Invisible Hugs

In my last post I mentioned that at a very difficult time in my life I had prayed for God to let my life be useful to others. It’s still a prayer I say every night and it sustains me daily. Every time an opportunity appears for that to happen, it’s almost like I’m receiving a special invisible hug from God. It really can transform the way you experience your daily life.

It reminds me of an experiment I once tried that was so successful that I have just adopted it as my modus operandi. Pick a person in your life, or it can be a random colleague or co-worker. Preferably this would be someone who you find challenging to get along with. Now, the experiment is to find one thing a day to sincerely admire about that person and then find a way to mention it or compliment them about it. I know! It’s REALLY hard at first. Especially if you are angry and resentful at that person, or if they have hurt you.

You have to force yourself to drop that stuff for a bit, step back and look at them with open eyes. At first just find something easy. Maybe notice some task they are good at, or their vocabulary, or attention to detail! Maybe they notice what you do or don’t do all the time, darn them! Well, that can also be a strength. Think about that until you believe it’s one. Then let them know how you’ve been meaning to tell them that you really admire that attention to detail. It’ll be awkward as heck at first. They will be suspicious. They will think you are being insincere, flattering them, trying to get something from them. Just keep your cool, mean it and leave it at that. Then do it again the next day. Find something else, mention it and move on. It’s a discipline, like any exercise it requires effort and practice.

After a few weeks, don’t be surprised if they confront you and ask you why you are acting so nice to them. They might accuse you of secretly hating them and want to know what you are after. Just tell them the truth. Tell them you realized you hadn’t really taken a good look at who they were, and the more you got to know them, the more the “real them” began to shine through. Be sincere. What you will discover is that being honest, sincere, and vulnerable with people and just making yourself look into them and then talking about their positive traits will change everything in the way you see them, the world and the people around you. Try it. I dare you.

Switching gears a bit, I am going to talk about some kind of mundane stuff for a change now. At my consulting job a couple of the gentlemen I work with have started calling me by a nickname which I confess totally delights me. I just LOVE nicknames. My name is so unusual and I am fond of it and I guess it really suits me so people don’t generally give me nicknames. A couple of my best boyfriends figured this out about me and gave me sweet endearing ones and I was total goo. I especially liked the ones that liken me to cute animals. Who doesn’t right? I am fond of Otters for example. They live in the water half the time and so would I if I had the chance and who doesn’t want to be considered as adorable as one? Then there’s variations on the term Smidge because I’m kind of little. So nicknames are cool. They call me Cinnamon at the office here …which is great because it’s my favorite spice, I’m a total cinnamon junkie and because it sounds a bit like my name sounds:  Cinnamon= /SinJun/ So Yay Nicknames!

I got sent a few of those “greatest proposal ever” videos with these big elaborate dance numbers or intricately choreographed moments with family participation and it seems sweet and overwhelming and everything. Then I was nearby when my Mom was watching a show she follows called “The Glades.” In it, the main character is struggling with his feelings for his girlfriend in the season finale. She is in Atlanta studying while he is in Miami working. They are dealing with long distance relationship issues. Other women are hitting on him. She is guilty for taking this time to go to school for herself. But they love each other. She finally passes this big test and she is out celebrating with the women who have been training her. She decides not to call and tell him, but to drive home and tell him in person the next day as a surprise. She doesn’t have to though because he walks into the bar they are at, smiles, congratulates her and asks her to come outside. He tells her they need to talk and starts to explain that he can’t do this anymore. She objects and says she loves him, she knows they can figure out a way to work things out. She has this horrible he’s breaking up with me look on her face. He shakes his head and says he doesn’t know how they’ll work it out, but he does know he can’t do this anymore. He looks down, then he gets on one knee, pulls out a ring and proposes!

Jim Longworth Proposes to Callie Cargill on the TV show "The Glades" on A&E

Jim Longworth Proposes to Callie Cargill on the TV show “The Glades” on A&E

He says, I need to know that however we work it out, we know we are going to be working it out together. Will you marry me? She is stunned and that’s how they end the show/season.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I think this is one of the more romantic proposals I’ve seen. That may sound crazy, but here’s why. He is full of anxiety about this relationship but he finally has an epiphany that what is bothering him is that he doesn’t ever want to lose her. So what does he do? He doesn’t waste a minute, he drops everything, he goes right then to a store, buys a ring, flies to Atlanta, tracks her down and basically falls at her feet to beg her to marry him. I mean…that is ROMANTIC. That’s what I want. I don’t need or want elaborate, fancy or prepared. I want someone who is crazy in love and desperate for me to say yes and can’t wait to get to me and ask for me to be his for the rest of his life. No dance, lip sync, art gallery opening or trick will ever top that. Do you agree?

