Friday, January 23, 2015

Annual Meeting Sunday

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I’m passing along my annual report—please come to the annual meeting on Sunday! We look forward to voting in some excellent leaders (Chris Leonardo and Anna Jones to vestry, Mike Hughes to treasurer) and will hopefully have some fruitful conversation about our calling to ministry in the new year. This will be the first order of business, so even if you can’t stay for the whole meeting, please come for the conversation. Plans for a children’s activity are underway. Also remember it’s one service, at 9:30! Please also join me in offering prayers of gratitude for the service of Louise Wilkes, Andrea Shirley, and Chris Jensen, whose elected terms come to a close but whose ministries certainly continue.

Sitting down to write this report for you for the tenth time (the anniversary of our ten years of work together will be September 15), I’m always so grateful for all the ways in which you are so generous with each other and with this parish. Writing this year I am thrilled and excited that we have met our astonishingly ambitious 2015 pledge goal. St Francis of Assisi talked about being a fool for Christ. If any of us in 2012 had said we’d increase our stewardship giving by more than thirty percent in the space of two years, they would have been told in no uncertain terms they were just a fool. But here we are, and wow.
There were a lot of “wow” moments this year. Of course, the narthex, which literally brought tears to my eyes. We had the biggest ever participation in our Lenten small group educational series on the The Restoration Project. We listened to the movement of God in each others’ lives in those conversations, and came nearer to each other as well.
The vestry had its first ever “retreat retreat” for our annual time together, spending the day at Bethany House of Prayer, allowing us to reflect on how the Spirit had been weaving Her way through our conversations. A pivotal time I think for all of us on vestry was our conversations about the possibility of hiring a part time director of religious education. Though the search overall wasn’t successful, it was a grace-filled time of listening to each other, both in the vestry and in the team that did interviews and imagined together what the person might bring. I’m hopeful that the time might be right in 2015. Our Spring Arts Night was so much fun, and a great way to see God’s gifts in the lives of the performers. Kira Cohn’s pogo stick rendition of Happy was definitely a highlight of the year.
I’m grateful that our building has continued to offer home to so many different ministries and (ad)ventures. January of 2014 did begin on a sad note for our friends at St Peter’s, who experienced a split in their congregation, leading to half or so forming a new community in Belmont. I am grateful to the Diocese of Massachusetts for providing grant funds to enable St Peter’s to continue to meet the bulk of their financial responsibility to Christ Church. I was also glad that many members of St Peter’s joined us when we welcomed Bishop Shaw on his last visitation to the parish in March, and that many continue to join us for our Holy week Services.
I am so grateful for Victoria Sundgren and Sasha Killewald, wardens extraordinaire who keep me focused and attentive to so much. Our lay led compline series has been a great example of the vocation of the whole church to prayer, and the musical gifts of Jerome Fung are a constantly unfolding gift to the church. I’m also thrilled to have Christine Dutt working with our expanded older kids offerings and partnership with Good Shepherd Watertown and Erin Jensen continuing to lead our younger kids’ programs (as well as being a parent leader in the older kids’ organizing!). We would not have had a fraction of the growth we have seen over the last number of years without her steadiness and spirit. Meanwhile, I continue to be so thankful for the continual and kind presence of those who have kept things going all along, Sally and Cathy and all of the longtime members who “remember when.”
In 2015 I also began some new projects in my work as a priest in the wider world. I’ve now spent a whole year on the Commission on Ministry, the diocesan group tasked with working with those who are applying for and preparing for ordination. I’ve written pieces for the Waltham News Tribune on a more regular basis for holidays. I continue to serve on the Parmenter Housing board, which runs two affordable housing complexes for older women, and help here and there for the diocesan Life Together intern program.
I was sad to say goodbye to David Collins, but grateful for all the new things Cheryl is teaching us. And to say that I’m pleased to have Jaime Bonney in the office doesn’t come close to articulating how much I appreciate her! And, of course, I couldn’t close the report by mentioning my sadness at losing Jim Hewitt and Tom Shaw this year. In very different ways these two men shaped my priesthood and leadership, and I know that they dwell in light eternal with all the saints.

