Our lenten theme at ECLC this year has been "remember" -- based both on the word's prominence in Luke's theology, the saints commemorated in these days, and all the remembering going on in our community as people grieve losses and loved ones these days. A couple weeks ago Dawn did a meditation on human memory from her psychologist's perspective. It reminded me of something I read in the past year -- the source of which I (ironically) can't recall -- arguing that one of the major functions spouses serve for one another is memory. Not just where your keys are, but major chunks of life memory which we hold for one another. Which explains a great deal about why bereaved widows and widowers are not only sad but disoriented, why they feel, literally, as if they've lost a piece of their mind.
I think we are in peril if we forget the importance of communal memory. We literally must remember with and for one another, because our individual minds and souls are not capable of doing it alone. God remembers us, no matter what. But we need one another to remember God.
OK, I didn't wear my collar this morning becuase I literally couldn't find it. I've also discovered that this little experiment means I have to keep up with my laundry -- no small thing in a house with two children.
It's an icky day. I have a cold, our nanny is sick, my daughter had her first wet bed in probably 6 months last night --and slept the rest of the night in our bed, which means I didn't sleep well at all. And I honestly don't know how I can wedge one more thing into the next two months of my life, and yet I know that inevitably there will be something -- a pastoral crisis, a staff crisis, a congregational meeting -- that will have to be wedged in. Ugh.
I've been conscious of children in worship lately -- in part becuase we have more of them in recent months at ECLC. But mainly I think that the things children push us to do -- move more, engage more, use all of our senses and rely less on words -- are good things for worship in general. As much as I love words, there are limits to what they can do. So this Sunday I preached on John 12 and Mary's anointing Jesus feet with nard. I thought, what a perfect time to engage the sense of smell! So I got the scented oil that can be added to olive oil for anointing, and encouraged the kids to smell and touch it. Then at the beginning of the sermon, I passed it around to the adults as well -- of course with a warning to those with fragrance sensitivities. The point was this:
Walking about with the scent of blessing, the smell of your baptism on us, with the promise of the resurrection overwhelming the scent of death, we are invited out to find Christ where he promised to be – among the poor, beside the sinner, with us now
Woudn't you know, the one week I do this is the week a couple from a neighboring congregation shows up. They can't attend at their church because there's so much dust now from remodeling, and she gets too physically ill from dust and -- yes -- fragrances. They had to hightail it out of there the minute I said what I was going to do. Fortunately I know from talking to their pastor that they weren't angry about it -- just one of those unforunate coincidences.
Isn't that life in community, though? One person's wine of gladness is another's addicitive poison. One person's bread of life is another's gluten-filled nightmare. One person's soul-feeding music drives another round the bend. One person's participatory movement is another's forced march. We try to straddle the differences, accomodate where we can, but sometimes even the common air we breathe brings out our differences. We do our best to listen and attend to one another, but being human it seems that there will always be things that "rub".
I attended the funeral today of a remarkable woman, Natalie Retamoza, who died last week at age 44 from colon cancer. I didn't know her well, but her husband and brother are both ministry colleagues that I deeply respect, and the service today made it clear that their passionate faith and hospitality is part of the family fabric. The memorial service hit home on a number of levels, from including my favorite hymns, to the fact that she hailed from my hometown of Stockton, and that she was also mother of a two-year-old boy.
Cancer has been much in the news this week as well due to the Elizabeth Edwards' and Tony Snow's recent diagnoses. The President's remarks today about his press secretary's health emphasized the usual American can-do fighting spirit, and it is true that cancer is not the immanent death sentence it once was, but I find myself much more amazed with the witness of those who actually do face death and somehow are able to trust God in the midst of that. There is still boundless grief and loss, but the witness of someone who, like Natalie, is able to entrust her life and her loved ones to God even when she can no longer care for them is profound. The most thought-provoking quote of the day: "when [her two year old son] comes to know Jesus, he will know his mother, because that is where her heart was."
Our society teaches us well to consider what financial legacy we will leave our children, "just in case anything should happen" to us. This woman was able to leave a profound spiritual legacy in unthinkable circumstances. What a gift.
I just finished Gordon Lathrop's Pastor: A Spirituality. It's lovely, the kind of thing I can read again and again. I particularly need to cling to his reminder, referencing Augustine, that we are always safer as "believers" than as leaders. As leaders, the defenses are always up. As believers, we can never forget that we need to return naked to the font too, and remember our baptisms.
I've had stark reminders of this recently in a couple of encounters with mistakes I've made in ministry. With one person, I've had to face the fact that I may never know exactly what I did to cause offense. The person was not willing to talk about it, and chose to break fellowship instead. We pastors have a hard time with these kinds of mistakes, because they are quiet sorrows that are seldom resolved, blots on our internal "permanent record." (Does anyone else wonder what happened to the mythical "permanent record" you had in school?) How refreshing it is when someone confronts me about an offense, as another person did recently, and genuinely gave us both the opportunity to start fresh.
