Homecoming

The suitcases are unpacked. One of them isn’t back in the basement yet, but they are unpacked.

I have washed three loads of laundry today. One of them is still in the dryer.

I put some of my “travel kitchen” stuff back in the real kitchen, since I do not plan to be cooking at the hostel any time soon.

The little black cat is still mad at me, but I imagine that as soon as the Other Human goes back to work tomorrow, she will affix herself to my person for as long as I let her. But this is my busy week, and I will be taking off again tomorrow to get back into the groove of church business.

It is very strange not to be going back to school in Chicago. I got home two days ago from the last academic class of my seminary degree. I owe one sermon, one discussion board reflection, and about ten pages worth of Biblical Interpretation paper to round out the semester; after that, all I have left to do is complete my internship and I will graduate in May.

It has been a long five years.

I have made so little time for life maintenance the last few weeks — even when I put a block of it on my calendar, the last half-year that allotted time has mostly been used to rest, exhausted, or catch up on schoolwork or church work or soul work or to barely smooth over the surface of the chaos. Some deeper order needs to happen.

I need to do some mending. I have things in my life that are worn thin and need to be attended to. That is both literal and metaphorical – the pants with one leg hemmed, the jacket where the seam is pulling out, the coat with the missing buttons.

But also, the dead plant on the windowsill that needs to go into the brush pile out behind the shed, the shoes that need to come in from the porch, the piles of books that need to find a home, some kind of order other than where they landed when last read.

And it will not happen, if I am exhausted, or sick, or stressed out, or overcommitted, or on deadline for something higher priority. And so it hasn’t. Fair enough.

One thing I am still learning, still trying to learn, is the art of making enough space for my self to exist, to breathe, to rest when the need of the world calls me. I know I am not alone in fearing, deep down, that I am too small and too vulnerable and too weak and too flawed to make any difference worth making.

Perhaps this is even true. But I want to remember that I, personally, am not charged with saving the whole of the world singlehandedly; indeed, I am not even solely responsible for saving any small piece of it singlehandedly nor even for completely saving any of it, ever. I am answerable only for doing that piece of the middle of the work which is before me, as much as I can do, as much as I can do it, knowing that it will be insufficient and incomplete — and so will each of the other pieces of the great work, as all of them have always been and will always be.

The great work, after all, is never finished. Like a mathematical limit, we push ever closer toward the beloved community, the kin-dom of God — knowing there is always a measurable gap and infinitely more work to do; it is the doing of the work, not the achieving of some finite end, that is our salvation….

Whatever that means.

I’m feeling unusually contemplative tonight, more so than I have been able to in a long time. Perhaps that means the circle has spiraled round and I am back where I started, only more so. This coming within sight of the end of seminary, it is an ending — but it is a beginning too; not a clear beginning, but the beginning of a beginning, maybe.

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2017: Don’t Let The Door Hit Ya…

It hardly seems worth the pixels to write a summary for a year when I’ve written one and a half blog posts, at all. But it’s been like that. So like that.

Since the non-cancer diagnosis in late October, I’ve been trying to keep up with thing after blessed thing, scraped thin and having limited success with keeping all the plates spinning and not crashing violently to the floor. I can honestly say that I’m glad I don’t have cancer (at least, as far as anyone knows) but at the same time, the watching and waiting and vague uncomfortable symptoms that are the new normal are… not resting well. I want answers, and good ones, but that’s not how this goes.

The play-by-play of several weeks of congregational internship work will not be recorded here in full; best gloss that over as hit after hit of emotionally intense work on top of more emotionally intense work. One of the public parts was the disappearance of one of our congregational committee leaders, who went missing and was presumed dead in late November. His body has not yet been found and is believed to have washed out to sea.

I was unsuccessful at my denominational credentialing interview and invited to return and re-interview at a later time. I am writing that in public because I am unwilling to feed the shame that lingers around unsuccessful interviews. I knew going in that I wasn’t as fully prepared as I wanted to be – the previous three months had taken their toll – and received some valuable feedback on areas where I can continue working. But it’s still a disappointment and a frustration that leaves a lot of things up in the air.

December has been a month of trying to patch together my ragged worn-out spirit and deliver on all the loose ends of things that I have pledged to do. I need to finish my coursework in order to graduate in May. I need to pack my suitcase for one last trip to Chicago, soon, to take the last class of my MDiv. And I need to find ways to take better care of my body and my soul – more art, more music, more rest. I have been sick a lot this year, between two months of respiratory illness in the late spring and my current nemesis, a bout of asthmatic bronchitis that’s flared up in the early bitter cold weather these last couple of weeks; never mind the mysterious and unpleasant autoimmune things going on under the surface.

This flesh is not a happy comfortable place to be right now. It is hard to be present and open to experience in this body. And I have not had the strength of spirit or the depth of soul to care much about the vast sorrows of the world lately – something I need to regain connection with in order to feed my call.

But first, rest.

And tomorrow, a new calendar, and resolutions, and an honest effort to bring to fruition some of the many things I have started.

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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?

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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.
Continue reading

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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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