Grandpa Peter: Two Years After My Father’s Passing

It was springtime, and we were setting up our new three-bedroom apartment that would be large enough to accommodate my husband, myself, and my dad. My dad’s cancer prognosis seemed good: chemo was continuing and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t keep working; plus he was being treated at one of the best facilities in the country. I was only a few short months away from starting a full-time clergy position straight out of seminary. My husband and I, newlyweds, were bravely facing what married life, and life as full-time caregivers for a parent, would look like.

My dad had first moved out to California because the chemotherapy cocktail he had been on stopped working. It wasn’t all that surprising, and there were options; it was time for a change, but it was a change that necessitated more doctors, higher levels of care, and a cross-country move. We were in survival mode at that point: get Dad on a new cocktail, take care of him. We had short term goals that were about managing the situation. Fast-forward two months and the crisis had passed. We had transitioned from surviving cancer to living with cancer. I still thought Dad needed to be in California, which would only work if he lived with us. My husband and I faced the reality that this could be longer-term than we had thought. We realized that everything we had planned for the future together could in-fact include caring for and living with my Dad.

One day as we were walking to the car, just Dad and me, I told him: “You know Scott and I really want to start a family. Would that be okay with you, you know, with all of us living together?”

Smiles were few and far between those days. Dad was not a happy man during his battle with cancer. He was withdrawn, sullen, and depressed. As he took in my words, a bit of him came through, and the corners of his mouth twitched up. He hugged me, restrained eagerness hidden behind a moment of hesitation, said of course, then started making noises about how we shouldn’t have to take care of him and a baby. I silenced him. I told him that it’s what I wanted, what we wanted, to have him be a part of it too. For a moment I got to see him light up, excited, and happier than he had been in a while. I saw his old-self break through. For once in the midst of the chemo fog he was truly present with me.

We never got to that point, as Dad passed away only a few months later. It would be almost two years after that conversation that I would finally get pregnant.

The combination of grief from his loss and our own struggles to conceive a child tore at my heart. Every day I felt further from him, and his absence felt stronger. I continually sought out a way to bridge the distance between his death and his grandchild who was not even conceived. I thought that if I were only pregnant before I spread his ashes then there would be a connection, a moment when he and his grandchild were in the same place at the same time. Every milestone has been like that: the first birthday after he passed, the first anniversary of his death. I wanted their lives to overlap in some small tangible way even though my dad would never have the experience of finding out I was pregnant or holding his grandchild.

1146607_744060167035_692746033_nSince I found out we were expecting, I keep having this image of a moment I will never have. I see myself in the recovery room after labor, holding my child and seeing the door open. In would walk Dad, somewhat disheveled from hours in the waiting room with a camera in hand ready to start shooting. He would come in both hesitant and eager and the corners of his mouth would twitch up. There would be a moment of joy as he soaked in the image of his daughter and grandchild and felt the profundity of his new title: Grandpa.

I will never have this moment or any moment like it. It has been two years since his passing, and I continue to feel both the comfort that he is without pain or suffering and the incredible cruelty that he is missing out on some of the best years of his daughters’ lives. Dad would have been an awesome grandpa; he would have loved to have been a grandpa, and his grandchildren’s lives would have been better, sweeter, more full of love, had they been able to know him. It is beyond words, though unfair is a starting point.

Life is not without unfairness, and either we can live within that bitterness or allow it to transform into something – anything – positive. Losing someone to cancer, losing someone at all, creates an unparalleled choice of how to live after that person is gone with all of the pain, anger, and bitterness, while not losing the joy, wonder, and excitement that each of us deserves in life.

I’ve chosen to keep finding ways for the life of my soon-to-be born daughter and the life of her grandpa to overlap. Three weeks after her due date, baby girl and I will walk in Purple Stride to raise money for pancreatic cancer (and yes, I already have her purple “Wage Hope” outfit ready to go). She’s already spent hours hearing her grandpa’s guitar being played before she’s been born. Her life will be full of stories of Grandpa Peter, and she’ll know his family, his friends, and everything that brought him joy. Most importantly, she’ll know that even before she came into this world, even before she was conceived, the mere thought that one day she might exist made him happier than anything else ever could.

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Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?

Sermon from June 21, 2015

Audio available here:

On Wednesday evening I came home from a Stephen Ministry meeting here at Trinity and learned of the shooting in Charleston. I did not hear it on the news or see an article online. Instead, I simply saw a post from a friend and colleague who said that his cousin had been shot at their church. It was then that I found the articles, read the stories, and learned of the vicious and brutal attack that left nine people dead.

