalai Lama]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Special Request: Healthcare Note

I know I said I was done with this blog but I posted the following note on Facebook and one commenter asked me to please post it here. I guess so it will be more widely seen or something (though I don't think this blog gets much face time anymore since it's all, you know, ended). Anyway, here's the note, enjoy - this one's for you, Matt.

Listening to all the news reports on the fight over Obama's healthcare plan is making me a little crazy. I realize that the president's plan might not be perfect. But at least the man is TRYING to provide an option for those of us who have none. Maybe it's socialized - gasp! - but in this case, it's necessary and important.

John pointed out the reality that when you are sick, it is like your house is on fire. There have been systems in which the fire department was privatized. When they showed up at your burning house, you had to pay them before they would put out the fire. If you didn't have the money, they'd just leave, and you had to deal with it - something way beyond your ability - on your own.

This put me in mind of my recent bout of mastitis. For the first 24 hours I didn't do anything about it, because it's relatively difficult for me to figure out what to do when I have an urgent problem on the weekend when the doctors aren't working. I finally decided to visit the urgent care.

After I was triaged and told to register, the receptionist was trying to look up my account (which was complicated b/c we just moved from No Cal Kaiser to So Cal Kaiser, which are not the same company). She told me that neither of my plans was effective. For a few terrifying moments, while she called member services and learned she was wrong, I actually had to consider what I was going to do if I didn't have insurance.

At that moment, I was running a fever of 103.5. My breast was bright red and hot to the touch, and bleeding. I could barely stand up and had chills. I was really, really sick. My body was on fire. I needed help, and I couldn't give myself the help I needed.

Mastitis is easily treated with a round of antibiotics. This medicine is entirely unaffordable without insurance (not to mention the doctor visit - and followups). But I had to stand there and ponder just going home and trying to "self-treat" a bacterial infection. Or go to the county ER and wait most of the night in pain and misery (with the baby up hours past her bedtime), after which I'd have been slapped with a bill we couldn't possibly afford right now (remember we are unemployed for nearly a year now).

I started to panic as I realized I had no idea what I was going to do. At that point you have to decide if the "fire" is bad enough that you should shell out money you don't have, or not use your rent money towards putting out the fire and risk it destroying you. In my case, the mastitis would have developed into abscesses, which would have required surgery cutting into my breast tissue to remove (plus a hospital stay of several days during which I could not nurse my child). This is what I would have had to choose whether to risk - without the option of even discussing it with a doctor.

Seriously people. We need a public plan. Period.

It's not that scary. Everyone puts the money into the pool, and the people who are sick take out what they need. This guy on the radio just said, "Why wouldn't I choose to pay half the price for the same medicine? Because I'm using YOUR money, not mine!" Yeah, except one day, you idiot, YOU'll be the sick one who needs help! And then your attitude will change real quick.

It's part of the ethos of capitalism (and somehow, sadly, American Christianity) to say that it's up to individuals to take care of themselves and their families, and government intervention somehow violates privacy. It's bullshit. We take care of each other because that is basic human decency, and it's civilized. It is not civilized to let children go hungry and get sick because you don't want to pony up a little more in taxes. That's ridiculous. Get over yourselves people.

And even if you don't want to do it because it's kind and decent, then at least do it so that you will one day be taken care of. It could take a damn long time, but hopefully one day we'd create a culture of caring for one another - and especially the least among us - that would teach children that they automatically care for their elders. I mean, it's SO communist...or is it just basic human decency?

I realize that there's always the argument that public health care could cause massive runs on the ER and huge wait times to see doctors. Well, to me, it's better than not having the option to see a doctor AT ALL. Yeah, maybe some people die waiting to see a doctor. How many people die because they don't have the option to see a doctor now?? It's not about having to wait, it's about having to go to the same doc that the poor people go to. It's about people who have good insurance not wanting to share their good fortune, not wanting their own quality of life to go down a little bit so that somebody else's can be raised. So selfish.

An affordable public option for healthcare that's available to all regardless of income means my family would have the ability to go to the doctor when we get sick. It's as simple as that. If you need to know a person who this affects before you will care, you know me. You know John, and you know Maggie. Please think of us when you discuss, when you call your representatives, when you march.

Thank you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Be Kind, Rewind. Then Press Stop.

The last several weeks have been a blur of grandparents visiting, first birthday fun, new babies for several friends, and big surprises: primarily that, quite out of the blue, we found a house for rent, right in the middle of Fuller's housing, that costs the same as what we pay here. And it looks like it's ours.

Which means: we are moving back to Pasadena, to LA, to All Saints, to our friends there, to my midwife (yay! but not pregnant - yet), and to the several schools with which John has experience teaching that are probably a lot more inclined to ask him back than the places up here he's applied to. While I've begun many relationships up here and even made a few good friends, our main support network is still down there. I mean, you can't really recreate 13 years worth of connections in 1 year.

But I am really grateful for the people I met up here. The moms especially have been so fun to hang out with as we share our daughters' lives. Maggie has many fans and is the biggest fan of the big kids who hang out with us. And of course there's the food pantry, which is my church community, the people with whom I share meaningful work, and that bonds you in a way that is special. My other church community - the Sunday morning crowd - is also full of lovely people who've embraced our family, and they will be greatly missed.

Up here, the job market is abysmal. Predictions indicate jobs won't return in number until 2012. John not only couldn't find teaching work, he can't find any work. At least down south we have a lot of connections in all kinds of weird places; it's quite possible people can throw him a few days' work on a film crew, in an office, or even cooking or babysitting or running errands. He's even done yard work for the older ladies at church. There just seems to be more opportunity.

But most of all this is about returning Home, to the community and city where our hearts live, and where we most want to be. Or as John put it: "It's like we've had a near-death experience, and we're never going to take LA for granted again. We almost lost it forever. Now we're going to do all the things we always talked about but never actually got to do."

Being our resident philosopher, he's always describing our life in such poetic ways. Another thing he said to me, shortly after we decided to apply for the house: "Well, you kept saying you wanted a do-over. I guess you're getting it."

Exactly. Rewind my life back a year, and start again, this time making the right decisions. Staying home with my baby instead of barreling on through school, and staying within my home city. But I get to do it with a one-year-old who is way more fun now than she was last year at this time!

