Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rest in Peace, Paula

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week, I write with a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy at the amazing gift of the ten year anniversary of ministry celebration on Sunday—truly, it is a marvelous gift to be your priest—and sadness, with the death yesterday of Christ Church friend Paula Tatarunis. Paula had been on a complicated road of recovery from an AVM in her brain that came to light in February, and had been in various states of consciousness since then, almost recovering in April and having a setback when her brain began to bleed in a procedure intended to prevent future strokes. Paula was a brilliant, creative, dedicated, thoughtful, and just generally remarkable human being. She went from lurking in the back pew to being in charge of the altar guild in about five minutes, and helped to keep the choir together in some pretty lean times. She read everything from classical and medieval theology to inter-church debates over Anglican polity with the same intellectual fervor, humor, and some skepticism. She was a doctor at the clinic at Lawrence Memorial in Medford, but had also spent time as a “jailhouse doc” at MCI Norfolk, with a deep passion for justice for the men who were incarcerated there. Paula never rested on anything so simple as tradition or custom in her own spirituality, but was unfailingly dedicated to embodying the wider church tradition, setting the altar with a military precision pretty impressive for someone who was more of a pacifist.

Over the years, Paula came to find that she and Jesus were working through some differences that felt irreconcilable to her. The amount of translation she found herself needing to do to be in church was just too much. The mystery of God for Paula was silence and stillness, out taking pictures of dead weeds. God was harder to find for her in the particularity of Jesus and the practices of the church. We emailed off and on throughout her sojourn away—she was always still wrestling, always still seeking. Last December she came one Sunday and as we were emailing afterwards said it felt good, but that she felt like her vocation was in the outer darkness. She had so much light, though. It was a privilege to be her priest and a daunting wonder to plan her funeral for this Saturday.

I don’t know how other clergy do it, but I fall in love with each of you every single time, and it’s always bound for heartbreak. I cry at your funerals and your baptisms, just astonished at the grace of God and the fleeting nature of it all. This, of course, is the way of the cross—it’s the shape of human life that loss and grief weave through unbearable beauty. One of the graces of the time of accompanying Paula through her journey these last months has been getting to know her husband, Darrell, who, though he dismisses himself as an “agnostic Jewish heathen” shows a love for his wife so deep I can only see God there. The way of the cross is the way of life, as, too, resurrection. Whatever Paula finally thought about the theology of the Trinity, I am so sure that Jesus was just as in love with Paula as those of us who were blessed enough to know her in her life.

Services for Paula will be at Christ Church this Saturday at 1pm, with a larger memorial service with poetry and jazz planned for late October.


Welcome, Discomfort

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week, as hopefully we all are, I’ve continued to be moved by the European migrant crisis. I came across a book of sermons by Walter Brueggeman, an Old Testament scholar, where in a sermon about a passage in the book of the prophet Isaiah he writes this:

There is something about [Jerusalem] that forgets the very mandate of fidelity that makes a city work. There is nothing here about removing these failed poor and making them invisible, deporting them because they are an economic inconvenience. No, because widows and orphans are not an inconvenience. They are a measure of the health of the city, to be measured in terms of justice and righteousness, and Jerusalem has failed that measure (p 50).

Jerusalem failed—our world has clearly failed, too. Refugees are not an inconvenience. Homeless people are not an inconvenience. Victims of addiction, war, environmental devastation. Not an inconvenience, but a signal of health or ill health. That’s about the world. No one is an inconvenience to the heart of God. Yes, we are failing. Yes, I falter. But it’s not hopeless.

The harsher realities of the world, a world where children are abandoned and whole swaths of people dismissed as criminals, have always been so. Whatever Jesus himself meant the time he said that the poor would always be with us, over the last two millennia, at least, so far he’s right. But economic poverty exposes spiritual poverty, and meeting economic need fulfills spiritual need. It goes both ways. The thing I love about Brueggeman’s point is that this is that it offers enough of a breather from the usual guilt/shame/despair cycle to allow for the breath of God to enter. It is only when it appears that the problems of the world and our souls rest in our own power that we get lost. If there is no hope, then that makes it awfully easy to do nothing.

I’ll share again here the prayer I offered on Sunday as part of the children’s sermon. It’s based on one from Thomas Keating, a Roman Catholic priest who has worked to return contemplative prayer and meditation into the Christian tradition.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
Because I know that God is with me.
I welcome the world
I welcome joy and sadness
I welcome fear and delight.
I welcome my friends
I welcome those who are difficult for me to love
I let go of my need to be in charge
I let go of my need for people to think I’m the best
I open myself to the love of God.
I open myself to the love of God.