There have been seven mass shootings in the United States over the last seven years. This year alone has been full of violence against young black men, people of color, and minority voices. Too many lives have been lost. From my position of privilege, living as I do in a predominantly white, affluent community, I have often felt that these events happen in other communities, to other people. What Wednesday night brought into sharp focus for me is that if this continues, which it most certainly will as long as nothing actually changes in our society, then eventually every life will be touched by violence, every family will be impacted, including mine and including yours. How long until we are no longer bystanders?

The gospel we hear tells the story of Christ calling the disciples to the other side of the sea, so together they climb into the boat and confront a great storm. To Jesus they call “do you not know that we are perishing?” Jesus calms the storm and calls on the disciples to have faith.

In the gospel today, there are no bystanders. There are no individuals on the shore watching events play out. There is no third person narrator safe from danger who will guide us, the hearers, to the other shore. We must take our place in the narrative. Are we in the boat? Are we with the disciples who are following Jesus through the storm, over dangerous waters, to reach a new destination? Because, if we are not, if we cannot find ourselves inside of that boat, if we cannot jump into it and stand next to the disciples and with those who are crying out to God and to communities of privilege that fateful question “do you not care that we are perishing?” – if we are not with them, then the only other place in the story we can be is the storm itself.

Storms and chaos in scripture are often interpreted as events outside of our control. They are things we must weather, face, and survive. We often feel no ownership of or responsibility for the storm. It feels too big, too amorphous. We cannot trace back to how we have participated in it. We wash our hands of responsibility.

When we see the storm of racism that has been brewing for hundreds of years in this country, as we watch it take life after life after life, we cannot look to others, we cannot point fingers of blame on the past to absolve ourselves of the responsibility that we hold now. There are no bystanders in this Gospel. Either we are in the boat or we are part of the storm, making things worse. There is no neutral party.

It is only when we begin to name that we, in our places of privilege, have contributed to the storm that anything can begin to change. This week Pope Francis delivered his encyclical on the current climate crisis. In that document, he placed blame for the current state of our earth on those in positions of privilege: on all of us who choose convenience and wealth over protecting and caring for the world that God created. Even the responsibility for the literal storms of the current environmental crisis points back to those in positions of privilege. Points back to us.

We need to shift the storms, both literally and metaphorically. We need to recognize our privilege, so we might stand with those who suffer most from greed and hate and violence. We need to believe that all lives matter; that black lives matter; that our earth matters, and that the societies we live in matter.

There is a powerful video that I hope you will all go find of the families of the victims of the Charleston shooting speaking to the shooter. Each one of them speaks words of forgiveness. They tell him that he has taken from them someone precious. They tell him that they are in unbearable pain, but they also tell him that they forgive him. As one family member said, “And I just thank you on behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I’m very angry… but we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate. We have to forgive.”

We have no room for hate.

God has no room for hate.

The shooter, Dylan Roof, certainly must be tried and brought to justice, but what these families demonstrate is that his hate will not allow their lives to be filled with hate. His actions will have no more control over their lives. They will not perpetuate the hate that brought such atrocious acts to take place.

These families choose love. They choose forgiveness.

Michelle Alexander, the author of the New Jim Crow, a book that explores racism in our current incarceration system, shared the video I just described on Facebook. She said, “As Audre Lorde once wrote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Those who spoke words of forgiveness refused to touch the master’s tools, knowing full well that those tools will never lead us to the Beloved Community.”

This is the place where our faith calls us to go. This is what’s on the other side to which the disciples travel; a place where love is stronger than hate; a place where black lives matter. A place where the minority voice is heard. It is the place of the beloved community, the kingdom of God where there is no room for racism, violence or hate. It is a place that love built.

Right now our youth group is coming to the end of its weeklong mission trip to St. Louis and Ferguson. There they have listened to the stories of those fighting for social justice in the wake of Michael Brown’s death. They have gone to immerse themselves within and to learn about racism, about hate—but also about love. They have been and continue to explore their own privilege. I look forward to their return when we can hear their stories. They have begun the work that we have all been called to do. Maybe two weeks ago they wouldn’t have been able to find themselves in the boat with the disciples, but they went out to find it, to jump in, and to listen to what those who are suffering have to say.

It begins—it always begins—with listening to the voices of those most hurt and affected by racism in our communities. This is a lesson my father taught me – as today is father’s day I couldn’t help but reflect on how he might respond to the Charleston events if he were still alive. He was a district court judge, and a young man was on trial for a hate crime against Alaskan natives. My dad invited members of the Alaskan native community to speak as part of the trial – not just the victims but all members of the native community. A hate crime affects many more than simply those directly attacked. It touches all those of the minority voice who must live in fear and oppression. As my Dad said, it was not up to three middle aged white guys, him and the two lawyers, to decide what should happen. They, as well as the defendants, needed to hear the voices of the oppressed in order to understand the true after effects of a hate crime—the after effects that my father admittedly could not see due to his position of privilege.