It's not like moving up here was a humongous mistake that I regret. I don't regret the friends I've made, and John pointed out that I basically got to do a year's internship at St. Gregory's, observing their worship and the food pantry inreach. I actually think I might have to start a pantry based on their model down in LA. I don't think I can live without it; it's become too important.

But how often do you get the chance to try again, knowing now what you wished you'd known then? It's a gift, it really is.

So that's the Be Kind, Rewind part of my title. Now for the Press Stop.

As you've no doubt noticed, I really don't have time to maintain this blog anymore. And since it was started as a reflection of my journey through seminary - and academia beyond - I don't have anything much to say anymore about that. Being a full-time mom just isn't what Feminary is about, and that's perfectly OK. I'd rather keep it in kind of a pristine time-warp. My obsession with food issues will continue over at FoodiEvangelist, but the Feminarian is retiring - or at least, taking a very long maternity leave.

If God is so good as to grant me entrance to the ordination process (for real) one day, then I might pick this blog back up again to talk about that experience. But that's going to be, I would guess, a long time from now, because I'm just way too gun-shy to throw myself back into that pain again. (OK I will admit that moving back to the parish & diocese where people know me is appealing...but I'm not expecting anything to happen)

So, thank you to those of you who have read from the beginning. It's been quite a journey. And thanks to you who've joined us more recently; go back and read some of the early stuff - it's funny and heartbreaking. I've grown so much through these last years, and almost all of it has been good (or at least character-building).

That's all she wrote. Peace. Out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michael Rowe: No More Mr. Nice Gay

Michael Rowe: No More Mr. Nice Gay

"All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression." -- Thomas Jefferson

As hard as I try to find another way to say this, yesterday's California Supreme Court decision makes this unattractive concept abundantly clear: gays and lesbians are now the only minority in America against whom discrimination is not only legal, but in many cases, encouraged. California has become the first state in U.S. history to amend its constitution to deprive a minority of a right that they had been legally granted.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The American Patriot's Bible

As it is my duty to bring to your attention items that will make you vomit, I present this new work: The American Patriot's Bible.

According to the blurb: THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW 'A LIGHT FROM ABOVE' SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot's Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section [LDS alert - are they the target audience?], memorable images from our nation's history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the New King James Version Bible text.

But really, nobody can say it much better than this 5-star reviewer, RG from east texas:

Finally a Bible for the American Conservative Evangelical! With this Bible we can finally stop apologizing for the genocide of 20 million Native Americans and the enslavement of millions of African Americans. These events, along with the theft of Northern Mexico (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and California) can be rightly seen as the manifest destiny of God's chosen people. The waterboarding of hundreds and the deaths of over 100,000 Filipinos can be seen as the ethnic cleansing required to spread the gospel of democracy during the Spanish American War. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can forever be seen as the necessary prevention of the deaths of millions and the beliefs of General Eisenhower and many others that it was merely America's way of proving our moral and military superiority to Russia and the rest of the world can be laid to rest. The blood of our soldiers and our Savior should be seen as equally important and efficacious.

The constant and consistent oppresive and imperialistic actions of the United States are not only forgivable but are manifestations of God's will when scriptures are properly applied. This Bible will help anyone understand these truths. It would have been nice if Thomas Nelson had performed a Jeffersonian edit and removed all the New Testament references about loving one's enemies and overcoming evil with good, but in reality these truths have been so long ignored in the United Satates that I have little doubt they will continue to be ignored by North American Christians. A disturbing thought occasionaly creeps in - What if Jesus were really serious about loving one's enemies?. With this Bible those questions, undoubtedly planted by Satan, can easily be dismissed.

No need to read the "revisionist" history of atheists such as Howard Zinn in A Peoples History of the United States or James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me. These pagans do not know Jesus so what can they know of love and truth? Sometimes killing someone is the most loving thing you can do and besides, wherein loving one's enemies does it say not to kill them? Remember the bumper stickers from the Vietnam era? - Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out!
It is my hope that this Bible becomes the standard of every conservative evangelical pulpit in North America. Maybe it can be the straw that breaks the camel's back on books such as Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation. History has proven time and time again that theocracies are the most effective means of disseminating religion so the sooner we enforce a Christian theocracy the sooner Jesus will return. If only we could follow the radical Muslim pattern of a Taliban government and thereby insure that we are not left behind. The [...] that is Nationalism and Christianity may finally make that a reality.

Ah, even at my most virulent, I don't think I could have said it better. Bravo.

And while we're at it, let's take a moment to thank Obama for butting out of the church's business by not holding an official White House ceremony to commemorate the National Day of Prayer. It's almost as if he recognizes that you can be American and not believe in God!

A few links

When (if?) I ever have a free moment I'll fill you in on the exciting events of my week, which so far have included a visit to the California Academy of Sciences, an interview for a campus ministry job at UC Santa Cruz, and an appointment with Kaiser's pelvic pain center (tmi?). But for now I only have a sec, so I'm going to lean on my colleagues and invite you to read these two wonderful reflections on the torture poll from Pew that I posted last week.

Hugo Schwyzer
David Gushee

Friday, May 01, 2009



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

The more I see things like this, the more I wonder who are these people, what Bible are they reading, and which Jesus exactly do they think they belong to? Or, more accurately perhaps, belongs to them? (I've got Jesus in my heart)

I remember when J was teaching an ethics class at Biola University. He actually had to fight the students to convince them that they were supposed to try to be like Jesus. See, they had somehow gotten the idea (from their churches? or, yikes, theology/bible classes?) that Jesus' only job was to die, not to teach us how to live, and besides, he was God and sinless, so we couldn't possibly be like him anyway.

The stuff in the epistles about becoming perfect (and the Sermon on the Mount, for that matter) notwithstanding, this had somehow been translated into a totally different standard for the followers of Jesus than, well, anything he taught. I'm not sure where this other standard came from, exactly, but I know it includes a healthy dose of human ego and a decent amount of self-righteousness.

Anyway, I don't get it one bit. Here's a link to the study itself. I guess I'm just a totally different kind of churchgoer. Actually, one blogger said that "pew-sitters" were more likely to support torture - so maybe the trick is sitting in chairs instead of pews!

It's not surprising that we mainliners were the religious group most likely to say torture is never justified. But I find it really interesting that a quarter of the "religiously unaffiliated" said it never is. That means that more of the "religiously unaffiliated" understand and follow Jesus' teachings than do the majority of Christians!