Moving on to my next mundane topic…the show Political Animals: If you missed it, get ye hence and go watch it. Especially if you are a lady. Sigourney Weaver is amazing as always.

Lastly I have noticed that since I have moved back down to Alabama my total crush on big trucks has come back. Plenty of them around here too. Sikorsky, the helicopter plant is here and there are lots of truck driving men around here. They take good care of them too. A very entertaining young lady who works at the plant where I am consulting drives her boyfriend’s massive Dodge truck to work every day with its Hemi and shiny rims. It’s very intimidating when I park next to it. I think I am just feeling bad because my beat up little Nissan is really starting to sputter a bit. I’m afraid it may not last much longer. I do coax it and talk to it daily. It does its best. I miss my Audi. I really shouldn’t though. I am afraid the car buff and technology junkie in me are the pieces that cling the hardest to the materialistic mindset. Of course the girly girl within whines about my formerly frequent mani-pedis, the fancy salon and my shoe budget but I am quite the frugal fashionista now and proud of it so I can shrug that stuff off. Easy to beat that back simply by thinking of other things that money could go to, charitable stuff!

But the part of me that lusts after a nicer car with a powerful engine and smooth suspension, along with a jack for my phone so I can play Spotify through the speakers? The eternal whisper of the need for a faster, stronger laptop, an upgraded phone soon…oh and how am I even living without an iPad? Those are the hardest to ignore.

I prefer to leave such acquisitions in the hands of God now, I would rather let him provide. Not at my pace, but his. It helps me practice another discipline I mentioned not long ago, that of patience. Practice as you know, is the only way to improve.

Speaking of improving, I had my tutoring orientation for church today and it was super exciting. I met new people, I got this book

Tutoring Your Elementary Child with TLC

Tutoring Your Elementary Child with TLC

I volunteered to maintain a Facebook group. I already got assigned a student! We get to have dinner with them and then spend about an hour helping them with homework. How awesome is that? See? Another invisible hug from God.  How can an iPad compete with that? 🙂


This May Get A Little Controversial

While I haven’t updated as frequently as I have wanted to that’s because there has been so much happening. I have been polishing up my online presence, giving my old consulting site a facelift, a Facebook page and reactivating it’s Twitter feed. I’ve been sorting through the way too many websites and blogs I’ve left littered all over the place in the last few years to try and determine what to leave up and what to take down in preparation for launching my book. I’ve also been working on the integrated social  media strategy for it, because of course, online is interwoven into the plot. How could it not be when I swear I think part of my brain is somehow wirelessly connected to the Internet already? That reminds me, I need to open a savings account to start putting away some dollar bills for Google’s Project Glass. Talk about tech lust. That has my name written all over it.

Here’s what THAT is:

I read a little bit of the Bible (NRSV) every night. I just open a random page and see what’s there ya’ know? Last night I opened it and it fell to a page that started about midway through the Sermon on the Mount at Matthew 5:14 which began with “You are the light of the world” and continued through the admonition to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” One of my all time favorite verses is in the middle of the page, I wish everyone would take it to heart which is Matthew 5:42 “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Notice it says nothing about checking to see if they deserve it or what they are going to spend it on.

Anyway I bring this up simply because that Rep. Akin who talked about “legitimate” rape made a lot of women feel persecuted with his careless words. I am guessing there are already some people who think women are making too big of a deal over it. Actually I am sure of it. While I think this man shouldn’t be in any position to make laws or policy, I don’t want to be angry at him. I just want to forgive. Oddly enough, after reading an earlier post by Eve Ensler that moved me more than I can say because it captured the pain his words engendered, The Onion posted an article that made me laugh my ass off. After reading it, I was able to let go of my anger and forgive. I still think he should quit, but you know, I can pray for him. Pray for him to find understanding. Pray for him to retire. Even if you aren’t looking to forgive, I think you will still really enjoy this article.

I’ve mentioned that I’d been researching the Marines because of a character in my forthcoming book. I also met someone who even though I’ve only known them a short while is one of those people that nudges you into a new way of looking at the world. I wish I knew them better than I do, but even the small amount of time I have spent with them was enough to open my eyes and engage my deeply passionate heart about the issues facing active duty military and veterans who’ve returned from combat. My own almost painful sensitivity to people who are suffering already makes me naturally empathetic to issues facing warriors who are wounded both physically and mentally. In fact I would say that the hidden wounds call to me even more.

God has blessed me with many gifts and some challenges as well. One of the gifts has been an eidetic visual memory and the ability to hold and process  seeming incredible amounts of information in my head. I also periodically come across a problem, issue, or subject area that calls to me and nothing will do but for me to quite literally digest every bit of usable information I can find on the topic and and anything that relates to it. I consume it voraciously with an appetite that does not end until a kind of information map is created in my mind and connections and solutions start appearing. They are usually connections and solutions that are new because no one has aggregated the kinds of sources I do before.

