Tuesday, August 31, 2010
O God, the King Eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Monday, August 30, 2010
I like how the many neighborhoods in Manhattan are distinctive from one another. Some feature more trees, others more bars, still others more brownstones and residences with names chiseled into granite above the doorways. But most of New York, in whatever neighborhood, features movement and color and noise.
In Washington Heights there are many street vendors, taxis whizzing along Broadway, people sitting out on the sidewalk in folding chairs to escape the heat inside, little vegetable markets set up under awnings selling all sorts of "ethnic" or "exotic" edibles. On weekend nights the noise from karaoke bars spills out into the street.
On the Lower East Side, a drumming circle is set up in Tomkins Park beside the handball courts, and folks walking their dogs pause to chat with one another, adding their voices to the drums-and-balls percussion. On the side streets, musicians play in bars - guitars, mandolins, bodhrans, fiddles - and the music drifts out in the streets every time the door opens.
In the subway stations all over town, the trains clatter down the tracks, the express trains zooming by on the express tracks beside the local trains that screech into the station and puff out some brake noise before opening their doors with a jolt. On the trains themselves, the noise is slightly more muted unless someone is listening to an iPod with the sound jacked up, and one can hear the voices of people speaking in many languages, discussing at which stop they should get off the train, mixed in with the occasional announcements from the conductor (which may or may not be understandable). On the air conditioned trains, the windows are closed and it's quieter - I remember from years go the local trains with open windows - boy, that was loud!
But there are also places of tranquility. There are little pocket gardens all over town - community plots for growing flowers, benches provided by the residents of nearby apartments in shady spots away from the street. I stopped into one across the street from the Cathedral of St John Divine that featured two folding chairs tucked up under some mid-size trees as if they'd been hidden in a secret spot under the hedge, with a table in between and umbrellas (personal rain umbrellas, not the restaurant table kind) perched over each seat. There are the quiet museums and the lobbies of banks. It seems that in every neighborhood, somewhere there is a place where one can find at least a smidgen of peace.
Relentless noise is not good for the soul. Those who cannot find a respite from the noise suffer, whether they know it or not. We all need a little peace sometimes.
O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Sunday is for church.
I went to the Cathedral of St John Divine this morning for their choral Eucharist. Aside from it being rather warm in there (I thought stone cathedrals with stone floors and stone walls and chairs without cushions would be cool, but no), it was a lovely service. Incense, lots of processing, beautiful singing, a soaring organ, that cool way that sounds reverberate throughout the building in a stone cathedral. There was a good sized crowd, too, and many good singers in the congregation.
It was nice to sit in the pew and take it all in on the last Sunday before I start working every Sunday for three months.
Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that Holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth. Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfullment of their humanity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Friday, August 27, 2010
I am headed off to New York for a few days to do some churchy research and visit friends. And of course take photographs and encounter all kinds of things I will want to write about at some point. Posting will be sporadic, again, although prayers should show up every day, both here and in our lives.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I am fed up with the news. I am fed up with church news and politics and just about all of it. I am avoiding the New York Times and NPR except for the occasional glance at some headlines and snippets of the top stories for the hour but I'm not reading/listening to the stories. I'm glancing at the church headlines on blogs and not reading the posts. I know that there are horrors continuing in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan; I think I can't comprehend the details any more.
Not because I'm sticking my head in the sand but because I just want to think about something else while everybody is wringing hands and shouting at one another and spreading all kinds of misinformation and hysteria, because none of that stuff seems real to me any more, at least not right now.
I see real life going on all around me and it doesn't have anything to do with the news. People are going through heartbreak, people are living through difficult transitions, people are searching for some kind of meaning in their lives. That's what's real. As I wrote yesterday, keeping body and soul together is hard. That's what's real to me right now.
