Friday, June 26, 2015

"The Constitution grants them that right."



For the record:

On this day, June 26, 2015, Marriage Equality was granted to same-sex persons by the Supreme Court of the United States.  Same-sex couples may marry now in all 50 states.  Let us end the use of adjectives to describe a marriage.  A marriage is a marriage is a marriage.

John and I welcome this day, a day we, like so many others, thought we would not see in our lifetime. God is good and has granted this grace to us all. We do think this day of those who have gone before, who indeed did not see this day in their lifetime, but we know now rejoice with us on the farther shore.

Justice Kennedy:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"His Name is John" (Are we about "order" or "amazement"?)



On the 8th day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and the actions of his parents got me thinking about an essay recently written by the Bishops of Pittsburgh and Georgia, which included
these words.

Anglicans say that we seek to do “all things decently and in order.” We want to do things decently, charitably seeking to understand those with whom we disagree and to answer them in the open with persuasive reasons instead of with haughty neglect or raw power. We want to do things in order, as careful stewards of the faith and order we did not invent but rather have received as a precious gift. (You can find their entire essay here).
The first sentence begs the question what Anglicans said this when, to whom, and about what. The quote is from St. Paul: 1 Corinthians 14:40. It is interesting to note that Paul uses this term "order" in 1 Corinthians to talk about his "commands" about marriage, he is careful to divide into one thing he speaks from the Lord (that women should not separate from their husband she, nor husbands divorce their wives), and many things he explicitly says is from himself and not the Lord (1 Cor 7:10ff).

While I agree wholeheartedly that "the faith and order" we have received is a precious gift, I vehemently disagree with the implication that it is unchanging. It is, in fact, constantly changing in the partnership of God and God's people we call the church. We have even gone so far as to change what Paul claimed was "from the Lord" regarding divorce.

Back to John and his parents, their action in naming their child "John" was against the order of the day, so much so that people were "amazed." This incident is just the beginning of the major theme of Luke's writings of a world turned upside down (Acts 17:6). Luke uses the word "amazed" 24 times in the NRSV translation of his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. It is this amazement that catches people up in the style of life Jesus is teaching and the effect of the Gospel on the world when it is done.

I firmly believe that one of the reasons why the church is flailing (or failing) in its mission (particularly its evangelism) is that we are perceived as selling "good order" (perceived as a clarity about what cannot be done and by whom) rather than "amazement." The church rarely does "amazing" things, which always involves the risk of its very life, and its total dependence on the truth of the resurrection (which is the most order-busting act there is).



Monday, June 22, 2015

General Convention 2015: Message to my GC Friends

Greetings to all my friends at General Convention in Salt Lake City.  For the first time since 1997 I will not be there due to recovery time from illness.  I will miss it; I will mostly miss you, especially those of you who I have had the tendency only to see every three years.

It has been very hard to step back, but also a good exercise in humility.  I am no more crucial to decision-making concerning the future of the church than any one else, and there are so, so many of you who will do a good work over the next ten or so days, I have no doubt.  I will be home saying my prayers, tending my garden (literally), and continuing to seek peace.

Rather than focus on any piece of legislation--and there are several, of course, that are near and dear to my heart, I am most concerned about this:  that anxiety about the future of the church will overcome our promise to follow Jesus in the way, the truth, and the life.  Will we be a church paralyzed by statistics and myriad threats to the institution, or will we keep on keeping on walking in the way, doing the truth, and living the life?  Jesus told us there would be days like these, when we would be challenged mightily to stop risking our life, but in doing so find it has slipped through our fingers.  This is not just a challenge for individuals--to lose life in  order to find it--but for us as a body, the church.

We need a leader in a presiding bishop who will not only be a non-anxious presence, but an inspiring one, able to help us replace anxiety with a bold Spirit, the willingness to risk it all (our institutional life) for the sake of finding it all (the Gospel life).

