Monday, April 20, 2015

"Every 15 Minutes"

Every 15 Minutes is a new novel by Lisa Scottoline.  It appears to be something of a thriller involving a psychiatrist who takes on a 17-year-old patient who is struggling with life.

It's being advertised on television in a quite startling, and, I believe, irresponsible way.  You could easily believe by the advertisement that this is a work of non-fiction, to help you protect yourself and your family by learning to recognize "sociopaths" which you meet on the average every 15 minutes. That is not what the book is at all.  To make it seem such is irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worse.  The "Every 15 Minutes" actually refers to something the psychiatrist's patient does every fifteen minutes as a manifestation of his OCD syndrome.

If nothing else, it only adds fuel to the fire of separating out a class of people--those with mental illness--of whom we should be afraid.  Every time I hear of a shooting, for instance, by a person who is "mentally ill" I hear two things which tend to work against each other.  One, we should be afraid of these people and they shouldn't be allowed to hide.  Two, we should reduce the stigma of mental illness so that they can get the help they need.

This has been going on for years and I see precious little effort to de-stigmatize mental illness, particularly in the mass media where the horror stories get told the loudest.  I'd rather they just stop tut-tutting the stigma if they are not going to be a part of the solution.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Road to Glory...It's going to be a Bumpy Night

Maundy Thursday, 2015

Famous words uttered by Bette Davis in the movie All About Eve (1950):  "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."  It's now been over a year since I was a full-time parish priest.  I think about this today because we are on the edge of the Triduum, the Great Three Days from sunset on Maundy Thursday to sunset on Easter Day.  This will be my second year not presiding over the many rites of those 72 hours.  This used to be the heart of my life, my spirit, and I worked hard to convert others to this vision.

From one Triduum to the next, 2014 to 2015, it has indeed been a bumpy night, and it is far from over.  Last year we celebrated the liturgies quietly, at home, including the Easter Vigil.  It looks like we are headed for that again, because of the allergic-like reaction I have developed to church.  Thinking of it, being in it, I can barely breathe.  The ghost of stress lies in the walls, even of places to which I have never been.  The only spiritual exercise I can muster is an intensely focused effort to keep my anxiety from overwhelming me completely.

Bi-polar folks, of which I am one, have a strong tendency toward addiction as a coping mechanism to the roller-coaster life we live.  This was somewhat true for me with alcohol, but I gave that up pretty quickly when I knew it was negatively impacting my health seven years ago.  But that was never my true addiction. If anything, it was an addiction trying to cover over an addiction.

I was, am, addicted to church, although that is not an entirely fair statement either, because the truth is even deeper.  I am addicted to others to approve of me, and afraid, almost always, of disapproval.  Given the dynamics of being priest in community it is a wonder that I lasted as long as I did.  Various people's need either to put me on a pedestal or knock me off it, or both simultaneously, fed into my own needs. A stew is created that is sometimes exhilarating, sometimes humiliating, oftentimes maddening, and always exhausting.

Part of my bumpy night over the past year has been the knowledge that I have to let go and my terror of what is on the other side.  On any given day I run the gamut of hope, guilt, relief, and a sense of abject despair over my failure.  My therapist says I will not always be caught in this polar vertex of the psyche and soul, but I am having trouble believing that is true.  

Others tell me I am courageous in dealing with this illness head-on. It helps to hear this even though I don't put much stock in it.  "You have to take care of yourself first," is often said. Really?  That's not what they taught in seminary.

Thank God for John (my husband) and Lucy (our companion dachshund) who I know are absolutely committed to walking with me no matter what.  Even this I sometimes cannot quite believe and one of them has to remind me that it really is true.  And thank God for the Pension Fund that is allowing me this time to live through the bumpy night without knowing what glory shall be revealed.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Strange Lent

This has been a strange Lent here at the new Bradley/Hopkins House in Hornell.  Ash Wednesday was the day we closed on this house, and the next day the moving began.  Now it is nearing the end of Lent and we are still at it.

Moving is its own spiritual discipline, especially with the desire and need to simplify.  I am not sure anyone who visits us who had been in our Rochester house will notice a huge difference, but we do.  I have given away hundreds of books, with four more cases ready to be taken to the seminary in Rochester and another to the public library.  We've also passed on some furniture to family members and just plain thrown out a lot of stuff.

It does feel good to be surrounded by books again in my "work" space.  They are like old friends. I tried to keep only the books I need for reference and those which I am likely to pick off the shelf and search for that odd paragraph that is in the back of my mind.

I am seven weeks into medical retirement and still feeling my way.  This too is very much a spiritual discipline, although I do not feel very good at it yet.  I am settling into something like a writing discipline and have just about decided on a certificate program to work on at Alfred State.  I'll let the world know what it is when I am certain.

Life is good and I feel relatively well.  I get a twinge of guilt occasionally that I feel well enough that I should be "back at it."  I have gone "back at it" enough times to know, however, that is a very bad idea, at least for now.