My father’s example of how he, in a place of privilege, responded to a criminal act of violence and hate against individuals targeted because of their race has always been a formative lesson in my own education about racism. My father was not popular in Anchorage for how he handled the case. He sentenced the young man in question to three hundred hours of community service in native communities so that this person could begin not just to pay for his crimes, which he certainly had to, but also to begin to work on reconciling the hate and prejudice within his heart.

So too are we called to immerse ourselves within the communities of those who face oppression. So too are we called to question the assumptions and privilege we experience from living in our predominately white community. So too are we called to listen to the voices of the oppressed, to listen to the voices of the disciples and hear their cry “do you not know that we are perishing?” Our brothers and sisters in Christ, our black and brown brothers and sisters are perishing at the hands of those in power, at the hands of those who have privilege.

In his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis asks the question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to the children who are now growing up?” We can ask that question of our environment, and we can ask that question of our communities. What do we want our societies and earth to look like for our children’s generation? What legacy do we want to leave them?

Our faith, the faith that Christ calls us to have in the midst of storms, means we must know love and we must drive out hate. We must look for and name racism in our communities, in our places of business. We must see where our own privilege comes at the disadvantage of others. We must name the Charleston shooting as an act of hate and racism. We must be part of calming the storm because inaction only fuels the chaos. We must listen to the voices and stories of black lives; we must join them in naming racism and hate. In today’s Gospel reading, Christ calms the storm so that no one must fear because faith is stronger than the chaos. May we be witnesses of our faith, of our love, so that our faith may be stronger than hate, and so that all can truly live without fear, without being afraid.

Let us go across to the other side, the beloved community, to be the Christian family that is built on love and has no room for hate. We cannot wait until the tide of violence touches our community, our homes, or our families. We are all on the earth part of a greater family and community: the children of God, the caretakers of the Earth. The tide has hit, and the time is now for us to go, to go to the other side, to lay down our privilege and join our family in building love.

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A Year and a Half Later

1097076_744070521285_1727580641_oIt has been a year and a half since my father died. The half year seems to matter, to me anyways. It’s the passing of time; it’s a change of perception. Because today, for the first time, I can say he’s been gone a year and a half. It’s the sort of thing you don’t notice unless you have to quantify it, both to others and yourself. Like how old a child is or how long you’ve been with someone, or in this case, without. It’s time only a handful of us notice.

Today my father has been dead a year and a half, and I don’t know if the grief is different; but I am different. A year ago I wrote about my father, exactly six months after his passing. I am not the same person I was then. The grief, that giant chasm rooted deep within my chest, is the same. It took root before he died, in the knowledge that he would die, that he was dying.

Though the grief has not changed, I have, and therefore how I relate to my grief has changed. In the early days and weeks and months grief was everything. It was the whole sum of my parts. For fifteen months before he passed my life had been dedicated to his care. In the absence of that purpose and in the wake of a reality without him, there was little else.

For the first six months it took every ounce of energy to get through the mundane. I was high functioning, a hard worker. I showed up, I made appearances with friends. It was in the moments in-between all that was required that I felt absent. Exhausted. Numb. The chasm was deep and it was wide. I didn’t realize it at the time. I couldn’t name it because it didn’t feel like grief. It didn’t feel like anything.

In the books on dying that hospice gave us we caught a glimpse (to the best of our knowledge) of what happens as a person passes. They turn inward and retreat within themselves; they begin to process all they had been, the conscious and the unconscious. There is the biological, medical piece that the body is simply shutting down. And there is the less tangible part where a person comes to terms with what is about to happen. The books told us to reassure him that he had all he needed. That everything was taken care of; nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. As he slipped away in the last few days we saw him retreat and we told him it was ok, that things were fine, that his bags were packed, with nothing left to take care of.

In those first few days and weeks, and months of grief I turned inward. I retreated. My mind, conscious and unconscious, protected me. Though there was pain it was through the exhaustion of numbness. There were moments of crying, of wailing, but was restrained and they short. I remained inward, coming to terms with the reality of what had happened and what the rest of my life would now be.

It took six months to begin to touch and to face the grief, the chasm, the thing that had nested within me. I didn’t know it well. I had only looked at it sideways, or through a reflection. I had met it in dreams, at stop lights, at pauses in liturgy. I knew one thing for certain – whatever had been created through the illness and death of my father was not going away, and to live with it I must know it.

