Archive for the 'Faith' Category



22
Nov
10

cost of truth telling

Roberta Showalter Kreider has published compilations of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender faith stories in three editions, From Wounded Hearts, Together in Love and The Cost of Truth. I read the first two during my personal encounter with church exclusion in 2008/09. I ordered the third but couldn’t manage to read it without succumbing to memories of my own painful experience, still searingly fresh into the winter of 2009/10. When a friend expressed interest in learning more about LGBT people, I gladly sent all three off with her. She simply didn’t know much and that is not uncommon. Whew! Out of sight, out of mind…or so I thought.

Then, one evening a few weeks ago, dear friends came to dinner. They are the only friends who spoke up as boldly as we did at the church that didn’t want us. We all left that church tattered and torn—the cost of speaking one’s truth—and we’d not seen each other in many months, so there was a lot to share. During the conversation one friend mentioned that she had just finished reading The Cost of Truth, and urged me to read it. Having completely forgotten the title of the book, I said I would. Before I knew it there it was in my mail box and still I didn’t recognize it until I opened the cover and saw that this was the third in the Kreider series—the set I’d given away. I was ready to read it now and have done so. I know some of the people in this book. I may not have known them three years ago when I first ordered the it, but through time and travail, I do now. These are stories of Mennonite and Brethren, LGBT people, whose dignity and leadership gifts were not honored by their denominations. One story in particular spoke to me. The writer shared his story and then his lingering sadness in a poem that resonates for me as well:

LGBT inclusion just may be the last strong-hold of the patriarchal church. The Mennonite denomination—traditionally dedicated to peace and non-violence—has yet to understand the violence to heart and soul that punishment and exclusion produces. Such treatment of brothers and sisters in Christ stands in opposition to the core values of the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. I have written about this many times and will likely not stop any time soon. If you are interested in this issue and have little experience with LGBT people, try one of these books.

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves….
-Rainer Maria Rilke

For now we see in a mirror, dimly but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. -I Corinthians 14:12

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

04
Nov
10

update and post script

My posts have been few and far between for a while now. I have been on a journey and not through yet, but thought I’d just try to bring this blog somewhat up to date before doing so becomes a gigantic, uphill climb with a backpack too full of stuff to sort out, let alone write down for public consumption.

This year’s summer was a hard trek, but in a different way than last year’s summer when I was torn into pieces by the church we were invited—then uninvited—to join. Last summer the pangs of betrayal I experienced were felt in the warmth of my family—Big Dawg, Adopted Daughter Bettina and I. We set about fitting into the little church that welcomed us in on the rebound. We were beginning to breathe, but by September Bettina’s cancer returned for a fourth and final time. She died just ten weeks into the new year.

I was completely absorbed in caring for Bettina, and completely involved in helping her to die well. For a long time afterward I was equally absorbed in the loss of her and of our family of three. There were many losses since my cancer diagnosis in 2006 and they came swarming together in a great anguished whoosh. The repercussions were enormous. By spring, I no longer knew where I belonged or why. I was a traveler on the grief road without a sense of direction…just drifting in deep pools of sadness and disconnection. Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, quite unexpectedly as if by magic, I became a mother-in-law and a grandmother. There was no time to practice. The summer wore on and still the quiet, disconnected sadness. I yearned for spiritual connection and began attending Catholic Mass, while at the same time continuing in my position as visual art maven at the little quirky church on the edge of the city. The grandchildren were pinpoints of joy—lone stars in a dark sky. I became a woman with many faces, but no mirror in which to see them.

