I am the adventurous child that feels safe enough in the world to climb over a fence and into the world of a caged gorilla at the zoo.

 

I am the gorilla that reacts with instincts that are at once tender and frightened.

 

I am the zookeeper that must respond quickly, with their best judgment, to the unfolding drama, in a way that serves the highest good.

 

I am the sharp shooter that pulls the trigger and releases the bullet that ends the gorilla’s life.

 

I am the parent of the adventurous child that clutches their racing heart and holds their churning stomach.

 

I am the bystander in the crowd that screams in fright and dismay, unable to look away.

 

I am the adventurous child that looks into the eyes of the gorilla and then feels their self being lifted, tossed, and dragged – their flesh being scraped and torn.

 

I am the gorilla that feels the flashing pain of a piercing bullet and feels the life force drain out of their body.

 

I am the parent of the child that watches, helplessly.

 

I am the zookeeper that must live with the consequences of their decision, being forever more questioned, and even reviled for their gut-wrenching choice.

 

I am the child whose life is now marked by a terror no one else will ever understand.

 

I am the parent whose life is now marked by a terror and a guilt no one else will ever understand, a parent whose life is now marked by public scorn.

 

I am the bystander that now must make sense of what I have witnessed.

 

I am the member of the public at large that now must wrestle with moral and ethical issues I had not considered before, issues of valuing one life over another, issues of freedom and individual agency, issues of responsibility for and protection of those entrusted to our care.

 

I am the person whose heart is broken open by a tragedy beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.

 

I am the person that rushes to judgment and finds some comfort in assigning blame.

 

I am the person that must live in this world where there are no easy answers, where people just like me are called to respond to circumstances that I have only visited in my worst nightmares.

 

I am the person that finds within myself a capacity for compassion and an embrace for ambiguity that stretches me into the fullness of what it means to be human.

 

 

O Lord of goodness and mercy, our people are killing each other in their homes, in the streets, in the workplace, in schools, in churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. Dear Lord, is there no sacred place left to praise your holy names?

O Lord of endless compassion, too many of our neighbors are hungry and thirsty. They have no homes to shelter them from heat and cold and raging storms. Too many of our brothers, sisters, and cousins, are imprisoned, held in a system that profits from their incarceration. Too many of our kindred travelers on this planet earth are fleeing from violent oppression, running for their lives only to be turned away by those who could provide safe refuge. Dear Lord, we have strayed from our sacred teachings.

O Lord of wisdom and truth, our leaders are besieged by fear, torn by politics of division and polarization, caught in the trap of greed, privileging a few while the multitudes go wanting, selling their souls and our grand children’s future, all in the name of profit.

O Lord of our broken hearts, hear our cry. Our precious planet, the one and only home we have, is being plundered and polluted, spoiled and exploited. Our beloved animal kingdom is dwindling. Species are becoming extinct in alarming numbers. We fear that we may be among them.

Dear Lord, we know that we are being punished by our willful ignorance, for allowing ourselves to slip into denial of what is happening, for failing to change our habits of mindless consumption. We have turned away from the face of the holy and profaned the very sources of our existence.

Turn us again, O Lord, to that which is worthy of our adoration and praise.

Let us bow down and worship the waters of life, the vast and pounding oceans, the swiftly flowing rivers, the still ponds and deep lakes, the falling rain, the frozen snows, the melting glaciers and icebergs.

Let us bow down and worship the fruits of life, the amber waves of grain, the abundant orchards and vineyards, farms and gardens.

Let us bow down and worship the fish and the fowl and the animals of slaughter whose flesh feeds our own flesh.

Let us bow down and worship all the elements, the air that fills our lungs and gives us life, the sun that warms our days and grows our food, the earth that holds and sustains this life that we cherish.

Let us bow down and worship the great mystery beyond these gifts of life.

Let us bow down and worship the creative processes from which they come and let us name them God.

Dear God, may the truth of our lamentations lead us through the ashes of despair and into the promise of hope. May we be called once again to the hearth of community where the fire of commitment to our common covenant of love and service burns steady, bright, and true.

Let us remember that we need not carry the burdens of the world on our shoulders alone nor do we ask any single comrade to carry them for us.

Together we are able to bear what no one of us alone could do.

 

 

IMG_7299Come to the well, my love.

Make a cup of your hands.

Scoop up handfuls of liquid silver

shimmering with the sun’s each ray.

Let the coolness

slide down your weary palms and wrists

drenching your arms in gladness.

Let water touch your lips

like the moist kiss of a lover

quenching your parched and lonely

desert soul

where seeds long to be watered.