Being Beloved, Being Changed

Dear People of Christ Church,
Sunday, my sermon was all about the love of God—God’s all the time, unconditional, unchanging love. It doesn’t matter how much better we could be through self-improvement—more exercise, more prayer, more attentiveness, more simplicity—still, no matter what, God loves us now and won’t love us more even if we could become “better” somehow.

This week, I’m feeling vividly the paradox of that profound truth—God literally could not love us more—at the same time as I feel the truth of God’s pull toward being, yes, better. Some of it is the New Year; writing all of our annual reports, I’m excited about what else we can do having seen how far we’ve come. Some of it is Martin Luther King, Jr Day—thinking of the “more” to which the Civil Rights Movement called our country and thinking of just how far there still is to go.

The love of God invites our total and profound surrender to God’s will. The love of God invites our perfect rest in God’s sufficiency and care for us. The love of God is a raging fire, that burns in your heart until you’ve shared it with others. The love of God is the knowledge that you are valued beyond measure and—and—for that very reason—for the very reason of your soft cuddly love of God feeling—you are also made brave beyond measure to go out into the world to make God’s dream real.

I don’t know the answer of how, exactly, to do this. I’m starting small—in how I teach my children, in how I spend my money, in how I do my job. Jesus said something about being a neighbor, loving with action and word those who are closest, allowing the sphere of our affection to broaden. Not turning away from suffering. Last week, like many were, I was swept away in the “Big Ideas” about the shootings in France while as many as 2,000 people were murdered in Nigeria with hardly a media ripple.

So I’ll soak in all of God’s love and acceptance that I know is mine in Christ. I will pray not to allow myself to feel God’s love as an insulating cocoon away from the world, but as a fire behind me that allows me to go out into the world. I will pray to be willing to face suffering and pain, knowing that God’s love will always be enough.

Blessings,
Sara+

Friday, January 9, 2015

On (Not) Getting Our Stories Straight

Dear People of Christ Church,
Blessings on this week of Epiphany!
This year through both Advent and Christmas I’ve continually felt drawn toward the multiplicity of our narratives—from Matthew to Mark to Luke to John, the church has long told many stories to explain our faith. To be religious is to be bound by a certain set of questions and symbols, but at the same time to hold a radical openness to truth—to stand at the doorway of Scripture and see shepherds at the manger on our left and Magi at the house with Jesus on the right and be able to extend our arms wide and say to both, “yes,”  “thank you,” “Amen.” The shepherds teach me that God’s truth is revealed in some unlikely corners of society; the Magi teach me that the revelation of truth sometimes comes from far away.

There is much in the media this week over the attacks against the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which twelve staff members were shot this week in an attack apparently by Islamic fundamentalists.   Is religion the problem? One of my favorite authors, Salman Rushdie, says it is, and calls it “a medieval form of unreason,” and says religion deserves our “fearless disrespect.”  Certainly I have little sympathy for homicidal fundamentalists, but it seems unuseful to lump every impulse toward transcendence and mystery in the same category. Religious violence has endured through millennia. The Egyptians oppressed the Hebrews and the Spanish Inquisition oppressed non-Catholics. Christian fundamentalists have bombed abortion clinics and now Islamic fundamentalists attack cartoonists and school girls. The thing those all have in common is contempt and violence, not religion.  Charlie Hebdo was contemptuous (and from what I’ve seen, probably racist, too)—but not violent, and not deserving of murder. It’s cruel irony that one of the police officers murdered in the attack was Muslim, risking his life to protect those on the magazine who pilloried his prophet.