I ran across a question asked by Margaret Guenther in her book At Home in the World.  "Is there a place for holy uselessness in my purposeful life?"

I  think I am beginning to discover that the answer is yes, but a very paradoxical yes. More on that some day.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Are you __________ with me, Jesus?

Malcolm Boyd, who died a week ago tomorrow at the age of 91, famously ended a poem entitled "Morning Prayer" with the question "Are you running with me, Jesus?"  This question was also the title of a book of prayers, poems and reflections he published in the 1960's, in his ongoing attempt to bring Jesus to the real lives of people.  The prayer bears repeating in its entirety:

A Morning Prayer
It’s morning, Jesus.  It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again.
I’ve got to move fast . . . get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat and run some more.
I just don’t feel like it, Lord.  What I really want to do is get back into bed, pull up the covers, and sleep.  All I seem to want today is the big sleep, and here I’ve got to run all over again.
Where am I running?  You know these things I can’t understand.  It’s not that I need to have you tell me.  What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you.  That helps a lot.
So I’ll follow along okay?  But lead, Lord.  Now I’ve got to run.  Are you running with me, Jesus?
By the title of this blog I want to suggest that we could insert anything into the blank and ask an appropriate question.  Are you crying with me, Jesus?  Are you tempted with me, Jesus?  Are you bored with me, Jesus?

When I first read these words many years ago, I thought the question a rhetorical one.  Of course, the answer is "yes."  I still believe that, but I also believe what I think Malcolm was also trying say.  The answer may very well be always "yes," but that does not mean it is obvious.

I know from reading Malcolm and hearing him speak and talking with him on one occasion, that he has a relationship with Jesus that can rarely be shaken. But he never talked about this relationship--or lived it, for that matter, it is my impression--in facile ways.  He knew in his own life what most people of faith know if they've gotten very far on the journey, that being sure of Jesus' presence was being sure of the presence of mystery, at the very least the presence of an equal partner, unwilling to be controlled as any of us are.  Jesus is a partner who can be deeply compassionate and intensely challenging at the same time, and rarely answers a simple question with a simple answer.  Jesus knows that there are no simple questions, and, therefore, no simple answers.  This is one of the things that becomes very clear as you read any of the Gospels.

It is very easy to give up on a God who is even more complex than the average person.  But I think it is even easier to give up on a God who must be understood by everyone the same, experienced like everyone else, having set the world in eternal order.  You do not have to live long to discover that the world is anything but ordered, and not just because our bad choices cause the disorder.  The disorder is endemic to divine creation and divine being at least as much as it is endemic to human living and being.

The heart of Malcolm's Morning Prayer was not actually the question at the end.  It is the statement a bit before that.  In my own paraphrase, "You know everything, even the many things about my life.  And it is not like I suspect, or even want, you to figure it all out for me.  What counts most is just that somebody knows, and its you."

Jesus is the one who knows everything about us and runs with us still.

Here's a good Malcolm quote to end with:

"However one might pray - in any verbal way or completely without words - is unimportant to God. What matters is the heart's intent."
Read more at brainy quote.

P.S. It was fun to learn that Malcolm was a fellow native Western New Yorker.  I never knew (or have long forgotten)
that he had been born in Buffalo, NY.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Disability Retirement

As of February 1st, my status with The Church Pension Fund is "Disability Retirement."  I am grateful to everyone who helped make this happen.  It took a village.  I have been granted two years before a re-evaluation.  During the second of these years I may "work" a minimum amount, and a may return to work after the two years, either fully or partially.

In some places I have been using the term "Medical Retirement."  I chafe at the label "disabled."  Its use is hierarchical and, ultimately, judgmental.  It is part of the cultural worship of productivity being the primary measure of one's worthwhile existence.

I am going to use the coming Lenten season to shape my life with God's help.  First and foremost in seeking to just be, being honest about the ways in which my being is a source of constant struggle and temptation and, therefore, in need of healing.  I will look for some volunteer work to do that has nothing to do with the church, in fact I will have nothing to do with the church save being a Sunday communicant.

The challenge in all of this will be, as much as possible, to integrate my bipolar disorder into my life.  This will not be, I believe, giving in to it, i.e., giving it control over my life.  It is, however, a part of my life that will never go away.  I am weary of fighting it, including having to call forth the extraordinary energy required to mask it publicly.  That is what finally broke me last year, when I could not summon forth the public persona anymore.

It promises to be an interesting journey of much trial and error, with God's help, and that of my family and friends.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Different Path

Sermon preached on the 3rd Sunday after The Epiphany, January 25, 2015, at St. Michael's Church, Geneseo:  Mark 1:14-20

          Last week I spoke of the simple invitation that is ours to make to the world: Come and see.  I argued that this simple statement is the essence of what we mean when we use the word “evangelism.”  It is the free invitation to explore beginning a different path on the journey. 