Because of the almost visceral way I am plugged into the Internet and my instinctive understanding of how information is added, circulated, archived and indexed, it makes it easier for me to find unique as well as standardized sources of information. Once I start to identify causal relationships, dependent conditions, redundancies, all the little islands of duplicate efforts and all the places where there is no communication…things really start to cook. That’s where I am right now. So that is something that is happening in the back of my mind while I am also consulting on documenting peanut butter manufacturing processes and trying to finish my book.

The friend who started all of this isn’t much in my life though I pray every day that that could be different. When we do get to check in, they offer much needed feedback and input to help me direct my energy and most recently steered me into working to develop a concrete plan that we could perhaps work to execute together to make a real difference in the lives of many who are suffering. It would mean a lot to me to help even one sufferer. The recent soldier suicide report was extremely upsetting and left me very shaken. Especially if you consider it only took into account the month of July for one branch of the service, the Army, which isn’t even the force that is serving most heavily in Afghanistan… that would be the Marines. It also doesn’t take into account the number of suicides by Veterans who’ve recently returned or in the other branches of US Military service. Bottom line: No one in our military should feel alone or unsupported.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if you don’t support the war, the administration or whatever. YOU ALWAYS SUPPORT OUR TROOPS! Why? I can’t believe I have to explain this to anyone. They are attempting to live a life of service to this country. In many countries a year of service is mandatory. Service to others, your community, your neighbors, your fellow brothers and sisters in uniform and your country is something to admire and be proud of.

Our armed forces don’t “die for nothing.” If I ever see that posted in a comment on a website again I think I will lose it… I swear. What an utterly insensitive, cruel, judgmental and wrongheaded thing to say. I understand feeling helpless, angry and sad when young people die in service, especially in a war you may not support. But you need to respect that sacrifice and understand that they didn’t die for some political reason…they died to protect their brothers and sisters, their unit, the ideals we stand for as a country which in many cases is about being the representative of justice, compassion and protection for civilians who have no one to stand between them and death. That’s what America has always tried to stand for, the side of good, the side of justice. Sometimes I read posts where people say, why us? Why should we be out there helping those people? I don’t know…maybe because we are a tiny fragment of the Earth’s population but we use the majority of its resources. Don’t we have a responsibility to give something back in return? Shouldn’t we honor agreements we’ve made with allies? Don’t we have a duty to keep commitments to people who risked everything to help us find and reduce the threats to our nation?

I’ve recently heard from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts that people have looked at them with disgust when finding out they served in combat. That they’ve been treated shamefully by Americans who feel distaste at reasons we were in Iraq. They had no control over that. I am such a peaceful, compassionate person but I wept silently and was filled with a kind of fierce protectiveness to hear the break in such strong men’s voices, to hear shame for something they had nothing to be ashamed of. To hear stories of young men overcome by it and killing themselves rather than facing that kind of hostility the rest of their lives. Did we learn nothing from Vietnam? I was born after that war but my family raised me to understand that the way veterans were treated during that time was one of America’s greatest shames. How can it possibly be happening again?

All I ask if you are reading this is to please check any knee jerk reaction you might have to the military and the “war.” The people fighting it are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands. Their spouses, children, mothers and fathers are living here in agony waiting for news, dealing with news or trying to adjust to the changed person who has returned.

These folks who enlisted are mostly kids who went in for lots of different reasons, unsurprisingly a lot of them come from poorer families and they were looking for a steady paycheck to provide for a family or a chance to go to college or learn a trade. They dedicated themselves. They worked so hard to make it and then they serve in dangerous and unforgiving places around the world to meet the needs of our country. Honor them. Check this stuff out. Listen to your heart and see where it’s calling you. The media is barely covering this stuff and I can’t tell you how isolating it is to the families to know that America seems to have virtually forgotten them. I know people better than that. They are just like I was, they hadn’t crossed paths with someone who gave them a nudge and changed the way they saw the world forever. I now wish it for everyone.

Tonight I am praying a special prayer. It goes out to my friend and to all those who are suffering.

Father please be with those who are alone with their fretful thoughts tonight. Quiet the images, the noise, the restlessness and the fear. Soothe them, nurture them, give them peace and balm so that they find deep slumber and rest. Stay with them through the night, comfort them, those they love and those who love them. Be with them as they wake, at their rising and as they go about their work…whatever comes. Guard them and protect them, waking or sleeping, always surrounding them with your love. All this I pray in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Prayer for Thanksgiving

I asked God to take away my pain.
God said, No. It is not for me to take away,
but for you to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No. Her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience.
God said No. Patience is a by-product of tribulations;
it isn’t granted, it is earned.
I asked God to give me happiness.
God said No. I give you blessings.
Happiness is up to you.
I asked God to spare me pain.
God said No. Suffering draws you apart from
worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, No. You must grow on your own,
but I will prune you to make you more fruitful.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, No. I will give you life so that you
can enjoy all things.
I asked God to help me LOVE others, as much as
He loves me. God said…..Ahhhhh, finally you have the idea.

