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29 November 2011

White Lies

No. It's not nice to see you. I know you.
But I can't say that. I can't even smile and nod. The smile is a lie too.

28 November 2011

Advent's Advent



It's coming! It's here! So soon! Already!
I don't think I'm ready for Advent. But I don't get a vote. Ironically, I envy my Jewish kin for the calendrical nature of their observances. Of course we have a liturgical calendar in Christianity. But it is far from universal. Yet even in our great diversity there seems to be more unity around Advent (Good Friday and Easter) than any other time. And now it's here and I'm not ready.  I don't even have the Christmas music on my iPod yet!
Many of the sacred stories are about being ready and the consequences for being unprepared - belong left out, left behind, missing the celebration. Yet that is not my concern. I want to leisurely roll out my decorations to accompany my prayers week by week and luxuriate in the season. And I will. Starting today. Tonight. It has come so quickly.
Should this Advent season coincide with the Advent of the Messianic Age, I like to think I'd be better prepared than my home suggests.
The two to-do lists seem to be completely unrelated:
Decorate my home.
Repair the world.
Poinsettias and candles, the creche and nativity-themed art.
Cultivate peace, advocate for justice, mend broken relationships, provide for the poor and disenfranchised.
I'm not ready for the Messiah's return either.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.

24 November 2011

Thanksgiving

Simply grateful.

Cityscape


They have buried the earth under an ocean of concrete.
I cannot see her face.
I cannot hear her voice. I cannot touch her. 
These mammoth constructions of steel, glass and concrete crowd and overwhelm me.
None of these buildings is made of the stone of earth.
They cast their shadows over me and chill me to the bone.
I cannot see the sun.
I am lost in this place.
And I want to go home.

22 November 2011

Re-Entry


I'm trying to find my place in this new-old world. I have been away for a while. I am not entirely sure I fit here in this way-station between where I have been and where I am going. It is good that this place is not my home. But how shall I experience my home? I have commitments there. I need to be there. I want to be there, I think. Sometimes. How will I find it? How will it find me? Will it still be home?

17 November 2011

Songs of the Sea


God gathers the waters of the sea as in a bottle and puts the deeps in storehouses.

Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

You rule the raging sea; when its waves rise, you still them. 
There is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there; living things, both great and small.

11 November 2011

I Wanted To Be Rescued

When I was raped as a child, held down and forcibly penetrated from the rear, I wanted to be rescued. For years I had difficult relationships with my parents because they didn't save me. Of course they didn't know.
So when I read the reports of the allegations of child rape and other offenses against former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky one image tormented and haunted me: This image of the little boy, 10, whose rape was interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Mike McQueary a six-foot-four 213 pound graduate assistant who could have overpowered that old man but did not even try. He did nothing. He left that brutalized child to be further brutalized.
I can hear his rapist saying, I told you no one cares about you. I can do anything I want to you. See? He's letting me do this. Even if you tell, no one will believe you.
I don't know what if anything Sandusky said to that child but I can hear those words non-the-less. And McQeary spoke to that child with his actions as well: You're not worth saving. No one will help you. You deserve this.
Ronnie Polaneczky poignantly gave voice to my horror and fury on behalf of that child in her editorial, touching specifically on his opportunity for rescue that walked out of the door. Now we know that McQueary did not even call the police. He called his father, and at 28 years of age allowed his father to talk him into waiting until the next morning to tell his boss, Penn State's legendary coach, Joe Paterno - leaving that child to endure no one knows how many more assaults that night and successive nights. Apparently that fulfilled his legal obligation, but certainly not his moral one.
JoPa, as his fans call him, reported a milder version of events to his bosses - he didn't say rape, or intercourse or sexual penetration. And that was enough to fulfill his legal obligation - although questions are being asked about that as well they should, but he certainly did not fulfill his moral obligation. His bosses have been fired and charged with failure to report and perjury among other things. He planned on retiring at the end of the season and was instead summarily fired.
And Mike McQueary, he is still employed by Penn State and scheduled to coach this Saturday.
Football has been long lionized in our culture for building the character of young men and teaching them leadership and other skills our society values. Penn State has upheld those values by firing the University President, Coach Paterno, and the other officials. Jerry Sandusky was allowed to retire long before these allegations became public, and some are wondering about that...
The failure to intervene is unimaginable. Yet comprehensible for McQueary and his defenders. The failure to report is widespread, particularly among some churches and clergy, sadly that is more imaginable.
We do a pretty good job in our society demonizing child predators. It is way past time to deal with those who permit and enable their crimes. Like the mother of the seventeen year old boy who raped me when I was six or seven. She was in that apartment...