          Today we have the equally simple invitation of Jesus to all of us:  Follow me.  And “immediately,” Mark the Gospel writer says, Simon Peter and Andrew drop their nets and follow, and soon after, “immediately” again, John and James did the same.  Jesus offered these fishermen a different path.

          What is this different path?  From this text the path is described by Jesus in this way:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.

          Something is up.  Something good and something new.  We are on the verge of it; it is happening now.  Our response is to “repent and believe.”  Apparently this is the path and these are the actions we must take to heed Jesus’ words, “Follow me.”

          The words “repent” and “believe” have both become encrusted with layers of theological muck.  They have become words of threat, control, and power over others.  “You need to repent and believe the way I believe.”  But this is not their gospel meaning at all.  In fact, correctly understood they are transformational and inspirational words.  The Greek word translated “repent” is metanoia, and it means change your mind, turn around, look at and see something different, open yourself to something outside yourself.  Likewise, our word “believe,” in Latin is credo, from which we get the word creed.  I sounds like a “here’s the program, get with it” kind of word, but it is actually a journey word.  The Latin root of credo is the same as cardia, “heart.”  Credo literally means “I set my heart upon,” or “my heart desires.”

          So what Jesus is saying is something like this:  pay attention to the path you are on and open yourself to a new path.  Find your heart’s true desire, what you seek, what you long for, and let it be your guide.

          And one more thing, implicit in this text:  this path can only be taken with others.  There is no solo journey to the kingdom of God.

          The dynamic we are talking about here is another word that tends to make Episcopalians anxious:  conversion.  It is another word that needs to be broken open and un-encrusted.  Its root is Latin also, convertere, literally “to come together,” used mainly in the sense of “to turn around” or “to transform.”  Its use in Latin is very similar to the Greek word metanoia.  What this tells us is that conversion happens when things come together for us in such a way that they catch us up, transform us, change us.

          Repentance, belief, conversion; all of these words are journey words.  They are not ends in themselves, but signposts along the way.  They happen not in a moment, but throughout a lifetime.

          There is a most likely apocryphal story about a Church of England Bishop who was stopped by a street preacher in London who asked him, “Sir, are you saved.”  His response:  “Young man I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.”

          It is a good answer.  Salvation for us is not a moment in time but the journey of a lifetime.  It might very well involve significant moments, but those moments are of small importance unless they transform us for the long run.

          So Jesus calls us like he called fishermen to a journey that may very well require us to change our minds, see things differently, understand and act on our longings and our gifts to add to the journey we are all taking by virtue of our baptism to life in the kingdom of God.

          Jesus offers these four disciples a metaphor tied to their own lives that might help them to live into his call to them.  “I will make you fish for people.”  He gives another metaphor near the end of his Gospel, one that has proven over time a means of grace and transformation.  “Take, eat: this is my Body.  Drink, this is my Blood.”

          Jesus says, receive these very ordinary things and experience my extraordinary love, and then go and do likewise to the world.  Be sacrament in the world.

          We have had a very short time together, shorter than I and perhaps many of you would have wished.  But this has been a moment of conversion, when my life and yours met at a particular moment in time and, by the grace of God, we are in a different place, farther along the path, then when we met.  And all by the grace of God, not necessarily our intention.

          I sense that my gift to you has been a glimpse of what priestly ministry can be, and perhaps what you need it to be in this time and place.  I don’t take the credit for that.  God made it happen.

          And you have given this priest a settling of my spirit, a time when I could live in the moment and pay close attention to the longings of my own heart.  Ironically, the support and love of this community has given me the courage to do what I need to do, and, indeed, what I believe God is inviting me to do and be.  After 25 years of fairly intense ministry, while at the same time trying to manage a mental illness, and reaching a profound breaking point, it is crystal clear to me that I must follow Jesus by letting go, at least for a time.

          It is counterintuitive, but it is my experience that a true call from God for any of us is often just that.  It was not what was expected.  But it was at the same time what made sense.

          Remember this as you call a new rector and begin ministry with her or him.  It is the way of God that what is unexpected is actually what makes sense.  I will remember this as well as my journey continues.  It is what Jesus means when he says to each and every one of us, Follow me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

25th Ordination Anniversary

Saturday, January 10, 2015 was the 25th Anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  I was ordained by The Rt. Rev. Ronald Haines, then Bishop of Washington, on behalf of the Diocese of Chicago, at St. James' Church, Washington, DC.  Dr. Verna Dozier was the preacher.

We had a great celebration of these 25 years last Saturday at St. Michael's, Geneseo, with Bishop Prince Singh presiding and our dear friend, The Rev. Canon Susan Russell preaching.

Here's a link to pictures taken by the diocesan Communications Missioner, Matthew Townsend:  25th Anniversary Photos.

And here's a link to a video/audio of Susan's sermon:  25th Anniversary Sermon

Thanks be to God for 25 years.  Susan is right, they have been costly, but they have also been grace.