Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Finished Again

My exam is written and printed out, and awaiting one last read-through when I am fresh in the morning.

I can't say that I have any feelings about it.  I have no idea whether I've passed this time.

In real life, if you turn in a paper that's totally off the wall, most professors will contact you and suggest a conversation to straighten things out and then a rewrite.

In one of my seminary classes, we had two papers, worth 25% and 75% of the grade. My first one apparently revealed complete cluelessness.  The professor decided not to grade it, and that my entire grade would rest on the final.  Thankfully, I pulled that one off.

I have friends who have erroneously printed off early drafts and turned them in as finals, and been able to rectify the situation.

But on these exams, graded anonymously somewhere out there in Presby-land, no such breaks exist.

This exam was, in my estimation, quite difficult.  In real life, presented with similar challenges of translation and interpretation, you would seek a little help from your friends.  For the exam - no discussion, no debate, no collegial engagement.   Not at all the real life the testers seek to emulate.

Oh well.  Four days of my life and quite a bit of money.  I passed or I didn't.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Integrating Loss . . .

 . . . NOT letting go of those we love.

One of the advantages to a seminary campus is its library, and we have a fabulous one here.  Wandering around this afternoon as I took a little break from the Book of Amos, I cast my eyes over the shelves of new arrivals.

Here's where they landed: Grief: Contemporary Theory and the Practice of Ministry.  This looks to be a gem of a little book.  I glanced through it and saw that the author breaks down some of our tried-and-not-true and stuck-in-a-rut conventions about grief.  The ones that struck me: you have to let go and you have to do it alone.

I think that Melissa Kelley, in a pastoral and professional volume, is urging upon us much of what I've been trying to argue in a personal and experiential way in my blogs.   Having witnessed my family's well-intended but mostly inept response to stunning experiences of loss (in another month it will be the 50-year anniversary of my mother's and brother's deaths), and having been urged over the past two years to "let go" of my son, I have concluded that the conventional responses to grief are worthless.  They box people into thick-walled prisons of anguish which tend to crack and make way for pain to seep out and poison subsequent circumstances and relationships in the most impossibly defiant kinds of ways.

I think that we have to integrate the losses of our loved ones into our lives, not "let go" of those we love or "get over" those losses.  I haven't articulated that concept well -- although I recall saying to someone, within weeks of Josh's death, that  I have to figure out how to live with the terrible loss of him -- but I've been trying to act upon it.  

Maybe that's why I'm able to be here, writing this exam this week.  I'm doing both things at once, grieving my son and living the life to which God has invited me, and I'm able to do them together because I insist that they are both parts of who I am now.

I'm hazarding a guess that with integration comes transformation.  At least that's what I'm staking my own life on.  And I'm figuring that in a decade or two I can let you know whether I'm right.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I'll Be Glad When It's Next Friday

In my denomination, those of us on the track heading for ordination as Ministers of Word and Sacrament meet annually with a committee which oversees our progress, such as it is.  My last meeting with my committee was in June, right after my graduation from seminary.  One of the main topics of discussion, of course, was my need to re-take the exegesis exam.  (Exegesis, in case you're wondering, essentially means interpretation.  In this context, it means the kind of research and interpretation of a Biblical text you would undertake prior to writing a sermon.  It's kind of  like writing a research paper in English about a passage in Hebrew or Greek.)

A couple of days after that June  meeting, one of the committee members, a retired pastor, called me at home and said that he wanted to make a suggestion.  "You can ignore it, "he said.  "I've been a pastor for a long time; I've done all kinds of training and pastoral care.  But I've never been through anything like what you have, so I may be completely off the mark.  Do whatever you want with my idea.  I could be completely wrong about it, and I certainly don't want to offend you."

Here it comes, I thought, and sat down at the kitchen table. Breathe deeply.  Finally someone is going to say it:  What do you think you're doing?  It's time for you to give up.  People whose children die by suicide cannot become pastors.

"Do you think," he asked, "that you could take the exam in honor of your son's memory?  Would that help?"


And so I am off to Pittsburgh tomorrow to try to do just that.  And Wednesday I will come back to honor my sons' 26th birthdays, and on Thursday we will mark Josh's absence from us for two years.

Josh ~ High School Graduation ~ 2003

Off to School - Friday Five

Today's Friday Five covers one of my areas of specialty, since I went away to boarding school when I was 12 and in the seventh grade.  Herewith, from Martha:

"Yesterday I returned my middle child for his second year of college. He's an experienced dorm resident, having spent two years at a boarding high school. In the lounge at the end of his floor I found a suite of This End Up furniture that took me back to my years in the Theta house at William and Mary. I remember polishing that furniture with my sorority sisters every spring, just before we headed off for Beach Week at Nags Head.

Mindful that many others are heading off to further schooling or delivering their loved ones to the institutions that provide it, here are five questions about dorm life."

1) What was the hardest thing to leave behind when you went away to school for the first time?