It brings up an interesting question about morality, too: as in, where do the "godless" get their moral superiority? Hmmmm. Actually, J taught a whole class on that, too. Maybe I'll see if I can get him to blog about it. :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Pain of Love

So last night I learned, through FB status updates, that three of my friends from seminary were named Postulants in the Episcopal Church. This is a solid step on the way to ordination. These friends - all women, all from Evangelical backgrounds (as the Fuller degrees attest) - were actually none of them Episcopalian when I met them, and 2 of the 3 had told me they'd never considered the priesthood. They were all, I think, surprised by the insistence of their congregations that they enter the process. And all of them have reached this important milestone together. How fun it must have been for them to be retreating together and be one another's support! And how interesting that it would be three Evangelical women on this road together (all, btw, in the ECUSA, not at splitting churches).

The flip side of this story is that this news, while wonderful, reduced me to sobs, as my own heart broke with the realization that, once again, I was not good enough, I chose the wrong churches or mentors, I fucked up my own process, and etc. on and on. I was already in the process when these women weren't even Episcopalian yet! I wanted nothing more - felt called and gifted to nothing else - and they didn't even realize God would be leading them this way!

But that's kind of the point, isn't it? That God uses the unexpected, the wrong, the vessel of clay? Perhaps I've just been too sure of my calling. It's seemed obvious, but perhaps that's why it's not true.

Yet this morning I opened my email to a message from a friend at my new church, who just read my post about Holy Week and affirmed what I said. She told me I was saying things she needed to hear - her exact words were "I could use a good sermon or two," specifically about sin. So there you go: even if the institution won't recognize me, apparently I can preach to people via this blog. Apparently I can still be a pastor of sorts, albeit a virtual one. It was a needed affirmation. And, it makes me all the more glad that I applied for a position as an online organizer for The Beatitudes Society. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, I should get to the reason that I titled this post as I did. Another thing I found this morning, courtesy of another seminary colleague, was a link to this amazing post: Love is Fucking Stupid. And as I read it and it flipped my mind around a little, and I questioned its motives then saw, at the end, that it was super powerful, I realized that this is how I've been feeling: really fucking stupid.

I have continued to trust all things, bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things, in my wasted, ridiculous, nowhere-going process. So maybe, instead of seeing myself as a dumb naive fool, I should remind myself that this might just be the way I'm supposed to be. Maybe I'm approaching the institution with love, even as I get repeatedly stomped on. And I can vouch for the fact that yeah, it hurts like a bitch. And I have no idea if it will be "worth it" in the end. But it is the only way I know how to go on. The only other option is to give up, get bitter, and abandon the church (and believe me, that was all I wanted to do last night when I learned of my friends' success).

But you know, I probably won't. I'll continue my retreat for a while, and remain in the relative security of shaping just one little life for Christ. But I imagine God will come calling again one of these days, and I know I will answer. I know no other way to be. She is irresistable to me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Of Probable Interest

An interesting statement co-written by one of my colleagues at the GTU:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Easter Vigilantes

[I apologize for being gone for so long; my internet was down for nearly three weeks. I can hardly explain the isolation and suffering this caused; it is best not to go down that road. I will try to make up for it in the days ahead.]

This year I had rather a new experience for me, at least since I’ve been Episcopalian: I experienced a Holy Week that was not preceded by a Lent. Of course, I grew up without Lent, but then, I didn’t have much Holy Week then either (there was Good Friday for sure, and Easter Saturday when we got our baskets – in a pastor’s house, the only opportunity – and then Easter Sunday when we got new dresses, ate breakfast at church, and sometimes the choir did a cantata so that meant we didn’t have to listen to a very long sermon). I understood, self-righteously, that the real reason for Easter was Jesus’ resurrection and most people got it wrong; but, as with Christmas, I still really liked the special food and gifts and traditions, and as a child I’m sure I looked forward to egg dyeing far more than being reminded of Jesus’ death for the umpteenth time (because you know the substitutionary death is where we were actually saved, and the resurrection was just to prove Jesus was God after all). I know that once Reese’s put out peanut butter eggs, that became the number one reason to celebrate Easter…but I digress.

As I said, I got a little blast from my liturgical past this year as I went through a season that was ostensibly but not praxisly (if I may invent a word) Lenten. Now let me say up front that I really do love my new church community at St. Gregory’s, and I’ve joined the church precisely because they’ve welcomed our family so warmly and I feel so at home there. I enjoy the worship: the music, definitely, and the silence, and the art, and the way everything is put together. Certainly the openness of communion has won me over, and as I’ve mentioned before, the preaching is the best we heard since moving here. It has been fascinating and educational for me as a liturgical theologian.

And that is how I’d like to respond to the experience of Holy Week at this church: as a liturgist, attempting a quasi-removed perspective and somewhat objective analysis. I will probably get into my emotional response as well, but luckily, for the postmodernist, that must be taken into account as a valid part of the experience. But mainly I just wanted to put in all this disclaimer so that those from the church who might read this would know I’m not trying to be disparaging or personally attack anyone’s beloved liturgy, I’m simply attempting to evaluate, with the professional tools I’ve been given and the experience I’ve had in this denomination and others, how well the self-professed experimental approach has worked in this instance.

So, let’s begin with a general explanation of St. Gregory’s principles, the first and foremost of which, in relation to time, is this: there are two seasons, Easter and Easter’s Coming. Now this is at first glance an exciting and hopeful message, particularly to those who grew up in denominations focused only on the death of Christ (my hand’s up) or who thought of Christians merely as dreary or boring. Easter is our most joyful and celebratory season, to be sure, and there is definitely historical precedent for making every Sunday a resurrection day, the eighth day, the commemoration of Christ’s return to life. That is why we may stand before the altar rather than kneel. It is why we sing, most of the year, “Alleluia” and why we partake of the Heavenly Banquet. Sundays are certainly the most central day for Christians, and if our most central feast is Easter, then it makes some sense to conflate the two.

