14 April, 2017

Crazy Socks and the Cross--Symbols of Love

I was just trying to make my bed and get ready for a walk; I'd just had a difficult conversation with my eldest son known far and wide as Boss and I needed to process and probably rewrite my Good Friday sermon...

I was deep in thought, quiet thought, and wanting to be alone, but into my bedroom he walked (notice there was no knocking), opened his father's sock drawer and took a pair of socks. (They were his--it's very hard to keep straight whose socks, boxers, t-shirts are whose in a house with 3 men). As he began to put the green socks with blue polka dots on I just had to ask, "Don't you have to wear black socks?"

"Yes, that's the uniform regulations, but I think it's stupid so I don't....." and he tried to continue but I cut him off. "I cannot listen to this. Why can't you just follow the rules? You're going to get fired. Have they written you up?" Boss, "They don't fire you until you've been written up 6 times." It did not slip past me that a) he didn't seem concerned about being written up and b) he didn't answer my question...."But have you been written up?" I pressed when honestly I really didn't want to know--or maybe I really didn't want to want to know. (This parenting and letting go of adult children is WAAAAAY harder than I ever thought it would be.) "No," he smugly said as he sprawled across my freshly made bed, "I have not been written up."

I decided I didn't want to, couldn't stand to hear anymore and I was also berating myself for ever introducing him to these crazy socks, for encouraging this. "I hate those stupid socks" I thought to myself as I walked out of the room trying to escape. He followed...

"Mama, just listen to me." "I can't." I said, "I just can't have this conversation." I kept walking; he kept following--just like he did when he was a toddler, and frankly I was beginning to think he was still that obstinate hard headed toddler!  I sat at the dining room table and I promise you I truly did lay my head in my hands shaking it back and forth and repeating like a crazed person, "Please just stop telling me. I can't take it. I love you, but I really can't listen anymore." Like a crazed or perhaps a deaf person who didn't hear the anguish in his mother's voice, he kept talking....

I'll admit now the less than compassionate thoughts that were going through my mind, "Why can't you ever just do things the easy way? Why can't you just submit to the rules, to authority, to anything? Why do you make life so hard? Why do you have to learn the hard way?" My head remained in my hands; he continued to talk.

Finally I realized he wasn't going to stop until I listened, so I slowly and reluctantly lifted my head and looked across the table at my son, my little boy who has grown into a man far too quickly--a man who had his own path and wasn't asking for my advice. "I'm listening." "Mama," he calmly continued as though my face didn't have a look of total stress, resignation and frustration, "It makes people happy to see the socks. Not a day goes by that 3 or 4 people don't comment on my socks or my needlepoint belt." (May I just take a moment to mention I am the one who made those needlepoint belts?) He continued, "I know at the hotel chains uniformity is important, but this is a hospital. Very few people come to the hospital for happy reasons, and if my socks or my belt gives them even a stupid reason to smile for just a minute, then it's worth it."

I did understand what he was saying, but deep in my core I am still that unquestioning rule follower terrified of angering authority so I said, "But what if you get fired?" He took a big sigh and said, "Ka-ther-ine (which is what he calls me when he's frustrated or thinks I'm being ridiculous--it happens a lot) yesterday I had the conversation with both my boss and my boss's boss. In the morning a lady came peeling up and jumped out of the car screaming, "they've called about my son" I could tell she was distraught so I didn't even take her name I just handed her a claim ticket." (I have to interrupt here to confess the thought did go through my mind, "I think that's another rule you broke...) He continued oblivious to my panic, "When she came back out she found me. She said she knew who I was because of the socks and she smiled a little. Then she told me her son didn't make it and she didn't get here in time. We stood and talked for 15 minutes. It's not much but I think it helped a little. That's what I told my boss, and that's why I'm going to keep wearing crazy socks and keep smiling at people and keep standing around listening when people want to talk even if it slows down getting cars pulled around, and just keep trying to help make the time at the hospital go more smoothly for everyone." And with that he quit talking and walked out the door in his black regulation shorts and green and blue polka dot socks.