August was a particularly desperate time and called for desperate measures. I could not relate to the little church and could not keep from receiving the sadness bubbling up within. It was a time of affirming forgiveness, 70 x 7 and then some. My path became stony and disorienting. In response, the little church said don’t leave…let’s talk, and formed a small listening group around BD and me. Many things happened in rapid succession, both inside and outside the group. Issues fell into place as we became aware that four years of losses with little time between amounts to post traumatic stress. I don’t normally cotton with these labels, but this time it is fitting, and we are glad to have this understanding as a way to make sense of our wobbly-top selves. I am grateful to the several persons who were angels unaware in this drama, for I was not always so lovable. These people were willing spiritual conduits, each with a different message, each with a different angel’s feather touch. Each bearing God’s love and grace.

In the end, an aha moment was this:  understanding that in the loose, laid-back character of this quirky little church, lay freedom and trust and possibilities, and in return, I must give it all I’ve got. I’ve been busy ever since, not with more than you younger readers are prone to taking on, but with more than I am accustomed to taking on in quite this faith centered way. There are not enough days or hours in the days, and certainly not enough weeks in the month for me. I am swimming in a rushing river to some where that I know not…every now and then caught by an eddy of old thoughts and memories that must be untangled and set out to dry. In a couple of weeks I will turn a ripe 72… Despite my good health report, I am very aware of the time I have left—sensitized to it. Insomnia plagues me lately. It’s not a workaholic compulsion that is the culprit, it is this sense that I am in transition—in training if you will—for the last chapter of my life as a doer/giver. I am such a late bloomer…I want 20 years doing and giving in the space of 10! Sometimes I feel like a child who cannot wait for Christmas morning. Other times I feel like skipping Christmas morning entirely, for surely a gift with my name on it will be much too heavy for me to manage.

Called by name…that is the word I received many times in the dark chemotherapy nights.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame  shall not consume you. Isaiah 43

So when I am not wobbling over with extremes of joy and anxiety, I generally say, Here am I. Send me!”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me! Isaiah 6:8

28
Aug
10

spiritual direction…loving not leading

Faith journeys are about transformation from one manifestation of self to the next, and the next, and the next. The movement is not immediately forward and  outward. First it is downward and inward to the temple each of us has within–the center space fashioned slowly during the time we were incubating in our mother’s womb—or incarnating, if you will. This is my belief, no one has to agree with me. But if you do, or if you are even curious as to where I am going with this, read on.

None of us were born into a perfect world. All of us were birthed from as perfect a place as we humans can provide. It was good inside and we were happy, growing like Topsy. Then…boom! We outgrew our little homes and had to leave. The passage was tough—arduous, exhausting, shocking, but we couldn’t retreat—couldn’t go home again. And so we grew and learned how to manage our growing selves in this new world with its hungers, hazards, and unknowns. Some of us grew simply and  well, while others of us learned to put on many coats—many layers to protect our natural selves so that we could survive and keep on growing. Twenty, thirty, forty years later, we layered ones are pretty well protected…so well protected that we don’t naturally remember who we divinely were at the start.

At some point in time we begin journeying to regain the sonship or daughtership infused in us from the zygotic start. There are many roads, many ways to journey. I’ve done quite a few of them myself. Then, after a profound experience during my cancer treatment, journeying took me back to my Christian beginnings and here I am now at crossroads, stop lights, curves, even detours, but still traveling home where the light shines and the feathered, white bird waits.

Journeying can be arduous and lonely. I have a number of good friends with whom I can share my challenges, but there is something about talking to a professional, specializing in spiritual direction that is different. We commonly think of spiritual direction as guidance or the giving of advice, but it’s not that,  and definitely not psycho therapy…more like a centering experience…a place to gather the frayed edges of one’s road-weary self. We are all on our own unique, kaleidoscopic journeys—all the same and yet so different. It takes a loving heart to hear, but a practiced, dedicated ear to listen deeply.

While participating in the Bridgefolk conference at St. John’s Abbey this summer. I stopped in at the Abbey’s, Liturgical Press bookstore. Among the many titles, a little spiritual memoir by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew caught my eye: Swinging on the Garden Gate. Thumbing through, I found some parallels to my own experience and took the book home with me. What Ms. Andrew says about her own experience of spiritual direction on pages 116 and 117, sums up quite well what I began to say both in my previous post, Spiritual Healing…Art Not Science and continue here in this posting.