But if one looks at the span of history of the Church, one finds that Sunday hasn’t been regarded as merely celebratory. There are many other ways to worship God besides pure, unadulterated joy. Indeed, the main complaint against the Evangelical praise-and-worship movement is that it disregards aspects of the human experience outside of happiness and contentment with God. We must have a place to express the full range of our experience with God, including our doubts, fears, and grief. And, yes, our rebellion. One of St. Gregory’s other primary principles is that the only thing that matters is being God’s friend. Well, as our rector reminds us often, really being someone’s friend is not just sweetness and light; it means calling each other out on wrongdoing and hurtfulness, it means sometimes being unsure of the other’s motives, it means working through tough times because you believe that your friendship is worth it and that it will get good again. Not much unlike marriage, in fact, or parenthood.

And God is more than just Jesus the risen Christ, although God is absolutely and totally that. But She is also the God who is questioned in Job, who is yelled at in the Psalms, who changes Her mind in the Prophets, who judges harshly in Exodus, who shakes the mountains, casts down the mighty, lifts up the lowly, and feeds the hungry. If we are to truly be in relationship with this God, and enact that relationship in truth through our liturgy, then we cannot only celebrate the resurrection. It is a central thing, yes, but it’s not the only thing (and many – including me – would argue that the central thing might just be the incarnation, and the resurrection – like the crucifixion – simply the logical result of what really began at Bethlehem).

OK, so that’s my preface. Let me now talk about what I experienced.

First, let’s look at Lent. There was an Ash Wednesday service, which I unfortunately missed (it’s just too hard to get into the city on a weeknight). So the first time I attended church during Lent was on a Sunday, and it turned out to be just like all the other Sundays in Lent…which was, almost entirely, just like every other Sunday of the year. The words of the service did not change. We opened, as we always do, singing an “Alleluia” (and continuing singing or saying this “forbidden” word throughout the service, as usual). There were some minor changes to the vestments, but the icons were not veiled nor were the crosses changed. The bread and wine were the same as always (I wish that, in a church so in tune with food, they would at least try changing up these elements!). Most tellingly, while the hymns changed, the dance did not. And while the words of the hymns were bespeaking a Lenten season, and the keys were minor, because we danced in the same way (and the dancing often takes much of one’s attention), the changes were not felt in our bodies as much as they could have been. To jump ahead: on Good Friday the dance slowed down…waaaaay down…and I wondered: why couldn’t this have been done the entire Lenten season? It was difficult to do it that one time; after four or five weeks, though, we’d have had it down and could have really focused on whatever we were singing for the Good Friday liturgy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The other thing that is never done at St. Gregory’s on Sunday because it is the belief of the founders that it is never appropriate on Sunday is that we do not confess sin publicly. Ever. And I have to say that as much as I don’t like dwelling on sin, I really dislike never having an opportunity to stand up with my Christian family and admit we all mess up sometimes. Even when I don’t have personal sin to confess, I am always complicit in some kind of corporate sin (in every sense of that word). Going too long without confession makes one just start to feel, well, either dirty, or – much worse – like there’s nothing to confess. And I get a sense that there’s some self-righteousness going on at my church. It’s disguised in a very attractive package: one that says God loves you exactly as you are, which is a message that many of those who visit us desperately need to hear. But those who have been in the faith for a while need to stop taking milk and start on the solids, and that means admitting that while God of course loves and accepts us as we are, that doesn’t mean She necessarily wants us to stay that way, because many times how we are now is inhibiting us from living our life most abundantly.[1]

So, we have Lent without too much liturgical change, and without confession of sin. This all bothered me in the first weeks, but after a while I just went with it. And I discovered that my other attempts at Lenten discipline went lax as well. It just didn’t seem like it was all that necessary, since my only church experiences were pretty much the same as ordinary time. There wasn’t that weekly reminder that the season was different, so I had no impetus to remember that I was dust, that I was in rebellion against God, and that I needed to be redeemed.

Palm Sunday began with “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” and some alleluias, just as every Sunday does at St. Gregory’s. We did a lovely procession around the neighborhood with palms and pretty umbrellas, stopping to sing and pray and hear scripture. This would have been really effective if we were in a neighborhood that wasn’t industrial and therefore mostly abandoned, but it was still a lot of fun, and Maggie sure had a great time waving her palm branch. I did feel a bit of a cognitive dissonance replying that Christ was risen on the week when the Passion is usually read, but I was really trying to go with it so as to experience Holy Week “their” way (which I was assured was “awesome”). We did not read the Passion story but basically just did Palm Sunday, which was really fine since that’s the day it is after all.

The next event was The Maundy, which they do on Tuesday, pretty much for logistical reasons (Thursday is for choir rehearsal, and besides, everyone gets too tired if there’s a three-day Triduum – which is kind of hilarious since they don’t even do anything on Easter Sunday…at my old church, we had services Wed. and Thurs. nights, Friday at noon through the afternoon and into the evening – with an all-night prayer vigil – then the Saturday evening vigil, then three services on Sunday. You wanna talk about tired clergy, talk to those troopers!). It was probably my favorite service of Holy Week. It actually wasn’t much of a service at all. We had a potluck meal (very appropo), then blessed some bread and wine and shared it. The priest gave a little sermonette (which was really unnecessary), and we washed one another’s feet. Then we all cleaned up together (again, very poignant action) while singing the dreaded Alleluias (yes, by this point I was actually getting a bit sick of the word). We were essentially stripping the church, and we finished with a prayer taking us into the deeper mystery of Holy Week. Then we broke for three days. Well, you know, logistics.

Really, I loved the service. Because it was entirely, precisely that: service. We cooked for one another, we fed one another, we washed one another’s feet, we told stories and listened to one another, we cleaned up after one another, and we held hands and prayed for one another. I think that’s why I didn’t care for the sermon: it broke the flow of it being all about everyone serving everyone else in the room – it was just one person talking to us and kind of framing everything. But it didn’t need framing. It spoke loud and clear on its own. And even as a liturgist – no, especially as one – I’m all for cutting unnecessary elements, particularly words.

So, next we have Good Friday. Well actually, next for our family was a dinner party we were invited to on the real Maundy, Thursday. Which was wonderful and exactly what church should be: small, intimate, full of laughter and tears (thanks to Maggie’s meltdown), lots of food and wine, and a little poop (again thanks to Maggie).

But on to Friday. The service was in the evening and I actually spent the majority of it taking my infant in and out. So I missed a lot of the flow, and I’ll rely on my husband’s reflections on the parts I missed. This was the ONE time we didn’t say Christ is Risen or Alleluia. Thank God for that. Though once really wasn’t enough to get it out of our systems (more on that later). It was a very looooong service with a very loooooong opening concert by the choir. The music was haunting and beautiful, though. Just not great when you have a squirmy baby in your arms.

