Winter is over

It’s been a while since I have felt well. A nasty infection kicked off the ugly trifecta of colitis, fibromyalgia and migraine to leave me battered, behind and annoyed at the limits of the body. I kept things going, by a hair… courtesy of Cipro, health services and Toradol, but not without a lot of agony. Note that I am getting all of my complaining done right up front.

But now I am feeling back to normal. In fact I feel great. Full of energy and vigor. Back to normal and ready to get back to the path. I must confess that January really threw me for a loop. Does anyone like hearing they are a judgmental, closed minded, know nothing? Because that’s what I found out about myself. Sigh. I know I don’t MEAN to be, but the sad truth is that after my daughter decided to convert to Islam and I stopped running away from God, I wanted to only hear the nice Episcopal voices that made me comfortable and safe. God is merciful and gentle, for a while, he let me get away with that. January and Lafayette Square showed me exactly how small my box had become.

I suppose it’s OK to like doing things your own way, to want to have the liturgy just so, to take it uber seriously, to be in a smaller community based church that has robust children’s programs and retains an ability to be pastoral to  nursing home and homebound parishioners. BUT, I couldn’t believe the amount of discomfort I felt in being in a church that had a completely different flavor. Rather than finding joy in what was there, an urban based mission church, with a prophetic voice at the altar, and programs aimed at more diverse constituencies, I spent a lot of time feeling panic at the lack of what I was used to. I’ve given this a lot of thought of course. Importantly I don’t think St.John’s Lafayette Square was in error in any way, though probably a key learning for me is that I need to serve in a smaller, more community building parish versus a large city church. But maybe another lesson is that it is time for me to stop clinging to the comfort of “my way”. A priest of  a church as broad as ours has no business crouching down and holding on so tightly to one right way of doing things. You can’t be a parishioner and a priest at the same time. Lightbulb.

Seriously, what am I so afraid of? As unpleasant as the experience of being so out of my element was, it was one of the most valuable I’ve had. I am still thinking if how fascinating God is. How clever. How else could he have gotten me to so utterly understand my incompetence in this arena? If  there is one thing I feel he wants to impress upon me, it’s my utter lack of knowledge and expertise at this moment. Not to humiliate me, but to shake me out of talk mode and into listening mode. Hard habit to break when you’ve been leading others for years. But that’s not what he needs me to do right now. Just to underscore this, on every interaction I have had at church lately, from leading the prayers to serving at the altar, I am bound to miss a key piece of information, be a moment late, misunderstand, be slow on the uptake, and basically make some kind of spectacular mistake to make me feel utterly small and useless. It would be infinitely worse if I didn’t feel the laughing presence of God at my side, as if to say, “what did I tell you about being a blank slate now!? You=Beginner!”

I can only swallow my embarrassment and grin. If God’s laughing, even at you, it’s impossible not to go along.

So, things are good, as weird as it may sound. Even as I sense I am being put back in Basic Training after some kind of respite, it feels like progress.

Winter is over, Spring is here, Easter is coming and the world stirs. I believe.


The Homily at St.John’s Lafayette Square

So today was the big day. In front of a small group of worshipers who forgoe lunch to celebrate the Eucharist I gave a Homily about the conversion of St.Paul. The Reverend Lisa Saunders also had me assist with the Prayers of the People, read the Epistle lesson, select which Eucharistic prayer we used. (I chose C, which is about the glory of God’s creation.)

So without further ado, here it is:

The Conversion of Paul
Galatians 1:11-24

Today we listened to part of the letter that Paul wrote to the Galatians. The part where he justifies his ministry by recounting what happened to somehow make him go from being a passionate persecutor of Christians to it’s most active missionary.

Why was Paul so defensive?  There was a little bit of conflict going on back then in the church, a little bit of a difference of opinion. Why does that sound familiar?

Back then the early Jewish Christians, who were alive at the time Jesus was crucified, were planting churches and telling people that they had to follow the roughly 613 Jewish laws as well as being baptized to earn eternal life.