—Author Unknown



The Entertainment Report

The problem with delayed updates is that there is way too much to say!

There have been movies! There have been books! There has been music!

Not to mention the Inauguration, two trips, one to Roanoke and one to Richmond and the anticipation of starting Spring term on the 4th!

Let’s start with the movies. I saw Slumdog Millionaire right before it won a bunch of Golden Globes so I was right there with them when they celebrated their unexpected win. It’s a gorgeous film, full of the tragic bittersweet comedy of life, set in India and somehow illuminates the paradox of savage beauty that exists there… the poverty and caste systems that grind people up and spit them out and the joyful triumph of overcoming it.

I also checked out StepBrothers on DVD and thought it was quirky and sweet if forgettable. I felt like the director watched the movie several times and purposefully added gross out humor in to the slow spots to juice it up for the primo demographic for that film…young adult males. While visiting my mom in Richmond during the Inauguration we also watched Appaloosa, a western featuring Scott Glen, Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zelwegger. It was entertaining and had flashes of humor. Zelwegger irritates the spit out of me a good half of the times I see her in films. Don’t know what it is. However, she looks really cute in an upcoming film called New in Town.

Now on to Books: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a fantastic read. It is so well written and engrossing that everything I’ve read since suffers in comparison. Better reviewers than I have described this novel which wrapped around my heart the way Huckleberry Finn did when I was a child, still my all time favorite.

Dead for 10 minutes before his father orders him to breathe in the name of the living God, Reuben Land is living proof that the world is full of miracles. But it’s the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale. From the vantage point of adulthood, Reuben tells how his father rescued his brother Davy’s girlfriend from two attackers, how that led to Davy being jailed for murder and how, once Davy escapes and heads south for the Badlands of North Dakota, 12-year-old Reuben, his younger sister Swede and their janitor father light out after him. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase, just as he had a part to play in his brother’s trial. It’s the kind of story that used to be material for ballads, and Enger twines in numerous references to the Old West, chiefly through the rhymed poetry Swede writes about a hero called Sunny Sundown. That the story is set in the early ’60s in Minnesota gives it an archetypal feel, evoking a time when the possibility of getting lost in the country still existed. Enger has created a world of signs, where dead crows fall in a snowstorm and vagrants lie curled up in fields, in which everything is significant, everything has weight and comprehension is always fleeting. This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a NorthDakota winter, a novel about faith, miracles and family that is, ultimately, miraculous.Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

I’ve also been meandering through The New Kings of Nonfiction edited by Ira Glass
It’s a collection of the best new non fiction writers stories. Magazine and newspaper articles written with emotional engagement and cleverness, wit and more than a touch of humor. It’s great on the metro on my way to church.

There’s also been some interesting music. I watched Oprah quite by accident on the 19th and saw the premier of America’s song. It was incredibly inspiring. Sung by, Faith Hill, Seal, Mary J. Blige and Bono it somehow reminded me that America isn’t hampered because of it’s differences and divisions but strengthened by them. Check it out!

Then there was a trip to Roanoke the weekend before the Inauguration. Had dinner at Grace’s Place pizza which turned out to be very tasty and inexpensive and then went and had hot beverages to keep warm at Mill Mountain coffee downtown. I love their English Breakfast tea which they serve in a little pot. Tastes so much better than bags or even sachets. I went home and had a glass of wine and caught up on some TV before snuggling up and sleeping all tangled up, safe and secure and utterly at peace for the first time in weeks.

The next morning I had warm bagels and watched the news and vegged out until 3 in the afternoon when I went out to meet my friends Christina and Jennifer and her adorable girls.  Afterwards we went to the good ol’ Fork in the Alley for an early dinner/late lunch before I had to head home. They have killer hot dawgs. Almost as good as the Dew Drop…almost. I can’t wait to eat there next month! That’s the first place I am eating when I go home for Mardi Gras. I am gonna’ have a chili cheese burger, fries and fried okra! Mmmm. Too bad my daughter won’t be with me, she always got the onion rings and I usually swiped one. I could never eat more than that, but I liked having one. We went home where we lingered for a while before loading up both cars and then saying our goodbyes. It was a wonderful tonic though to see me through until the 30th.