Let resurrection prevail over these next few days.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Working on a Belated Green Thumb

It's been a rainy spring so far, which means everything is lush (including the weeds!).  It also means  friends and neighbors dealing with downed trees and flash flooding.  Nothing like that at 67 E. Main Street, although three houses down a tree split in half.  My parents as well have been spared any flooding, and they have a long history of it.

Yesterday was dry so I spent a good deal of the day weeding.  We have a small yard, but the house is surrounded by beds on two and a half sides and it went last summer without much tending.  We are about to have a riot, however, of various kinds of lilies which the previous owner planted.  Three hydrangea plants seem to be growing well.  I'm proud of myself for not having  killed any of it!

I do love my hands in the dirt, a feeling I come by honestly with farmers galore in the family tree.  I did not inherit my grandmother Beulah's and great-grandmother Pearl's green thumb, although that may be simply because I have never been able to give it the time that I can now.

I took it upon myself to revive an old family tradition in one of cemetery plots.  The plot is at Highland Cemetery in Avoca, and it's the Henderson family plot.  My grandfather Hopkins' mother was a Henderson, so there are Hopkins buried there, including my brother Dale.  The main stone in the plot is a five foot or so pillar, surrounded by a place to plant.  In my memory my grandmother always tended to this planting each year, with grandchildren helping.  She died in 2004 and others in the family kept it up for a couple years, but when I found it this year it was filled with well-established grass (and a substantial ants' nest).  Here are before and after pictures.

I used red geraniums and vinca.  It was a pleasure to do it--the kind of simple pleasure I need to restore my life.  I've been reading Parker Palmer on working my inner life and it is bearing some fruit in my outer life, which is how, I think, it is supposed to happen.  I think I have spent way too much time trying to make it work the other way around.

Friday, June 05, 2015

"Pack Up Your Sorrows"

John and I took my eldest sister and my mother to see a movie called "Pack Up Your Sorrows."  It was an excursion since we had to drive to Rochester to see it.  It was part of this year's "ReelMind Festival" sponsored by (among others) the Rochester chapter of NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness).  This movie promised to be about bipolar disorder and I thought it would help all of us continue to process what living with this disease means.

Turns out it was the world premier of the film.  You can see a trailer here.

The movie is the story of one person's struggle with bipolar, Meg Hutchinson, a folk singer and songwriter.  As she told her story she weaved into it interviews with folks who know a lot about this and other mood disorders.  It was, in the end, quite good.

If there was anything wrong it was not something Meg could help, and that was there was little or no talk about relapse, something which is very much part of my story (Meg is still quite young and will probably get a chance to experience this for herself).

The title of the movie comes from an old folk song, "Pack Up Your Sorrows," originally sung by Richard & Mimi Farina.  You can listen to them singing it here.  The song has been sung by many others over the years, including Peter, Paul &; Mary, and Johnny Cash.

The words are worth seeing.


No use crying, talking to a stranger,
Naming the sorrows you've seen
Too many sad times, too many bad times,
And nobody knows what you mean.

Refrain:
Ah, but if somehow you could pack up your sorrows,
And then give them all to me.
You would lose them, I know how to use them,
Give them all to me.

No use rambling, walking in the shadows,
Trailing a wandering star.
No one beside you, no one to hide you,
Nobody knows where you are.
Refrain

No use gambling, running in the darkness,
Looking for a spirit that's free.
Too many wrong times, too many long times,
Nobody knows what you see.
Refrain

No use roaming, lying by the roadside,
Seeking a satisfied mind.
Too many highways, too many byways,
And nobody's walking behind.
Refrain
 For me what the song tries to express is the absolute necessity of community in getting through the hard times.  The refrain is something I think Jesus would say.  It is also how my John has tried to be for me, and me for him.  It's about family pulling for each other, friends, church communities, etc. who know with certainty only that the struggle continues for all of us.  I have often said to my congregations that the life of faith is not about any certainty other than that one.  When the struggle is hard and faith is something hard or even impossible to hold onto, I need others who will hold on for me whether they understand what I am going through or not.

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.