So what to do? As thousands in France held up their pens in support of the writers and artists who were killed on Tuesday, as a religious person I hold out two open hands.   I hold out open hands for mystery, for attentiveness and for curiosity. Open hands to say that I don’t come to Scripture—or even my own life!— with certainty, but with faith.  I’ll imagine the magi in the stable and give thanks for the holy strangeness of kings in a barn. I’ll imagine the shepherds at the house and hope that their lambs don’t wander into the kitchen. I’ll get out of bed every day to meet my own chaotic life of distraction and wonder—parenting and preaching and learning and falling and getting up again—through all of it so grateful for a faith big enough to hold the pieces together.

At Epiphany, we remember the magi following a star and listening to the invitation in their dream to go home by another way.  What new path are you on today?  What’s the power of your faith against violence? Where do you need the stars to illuminate your road?

Blessings,
Sara+

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Sacrament of Stillness

This week, I’m passing on a bit from Walter Brueggeman, whose book I read this week while home on a sick day: Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. I’ve written a lot in this space about feeling impatient about social justice and the Advent of Christ’s restoration of all things—I’ll try to be faithful to that holy impatience. Unholy impatience, however, is the kind I fall into more often. Short tempered with my kids when they take what seems like EIGHT YEARS to brush their teeth. Impatient in traffic, trying to avoid the distracting allure of the little red notifying sign that I have a Facebook message from someone. These kinds of impatiences are habits of thought absorbed in our technological world, when it feels like anything worth having must be eligible for overnight shipping, and anything worth doing must be able to be finished in an afternoon.

Here’s what Brueggeman says about that.
The divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear:
a. that Yahweh is not a workaholic
b. that Yahweh is not anxious about the full function of creation and
c. that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work (6).

Hear that? Creation doesn’t depend on your constant work. It doesn’t even depend on God’s constant work. Sabbath, Brueggeman says, is as necessary to God as it is to us—and rather archly reminds us that God did not just “check in” on creation on God’s day off. God knew it would be fine.

Sabbath, Sabbath, Sabbath. Rest, faithfulness, joy.
I feel like I’ve been writing and preaching grief and tragedy for too many weeks, and the sin of our world is still glaring, still there. But we will not be made more compassionate or more fruitful in our work in refusing to trust God. I’ve been so moved by all the stories of protest that have come out recently—high school students all over Boston leaving their classrooms, Harvard Medical School students in their white jackets leaving their lecture halls. To cease to operate in the usual economy of accomplishment and “business as usual” seems to me a sacramental response. The holy is revealed in the ordinary.

There is often a complaint that protest actions don’t directly impact the issues the protestors want changed. Blocking a highway entrance does nothing against police violence. Laying down on the street does nothing directly to end the racism that leaves black children more likely to be expelled from school than their white peers. 9 years of the Waltham peace vigil (see below), has not ended any wars. Those critiques may be compelling, but both racial injustice and war politics are so woven into our judicial and economic system and into our very habits of mind that there is no simple chain of cause and effect, anywhere. The critique just doesn’t fit.

Justice comes in God’s time, with all of us needing to pray and hope and work and, yes, rest. We already know the end of the story. Jesus was born among us. God, in our midst. God just came to be with us. The birth of a holy child has no apparent causal relationship to the end of sin and suffering. Still in one week at the manger we will adore him, still we have confidence that the child, Emmanu-el, is God with us. Still, that light will shine.

Blessings,
Sara+

Friday, December 12, 2014

Finding Jesus in the Nearest and Furthest

Dear People of Christ Church,
Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a peace vigil at Medford City Hall in commemoration of the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook Shootings. It was organized by an interfaith group and spearheaded by Grace Church, where my husband is the rector. The vigil was held in the city council chambers, with a long row of empty seats at the head of the room with pictures of each of those killed. For more than ten minutes, children (mostly from Grace Church—kids I know) each took the mic one by one and read out the names of those who had been killed as someone at the lectern shared something about them—one was an avid soccer player, another loved horseback riding, one had moved to Newtown just two months earlier. My son Isaiah (7) took two names, anxiously awaiting his turn and trying to pronounce each syllable carefully.