Taste the sweetness of hope

blossoming on your tongue

singing songs of wonder

speaking words of praise.

Let this sacred wellspring

fill you to the tips of your wiggling toes

dancing on holy ground.

Know this place as your own

your birthright

a divine grace

freely given.

Protect it as if

your life depends on it.

Keep it as pure

as the driven white snows of winter

sparkling as the fragile faith of spring.

For wells can become bitter waters

steeped in poisonous leaves

of petty concerns.

You will know them by their colors:

green envy

yellow cowardice

blood red hatred

the seductive purple of gossip.

If you taste these

spit them out.

Contaminated waters

erode trust

tarnish the truth

rust what is good

destroy what is life giving.

Come to the well of life, my love.

Living waters move

in your blood

the same self stuff as mine.

A sacred trust

whose guardians are named

you

me

we

us

together

one

whole

life.

Come to the well, my love.

Let us be nourished.

 

 

When shall we cease saying peace, peace, when there is no peace? When shall we beat our swords into plowshares? When shall we begin to bind up the broken and set the captives free? When shall we begin to do what is required — to love mercy, do kindness, and walk humbly with our God(s)? When shall we begin to love our neighbors as ourselves? I say now, friends. I say now.

An Ode to the Elephant in the Room

You are big.

You are different.

You scare me.

You take up space.

You have tusks.

You could trample me.

You could take me out with your trunk.

You scare me.

I look away.

I tiptoe around you.

I want to feel safe.

I appease.

I make concessions.

I feed you.

I neglect to name you.

I am afraid.

We occupy the same space.

We dance around each other.

We scare each other, each in our own way.

We do not speak, at least not in words.

We keep our distance.

We normalize our relationship.

We say it’s just the way things are.

We numb ourselves.

We occupy the same space.

We are scared.

We make our worlds smaller.

We want to feel safe.

We don’t know how.

We hurt each other.

We pretend it doesn’t matter.

You have power.

I have power.

We have power.

You are the elephant.

I am the elephant.

We are the elephant.

What shall we name the elephant in the room?

IMG_4736“Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, and strangely, in the end, more rewarding.”   David Whyte

I hate when I disappoint people. Yes, hate is a strong word, but there are few things in life I hate more than disappointing people. Okay, I hate war and poverty more. And those who know me well know how much I despise email, but in the small sphere of my personal world, disappointing people tops the list of things I hate.

It’s probably no small accident of fate that ministry, the vocation to which I’ve been called is one where I’m almost guaranteed to disappoint someone — on a regular basis, maybe even every day.

Those who come through the doors of the church are hoping that their deepest needs will be met, needs for comfort, for love, to be affirmed, to be accepted, to find meaning, purpose, a sense of belonging, and a transcendent connection to something divine and holy. Some come looking for material needs: food, shelter, transportation, or a job. Then there are those who don’t quite know what it is they are hoping to find. They only know the painful sting of disappointment when that deep, unspoken need isn’t fulfilled.

There are two ways that I – and by extension, the church – disappoint people.

The first has to do with the reality of human limits and imperfections. The church is a human institution that serves divine purposes. Sometimes I screw up. I make mistakes. Sometimes the church screws up and makes mistakes. We all come up against limits of time and energy. Sometimes we are simply unable to meet a particular person’s need.

This first way of disappointing people is actually the easier of the two. Mistakes can be addressed through apology. They become opportunities for learning, growth, and change. Coming up against limits helps to focus our energies on what is most important. Recognizing our imperfections and limits, we forgive ourselves and each other. We begin again in love.

The second way of disappointing people is infinitely more difficult – failing to meet unspoken and unrealistic expectations. When I find out that I’ve failed to meet an expectation that I didn’t know someone had, it can send me into a tailspin of insecure feelings. I wonder at my own competence. I feel powerless. To pull myself out of the death spiral of negativity, I remind my self that while there may be people who are truly clairvoyant, I’m not one of them.

I learned early in life how to manage my own disappointments. Being the third child of four, I was never the center of attention the way my older brothers and younger sister were. One Christmas, as I poured over the Montgomery Ward catalog, making my Christmas wish list, I found my mother’s Christmas shopping list, written on a scrap of paper tucked neatly at the back.

My illusions of Santa had been dispelled a couple years before. I knew the gifts came from mom and dad. I even knew the family budget was tight, so I made my Christmas wish list keeping that reality in mind. What I really wanted was the Barbie Dream house, which I knew was out of reach. I limited my list to a few new outfits for Barbie.