Paul didn’t believe Gentiles who became Christians were required to follow the Old Covenant laws. After his road to Damascus conversion, where he was blinded by a bright light and then saw and spoke with Jesus, he became convinced that the Gentiles were his special mission and that it made no sense that the old laws should apply.

But why should the Galatians listen to him? He wasn’t one of the original disciples, and the missionaries who were stopping by in Galatia telling them not to eat pork and to be circumcised knew the Apostle Peter or James, the brother of Jesus…they were a little closer to the original source. In other words, Paul had a bit of a credibility problem.

But Paul also had something else. He had experienced a profound change that day on the road, a life altering experience that gave him a certainty and drive that he could not ignore. If he had been a zealous persecutor of Christians before, now he was utterly and completely dedicated to spreading the Good News.

Paul wants the Galatians to understand that this powerful call from Jesus was meant to be delivered to them, Gentiles, not by Jewish Christians who would always see them as other, and not quite good enough, but by Paul, who has no ties to that community and no agenda other than sharing the news of Jesus as directed by Jesus himself in a vision.

Paul himself had been a devout Jew, persecuting those very Jewish Christians and a strict follower of all of the Jewish laws before his encounter with Jesus and he would follow them throughout his life whenever he was in the presence of other Jews. But he had no interest in promoting Judaism Light to Gentiles. He believed wholeheartedly and without reservation that Jesus’s coming had signified a completely new way of interacting with God, a new covenant and a new way to live a life of faith and that he Paul, had a special kind of authority, a special kind of vision because he had had his own foundational world view shaken on that dusty road to Damascus. So much so that he had given up every aspect of his old life.

All of us are here in church together at a time of day when most Americans are not. In our own way we are hearing something calling us to this time and place. It may not be a blaze of light that blinds us for three days or a voice from the heavens, but we feel something, hear something, sense something calling us closer to God.

I think about Paul and what he did after this experience he had. I try to imagine what I would do in his place. He had choices, he could have dismissed the experience as a hallucination brought on by wine and heat, or some kind of illness. He could have just refused to believe it and stuck his fingers in his ears and said na-na-na-na-na-na, but of course, he didn’t do those things.

What he did do was travel all over starting churches and write lots of letters exhorting everyone he could about this idea of a new covenant, a new relationship with God, based on faith and love and not on rigid observations of man made rules. He poured his whole life into this effort. The fact that we are sitting here in a church at all is a testament to his success. All because he decided to listen to that call. Just as we all have when we came here today. Whether we came to seek solace, or to find comfort or to ask for forgiveness or to pray for help, we came in answer to something inside us that aches for God. Perhaps we simply long for his presence or want to offer him our worship and devotion or we have questions about how best we can serve his will. We all felt something that drew us here. Today I ask that you will take some time to reflect on that feeling you had that brought you here. Ask yourself if this is your road to Damascus moment writ small. If Paul could build a church on one roadside intervention, what can you build on the knowledge that God is moving in you today?

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.

High Highlights of Arriving in DC

I arrived in Fairfax, VA on Saturday at my alumnae sponsor Ellen’s townhouse in time for a late dinner. She was kind enough to hold it for me when I got caught in a little traffic jam and we enjoyed some chicken, rice and salad along with some nice white wine while we discussed the following morning’s commuting plans. Since St.John’s Lafayette Square is located across the street from the White House, it’s also located across the street from the Hay-Adams where the Obama’s are staying so the entire block is closed off. Luckily the church has valet parking for the 11:00 am service so we planned on getting there for that a little early with her mom.

My room is beautiful with a cozy daybed and pink walls, plenty of closet space, a dresser and my own private bathroom. There’s even a pull out trundle bed if I have a guest visit. I quickly unpacked, put out my pictures of my daughter and Tucker along with my new Tinkerbell snowglobe and my Tow Mater plush toy. There’s wireless internet access and a comfy basement living room with TV and couches. Ellen is great company and such an interesting person. It makes it easier to come to a new city when you have a welcoming face and such a wonderful hostess.