80-100 of us were gathered—some kids, some parishioners from Grace and other congregations—and I’m sure that at some point in the evening we all teared up at least once. The apparent randomness of the violence—looking at those smiling faces, truly, it could have been one of my own children. I remember where I was when I heard about the shooting—I was in a van in Tanzania, on a pilgrimage/mission trip with Bishop Shaw and several other clergy and lay people from the diocese. Tom got a text from the diocese letting him know what happened, and we all prayed for a few minutes on the way. At that time, it seemed like there would be real energy for reform—that we would not permit our country to be a place where such things happened. And yet, and yet, one study lists 95 school shootings in the last two years (including both college and K-12 schools). That’s once a week. None has been “as bad” as Sandy Hook, but each one is too many.

Yesterday among all the dead, we prayed for Nancy Lanza, too. I imagine her heartbreak, too, in that moment before she was killed that she realized what was happening, remembered when her son was 6 or 7, the same age as those he killed. And of course the violence of Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland were not far away. Sandy Hook six year old Noah Pozner could have been my son. Eric Garner could have been my father.

I heard a wonderful quote from Dorothy Day recently, which I can’t lay hands on to attribute exactly, but it’s something to the effect that we are called to love those in need as though they were Jesus. Not because they ought to act like Jesus, but simply because they are Jesus. That’s the trick—to see divinity in places that are foreign to us, to be willing to ask the Holy Spirit to intervene in the gaps between us.

I think some of what seems so hard about seeing Jesus in those who differ from us is that we need God’s grace to do it—we fool ourselves too often that we can do everything on our own, but in truth it’s more complicated than that. We need God’s grace all the time—to find Jesus in the nearest and the furthest.

As always, I’m short on answers and long on meandering questions. Where did you see Jesus this week? In those who are far or those who are near? In both? In neither? As our kids and I talked about on Sunday, what are you doing to prepare a way for Jesus this Christmas?

Blessings,
Sara+

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent Waiting for (Truly) All Lives to Matter

Dear People of Christ Church,
As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, this week I continue to feel very “Adventy”—longing, hoping for the restoration of all things in Christ. Our reading from Isaiah on Sunday begged for the intervention of God—“Oh, that you would tear down the heavens and come down!”—the prophet speaks for a people lamenting that even their most righteous deeds are not enough.

There are no easy answers. It’s easy to say “Don’t be racist,” but harder to change the fact that our society still struggles with the legacy of years of inequality and injustice, structures of poverty and prejudice that entrap generation after generation. Yesterday, again, another grand jury chose not to indict another police officer for killing an unarmed black man. Eric Garner’s death was ruled as a homicide, and still, no indictment. As Garner said he couldn’t breathe, did the man choking him realize he was taking a life with his own hands? That one of God’s own beloved children was dying? Did he realize his own belovedness at the time? Did he remember he was created for more than fear?

The reason these grand jury cases are so troubling is that the message is that there is no chance—no chance—to ask if something illegal happened. The job of a grand jury is not to decide whether someone is guilty or innocent; its job is to decide whether there’s a question. The protest phrase “Black Lives Matter” is not to contradict the sentiment that all lives matter; it’s to contradict the idea that Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s (and so many others’) lives don’t. And that’s the message being sent here. In his testimony Darren Wilson described Michael Brown as looking like “a demon.” Wilson was afraid and felt threatened, but this comment exposes the attitude that the black man in front of Wilson did not seem human. That’s not a reasoned, personal decision based on evidence; that’s a response absorbed by living in a world in which certain lives may not quite be worthy. It’s sin, personal as well as communal.