…the term spiritual director is misleading. It implies a right and a wrong, or that the director points and the client follows. I desired that model for learning; I wanted to sit at a teacher’s feet to receive words of wisdom, confident that someone more practiced in prayer and discernment would have the answers to my aching questions. But Linda didn’t work that way. Everything you need to know God, she said, you’ve already been given. She trusted completely (far more so than I did) the direction of the spirit’s movement within me. Her role, then, was to provide a container into which I slowly poured the stories of my childhood, adolescence, and my journey in Wales. Together we held them up to the light, looking to see where they were infused with the sacred. Linda’s wisdom, I realized, came not from profound insight so much as her ability to listen deeply. It came from her faith that a story unfolding in a place of love is transformative. As I gradually allowed her to be attentive to my journey, with all its dark, crazy and ecstatic moments, I became more attentive as well. Linda’s integrity and care held me accountable. I had to come forward. Such a safe space demanded it.

A spiritual director learns to listen deeply—not something most of us do on the day-to-day–with either family or friends. This in itself is an artful, spiritual practice of loving self-giving.  In that deep listening the Holy Spirit breathes in and around, weaving a basket that holds our thoughts, feelings, secrets, longings, hopes, dreams…all we have to bring to the table. It’s a safe place—a loving, safety deposit box with a key to wear around your heart.

My journey has become tangled once again. I am in another time of great transition. I look and see fog. One foot in front of the other, step by step toward the light I know will be there once I am there too. I am grateful to have a relationship of spiritual direction that not only blesses me, but blesses the one who deeply listens each time we talk.

13
Aug
10

grace appeared

Some may wonder how I got from such deep depression to the light and airy post like the previous one. I’m not clinically manic-depressive, just an intense feeling-type with strong views and thin skin vs. thick skin. It’s a long story with many twists and turns over the past 2 years.

I have some very good friends who showed up in answer to my repetitive prayers for help. Maybe it’s because I am basically such a strong person (and/or resistant), but God often allows me to come to the very edge of the cliff—not just to see it there, but to actually dangle off the side of it before the dawn breaks and I see what I need to see. For me it’s a process of seeing the mysterious connections that light reveals. It’s not a linear mind thing. It’s intuitive…a sense of knowing that is unmistakable from my own knowing this or that. And then with the grace of sudden clarity, I see the path that I didn’t see before. Maybe the path was covered with weeds, or grass. Or maybe I was in a cluttered room that only dim light could pierce, or alone in a dark room. This is the transformative process of coming to the end of one’s self to see the God within.

The thing is, that there will be many ends of myself before my life is over…many dark nights of the soul…many transformative surgeries. The up side is that each surgery brings deeper faith…less of me and more of thee. This is a hard thing to understand. It’s not about becoming no one and nothing. It’s about becoming—one with God as Jesus was one with God. (John 10:30)

I have not yet come to welcoming these trials. Perhaps when I do, they will be less dramatic and more endurable. Now is now and this is where I am. Grace is here. I love that old Gospel hymn,

Just as I am, by Charlotte Elliot, 1840

What can I say? I’m older than you think.

09
Aug
10

another word to ponder

Today I am turning over the word, betray. What does it mean to betray? The word is colorful and has variant usages. I’m partial to this set of definitions from Free Dictionary.com:

be·tray  [bih-trey]

–verb (used with object)

1. to deliver or expose to an enemy by treachery or disloyalty: Benedict Arnold betrayed his country.

2. to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining, or fulfilling: to betray a trust

3. to disappoint the hopes or expectations of; be disloyal to: to betray one’s friends.

4. to reveal or disclose in violation of confidence: to betray a secret.  (synonyms: bare, expose,  tell, divulge / antonyms: hide, conceal)

5. to reveal unconsciously (something one would preferably conceal): Her nervousness betrays her insecurity.

