Tag Archives: Faith

Hard Ass Mama

A few years ago, one of my higher-ups insinuated that I would be less qualified for my job once I gave birth.  This person seemed to believe that being a mother would make me less fit to do the work I enjoyed so much.  It broke my heart and made me question my identity.  I spoke with one of my sister clergy, a mother too, and I remember her telling me that I would be a better priest for being a mom.  And not because I’d become more nurturing or motherly–not because I’d offer better pastoral care–but because I’d be a better administrator, better leader, and stronger voice.

I thought back to that conversation last night as I held my inconsolable 7-week old daughter.  She is not a colicky baby.  But she does have the occasional night when she will do nothing but cry for an hour or two.  She won’t take a pacifier or bottle, she won’t nurse, she won’t be rocked or bounced–she’ll just scream in my ear.  All I can do is walk back and forth in her darkened room, sush-ing and patting, walking and walking until there’s a worn path on the rug.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Knowing that she will at some point tire of crying and fall asleep, but I can never tire of loving her.  I may not like it.  I may feel like she’s yelling at me and wearing me down.  But I can wait her out.  I can be stubborn and unrelenting.  I find new strength I didn’t know I had.

And then I remember my colleague’s encouragement, and realize I am indeed becoming a better priest by being a mother.  That these few hours of pacing are teaching me the persistence I need in my profession.  That being a mom has taught me I can carry more than I thought I could.  That I can put up with more than I ever imagined–and what I won’t put up with.  That intuition is a leadership skill that can only be realized or discovered–not taught.

I know a lot of moms who feel like their career–one aspect of their vocation–has to take a back seat while their children are young.  I feel that sometimes too.  And it’s hard because I’ve always been driven and I love my work.  But every once in a while I can see the “professional development” that my children bring me.  It may not be notable on a resume, but it’s meaningful and true.

If in the years to come I am a more persistent prophet, a more valiant lover, a more courageous and thoughtful leader, a wiser authority and a more savvy administrator–you can thank my children.  Because moms aren’t all softness and kisses.  We are hard asses.  And we will do the work.

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Teach us to Pray

This morning as I was helping Charlie get dressed for school, the brightly colored rosary hanging on his closet door caught my eye.  It was a gift at his baptism from my professor and friend, who is now in hospital.  Mo. Mitties had a knack for showing up at Holy Spirit events–so many ordinations (often as a presenter or preacher), installations and baptisms.  She showed up at Ground Zero as a chaplain to first responders when she was supposed to be on sabbatical.  The woman shows up.

And she showed up this morning in Charlie’s room, even from ICU.

Jay and I pray with Charlie every night before bed, and have since he was born.  As soon as we start praying, he crawls off our lap and puts his head down to sleep.  It has become his signal that peace has come and it’s time to rest.  Because Jay usually does bedtime, I don’t get to pray with Charlie as often.

I realized the other day that we had not been praying at meals–ever.  The start of supper is such a fluid thing now, with no real pause to signal prayer.  Sometimes Charlie starts eating before us, sometimes one of us is calming the Lucy while the others eat, and in the midst of the chaos we don’t even notice that we’ve forgotten to ask God’s blessing.

So we’ve started this week, remembering only ever-other-day, trying to re-create a meaningful and formational habit.  Jay prays the Catholic prayer he was taught as a child, I’ve introduced “Johnny Appleseed” (which has to be sung several times at Charlie’s request), and I imagine Charlie will come up with his own brand of blessing as his vocabulary increases.

Sitting there with the rosary this morning, I tried to *explain* prayer for the first time.  We talked about how the different colored and shaped beads can remind us of things to talk to God about.  We talked about how the cross reminds us of Jesus’ love for us.  We prayed for our friend Mitties, that she would know comfort and that God would make her whole.  And then we walked to school thinking of more people to pray for and pointing at things we thank God for.

The glory in all this is how God is teaching me to pray in new ways.  There’s a different kind of sacredness I am discovering in praying with my child who is beginning to understand conversation more and more, because of course prayer is conversation.  I feel as if I’m entering a new season of spiritual formation as I grow alongside Charlie.

Lord, teach us to pray.

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Apocalypse Now

It’s not my habit to write sermons anymore.  I find I get too caught up in how I’ll sound (me-focused), therefore missing out on what the Holy Spirit might be saying (God-focused).  Lots of people can write great sermons and do.  I just find I preach better from a place of vulnerability, and I’m more vulnerable sans script.

But nights like tonight, before mornings like tomorrow, I sometimes question that wisdom.  Here we are, mere days after the most divisive election in my lifetime, and we get to grapple with an apocalyptic text from Luke: Jesus predicting the fall of the temple.  Couple that with Isaiah’s text that God is making a new heaven and new earth.

Of course these texts weren’t chosen in response to the election.  I preached the same text 3 years ago and I’ll preach it again 3 years from now… only every 12 years does this text fall after a presidential election.  And its real purpose is to prepare the way for the season of Advent–the coming of Christ.