It took four days of solitude on a dusty hilltop where I hiked and prayed but mostly slept. It took a six hour continuous cry with no reservation, no attempt at control, no question of returning from it. It took that to look at the grief, to truly and wholly know it. It would be the first of many cries all of which I am sure I haven’t had yet. It was not the whole of knowing how to live with my grief, but the beginning that made me strong enough to try.

The grief sits now familiar within me but it is not the whole of me. I don’t know if it is like my father’s tumors that I am suppose to fight, to shrink, to cut out. I don’t think so. I think it is a part of me, the representation of all I experienced, and will experience in a hopefully long life, even if it is without my father.

What had to change was not the grief, but me. My life, my existence had to become bigger than the grief. We are not limited to a finite shape or fullness. The room within ourselves, the space where all of the sum of our parts makes us who we are has no glass ceiling. The numbness has been replaced with feeling the fullness of what grief is, but has also made it possible to feel everything else. To feel the joy, and the love, and everything that is possible means being vulnerable to feeling the grief as well.

The fuller my life has become, through my family, through my job, through my passions, the less dominance the grief has. It is not the whole of who I am, but it a part of who I am. It is not a black mark or an undesirable disease. It is a part of myself I will not dare give up. It has shaped me into who I am now, and I do not think that is for the worse. I think that cancer, and my father’s death, put me and my sister through hell; but we also learned how to survive it. We changed, we grew, and our lives have grown. We fight for each day, for new experiences; we strive to reach goals no matter how lofty. Because to survive this means that we have to keep living in every way possible.

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Mother Shepherd, Mother Christ

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For about four weeks now, 276 Nigerian girls have been held kidnapped after abduction from their school. We have all watched as this story has unfolded and continues to unfold. Countries around the world have offered help to the Nigerian government to locate the girls and return them to their families. The general public has taken to the slogan “Bring back our girls” building awareness – standing in solidarity – making sure these girls are not forgotten. Many churches and religious houses of God are taking this weekend to join in prayer for the missing girls, for their families, and for all who search for them. What I witness through this is the intense desire to do something, to do anything – because the feeling of hopelessness, of injustice and supreme sadness for what these girls and their families are going through is unthinkable.

 

The military fed the parents false promises. When their girls were missing in those first days and it became clear that they were alone in their search, their parents chased after them. Mothers and fathers armed with bows and arrows to fight machine guns. On this mother’s day, I have been thinking of the 276 mothers whose daughters were stolen from them. I have been thinking of their aching arms and aching hearts.  I have been thinking of the long minutes, and hours, days, and weeks, that are filled with fear and longing for their little ones.

 

In the midst of these events, in the midst of mother’s day, we gather in our place of worship and hear John’s version of the Good Shepherd story. We hear several renditions of it in the Gospels – all comparing Christ to that of a shepherd who cares for his flock, who is good, who is just, who is love.

 

Because we are hearing from the Gospel of John we are hearing this story through the lens of the mystical and through the lens of continually proving the divinity and the necessity of Christ. We are hearing another “I am” statement – and it echoes back to the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Psalms frequently have imagery of God as the shepherd as we heard today from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want… guides me along right paths… Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”

 

The shepherd is a powerful image of protection and guardianship. It would have been a familiar image to the original hearers. And though I know of no actual shepherds here among us, I know that the image continues to be one of the better known images of Christ – seeking out the lost sheep, returning it to the flock, leaving no one behind.

 

The shepherd is actually an incredibly feminine image. It portrays the care and love and concern that a mother shows to her children. The love that Christ has for his flock is like a mother for her child.

 

Christ says of the shepherd, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

 

And I think of the mothers’ cries as they seek out their kidnapped girls. Searching, calling their names.

 

The Nigerian mothers are not alone. Their love and their pain is echoed across the world with every mother who has lost a child – or has feared the loss of a child, who has been separated by time or circumstance, who has suffered unspeakable tragedy, or who for the welfare of their own child has had to leave them in the care of another.

 

Today we celebrate mothers. I do not want to diminish our brunches and cards and flowers, for I too have sent those things to the women who have been mothers to me. But I recognize that the ability to celebrate this day in a carefree and light way is an extraordinary privilege. It is a gift and by no means universal.

 

Anne Lamott, writer and a theologian in her own right, wrote an article about mother’s day that circulates ever year. Of the holiday she says:

 

“The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure.” (you can read the whole article here)

 

Ann Lamott’s words echo with me today. This year I have watched my grandmother mourn the loss of her first born child. I have watched a dear friend grieve the loss of her infant son. I have been witness to 276 mothers searching for their lost girls.