After I came back and worked most of the day Sunday at the 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. services Sunday, I was so overwhelmed by the crowds on the metro on my way back home that I decided to go to Richmond for the rest of the Inaugural. There must have been several thousand people crammed into the train I squeezed on to. It was only 2 stops before they exited at the stop closest to the Lincoln Memorial where they were going to attend the free concert there, but the station was crammed with people too, and the people who exited had very little room on the platform to get off the train onto. Phew. Once they were off though it was OK until I got off at the last station. When I parked there in the morning it was practically empty. Now they had barricades up and lines had formed. They were checking every person before they went through the turnstiles. It was scary. All the more reason to hit the road.

I went home, did some laundry, packed my car and bailed. I couldn’t reach my mom on the phone so she was a little surprised when I woke her up banging on the door, but happy to see me none the less. She was off for a bit so we got to spend some quality time together. We went to dinner at Carrabas, got a couple of videos and then ran some errands together the next day. I played with my puppy dog the whole time and he slept with me too. I miss him a bunch and get to pick him up to take home on the 29th.

In the meantime, there is Ice Skating at the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art on Friday, I give my 3rd sermon in the big church at the 12:10 on Monday (!) and it’s on Paul’s conversion no less. I have Saturday off to do something fun and I am giving a presentation on using technology to grow your church on Tuesday to the Church Growth committee. So lots of stuff to look forward to.

I have one solitary ache in my heart but I am counting on God to assuage it. I trust that he will. He is all that I ever need.

The color of grouch

Blue is the color of sadness and also of cold, so I think it’s accurate to say that I’m a little blue. I am not sure why I am feeling so gloomy, but I am. It might have something to do with me missing my friends, church, mom and Tucker. I am not getting any exercise here either so that can’t help.

Last Sunday I worked at two services at the altar. At the 7:45 a.m. service I was a chalicist, and at the 9:00 a.m. I was a chalicist and reader. While serving at the altar I ended up being on the side where President and Laura Bush were receiving the Eucharist so I actually made eye contact with both of them. They intinct, or dip the wafer in the wine.
Whatever my own political beliefs, in church we are all the same before God. We are there because it is so easy to sin or drift away from God, and we all seek a closer relationship with him. So for that moment they aren’t the President and First Lady, but two parishioners seeking what we all do in communion, union with the holy.

At the 9:00 a.m. service I read the Epistle and chaliced as well as giving the dismissal. Pretty cool. That was something I’d never done and it was a tingly experience. Sunday I also burned my fingers on a kettle on the stove at my hostess’s house. This would be the same kettle she cautioned me to check to make sure it had water before turning on the heat since another houseguest burned up the last one. Before I left in the morning for church I put water in it and not really thinking I just turned the kettle on when I came in since I was freezing. In the interim, Ellen had used all the water in the pot I’d left. So her very nice, very expensive enamel kettle burnt up and damaged not only the kettle but the burner on which it rested. In my haste to remove it from the stove I ended up getting a couple of surface burns that blistered up on top of two of the fingers of my left hand. Ouch. It hurt so bad and for so long I went up and got some Neosporin pain relief and “aqua pad” burn dressing to cover them. I also had to report to Ellen what I’d done, since she was visiting her mother in D.C. when it happened. It was hard to make that call, but she has been so understanding about it. I felt like such an idiot and was all jangled up for hours.

I’d also heard that my 16 year old nephew was car jacked in Mobile and had a couple of men put guns to his head before he was able to flee on foot. He got glass in his feet because he’d just been wearing flip flops and he lost them in his haste to get away. The only car he and my sister had was taken and the Police said they expect it to be ditched and set on fire. He also lost all his money and his cell phone. They used his VISA debit card to buy gas at 5 different places in a nearby town called Pritchard. Hopefully he will get that back since they were fraudulent charges.

I’ve decided to take a quick trip back to Roanoke this weekend to get some things I left behind. I think it will be restorative. I’ll leave Thursday night and come back Saturday night. I am at the altar this Sunday at the 9:00, the 11:00 and am supposed to shadow a Lay Eucharistic Minister here. The woman I will be going with is really cool though. I met her last night at a training session for community organizers that I attended with the Reverend Saunders. She and I talked for most of the dinner portion about how weird it is to us that everyone intincts in the state of Virginia and even here in the DC area. We both spent most of our lives in churches where most people shared the common cup and to do otherwise was perceived as Eucharistically incorrect. We had a good old Episcopalian gabfest. It was awesome.

I also had a nice noontime Eucharist today with a visiting minister who I talked about my “call” with. She said she also got a very strong call and that she used to feel weird about it in seminary where people were saying things like , it just seems like a good career. In the long run though she said it’s been a tremendous blessing because she has never felt lost in her sense of mission. I can identify with that. I also identified with being surrounded by a group of people who were more focused on the the material, social and external world reasons for church work than any sense of the holy and awesome presence of God. This never happened at St.John’s in Roanoke, but I am guessing it is a common thing in the church.