Here are some truths about my parish: most will be hugely (not just slightly) heartbroken over the results of Tuesday’s election.  Most.  And yet a significant number will not feel heartache, but relief.  And everyone has to feel welcomed and loved and valued–because they are.  So how to tend to the wounds of the majority without ostracizing the few?  How to preach in light of the election, but not about it?  And how to do all that being true to myself without making it about myself?  The tenderness of the timing almost does require a script of sorts.

Here are some things I want to say–things I’ve said before about this text.

  • While Jesus is predicting the destruction of the temple–Luke’s gospel is written in retrospect of that same destruction.  Anyone who has ever heard or read this gospel has done so in hindsight of the events Jesus describes.
  • This isn’t just about the decline of a building–but of institutions, of ministry.  Some might feel like our nation is doomed after Tuesday.  Others have felt that for the past 8 years.  But we can’t let that overshadow the decline we see in other areas: like the church.  Just last week a parishioner posted a picture from our balcony, lamenting that the pews are only ever half-full at the 11:15 service anymore.  And then there are declining relationships–marriages that feel as if they are falling apart.  Strained familial ties.  Best friends you aren’t sure you really know or understand anymore.
  • Clearly, this gospel is for us.
  • Our “temple” of St. Luke’s has been thrown down before–literally shelled only months after being established.  We have come out of the ruins.
  • We’ve been led astray by false teachers before–all of us.  Whether it be at work, at school, at church, or in our national landscape.
  • Our kingdoms have been at war, as the veterans we celebrate this weekend can so ably attest to.  In fact this church was born out of war.
  • We know something about natural disasters too–even as our neighbors just North of us suffer from wildfires–so close we can smell it if the wind blows our direction.
  • Betrayal, hatred and death are daily realities.
  • And YET, Jesus says we will not perish–we will endure.  And the fact that this church still stands and that this nation still stands is a testament to that truth.
  • Most importantly–Jesus says this is our opportunity to testify.  Every single one of us gathered in this room is called to testify.  To give witness.  To proclaim.  Not in our facebook statuses, but in our lives.  Does your life, does my life, testify that Jesus is the risen Christ?  That Jesus is the living Christ?  That love conquers death and faith conquers fear?
  • I know that it can be hard to testify when you feel your “temple” (whether it be our country, our church or our relationships) is in shambles.  It is so much easier to testify when we feel like we’ve been vindicated, when we’re making progress, when we’re on top.  The truth is that fear breaks down creativity.  And many of us are facing varying kinds and varying levels of fear right now.
  • But lets take a look at Isaiah.  “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  Folks, testify from that hope–the hope of God’s vision of the future.  Read through that text again and remember that God is at work in the world–even at this very moment–and that we are invited to share in that work and creativity.  We don’t have time to be stifled by fear. It’s time to get busy.

All of this brings me to one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer.  It’s one that can be used at various times, but it is always used at ordination services of deacons, priests and deacons.  I think it’s important to share it the week following baptism.  Last week we renewed our baptismal covenant, as we do several times a year.  We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons.  We promised to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for peace and justice in the world.  And in so doing, I want to remind us all that this week’s gospel calls us ALL to testify, for we are ALL among what church types like to call, “the priesthood of all the baptized.”  So remembering that you are all part of this priesthood, be it ordained or not, I share with you this prayer at ordination:

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: look favorably on your whole church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are bing made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Amen.

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Christ is Risen—-SO WHAT?

Preached on the Third Sunday of Easter at St. Matthew & St. Timothy Church, New York City

For three Sundays now, we have been hearing stories of resurrection. Easter stories. Stories of Jesus’ friends responding to the mind-blowing reality of a resurrected Christ.

First we hear from the two Mary’s at the tomb. Together they go to the place where Jesus was buried, only to find the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and an angel of the Lord indicating that Jesus has up and moved on to Galilee. Always going places, that Jesus. Can’t keep him down. The women are terrified! Not only is their friend missing from the place where they laid him, but their world is surely turned upside down and inside out, if what the angel says is true and Jesus has beat death after having been dead.

Then we hear from our doubting friend Thomas. I don’t know about you, but Thomas’ story always makes me feel a little better about myself. Like me on some days, Thomas has his doubts. And yet he is still counted among the faithful disciples of Jesus, and he even gets a whole story dedicated to his stubbornness as Jesus appears specifically to him saying, put your fingers in my wounds and your hand in my gaping side. And as Mother Carla reminded us last week, it is because Thomas doubts that he is later able to exclaim with confidence, “My Lord and my God!”

That brings us to this week. This week we’re on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend—both followers of Jesus. They seem to spend the whole day with an unrecognizable Jesus, who unpacks the scriptures for them and calls them “fools” just like in the good old days. It is not until Jesus breaks bread with them that they recognize him—and then he disappears. We sing about this at Eucharist sometimes: “The disciples knew the Lord Jesus/in the breaking of the bread.” And then they turn to each other and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” Aw, man! How could we be so dense!

Each of these vignettes speaks to our persistent and exuberant proclamation throughout the fifty days of Easter:

Alleluia! Christ has Risen!