07 November 2011

A Christian's Longing for Hajj

It is the season of Hajj. It is the solemn responsibility of every Muslim to go on Hajj if they are able ~ but without accruing debt to do so. I have always been envious of the Hajj. Islam is not unique in maintaining a pilgrim tradition, but its pilgrimage is unique.
There are many shrines in Islam, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Rumi's Tomb in Turkey and myriad local sites in countries all over the world, unknown by far-flung Muslims. There are two holy cities in Saudi Arabia, Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, but only one Hajj.
There is no singular call or requirement for pilgrimage in Christianity or Judaism. The Kotel (Western Wall), remaining from Herod's expansion of Solomon's temple is arguably the holiest site in Judaism. But there is no requirement to journey there. Many Christians want to see where Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead, walk where he walked and where he taught. There are so many Christian holy sites: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem. So many sites with questionable historicity ~ there are at least two options for the site of Jesus' resurrection. Even dispensing with the one disdained by scholars and locals, there is no single site in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for veneration. There are many shrines and altars, and I have my favorite.
I would almost prefer it if the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were veiled  and visited as a whole like the Kaaba. (Although I would still want to enter, unlike most pilgrims who are barred from the Kaaba.)
I love the unity that Hajj evokes. There is great diversity in Islam, but Hajj and the other pillars seem to be uniformly embraced without the doctrinal divisions evident in Christianity. There are certainly differences in practice and level (fervor?) of practice in all religions.
I appreciate and respect that part of the sanctity of Hajj is its restriction to Muslims. (In order get a visa one must prove one's Muslim identity, which can be challenging for people who were not born in Muslim countries.) But I would like to experience Hajj, as a Christian.
I have had the privilege of being welcomed into sacred spaces which were not my own in which I was able to experience the richness of another tradition and sometimes find a space where my tradition unexpectedly intersected another. But Hajj is closed to me.
I know that there are many thoughtful critiques of the culture and particularly the economy of Hajj, including gender and other issues. And even if I am romanticizing Hajj, it is a compelling practice, inviting me to think back on my own tradition.
Walking the Way of Suffering, the Via Delorosa in Jerusalem is perhaps the closest I have or will ever come to Hajj in my own faith. Yet the differences are stark: There are not nearly so many pilgrims gathered at one time, even on Good Friday. Pilgrims can come any day in any month. There are no pilgrim clothes. And all around us, life in the shops, restaurants and hostels of the Old City went on. (Which I also appreciate, because I could see Jesus being paraded through the market, full of people.)
I am grateful to sister, scholar and imam Amina Wadud for opening up her Hajj journey in a series of blogs. They have been grouped together here. (At the bottom of the page on that site there are links for the rest.)

Morning Meditation: Smile

It's really just that simple. Intentionally radiate joy. Smile.

02 November 2011

Feeling Betrayed

It's always a shock. I'm always surprised when someone hurts me.
I think that's a good thing. It means that I don't expect to be hurt. I still trust people. I'm stunned when someone does something that they know will hurt me, when they figure into to their calculus and decide it's worth it anyway.
Exhaling. Inhaling. Exhaling again.
I'm surprised by the pain, buried deep beneath waves of rage. I know my anger well. It coats, soothes, protects my vulnerable insides from the hurt like the layers of a pearl.
This is an old pain, a familiar pain, a healing pain, a lingering pain. 
I realized that the same event inflamed two pains, a pair of pains, a conjoined pain.

