Thursday, May 26, 2011


I’m not theologically educated, but I have heard a lot about mindfulness. I've read we should be more mindful about the things we do moment by moment and day by day.

I have shared fun conversations with Maria Evans about how we both love to serve at the altar. She talks about loving to serve with the shiny, holy things, and I resonate with what she writes.

If you have been watching my blog, you know that I dearly love to serve as crucifer in my parish. You’ll know that it’s an “urban legend” that I have been known to lock our kids in the boiler room just so that I could serve as crucifer at high holy feasts like Easter and Christmas. Not true, in fact … though I am amused by that story.

I always want to serve as crucifer. But I don’t get to do so very often, because our kids get to be the acolytes.

So imagine my surprise Sunday, May 15, when I got to church, and the acolyte director grabbed me, asking if I could serve for our young crucifer, whose back was hurting. Well, DUH! Of course I would!

As always seems to happen, I was both completely absorbed in the liturgy and totally focused on our priest and what she might need.

Back in the sacristy after the liturgy, one of our Altar Guild members said how much she had appreciated my service. She didn't just say that. She said that watching me serve as crucifer helped her worship.

I said something like this to her, about how/why I love to serve as crucifer: “I don’t understand it. But somehow – when I’m serving as crucifer – I move into some sort of different consciousness. I’m more focused on every moment of the liturgy. It’s like I step out of myself. I lose myself, and all I see is liturgy.”

It’s true. When I serve as crucifer, I know that I am one of the highly visible people around the altar. But I feel that I’m invisible as I move into that role. I disappear. What a strange paradox.

I got to serve as crucifer again last Sunday, because our young crucifer couldn’t serve. I felt greatly blessed. That day, I felt doubly blessed because Marc Smith –who was raised up from our parish toward ordination – came back to serve one last time, as he will soon have his own parish. I had the experience of being crucifer and helping him set the altar. All the “holy time” I generally feel was multiplied in this experience with my friend – whose discernment committee I chaired. It was a jaw-dropping experience of The Holy.

In a way, I was profoundly aware of serving with him at the altar. In another way, I lost myself completely at the altar. I don't understand how this happens, but I know it happens ... in ways that are significant to me.

I am so very grateful for the experiences that I get to have as crucifer! I don't know that I have expressed it well here, but I bet some of you understand.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Churching and Biking, Part III

I started writing here after Sunday morning, May 8. I wrote on Facebook that weekend: “Heading to Grace Episcopal Church, then the bike trail ... expecting to find God in both places.” I promised to blog more about that. I found that ride much richer than I expected … and I’ve been blogging ever since.

I’ve already blogged about the first parts – the church parts. Now I can move beyond that.

Sunday’s bike ride was challenging. My thighs felt miserable. But I persevered. I rode as well as I could, and rested when I had to. UGH! But I have to get in shape for my 30-mile route on the Tour de Corn in late June. So I pushed myself.

During one of the rest periods, I had a brief, momentary pain in one ear. It passed quickly. It’s absolutely nothing! But it reminded me: How very lucky I am!

Do you ever have this experience I have? Sometimes when I have a miserable cold, or a horrible backache, I think: “Oh, I wish I had given thanks before this! .. when I could appreciate how good it felt to feel good!” In those times, I wished I had been more mindful when I was well.

I had that experience during that Sunday bike ride. During one of my rest breaks Sunday on the bike ride, I found myself thinking yet again about Kirstin’s situation. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my decent health and grateful for my muscles (however much they were hurting).

I sang a quiet little song of thanksgiving as I sat alongside the bike trail. I have no right to be so healthy. But I am deeply grateful. And it is good to be mindful of that blessing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Churching & Biking, Part II

As I wrote earlier, I am sharing a bit of my “spiritual autobiography” for some new Facebook friends – several of whom are deeply skeptical of “Christians,” since the “Christian” brand has now been hijacked by right-wing Christianist extremists. I am trying here to explain why I love the Episcopal Church and how and why I characterize myself as a Christian.

I'm sorry I've been out of the blogosphere for a while.For this to make sense, you need to read my previous blog-post.

