A new Jerusalem.

CWWcommunion

The following sermon was offered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 19, 2019.

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35
Psalm 148

 

This morning I want to read a passage to you

from the book City of God, written by Sara Miles.

Sara is a lay woman who had a conversion

experience when she received communion

at an Episcopal church.

 

As she returned to her seat,

the Spirit spoke to her very clearly:

“Feed my people.”

 

Sara has founded a dozen or more

food ministries in Northern California.

 

She writes: “While God is remarkably

flexible about showing up anywhere –

in the desert, in a manger, in a burning bush,

or in a prison cell – the eyes of my own faith

see the most on urban streets.

For me, paradise is a garden,

but heaven is a city.


Though prophets tend to describe the

heavenly city with fantasy-Barbie imagery

that leans heavily on golden robes,

sparkling fountains, and precious stones,

the actual urban place I’ve lived in for

more than twenty years –

the Mission District of San Francisco –

has changed my view of heaven.

 

I begin to see how the new Jerusalem

might look less like a pious Disneyland

and more like – well, like the “New Jerusalem” bodega

run by Syrian Christians that I trudge past

on my way to work, its dingy pink front

plastered over with Miller beer signs,

its enthusiastic, unshaven owner waving

and smiling each new day as he opens the door

to welcome in a straggling, polyglot parade of

school kids, nurses, winos and day laborers.


I begin to see that city-ness,

not necessarily prettiness,

might be a characteristic sign of heaven.

The city of God is a place so mixed,

so layered, and apparently impure

that it proclaims a love vaster than

humans can come up with on their own.

 

A place as surprising and generous as the sheet

of formerly unclean food in the Book of Acts

that turns Peter from heaven’s gatekeeper

into its dazzled servant.

This is not unlike our ministry here in the

midst of community, in a neighborhood

that is becoming increasingly diverse.

It speaks to the divine wisdom of welcoming

everyone, regardless of social status,

race, intellectual ability or creed.

 

In God’s economy there is room for

all of creation, there is room for all of

his created beings.

`What God has made clean,

you must not call profane.’

What God has created,

you must not call godless.

 

With God’s grace we make room in

our hearts and our lives for whatever

and whomever he sends our way.

 

When the busy-ness of our “messy Jesus business”

begins to take over, we must be prepared to remind

one another and call one another to that place

of “wild inefficiency,” making room for the Spirit

to do her work of healing and grace.

 

We preach the gospel through love.

 

Last week we explored the “wildly inefficient”

model of compassion at work in L’arche

communities around the world,

communal living partnerships that

bring together the intellectually disabled with

those longing to find connection and community.

 

We find our true and best selves in the other.

We encounter the living Christ in the

face of our neighbors.

 

Here at St. Mary’s it is easy to

get caught up in the urgency of

all the work that needs to be done.

 

Grounds and gardens need

tending and care.

Repairs must be done.

Bills must be paid.

Food must be picked up from

grocery partners.

Pantry shelves must be stocked

and restocked.

 

Volunteers are trained and

bring leadership to a perpetual cycle

of food-in and food-out.

Those coming for groceries must be greeted,

signed in and directed.

 

This week one of our volunteers

leaned into that model of

“wildly inefficient compassion.”

She was the only volunteer available for

handling reception and check-in

for pantry friends coming for food.

 

It was the kind of morning where I’d be

tempted to move them through quickly,

signed up, signed in, pertinent data recorded.

The word “Next!” could easily replace a

genuine welcome, an “inefficient” but much

needed inquiry.

 

In the midst of busy-ness, this volunteer

sensed a need for pastoral care.

She made space for tending a hurting child of God.

 

Our volunteer learned that this

first-time pantry visitor was experiencing

tremendous grief from the recent loss not only

of her husband but also of a grandchild,

who died at birth.

These losses came within weeks of each other.

 

As the matriarch of her family, our new friend

felt great pressure to exhibit strength,

to be the “rock” for her family in the midst

of loss and tragedy.