6. to show or exhibit; reveal; disclose: an unfeeling remark that betrays his lack of concern. (synonyms: display,  manifest, expose, uncover / antonyms: hide, conceal)

7. to deceive, misguide, or corrupt: a young lawyer betrayed by political ambitions into irreparable folly.

8. to seduce and desert.

I think we all have committed at least one of the states of betrayal on this list at one time or another. I do not like to think of myself as having done so, but the truth is that I have, sometimes purposefully, sometimes unwittingly, as in not allowing conscious recognition of my purpose. I am far from good…as Jesus said in Luke 18:19 “Why do you call me good?…No one is good except God alone.”

Except for the Benedict Arnold type of action in usage #1, betrayal is a slippery thing that hides out in the outer reaches of our human selves. It is beguiling and seductive. Betraying ourselves as in usage #5 is a private matter—of lesser impact than usage #2 or #7—these generally having some personal gain attached to them. We all do this. Some one shares a bit of information with the caveat not to tell anyone. Sometimes that person really expects confidence, sometimes not. In any case, many of us find ways to pass the information on. I find it morally useful to ask if I may tell my partner. I do not like the tension involved in having to keep a solitary confidence and am grateful if told I may share with my partner. For this reason, I rarely ask a confidante to keep information completely hidden from a partner. I pretty much expect it will be shared, so giving permission keeps me in charge of at least a small part of what can become a daisy chain of information and mis-information.

In my lifetime (7 decades) I have experienced several life-changing, egregious, betrayals of trust. Each one has left its mark in the cells of my body, despite the forgiveness I’ve tried to practice. The most recent betrayal caused an enormous amount of damage to me, my family and friends. I dare not think of it, for when I do,  my breath becomes labored and my heart sinks in my chest. By God’s grace we forgive, but the cells of the body remember. The heart grieves to hear the spoken apology that is a balm for healing and reconciliation. Not my will, but yours Lord (Luke 22:42). These words sometimes stick in my throat. I am not good. Only God is good. I can only do as I am able…by Grace.

29
May
10

beyond pentecost

A great deal has happened since I last wrote. A dear friend of mine advised me to speak to my community…to tell them what I need to feel at home with them. I took his advice, and although painful to be so vulnerable, I believe doing so has released the bird in me from the wire that held me fast, and has provided freedom to move…eventually to fly once again. This time I must learn a new flight pattern—a slow and easy circling pattern that allows for the inevitable waiting that is often the life of faith. I am a bird flying carefully and quietly so that I hear God’s voice and feel the leading of the Spirit. I have a lot to learn at the same time that I have so very much to give. Holding the Both and the And together, while walking forward with a basket of life balanced on my head.

Tonight I went to bed early but couldn’t get to sleep. Night can be a very difficult time for those of us who are loss-prone. All the needles and threads of daytime busyness fade into the deep, velvety-blue, darkness of night and there is no covering. I deeply miss adopted daughter, Bettina, whose let’s get it done energy melded so well with mine, allowing me to venture forth in foreign lands with bravery. There are birds who fly on the loft others create in flight formation. I am learning to fly solo and grateful for the several friends whom God has provided as air traffic controllers during this time of transition and initiation. They are my angels. I think they know who they are…

At night I turn on my Taize music, take my meds, turn off the light and wait for Bella, my little orange cat, to come join me. I talk to God. I say everything and nothing. I pour out wordless thoughts and painful experiences. It is my most intimate God time. I ask why and I ask how. I mostly ask for help. There are always tears. After a while Bella comes and with her comes Bettina to say, Goodnight Mamma. I like that.

My soul aches…not for any one thing or any one person. My soul aches for something it needs…God.

I am a bird circling high overhead, hoping it does not rain…preferring the clear blue of a sunny sky.




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