My mom's new place has a voluntary program called Stat-check. Each resident's door has a little metal switch on the outside of it. When you press the switch to the right, a red flag appears. When you switch it to the left, the flag is covered up. In the morning when you get up, you open your door and press the switch to the left so the red is covered up. This way your neighbor who is on duty to check everyone's door in the morning will know you're doing ok in there. If you haven't switched your switch, and the flag is still red, your neighbor will knock to see if you're ok, and if you are, then she or he will switch it for you and be on their way. If you don't answer, the staff will telephone you to see if you need any assistance.
Mom is very happy that someone gets up every morning and comes to her door to make sure she is ok. Because of her sight impairment, she probably won't sign up to be a stat-checker herself, but she is glad that others do volunteer for a rotation or two. After living by herself in a house for several years, she is glad to be checked on; she feels safer and cared for by her neighbors. She knows others are concerned with her welfare and are willing to make the effort to put that concern into action. They take time to get up and get dressed and go around the floor making sure the community is accounted for, making sure the neighbors feel safe and cared for.
I just am not seeing all that much concern for community happening out there in the news right now. So for the moment, I'm tuning it out and looking for what's real in the lives of the people I know and care for. I know I'll be back on board with the news soon enough, but for now, I want to look for community instead of lament the lack thereof. I know I will find it if I look around me, here and now.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
We name you king, Lord, sovereign.
We trust you, except
sometimes we do not.
We take matters into our own hands.
We fashion power and authority and sovereignty;
enforced by law and bureaucracy and weapons,
we think to make ourselves safe.
And then learn, staggeringly,
how insufficient is our product,
how thin is our law,
how ineffective is our bureaucracy,
how impotent our weapons.
We are driven back to you - your will,
care for land
care for neighbor
care for future.
We name you king, Lord, sovereign -
and in naming become aware of our status
before you . . . loved, sent, summoned.
We pray in the name of the loved, sent, summoned Jesus.
(Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, 41)
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The other day I stopped at a local fast food joint, one that is located on one of our more colorful neighborhood streets - the strip, really. One never knows who might be in there - street people, kids from the local high school, pillars of one neighborhood or another that borders on the strip. The locale and the restaurants along that street are a kind of stomping grounds for a crazy-quilt community of folks from various races, ethnicities, and classes who may or may not be mentally stable, live in homes, or be able-bodied.
I use the word community deliberately. The other day when I stopped in, I noticed a man walking by my car on the way inside ahead of me. He wore clean clothes and his white sneakers were very clean, too; his socks were pulled up all the way and his shirt was buttoned up all the way, too. There was something about his face and his gait and the way he talked that suggested he had some kind of mental impairment. He and the woman who took his order had a lively conversation about other people in the neighborhood (who had been in that day, particularly) intertwined with the food ordering part.
While he was waiting for his order, another man came in and got in line. This man appeared to be homeless; he wore dirty, torn clothing and his appearance (in stark contrast to the first man) was decidedly disheveled. He was of a different race but he, too, had features suggesting some kind of impairment. During his food ordering process, he and the order-taker/cashier had a discussion about how much food he could get for the $3 and some change that he had balled up in his hand.
The first man greeted the second man warmly, asking how he was doing. The second man replied that he was just trying to keep body and soul together, just trying to get by. The first man nodded knowingly. Yes, he replied, it's hard work just trying to get by, trying to keep body and soul together. They murmured together for another minute or two, each nodding at the other's comments.
I tried to be invisible so I could continue to linger and hear their conversation because I was touched at what I was witnessing - people reaching out to one another, to give encouragement and comfort and support, participating in community with such honesty. But I didn't want to gawk and when my order came up, I took it and headed out.
But all the way home, I thought about the little scene in the fast-food joint. Would that we could all be so understanding and pro-active about the needs of others for human interaction, for compassion, for understanding, for dignity. The scene I witnessed was not the kind of scene I would be likely to come across at the bank over on the "nicer" end of the neighborhood where people had community waiting for them elsewhere - at home or at work or at school. The people at the fast food place were acutely aware of their own needs and the needs of others for human touch and voice and compassion and interaction, the need to eat and the need to feel they have a place in the world, a place where they have companions along their way.
