October again.

It does this every year, you know. October, I mean. Somehow without my turning the crank the summer goes from green to golden to a glorious flash of red and orange and then scatters on the wind, leaving the naked fingers of the maples pointing accusingly at the sky.

Every year.

I take solace in the turning of the seasons, that something is always going to come next; that if winter (they say) is coming, surely spring will follow. In the mean time, that’s a pot I don’t personally have to stir.

Red and gold maple leaf lying on green and brown grass.

I had imagined blogging more this summer and autumn, but life had other plans. I realized today that it has been five years since I discerned my call to ministry, four years since I started seminary, three years since I had a… difficult and unexpected detour. And here we are, at — not the end, but the beginning. Or at least the middle. It is, after all, all made of middle. And so instead of blogging I’ve been attending to all the other pieces of life: art and family, reading required books and preparing my credentialing packet for my MFC interview this winter, figuring out whether or not I have cancer, diving into the last year of my internship and the final classes to complete my MDiv.

One of these things is not like the other. Continue reading

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Shark-jumping and other noble efforts

I did not plan to leave the blog idle this year. Oh well. Things happened.

Lots of things, actually.

I’m waiting for Leonard Nimoy to step out from around the corner with a neatly trimmed beard to clue me in to the screenwriters’ plot twist that I’ve somehow meandered into an alternate universe where the ordinary rules no longer apply.

Seriously, though. Where do I even start with this? It’s like one of those serial dramas where if you miss part of a season suddenly nothing makes any sense, and yet if you’ve been watching all along you can look back and see how it ended up with the President of the United States equivocating about a mob of torch-wielding nazis in polo shirts somehow being equivalent (more or less) to people advocating for justice and equality (and against oppressive systems, of which we are in one.)

You can. Not. Make this shit up anymore. Can. Not.

So. Neofascist takeover of the US government looks like this, apparently. Now what?

Keep doing the work, I guess. What else is there to do?

Posted in Reflections

Year in Review: 2016

It is the day when I sit down and write that I am not sure whether I want to write a year in review post, and then I do it anyway.

It has been, and will be, always and already, the beginning of the rest of my life.

I didn’t blog much this year – skipped posting in April and July entirely, in fact. Things happened off camera. Probably the most significant step for me was completing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in the spring, and taking on some very occasional, very part-time work as one of the many overnight on-call chaplains at my CPE site. I am planning to do a second CPE unit in the coming year, something I would not have imagined a year ago.

Six months out I can say that CPE was… formative? transformative? Those are the words people tend to use but I never found them helpful. Surely it is a subjective experience, and one that takes different shapes depending on the student and the supervisor and the cohort and the context. What my first unit did for me was help to clarify my call to pastoral caregiving – an area where I’ve had some internal (and external) resistance. I still marvel that I get to do this holy work of being present with people in their most vulnerable situations – and that even though I feel wholly unqualified and inadequate to the task, it is somehow, mostly, good enough. I’m still processing that. It leaves me with a sense of awe and wonder.
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God’s butterknife

There’s a well-worn story that circulates in the spring time, often around Mothers’ Day:

A woman is doing some minor household repair, assembling flat-pack furniture or something – maybe she’s at a friend’s house, helping the friend move – and finds she lacks the right tool for the job.

She calls out to a small child nearby, “Can you go get me a screwdriver?”

The child replies, “Do you want a mommy screwdriver or a daddy screwdriver?”

Perplexed, the woman responds, “I don’t know. Bring me a mommy screwdriver.”

The child promptly returns with a butterknife.

I’ve been thinking about this one today, on my Monday-after-the-holiday off, performing my domestic duties as cat furniture and catching up on light housekeeping and half-abandoned projects. The calendar is shaped differently for people who work in churches and hospitals, and I have been doing just enough of each that I seldom remember what day of the week it is, if it isn’t Sunday, and sometimes I am not sure about that.

Ministry is odd work. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes exciting, sometimes satisfying, but always odd. Sometimes it involves fixing an old toilet chain with a paper clip, or making a checklist that includes cookies, kitty litter buckets, a manuscript, and an overnight bag. It involves changing gears from the sublime to the absurd and back again, always expecting that something unexpected will come up.

For all the things I know how to do, or am learning, I keep finding there are more things I do not even know where to start with. So I hope that, like the butterknife, my showing up and being of service in the moment is enough.

A butterknife, after all, is great for spreading butter, or cutting pancakes; but it also makes a serviceable standard screwdriver in a pinch, and can be pressed into service as an ice scraper, or used to jimmy open a stuck cocoa can or a recalcitrant bathroom door. It can be a straight edge, or a thumbtack-pusher, or used to stir the spaghetti sauce when the spoon has escaped somewhere. There are better tools for most of these things, but then in the moment there is the butterknife.