On Sunday I attended my first service at the church, and it REALLY IS right across from the White House. I mean, I think I was imagining it a little farther away. But it’s pretty darn close. It’s overcast today, but I will post pictures on Wednesday or Thursday when it’s sunny. I want to get some pics of the stained glass in the church then too. The entire block is locked down, the area crawling with cameras, secret service, police and dogs. I was in the bathroom and looked out the window to see men on the roof of nearby buildings. I was worried they could see me but I think they probably aren’t interested. The service Sunday was celebrating the Epiphany and the liturgy allowed a little procession of people dressed as the three kings to approach the altar with offerings at the presentation. They even broke out the incense which delighted me of course. One of my favorite smells. I heard the Reverend Lisa Saunders give a wonderful sermon. It was about the journey to Epiphany and it had many access points for people to find meaning for themselves. I found my own meaning in the journey of the kings leaving all they knew and loved behind to follow the will of God in my current life. I took communion from The Reverend Luis Leon and met him after the service. I will likely spend more time with him tomorrow.

I then visited the National Cathedral and took some pictures with my fabulous new camera. Check it out:

Following that I was invited to join Ellen and her mother at her home in the Georgetown area for dinner. We enjoyed a hearty veal stew, a delicious Beaujolais and some fresh strawberries for dessert. Her mother shared some of the history of the church with me and talked about being on the search committee to call the current rector and what it was like to attend some of the previous inaugural events with the Reagan and Bush families. She was the head of the altar guild the year the church dedicated the George H.W. Bush kneeler so she showed me the picture of that moment. Pretty neat.

Today I met with Lisa and we talked about me immediately helping with a print piece for the Young Adult fellowship group they have here for 20’s and 30’s called the Latrobe Fellowship, named for the architect of the church and the White House. I also assisted at the 12:10 Eucharist. This consisted of the Old Testament reading which today was Joshua 1:1-9 and collecting the offering, as well as chalicing. How awesome is it to be where I can take Eucharist/worship daily while at work? This is what kept going through my mind as I was preparing for the service. How wonderful my life is at this moment that as part of my job that I am getting to worship God. I can’t express how joyful that is. I try to live my life as if it is a prayer anyway, but to get to take specific time to worship in this way is very meaningful. The Eucharist is especially resonant for me. The Gospel reading today was from John 15:1-11 and was about the metaphor of the vine. Not too long ago, while praying over a troubling issue, God simply gave me a kind of word sense…it was “abide, abide in me”. That was all. So I just kept repeating that to myself as things got harder or upsetting and it helped. I found myself reciting the first verse of the song of Isaiah:

Surely it is God who saves me;

I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,

And he will be my Savior.

So it was interesting to hear that verse today. Reminded me of that moment.

Just back from having a spot of tea down the street at a place called Teaism. I only had a ginger scone and some tea but it was very filling and the music was soothing and reflective. It’s eerie walking down H street past the police cars littering the park and all the barricades. There are so few people on the street that you feel like there is a target on your back. I feel like putting my hands up saying…just an intern at the church! Studying to be a priest…nothing to see here! It’s pretty cold too so it makes you hunch over when you walk and shrink down into your jacket, walking fast, letting your scarf ride up to cover your nose in a feeble effort to block the wind. It’s a surreal moment. I see people hanging about out in front of the church, cameras stationed there, presumably from news outlets. Reverend Saunders said that the Reverend Leon might want me to help at the early service on Sunday, which is too exciting. The more opportunities to be at the altar the better of course. But especially in a different setting, learning from someone new and feeling the energy of God here.

Plus I found out that the new Associate Rector for St.John’s in Roanoke is in DC so I can probably meet her in advance! Not only that but my friend Jennifer from Roanoke is gonna’ be here tomorrow and the next day so we can probably catch a meal together. What a strange and wonderful life.