My friends and the social life I had imagined for myself with them.  At home, the people with whom I'd gone to school since first grade were off to the junior high that consolidated three rural elementary schools ~ a huge transition in those days.  There would be dances, and a high school football team, and the companions of a lifetime (all of 12 years!), and familiarity.  For me, there would be an all-girls Catholic boarding school run by Ursuline sisters, with exactly one other girl whom I knew.  Buildings filled with expressions of  Catholic faith, of which I knew exactly nothing.  No dances, no football.  Nothing familiar whatever.

2) We live in the era of helicopter parents. How much fuss did your parents make when you first left home?

None whatever.  

3) Share a favorite memory of living with schoolmates, whether in a dorm or other shared housing.

During my senior year of high school (Boarding School No. 2), the school set aside basement dorm rooms as "smokers."  A different era!  Seniors were permitted to smoke, were not restricted to their rooms during the  2.5 hour evening study time, and had no particular curfews.  So we often stayed up down in the smoker well into the wee hours of the morning, writing our papers and smoking (legitimate) cigarettes and talking talking talking.

4) What absolute necessity of college life in your day would seem hilariously out-of-date now?

My brand new Smith Corona typewriter, of course!

5) What innovation of today do you wish had been part of your life in college?

Cell phones.

Bonus question for those whose college days feel like a long time ago: Share a rule or regulation that will seem funny now. Did you really follow it then?

I think that about the only rule left by the time I got to college was that you were supposed to sign out of the dorm if you went away for a week-end.  No big deal.

My own bonus:  Oddly enough in light of my behavior at the time, I am grateful for my six years in boarding school, one Catholic just at the Vatican II turn of history, and one Protestant and founded by D.L.Moody who, despite being a thundering evangelical preacher, left behind a legacy of progressive education for young women.  Thanks to that education, I claim Catholic sisters as good friends and studied the documentary hypothesis in 10th grade; I am steeped in both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology and practice; and I have experienced ambition and excellence both at the edge of Appalachia and in the Ivy League.  I always say that it was the nuns -- highly educated and well-traveled women who ran their convent, their school, and their farm without any evidence of male interference -- who made me a feminist, and Mr. Moody's  successors who offered me a setting in which  religious faith and academic rigor were entirely compatible.

Thanks for all the reminders, Martha!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Deep Color of Green . . . Yes, I Went to the Movies

OK, I admit it.  I am insanely jealous.

I would like to be as beautiful and tall and slim as Julia Roberts.  I would like to have that long hair of hers with its brilliant highlights.  I would like to have the same flowing and varied wardrobe that she managed to jam into her duffle bag so that I, too, could wear a different outfit each day for a year and look elegant and exotic every moment.

I would like to be as beautiful as Elizabeth Gilbert.  I would like to have had a successful career as a travel writer so that I would have years of experience in negotiating new environments.  I would like to have someone hand me a $200,000 advance so that I could make use of the aforesaid experience by traveling the world for a year, and I would like said travels to result in a bestseller of epic proportions.  

I would like to sit in a lotus position and meditate on my deck in Bali.

And I would like for everyone to believe that, as a consequence of all of the above, I am a deeply spiritual person, full of the wisdom gleaned from learning (preferably on Bali, but India will do) that "God is in me." Or something like that.

But . . . alas. 

I am short and round, my clothes come from local and chain stores and are decidedly humdrum, I am stymied in much of my work, and I pray erratically and ineffectively in various locales in the middle of North America.

I am, in fact, on a Great Spiritual Journey, as are we all.  But it takes place mostly in my home and neighborhood, and is not going so well.  I look at my beautiful and gifted friends with whom I went to the movies and I think, I cannot even manage the most basic of conversations in the lobby of a theatre.

I was intolerably bored by the movie, which did not help my conversational efforts.  I won't even say what I think of the book.


A couple of weeks ago, my son and I went to see Winter's Bone.  A magnificently filmed movie, limited entirely in its geography to the Ozarks and in its characters to a small interrelated group of folks largely doomed by poverty and drugs, it follows the story of  a young woman's efforts to seek justice in the face of intractable kin loyalties and to hold together the little family for which she is entirely responsible in the aftermath of her father's disappearance.

Winter's Bone is the story Elizabeth Gilbert wishes, or perhaps believes, she has lived.  A story of unflinching courage and willingness to tackle impossible odds.  A journey of love and generosity reflected in determined sacrifice and tenacity.

I was mesmerized.

Never mind what I said about Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Roberts.  What I want are the guts and selflessness of Ree Dolly.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday Seven (in no particular order)

1 ~ I'm in the process of applying for substitute teaching jobs.  Amass stellar academic record in seminary, a summer of CPE at Giant Famous Hospital, numerous practical ministry experiences, fail an exam ~ go back 20 years.  For sure, do not pass go.

2 ~ "Desire leads to more desire. Prayer articulates our longing for a fullness of being, our reaching out of the mind for what is beyond it, and helps us find and love God and grow with our love. It is like the sun warming a seed into life, like the work of clearing away weeds and bringing water to the interior garden of St. Teresa’s inspired imagery. Prayer enlarges our desire until it receives God’s desire for us. In prayer we grow big enough to house God’s desire for us, which is the Holy Spirit." (From Primary Speech by Ann and Barry Ulanov, quoted  here.)

3 ~ I am sure that there is a connection between 1 and 2.