I sit here on Good Friday and think about Mary who ended up following her son to the cross because he wouldn't just submit to the "rules" to the letter of and not the spirit of the law. Did Mary ever utter the words, "But what if you get killed?" Did she ever beg him, "Please Jesus just stop healing people on the Sabbath. Heal people yes but do it within the constraints of the law. And do you have to be so loud about parsing our forgiveness? Also, this eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and criminals, could you use the back door so no one has to know? Please don't turn tables over in the temple--it's against the rules." Did she ever hold her head in her hands and wonder, "Why do you have to do things the hard way? Why do you have to challenge authority? Why can't you just submit?"  Did she ever wonder how many times Jesus would be able to tick off the Romans or the Jewish leaders before he was punished? And I wonder if as she followed Jesus to the cross on that Friday over 2000 years ago was she both incredibly proud of the loving compassionate man Jesus had become and filled with dread and sadness knowing the pain that would come because of it? I wonder if she thought about the people whose lives he had touched because he reached out regardless of the rules?

I wonder if in the days and months to come she looked at the cross differently, not as a symbol of torture but rather as a symbol of her son's unconditional love for all people? I bet she did--and I bet she'd have been proud for her son to have worn crazy non-regulation socks.

13 April, 2017

Holiday Meals with Extended Family

The family holiday meal....it's coming again this Sunday. Families
all across the world will gather to celebrate Easter (and families come in all different forms). It will be a wonderful day of celebration, but we all know that along with families gathering for celebration sometimes comes a little (or possibly a lot) of family drama...

Perhaps some of you are wondering what family drama I'm talking about? The drama of past hurts, unspoken pain, and chips on shoulders that weigh us down. Then there's the  drama of the differences of opinions--political, social, religious and parenting styles. Throw in rival sports teams, and you've got a full blown recipe for disaster. So what do we do? We play nice (or try to play nice). We warn our spouses, significant others and children to avoid certain topics; we pledge to not take the bait if someone goads us; we promise to enjoy ourselves and one another no matter what. We are determined to have the most wonderful time ever. I suspect there will be a few bloody tongues
Sunday evening....

Aside--some of us get lots of practice around our routine family dinner table--

As I was thinking about this this morning I remembered a question one of my beloved offspring asked me referring to family gatherings. "Why do you never speak up when someone says something you typically think is offensive or belittles other people?" Fortunately it was dark so said offspring couldn't see the red shame that crawled up my face, and I knew I had three choices. One, I could bemoan the fact I had so many offspring that ask so many questions; two I could try to defend myself explaining sometimes it's better to keep your mouth shut (and that's true--sometimes); or three I could change the subject. Well, I could no longer do anything about the number of offspring I have and I hear it's illegal to permanently sew their mouths shut; I thought about defending myself, but my excuses sounded hollow even to me; so, I did the very mature good parent thing, opted for the third option and changed the subject.

All of this was going through my mind as I was working on my sermon for tonight--Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of the Last Supper. Jesus gathered with his closest friends, friends he has traveled with for 3 years, friends that have become family. So basically a family dinner. And what did he do?

He named it! He told the 12 gathered that one would betray him and the others would abandon him. But what he didn't then do was belittle them; he didn't ostracize them; he didn't storm away from the table; and he didn't let them do it either. They tried (Luke 22:24), but he cut them off stopping the dispute and declaring himself the servant of all. He commanded them to love one another just as he has loved them--and continues to love them regardless of their failings, regardless of the fact they
will turn their backs on him, regardless of the fact they can't live up to what he most needs from them at this time. And then, then HE FED THEM AND HE WASHED THEIR FEET!! These people who would very shortly leave him to die alone (not to mention fall asleep when he needed them most to be with him...), he fed and bathed--lovingly and gently.

Perhaps that is what we are called to do--to name the pain, to name the differences, to name our beliefs, and then most importantly to keep loving.

12 April, 2017

Forgiving United

Like the rest of the world, I have been bombarded with the news of United Airlines, and like most of I have been horrified by the
videos posted repeatedly by every news source. I must admit (read this hearing my voice trying not to be but probably sounding very self righteous) I have also been quite disturbed by the "jokes" that have made the social media circuit--you know the quotes like, "United--we carry our baggage off." I recognize sometimes we use humor to deflect the horrors that happen around us, but for some reason I'm just not there (at least not yet; I suspect there will be a blog post at some time...)