There were two main elements to this service, which could probably be called the Services of Word and Sacrament. The Word part was what most Episcopal churches do: reading the Passion story. We read – actually, chanted, which was lovely – the John version. But with a twist (of course, there’s always a twist): the people, rather than reciting our usual part (“Crucify Him!” “We have no king but Caesar!”), sang the lines of Christ!

Well, this just brings up all sorts of liturgical ramifications! On the one hand, I can see the logic: we’re identifying with Christ – and with God – in suffering for the world. And we’re the Body of Christ, so it makes some sense for us to sing Christ’s part. But there are a LOT of dangerous other ways to interpret this, ways that seem a lot more immediate and even flow out of that logic. We’re suffering innocently and unjustly, as Christ did (no, we are not innocent, and while we sometimes suffer unjustly, we also bring consequences on ourselves – and Lent was supposed to remind us of that!). We’re suffering at the hands of sinners, the Sinful, Judgmental Other (besides being potentially anti-Semitic, this reflects what churches can be at their worst: clubs for like-minded people who sit around congratulating themselves that, in the words of the Pharisee, God “has not made me like them”). And then there’s the more obvious mistakes: we’re Divine, perfect, holy sacrifices (rather than imperfect clay being molded into something God can use). And I really do believe that one of the primary points of the cross is that God is showing us who God is (this was the point of the sermon, to give credit to our rector) by suffering, and this is the one day when we have to admit that we did – and do – this to God.

We’re not the victims. I mean, we are often victims, but on Good Friday, we’re not the victim. We’re just not. I’m going to be kind of fundamentalist about this. If we can’t see that God suffered for us, not just with us, then we’re going to keep ourselves on the throne, instead of prostrate before it.

Which, ironically, is what we did during the Sacrament portion of the service. And this part was really lovely. We all brought flowers up to the altar, which was bare save for an icon of the burial of Christ. Some of us kissed the icon. It was very similar to reverencing the cross, which I’ve also participated in and taken great meaning from. After everyone had laid down his or her flower, a chanter intoned a Middle-Eastern sounding melody and we prostrated ourselves several times before the altar (I keep calling it this, even though it’s really a Table in this church, but on that day, I think it was also an Altar – and this was the only service at which there was no food). Because of the sound of the chant and the way we knelt, it was reminiscent of Muslim prayers. We went up and down enough times that I really started to feel the devotion in my body, and I can see how that kind of bodily prayer would put religion deep into your bones. I didn’t want that part to end.

But it did, and we departed in silence, until the next night.

And so we came to the Easter Vigil, which until this year had always been the capper to Holy Week (this year the new rector tried out a dénouement on Sunday afternoon: an egg hunt and barbeque, which wasn’t widely attended but was a lot of fun for the kiddies – Maggie included, followed by Vespers, which we were too exhausted to stick around for). I was really pumped for this event: it has always been the absolute highlight of my year, and for the first time, I was participating as a reader! Exciting stuff.

So, this service was also prefaced with a choir concert. The choir opened by walking up to “Freedom Come”, the first of several gospel songs we would intone throughout the evening. Then they launched into a quite varied repertoire of pieces about the resurrection, most containing the words Christ is Risen and Alleluia.

Um. Oops.

So when the priests got up to start the service, rewinding us back to the Exultant, it was kind of too late because the Christ was out of the bag (or tomb, as it were). It felt really strange to suddenly pretend like Christ wasn’t yet risen when we’d just heard for half an hour that he was (and indeed had heard it every Sunday as well). So there’s my first issue. That was just a bit weird.

Then we moved into the readings, which were not the traditional ones, and were read out of order. We heard the story of the Creation last, for instance, after the burning bush, the Exodus and a reading from Isaiah (mine). Again, this interrupted the narrative flow of the service. But in a sense it worked, since we were saying, with our gospel music and stories of freedom, that we were being freed from slavery (one assumes by Easter). But this does beg the question of what exactly we were enslaved to, since we hadn’t confessed anything nor heard much preaching about what was wrong with us. In fact, it felt more like we were the innocent slaves – like the Hebrews under the Egyptians and the Africans in the South – who were taken by the evil forces that God ultimately defeated. But how could white, upper and middle class, mostly wealthy San Franciscans be oppressed? Or was there simply a martyr complex going on, fueled by the misplaced identification with Christ and the constant stories of rejection by the Evangelical establishment (we get at least one a week)? Had we been told so often that we are fine “just the way we are” that we’d lost any sense that we needed saving from ourselves??

[An aside: many of the parishioners are GLBTQI and so forth, and I realize that, in much of the country, this is an oppressed minority. But I think I could successfully argue that it’s not one in San Francisco. And while many of us were oppressed by the churches in which we were raised, that doesn’t mean we ourselves aren’t also sinners – if for no other reason than that we may not be loving our enemies!]

I missed the sermon this night, because of the baby again. But she finally went to sleep and so we joined the procession around the church, singing about the saints and martyrs who’d come before us (all the way from Perpetua to Ling Ling the panda). At the end of our procession we stopped before the doors of the church and had some singing and prayers, and then, without too much ado (I almost missed it, in fact), the priest called out, “Christ is Risen!” and everyone responded “He is risen indeed!” and we repeated that several times.

But here’s where it got weird(er): try as I might, I couldn’t muster up the same joy in response to that call as I have in previous years. And I pretty quickly figured out why: there wasn’t really anything special about calling out “Christ is risen!” on this night, because we’d been calling that out every single service (except Good Friday) all year. There was never a time that Christ wasn’t risen. Now, I realize that’s a true statement; and in the theology of this church, that’s exactly the point. But somehow I needed that space – that Lenten time when we mourn the loss of our Savior and acknowledge our complicity in that – before I could fully celebrate the resurrection.

As we began to dance around the altar and sing, “Christ the Lord is Ris’n Today” I closed my eyes and imagined myself back at All Saints in Beverly Hills, where they’d be singing the same thing right around that time. I remembered the blaze of light after the darkness, the organ cranking up after a week’s silence, the blast of trumpets and timpani, and the glorious cacophony of sound – bells and shouts – rising from the congregation. The first time I really got Easter was at their Vigil. So of course I’m biased. But I know I’m not alone in believing it’s the best.