To which, today, I would add: I welcome the discomfort of seeing those who are in pain. I welcome the feeling that I want to do more to help. I welcome the opportunity to see those here who are in need, asylum seekers to the United States who are in no less need than those across the ocean. I welcome the opportunity to ask hard questions, at how our hearts are moved and when, and what makes them blind. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

And what can you do?
Check out Refugee Immigration Ministries,
based in Malden works with local communities to marshal support, from spiritual resources to homestay. Talk with each other about whether a new ministry could be right for Christ Church.

Be informed. What’s a migrant? A refugee? Why is the difference important? Read here.

Remember you’re part of the wider church, and pray. Remember Muslim brothers and sisters who experience violence because of their faith. Ask how your Christian faith can be deepened by knowing those who are different from you. Check out this from the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Blessed by the Things that Surround Us

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I’m thinking about stuff, preparing for our blessing of backpacks—and phones, ipads, briefcases, brooms, and whatever else you use to make the magic of your work or school happen. Things surround us—books and papers and clothes and dishes and whatever else. On the one hand, I do my best to try to feel unattached. I remember my time this summer in the stark, empty beauty of the Utah red rock wilderness, “needing” only everything I could carry five miles into the woods. Listening to Scripture—Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.—I try to extend this to clothes and books and whatever else I get distracted by.

On the other hand…there can be a thin line between being anti-materialistic and falling into the trap of our disposable culture. Lose one water bottle? Get another. Computer slowing down? You’ll just need a new one soon, go ahead and get it now. It’s just stuff. I recently read Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it’s 100% materialistic—but in a very careful way I really appreciated. The author is Japanese, and it’s grounded in kind of a Shinto spirituality that asks where you’ve come from and how you want to live your life. After you figure that out, how do your possessions support you in that? If your sister gave you a sweater that you hate and every time you see it hanging in your closet you remember how she doesn’t really know you, it’s time to let it go. It has fulfilled its purpose of being given, and you can say thank you and goodbye and stop feeling bad every time you see it. The question is whether things spark joy. If not, let them go with gratitude. It goes perhaps without saying that in the face of the rampant disrespect for human beings evinced in the European refugee crisis (and some of the toxic language in the US around immigration) that the question of our materialism is pretty minor.

Of ultimate importance or not, in the Christian tradition, we do have a long legacy of blessing things. It’s not 100% heretical to think that our things can bless us back, that God is able to be present with us as we encounter the world around us. I don’t know what Marie Kondo would think about the special candelabrum to be used on St. Blaise’s Day (February 3), for blessings throats. But the material world is important. Jesus was resurrected in his body, and famously told Thomas to put his hand in his side. Our bodies are holy. The earth is holy. These are material things, and they matter, though as with all things the invitation is to keep perspective, not to confuse the thing that helps point us toward God with the immaterial unsayable true nature of God.

Our material surroundings are part of the story of Christ Church, too. In seminary there was an expression that always came up in our liturgics classes: “The building always wins.” You can try to make the most airy, contemporary and laid back liturgy, but if you’re doing it in a space that has more in common with a cave, it’s just not going to happen. But things still grow and change. The building of Christ Church has been as much a living thing as the congregation over the years—it’s changed and grown. In 2006 we put in the freestanding altar in memory of Bob Hughes Sr, and the cross that hangs over the high altar was a gift from Muriel Nurse in memory of her mother. She told me the story of how she and Father Bill had chosen it out of a catalog and “hoped for the best” waiting for it to be shipped from England. 42 years later, I think it still works.

So our building, and our community, continues to grow and change. See the announcement from vestry below about the Stations of the Cross—another decision, another opportunity to say “yes” to something new or “no, that’s not right for this place.” Please let us know what you think, and don’t forget to bring your backpack or gear for work or school this Sunday!


Shards and Shares

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’m delighted to be back writing in this space again, and so grateful for our ministry together as well as the space for reflection and time away. Thanks to senior warden Victoria Sundgren and junior warden Sasha Killewald for holding down the fort when I was away, and especially for Sasha’s kind words in this space two weeks ago about my work! Parish ministry really is a strange and wonderful, and most particularly, shared thing. Christ Church didn’t belong to Frederic Fales, the first rector of Christ Church (though our parish halls are now named for him), and it doesn’t belong to me. The ministry of this place belongs to God, and we individually and jointly are honored to participate in it.