 

If that weren’t enough, she became the victim of

a landlord scam when she sought to downsize

her home, adjusting to life without her husband.

 

Our front desk volunteer came to me.

“I think I have one who would benefit

from a few moments of your time.”

 

It was a humbling privilege to listen

to her pour her heart out as she shared

her journey if the past several weeks.

“I could use a hug,” she said as

we prepared to pray.

 

Her tears wet my sleeve and reminded me

for some time after her departure of

what a holy gift she brought.

I thanked her for coming, for reminding

me of what is most important.

For being willing to share her pain

with someone she had only just met.

 

Right now our new friend she is staying

at a local shelter where I used to spend

several hours each week,

being available to listen to clients or staff.

The busy-ness and legitimate demands of

our growing ministry have gotten in the way

of that space.

 

Still, I sense the Spirit at work and know

that a long-held dream of trained spiritual

companions will be realized.

Our vision of St. Mary’s includes

providing training and support to those

called to engage in such ministry,

not just on our campus but in our streets and

in our shelters.

 

I feel energized — and hope that you do too –

to do the work of creating the infrastructure and

space to allow this to come into being.

This summer we will welcome 2 seminarians

who will gain hands-on experience in this

ministry of compassionate presence.

 

In addition, we are in conversation with the diocese

to offer 4-day residential training experiences

for deacons-in-training and lay persons who

may sense a call to this form of ministry.

 

There is no substitute for sticking

your toe in the water, to bring clarity

to a sense of calling.

Frankly I don’t know how else to do it.

 

As our friend Barbara Brown Taylor writes

in her book Finding an Altar in the World:

 

“My life depends on becoming

more fully human, trusting that there is

no way to God apart from real life

 in the real world.”

 

Whether your work is here in the

food ministry or in other places

along the highways and by-ways,

know that God dwells with you.

You are his hands and feet,

creating a new Jerusalem —

a city of God marked by

acts of love.

Amen.

 

 

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Alleluia! The unexpected happens.

ShaySunrise

(Photo taken by my good friend Bill Shay in Fernandina Beach, FL)

 

 

 

 

 

The Rev. Cn. Beth Tjoflat offered
this sermon at St. Mary’s
Episcopal Church
(Jacksonville, FL)
on Sunday, April 21, 2019.

 

 

Feast of the Resurrection
Isaiah 65:17-25
Acts 10:34-43
Luke 24:1-12
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

 

 

 

 

 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

After our season of Lent,

those Easter alleluias are like a cool

glass of water on a hot day.

 

I want to share a story from this past Thursday –

Maundy Thursday – when we lived into

Jesus’ example of servanthood as

we gathered in the parking lot of

St. Philip’s Church to wash one another’s feet.

Some 200 people participated in this event.

 

I had the privilege of washing the feet of

a gentleman known to our community.

After we chatted a bit, he decided that

he would have his feet washed.

 

He took off his shoes and socks and placed

his feet in the bin of soft, warm water

as I took a seat across from him.

 

When I began moving water over his feet and

ankles, he became quiet and still.

I looked up to find him, wiping his eyes.

“Forgive me for being emotional,” he said.

“I was certainly not expecting this.

That you would do this for me…” he said,

as his voice trailed off.

 

I held my hands out in front of me, level.

“We are all the same, no one higher than the other.”

He nodded in agreement.

 

Even as we went on to chat about family,

about Easter traditions,

he periodically shook his head and

offered the same refrain: “I was not expecting this.”

“I’m going to tell my children about this,” he said,

as he rose to leave.

He went home, amazed at what had happened.

 

The prophet Isaiah promises a new

heaven and a new earth.

Where we build houses and live in them.

Where all people have what they need

to live healthy, abundant lives,

well into old age.

Don’t we love these reassuring promises?

 

But first, there is the matter of the tomb.

The women came to the tomb,

in the darkest part of the morning.

They simply wanted to prepare Jesus’ body

with spices.

They were perplexed to find the stone

rolled away, the tomb empty except,

for discarded linens.