A Bit of Background

Here’s a bit of “spiritual autobiography” for those who are just checking my blog.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church in a little town of 5,000 in the “buckle of the Bible Belt.” I was a good little Southern Baptist girl. I memorized all the Bible verses. I swallowed all the lines. It was a very fine church for someone who wanted all the answers neatly set out. And at that point, I wanted them neatly set out.

But then I went to college in 1973. It was a Roman Catholic college with rigorous intellectual standards. I began to question the little pat answers that the Southern Baptists had fed me.

By the time I got to Vanderbilt for graduate school in 1978, I was teetering. The Southern Baptists had pat answers for everything. The Roman Catholics opened my soul to mystery, but there were things I could not accept.

Around 1980, when I truly came to terms with my lesbianism, I left the Southern Baptist Church. It happened slowly, for I really loved the people in the church I was attending. I talked with my pastor, of whom I was very fond. He referred me to a “Christian counselor” to “deal with my disorder.” But the most wonderful thing happened! That “Christian counselor” didn’t think gay/lesbian people were “sick” or “disordered.” She was marvelously supportive and encouraging.

While I came to terms with being a lesbian, I could not figure out how to square that with the church I had called home for three decades.

So I left the church I had known. I became one of those “spiritual-but-not-religious” people who left the church … left any and all churches. I am struck by what many public opinion polls reveal: That people view the Christian churches as mostly mean-spirited. I undestand that feeling.I felt that way and quit it all in the early ‘80s.

Eventually, I made a very good friend in the mid-‘80s. She and her partner were Episcopalians. I loved to visit them (though they lived several states away). And we would have Great Debates. By that time, I had come to hate the Christian churches. I remember challenging them: “How can two smart women worship that Big Ol’ Hoary God?” But, inch by inch, I came to see that they weren’t worshipping any Big Ol’ White-Haired God (nor his blonde, European Son :) that my Southern Baptist teachers had proclaimed.

They were worshipping a God who was much more mysterious and ephemeral … a Divine Presence that was above and beyond any of my categories … a God I could not pin down! And they celebrated the mystery and the “un-pinnability” of that God.

Finally! This was something in which I could believe! The Episcopal Church became my refuge and my lens when I entered a discernment process in 1996. At the end, I was confirmed into the church in the spring of 1997.

Since then, I probably haven’t missed a Sunday unless I was seriously ill. For all the reasons noted here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Churching & Biking: Part I

I have a hunch this post is going to meander all over the place. So if you enjoy meandering, read on. Otherwise, you probably should go find a more focused blogger.

Sunday morning I posted this “status update” to my Facebook page: “Going offline. Heading to Grace Episcopal Church, then the bike trail ... expecting to find God in both places.”

I posted that partly because I have gathered some new Facebook friends recently – from the Decorah eagles webcam, and a long-lost friend from high school. But there was truth in what I wrote: I expect to encounter Godde as often in nature as in church.

Upon learning that I’m an Episcopalian, some of my new Facebook friends describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” As do I. In fact, I was rather miffed when a high school chum said, “I know you’re religious, but …”

NO! I don’t consider myself "religious," and I hope friends won’t see me that way, either.

Maybe I dislike that term because I – like most Americans – have come to equate “being religious” with the Christianists [not so different than the “Islamists”] who are hate-mongering, narrow-minded, judgmental, mostly ill-educated luddites. And I hope I have nothing in common with them. I grieve that the most ignorant so-called “Christians” in this country are much more like Fred Phelps than they are like me and the Episcopalians I know and love.

So I am writing this mostly for my recent Facebook friends who are “spiritual but not religious,” but have characterized me as “religious.” I will try to explain myself here.

Why I Go to Church

So why do I get my butt out of the house and go to church virtually every Sunday of the year? On any given Sunday, I would probably have different answers. But these are my answers today.

I go because I am hungry. Hungry for something that transcends my day-to-day life. Hungry for a glimpse of meaning that is about more than me or us or our current time. I go to church, trusting that the Scripture readings, the sermon, and the liturgical prayers will support me, challenge me, … perhaps most importantly: remind me of my proper place in the cosmos. I go, hoping to be more humble before The Divine, especially when I get “all het up,” thinking I know how God should rule the world. I can only find two places that “work for me” that way. Church is one. Nature is the other.

