Shredded

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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For All the Saints

Four hundred and ninety-nine years ago a German priest and scholar of theology got sufficiently riled up with the injustice he saw in the Church to write out his complaints and post them for public comment in a way that changed the course of western history.

I took a class last spring – History of the Western Christian Tradition – that was my first introduction to Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses. Had heard of them, of course, but hadn’t actually read them.

Gen-Xer that I am, I couldn’t help thinking how very similar they are to a string of linked sentences on Twitter. Was the University chapel door the sixteenth-century version of social media? Perhaps so. Luther’s theses – written in Latin, of course – were soon translated into the vernacular and circulated widely, thanks to the recently-developed printing press and, as we say, one thing led to another.

It was of course more complicated than that. I wrote a short paper on it, several months ago, that I can’t figure out where I filed – so I am telling this story from memory with all the imperfection that implies. There are lots of places you can go look it up, if you are more interested in facts than stories.

There was another story circulating in the news today, about how Pope Francis had made an ecumenical visit to the Lutheran World Federation in observance of the beginning of the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation. It’s a powerful symbolic gesture; a good story. What we do with that story? It remains to be seen.

I have a soft spot in my heart for both rebels and reformers. I had a conversation the other day with a colleague whose call has led them away from the institutional process into a vibrant lay community ministry which is taking an exciting turn that’s not my story to tell. We talked about transforming the world, doing the work of ministry – and the challenges and benefits of doing that outside the institutional system versus within it.

I have written before that I am an institutionalist. I believe in creating systems that endure – and also in transforming the systems as we inherit them into systems that will adapt and endure long beyond our time. Even, perhaps, adapting by taking forms we cannot now imagine and do not recognize.

I am sure that the historical Martin Luther would raise his eyebrows, at least, at some of the things that contemporary Unitarian Universalism says and does in the name of liberal religion. There are countless generations between us, each new wave of reformers building on the foundations laid before them – and rearranging the bricks into a new structure for a new time.

We contemporary UUs disavow and discard our Christian heritage at our own peril. By neglecting reflection on the errors and excesses of our history, we risk repeating them at their worst. I think about that a lot, and about that line from Leonard Cohen:

There is a crack, a crack in everything:
That’s where the light gets in.

I want to say, don’t be afraid of breaking things. Sometimes things need to break first, so that the pieces may be used for something better. But I would be preaching to myself.

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October Rain

There is a front or something passing; I can hear the rain against the roof tonight. We need it. There was hardly any snow to speak of last winter, which has left this area in drought this water year. Tonight’s storm is unlikely to make up for it much.

But it is autumn, well past the equinox now; the leaves have again gone from deep green to golden green to orange to fluttering on the wet wind.

Winter, as they say, is coming.

I miss blogging, but I feel like I have not got anything much to say. Life continues to be life in all the usual ways. Late-season road construction has chewed up all of the ways in and out of my neighborhood, to my vast annoyance. Personal friends on Facebook have been getting a play-by-play on how to give medication to a cat. Spouse and I picked apples last weekend and there will soon be pie.

Internship is going smoothly so far. I preached there a couple of weeks ago and will do it again in December. Then there will be the January trip to Chicago – only a few days, this time – and then back here for more internship, and in the spring more CPE, and soon after that beginning in earnest the massive bundle of paperwork that will lead to the end of the credentialing tunnel. But not yet. It all seems very remote, somehow – and also inevitable, at the end of this chain of small steps.

And so I am listening to the rattle of rain against the roof, late at night, and the sounds of the other living creatures in this house, large and small, all snoring in their large and small ways.

It is good enough.

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Wild Chicory

A poem, in lieu of all the things I did not write this summer:

Wild chicory

I love wild chicory, she said. It grows
Exactly where it wants, and nowhere else.

And it is so: the tangled stems unfold,
Turning their eyes to greet the morning sun,
Defiant blue under the summer sky,
Heedless of order that I would impose
Upon this bit of earth.