This goes back to my philosophy of church being a place to worship God, not to make ourselves feel better. What I experienced during my near death experience was enough to inspire lifelong awe, amazement and a sense of how we can be both so incredibly small before the greatness that is God, and so dearly loved at the same time. My worship comes from that place and when I work in a service it is to that moment that I turn to meditate before it begins.

Thursday I will also work with the Hispanic Youth Group and I really look forward to it. I had a great time with them last Thursday when we went bowling. They are full of energy and life. I’ll try and get some pics I took there printed to take to them.

I will write a Lent meditation for the churches in-house Lenten publication by Friday and am ruminating on a Homily I am to give at the weekday service on Monday the 26th.

Tonight I am on my own for dinner etc. so I am thinking of driving out to the Leesburg Outlet Mall, I think I might find a good deal on a kettle there to replace the one I burned up and with tomorrow’s temps and all my warmest stuff at the cleaners I am thinking a quick dash through the bargains might be in order.

Perhaps that will de-grouchify me.

Taking my medicine

Sunday is my favorite day and not just because I get to go to church.

Today was an especially good Sunday. Here’s why. I was a little overbooked as usual, but somehow I love that. It makes me feel alive and so connected to God to be breathing and living in so many different parts of his church. I forgot to get the Munchkins I like to bring the kids so I set the alarm extra early to go get them. I hit Starbucks on the way in for good measure to have one of their divine Signature Hot Chocolates. They are my new addiction and I have been more or less subsisting on a diet of them until tonight.

Munchkins and chocolate in hand I rolled in to church in plenty of time to peruse the church library and grab an illustrated kid’s Bible to use in my sermon for Children’s church…score!

Today’s reading is one of my favorites anyway, Matthew 25: 31-46, the one where Jesus says “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

I had fun ad libbing a sermon using the pictures and talking about how people would ask Jesus, “what do you mean Jesus? I didn’t see you needing clothes, I never ordered you a pizza”. When my little sermon was over and we sang the last of the songs, one of which is called Butterfly… the kids just go crazy for it, we went to the small chapel to wait to be called in. In the chapel there is a beautiful stained glass window with many symbols. The kids get to pick a symbol and one of the adults usually tells a story about it why we wait. Today the symbol chosen was fire, and one of the music leaders who is a biblical scholar told this story from the Old Testament about King Nebuchadnezzar trying to burn up a few of Daniel’s friends in a furnace and how they walk out unscathed. Pretty neat.

Next up was Sunday school and the story was about the Census and Jesus birth, but it took a long time to get the kids to follow directions, which also seemed to be overly complicated. Thank goodness for my helper. I had to dash out early to get vested for Chalice and reading the Prayers of the People for the 11:00 a.m. service. I almost jumped the gun and was a breath away from running right over the Nicene creed and going right into the prayers. Lucky for me, the Reverend Chip Graves started it fast and then the Reverend Lisa Graves caught my eye in the audience. Honestly I think I was still a little dazed from the wonderful sermon I’d just heard from the Reverend Barkley Thompson.

I admit my cares are weighing heavy on me. Specifically the fact that in a week I could potentially have no home in Roanoke. A simple request for my address from my alumnae sponsor in DC creates anxiety.  But the sermon today helped me put all of that out of my mind and focus on God, on my mission and on as Barkley put it, what Jesus looks for in us. As in the Gospel story today when he decides who inherits the rewards of the Kingdom and who is cast into the “flames”, not belief, but mercy. He divides the sheep from the goats based on their actions to the least of us. Not by being saved, not by professing anything, but by showing mercy.

I really needed to hear that today. When my heart was so filled with pain and hurt from the shabby way the woman I almost moved in with has treated me. I was so angry and dismayed, felt stung and betrayed, and robbed. I felt that she duped me. That she basically won my trust, only to change the rules at the last minute and then keep my money illegally, leaving me in an untenable situation.

After I wrapped up my duties at the 11, I got to have some one on one time with the Reverend Lisa Graves. I think I could talk to her an hour every day and never run out of stuff to talk about. I am going to miss her so much. We talked about my discernment committee and she reminded me that I am now actually officially an Aspirant. Wow. That is amazing isn’t it? She encouraged me to register for the open house at Virginia Theological Seminary in February. So I think I will. My next 2 semesters will be almost all religion courses. I really want to do my honors thesis around Communion. I have several approaches I have suggested and now I am waiting for approval from the department heads to find out which way to proceed. I have to begin the reading in J-term. I hope to hit some of the libraries in DC while I am there. Like VTS’s. 🙂

Tonight I went to the Gathering service and during Communion I was praying about my whole situation, the no place to live and the hurt I was feeling about the loss of basically all my moving money to secure a new place. I felt God was directing me not to fear at all, like I was like a little bird held in his hand, and surrounded by those that care about me. Instantly I felt better. About the money and my feelings of anger, he just showed me the woman, and how she dealt with me and that she expected me to come after her for the money and to confirm for her some negative opinion she has of people. That this just justifies her theft.