This year when I was away, I found myself returning to the idea of wilderness. Much of our vacation this year was in Utah—canyons and red rock wilderness that stretches for miles and miles and miles, climate and landscape totally unlike the northeast. Mostly we hiked, and mostly the beasts of the wild kept to their own corners—except one backcountry trip when a rattlesnake got too tail-shakingly close to 5 year old Adah and we woke to find that a mountain lion had been through our campsite. Creation is a complicated place—we humans imagine that we are at the top, but it’s not that simple.

One of the most striking experiences we had over vacation was visiting first Mesa Verde National Park, and then the Ute Mountain Tribal Park just over the border in New Mexico. Both are home to literally millions of artifacts of the ancestral pueblo people who lived in the area between around 650 and 1300. We toured cave dwellings and pit houses with guides from the National Park Service Mesa Verde and with a Ute guide at the tribal park, and the views of history are so different. At the Ute Tribal Park, the artifacts were scattered around. Black and white pottery sherds were in mounds not far from the side of the road, exposed to wind and rain and, even more perilously, eight year olds. We picked through them and found our favorite designs. At Mesa Verde, artifacts like that were behind glass—old-style museum history, not living history. The National Park Service guide talked about the astonishing mystery of why such an archaeologically advanced culture would pick up and leave—maybe drought, maybe warfare, crop failure or over hunting. The Ute guide just said that it became clear to them that it was time to leave, so they left. It was time. They were supposed to go at one time, and supposed to leave at another. Allowing the artifacts be where they were was part of honoring the past.

Planning fall liturgy with Daniel, our director of music, our relationship to the past is a living question. Instead of potsherds, we have prayers. We worship a living God who moves in our lives today, but our forms are 2000 years old. How often do we sing the traditional Gloria, how often a more contemporary song that praises God in different language? How do we “sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96) in our lives today?


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shifting Gears, Looking Ahead

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’m writing late this week as I get everything ready to leave for vacation. Clergy in the Episcopal Church are blessed with good long chunks of vacation—no three day weekends, but four weeks a year to take whenever I want is pretty great. Time for conferences, retreats, and education, like Wild Goose Festival where I traveled a few weeks ago, is separate. It’s great for me, but it’s also great for you—Revs Anne and Norm, who are each taking two weeks in my absence, are totally different preachers and thinkers than I, and after ten years of me rattling around in that stone building it’s important to get me out of my enclosure once in a while. My family and I will be backpacking and camping the National Parks of Utah and Arizona, so if any pastoral emergencies come up the very faithful and capable clergy of Redeemer Lexington, Revs Kate and Andrew, will be on call. I’ve got one more Sunday, though, until I’m away, so I’m looking forward to being with you this week. The Gospel is a blockbuster—in John’s version of the Feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walks on water right afterwards. One miracle isn’t enough.

Meanwhile, vestry and I have been having some great conversations about what we’d like to work on for 2015-16. I’ve been working on my own goals as well—I’d like to focus more on structuring my work time for better preaching preparation, and I want to try having regular open office hours at CafĂ© on the Common. As I get drawn up into ideas for activities and programs, though, I keep pulling back and remembering what the actual mission here is—the mission is not the program or the attendance at whatever Tuesday event is happening. The mission is the reconciliation of all people with God. If Tuesday night programs help out with that, terrific, but if they’re not, then we should do something else.

So then the question is:
What do you want to do next year?
From the beach or the mountains or Moody Street, wherever you find yourself this summer, take a few minutes to imagine with each other over time and space. I’ve created this google doc to be a big whiteboard—anybody can write on it (no google ID necessary). Throw out all your ideas, sign your name or not, just use your imagination. In the Gospel passage we read last Sunday, Jesus taught the people who gathered “many things.” What does he want to teach us now? What does he want us to teach each other?


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Coming Toward Democracy

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’ve written several versions of this post trying to get to the bottom of what, exactly, I was doing for my time at Wild Goose Festival last week. Part of the standard clergy employment agreement is to have two weeks of “continuing education” time. I’ve gone to Wild Goose Festival now three times as part of that, and also used the time for retreats and conferences. So there is a sense of accountability around it—our parishes generously provide for this (and offer some funding!) in addition to vacation, so I want to try to share this with you.