4 ~ A week from right now I will be en route to Pittsburgh to spend four days re-taking the dreaded exegesis exam.  I am going to work fast and leave early, since the last two possible days for writing overlap with my sons' 26th birthday and the second anniversary of Josh's death.  I am going to try to be focused and generous for the first four days and pretty silent for the next two.  Please pray for me to retain some semblance of sanity.  That request is not sarcastic or wry or humorous. 

5 ~ Two of my nieces, sisters, produced their first babies over the past two Fridays, one a boy and one a girl.  My sister-in-law, herself a twin, was present with her daughters for the births of these first two grandchildren.  Much joy all around.  My mother-in-law, upon leaving the hospital yesterday, was asked by one of the nurses what she has planned for next Friday.

6 ~ A Wisdom Story, found here

The Master always frowned on anything that seemed sensational. “The divine”, he claimed, “is only found in the ordinary.”

To a disciple who was attempting forms of asceticism that bordered on the bizarre the Master was heard to say, “Holiness is a mysterious thing: The greater it is, the less it is noticed.”

7 ~ And finally, although I am no theologian, the study of theology was my favorite part of seminary.   Could this be why?

"Theologians are people for whom the Christian faith is especially difficult, incomprehensible, infuriating. As a rule they are not especially talented or spiritually adept individuals. They are people whose minds have been hurt by God, and they are restlessly searching for – what? Healing perhaps, or catharsis? To expect so much from the study of theology would be futile or even dangerous. In any case there is no lack of opportunities for theological catharsis: often our worship services seem calculated to remove the difficulty of believing, to make God easy and accessible, more a cure than a wasting sickness.

Perhaps then we should define theologians like this: They are people for whom even the Christian worship service does not provide adequate catharsis of the hurtfulness of God."

Read the whole post here

And have a lovely week-end.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Freedom (and Daily Photo 25)

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights

Idea here.  I'm taking the day off from the internet in all its guises, from the tv (well, except perhaps for one little late afternoon addiction I've developed), from the phone unless someone calls me who might have something urgent to convey (and there are only five such people), from any and all things electronic.

I'm so taking a media Sabbath Day that I'm writing this the day before and listening to tomorrow's Pray As You Go tonight.

The photo is from my walk a couple of mornings ago. I got so interested in the various arches and shadows of this church down the road that I ended up peering in an open window.  I can count the times I've been inside: once many years ago for the funeral of a 13-year-old girl, and once more recently for the funeral of an elderly lawyer and former mentor of mine, once to hear Martin Marty speak, and several times over a period of weeks for an evening course on Meister Eckhart.  It's nice to get a glimpse when the day is still and without distractions.

Like mine tomorrow!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy 23rd Birthday!

Roommates' College Graduation Trip
Northern CA, May 2009

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

God, Faith, Suicide, Surviving

 Yesterday:  Summer Sky

Over at my other place, I've been writing about the journey of faith and suicide survivorship. I've decided to cross-post one of the entries over here.  But I wanted to add something, which perhaps should go at the end but . . . perhaps at the beginning.

I think it's not just a witness to the experience of the way back that I'm writing.  I think it's a witness to the reality that there is a way back.  It seems important to chronicle, because so many of us never find it.  In  my own family, as I've said recently, the general theological stance is: Too Much Suffering = No God.  Everyone pretty much gave up.  I am surrounded in  my daily life by people for whom God is not of great interest or importance, or who have concluded that God does not find them to be of interest or importance.  When I attend suicide survivors' groups, God almost never comes up.  (Except for sometimes when people say to me, increduously, "You stayed in seminary?"  God seems like a far-off and unreal concept after the suicide of a loved one.) 

And what I think is that most of these folks can't or won't engage with God in their suffering.  Knowing that the response is likely to be silence, they either shrug their shoulders and move on, or resort to the kinds of platitudes that stir thoughts of murder in my own particular heart.  Or maybe they don't know how to start, or have no one with whom to talk honestly, or discover that the answers are even harder than the questions ~ which is not exactly motivating.

So, for what it's worth, a post.  I might have some more to say about where I am now, maybe in a few days. 

I think that it would be fair to say that one of the basic threads of discussion which I have pursued with my spiritual director for the past two years goes something like this:

Where was God?

Not exactly an original question in the wake of catastrophe. But then, originality is not a requirement.

My daughter is driving from North Carolina to Ohio as I write this. I have spent the past 26 years waging a battle against terror whenever any of my children are out of my sight. Having lost a mother, brother, stepmother, and aunt all to sudden deaths at young ages, I have no particular sense of assurance about human safety or well-being. Actually, I have none at all. But I did pretty well for 24 years, and managed to conceal most of my fears and not convey them to my children. And then one night something I wasn't even afraid of came true.

So where was God? I have asked tearfully and furiously and tiredly, over and over and over. Not with respect to myself. I couldn't have cared less about that. With respect to my child.

After about a year, I had reached the point at which I could at least acknowledge the promise Jesus makes in Matthew 28:20: "Lo, I am with you always." And hope that it might be true.