In another version of this Gospel,

they feared his body had been stolen.

 

Then two men in dazzling white appear:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, he has risen.”

 

These angels remind the women of Jesus’ words,

predicting not only his death but

also his resurrection.

Their words helped the women make sense

of their experience.

 

Then they went quickly to tell the disciples

what they had found.

But no one dared believe this “idle tale.”

It was Peter – the one who first called Jesus Messiah –

who got up and ran to the tomb.

He saw the discarded linen cloths.

There was no sign of Jesus.

Peter went home amazed.

Even with his great faith in the divinity of Jesus,

this was not what he expected.

 

Rarely does life unfold in a way

that we might anticipate.

We need help making sense of our experience.

What is happening to me? we often wonder.

Where is God in all of this?

 

We may find ourselves, looking around,

hoping for signs of the living Christ.

We may find ourselves saying:

“Well, this is certainly not what I expected.”

 

The followers of Jesus get that.

He was not at all what they expected.

For he is a God who is willing not only

to enter into our suffering,

but to suffer himself,

even to the point of death on a cross –

one of the most brutal, merciless forms of

execution this cruel world could dream up.

 

It is so easy to become cynical when we look at

what is happening in our world today.

It can seem as if we have but two choices:

Either accept that the world is going to hell

in a handbasket or wear our faith

like a protective shield that we can hide behind,

soothing ourselves as we ignore all

that is happening around us.

 

Neither of those approaches can truly

satisfy or sustain us.

Certainly neither is sufficient for our

brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka,

struggling to respond to horrific bombings,

targeting churches this Easter morning.

More than 200 people are dead.

More than 500 are injured.

 

Even in the midst of that horror,

rest assured that the light of Christ

will be revealed as that community –

and the world community – come together

to tend the injured and support

all those who mourn.

 

Earlier this month, three predominantly

black churches in Louisiana were

burned to the ground –

a vicious, ignorant crime of hate.

Harry Richard, the pastor of one of those churches,

strives to make sense of the violence in this way:

“I think that God is using these moments

to bring us closer together as a world,

to make us realize that we are all connected

in some form or another.”

 

Christ is alive and he is the light of all people.

He is at work in our social institutions,

even in our political institutions,

and throughout all of creation.

And he is at work in you and me,

in our lives, in our relationships,

in our families and our work.

 

If we are honest we have to admit that

at times we are afraid of the light.

Given a choice, we’d prefer that certain things

remain hidden or be forgotten.

 

We lament the divisions that have risen up

in our world, in our country,

even in our churches and families.

At the same time, we are quick to

vilify the other, to make wrong those

with whom we disagree.

It is easier than looking at our own pettiness,

our own darkness.

 

What if, instead of condemning the other,

we could acknowledge our common ground

in weakness and failed efforts?

 

The power of sharing common experience

is foundational to 12-step programs.

Alcoholics or addicts, whose disease often

will not allow them to receive help,

experience a break-through when they hear

a story similar to their own.

Uttering the words “Me too” can mark

the beginning of a transformed life.

There is hope in finding we are not alone

or unique in our difficulties.

 

Jesus is a savior in whom we can trust,

not in spite of his suffering but because of it.

He suffered for us to and through the point of death,

and yet death did not overcome him.

 

My friends, there is no escaping the light.

It may look like darkness and death are winning,

But rest assured that the light of Christ shines

most brightly in the darkness.

 

I am so inspired and humbled by the work

we are doing here in community.

Your faithfulness and hands-on engagement

allow me to see the risen Christ daily.

 

This new heaven and new earth are

being built, one day at a time, through our connection

with one another, and with all who set foot

on this holy ground.

 

Even in the midst of suffering – our own and that

which we are privileged to witness –

we can rest assured that He is risen and

He walks among us still.

Amen.

 

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Woke by Jesus.

FootWashing

This sermon was offered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, FL, on Sunday, April 7, 2019

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8
Psalm 126

 

May I speak in the name of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our readings this morning are rich.

Isaiah and the Psalm speak of God’s promises.