I go because I can kneel in my pew and feel intimately alone with God … gently and tenderly ignoring the person next to me … but also feeling a kinship and deep connection with that person next to me and with all the other yearning souls in that space. For we are all working this out humbly. The humble kneeling, I can do in nature. The “kneeling in community,” I can only do in church.

I go to church because there is something in the Episcopal liturgy that draws me beyond myself and beckons me into conversation/communion with The Divine … however I might understand “The Divine” or “God” on any given Sunday.

As one who loves well-crafted language, I find well-crafted language in the Episcopal liturgy. It soars toward God … without trying to pin God down.

I go because when it all “works” – when the language and music and silences and Scripture readings and prayers all come together for me – I am lifted outside myself and get a tiny glimpse of what God or the Spirit are … and how very much God/Spirit loves me and all of us. In those moments, I am transported. And I thank God for that freedom from the limitations of self.

And I go for the Eucharist – the bread and wine blessed and broken and shared with all of us. My friends, I don’t understand why it “works on me” as it does. But something seems to happen as all our hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows move toward the altar, gathered up and transformed in the Eucharistic Prayer, and then broken and shared with us.

I’m no theologian. I can’t explain what’s happening. But I experience a transcendence in only two places: hiking in wilderness … and worshipping in my parish and other Episcopalian parishes.

That’s probably not true for some of you. I know it is true for many of you.

I am grateful for the ways that Godde shows Godself in my church, and in nature.

I hope you new friends will make some connection with this. I hope you will hear clearly that I'm not one of those "Bible-thumping" so-called "Christians."

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Late Mother’s Day Post

You know that my mother died in October 2007. You have also seen some of the sweet “Mother’s Day” posts around the blogosphere. I trust it will not surprise you that I didn’t join in the paeans to mothers.

If you’ve been following, you know that I have ambivalent feelings about my mother. She let my father beat me. Eventually, we had a profoundly honest conversation, and I understand why she could not intervene.

I was moved today by a friend who posted this video. [View it here.] I re-posted it on my Facebook page. I especially liked this phrase: “Why does the thrill of soaring have to begin with the fear of falling.”

On Sunday morning, I posted this Facebook status: “Going offline. Heading to Grace Episcopal Church, then the bike trail ... expecting to find God in both places.

Out on the bike trail Sunday, the Spirit spoke to me about a couple of items. First, I remembered this, a propos of the mother eagle.

I was born and raised in the impoverished, generally under-educated Missouri bootheel. But I had good grades, scored well on national exams, and was lucky to get a generous scholarship to the University of Dallas. I had never visited the campus, but I fell in love with their curriculum and what I discerned of their philosophy. I had never been that far from home. I accepted the scholarship and the university “sight unseen.” I had Big Dreams! I wanted to escape the small dreams of my little home town.

It came time for me to go to that far-away college. My mother borrowed a van, so we could transport my few meager possessions to my dormitory room. My grandmother and my sister went along.

The four of us drove and drove and drove. Eventually, we reached the Texas state line, and the sign said that Dallas was still something like 240 miles yet ahead. I don’t know exactly how the conversation went, but I remember it like this.

Me: Uhhhh … We’ve gone too far.

Mother: What do you mean – “too far”?

Me: I don’t want to go this far.

Mother: HUH?

Me: Please stop. Please turn around. I don’t want to go to college! I don’t want to go to Dallas!

Mother: What?? What do you want to do?

Me: I want to go home. I’m sure I could get a job as a bank teller … or … or something. Just please stop! I want to go home.

Mother: No. You are going to college.

And so we drove on. And I went to college … and I loved it! I treasure the education I received there. And then I went to graduate school. And I had a career that went far beyond what I could have envisioned or achieved in my small town.

Thinking about my mother in that long-ago exchange, I realize how very difficult it must have been for her. I bet she would have liked to take me back to my little home town.

But she didn’t. She saw that I had an opportunity that none in her family had had. And she pushed on. She pushed me out of the nest. She forced me to spread my wings, despite my huge fear of falling … which must have echoed her own fear.