And then it was completely ruined for me by a sermon preached at seminary. It happens that that verse is preceded by one in which Jesus says "Go and make disciples of all people." The sermon was an energetic call to mission, and an argument that making disciples of all people is a predicatory requirement for Jesus' continued presence with us. "No 'Lo' without the 'Go!' " exclaimed the pastor.

I was devastated. I had just barely, gingerly, come to a tentative and fragile confidence that Jesus might have been with and fully present to my son when he died, and this preacher essentially told me: No.

It was months before I set foot in the seminary chapel again.

Now another year has gone by.

And I have slowly and tentatively reached the point at which I can barely grasp the hope that the Jesus who is always present to people at their lowest and most helpless was surely with my child; that the Jesus who always extends healing and wholeness to the sick and broken did the same for him.

I am able to say that largely out of my own experience, out of my gradual waking to the recognition that Jesus has been present to me in so many ways through other people since Josh died. And I am not nearly as broken as Josh was. So my only conclusion can be that Jesus is even more interested in him.

I know that some folks are wondering why I am writing this. I sometimes wonder myself. Shouldn't I, as a spiritual director and almost-pastor, be offering emphatic assurance in the hope of the Resurrected Christ?

I think it's important, even if only in this little-read blog, to witness to the genuine experience of the most horrific kinds of loss. The path to a renewed and confident faith is a steep and rocky one, with many slides backward over rough gravel and gnarly roots. Pretending otherwise is of no help to anyone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Memories: Camp 2004

The Lovely Daughter is making her first solo drive from North Carolina to Ohio today. She left a little while ago and plans to stay near Cincinnati with her cousin tonight.  I'm sure that she is far too young! (23 on Thursday) for such a long drive on her own, but in honor of the challenge, here's a photo of her with her brother Josh at camp.  He had just finished his first year of college and so was finally a full-fledged counselor, meaning that along with a co-counselor he commandeered a cabin of eight little boys each session. She had just finished 11th grade and was a staff-in-training, meaning that she spent a lot of mornings leading horses around a ring, and her afternoons helping out wherever.

When I was a little girl, campers were ages 5-13 and counselors were at least in college; there were no in-between SIT and intern years.  Those latter programs have become a popular addition over the past decade; the SIT positions are filled by Christmas, most of them by former campers.  The Lovely Daughter has been a camper (three years), an SIT (one), and a counselor (three more).  She says that camp really feels like her other home.

Now I need to find something to distract my thoughts from that long drive!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Living Inside Our Hope - A Semblance of Today's Sermon

Text: Hebrews 12:1-2

How many of you remember reading the Little House books, either as children yourselves or to your own children?  Or at least seeing the Little House on the Prairie television series, with Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert?  I LOVED those books, and I liked the tv show, too.  

For those of you unfamiliar with either of them, the television  series is based upon wrote a sequence of children’s novels which Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in the mid-1900s in which she traced the journey – or journeys – her family had made westward 75 years earlier.   Her restless father – “Pa” to her readers – nudged his family from Wisconsin to South Dakota in fits and starts over a period of about ten years.   