Just keeping body and soul together - it's hard. Amen.
We know about your presence
that fills the world,
that occupies our life,
that makes our life in the world true and good.
We notice your powerful transformative presence
in word and
in food and in water,
in gestures of mercy
and practices of justice,
in gentle neighbors
and daring gratitude.
We count so on your presence
and then plunge - without intending - into your absence.
We find ourselves alone, abandoned, without resources
remembering your goodness,
hoping your future,
but mired in anxiety and threat and risk beyond our coping.
In your absence we bid your presence,
Come to every garden become a jungle
Come to every community become joyless
and sad and numb.
We acknowledge your dreadful absence and insist on your presence.
(Brueggemann: Prayers for a Privileged People, 49)
I wish that when I got these urges to fly through life, checking things off lists left and right, that I would find myself in this garden (at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC) where the pathway meanders and one must pause every now and then both to get one's bearings and to enjoy the overall scene. Where one must go slowly and deliberately, noticing the scenery along the way, seeing how the paths all fit into the bigger picture, even while keeping an eye on an idea that's "out there somewhere" - a focal point off in the distance - through an archway or at the end of a walkway - a fountain or statue or other architectural accent.
In my regular life, I occasionally find myself just trying to reach the end without participating in the journey toward that end. Such is the case for me now, with my mom's move made but now settling in requires more things to check off the list. Do this, buy that, get that taken care of and then we can stop and enjoy.
Fortunately, Mom is not making the journey that way. She's settling in but enjoying the ride - meeting new people and doing new things and not worrying too much about an end or focus in the future. She arranges her photographs and then rearranges them and then sits down to admire the surroundings. Meanwhile, I look at my watch to see if I'm late to pick someone up or checking the list to see what we need to take care of next.
I expect we all do this on occasion. There are times we hurry along, head down, bent on the destination, and other times when we stop to watch the butterflies and savor the sunset. Sometimes someone just has to take care of the details. It's my turn to do that right now; she did it for me long ago when I was new to life, to school, to all kinds of things.
And in fact both the flowers nearby and the interesting destination piece are lovely. Each has its own charm. The overall picture with both pathway and far-away focal point is beautiful in its graceful complexity. One would not be quite the same without the other.
But I can go more gracefully along myself, keeping the long view but enjoying the immediate one as well. I hope to remember that all day today.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Life is very full for me right now. I have many things I'd like to write about but am too tired physically and mentally and emotionally to do so. I went to the beach, I moved my mom out of her home 400 miles away, I moved my mom into her new place near me, I'm helping her get her place put together and preparing to spend much of this week doing things like getting her a TV and cable and phone service and a picture ID and a bank account and the new things the apartment needs. It's fun and hard work and she is appreciative and I am glad to do it. But I don't have a lot of energy to process much (in writing) yet.
This photo is from the day we moved her out of the house in which she lived for 50 years, the house in which I grew up. The butterfly looks rather beaten up with its wings missing edges; it's sipping from an althea bush blossom and it obliged me by posing on several flowers within photo range as Mom was doing the final walk through the house. The althea actually came from the yard of my first house in Atlanta - I dug up a few and replanted them behind the swing on Mom's deck. Now all the planst from Atlanta are in NC and Mom is has left NC for Atlanta.