Whatever my complaints, I will always be grateful that my mother forced me from that nest.

Mom, I thank you for sacrificing what you probably wanted … for what you knew was best. I thank you for shoving me out of my comfy nest.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dark Humor about bin Laden

Not much has pleased or amused me about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but – no surprise here! – MadPriest has succeeded where others have failed.

He writes:

10 years ... trillions of dollars ... thousands of soldiers dead ... state of the art technology ... and the US finally found Bin Laden . . .
in his house!

Puh-leeze don’t quibble with me that bin Laden was a guest in someone else’s house. The marvelous black humor stands on its own.

Go comment there! I've disabled comments on this post so you will have to give MadPriest his due.

More about the College Reaction

After my blog Monday night, I was pleased to hear this four-minute segment on NPR lastevening about the reaction of some students to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

[No transcript of the segment is available, so I've quoted liberally from the audio.]

NPR acknowledges that thousands of students congregated at the Boston Common, then interviews Boston University students who are “celebrating the news even as they try to sort out what it means.” It’s a fine segment, which I commend to you.

Tovia Smith, the NPR reporter, acknowledged that the students were “trash talking bin Laden like they might a rival football team,” then talks about why some of the students had such a “visceral reaction.”

I am pleased to hear that some of the students were “troubled by the flash mob victory jig.” They asked for a meeting with the BU administration.

BU’s Dean of Students, Kenn Elmore, met with about 200 students on Monday in a “post mortem … at the request of students who were confused or disturbed by the celebration.”

One student said: “I was so ashamed of our generation yesterday. Oh my God, it made me sick.” He said young people should understand better than any “the power of an image Tweeted instantly around the world.” He said: “How ‘bout you put it this way? I’m a 9 year old kid now in the Middle East. ‘Mom, Dad, what’s going on?’ ‘Oh, Americans are cheering because someone died.’ Congratulations. There’s probably going to be a new generation of Islamic jihadists who hate Americans because of our celebration of this.”

Another student said: “We’ve had nine years of war … lot of violence on both sides, lot of hate that seems to be perpetuating it. I still don’t understand what that means.”

NPR reports: The students ended their meeting with heads bowed and a somber moment of silence.

I am grateful for this NPR report and grateful for the thoughtful students of Boston University.

Listen to the full story here.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Culture of American Exceptionalism

The news came across the wire: The U.S. Military had murdered Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks on the U.S. in September 2001.

Most of the people of my generation responded with some mixed feelings. Children of the ‘60s, many of us decried the violence. In my Facebook posts, I decried the goal of murder rather than justice.

Several of us –and I among them – lamented the crazy street demonstrations that burst out all over the U.S. From coast to coast, college-aged people took to the streets, cheering, jeering, swilling beer, waving U.S. flags and wearing U.S. flags, pumping their fists into the air as they chanted “USA! USA” or sang drunken versions of the national anthem.

When I first heard of those outbreaks in New York and Washington, DC, I was inclined to cut them some slack. I realized that these kids were just children when the attacks were unleashed on the U.S. in 2001.

Then I heard that a similar drunken orgy had launched here at the University of Missouri. These kids didn’t lose friends and family in 2001.

I began to wonder: What in the world is this?? Why are these 18-20 year olds moving into the streets with those flag-waving bacchanals?

Here’s the theory that came to my mind today. Today’s college-age students grew up in the age of President George W. Bush. They grew up in the Age of American Exceptionalism that Bush crafted. They grew up with a wicked President who launched policies that declared that America was so special that it did not need to obey international law. Bush and his Congress passed laws that eroded our civil liberties. They herded many of our nation into sheep-like surrender of our civil liberties. George Bush managed the feat of telling U.S. Americans that we were a law unto ourselves, while stripping our citizens of many liberties.

With that reflection, I am no longer surprised that our children flocked to the streets with the flags and their hideous cheers. President George Bush taught them that the U.S. is beholden to no law and no morality. The cheering, jeering, flag-waving, beer-swilling kids in the streets are the children of President George W. Bush.