He provides water in the wilderness.

He gives drink to those who are thirsty.

And those who have sowed with tears

will reap with joy.

 

In the letter to the Philippians,

Paul speaks of placing all of his

confidence in Christ.

Anything else – including his accomplishments,

his gifts and his privilege –

he counts as rubbish.

 

For those of us who have experienced a

high degree of security in life:

a nice place to live;

a loving family and community of friends;

meaningful work to do and success

in a chosen profession,

it can be challenging to let go of

our dependence on our ability to create

as our source of security.

 

Yet Paul understands that reliance on Jesus

is the heart of any true and abiding sense

of well-being.

He alone is the source by which we thrive.

 

In many Gospel stories, Jesus’ followers are slow

to grasp the reality of who he is and what

this means for their lives.

Remember earlier in the story of Lazarus,

when Mary sent word to Jesus to come

to Bethany because her brother was ill?

Jesus waits at least 4 days, making a

side trip to Judea first.

He tells his disciples that Lazarus is not ill

but sleeping.

“I am going there to awaken him.”

 

When at last he comes, it is Martha who

goes out to meet him, upset that

he missed the opportunity for healing.

She didn’t imagine in a million years

that Jesus would raise him up,

or free him from the tomb.

 

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus tells her.

Raising Lazarus is the great sign Jesus’ followers

need to walk through the passion.

It is the great sign that sustains us

when we are overcome by darkness.

 

In today’s gospel, we find Lazarus

sitting at table with family and friends,

breaking bread with his cousin Jesus.

An ordinary scene on the heels of an

extraordinary event.

 

There is an intimacy in the way Jesus

interacts with those he meets,

whether they are strangers or

well known to him.

He is compassionate yet

doesn’t mince words.

His directness is both unsettling and also

strangely freeing.

 

Remember the Samaritan woman at the well?

Jesus is direct with her in such a way that

she freely acknowledges her many marriages.

She is not shamed by this encounter

but instead is set free.

In her conversation with Jesus,

she had nothing to hide behind,

no reason to pretend she was something more.

 

In our society, we are trained to work hard

to build up ourselves and our lives.

This may serve us for a while,

but, at some point, we need this scaffolding

to be stripped away.

We need to make room to find our true selves

and to honestly connect with and be seen

by others.

 

In today’s Gospel, Mary has seen Jesus in action

and she knows exactly who he is: the Messiah.

The Anointed One sent to make a way

home for all of us.

Jesus tells us she had purchased the

costly perfume made of nard,

anticipating the need to prepare him for burial.

She is motivated by love to pour this perfume

over him, while he is yet with them.

 

This beautiful, loving gesture

required vulnerability and risk.

Part of her must have wondered:

“Who am I to anoint my savior?

To caress his feet?”

 

About 20 years ago, a dear friend of mine,

Vincent O’Hara, was nearing the end of his life.

He had been hospitalized for a long time

for a degenerative illness and then,

through a mishap, was deprived of oxygen.

He was no longer conscious, his body kept alive

through feeding tubes and a respirator.

 

Vincent was a gifted counselor and fiercely

devoted friend.

He helped countless adolescents and young

people who struggled with various forms of addiction.

 

Deeply intuitive, he was a man of few words,

gifted at asking just the right question

at just the right time.

He was gentle yet disarmingly direct —

it was as if he stared into the depths of your soul.

His thick Irish brogue and wicked

sense of humor amplified his gifts.

 

I was living in California when I received

a call about his deteriorating condition.

On a trip home I had the chance to visit Vincent

for several hours over the course of a week.

I told him stories and sang to him.

I imagined that I could feel his spirit,

speaking to me (still with that Irish brogue).

 

One interaction will stay with me forever.

His dear friend Philip was at his bedside

when I arrived.

After we chatted a bit, Phillip took out a towel and

small basin and lathered up Vincent for a shave.

It was tender the way he cared for him.

 

Soon other friends wandered in,

and we began sharing Vincent stories.