 

I want this day to be for those of us who do celebrate it in joy also to be one that stands in solidarity with mothers with empty arms, with those who deeply want to be mothers and cannot, those who grieve the loss of their mother, and with those who have more complicated relationships with their mothers than can even be expressed or explained.

 

Our mothers – the ones who gave birth to us and the ones who raised us, the people and individuals who acted as mothers whether they were women or men, biological or not, those who have cared for us with a mother’s love – they are the ones and the relationships that we celebrate today. They are our earthly mothers.

 

Christ – the Good Shepherd – is our heavenly mother and father – a parent – who shepherds our spiritual well being. Christ tends to the intangible part of our selves.

 

Mothers shepherd us as Christ shepherds us – opening the gate and being the gate to love, opportunity, and safety. Christ and mothers show immeasurable love for their charges. And yet they cannot be universal protectors – despite the deep yearning to do so. They cannot intervene in the unthinkable moments of tragedy. They are not superheroes, but their love is superhuman.

 

The gift of mothers, and of Christ, is to love – fiercely. To be sure that their children are remembered. They are the twinkling light in the darkness, the point of light that works through the darkest moments and whispers a word of love and comfort.

 

I think of these four long weeks that the 276 girls have sat in darkness. As the world seeks them out to return them to their mothers’ arms I know that Christ seeks out their hearts and spirits – to give the comfort that their own mothers so desperately want to give. My prayer is that Christ can be the light in the darkness and call each one by name. To be both mother and father to children separated from their parents.

 

Today I give thanks for the mothers in our pews and in our world, for those who act as Christ towards others. Not only are we called to see Christ as the Good Shepherd in our lives, we are called to be the Good Shepherd to others – to reflect the face of God in the work of our lives. We are called to be mothers to the earth and to the global community. To care for all missing children, for all who are hungry or alone, for all who need a mothers comfort. All of us, whether we are mothers or not, whether we are women or not, can care, as Christ did, for the global community.

 

I pray that all whose arms ache this day, and for all who crave their mothers’ embraces, that the light of Christ may find them in the darkness and speak their names in divine love. The darkness of our humanity cannot overshadow that point of light. That evil cannot break the bond we have with our heavenly mother and shepherd – whose love is eternal and everlasting.

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Maudy Thursday Sermon

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Tonight is about much more than feet. And this is about more than our own discomfort with feet whether they be others’ or our own. Though when I hear people say they are uncomfortable with the foot washing ritual it usually has something to do with a dislike or discomfort regarding feet. It is true that foot washing was a bit more common in the time of Jesus. The ritual itself would not be surprising to the disciples, but that doesn’t mean that they were not uncomfortable as well. As we see from Peter’s initial refusal of the footwashing, “You shall never wash my feet,” he says to Christ – they too were uncomfortable, but for an entirely different reason than us.

 They were uncomfortable with Jesus humbling himself and choosing to serve them.

Jesus was not oblivious to the discomfort this would cause his disciples, but Jesus never took much issue with making others uncomfortable. Much of what Jesus did called people out of their comfort zones and into ministry. He commanded that we care for the poor and the sick and the least among us, and he commanded us to wash feet and to allow Christ to wash ours.

This is about our discomfort with Jesus, not only in his actions and teachings and preaching, but our discomfort with our relationship with him. In one of our alternative Eucharistic prayers, we say the words “those who wish to serve him must first be served by him.” And that is much easier said than done. It is much more uncomfortable to allow Christ to serve us than we realize.

Jesus is more than the disciples’  rabbi or boss, mentor or teacher. He is a man who they have been serving and following, the son of God, the one who has performed miracles of healing and resurrection, he has multiplied the fishes and loaves. To be served by Christ is more than humbling for them. Where the disciples are comfortable in their relationship with Jesus is where they can serve him. To have Christ suddenly serve them felt unnatural. It is much deeper than our discomfort we feel when invited to have our feet washed. It is not the same as worrying about having someone else touch our bare feet or exposing our feet in church. The discomfort of the disciples is in seeing the Son of God serve them. It is even more than Christ being a servant to them. It is about realizing that Christ wants to be equal with us, to share in a relationship that is not of servant and master but one defined solely by great tenderness and love.

Maundy Thursday is about the mandate (maundy) that we receive from Jesus: to love one another as Jesus loves us, and that love is demonstrated in the washing of his disciples’ feet. Jesus is not attempting to reverse the master-servant role; he is abolishing it. Jesus is demonstrating his love for each of the disciples as the Son of God and as a fellow person. He shares in relationship with the disciples through this one small act.