I’m sure that my lifelong fascination with American history, with the stories of pioneer women, and with the landscape of the American West began when I virtually inhaled those books as a little girl.  And I always think about them when I come across the phrase in the Letter to the Hebrews which we’re going to explore together, the phrase in which Jesus is called “the pioneer and perfecter 
 of our faith.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had trouble merging 
my mental picture of 19th century American pioneers with the way in which I imagine the first-century people who inhabit the Bible.  And if we’ve read the books, we know that Pa Ingalls, much as his daughter loved and admired him, was not a man of perfection.   So what does that mean, that Jesus is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”?  What do we do with those descriptors; what do they mean in the context of the Christian life?
Pioneers, it seems to me, are folks who are dissatisfied with the way things are, are willing to undertake great challenges and go on great adventures in order to change things, and often endure tremendous hardship to reach their goal.  Think about the men and women who settled the American West – if Pa Ingalls is any indication, they felt cramped and stifled at home.  They wanted more physical space, more land, more opportunity to spread out.  Some of them felt encumbered by too much family and too little inheritance; some were excluded from their communities due to their religious beliefs. 
Dissatisfaction propelled them out the door, but an eagerness for, or at least a willingness to accept, challenge and adventure made it possible for them to persist.  Maybe some of you know some of your own families’ pioneer stories.  When I was doing some research on my own family years ago, a slip of paper fell our of a record book on which was recorded, in just a sentence or two, some notes about some of my ancestors who lived in the trunk of a gigantic tree during their first winter in Ohio, to which they’d come from Pennsylvania.  A couple of generations later they were farmers and business owners, but they started out with the adventure of living in the hollow of a tree.
And hardship – yes, most pioneers had to come to terms with that as well.  Think about the stories you’ve read of families crossing the Missouri river on their wagonbeds, or pushing those wagons upward and over the Rockies.  If you’ve read the stories of pioneer women, you know that many of them gave birth and buried infants in spots they would never see again. 
Dissatisfaction with things as they are, a willingness to be challenged and to endure hardship – all facets of pioneer life.  How does the life of Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, fit within the definition of pioneer as we have it so far?
He certainly did not want to leave things as they were, did he?  Had he come to accept the status quo, Jesus might have had a good life as a simple carpenter with a wife and children, the life his parents had probably imagined for themselves and their children and grandchildren.  Most people in that era did not move away from  the region in which they had been born and raised; the Hebrew migrations of previous centuries were behind them and most Jews traveled only for important feasts and celebrations or other events that demanded their presence away from home.   
And, much more significant than geographic travel is the fact that most people did not travel spiritually.  While there were many sects, many ways in which to be Jewish in first-century Palestine, people tended to stay within their own groups.  And the Jewish people as a whole certainly stuck together and celebrated their identity as the worshippers of the one true God, strangers in the midst of the polytheistic Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean.  With centuries of religious faith behind them, they were not looking to go anywhere, either physically or spiritually. 
Jesus, however, did not come in order to foster their complacency or self-satisfaction.  He did not come to fulfill their idea of a messiah who would overturn the political burdens imposed by Roman empire, or to usher in an era of monarchical triumph for the Jewish people.  Any of those options, any of those long hoped-for expectations of the Jews, would not have been work for  a pioneer, for someone who chafed against the status quo and its parameters.
 Jesus did not come either to leave things as they were or to change things as expected.  He came ready to take on new challenges, to bring to his people and, ultimately, to all peoples, a completely new adventure: the kingdom of God. 
At first glance, it looks like the challenges he undertook were, while miraculous, are within the realm of what we could embrace without difficulty – with satisfaction, even with delight, but not with the sense that we are being called upon to change.  Healing.  Feeding.  Helping.  Teaching.  
But those things don’t constitute his real adventure, do they?  His real adventure is to open the door to the Kingdom of God among us.  That perplexing, challenging kingdom.  The one where those who suffer and mourn are blessed.  The one where poverty, poverty of material goods and poverty of spirit, is honored.  The one where love of God and neighbor are the only standards which matter.  That already/not yet kingdom in which God’s love is showered upon us and God’s invitation to us to participate in that love is always open.  “The Kingdom of God is among you,” he tells us and, “Your kingdom come,” he teaches us to pray.  This is a pioneer adventure of the highest drama.
And it was a pioneer adventure that brought hardship.   Jesus came into a world which had become unsatisfactory to its Creator and he embarked upon an adventure to bring it to God, and he did so with a complete willingness to endure the anguish necessary to accomplish its fruition.   The simple difficultiesof life on the road as an itinerant teacher, preacher, and healer.  The more profound challenges of being misunderstood, ridiculed, and scorned.  The sense of having been abandoned by followers and friends and, ultimately, the Father who had brought him to the brink of death.  The ultimate trauma of a public and physically torturous death.
And yet – none of these postures in his life – his restlessness, his rise to the challenge of adventure, his acceptance of suffering – none of them really define him as our pioneer in faith. Because – what is it about a pioneer that makes him or her different from others who live similar lives?  What makes them really pioneers?
Pioneers go first.  They lead the way.  The Greek word – archegos --  which we translate as “pioneer,” incorporates multiple layers of meaning:  beginner, instigator, leader, initiator, trailblazer.  Someone who scouts out the territory ahead for those who will follow.   
And remember – it’s a Greek word.  In Greek athletic contexts, the archegos was the captain of the team, the one who set out first to lead the way in the race.  In other words, the archegos, the pioneer, is not someone who sets out on his own without much interest in whether anyone else follows.  
 The Ingalls Family of the Little House series – they set out to make a new life for themselves.  We think of them as pioneers, but only because they were among the first, not because they intended to lead the way for others.  The Greek archegos, the Greek pioneer, connotes a different motivation.  It means a person who not only heads out to tackle new challenges, but one who does so for the purpose of leading others.  It means someone who sees the goal ahead as a goal for all, who traverses the challenging ground ahead for the purpose of making a way for others, who serves as their leader, encourager – and finisher.
And there’s the other word we want to pay attention to today.  Jesus is not only the pioneer of our faith; he is its perfecter, its teleoites, as well. Now when think of the word “perfect,” we think of something without blemish, without error.  A perfect body.  A perfect test score.  A perfect pie.  But the word the writer of Hebrews uses, which we translate as “perfecter,” means “finisher”  or “one who completes.” The one who finishes the race;  the one who completes the task.  Jesus not only pioneers the way for us; he is the one who completes it.  We are running the race of faith; he is the one who gets us started and whose perfection is its completion.
Over the last week or so, we all heard the news reports of the story of ten medical workers from four countries killed after providing care to people in a remote area of Afghanistan.  They had had to hike with pack horses over mountainous terrain to reach their destination, and during their return trip were allegedly shot to death by Taliban militia, who claimed that they were “spying for Americans” and “preaching Christianity.”  All reports indicate that the mission organization with which they were affiliated is registered as a nonprofit Christian organization that does not proselytize. 
Pioneers?  One might say yes, in the sense that these medical professionals were evidently impelled by a dissatisfaction with the status quo, by a desire to change things for the people of Afghanistan, by a desire to do something of great meaning with their lives.  They took on a significant challenge and withstood enormous hardship to achieve their goal ~ and, ultimately died for it.  Their stories are  heartwrenching and inspiring: The dentist who gave up a successful practice so that children with no other chance of ever encountering dental care could have healthier teeth and gums. The eye doctor from New York State who with his wife had lived in Afghanistan for 30 years, working and raising their family.  The British doctor soon to be married.
But who is the pioneer behind such commitment? Who set out to establish a kingdom in which people are healed and made whole by those who follow him?  The doctors and nurses who died took on the training, the physical hardship, the risks to personal safety –but they did so because someone else blazed the trail for them – and will finish it as well.   
By our human standards, their work clearly remains unfinished, interrupted as it was by irrational hatred and accurate bullets.  It looks far from perfect; in fact, it appears quite the opposite.  The possibility of increased danger will mean fewer medical workers will be able to make the effort that they did  -- fewer children will receive basic care, more women will die in childbirth, more people will suffer festering wounds and illnesses that would respond to simple antibotic treatment.  In such grim situations, if we had no one but ourselves upon whom to rely for the ultimate outcome, most of us would give up.  But the ultimate outcome, the final perfecting touches, the all-encompassing gft of life and hope, comes from another perfecter.  The one who started all will finish all.
A friend of mine posted a brief note on Facebook last week-end with respect to those medical workers. She used a quote from novelist Barbara Kingsolver to describe them, saying that they were “living inside their hope.”  And since we’ve been talking about ancient words –archegos for pioneer  and teleoites for perfector,  let me throw in another one that might help to describe what “living inside our hope” is.  
 Inclusio is a Latin literary term; you may have encountered it before.  It refers to a literary technique in which a word or phrase is used at both the beginning and end of a passage, is used to “include” the rest of the passage.  The similarity of word choice lets us know where a  section of text begins and ends but, more importantly, it signals the artistic intent of the writer to gather together all that he or she has to say and highlight it, mark it off, with words that serve as a sort of shorthand to remind us of the meaning of the passage as a whole.  A passage in a text lives inside an inclusio
I’d like to suggest that the phrase we’ve explored today – “pioneer and perfecter” – tells us that Jesus himself is the inclusio for our lives.  Jesus is the Word who marks the beginning and end of our lives.  Jesus is the hope we live inside. Jesus is the one who starts us on the journey of faith that leads us to become dissatisfied with things as they are, to take on challenges of we might think ourselves incapable, to accept hardships we might otherwise avoid.  Jesus is the one who has instigated the adventure of our lives – and he is the one who will perfect it.  He embraces us, from beginning to end; he showers us with the love which encircles all that we do and which assures us that, even though our beginnings may seem tentative  and our endings murky, they are all part of God’s project for God’s creation, and will ultimately be woven into the work of the great perfecter.
Most of us are not going off to provide medical care to those in need in remote and dangerous areas of this world – although from what I’ve learned of this church, at least some of you have been or at some point may be off to help provide education in rural Liberia.  For most of us though, the adventures we undertake will be right here, in Cleveland, in the Heights, perhaps even in our own homes.  
Sometimes the challenges in which we look for the guidance of a pioneer and the hope of a perfecter are dramatically spread across a world stage – sometimes we head off on mission work or in support of an initiative far beyond what we might manage on our own,  Sometimes , as we volunteer with our own church, or help an elderly neighbor with yardwork, or care for a loved one with cancer, our adventures seem much more constrained, perhaps even to the walls of our own home.  In either case, adventures they are – adventures we live within the embrace, the inclusion, of our pioneer and perfecter.   
God’s invitation to us is that we “live inside our hope;”  that we live as those who acknowledge the pioneer who initiates the way and the perfecter who completes it.
                Thanks be to God.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer Memories: France 2004