After a time, Phillip took a towel and dried

Vincent’s freshly shaven face.

Then he looked up at me:

“Would you like to wash his hair?”

 

It felt surreal as I rose to go to the bedside,

to stand near Vincent’s head.

Tentative, at first, I wet his salt-and-pepper curls

and then applied the shampoo.

 

As I washed his hair I felt a level of connection

that is hard to describe.

It was as if I was suspended in this holy,

sacred moment, even as our friends

continued to chat in the background.

 

In some way, it was as if we were preparing

our friend for burial,

a loving acknowledgement of a life well-lived,

a nod to a great man who poured himself out for

young people, many of whom had been

rejected by their families.

 

Next Sunday – Palm Sunday –

we will commemorate the passion of Christ.

This will mark the beginning of Holy Week,

as we walk with Jesus through those final days

of betrayal, abandonment and death,

as we prepare to celebrate his

glorious resurrection.

 

Our work here at St. Mary’s is very much

about caring for the poor.

But I want to invite us to

bring our focus to Jesus –

to abandon ourselves to him

as the center of our lives –

as we conclude our Lenten observance.

 

On the night before Jesus was handed over,

he said: “Unless I wash you,

you have no part in me.”

 

I want to invite you to join us on

Thursday of Holy Week as we gather

in the parking lot of St. Phillips church.

We will share fellowship and prayer as

we wash one another’s feet –

and the feet of those who come —

whoever they might be and wherever they might

find themselves on the journey of faith.

 

This is a holy, sacred space.

It requires mutual vulnerability and

mutual trust.

It is a place where Jesus meets us.

And it is a place where we meet him

in the faces of both strangers and friends.

Amen.

Posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, community, Episcopal church, faith, Grace, holy, love, Recovery, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

In the darkest of times, love prevails.

TheotokasTjoflat

This sermon was offered by the
Rev. Cn. Beth Tjoflat at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, FL,
on the Second Sunday in Lent
(March 17, 2019).

 

Lessons:
Genesis 15:1-2, 17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35
Psalm 27

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Amen.

 

In this morning’s Gospel from Luke,
Jesus does not mince words as
he calls out Herod and the Pharisees,
who pretend to come with good intentions.

His words “You tell that fox for me,
‘Listen, I am casting out demons and
performing cures’” indict Herod and the
Pharisees who are acting on his behalf.
Better to run Jesus out of town than
to have to deal with the whole mess.

This brief Gospel lesson is steeped in conflict –
an essential component of any abiding story.
Jerusalem – a city that is grounded in holiness –
is at the same time a city with an earned reputation
for killing those sent by God.

When Jesus speaks tenderly and longingly
of gathering the children of Jerusalem
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
he speaks with the love and care of a devoted mother.

When he is confronted with violence
— with certain death —
his response is love.

This past week has brought senseless violence
to the forefront of our concerns once again.
On the global stage, we learned with horror
of the massacre of 50 Muslims in New Zealand,
faithful people gunned down while at prayer.

This violence was perpetrated by a man
|steeped in extremist, racist ideology.
Our hearts are heavy.
It is tempting to shut down in the face of
one more display of evil and hate.

Closer to home, Sherry, a dear member of our
Church Without Walls community was killed
by her boyfriend.
Our community is visibly shaken.
Hopeful hearts are broken.

We had watched Sherry and walked with her
as she struggled with addiction,
as she struggled to find solid footing
for building a life.

I remember one Sunday, some months ago,
after another friend had died from an overdose,
Sherry came to see me.
“I don’t know if I can take any more of this,”
she told me.

I know Sherry is not alone in that sentiment.
I have heard it time and again.
I have felt it myself and
know that you have, too.

Church is meant to be a sanctuary –
a safe place.
With the help of the Holy Spirit,
we create a space that is strong enough and
resilient enough to hold all that affects us:
the challenges and struggles;
the pain and confusion;
our hurts and our regrets;
as well as our hopes and dreams
for renewal and transformation,
not just for ourselves
but for our world.