Life is full. And it's good.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Today my son and I drove over to Harker’s Island and caught a ferry (i.e., a flat motorboat that seats about twelve people) over to Cape Lookout. The ferry leaves from the backyard of the ferryman’s house, which backs up to the sound - one turns into his driveway, parks behind the house, buys a ticket in the garage, and hops on the boat that’s parked in a little slip behind the cars. The ferryman has a great job, assuming he likes living on the sound and driving his boat back and forth to the Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout all day, going along beside dolphins and pelicans and herons, steering the boat between the shifting sandbars, pulling up alongside the wild horses that walk the beaches of the Shackleford Banks (and sometime swim), greeting all the other boat captains and ferrymen by name. He pulls up to the beaches or docks and helps the people get out of the boat and then back in again, people who are really excited about seeing the things he sees every day - the water, the sky, the lighthouse, the animals, the big boats with the pirate flags, the small fishing boats and colorful sailboats. He gets to do this every day and make money on it. My son pointed out the black Corvette parked in the yard, supposing it being the ferryman’s streetside ride.
Our boat out contained two parties, my son and I, and a group that appeared to be made up of a married couple, their daughter and son, and either the husband or wife’s mother and her sister. They were headed over to the Shackleford Banks, where wild horses and lots of birds roam. (The horses are apparently descendants of Spanish Arabians that swam ashore after a 17th century shipwreck, or perhaps they came with Sir Walter Raleigh’s English explorers.)
The ferryman zoomed across the bumpy sound, the wind blowing our hair all around, sometimes making dramatic turns to get us through the sandbars upon which pelicans stood (looking as if they were walking on the water) and then drove us in close to some of the horses grazing on the Banks and pointed out the ones ambling along the beach. Then he drove up to the beach near one end of the Banks and let the other family off, promising to pick them back up at the same spot a couple of hours later.
Then he steered the boat with the two of us left aboard back out into the sound and across to the beach on the other island, the lower end of the Core Banks where the Cape Lookout Lighthouse stands along with a few buildings maintained by the National Park Service. The lighthouse flashes every 15 seconds, day in and day out; it’s shorter than Hatteras and a lot larger than Ocracoke and instead of stripes it features a black and white diamond pattern. Back before the GPS, sailors used the lighthouses not only to keep away from the dangerous shoals but also to note where they were. Thus, each lighthouse has a distinctive day mark (the pattern on the outside of the lighthouse) as well as a distinctive light pattern/sequence.
First, we stopped in the small Lighthouse Keeper’s House Museum. Given that we have visited all but one of the North Carolina lighthouses (we’ve seen the Oak Island Light as we went by on a boat but didn’t visit the light itself), we know a lot about the histories. But it’s always neat to see whatever NPS movie is playing, and this one was both informative and very beautifully filmed. We learned that the outer banks of North Carolina were just sandbars when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, so had he made it to the NC coast, he wouldn’t have even seen them. The barrier islands are slowly moving towards to mainland (remember how the Hatteras Light had to be moved a few years back because the Atlantic side of the beach had eroded while the sound sides were building up?). The Cape Lookout National Seashore seems to be safer and more stable than the other islands, though, apparently because they are uninhabited.
Then we walked across the boardwalk to the Atlantic side of the island and walked down to the actual cape itself, a thick triangle of sand at the end of the island that trickles out into the Atlantic for fifteen miles or so. All along the beach, huge whelks and helmet shells wash ashore right at one’s feet. The Park Service allows each visitor to take away two gallons of shells, so we picked up a couple, only to trade those up for larger or more beautiful shells all along the way. I found one rather large Scotch Bonnet (the state shell), and we saw many clams, scallops and other bivalves, and a few large helmet shells, but the number of huge whelks is amazing.
It was beautiful walking along a nearly deserted shore (once we left the boardwalk area, we only passed eight or ten people in an hour and a half of walking) with the sea oats waving atop the dunes and the diamond patterned black and white light house rising from behind the golden dunes. The ocean was a beautiful blue and the shore was filled with piping plovers and sandpipers feeding furiously as they ran along in front of us. Then the whole flock would rise up into the air and fly across the water to land behind us where they could hunt coquina and sand fleas at a more leisurely pace.