The love in this act is truly for all. It is there even for Judas who sat among the disciples and whose feet were washed by Jesus. To Judas he shows the same tenderness as to Peter, the same love, the same affection. All are invited to take part in the love of Christ.

 It is easy to use Judas as the scapegoat betrayer – the one on whom we place our negativity and our complicity in the betrayal and crucifixion. But Christ’s simple act of washing Judas’s feet means Judas is also a symbol of the love that Jesus has and the desire that Jesus has to be in relationship with us during our darkest moments. He is the most tender toward us on the eve of his crucifixion. He is most tender toward us when we sit in the knowledge of what is to come: his own death that we as humanity have sent him to. It is in that moment – this moment – that Jesus gives us the gift of the meal we share in remembrance of him. It is in this moment that we are called into relationship and reconciliation with him.

 We will not be known by wearing crosses around our necks or by calling ourselves by a certain name. We will not be known by what we say. We will be known by our actions and our deeds. We will be known for being servants to those on the margins and by serving everyone–even those who may hurt or betray us–with all the love and tenderness that Christ demonstrates in his own humility and compassion.

 But first we must receive that love on the precipice of our darkest day. We must be truly humbled and vulnerable to Christ as he is humbled and vulnerable to us. Our reconciliation through Christ is made powerful through our relationship with him born out of the love he has in us in this simple and tender act.

 We are invited with all our discomfort and uncertainty to allow Christ to serve us so that we might better serve the world. Christianity is manifest in the great act of paying it forward – for the love, forgiveness, and reconciliation found in relationship with Christ to be reproduced over and over with those we encounter – and to intentionally choose to encounter those on the margins. It is both in the giving and receiving  of acts of compassion that Christ’s love is manifest. We act so that the love of Christ may radiate throughout the world.

 Most importantly, we find in the act of having our feet washed that we are worthy of being loved by Christ. We come to know ourselves as children of God, to see ourselves as God must see us, and to begin to love ourselves as Christ loves us. The greatest act of love we can show ourselves is in allowing ourselves to be forgiven, healed and restored with Christ. So often we are the only ones standing between ourselves and God.

 Christ tells Peter that, unless Peter allows Christ to serve him, Peter will never share in Christ. Those words ring through to us today as we are invited into this holy ritual because it is Christ who calls us to do so.

 

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2.5.2014

Six months ago today my father passed from this world to the next. That’s not how he would have put it. He thought that death was final and that our lives here in this reality were the only ones we would ever know. He feared dying – not so much death itself – but the process of dying brought him almost unbearable anxiety. He feared the pain, the lack of dignity, and the lack of control. In truth it does not take dying to experience those things. He lived in that reality of dying for fifteen months. Battling cancer is called fighting, it is called living, and it looks a lot like dying. For a stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis there didn’t seem to be any other option, at least for him. For my Dad, a man who battled depression his entire life, I don’t think that there was a choice that it could look any different.

His death was merciful in ways that are beyond the end of his suffering and the end of our caregiving. In the oddest of moments, it was in the discussing the eminence of death that I found hope with him. I had spent a tearful morning on the phone with Dr. Gary (his hospice doctor to whom I am grateful beyond words). My father was drifting. There was a connection with this reality and this world that had come loose. There was a turn in his mind, in his cognitive ability that had been persistently sharp his entire life, and it was a turn that felt definitive. The tangible signs of uneaten food and increased medication were insignificant compared to what I could feel: Dad had let go of whatever force of will had anchored him – against all odds – to this world for fifteen months.

Dr. Gary came that evening to our home. We sat in my Dad’s room and I watched Dr. Gary act not as a doctor but as a man of faith. He asked my Dad what he felt about where he was in his illness. We were scarcely one month into a three-to-six-months-left-to-live prognosis. Dr. Gary had told me that morning on the phone that we had transitioned from speaking in months to speaking in weeks, possibly days. How does someone tell another person that they have days to live? How could it even be true? But I could see it, I could feel it; we were barreling down a hill and gaining speed. The acceleration was the part I had never counted on.

My father responded to Dr. Gary like no other person involved with his care. He saw Dr. Gary as a friend, a man who he would have liked to swap books of poetry with and discuss favorite authors and religious practices. He was able to tell Dr. Gary what he couldn’t tell me:

“I feel a longing,” he said in his weakened and raspy voice, “like the longing in Hawaiian music – a longing for what’s next.” He waved his arm to the side signifying that “next” place. I knew in that moment that he felt what we could all see and he greeted it with open arms. He had spent so much time and energy up until that point fighting death through his fear. Now he not only accepted it, he welcomed it with love.