No matter how we do the math,
the answer is always, always love.
Jesus embraces and loves those who
in a heartbeat would kill him.
He sees beyond hate.
He sees beyond fear.

He knows and loves each and
every of us –
whether perpetrators or victims
or bystanders –
because he created us all.

When terrible things happen,
look for the love.
That is where you’ll find Jesus.

Yesterday I read a column written by
Molly Pascal, a member of the Tree of Life
synagogue – the Jewish congregation
in Pittsburgh that fell victim to a
hate crime less than six months ago.
Eleven congregants were killed.
Several others were wounded.

Molly wrote about the immediate outpouring
of support from the Muslim community.
More than $240,000 was raised in days
to help survivors and the families of victims.

Members of the Muslim community led a
peaceful patrol in the streets,
helping their Jewish brothers and sisters
feel safe enough to walk to worship in the
aftermath of that tragedy.

And that’s what we are – brothers and sisters.
The Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths –
we all descend from Abraham.

As Christians, our mission is to show people Jesus.
We do that most palpably and most
effectively through love.

Several years ago, I visited a large Episcopal
church in downtown Boston.
Shortly after the Boston marathon, that
congregation did what some thought
was radical – they opened their basement,
so a nearby Muslim congregation could
meet and worship there;
they were desperate for a place to meet and pray
where they could feel safe.
This gesture was offered quietly,
without fanfare or publicity of any kind,
because that is what was needed.

It is this kind of “throw caution to the wind” love
that gives us the strength and courage to
move forward from difficult, even tragic, situations.

This is just as true for personal life events
as it is for happenings that affect the
wider community.

In her book Rising Strong, about how we find
the strength to get up after being knocked down
by life, social researcher Brene Brown said this:
“We move what we are learning
from our heads
to our hearts
through our hands.”

Here at St. Mary’s, we are writing a new story.
It gets messy sometimes, but it is
beautiful and holy.

We invite others to join us,
to live out the gospel through study,
prayer and worship that leads to
tangible action, caring for each other
and for those who are struggling.

My experience is that this kind of ministry
feeds us and blesses us in the best of times.

Yet when the going gets tough,
we having meaningful work to do.
We can lean into ministries, dedicated
to the lost and the forgotten.
This grounds us and anchors us.
As we work together, we discover and
remember that Jesus is alive.

We are assured that, even in the darkest of times,
love prevails.
Love prevails.
Amen.

 

 

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A hard woman is good to find.

leafimprint

(Photo taken while hiking the Rockdale River Trail near Conyers, GA.)

The events of the day and the brutal culture we live in make my heart feel heavy and sad. What is played out in the media and in our communities and institutions makes me angry for what has been and what is and at the same time hopeful for what can be. I pray for anyone who has felt dismissed or silenced in any way, who has been trampled or trod upon by unchecked power.

My mother was a brilliant woman. She graduated summa cum laude from Duke University. She was also a product of her generation and of the South.  From an early age I learned, often just from her posture or expression, that women who spoke up for themselves or fought for themselves were diminished in some way. It felt nearly as punitive and costly as being a “loose” woman.

I remember watching as a female member of our congregation – a friend’s mother and a prominent lawyer’s wife – was shunned when she took a stand for equality for women. That’s when I heard my mother say under her breath: “She’s so hard.” The stakes seemed so high that I felt terrified for this woman. I watched as she stood tall and made her way to the communion rail with dignity, while people looked on with dismay. I was in awe of her courage and fierce determination.

By the time I was 29, I sat across from my mother in a local restaurant. I was in the scary and exhilarating process of making significant life changes. Newly divorced, I would be moving across the country to pursue my dream of being a writer. It felt incredibly risky. The costs were high. If not for the adrenalin-infused excitement of pursuing a dream, I likely would have succumbed to self-doubt, to shame, to the real or imagined judgements of other more restrained and reasonable folks.