But what has my dander up--that doesn't even begin to express my anger. What has steam coming out of my ears as my head about to spin around three times and pop off is how the media has dug up "dirt" as they call it on Dr. Dao and have started a campaign to
smear his name. The very second I first heard he had a past, before I even knew what it was, I wanted to scream, "WHO CARES!?!?!! WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM IS UNACCEPTABLE PERIOD!!!" And then my snide side wanted to ask United, "So did you choose Dr. Dao because he has a past? Do you vet all your passengers and decide based on their "pasts" how you are going to treat them?" (self righteous voice is beginning to be silenced as I also begin sounding quite snarky....)

My anger increased exponentially when I heard what his sordid past was.  Dr. Dao was found guilty, according to the story in the Louisville Courier Journal of being "involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances" and that in February of 2005 he surrendered his medical license. The license was reinstated in 2015 (that didn't make headlines).

Perhaps it's because we have a personal family friend who also lost his medical license due to abusing prescription drugs. Our friend was "caught", went to rehab and then worked diligently to earn his license back. Before his death he was indeed reinstated and went on to work in public health serving those who could often find care nowhere else--another cause near and dear to my heart. (Which is why I serve on the Family Health Center board) I suspect those he cared for with kindness, compassion and care are just thankful someone served their needs and couldn't care less that he had a "past." A past, by the way, he PAID FOR--the consequences were extreme not only losing his medical license, but his marriage and the trauma his family went
through.

Or, perhaps my anger comes from the way we villainize people who have struggled with addiction often never letting them forget "their past."  Maybe it is because I personally know far too many people who have traveled the dark road of addiction, fought their way back and yet still are "branded." Whatever the reason I am infuriated....

Yes my family friend and yes Dr. Dao did something wrong. But they both faced up to it, lived the consequences, and then were redeemed. Or were they? What these two men did was dangerous and possibly or rather probably had severe ramifications for others--a fact these men have to live with for the rest of their lives, but where is the redemption? Where is the forgiveness for a mistake made? On a bigger level, how many years will people who have struggled with drugs and addiction be required to pay for their past? I mean seriously, where is the motivation to change if your past is going to be continually thrown in your face, spread across the news, gossiped about in people's homes?

How many years does someone have to continue to pay for, to be identified by his/her past? When does true forgiveness happen, or does it? Forgiveness is hard; forgiveness is even harder when deep hurt has occurred. When the wounds inflicted are so deep the relayering of trust and the diminishing of pain can take years. But what gives us the right as people to continually besmirch those who have erred? And what gives us the right to continue to treat people as less than in every aspect of their lives just because of a mistake in one part?

This morning as I continued to be furious it suddenly struck me--I am angry because Dr. Dao's past has been thrown back at him yet again; I am angry because he has not been allowed to move on, to be forgiven, I want his past to no longer haunt him. But what that really means is there must also come a time when United and the people involved in this terrible tragedy must also be allowed to move forward in their lives and to be forgiven.

Man this is hard!


10 March, 2017

The Joy of Lent (Madness)

I'm feeling a little guilty right now because....I am absolutely
LOVING Lent this year! I'm having fun and I'm full of joy (except last night when my beloved Hoos lost but that really has nothing to do with Lent--that's that other madness...) But I'm feeling guilty because all this fun really goes against my upbringing and the "tradition" of Lent...you know all that somber sacrifice and stuff...(I don't even get my spring china out until Lent is over...it's too happy)

Maybe it's because I feel like I've been living that other kind of Lent for so long even when it wasn't Lent that this year Lent is speaking to me in an entirely different way. I don't know, but I love it! It started on Ash Wednesday when I remembered and then preached that not only were we wearing ashes on our head symbolizing mourning, mortality, and penance, but they were in the SHAPE OF A CROSS. A cross on our foreheads symbolizing we belong to Christ--sealed and marked as Christ's own forever at our baptism and reminded on Ash Wednesday. We belong to, are beloved children of God, now that's happy stuff! (Please tell me someone else giggled just a little bit reading the Gospel admonishing us to beware of practicing piety before others right before we had ashes put on our foreheads to be seen by everyone throughout the day....)