Not knowing exactly what happened is the hardest, because I have to forgive myself, even if the other never will. These kinds of broken relationships weigh heavily on my soul, and I have to go back to being a believer. Either God is gracious, the kind of parent who runs out to greet a child who hasn't even really repented yet, or I too am lost, dead.
Like Daniel Clenendin, we just finished our taxes for 2006, and were feeling good about our savings. But Dan's essay at Journey with Jesus this week is a devastating reminder that I, too, have funded this awful war, with my own hard-earned dollars. But the real cost is being born by the Iraqi people. Read Dan's words. Pray. Act.
One of our members put me on to the Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, a fascinating attempt at getting the words of Jesus to the public in new ways. While I'm not sure ripping them out of historical context is always the best approach, there's no denying that there's a role for musicians like Rickie Lee Jones in getting to people who wouldn't listen otherwise. I heard a local DJ recently admit he loved this album, even though he stumbled over his words a thousand times saying that religion wasn't really his thing.
This site has a good explanation of the relationship between Caleton's project and the album, including this from RLJ:
”The words of Jesus remain a ‘soft dream' that falls night by night, until the soul is ignited with courage. Our hearts, that did not sing until now, are filled with hope that did not yet dare to dream of freedom from poverty and oppression. With faith, what one feels is the Truth, and the truth, while difficult to teach, is immense. It is easy to learn. We have Christ among us, speaking through each of us, if we choose to listen. We have Christ and though there are few words, they are enough, they are enough to last two thousand years. In spite of so much distortion of His will and meaning, they reverberate clearly in the good work of so many Christians who may not even know they are ‘followers.'”
My colleagues have noted that if you don't actually wear a black shirt with a Roman tab collar, it doesn't have the same impact. All my other other colored shirts and the Episcopal-type collars don't seem to catch the eye as much.
When I came home last week wearing said black, Katie said, "Mommy, you look scary." Now, I know she's seen me in such garb on Sundays many a time, but somehow the context of a weekday changed it for her.
Now that the weather is turning warmer, I have less "cover" of sweaters and scarves and jackets. I feel more exposed now, and I suppose that's a good thing, what a lenten discipline ought to do.
I think the bottom line for me is that while I am perfectly at home in the pulpit and at the altar, there's something about wearing the collar outside the context of worship that still feels odd. It heightens my awareness that I am a woman in a profession that still views women as the exception. It heightens my sense that as a pastor I am a symbol -- good and bad -- of all that the institution of church might mean to someone. For some, like a small group of parents at our church, the associations are mostly good. For others, I know, there is lots of baggage with this flash of white at my neck. I've been ordained for 10 years, but I still struggle at times with the reality of this odd vocation and the competing commitments it creates for me.
Spring is nearly in the air, and we're halfway through Lent, so I'm pulling out the Easter books and putting the Christmas ones away (yes, it takes that long at our house), and facing the yearly dilemma of how to tell the passion story to a young child.
There are waaaay more kids Christmas books than Easter ones (at least, ones that are vaguely biblical), for good reason. The story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus is so accessible to a child, but crucifixion and resurrection is another matter altogether. It's not just the violence that bothers me -- the complete Christmas story has a violent edge to it too, what with King Herod's murderous intent and all. (Katie lately has enjoyed asking me to play the part of King Herod, coming to find small children in their beds. She hides under the covers and I run away at the sound of beautiful music playing in her room). What's hard about the passion story is to present Good Friday as good in a way that neither glosses over the horror of it nor betrays our belief in redemption. We have a couple hand-me-down Arch books around the house that tell the story of Easter with the same doggerel rhythm as Dr. Seuss, and it just seems incongruous and wrong. Yes, I believe that ultimately the cross is good news, but I believe that is possible only in the most paradoxical sense. It's good news precisely because we don't expect God's glory to work this way; it's good news precisely because it's perfectly awful, yet God enters into our man-made awfulness. But how do you convey that to a five-year old?
I'm pretty sure picture books won't do it. When I was a kid I went with my parents to Tenebrae Good Friday services. I only gradually came to understand them, but I knew something profound was going on. I was sometimes a little scared, usually pretty sad, but I could experience it all from my mother's lap and be surrounded by others in community who also felt it was important to walk through this story again.
I've been pretty stressed out in recent months, in part because I've taken on being the staff appointee to our building committee here at ECLC. Big learning curve for me. But it's also meant LOTS more time in meetings, and my body was starting to feel the impact of more stress and less movement.
So last weekend we took off and went to Moosejaw, an annual folk music and dance festival, held at Maplelag, our favorite cross-country ski resort. You can see some of the action here. So I spent the entire weekend in motion: dancing, skiing, chasing my children. And instead of coming home exhausted, I feel MUCH better.
One of my husband's colleagues, who works on making cities more pedestrian friendly, believes humans are made to move. We are migrant people at our core, and if we can't move physically we will wander in other ways, none of them as healthy as plain old walking.
Is it any wonder that the health of most pastors is lower than the already-low American average? We spend so much time sitting, sitting, sitting. Maybe someone needs to invent the walking meeting.