I suppose he was reminding me of the verses from the Sermon on the Mount, “But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:38:45 RSV)

No one in my family would agree with me, I know that, but after praying on it, I really feel that I should not “let it go”, but write to her, telling her how I felt and that I forgive her and that if she needs the money enough to take it in this way, I gift it to her.

Tonight was also the season finale of TrueBlood. It was pretty satisfying and I have to confess I didn’t see it coming. No spoilers here, I hate to ruin it for people. A little bummed about a couple of potential plot twists but am so happy about the big finish. I am really looking forward to next season, which it appears will start in Summer. I love Summer. So much time to read fiction and watch movies. I am dying to read the second Twilight book now that I’ve seen the movie version. I think the book was better, but the movie was still fun. I wonder what I should do for Summer. I know I need to take Spanish I and II, maybe at Virginia Western or even online but other than that, I don’t have anything scheduled. Lisa asked me if I would spend it in Greensboro. Interesting question.

I am trying not to dwell on what’s going to be determined in the next couple of days. I’ll either have all my stuff in storage and have no home of my own after all or I’ll have experienced some kind of miracle.

We’ll see.

From The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of Washington National Cathedral

I was very moved by this reflection and I hope you will take a moment to read it and be moved by it too.

From a sermon given on October 12, 2008 • Pentecost XXII

When Worship Goes Wrong

Sam Lloyd

The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of Washington National Cathedral

“This was the week the sky fell.” That comment by a stock broker on Friday pretty well sums up what Americans and people around the world have been feeling. The market has been jittery for weeks and months, falling nearly 40% from its peak a year ago and wiping out some two trillion dollars of people’s savings. Last week’s declines in the stock market were the worst in history.

People I talked to last week were checking the stock market numbers every few minutes as if they were taking their temperature. We saw pictures of stock traders staring at the numbers and looking as if they’d seen a ghost. And we’ve probably all had conversations with people who have watched their life savings nearly disappear and have a hard time imagining that they will ever be able to retire. Everything seems shaky, at least for the moment, and we’re left wondering, “How did this happen?” “How could we be so vulnerable?” and, for us here today, “What does this mean for us as people of faith?”

To explore this I want you to travel back with me 3000 years to another crisis, the one we heard about in our Old Testament lesson. This one takes place in the baking heat of a Middle Eastern desert. Moses is leading the Hebrew people through the wilderness as they flee from slavery under the Pharaoh in Egypt. But along the way a rebellion erupts as the crowd decides it’s time for them to worship a different god.

Moses has gone up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, and his followers are exhausted, restless, tired of this endless journey they’ve been on. They’ve had enough. It’s time for some comfort, some assurance. So they decide to create an image of a more manageable, less demanding god. They gather all the gold jewelry they have brought along, cast them into the form of a golden calf, and throw a festival of burnt offerings and sacrifices to worship this different god.

That may sound like nonsense, because we’re sure we have progressed to the point where such idolatry is unthinkable. But all of us human beings are worshipers. We all bow down before something that we believe is of infinite worth to us. And we tend to get confused about the object of our worship. In fact, we humans are at heart polytheists. We worship all sorts of gods. The Egyptians worshiped a whole pantheon of them, as did the Romans. When St. Paul went to preach in Athens, he found the Athenians hedging their bets by worshiping Apollo, Aphrodite, and Athena.

And we Americans are polytheists too. We worship Venus, the goddess of beauty. Just think of the money and time spent to make ourselves look handsome and beautiful. We as a superpower worship Mars, the god of war and battle, and our entertainment keeps us enthralled with Eros, the god of passion and sex. And of course we worship the god of wealth. My guess is that the greatest god in this city, the one to whom more sacrifices are made and to whom more people dedicate their lives, is the god of work. Many are willing to sacrifice just about everything in their lives in order to bow down before this god.

“Idolatry”, consorting with “other gods,” has been from the beginning one of the most serious concerns for people of faith. In fact, of the Ten Commandments at the foundation of Jewish and Christian faith, the first two concern the object of our worship. “You shall have no other gods but me” and “You shall not make for yourself graven image,” or “an idol.” Our first and deepest danger is that we will worship the wrong God.