In that moment he gave me a gift I had not known I needed and only now do I know how much I cherish it. He spoke of death not as a finality but as the next stage, and he alluded to another chapter waiting to begin. He was only ready to be done with this reality and there was something much greater that he encountered, something much greater that he sensed.

Grief has been almost annoyingly cliche: shock, numbness, delayed reactions, triggered by the smallest of things. Anger, pain, sadness, regret, they have all made an appearance. I am grateful that the good moments are the ones that stick with me, that linger in my mind. He sounded so sweet when he spoke of longing. There was a gentleness in him I hadn’t heard there in months. In his death there was a spark of his old self – That Dad I had before cancer.

Regret is a bitter feeling and it feeds on the finality of death. I look back at those fifteen months, especially the last six months of his life when he lived with my husband and me, and I feel regret. I regret my own weariness with caregiving, my impatience, and mostly my choices of how to spend my time. I feel regret clinging to every date night I took, every day I went to work; I feel regret with anything I did that was for me and about me and therefore not about my Dad.

My regret is not soothed by reminders of how much I needed self-care, or of how incredibly negative and difficult my Dad was in his illness. I am not soothed by knowing how much I did give to him in those six months, or fifteen months, or the last twenty-six years. Regret seems to trump reason in emotional hierarchy. But I have found comfort. My own belief in heaven, in a life after this, was never enough to comfort me before my Dad died. I knew for fifteen months that I would lose him; rarely did we think of “if he dies” but “when he dies”. Pancreatic cancer just sucks that much.

Dad gave me the gift of comfort in his own hope for there being more after his death. It was never enough for me to believe that we would meet again, I needed him to believe that there was more. I needed him to believe that one day we would reunite and that in some way the rest of my life was not lost to him. His hope was the last and most precious gift. When he retreated into himself, no longer able to communicate with us I had the words of comfort that he gave to me that I in turn gave to him. My sister and I spent three days at his bedside describing the beaches and sunsets, the “next” that he was longing for and we promised to meet him there one day.

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February 5, 2014 · 5:56 am

A Christian Marriage

Social media sites and other forums of public opinion have been pretty worked up over Full House star Candace Cameron Bure’s new book and her view of Biblical marriage. You can see an interview with Candace here. (Disclaimer: I really don’t have much issue with how Candace and her husband live their private lives. I try to avoid – and mostly fail – focusing on the rise and fall of celebrity marriages. If there is anything I have learned from my own marriage, it is that the same thing doesn’t work for everyone. There is no formula or sure fire way of guaranteeing a successful marriage. If this has worked for 17 years I applaud them on a long and successful marriage.) However, as a young female priest, I am disheartened to see another young woman promoting such limited interpretations of scripture that disregard years of suffering, abuse, and oppression that women have faced. These interpretations disregard the fact that we are all created and equally loved by God. It supports logic that allows things like segregation and separate but equal to exist in our society. It is that logic that has inhibited women and people of color from voting for so long.

True equality has no qualifications. When we have to qualify it we have missed the point.

She does come from a conservative Christian background. Her brother, Kirk Cameron starred on Growing Pains as a youth and went on to do the Left Behind movie and be a spokesperson for conservative Christianity. It seems that young people are given only conservative Christian viewpoints from the celebrities who are willing to say anything about Christianity at all. Yet these celebrities leave questions unanswered while imparting shallow theology that presents itself as a catchall to impressionable viewers rather than demonstrating the deep work, prayer, and study that goes into making choices about how one lives life in light of faith. Us preachers are left to pick up the pieces if we are so lucky. Mostly it just continues to reaffirm for many non-believers the notion that Christianity has completely jumped the shark. We are never even given a chance to show a different way of being Christian.

She quotes First Peter 3:1 which says: “Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not body the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct” – actually First Peter says a lot more than that. It also says “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters without deference, not only those who are kind but those who are gentle.” (1 Peter 2:18). The letter suggests that in the same way that slaves should accept the authority of their masters, wives should accept the authority of their husbands. The husbands aren’t left out of this either, “Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the women as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life – so that nothing may hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7).

I find 1 Peter a bizarre choice of text to base one’s marriage on. You’ll find it in the back of the Bible, just a stones throw away from the Book of Revelation. The letters of the New Testament deserve more time an energy around understanding than we usually give them. There was a time where I wanted to reject all the letters of Paul – but somehow that’s not really an option when you are a priest. So I’ve spent time with those letters and I have struggled with those letters. Above all, I hear those letters in light of the Gospel of Christ and the Good News: God loves you and we should love others.