I was furious. I was angry with my friend - she's still my friend - and angrier with the situation, her decision.
Don't tell me you prayed about it knowing it would hurt and did it anyway. I do not know that god, nor do I wish to. I have enough trouble with my own...
I knew, even as I raged at her that the heat of my rage was not directed towards her.
I think she knows that.
Even in my fury I was not blind to the hurt that fueled my rage. And I knew that it was less about her than her decision, and less about her decision than the old, healing, lingering conjoined wounds it reopened.
Clarity and self-awareness are gifts and evidence of healing.
It still hurts.
I still feel betrayed.

For All the Saints, I Call Your Name



"Ancestors never die until there is no one to call their names." ~ An African Proverb
*
"Some people are your relatives, others are your ancestors and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors." ~ Ralph Ellison
*
Dr. Yolanda Pierce posted these two quotes in her wonderful blog on Día de los Muertos ~ All Saints Day. I have been singing "For All the Saints" and "I Sing A Song of the Saints of God" since Sunday when I began this year's celebration in the company of an All Saints Church. Dr. Pierce's post of Ellison's quote affirms my practice of calling on a wide circle of names as my ancestors. I call the name of my ancestors who are the saints of God today and whenever I remember them.
I call the names of my grandmothers, Louvenia and Virlee.
I call the names of biblical foremothers, Hagar and Miryam and D'vorah and Miryam of Nazareth and Miryam of Migdala and Junia and Priscilla.

I call the names of the ancestors I have chosen, I start with the artist Robert Moore whose art gave me a vision of all the saints, past and present. (His "Sanctuaries of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas" is above.)
I call the names of Harriet Tubman, Susanna Wesley, Mary McCloud Bethune, Billie Holliday, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde, Coretta Scott King, Lesbia Scott.
Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malik El-Hajj El-Shabazz, Howard Thurman, Uncle Melvin, I call your names.


For all the saints, who from their labors rest, 
 who thee by faith before the world confessed, 
 thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. 
 Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, 
 through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, 
 singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: 
 Alleluia, Alleluia!

I sing a song of the saints of God, 
 patient and brave and true, 
 who toiled and fought and lived and died 
 for the Lord they loved and knew. 
 And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, 
 and one was a shepherdess on the green; 
 they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, 
 God helping, to be one too. 
They lived not only in ages past; 
 there are hundreds of thousands still. 
 The world is bright with the joyous saints 
 who love to do Jesus' will. 
 You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, 
 in church, by the sea, in the house next door; 
 they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, 
 and I mean to be one too.

01 November 2011

Desiderata


    Max Ehrmann's (1952) poem:
      Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
      and remember what peace there may be in silence.
      As far as possible without surrender
      be on good terms with all persons.
      Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
      and listen to others,
      even the dull and the ignorant;
      they too have their story. 


      Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
      they are vexations to the spirit.
      If you compare yourself with others,
      you may become vain and bitter;
      for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
      Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 



      Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
      it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
      Exercise caution in your business affairs;
      for the world is full of trickery.
      But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
      many persons strive for high ideals;
      and everywhere life is full of heroism. 



      Be yourself.
      Especially, do not feign affection.
      Neither be cynical about love;
      for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
      it is as perennial as the grass. 



      Take kindly the counsel of the years,
      gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
      Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
      But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
      Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
      Beyond a wholesome discipline,
      be gentle with yourself. 



      You are a child of the universe,
      no less than the trees and the stars;
      you have a right to be here.
      And whether or not it is clear to you,
      no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 



      Therefore be at peace with God,
      whatever you conceive Him to be,
      and whatever your labors and aspirations,
      in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 



      With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
      it is still a beautiful world.
      Be cheerful.
      Strive to be happy.