Then on the first Sunday of Lent as I chanted the Great Litany. (yes, I did and not only that, I did a decent job if I do say so myself, and my husband said so too! He came in late and wondered who it was chanting...I'm okay with the fact he was surprised it was me; I was too!) As I chanted every line came alive to me in a way it never has before. I was overwhelmed with a peace that despite the sins of the world God is indeed in control and God is actively participating with us on a daily basis in all that we do so that the Kingdom of God will continue to break through.

So much joy!!!

But perhaps what has given me the greatest joy this year is Lent Madness. I've participated for five years, but this year it has taken on a deeper meaning for me. (Not to mention it is great fun talking Saint smack with my parishioners. Being on the V Show on ESPN wasn't too bad either--don't you think I should be a regular guest? Let's get that vote going...) Anyway, this year Lent Madness has helped me to grow in my hope for the world. This year I am reminded every day that individuals--flawed individuals, individuals with sketchy pasts, individuals others considered worthless, individuals who were just living their lives where they were in the best way they could, have made a difference in the world and so I am strengthened and inspired to try to do the same in this little corner of Louisville Kentucky where I live and work and play.

For example (you knew I'd have examples) Moses the Black--as my friend and senior warden said, "That was one bad dude!" He was the leader of a gang of bandits terrorizing the Nile Valley and HE CHANGED!!! Why is that hope for today? I'm so glad you asked. Back in the 4th century there were gangs, there are gangs today. Back in the 4th century a leader of a gang was changed and then went on to become a spiritual leader (and to defeat John Wycliffe which did not make me or my bracket happy). Hope my friends, hope! People can and do change even people we think are hopeless, are too terrible to change, people we in our humanity write off as just bad people, they can change---I've added praying for members of gangs to my daily prayers.

Or how about David Oakerhater a Native American warrior and spiritual leader who became an artist and Episcopal deacon. Oakerhater was taken captive during the Red River War. Captain Pratt, who was in charge of the prisoners, wanted to assimilate the Native Americans into mainstream society and have them totally give up their culture. But guess what!?!!?! As he got to know the prisoners and as trust was built, HE CHANGED HIS MIND!!!  He changed his mind and he convinced his superiors. Over time the Native Americans, led by Oakerhater, taught the townspeople about their culture, art and dance and the townspeople taught them. Hope, hope hope!!!! People can change; cultures can learn to live together even enhancing one another's lives. That's not somber, that's exciting!!!

One of my favorites is Amelia Bloomer (I have her going all the way to the finals where she alas will be defeated...). Why do I love her? Well because she's awesome of course (minus that whole temperance movement thing--I am living in the great state of Kentucky which in addition to basketball has some of the finest bourbon...), but I love her because she was a major proponent of all women's rights and although this is not her only or perhaps anywhere close to her most important work--she cared about women's fashion and even more importantly, at least to me, she believed women should be able to wear what they want! YEAH!!!! I can wear what I want and my beloved grandmother can rest in peace knowing her warning to me right before she died to "not become a dowdy priest or I will haunt you" wasn't necessary--Amelia Bloomer said so!!

But the Golden Halo--Franz Jaegerstaetter of Austria. Born to a chamber maid mother and a farmer father, Franz was a little on the wild side as a teen. (Some would say I should be able to identify with that...I plead the fifth). I suspect he just pushed the bar a little further than most. When he became an adult, he married, had 3 children very quickly (I can definitely identify with that), and was a farmer and miner. Ordinary stuff, BUT WAIT!!!! He was the only one in his village to vote against uniting with Germany and he remained openly anti-Nazi--even his priest and bishop wouldn't stand up against the Nazis, but Franz did--this young man with a checkered past who lived an ordinary life doing ordinary things, made a stand for what he believed was right even though he stood alone. He was called to active duty and refused to fight for the Third Reich. Again his priest tried to get him to change his mind knowing if he didn't he would be executed, but again this ordinary man living an ordinary life did something extraordinary--he stood his ground and for that he was killed.

Franz encourages me; Franz inspires me to want to make a difference. Franz lived in a little village and lived his faith right where he was. He didn't go to a big rally; he didn't need a pulpit; he didn't need a posse of supporters telling him he was right; he just did what he believed was the right thing right where he was. I can almost hear him saying, "Go and do likewise..." (which I know actually comes from the Good Samaritan, but I bet Franz knew that story!)