This goes far beyond the question of police training or practice. As I said on Sunday when we dedicated altar linens in Jim Hewitt’s memory, there are great people who are police officers. And it’s not a zero sum—for one doesn’t mean against another. This is about all of us. When we don’t talk about race and racism, that’s on all of us. When we pretend that everyone gets a fair chance in America, that’s on all of us. When we don’t see our brothers and sisters of all races, economic circumstances, and nationalities as worthy of protection—that’s on all of us. We grow up in a society torn by racism—that’s not our choice. But it is our choice to acknowledge racism and its impact on us—or not.

In my sermon on Sunday I talked about waiting for Jesus. Waiting for reconciliation, waiting for justice. This Advent waiting isn’t passive—it’s the kind of waiting, Mark Allen Powell says, that people in love do. Edge of your seat, heart in your mouth, waiting, longing for the one you love to come. That’s the waiting we’re called to in Advent—to wait for Christ as though we could see him coming already. And this waiting for the one we love is about loving those Jesus loves. The imprisoned, the imperfect, the riotous, the weeping. It’s love in action, love in protest, love in reality. It’s love that has the power of God to confront injustice, to know that all of us are created by one God who loves us, a God who will accompany us in difficult conversation and forgive us when we fail.

Blessings,
Sara+

++

Wondering what you can do to remember that all lives matter? Check out the Enough is Enough Rally planned at Boston Common tonight at 7pm for the Garner family; stop by the Immigrant Experience potluck that WATCH is hosting at 6:30 (at First Parish); give for gift cards for GLBT teens for our Christmas Outreach. Next week, think about joining our bishop and diocese at the vigil for an end to gun violence on the anniversary of the Newtown School Shooting. There is far to go, and much love to give.

For some fascinating research on the science of prejudice, see this essay on Bill Moyers; for an opportunity to explore your own biases, take the “Implicit Association” Test (there are quizzes both for gender and race).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thanksgiving Joy and Sorrow

Dear People of Christ Church,
Whenever I send out the e-crier during Thanksgiving week, I always share the litany from the prayer book for thanksgiving—a very theological idea for a secular holiday. This year, though, in addition to my gratitude for my life and our life together in this parish, I’m also carrying a heaviness of heart for our country, for the family of Michael Brown, and for all of the conflict, sorrow, and oppression that we are all enmeshed in in twenty first century America. There are so many wise people analyzing and speaking on this, so I won’t add to the sound waves other than to invite you to prayer and to remind us of our faith in a God who “makes all things new,” who also needs our hands and voices to make justice in the world. Every life, of every person of every color, matters. For an excellent reflection, see this from Bishop of Washington Marianne Budde and Dean Gary Hall of the National Cathedral. Our readings for the first Sunday are about keeping awake; we need to be awake not just to where Jesus is coming, but where we need to bring him.

On a very different note, but yet another question of life and death, I also want to pass on resources for conversations about end of life care. Every year, our own Rob Atwood, a social worker for hospice care and I lead a conversation about planning for the end of life. What kind of medical interventions do you think you want? Who is authorized to make those decisions for you? What hymns shall we sing at your funeral? Answering as many of these questions in advance as possible is one of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones. The guide Rob and I put together is here.

Some other resources:

MOLST Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment is a Massachusetts state document that presents clear and concise summaries of choices that are made at the end of life; this is filled out by a patient in cooperation with their doctor

A 2013 WBUR story on home death care has fabulous information. One of the people they interview likens it to the choice for a home birth as not right for everyone, but still a right that everyone has.

The Conversation Project was founded by journalist Ellen Goodman and has locals like Liz Walker and Donald Berwick among their advising team, has great conversation starters and a “starter kit” you can download to get yourself thinking about what you want for the end of your life.

Finally, the Litany for Thanksgiving…
Let us give thanks to God for all the gifts so freely bestowed upon us.
For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea,
We thank you, God.
For all that is gracious in the lives of your people, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, God.
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, God.
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, God.
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, God.
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, God.
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, God.
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, God.
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our God;
To Christ be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.

Blessings,
Sara+