There is just something about Carol yelling at the top of her lungs “Christ is Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!” (pointedly, St. G’s leaves out the Alleluias, for once; and again, they are more meaningful at the church where they’ve been unsaid for 40 days) and all of us responding with voice and bell and music after this long desert of Lent. We’ve self-examined and self-disciplined. We’ve walked together through the dark places. We’ve seen only empty branches in the place where now flowers are bursting forth. We have lived Lent, not just paid it lip service.

And without Lent, I’m sorry, but there isn’t much of a Holy Week, and there’s really no cause for celebration on Easter. I know this from growing up without Lent, and I experienced it again this year.

And then I realized the other thing that was under my skin: there had been no baptisms. How unfortunate! (that’s sincere, btw) I realize that it’s hard to come up with candidates, and I’m sure it’s harder for a church that doesn’t really attach much theological import to baptism (it’s not required for membership or Eucharistic participation). But wow, Easter was so much less without it. There was nobody dying and rising with Christ, and heartbreakingly, I did not get to confirm my own baptismal covenant with my church family around me. I love doing that, and being sprinkled; and I really looked forward to holding Maggie as she confirmed her own for the first time (at least she won’t remember this year). Just like with no Lent, not having baptisms really lessens the impact of Easter, and particularly the Easter Vigil.

One other quick comparison and then I must close this tome (it could go on for ages, but I haven’t the time for such things anymore). At the end of the ASBH service, there is a tradition of people lifting their hands during the last song. The chorus goes like this:

And I will raise them up

And I will raise them up

And I will raise them up on the last day

I went through a journey with this gesture: at first I loved it, then I found it cheesy and rote, then I learned to love it again while having a sense of humor about it (because, i.e., there’s this moment when everybody knows to raise their hands, and it hits at the same note every time – it’s kind of funny). It turned out that, along with the singing and dancing and “Christ is risen!” in several languages (which I liked – neat touch), the people at St. Gregory’s seemed to have a “hand-raising” song as well, one that is particularly set aside as the time when it’s “accepted” for the Episcopalians to do this rather charismatic gesture. And that song is “Mary Don’t You Weep,” the lyrics of which are as follows:
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Pharaoh’s army got drown-ded

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep

Now, I won’t continue to pick on the white folks co-opting the gospel music (although I find the grammar error offensive, as if to hold the “black folk” in perpetual stupidity), and I won’t comment on the confusing nature of conflating Mary’s (Magdalene or Mother) weeping over Jesus with the story of the Exodus. I will simply say that the hand-raising song is, from my experience, the song most emotionally “felt” by the congregation; the song that, for them, seems to hit them in the gut with the meaning of Easter. If one goes with that definition and looks purely at the lyrics of the songs, the result is disturbing.

Church A: Easter is about raising “them” (everyone?) up on the last day; the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of all!

Church B: Easter is about joy in the violent defeat of our enemies.

Of course I realize that nobody at St. Gregory’s actually believes this is what Easter is about, nor would many of them ever condone violence (nor do I believe gospel music to be intentionally violent, but rather it uses the violent metaphors of Scripture to bring hope to the oppressed; when sung by the powerful, it takes on very different meaning). This is a church that prays openly for our enemies weekly, and for that I am appreciative. I’m not saying they are doing something that is bad, I’m simply pointing out the dissonance between their liturgical actions (song and gesture) and their professed theology and politics. I believe there are far superior songs and acts that could more accurately reflect what this community truly believes about Easter; just as I believe that they could have a far richer experience of Holy Week if they would find ways to alter their Lenten Sundays.

There is always more we can do to bring our liturgy in line with our theology. We have to remember that everything is saying something – there is no silent action, word, song, gesture, artwork, movement, furniture, banner, vestment, cloth, food, or drink in a liturgy. Ritual goes deep into our bones with meanings we cannot always articulate, but which may surprise us when pointed out by the outsider.

That’s all I’ve attempted to do here: present an outsider’s (or really, newcomer’s) perspective of what I saw enacted over Holy Week and Easter. I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone, and it was not my purpose at all to rip apart a beloved tradition. But if there were interest in changing anything at any point, I hope this essay would be of help.

[1] Thanks to my friend Sylvia for putting it this way.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Food for thought

Appropriate title, since I've been blogging over at FoodiEvangelist a bit more lately.

But this quote seemed more to fit in over here. Thanks to my FB friend Tony Mills for the citation...

The world is barren enough. It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward. Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work. And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling. With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do? With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do? With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do?
- Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC's TV news show Countdown, shortly after Proposition 8 was passed in California.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Heads up!

Hi friends and neighbors...

I've created a new blog to cover my interests in food and spirituality. I'll post all the foodie stuff there, as well as anything that is related to what would have been my dissertation work/might be my Christian bookstore book if I ever have time to actually write it.

So if that's why you check this blog, bookmark me over at:

Bon Appetit!

Portia De Rossi Apologizes For Marrying Ellen

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

eat, drink, bleed, and live in communion

This is a sermon by Sara Miles, and I post it with her permission because it is just so darn beautiful particularly in light of the stuff I've been posting in the last week or so. (did I mention I stood up in church and talked about breastfeeding? I don't think that could have happened in the congregation of my childhood...)

Sara Miles • St Gregory of Nyssa

Sermon 7:30PM • 24 August 2003

…Jesus said, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me…..After hearing this, many of his followers said‚This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it? Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, Does this disturb you?…Many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more. Jesus said, What about you, do you want to go away too? Simon Peter answered, Lord, to whom shall we go?

Eat my flesh and drink my blood.

Does this disturb you?

What about you, do you want to go away too?

Yes, I want to go away, fast. Because this disturbing demand of Jesus, that we eat him and become him, is just so intolerable, so invasive, so shocking I can’t accept it, want to go away.

But to whom shall I go?

I plan to talk about children a little bit tonight. But not their cuteness or their niceness or anything sweet or pastel. I want to talk about children as the gift of life. That is, about sex and pain and blood and eating.

And no, I’m not going to tell you amusing stories about what it’s like to be a mother. (It’s pretty wild.) You may not have kids, so what I’m going to tell you, remind you of, is what it’s like to be one. Because we all are.

You are somebody’s child. Think about this. You grew inside a woman, you came out of her, you ate her. You ate her body, literally, to live. You became her and she became you. She’s in you in ways that ––if you’re like me—can still feel as elemental and violent as the moment when you were pushed out from between her legs in a great rush of blood.