Most scholars believe that those Hebrews’ golden calf was an idol for the Canaanite god Baal, who also went by the name Mammon. In other words, they began to worship a god of wealth, but not just money itself, but a god who oversees a whole economy that creates the wealth that ensures that I get mine. Mammon seemed to them a more reliable god, one who could help them live just they way they wanted to. And to this day, of all the gods we tend to worship, chances are that somewhere in the pantheon for most of us is Baal or Mammon.

My guess is that there has been a great deal of Mammon worship going on in recent years among those who have driven our economy nearly over the brink. Despite the good intentions of many in the world of banking and finance, a climate of irresponsibility, and greed seized large parts of that industry and led to widespread lending of money without assessing the borrower’s ability to pay it back. And all this was masked in complex financial arrangements few even understood. America’s money has been mishandled for maximum profit.

But I want to suggest that the real golden calf of our time, the real god we Americans worship, isn’t simply the god of wealth, but the god of “More.” This is the god who declares that we can live without limits, that more wealth, more growth, more spending must always be the way of the future. Whether you look at what is happening in our economic crisis, or to our climate, or to our energy resources, or at the general driven-ness and anxiety of American society, it is clear that as a society we have come to worship the golden calf of unlimited growth. That wise poet and essayist Wendell Berry puts it this way:

The commonly accepted basis of our economy is the supposed possibility of limitless growth, limitless wants, limitless wealth, limitless natural resources, limitless energy, and limitless debt. The idea of a limitless economy implies and requires a doctrine of general human limitlessness; all are entitled to pursue without limit whatever they conceive as desirable.

Our national faith has become, “There’s always more,” Berry says. The average American stopped saving years ago and is living on debt and juggling multiple credit cards. We are seeing the consequences of our unlimited burning of fossil fuels. We are watching the gaps between rich and poor expand dangerously. If we can’t afford something, we borrow or charge it. But now, everywhere we look, we are having to face the fact that we are entering a world of inescapable limits—in our deteriorating climate, in energy resources, in the economy, in our driven, consumer-driven pace of life.

And the surprise is, worshiping this golden calf hasn’t made us Americans a happier people. By recent measures, American happiness peaked in the 1950’s and is in decline. In a New York Times article recently Daniel Goleman reported that people born after 1955 are three times as likely as their grandparents to have had a serious bout of depression. And a report found that the average American child reported higher levels of anxiety than the average child who was under psychiatric care in the 1950s.

This golden calf of More that we are worshiping, like all golden calves, will eventually fail us. The fact is that we need limits, constraint, even disappointment, if our lives are to grow deeper. Most of us know parents or others of an older generation who endured immense limitations—in health or education or bad luck in jobs or simply hard times—and yet who showed a quality of faith and wisdom that came from the struggle. Real marriages grow out of living with limits. So does good parenting. So does great art. So does generosity, and love, and faith.

I am beginning to hear some surprising things these days. People are talking about simplifying their lives, staying close to home, getting out of debt, living a smaller, slower, more grounded life. Living with limits. That sounds more like what it means to be creatures who worship a generous and loving God.

You and I are not called to worship Mammon’s golden calf. We are not called to be rulers of the universe or godlike animals. We are called to be that holiest of things, creatures, made in the image of the God of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac, of Jesus and Mary and Paul, who holds us, gives a handful of years on this earth to learn how to love, and calls to be caregivers for the most vulnerable, for the earth and for each other.

I want to give you something on this anxiety-ridden day that you can keep turning to in the days and weeks ahead. Something to keep you focused on the one true god. That gift is the 23rd Psalm, which we sang a few minutes ago. It is one of the priceless jewels of our faith. I suspect that a good many of you probably still know by heart. Whatever has happened to your portfolio, to your job, in your concern for your children or for the earth or your own future, this is a gift that can carry you, if you will carry it. I hope you will cut it out and put it in your wallet or purse, read it at least once a day, and keep it with you in the weeks ahead.

You remember how it goes:

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside still waters…
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.
For you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me….

This Psalm doesn’t deny that we are affected by forces we cannot control, and that the world can be terrifying. But it draws us to the true God, who walks with us into our fears and calms our yearning for More.

My news for you today as that we don’t need to fear. Because whatever comes, this God will go with us. This moment, for all its worry and threat, brings with it a real gift—an invitation to turn to the one god who is God, the God we meet at the table of the Eucharist today.

And so I want to close by inviting you to turn in your leaflet and read with me that 23rd Psalm. Let us read it quietly, prayerfully.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
And leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul.
And guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of darkness I shall fear no evil,
For you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You spread a table for me in the presence of those who trouble me.
You anoint my head with oil.
And my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Let that be our Declaration of Independence from the golden calves of our time, our way forward, our promise, and our hope.