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Only, the responses of Mary, Thomas and Cleopas don’t really resonate with our weekly exclamations. If you were to say to any of these followers, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” They would likely respond: “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you sure? Oh. My. God.”

And if we really take seriously Mother Carla’s weekly exclamations, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” Perhaps before we can say, “The Lord is risen indeed,” we, like the disciples, need to ask: Wait… what?

What do our lives look like after Easter? And I don’t just mean, well now we have eternal life thanks to Jesus’ victory over death, though that truth clearly has massive implications of its own. No, I mean what is the impact of a risen Christ today. And tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. What does Easter look like in my everyday life right now.

Christ is risen. So what?

Christ is risen. What now?

Like Mary and Mary at the empty tomb, we need to take a moment to realize, with trembling even, that our world has been turned upside down. Death doesn’t mean what it used to. The God we worship is more powerful than any “end” or “finality” death once represented. And nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death. Jesus has changed the world and there’s no going back.

And like Thomas poking Jesus’ wounds, we need to spend some time contemplating just how crazy this idea is. Rather than just accept the resurrection as if it’s simply an event we remember every Easter, we need to grapple with the unbelievable implications of Jesus returning from the dead with wounded hands, feet and side. And then believe it. We have to name our doubts before we can proclaim the mystery of our faith.

And finally, like Cleopas on the way to Emmaus, we need to be continually schooled by Jesus while our hearts burn within us.

Only then can we begin to live into the everyday reality of life after Easter. Only then can we live our lives as people who begin to comprehend the significance of a resurrected Jesus.

Peter tells us that it’s through Jesus we come to trust in God. It’s through our fear, doubt, wonder and celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead that we find faith and set our hope on God.

And it’s in response to that truth that we have what Peter calls “genuine mutual love,” so that we can “love one another deeply from the heart.”

This is what the every day Easter life looks like. This is what it looks like to be “born anew,” having received the Holy Spirit after Christ’s death and resurrection. First comes the trust in God; then comes the genuine love. First comes the grappling with fear, doubt and wonder so that we can believe the unbelievable with courage and conviction; then comes a love that is equally courageous and life changing.

And you know what I’ve discovered here at St. Matthew and St. Timothy? That just as courageous faith makes for genuine love, so does genuine love make for courageous faith. I know this because the love you have shown me over the past two years here has given me a new boldness and courage in proclaiming my faith in Jesus—in English and Spanish. This post-resurrection-Easter-courageous-genuine-love is life changing stuff—and I know that because your love has changed my life.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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greater and lesser jihad

I’m on a peace kick.  I pretty much think and pray about how to bring more peace into the world all the time.  And I think about the tagline of this blog: “To seek and to be light.”

I’m writing a paper answering “What is the Muslim view of Peace?” and I have been struck by what jihad really means (struggle), and the difference between lesser and greater jihad.  The Prophet Muhammad basically said that the inner struggle is the greater jihad, and the struggle for social justice is the lesser jihad.

M. R. Bawa Muhaiyadeen, a modern Muslim spiritual master, explained this intentional juxtaposition thus:

“Be in the state of God’s peacefulness and try to give peace to the world.  Be in the state of God’s unity and then try to establish unity in the world.  When you exist in the state of God’s actions and conduct and then speak with Him, that power will speak with you.”

Aha.  Yes.  Something to post by my bed or on my mirror–perhaps on my calendar.  For as much as I am eager to learn all I can, hoping accrue as many peace-making tools as possible, I must not learn at the expense of intentionally being with God in both peace and unity.

Thank you, Islam, for giving this Christian perspective as we head into the final weeks of the term.

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religulous

i went to see religulous last night with a group of friends from various faith backgrounds. it was about what i expected from bill maher. some parts were hilarious (everyone had to put up with my snorting), some parts were offensive, and some (especially the ending) were extremely depressing. i definitely wouldn’t tout it as a documentary. the cuts and editing were way too much in favor of bill and his agenda.

and what is bill’s agenda? to put an end to religion before it puts an end to the world. to take up the banner of doubt. this assumes two things: 1) faith and doubt don’t mix, and 2) doubt would end all conflict.

i think it’s sad that bill is under the impression that faith leaves no room for doubt. that faith and certainty are synonymous. isn’t it the opposite? is it not certainty that leaves no room for faith? yes, hebrews 11 says, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” but this is HOPE we’re certain of. faith is the beginning of knowledge, not the the end of it. st. augustine says “i believe that i might understand.” the theologian paul tillich says, “doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” the scientist dr. francis collins says, “doubt is an unavoidable part of belief.” speaking from personal experience, the two go hand in hand… creating this back and forth conversation with God that grows me as a person every day.

and how would pure doubt end all conflict? is it not doubt that sends our economy spiraling downward? doubt that causes paranoia? faith in nothing? hope in nothing?

overall, i wouldn’t suggest watching religulous to learn anything. but it does spark some great conversation. so if you do go, make sure you follow up with beer and pizza.

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