This is intolerable.

You are somebody’s child.. A man helped make you, in ways that are ridiculously mysterious and absolutely powerful. He went inside somebody else’s body and became a part of you. The shape of your hands, the way you clear your throat, the color of your eyes—he lives in you, literally in the code that turned on each cell of your being, and in your spirit.

He became you, and you became him, in ways seen and unseen, that will follow you all the years of your life.

This is intolerable.

We can read tonight’s Gospel story as being about the ways Jesus’ disciples and the people gathered at Capernaum were shocked by his breach of religious convention There certainly was enough in Jesus’ claim to set the teeth of the faithful, and their priests, on edge: who was this man daring to come into the synagogue and use the language of blood and sacrifice? How dare he talk to them about their ancestors, who ate manna in the wilderness and died there? What was he doing, telling them to be cannibals? Some of this story is about the ways God, through Christ, turned religion on its head. And the idea that God may still, through Christ, be doing that today is certainly hard for us to take.

But I think what we really find intolerable in this story is the literal truth. God’s truth, that Jesus tells us without flinching. Without pastels. That we were made out of flesh, and are also suffused with a huge longing spirit we can’t entirely understand. That we each are someone’s child–– a new body made by other bodies. That we hunger to eat our parents, that we do eat them, that we are eaten ourselves, that our bodies help make new people. That we are penetrated by and inside each other, irrevocably and indivisibly connected to each other, that we live through each other’s flesh.

Do you want to go away, now, too? Yes.

But to whom shall we go? There is nowhere in Heaven or Earth to hide from the intolerable fact of our own bodies and blood connected so intimately to others; nowhere to escape the vivid reality of our unseen spirits, nowhere God is not. God is in our mouths, our stomachs, our flesh, in all the blazing facts of creation.

I took communion for the first time in my life about five years ago. But that’s backwards. The truth is, communion took me.

I had no intention at all of doing this. I grew up without ever going to church. I never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian—or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut.

I walked in here at eight o’clock one morning because my wife, who also had no intention of joining a church, just wanted somewhere quiet to sit and pray. We came here and sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all peaceful and sort of interesting, and then we started moving up to the Table. And then we gathered around it. And there was more singing and standing, and then someone was putting a piece of fresh bread in my hands, saying, “the body of Christ,” and then giving me a cup saying, “the blood of Christ,” and then something outrageous and disturbing and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.

It was intolerable. I could not accept it. But I was so hungry I kept coming back. This went on for a while–– me taking the bread and crying and drinking the cup and crying. I started to read the Bible. I sat by myself a lot and mused about God. I thought I got control of myself and thought I understood things. I started to feel pretty sanctified and pleased about where this little adventure of mine was headed until, a year or so later, I began to serve as a deacon.

So I started to deacon. And then I had to pass the body of Christ to you, the body of Christ. Well, that was to lead to my baptism. Which is another story. And to the setting up of St Gregory’s food pantry, which is another story, though maybe it’s really the same one.

But right away it disturbed my nice, pastel plan for my religious future. What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: you can’t be a Christian by yourself.

And while you can work quite hard to find the religious community, the denomination, the particular church where you feel comfortable, and while you can make a real effort to impose rules that keep the wrong kind of people out of your cozy tradition, sooner or later you’re going to have the inescapable reality of your connection to other people, without exception, right up in your face.

You are going to be touching Christ’s body through the angry old guy with the clenched jaw. Looking into Christ’s eyes, through the face of the self-satisfied yuppie with the sports car. Listening to Christ’s voice, through the middle-aged woman with the annoying nasal whine. You are not going to get to sit by yourself and think loftily about how much God loves you in particular. You are not going to get to have dinner, eternally, with people just like you. You are going to get communion, whether you want it or not, with people you didn’t choose. People you don’t necessarily like. Screwed-up people, with bodies. The people God chose for you.

Sort of like the way God chose your parents.

These are hard words, Jesus’ followers say, and they’re right. Each of us has to be born, eat, drink, bleed, and die in the most intimate communion with strangers – our mothers, our fathers, the boring, infuriating, unacceptable, intolerable people around us. Like you, Christ is in them, and they in him. Like you, they are becoming God.

Each of us on Earth has to eat, drink, bleed and live in communion with other people’s bodies, and with their souls. And with God, whom we didn’t choose. Who chose us.

So, are you ready for some bread and wine now? Come, let us draw eternal life

I neglected to mention...

BTW I should have also said that I met wonderful, amazing people at this gathering the last couple of days. I'm delighted with the new friends I've made. And I'm not even kissing ass; I really am excited about knowing these people. Particularly the awesome Minneapolis contingent - who knew the Spirit was blowing her wind so strongly there? I thought Chicago was the windy city, ha ha. (groan)

Now I have all the more reason to take Maggie to see her cousins there, because she's blessed with a whole new set of aunties to love her. We are so blessed to have such a village willing to raise this child with us (now if only we could somehow live in 15 places at once...).

The whole General Convention thing is starting to sink in and get a little scary, but I've already heard from some LA people who will team up with me. I almost feel like maybe I was specially prepared for this job by having the connections down there that are needed to help pull together the strands of this web. It is at once daunting and exciting.

OK, I can't spend too much of naptime on the computer - got to eat, do housework, take a shower (!!), all those things we try to cram in before the inevitable cry calls a momma back to her primary job.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I spent the last couple of days at a gathering of people who self-identify as “anglimergent” – or at least, spend some of their time networking on a website entitled “anglimergent”. It’s a tricky group to pin down: many of them are uncomfortable with labels, particularly labels that identify them with the rather evangelical world of emerging church. I find the label helpful as a way to shorthandedly say, “people who are interested in seeing the church move forward in whatever way works” or “people who want to help write the next chapter of the Episcopal story (as my husband puts it: not rewrite the former chapters, not write a totally new book, but write a chapter that builds on the chapters that have come before and adds our generation’s input).”

So that is the kind of person we’re talking about – someone who wants to see a new era of ministry going in the Episcopal Church that makes it open and relevant and generally the kind of place that I’ve already been lucky enough to find it to be. Turns out that many people have had horrendous experiences in TEC, and I feel awful about that. I’m super spoiled to have only gone to churches that, for the most part, got it right. At least, they were authentically who they are. And I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been burned – we just have to revisit the sad pathetic story of my ordination process(es) to know that my attempts to serve have not always been well-received (or well-offered, I hasten to add).