I would have mowed
Sooner, but there were post-vacation wasps
Needing to be evicted from the wall,
Tangles of creeping bindweed, crisping grass –
One thing led to another till the yard
Filled with impertinent upstarts:
As early dandelions are to spring,
So is to August the wild chicory.

I love wild chicory, she said. It grows
Exactly where it wants, and nowhere else.

Close up shot of a purpleish-blue flower with many petals on a narrow square stem.

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August Already

Where has the summer gone?

As I write this I realize it’s been over a month since I posted anything. It’s been that kind of summer – rich, full, busy, with lots to think about and not nearly enough time for writing. Well, you know. I have all the same time that anyone else does, but I have been doing things other than writing (or at least blogging) with it.

About a month ago I completed my first unit of CPE – Clinical Pastoral Education, as I’ve mentioned before. It was a very different experience this time around, compared to my unsuccessful attempt elsewhere two years ago; after last time I had expected that I was not at all suited to serve as a chaplain, but this time I fell in love with the work. I’m delighted to be staying on as a very occasional on-call chaplain, at least for the next few months – it means a little gas money, and opportunities to practice my vocation. That I am here, doing this, is a bit of inexplicable grace and wonder.

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Summer Solstice reflection

This post is developed from a spoken reflection from notes that I offered to my CPE colleagues in prayer time on Wednesday, in observance of the solstice, which occurred Tuesday.

Breathe in… Breathe out…
Settle into your body…
Feet resting on the floor…
Chair supporting your weight…

I would like to invite you in, into the earth-centered part of my spiritual practice, in honor of the summer solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the solar year. For us in the global north, this was yesterday.

We are probably more familiar with the winter solstice, its associations with Christmas and the secular New Year: the rebirth of the sun, the coming of God into the world, the return of light in the season of deepest darkness… And just a note – Hannukah isn’t about the solstice, it has its own (historical) story – but even so, it falls in the same dark corner of the year, and that story too is one of light shining in the darkness and hope against all odds.

It’s a powerful story, the light that begins to grow in the deepest darkness. That one’s easy. Humans like that story.

But that’s the OTHER solstice – the one six months from now, at least in this hemisphere.

For pagan folks, it’s no less important to celebrate the return of the darkness: the shadow that begins to grow at the point of brightest light.

This one can be harder sometimes to understand. Our contemporary culture, the one we’re all embedded in, idolizes growth, expansion. Onward and upward! Bigger! Faster! Better! More!

But we can’t keep growing forever. It doesn’t work that way.

Unregulated growth in the cells of body is a hallmark of cancer. The wild abundant flourishing of microorganisms means illness for the patient whose body they infect.

Out in the world, unchecked growth – the insatiable quest for more – leads us to overpopulation… resource depletion… pollution… colonialism… mass consumption… addiction… economic injustice at the amoral hands of the free market…

We can’t keep growing forever.

Contemporary pagan practice offers another way. Not necessarily better, but a different approach, a different way to tell the story. Ours is a spiritual system rooted in balance: not static balance, but the dynamic balance of the cycles of the living world.

The sun rises… and it also sets.
The moon waxes.. and then it wanes.
The tides rise and fall.

The seasons turn, each after the next.
Seeds sprout. Flowers bloom. Fruit ripens. Seeds fall.

Air goes in and out with each cycle of the breath.
Blood goes round and round with each pulse of the heart.

We are born. We grow. We change. We live.
And eventually, we die.
The molecules that make up our bodies return to the world, and our spirits are released to whatever happens next.

The thing about cycles is that they circle back onto themselves. There’s a rhythm, a pattern that has no beginning, and no ending. Or, maybe better, every point in the cycle is the ending of what was, and the beginning of what is to come.

Let us sit for a moment with the seed of the darkness that begins to grow in the brightest moment of light, with the peak of the wave just before it begins to fall, with the pause between the in breath and the out breath; with every ending that is also a beginning.

God that we know by countless names,
Eternal Mystery,
You who are above and below,
Within and beyond,
Be here now: hear our prayer….

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