I take it back--I'm not going to feel guilty about being joyful during Lent. I'm going to take my joy, all the things I'm learning and I'm going to try to make a difference right here in my little corner of Kentucky. Thanks Lent Madness for leading the way. Now back to studying my bracket...

And when I get home, that spring china is coming out!!!


03 March, 2017

God's Hands and a Heroin Overdose

I'm haunted and so I write.....

Monday night Boss came home from work; I was busy and couldn't talk. (Yes Mama guilt, but hang tight that will be replaced by Mama pride). Tuesday morning as William was leaving for school he asked, "Did you hear about the person who died in Christopher's arms yesterday?" Of course he said this as he was walking out the door; thank goodness Chris was home to fill me in.....(I'm adding some of the details I learned later from Boss himself)

Boss works at Norton Audubon Hospital as a valet. Monday afternoon a car came flying up the wrong way. The valets scrambled (I assume to keep an accident from happening, and I assume annoyed...). Boss ran over to the car where an older couple was shouting and pointing to the backseat. There was a young man in the car convulsing. The couple didn't know him but had found him on the side of the road, and they just couldn't not stop. (Remind you of the Good Samaritan?)  Boss opened the door and gently lifted the man out. He was covered in vomit and diarrhea. Boss held the man in his arms and he stopped convulsing. "We think he's overdosing," the couple declared. Boss turned and ran towards the ER where he was met by a physician who grabbed the man's arm and said, "No pulse." Boss gently laid the man down and went back to work.  The next day Boss went into find out what happened, actually pretty much already knowing but needing to know for certain. The man was 21 and it was a heroin overdose; he didn't make it.

If I'm honest, I want Boss to process this with me more. I'm worried about how it has impacted him; perhaps because it has impacted me so profoundly. I was immediately reminded of another time, at another hospital where a young man was overdosing. I wrote about that too....Boots on the Ground Ministry. I remembered how coldly that young man was greeted and treated by the EMT, and I still shudder recalling the event. I remember trying to understand how he could be so cold and uncaring--trying to rationalize it. Today I think about both those boys and the mamas who love them. I have no idea if the young man on Monday was estranged from his family; I have no idea what his relationship with his mama is, but I am a mama to 2 sons close to the age (as well as 2 daughters). I think about no matter how old they get, how much bigger they are than me, they are still my babies and they are still beloved children of God. I think about how gently I held my babies and I hope that mama knows her son was held gently. I wish I could tell her he was.

That young man regardless of how he got to the point of Monday is a child of God. I hope he died knowing someone held him in his arms that cared. I hope he died knowing someone held him that recognized his personhood. I hope he died knowing there were 3 people (the couple and my son) who respected his dignity and knew he had worth. I hope he died knowing in that brief moment he was loved--not in the hallmark mushy love but as the conduits of the love of God kind of love. And I hope that young man is at peace.

This Lent I am following SSJE's 5 marks of love (5 Marks of Love) Today the question asked was, "How are you going to be God's hands in the world today?"

There are no shortages of opportunities; it's how we respond to them that matters....

01 March, 2017

I'm Not Giving Up Facebook for Lent

This morning I woke up to multiple facebook posts announcing
people were giving up facebook for 
Lent. They reminded people to stay in touch by email or text (interesting I didn't see any that said by snail mail or phone calls) I'm not giving up facebook for Lent.

I do understand facebook can be a total time sucker; I do understand that particularly lately there has been (and probably will continue to be) some nastiness.  I do understand there are many people who overshare. (and I do understand I may be one of them...) I understand all that, and I considered giving it up for some of those very good reasons, but I'm not.

This Lent I am really focusing on relationship restoration and relationship building with God and others. God calls us to love God with our whole hearts and to love others as ourselves. Facebook allows me a glimpse (sometimes through cloudy windows or rose colored glasses) into the lives of others. Facebook allows me to rejoice with those who are celebrating and to mourn with those who are feeling down for any reason. Facebook allows me to respond to needs when I am able and to to pray for people when I am not (okay really I pray in addition to responding, but you get the point.)