Before we ordered, my mother lowered her menu and caught my gaze with a directness that was unsettling. “I’d give anything if I’d done at your age what you are doing now.” She spoke quietly but clearly.  And then she raised her menu back up and said no more about it. It was a quick but powerful gift, an assurance that honoring myself was not just important but essential. My mother helped me gather a sense of myself that perhaps eluded her. My prayer, now that she’s gone, is that she too found a semblance of healing and wholeness in that moment.

Since that time, my mother’s words “she’s so hard” have been reframed from a place of judgement (harsh, severe, unfriendly) to one of strength and resilience. Being a hard woman today requires perseverance and effort. It requires persistence and the companionship of other human beings who can identify with being dismissed or diminished for simply honoring who they are.

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“I don’t recall asking.”

My friend Spencer taught me something invaluable. Whenever someone would ask for his listening ear, he would stop them at the beginning and say: “Did you want feedback, or did you just want me to listen?”

I have stolen this from my friend and find that 80-90 percent of the time, folks just want me to listen, without judgement or advice-giving. This shouldn’t surprise me.

In my experience as a chaplain and spiritual director, this is the gift folks crave so deeply, especially in our culture of constant feedback.  I appreciate so much the chance to let you know what I need.

Unfortunately, too often lately I have encountered people who feel the need to tell me what they think I should do or, even more jarring, who they think I am. As a priest of 2 congregations and a single-parent of a very complex, mostly delightful but not infrequently challenging 7-year-old boy, I make this simple request: Please stop. What you perhaps mean to be helpful actually hurts.

Stop with assuming that you have a clue about what my motives are, what I may be thinking, or what my son may need. Especially if you have never had so much as a cup of coffee with me. Or with my child. Same goes if you have never attended a worship service with us. Or walked alongside me in my work, when I am tending a victim of domestic abuse or one struggling with addiction. Or when I’ve had the holy privilege to hear a murder confession. Please stop insisting I be in my office, behind my desk, always at the ready for you to pop in and give me your 2 cents worth. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a visit. But there may be more pressing work to be done.

On the other hand, if you feel called to reach out, if you are looking for a patient, nonjudgmental presence, I may be your gal.

I’m sorry if my “tone” seems too caustic or harsh for your liking. Thank you for indulging my venting – I’ve been carrying this for a while.   Pray for me and forgive me if that is what is indicated for your spiritual health and the well being of our relationship. We are all human beings in need of love and grace. No exceptions here.

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Rough edges and grace.

(photo taken at Our Little Roses home in Honduras.)

(photo taken at Our Little Roses home in Honduras.)

Today was a glorious day at Church Without Walls. The sun shone brightly, warming us up just enough after a chilly night. We had blankets and other items to share thanks to the generosity of our national church. Dear friends provided lunch and a delicious cake to enjoy. We had visitors from as far as Keystone Heights.

When I arrived to set up, I was tired and short-tempered. One of my failings is overwork and, if I am not intentional about it, I overextend. Loading a 6-foot table, flats of water and about 150 pounds of blankets into the jalopy didn’t help. This morning we had a skeleton crew as several regular helpers were away tending to family and other business. Nonetheless, I reminded myself that things always come together, and any “void” in staffing often allows space for others. To my delight a regular congregant, who usually stays on the edge of things, stepped up and ran the Java Jalopy coffee service. Others took care of set-up and clean up.

As we were getting ready for church, two of our folks got in a loud “discussion,” about what I do not know. With less restraint than usual I inserted myself loudly: “This is church!” There were some opinions voiced back-and-forth about who started it. “Makes no difference to me,” I said. “This is church, and we aren’t having this today. That is more than I can handle.” I am not sure I would be so quick next time but the correction seemed to silence the argument and divert the congregants to other business.

Worship was meaningful, with prayers voiced throughout the congregation. At the end of the service, we prayed for four birthday folks and sang happy birthday to “all y’all.” Lunch and cake went relatively smoothly. But then came time to share blankets. I asked those who were housed to allow those sleeping outside to receive first, to make sure they would be covered. During this messy and somewhat chaotic process one of our homeless folks, who had just received a blanket, started fussing at someone who was in line: “You aren’t homeless. That’s not right.” Back and forth they went. I interjected: “We’ll have enough, don’t worry.” The homeless friend kept shouting, and I shouted back: “Let’s not do this!”