All that to say that there actually ARE Episcopal churches that need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the postmodern era, or into the 1979 prayer book (which hasn’t nearly finished being mined, as Louis Weil reminds us), or just into a general sense that the church should be kind of an open and loving place and not so much an exclusive club or a political stance or a family tradition. It is, after all, about God’s kingdom on earth; about spreading God’s love; about Jesus’ way of living into the most abundant life possible. These are the things that the folks I met with are about.

Oddly, I was really only there because Sara Miles asked me to be. I didn’t feel remotely like I belonged. But as I was preparing to attend and was thinking about my experience with emergy type stuff, I realized I had a remarkable amount of background in that world (especially for someone who never officially has been a member of an actual emergent church). I was pretty involved in the planning process for Thad’s in LA (until they decided not to have regular Eucharist, which I couldn’t live with), and I helped write some of the liturgy for Barry Taylor’s services at All Saints’ (including parts of the Eucharistic prayer that they still use). Then there was my independent study on the EC, which led to our (unfinished) documentary on COTA. At seminary, one of my closest friends was a founding member of Three Nails in Pittsburgh, and another had lived and served in an intentional community in East LA long before emerging became a thing (incidentally, both of these people had left that kind of church to join more traditional Episcopal congregations, citing the liturgy as what drew them to the tradition…gee! Ya think?). For heaven’s sake, I never would have gone to seminary if Carol Wade hadn’t told me to, and she’s in this conversation too! I never would have become Episcopalian without being discipled by Christopher Martin, and the whole thing with him was doing spiritual disciplines – the real hard-core monastic stuff that you can’t really do just once a week at church. And now, I go to St. Gregory’s, and I used to go to All Saints’ BH, and even at St. Barnabas – all these churches have one thing in common: they are unapologetically authentic to themselves. They don’t try to be something appealing, they don’t try to find a niche and fill it, they don’t try to be relevant. Hell, St. B’s didn’t even have bulletins and everybody had the liturgy memorized! But all these places we were drawn to, we realized, were places that – though there was NO alt-worship going on – embodied the principles of the anglimergent group (or at least those who had gathered). They are open, nurturing, playful, incarnate, sacramental (!!), collaborative, passionate, and deeply contextual. They are places of freedom and hospitality. Sure, they have their stumbles and drawbacks, and not all these values are lived every moment. But they are held, I believe, by the majority of the membership. And they are what keep the churches living and, in some cases, thriving.

A word on the sacramental bit: Sara pointed out that most of the people in the room were serious about sacraments, particularly about gathering around a Table where everyone is welcome. And I realized, making “sacramental” one of the core values of “anglimergent” would exclude some communities which believe that sacraments are not necessarily…necessary. Or perhaps that they are something quite different from what the church has said they are (e.g., Eucharist isn’t important, but perhaps there is something else which takes its place?). And I suppose that, to be true to our principles, we’d have to say yes, you can still be anglimergent and not give a rat’s ass about sacraments. Because you can’t define anglimergent, or at least, it seems, you can’t make boundaries around what it does and does not define.

Which actually is really confusing. Like, they kept saying there’s “no such thing” as anglimergent and there’s no “there there” – but obviously something brought all us people together, and isn’t it helpful to have (as my friend Andy put it) a “handle” to call it (since apparently “label” is too loaded of a word to just throw around)? I don’t know, maybe it’s the meds or something, but my brain starts to hurt when I try to figure out how something could be nonexistent but yet we’re talking about it and identifying with it (but it also can’t be defined or have boundaries...ouch, headache).

One really interesting moment was when someone suggested that if a group formed that wanted to drop bombs on muslims and call themselves anglimergent, that obviously they wouldn’t be. And Sara, God bless her, actually had the cajones to say no, you can’t say that – you either have to let everybody in or make really strict boundaries. So far, the group is resisting boundaries, is resisting placing authority in any person or group or even set of rules, so that kind of leaves the field open for nutjobs. But I guess that’s better than getting stuck obeying one small vision of what anglimergent could mean.

It’s so easy – especially in a room of people who are almost all the same generation or two, and probably all hold the same views politically and mostly the same theologically – it’s really easy and really tempting in that scenario to start thinking we know what everybody thinks, to start believing that we’re all the same. But we’re not. And more importantly, we have to be OPEN to other expressions of what church can be, because without diversity the kingdom just isn’t Godly.

So that means, as hard as it is, we have to drop our own agendas and reach across the aisle. We have to do like Fuller’s Episcopal/Anglican group did – people from churches that had left and churches still aligned with the diocese would meet weekly and pray together and pray FOR each other. And there wasn’t any way to reconcile our churches on a large scale, but one-on-one, we could at least talk, at least agree that we all loved Jesus, and we actually did help bust a lot of myths about each other.

But all that is simply to say that if a group wanted to form and call itself part of the anglimergent community that was not like us, not like our vision of what emergent or Anglican or even “cool kids” are…I guess we’d have to be stuck with it. I personally feel like there should be some kind of boundaries – I mean, to call something Anglican there should at least be a modicum of Anglicanism involved (I could care less about the emergent label) – but perhaps that’s why the name isn’t helpful and should be rejected….perhaps we need to just be who we are. And for me, that would involve something interfaith and certainly interdenominational, so right there you have to lose the Anglican handle (or DO you – I love the tension-holding value of TEC – is it really anything goes??)

Anyway this is all getting a bit rambly and confusing and of course it’s just my own thoughts and in no way reflects anybody else’s impressions, I’m sure. Plus please recall that I’m chronically sleep deprived, and had a margarita this evening. So if I’m totally misremembering things, I apologize to my colleagues who were there, and I look forward to your musings on the meeting. These were just some of the thoughts that came up in my head as I pondered our discussions. And as you can see, I’m really quite a confused little girl. Oh well.

Somehow in a fit of excitement I wound up volunteering to go to General Convention and do…well we don’t know what yet, but do something. This was possibly a very naïve and ridiculous move. God knows I am not at all qualified to talk about the emergent church, having always been on the fringes of it. Then again, if it’s just about being a kingdom gal, that I can do.

Ay. I’m tired of writing now. Hope there was something worth reading there.