Posted in Reflections

Out of the Deep

Out of the deep
Have I called unto Thee, O Lord —
Lord, hear my voice!

Psalm 130:1-2a
tr. from Requiem, John Rutter

The first snow fell this week. So did the second snow, and that has stuck, and the pool has frozen over firmly enough to support the neighbor’s rotund clumsy cat, which lost its balance trying to drink the other day and landed, perplexed, on the surface while I watched out the window. The third snow is coming, tomorrow night into the next, and that will require shoveling the walks and borrowing Spouse’s car when I go down to Portland overnight.

It is a month out from the election, give or take a couple of days. In that time I have crafted and delivered three worship services (two Sundays and one weeknight) and worked three overnights and a day shift on-call at the hospital, and done the other things with (mostly) calm efficiency, and also finished this morning the last sequence of blocks for what will become a small bright quilt in the next week or two.

I am functional. I am so very functional. I take pleasure – pride, perhaps – in my capacity to be highly functional under stressful conditions. I get satisfaction from being able to show up and deliver even when things are falling apart.

But my heart is not in it.

My heart – small wild thing that it is, with flashing eyes – has gone to ground, disappeared into a tangled thicket of branches and old roots, wary and invisible, silently observing a world that has once again demonstrated its pervasive untrustworthiness and inherent danger.

Whatever other image you may have in your head, this is also what PTSD looks like, or feels like: for me, it’s an emotional flashback to my Reagan-era childhood of being bullied and social manipulation and parental disengagement, all under the sociopolitical cloud of imminent thermonuclear armageddon and/or the Holy Rapture, whichever came first.

When all experience feels pervasively, inescapably dangerous; when continued survival depends on being favored, or at least overlooked, by those with slightly more power in a rigged system; when authority is ineffectual or malevolent or just plain not there: the heart learns wildness to survive. It grows claws and teeth, learns to bite hard and writhe free and escape certain destruction. Stay back, it hisses, fangs bared and eyes glittering. When the world is unwelcoming, the heart learns how to survive — and nothing more.

When one doesn’t know anything else, one learns to function without it.

What is different, this time around, is that I miss my heart, that small wild tender thing. It was starting to become tame, a little bit anyway, and beginning to learn trust; that now seems much harder.

And also, when I pretend not to notice its glittering eyes watching me from the shadows, I imagine that my heart would also rather not hide and fight always, but has forgotten how to do that other thing for which it knows no name, newly learned and sweet.

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It was gray today, overcast mostly, with low clouds shredding on the wind. Snow flurries on and off; a dusting overnight had melted by the time I got to the window this morning.

I am not eager for the snow to come. People forget how to drive in it during the months that it is not on the ground, and the first accumulating storm of the season usually results in an uptick in fender-benders and general anxiety.

We can do without more anxiety right now, really. There is plenty going around. It is a scant two weeks past the election and I have had little to say about it, at least directly and in public. My writing energy for the last couple of weeks went primarily into worship preparation for a short-notice preaching opportunity with the lovely folks at the Midcoast UU Fellowship this past Sunday.

I’m not posting whole sermons, or whole worship services, anymore; I’ve come to the sense that a worship service and particularly a sermon is something I prepare for a particular time and place and gathered body, and you can’t throw a stone into the same river twice. I also don’t write out full manuscripts these days, just long form notes, and the transitions work differently in spoken form than in writing.

But I also am still tumbling around  what the Spirit gave me, which seems too timely to keep just between those of us who gathered this week.
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As We Go Into the Night

It is more than a bit after sunset on Monday, the evening before the 2016 US presidential election. Early voting has been open in my jurisdiction for a week or so, I think; I will be heading to the polls tomorrow morning to cast my ballot. As I do.

Picture of an I Voted sticker on a dark blue shirt; partially visible name tag with initial C.

I Voted, 2015 edition

I’ve been a compulsive voter since I turned eighteen in between the Louisiana gubernatorial open primary and the run-off general election – the one that pitted the multiply-indicted (but not yet convicted) wheelin’ dealin’ slick Southern playboy Edwin “Fast Eddie” Edwards (D) against the then-unknown David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (R). The Louisiana Republican party distributed bumper stickers that read, “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”

I swear I am not making this up.

Forgive me if I have never been heavily invested in electoral politics.
When you start there, it’s really hard to get fussed up about these things.

My lack of angst should in no case be misread for a lack of attention or of interest.

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