As he kept up with the fussing, something told me to go to him, to put an arm around him. As I did, he leaned against me and began to weep. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he repeated as big tears landed on his slice of cake. “Its okay,” I told him. He voiced shame and sadness and grief. We found a shady spot where we could sit. He shared from his heart as he gave voice to the demons that plagued him. We prayed and laughed and shared. I am so grateful I stopped fussing long enough to listen to what was beneath the argumentativeness.

This is privilege in its highest form: to walk with others who are wounded and longing for connection just like me. This encounter was a gift. It taught me that, when I am short-tempered, I might go to place of curiosity rather than shame. It reminded me to listen to my heart and make room for untended needs.

Pause. Take a breath. Look around. Teachers are everywhere and grace abounds.

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Coming together.

(Photo of beautiful plant gifted to me last year by my young friend Dorothy)

(Photo of beautiful plant gifted to me last year by my young friend Dorothy)

In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando (and every other recent and incomprehensible tragedy), it is hard to feel anything other than profound sadness. I want to make room for this overwhelming sense of grief and yet I worry about lapsing into a place of deep despair.

This is not unlike feelings that arose in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That day forced us to make room for possibilities that we had successfully avoided. It helps me now to recall how my immediate community moved in the wake of that shock and loss.

Instinctively we knew what to do, and we know now. Late that afternoon the neighborhood 12-step meeting, which usually had 30 attendees, swelled to 70 or more. This continued day after day as we felt the visceral need to circle the wagons, to be with others, to remember that we need not walk alone. We must reach out to community, whether they be coworkers, neighbors or whomever we find ourselves in proximity to. We must not walk alone.

As we came together at dusk on 9/11, no one thought about political leanings, sexual orientation or social standing. All potential barriers fell away. We were human beings on a shared journey. Human beings affirmed, comforted and encouraged by the simple act of coming together.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p 815)

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Lasting impressions.

(Photo taken while hiking the Rockdale River Trail near Conyers, GA.)

(Photo taken while hiking the Rockdale River Trail near Conyers, GA.)

This week I was blessed to spend time with folks from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. In spite of our differences, we share a common desire to live in the life-giving flow of the One who created us all and to have a positive impact on the world around us.

I am grateful to share in the company of such humble and generous folk, to experience simple encounters that don’t seem like much at first glance but that work their way into the psyche, into the soul, to change us forever.

This afternoon I had such an experience, finding myself with an hour or so to share a meal with three colleagues, two known to me and one new. We each shared bits and pieces of our lives and vocational longings and, in the course of the hour, the seemingly disparate threads of our lives were woven together to create colorful strands of connection and identification. I feel rich in friendship and blessed to so quickly find common ground.

Then, as seamlessly as we gathered, we disbanded to find our flights. I find myself not only encouraged in the work but also changed for the better, and I know I am in good company.

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A thing of beauty.

(With my dear friends Darlene and Natalie in North Carolina)

(With my dear friends Darlene and Natalie in North Carolina)

The past few months have been a time of rich movement in my life. I have been engaged on multiple levels, which would not be possible without a willingness to let go. The focus that this season requires has meant that my blogging has been on the back burner. Even now, I have little to say but want to stretch into the realm of connection.

Last month some dear friends took me white water rafting – an experience that can be a metaphor for my journey of late. It has been exhilarating and enlivening, something akin to taking in fresh air and warm sunshine. It has also been nerve-wracking to face what at times has seemed impossible. My boat has taken on water and the paddling has grown awkward as I try to detect the sure cadence and flow of the river, as I pull against churning water. But good friends and wise guides have been in the raft with me all along the way, and they are here still.

As I pause on the riverbank and rest a spell, a deep gratitude is welling inside me. It is a good thing to make room for new experiences, new adventures. It is a good thing to be alive. It is a thing of beauty.

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