Matt spent the summer studying (?) in Lyons and dating a young lady from Somalia.  Josh was a camp counselor in North Carolina (where their sister is now), and joined his brother at the end of the summer so that the two of them could travel for a week or two.  Here they are in Lyons, shortly before beginning  their second year of college.

Dog Days of Summer (Friday Five)

Singing Owl posts today's RevGals Friday Five:

I love summer, and wait anxiously for it every year. So how is it that we have arrived at the hot and humid "Dog Days" of August, and I have not done nearly enough of what I planned to do? I want to pack in as much as I can before snow flies once again.

How about you? And what is happening for those of you who are in a different hemisphere than I, and it may be cold?

1. What is the weather like where you live?

This year: Miserable.  The heat has kept me from accomplishing much of anything.  I have clearly reached that stage in life in which the only acceptable outdoor temperatures range from 45 to 75.

2. Share one thing you love about this time of year.

Cold water.  To drink, to shower in, to wade and float and swim in.

3. Share one thing you do NOT love about this time of year.

I often skip the Friday Five,  because  either a question or the entire theme derails me right off the usually lighthearted path.  Since this time of year is now one of the worst for me and is the same for the same reason  for several other women I know, this is that question.  In three weeks one of my sons will turn 26, and the next day will be the second anniversary of his twin brother's death.  The end of the summer brings its own kind of hell.