Tears stung my eyes as I read my mother’s list. My brothers were to get a train set to share. My sister was to get a new tricycle. I was to get a slip. Yes, that’s right. A slip — that undergarment that goes under your dress so your legs don’t show through. Most girls my age got them along with their back-to-school clothes. I was to get mine for Christmas. Great.

When Christmas morning arrived, I knew exactly what to expect. There would be no Christmas surprise. In a strange way, it was a relief. Upon waking, I made up my mind that I was going to have a happy Christmas. I focused on the sparkly tree, the pretty packages, and the yummy Norwegian sweetbread that we always ate for Christmas breakfast. I grew up a little bit that day.

My young self learned that the way to avoid disappointment is to manage my own expectations – a spiritual gift that has served me well. To the best of my ability, I let other people know what my expectations of them are. When I embark on a new adventure or enter into a new situation, I try to release expectations and simply be present to whatever unfolds. Releasing expectations involves letting go of a certain amount of control.

I can’t say that my life is completely free of disappointment. When it arises, it’s a message that alerts me to some deep, inner longing that is unspoken and unmet. Usually it turns out to be the very things people come to church seeking: to be understood, to be respected, to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted, to be loved.

The poet David Whyte wrote a book titled Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. He has this to say about disappointment:

“Disappointment is a friend to transformation, a call to both accuracy and generosity in the assessment of our self and others, a test of sincerity and a catalyst of resilience. Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, and strangely, in the end, more rewarding.”

Maybe disappointment can be a spiritual guide, leading us into life’s deep yearnings, the universal longings that ultimately connect us to each other in our common humanity. Maybe it’s nothing more and nothing less than a message of the spirit, a necessary disillusionment — an invitation to the reality of imperfection and limitation.

I’m sure I will continue to disappoint people. Maybe I can hate it less knowing it is truly a gateway to transformation.

IMG_1296

Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life”

Sue Monk Kidd from The Secret Life of Bees.

My profession and vocation requires that I spend more than the usual amount of time inside the church. While most church goers spend maybe a couple to a few hours a week actually in the church, let’s just say I log a lot more hours than that. There’s so much to the life of a congregation that goes on behind the scenes. I often fantasize about a reality TV show revealing the secret life of churches. It’s not quite what the Vicar of Dibley would have you all believe.

When I was in seminary, no one told me how much I would need to know about the mechanical systems that keep a church building cool or warm, lighted, internet connected — not to mention what it takes to keep the water running and the toilets flushing. Then there’s all the city codes, permits, and inspections. In old buildings, when something breaks, the fix is never quick, cheap, or easy.

I offer to you, dear readers, a look behind the scenes, a chance to see what your minister, church staff, and a handful of brave volunteers get to see on a regular basis.

I’ll start with what it takes to troubleshoot internet and telephone connectivity.

The first step is to find this . . . .

IMG_6735

because it’s where you’ll find this . . .

IMG_6667

and this.

IMG_6737

One weekday morning we all arrived at church only to discover that the phone system was completely dead. After some diligent detective work, the problem was found. Someone had flipped this . . .

IMG_6674

which couldn’t have been done accidentally. Let’s just say that it’s not in plain sight.

When it comes time to turn on heat or air conditioning, the first step is to gather all the keys you’ll need to unlock this . . .

IMG_6670

and everything else that’s under lock and key.

This is what’s known as “the chiller.” It’s a dinosaur. They don’t make these anymore. It’s like a gigantic evaporative cooler. The good news is that it’s more energy efficient than a fancy new air conditioner would be.

IMG_6671

The bad news is that the other side looks like this . . .

IMG_6731

and this.

IMG_6734

Yes, that’s rust and hard-water buildup.  But,wait, there’s more!  If you unlock the door to the “furnace” room, you’ll see this . . .

IMG_6672

and this — the instructions for turning things on and off.

IMG_6673

And, you’re not done yet! Now you have to lock everything back up, go back into the sanctuary, and flip this . . .

IMG_6669

and then adjust this.

IMG_6668

I think I saw a picture of this circulating on Facebook with the caption, “Re-post if you remember what this is.”

This week we got some bad news from the backflow inspector. I bet you didn’t even know there was such a thing as a backflow inspector. His email said, and I quote, “The minimum you can do to make the existing assembly work, is replace the shut off valves. You would probably want to hire a plumber to perform that
task. The existing galvanized piping looks suspiciously rotten.”

This is all to say that we need a plumber who will have to deal with this.

IMG_6675

And that, my friends, is the first installment of The Secret Life of Churches.

I may need to head back to seminary now. I think I need a course or two in prayer.

“There is nothing perfect . . . only life” Sue Monk Kidd from The Secret Life of Bees

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 404 other followers