And possibly most importantly facebook allows me the opportunity to practice my faith. I believe my love for God is shown most clearly through my love for others. Not the Hallmark mushy kind of love but the really hard getting down and dirty, wanting to walk away, wanting to disengage but staying put kind of love. Through others posts I get to practice seeking and serving Christ in all persons--those with whom I agree and those with whom I don't. I get to hear others' perspectives and consider how they are trying to live faith filled lives even if the way they do differs vastly from the way live mine. I get to practice proclaiming by the words I write on my own posts as well as the words I use when I respond to others the Good News of God in Christ. Facebook gives me a platform to strive for justice and peace among all. And facebook allows me to respect the dignity of every human being in how I respond or perhaps sometimes by not responding.

I do understand why people give facebook up for Lent, but I'm not. (my family would probably appreciate if I worked on the oversharing part....)

27 February, 2017

Lent and National Eating Disorder Awareness Week---BOOM!

In two days it will be Ash Wednesday; yep Lent is upon us. For
how many years have I tried to keep a "Holy Lent"? There have been so many years I've said I'm going to give up snacking between meals or alcohol or cussing--and I can honestly say I have never made it all 40 days (unless of course you count the Lents I was pregnant...) Last year I decided to follow my good friend's plan and get rid of 40 bags of "stuff" in 40 days. I did succeed--yeah me!! It's a good practice, and I'll probably do it again, but if I really think about the meaning of Lent it's low on my totem pole.

Lent--as defined in numerous places is "a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection." But what does that mean? When am I going to learn to leave well enough alone?!?!?!

I started reading and studying and praying and talking and writing...repentance is not just saying you're sorry and moving on with life. Theologically repentance is about turning back, changing--recognizing where you are on the wrong path and fixing it. Often when we are on the "wrong path" we know it because it disrupts our relationships with ourselves, God and others. And remember God says the greatest commandment is you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and the second is you shall love your neighbor as yourself Matthew 22:36-40. So Lent isn't just about giving up something for 40 days or taking on a practice for 40 days and then being finished. Lent is about giving up what gets in the way or adding something that assists relationship. In theory it seems pretty clear to me...

Now for that dang blasted self examination and reflection...what I ask myself is keeping me from right relationship with myself, God and others? I asked myself that question last week on retreat; I figured it would eventually come to me. LIKE A TON OF BRICKS!!!!

I was preparing my Ash Wednesday sermon and thinking about why we put ashes on our foreheads. Many people believe it's to proclaim our sinfulness and the fleeting bodily lives we live. There is some truth in that--there are quite a few places in the Bible that use ashes to signify grief and mourning, and not being in right relationship does bring about grief and mourning although sometimes it is buried quite deep. But the sign of the cross--that is a sign of belonging to Christ. I've started thinking about it in some ways as a sign that I belong to Christ even in my darkest places; the places I most want to keep hidden but most likely the places that most get in the way of relationships.

And then this whole body thing....we worship an incarnational God--a God who came to us IN THE FLESH! If that doesn't proclaim the goodness and holiness of the body I don't know what does. God looked upon Jesus and God looks upon us and says, "You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased." All of you, heart, mind, soul and body---bricks are now falling on my head and burying me...

I have a really hard time accepting that body thing. I tried to rationalize with myself, "So what I'll do is give up unhealthy snacks, cut back on drinking and exercise regularly. This dreary winter has kept me from doing that." Then I got a stupid email reminding me it's National Eating Disorder Week, and I read a stupid article about people who don't participate in it (The Stupid Article (it's really not...), and then I remembered the stupid blog post I wrote two years ago (Stupid Blog Post).  I thought about how I wrote about relationships are affected and I was particularly was haunted by the words that never leave my mind, "When I look in a mirror if I can't see my head I think to myself, "That body (yes I don't use the first person) looks pretty good." but the minute I see my face attached to the body I switch to the first person and see not the decent looking athletic body of a middle aged woman, but every single one of my flaws."

I want to have a healthy body, so yes during Lent I will try to eat better, drink less and exercise more, but I want to not just have a healthy body but I want a healthy mind and so I know what I must do. Every morning I will  stand in front of a mirror--a mirror that shows all of my body from my head to my toes and repeat the words, "This is your body beloved by God, and with you God is well pleased."

This may be my hardest Lent ever....