My husband and I model our relationship as best we can on what our beliefs tell us–which more than anything means following a certain ethical and moral belief that we are both human, created in God’s image, and loved beyond belief by that God. It’s not the easiest thing mid-fight, but we always eventually get back there. We try to live by our vows: love, support, sicker, poorer – that sort of thing. We were fairly traditional in our wedding, and we used vows straight out of the Book of Common Prayer. We said the exact same vows to one another, not variations based on gender roles. We entered into our marriage as equals because we believe we were created by God as equals.

We don’t share in everything equally. I do more laundry; he has taken out the trash exponentially more than I have. Heavy lifting tends to be his ball game (I have a herniated disc and an excessive amount of laziness), and most things that involve small motor skills are mine (delicacy is not his strong suit). He edits my papers and writing, and I help him sift through piles of poetry to find that one that has a spark of uniqueness. I don’t think it is ever 50-50. Last night he said to me that he thinks I do more of the housework; that’s probably true, but he has brought me a cup of coffee in bed almost every morning that we have been together for which I am eternally grateful. He is a morning person, and I am a night person, who is desperately trying to be a morning person. He has to drag me out the door to run, while I drag him to yoga classes. He meditates for thirty minutes every morning, while i sit and sip my coffee and play games on my iPhone. We are so different and so complementary. We never sat down and divided out the housework but found the natural patterns for our home. We each have different skill sets, different things that matter to us in the home; between all that 90% of stuff gets done. I know we are still finding our routines, still evolving. Children will throw another wrench into our system whenever we are blessed by THAT chaos entering our lives. We are just a few days shy of our one year anniversary. I doubt our relationship will look the same in seventeen years. I might be idealistic in my young age – enjoying the honeymoon of new matrimony. But even before we were married I knew that our lives were smoother when we compromised.

I have always been a determined and bossy person. That was apparent ever since I could talk. I am stubborn, strong-willed, and always right. That doesn’t fly in a relationship. I have more than one failed relationship in my past attesting to that. You see, Candace compares her marriage and the need to be submissive to the military and government, citing the chain of command and the need for one president etc., I cringe on so many different levels hearing that. For starters it reminds me of American ignorance, as though our system of government were the only functional one in the world – not to mention the fact that while our military has a chain of command our government has a system of checks and balance that attempts to give the three branches of government equal voice and vote in our country. I cringe to think of a marriage modeled after the military. If your only concern is function and safety I’m sure it works. But isn’t it missing the whole point of marriage?

I would never base my marriage on the letters of Paul. For starters, 1 Peter wasn’t even written by Paul but by a follower some time after Paul’s death. More importantly, Paul valued celibacy above and beyond marriage. He thought that the second coming of Christ was so imminent that there was no need to create an earthly family. If one really could not resist sexual temptation, then relief could only be found in marriage. If we really want to follow Paul’s teaching and pseudo-teachings on marriage we might as well be celibate because that would actually be biblical. His followers of course internalized these teachings while they attempted to proclaim Christianity to non-Christian communities. They competed with pagan belief systems that promoted submissive wives, and everything written is colored with the historical marker of evangelism. So to compete with the popular culture of the time and still proclaim the radical teachings of Christ, Paul and his followers tried to give a message that would be attractive, appealing, and acceptable. Even then one was not free of politics, and the Bible is yes, inspired by God – but that doesn’t mean that our humanity didn’t creep in there too.

There is a really fantastic moment on the Simpsons when Ned Flanders, the devout good-doer Christian neighbor of Homer, falls on his knees in the sanctuary and cries “Why me, Lord? I’ve always been good. I don’t drink or dance or swear, I’ve even kept kosher just to be on the safe side. I’ve done everything the Bible says! Even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!” How easily a cartoon summarizes the plight we all face (though to be fair it’s mostly a retelling of Job’s story): living biblically is living in a world of contradictions. Rather than trying to live biblically we might be better off trying to live as Christians. A good place to start is with love and with forgiveness, which every marriage could profit from.

For those hungry for scripture I offer this:

Luke 14:7-11

7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, `Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, `Friend, go up higher’; then you  will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

If I were to base my marriage on something biblical I would start here. I would start with the need to humble ourselves. Put another way, we both give 60% and expect to receive 40%. When we both do that, when we both join in self-sacrificing, it is then that we experience the glory of God found in our love of one another. It is there where we find tender moments of love and beauty in the midst of the mess and the bills. I’m sure Candace feels that sense of love in giving to her husband, but what does it mean when it is not given to her? Husbands are not God and should not be treated as such (in my house, I tend to be the one who needs reminding that I’m not God). Marriage is about two people joining equally together in relationship and commitment, and if that doesn’t match up with all scripture but matches with the heart of Christ’s message then, well, I’m ok with that.

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