4. How will you spend the remaining days leading up to Autumn?

The mixture of good and bad is intense.  The Lovely Daughter will be home from her camp counseling job, turn 23, move into her apartment (a whole block away), and start grad school -- all next week.  Her brother will start law school at the same time.  So I'll be hanging around to support them while I am getting ready myself for that repeat ordination exam (exegesis) at the end of the month.  (Sigh.  Yes, the timing could not be worse.)

5. Share a good summer memory.

Lots of those!  How about . . .  twenty years ago . . . the kids running around in a grassy space under some crab apple trees outside our Chautauqua vacation condo and the Lovely Daughter calling out, "Be careful! Be careful!  Don't let the crabs out!"

Bonus: What food says SUMMER to you?

Corn on the cob.  At the camp where The Lovely Daughter is presently ensconced, much of their food comes from the farm and is harvested by the kids.  "The end of summer?" she laughed as we drove down to North Carolina in June.  "Corn on the cob, corn chowder, cornbread, corn cakes . . .  "

Thanks, Singing Owl.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Next Generation(s) on the Move

The Lovely Daughter will be home in less than a week and will begin orientation right away for her master's program in social work.

The Gregarious Son is downtown doing a lot of miscellaneous law school administrative stuff ~ ID, parking, things like that.   Last week I went down to the bookstore with him and shook my head at his purchases.  For all the technological changes in our world, casebooks look exactly like they did thirty years ago.  His orientation is also next week.

And . . .  as of this afternoon, one of my two nieces (sisters, daughters of my husband's brother and his wife) who is expecting . . .  is in labor!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


If you are reading over at my other place, you know that I am engaged in the task of sorting through my son's belongings, having finally emptied the storage locker into which we placed them nearly two years ago.

It's going to take me several days, not because there's much stuff -- there isn't -- but because it's work that requires many breaks of long hours.

It has become a time of deep prayer.  For months after Josh died, prayer was not available to me.  (One of my Jesuit friends wrote a Prayer for Those Who Cannot Pray for me, which I will always treasure.)  Perhaps that is why I had the sense not to undertake this project for such a long time.

Now, I can do it.  It's sort of like being deep in the ocean, listening for the swell of waves above that might be God.

And for today, with excellent timing, Denise Levertov's "Opening Words" (you can read the whole here) ~ HT to People for Others.

Dust of the earth,
help thou my
unbelief. Drift
gray become gold, in the beam of
vision. I believe with
doubt. I doubt and
interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,
beloved, threatened world.

Image: PEI Sunrise, 2005

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reasons I Love Camp

The Lovely Daughter finishes this year's camp counseling stint tomorrow.  I've been trying to keep up with the camp website since she's been down there ~ even counselor moms hope to catch a glimpse of their kids in the pictures.

Anyway, every day I am reminded of what an incredible place camp is, and here are two reasons.  From the director's post one day:

"You also notice a group of young Huck Finners who made a raft with Levi and Taylor.  Making a raft is not that easy and it takes some intricate tying to get it so it’s water worthy.  Then you have to be sure you have enough buoyancy to keep it afloat.  They did well on the construction but it didn’t quite float in the water as high as they wanted it to.  It went from building a raft to building a submarine.  In any event the task overall was fun especially when they christened it and set sail (well almost).  Just getting a chance to build something like that is what being a young boy is all about.  We hope to have some girls working on future rafts as well.  Gwynn Valley is an equal opportunity builder."

Hoe often in today's ultra-competitive kids' world  does a sinking raft project simply morph into a submarine project?

And a couple of days ago I noticed, in a  group of pictures of performances in the lodge one evening:

Two GOATS onstage.

Image: Camp Speed Limit, 2006.

PS: I was wrong!  She doesn't come home for another week.  :(

Friday, August 6, 2010

Good Memories Only!

Sally posts this Friday Five:

This year Tim and I have planted and nurtured a vegetable garden, and I have just spent the morning preparing vegetables and soups for the freezer, our veggie garden is producing like crazy and it is hard to keep up with, that said it'll be worth it for a little taste of summer in the middle of winter :-). That got me thinking of the things I treasure, memories are often more valuable than possessions. How about you, can you share:
 A treasured memory from childhood?

The utter freedom of growing up in the country: field and creek explorations, long bike rides to anywhere, high tree climbs over deep ravines.   

A teenage memory?

Horseback rides in the Colorado Rockies with a best-boarding-school-friend the summer after we graduated. 

A young adult memory?

A weeklong backpacking trip in Glacier National Park with The Quiet Husband.  No grizzly sightings, though!

A memory from this summer?

The climb up to The Rock at Gwynn Valley Camp with The Lovely Daughter.

A memory you hope to have?

The Grand Canyon with grandchildren.

Bonus- a song that sums up one of those memories

It seems that the song must be America, the Beautiful.  

Image here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Eat, Pray, Make Money (No: Really About Mary Karr's Lit)

I've just finished reading Mary Karr's third memoir, Lit.  She rummages through her family life (defining the "dys" in dysfunctional), her college years, marriage (didn't go so well), motherhood, alcoholism, plunge toward suicide, and awakening religious faith.  Acerbic, to-the-point, wiltingly self-deprecating.  No pious or self satisfied triumphal illusions about faith.