We actually had to rush to get back to the ferry on time (we should have given ourselves an additional hour, something to remember next time). We managed to get there before him, and we waited at the dock until we saw him coming toward us, smiling.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
There is currently a national conversation going on about clergy burnout, based on a couple of articles that have appeared in the New York Times recently. (See here and here.) Clergy themselves talk about this issue and go to seminars that may have a unit on self-care; clergy wellness programs (as referenced in the first Times article) are gaining in popularity. The work I am about to embark on is covering for someone who is taking time out to rest and renew and refresh - a sabbatical, to use the Biblical word for it.
Burnout is not unique to clergy. Lots of people burn out. Teachers, therapists, coaches, lawyers, doctors, volunteers, parents. These generally are people who are very giving folks who for one reason or another run out of gas. Some people burn out very quickly, due to a lethal combination of factors that may include high expectations, poor boundaries, conflict, a misguided desire to be everything for everyone, lone wolfishness, and many others that I'll bet you can think of yourself. For others it comes like an accretion, slowly building up until one day it's all just too much.
I've been privy to some interesting conversations about burnout. There are those who will blame the burnoutee completely. He didn't take care of himself; she was naive about how much time it would take, it's all his or her fault. There are those who think that there is no such thing as burnout, that in their opinion, people don't work hard enough. And I've also heard burnout talked about as some kind of moral failing - he must not have been cut out for this kind of work, she wasn't really very dedicated. They should have had more regard for themselves or they should have had more regard for others. And then, as the second article suggests, there's the belief that people burn out because they are constantly under pressure to sell out and please people instead of following their calling - that burnout can be caused by the congregation itself.
What I usually end up wondering in these conversations is why people (including myself) end up getting so heated up over defending their opinion about burnout. We are invested in our opinions about it big time. I know enough psychology to recognize that sometimes the things we get the most worked up about are things that push our buttons, that hit closest to home. I got into a warm (I won't say heated) exchange with a colleague once who quoted a well-known male theologian whose prescription was that when we're feeling burned out we should go out and help other people. I nearly lost my temper, because I knew that the well-known male theologian has a wife who is dedicated to HIS career and an income and career as a writer that afforded him ample support and time away. What about those single mothers out there? What about man who doesn't have a spouse dedicated to supporting his vocation because she has their own?
Now let me say that my family is supportive of my vocation. So that's not why I was testy. I wondered if it was a gender thing - that women are always told to go out and help other people and not take care of their own needs. But then some men chimed in and said they felt the same way I did. We all agreed to disagree about the subject of burnout and move on to other topics.
As evidenced by the two NYT articles, this is a complicated issue. The fact that the whole story doesn't fit into a sound byte doesn't mean it is incomprehensible, but it is complicated. There are many factors on all sides and some of them have to do with personality, both individual and corporate, history, circumstances, and "fashion." The second article notes that people are consumers in all arenas now, including choosing a church - they are looking for the church to offer them the best service. This is a current fashion. If it's good for choosing a school or a bank, then it should be good for choosing a church.
Everyone loses, though, when people get burned out. The burnee, for sure, but also the people entrusted to the burnee's care. How it happens may be debatable, but the result seems clear, and it's that God's people get hurt.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Tom Coyne dropped out of his "regular life" for four months to live in something of an alternative universe... yes, he was in Ireland playing golf, which many Americans do, but he was doing more than playing golf (and drinking beer). He was purposefully opting out of the prevailing culture (one particularly built around the automobile), to focus on something else, something primal - walking the earth. And for another, he was trying to connect the dots between the wisps of information he had about his distant Irish ancestors, Ireland itself, his personal history of golf (with his father and his own pursuits) and his life. It's a fascinating study and a fun read.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Some of the folks from The Episcopal Cafe created a new Facebook page called: The Episcopal Church Welcome Anne Rice. Quite a few posts have already showed up on the wall. You will note that the page lists its own fan page selection of favorites: Anne Rice, The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Cafe.
See it here.