I’m glad to include links of everything I saw—a lot of the presentations were things the presenters have offered before, so information is easy to convey. I will be glad to send you links. But the experience isn’t about data. What it is about is the amazing sense of how God was working in the lives of the people I met and listened to. Almost every person I heard had a deep sense of Scripture. I did the math and I’ve preached at least 400 sermons. I know some things about the Bible. But the way that Mark Charles, a Navajo activist and educator, talked about how white settlers in the Americas lacked a “land covenant” with God to guide our relationship, or the way Bree Newsome talked about how Jesus worked for peace, not order, or how Tony Campolo talked about the love of Jesus moved in his heart to advocate for GLBT persons in the evangelical movement—literally, OMG.

I have heretical moments, but by and large I think my theology about Jesus is pretty sound. But that’s my theology. My passion for Jesus is more in sacrament and symbol and church and service. It’s more intellection and less clear than “Ok, Lord, I’ll climb that pole.” I’d be afraid to climb a flag pole just for the sake of the height, much less risking arrest and the legitimate possibility of being shot. But Bree Newsome pointed out that Jesus was mostly just in the Temple when he was knocking things over. He was out in the world doing his ministry where God called him to be.

So that’s my real invitation from Wild Goose Festival. Where am I muting the invitation of the Holy Spirit because of fear? Where am I unfree from a disordered attachment to comfort? In church, in my family, in my prayer? How often am I willing to do the hard work for genuine, holy, peace? To learn from marginalized voices, not because it’s my “duty,” but because Jesus is there. It’s very comfortable to say that “education” is the key to success and social mobility, and that’s often true. But where we need to lean harder on education is for people like me who don’t get arrested for failing to use a turn signal, to learn what we don’t know. As a person of privilege in this country I can be like a fish in water and not have to understand what water is. But that is not the way of Jesus.

A white anti-racist response has to come from humility. This country was founded on the theft of land and came to economic dominance through slavery. It is coming toward democracy, and is founded on some amazing ideals of freedom and equality that are coming toward being for all people. But those ideals aren’t a reality for all of its people. The inspiring part, though, is that if the truth really will set us free—and I think we have to believe it does—is that we are all on our way to the vineyard. Some will be on time, some will be late, and some will be really, really late. But as Episcopal priest Paul Fromberg said in his talk on “An apocalyptic of peace:” I don’t believe in progress. I believe in salvation.”

As a Christian I, too, believe in salvation.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Receiving Grace

Dear People of Christ Church,
As you read this I’ll be almost finished with my 900 mile drive south to Hot Springs, North Carolina, home of the Wild Goose Festival, a Thursday through Sunday extravaganza of God, peace, art, music, and muddy Christians. Hot Springs is in an area in Western North Carolina that is basically a rain forest, and with mostly tent campers, you get very comfortable with dirt. 2 years ago my family had a bit of an extra adventure when our elderly camping trailer and our not-quite-up-to-the-task Subaru were no match for the mountains. Four of us in the front of a tow truck driving 45 minutes into the mountains to retrieve our camper was an exploit we hope not to repeat, so this year we are staying in a much more portable tent.

The first time we were at Wild Goose we heard civil rights veteran Vincent Harding speak—all the more powerful now, since he died in 2014. I remember hearing him talk about the United States as an “emerging” democracy—we just aren’t all there yet, as a nation, but God is leading us on. Observing July 4 this past week in the wake of the Supreme Court’s equal marriage decision felt like our country emerged a little further, though there is still a distance to go. Fundamentally, though, our faith is about joy, not sorrow. The Gospel calls us to mourn and weep (I’ve forgotten how many of the psalms are laments, but it’s a lot), but also tell us joy comes in the morning and that we are already reconciled to God. Already.

The most incredible gift, the one that’s somewhat peculiarly difficult to receive, is the grace of Jesus—the already-forgiven places we are invited to live in. Over the last few weeks I’ve sung Amazing Grace more times than usual, mostly as a go-to hymn a lot of people just know. We sang it at the service for Charleston, we sang it because the hymn number was printed incorrectly in church two Sundays ago, and we sang it this past week at Church in the Garden when we were competing with ambulances and traffic. My favorite verse is the last one:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

I love this image beyond time and space, as though we could begin singing and giving thanks for God now, but there’s no way we’ll ever finish. Even after ten thousand years, still the grace of God will catch us in joy, nudging us like a four year old who just needs their back scratched a little longer at bedtime. Just a little longer. Ten thousand years isn’t enough.

Where is grace finding you these summer days?


PS: please come to church this Sunday as we continue summer worship at 9:30—the incomparable Rev. Anne Minton joins us!…
Stop by and say hi between 10-12 this Saturday, too, for Waltham History Day at Christ Church!