I have two favorite quotes to share.  From the book itself, a moment of clarity about what prayer is, a standard I am now using, as she sinks to her knees on a hospital bathroom floor, alternately hurling insults and gratitude God-ward:

"Inside it: an idea.  The thread of a different perspective than any I've ever had.  It's a thought so counterintuitive, so unlike how I think, it feels as it it originates from outside me."

And from an interview in the back of the paperback edition:

"I do pray a lot, and I think everybody wants another Eat, Pray, Make Money, but the truth is I'm a neophyte at prayer."

I nearly rolled out of bed laughing last night as I read the middle clause of that sentence.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Memory (Academic Stuff)

One of the last classes I took in seminary was a seminar on the work of Miroslav Volf, a theologian currently at Yale, whose experiences as a Croat in the Balkans have led him to a deep interest in a theology of reconciliation. His current focus is on relationship among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and I initially thought that that would be my focus as well for my paper in the class.

Instead, I became engaged by his work on memory, found largely in the book The End of Memory.  His thesis is that much of the emphasis we place on memory of wrongs is misguided; that while we need to "remember rightly" in order to effect restoration and reconciliation, the ultimate purpose of right memory is to forget the wrongs we have perpetrated and suffered.  Quite a controversial viewpoint, as you can imagine, and we had some lively discussions about it.  Here's something of the gist of what he has to say (I've left out my footnotes):

"Ultimately, he argues, the purpose of memory is reconciliation and its consequence is forgetting – not the creation of a self-sustaining narrative, not healing, and not justice or prevention of future harm. All of those are important objectives, but they are waystops on the road to reconciliation.  Volf does not at all diminish their importance; in fact, he puts considerable effort into articulating the conditions under which memory serves those purposes.  Rightful memory requires both effort and integrity: it demands that we identify and condemn wrongdoing, that we look at our own culpability as well as that of those who have wronged us, that we practice the double vision that will enable us to see things from their side, and that we not exaggerate the harm done to us any more than that we minimize it. Nonrightful memory produces truncated healing; healing based upon falsehood rather than upon naming and condemning wrongdoing is not healing.When acknowledgment does not take place and healing is incomplete, justice is not served.  In other words, a simple “forgive and forget” does not suffice.  However, the memory of harms suffered may cause harm, in the form of retaliatory violence or continued inward trauma,rather than promote good; the insistence upon remembering the Holocaust, or 9/11, or the Japanese occupation of Korea, or personal trauma, may foster justice but, quite possibly, or even likely in the short run, justice without reconciliation."

It got even more interesting when we reached Volf's argument that, in the world to come, we will forget even the crucifixion.  More from my paper:

"One of the most startling aspects of Volf’s argument with respect to forgetting is that we will forget even the crucifixion; that it will not come to mind.While this idea also meets with resistance, as many have been taught that it is by the cross and by his wounds that we shall know him, the evidence of that in the Bible is scant insofar as the eschaton is concerned.  The direct evidence, as Volf points out, is found in Isaiah 65:17-19  and in Revelation 21:1-4 :  in the new heaven and the new earth to come, there will be no more weeping, and every tear will be wiped away.  It seems unlikely that all tears could be dried if the memory of wrongs suffered were still present; in the latter situation, there would never be an end to tears.  If, however, we understand Jesus as the one who both forgives and restores, the one who acts on both sides of the reconciliation equation, forgiving those 'who know not what they do' and substituting himself for those who have done wrong and from whom restitution is required, then his work is to eradicate death and create a Kingdom of Life – identified as the new heaven and new earth.  We then, will know him in the eschaton as the giver of life rather than as the victor over death, suffering and death no longer being possibilities.  We ourselves will necessarily be transformed into new beings, beings who no longer remember the cross, because we will love God for who God is rather than for what God has done for us."

As I noted in my paper (more footnotes), nearly everyone with whom I discussed it as I was writing it was at least disturbed by what he has to say.  Most simply rejected it outright, whether with respect to themselves and identities formed, at least in part,  by much suffering, or with respect to the crucifixion.

I am quite taken by what he has to say, however:

"Perhaps it is a testimony both to how much we suffer and how outraged we are by our suffering that we are so resistant to his suggestion.
Or  perhaps our resistance is an indication of how little we understand about what God desires in offering us reconciliation through Jesus Christ, and of our inability to imagine, let alone accept, that reconciliation means transformation to an extent beyond our comprehension.  Even here, in this life, our identity is to be found in our baptism; as Volf says, 'we are not fundamentally the sum of our past experiences.'  With Luther, Volf says that to be only our past would be to be very small indeed.  That is an outrageous idea to the contemporary mind; we do not think of ourselves and our lives as small, and we are as a culture unaccustomed to thinking of God as vast.  However, Volf is suggesting that we have it backwards and that, if we could but understand the vast self-giving love into which we are invited, we would see that to leave our traumas behind would be not a sacrifice of self but a receiving of ourselves as the people we were originally intended to be."

Why am I inserting all this today?  (Be grateful that it's not the entire paper!)  Well, as you can imagine, I think and wonder about it all the time.  And I wanted to share some music, which is better understood in light of the above.  If there is an ordination service in my future, I hope to fit it in there somewhere: