In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, October 30, 2009

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day
November 1, 2009
A reflection by Janine Goodwin, M.S. Ed., M.A.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the holy spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

I believe in the communion of saints, and I have recently begun to see how little I understand what that means. It goes almost without saying, but not quite, that all people of faith are saints, and that churches celebrate exceptional lives of faith by calling the people who lived them a capital-S Saint. But the communion of saints is what fascinates, puzzles, and sometimes frustrates me. What does it mean to be a part of that communion? What is it like? Behind that lies the question: What does it mean to be a Christian?

Some non-Christians, having had painful experiences with Christians who were busier telling them what they ought to do than showing them Christ’s love, can list negative characteristics of Christians with a clarity and justice that should get more attention, and more repentance, from Christians. Those of us who think we are not like THOSE Christians need, as soon as we think that, to examine our own biases. Some people find it easy to say Christians have certain defining characteristics, though many of them are eager to define those characteristics in ways that exclude other people who also call themselves Christians. Some people, both Christians and non-Christians, assume that Christians always agree with each other: the reality is more like the quiet observation of a former Catholic priest I once met. He said that people asked him what the Catholic position on an issue was, and he could only say that there were a lot of Catholic positions on any issue, some held by the hierarchy and some not. Later on, learning from members of the Order of Preachers, I heard a friar joke, “Two Dominicans, three opinions.”

The communion of saints is certainly not a fellowship of the like-minded, and to prove that, just look at Peter and Paul, whose battle over whether or not to perform surgery on new male Christians prompted the first council of the nascent Christian church. They argued passionately and openly; now they share a feast day, which seems to me to prove a Divine and institutional sense of humor. There is a deep rightness to the linking of Peter and Paul, because in the end, their differences did not divide them. That, for me, is the first clue to what the communion of saints is like. It is also a great relief, because I am not going to agree with Tertullian’s writings about women, nor say there is anything good about them. I have condemned his words as harshly as he condemned women; I cannot imagine what being reconciled to him would mean; yet someday I will be, as Peter and Paul are reconciled.

The exact nature of that reconciliation is what I cannot yet imagine. I take comfort in my growing faith and trust in a God who can love people on both sides of any conflict without downplaying their differences, pretending they don’t matter after all, or requesting that everyone just make nice. Those are human ways of coping, and they don’t work any better than the opposite extreme, which is persecution. People who believe in the communion of saints, but wish to exclude each other, have a shameful history. Having been both an Episcopalian and a Catholic, I have heard stories of Reformation-era martyrs from both sides. Frequently the martyr in one church’s story was the persecutor in another. Thomas More turned Protestants over to be executed for heresy, and was himself executed for treason by Henry VIII for refusing to accept Henry’s sovereignty over the Church of England. More’s response to his execution fascinates me: "albeit your lordships have been my judges to condemnation, yet we may hereafter meet joyfully together in Heaven to our everlasting salvation." This is the sort of generous response that must be treated with care. It could never be asked of someone: it is a gracious gift. It does not diminish the enormity of the judgment, yet it reaches beyond it, and reaches grace.

Several hundred years after More’s death, I was invited to a Vacation Bible School celebration at a Baptist church in which a beloved Catholic child was taking part. Liam’s parents told me the Baptists were very welcoming but couldn’t quite believe that Catholics would come to their VBS. Indeed, when the leader read a list of participating churches, we heard Liam’s parish announced as “St. Thomas More Episcopal Church.” We laughed about it afterward, and told each other that More, the satirist, was laughing too—but if he was, the joke was on us, because he has been listed in the calendar of saints of the Church of England since 1980. That is a moment of institutional grace.

I do not believe our differences and conflicts can be erased or denied. I cannot believe that they are not important. Yet there is something beyond them, something none of us, except perhaps a few of the more mature and perceptive saints, can see without distortion or express without confusion.

Thanks be to the God who can see us, know us, embrace our individuality, and love us all, despite all divisions, and will yet bring us together joyfully in Heaven to our everlasting salvation. Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Proper 25B

A reflection on the readings for Proper 25B: Job 42:1-6, 10-17 or Jeremiah 31:7-9 • Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) or Psalm 126 • Hebrews 7:23-28 • Mark 10:46-52 by The Rev. Crystal Karr

Job lost a bet he never made.
We call him patient.
We call his wife a fool.
His friends call him sinner, hating his sin and begging him to repent and to be healed.
He cries for justice.
He calls for God to face him.
He demands.
He dispairs.
He is not patient.

God comes.
God comes demanding answers.
God speaks from a tornado
God cries too.
God cries the pain of creation.
God cries for what man has said is evil and doom but God loves and made.
God rebukes the friends for they did not speak the truth, they spoke what was easy.
God cries to Job,.
God talks with Job.
God sits with Job.
God heals Job.
God restores Job's wealth.

Job knows injustice.
Job prays for his friends.
Job gathers his friends and family.
Job names his daughters.
Job gives his daughters an inheritence.
Job knows injustice but does what he can.

Job was a good man.
Job knew suffering.
Job knew sorrow.
Job knew pain.
Job knew betrayal.
Job knew that somethings lost can never be replaced.
Job knows that all's well that ends well is just a lie.
Job knows that joy can come again but it doesn't drive all the pain away.
Job knows that flowers can bloom in the shit, but the shit still stinks.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Proper 24B

A reflection on Proper 24B: Job 38:1-7, (34-41) or Isaiah 53:4-12 • Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c or Psalm 91:9-16 • Hebrews 5:1-10 • Mark 10:35-45 The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

I recently resigned from my position as the Rector of a parish. I was there a total of 19 months. I loved my parish and the position I held. It was big, busy, and dynamic. It required intense pastoral care to an aging population, something I am very good at. I preached and presided at over 30 funerals in those months. I comforted many suffering people and their family members too, as the end of life took its toll. I made more visible the children and young families, especially bringing the children into leadership roles in the Sunday morning worship. I tried to work with all the congregation, young and old alike.

My desire to work with all the congregation required navigating a road between those who wanted everything to stay the same and those who were ready for some exploration of life, faith, spirituality, and worship. Within a few months, as that exploration began, we encountered significant resistance from some members to maintain the status quo. Although I received help and advice from a congregational development consultant, our Canon to the Ordinary and my Bishop, and worked on leadership development and discipleship, I came to feel that the congregation could not resolve its conflicts. As a result it would be unable to move beyond the animosity directed to the “new priest.” With my resignation, both my Bishop and I hope that the congregation may have a longer intentional interim period, consider its conflicting desires, and reach a consensus about its values and direction.

The process of resigning, the actual doing of this and living into the aftermath, feels very Jobian to me. There is a lot of suffering within me. I feel a great and heavy sadness. I also feel as if it was the very thing I needed to do. The right and healthy thing for me and my wellbeing was to remove myself from the situation. The right and healthy thing for this congregation, was to remove myself from the situation so that they can do the work they need to do. I felt this deeply in my inner being and in my prayer life.

I am left with a lot of feelings. Feelings of failure. I failed. I was unable to do whatever the right thing was to navigate the conflict and restore stability. Feelings of loss. Loss of my identity as the Rector of this church, loss of work, loss of the ministries we were about, loss of direction. Loss of confidence. Others I know, both men and women who have gone through similar congregational conflict experiences, have similar feelings.

Another piece of what I have to work through is the experience of being “Told what to do” by members of the congregation and others in leadership. The parish consultant I hired said, “When women are called as Pastors to a congregation, the congregation views her as ‘their daughter.’ And daughters are supposed to listen to what they are told, and be obedient.” I have worked in three other congregations and not felt that this was the case, but it certainly mirrors a piece of my experience at this particular congregation.

And, another question I've been asked, "Would this have happened to a man? Would this have happened if the rector had been a man?" I don't know. I do know that I have several male colleagues who have had challenging experiences in churches, men who resigned as a result of the conflict. So, I really can't assess if this particular church would have responded differently had a man been there instead of a woman. It is possible that for some any change in leadership style would have been too much change.

More to the point, I have a lot of feelings to work through. And work through them I will. In the meantime, I am in a deep dark place. My hope is that my time of reflection is something like Mary Oliver describes in this poem:

"Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this too, was a gift."

Mary Oliver, "The Uses of Sorrow" in Thirst: Beacon Press 2006

There is a bigger issue here, though, than just my particular situation. This is a feminist theology blog and therefore by intent these reflections offer a particular feminist lens through which we view church, ministry, life, and faith.

That said, as women we struggle to have our voices heard. Numerous studies have been done, and in particular I think of the work of Carol Gilligan, on the developmental process of girls seeking to be heard and have their voices honored. It is a cultural dynamic and it feeds into our leadership as well. I think of how Hilary Clinton is portrayed by the media: how pictures of her tired and angry hit the news during a meeting in Africa. We never saw though, the many other meetings she held that were filled with hope. Of how an African-American President and a white American woman are impacting the world.

It is rarely conscious, the reality that individuals and groups, tend to “hear” male voices over female voices. Rarely intentional that boys are called on in the classroom more than girls. A social reality that men jump in to a discussion quickly while women speak up more slowly.

What then does this mean for women as leaders? Several books have been written on the way women lead. In particular I think of, “The Web of Women’s Leadership” by Susan Willhauck and Jacqulyn Thorpe, and “Leading Women” by Carole E. Becker. These books describe women’s leadership as “relationtional” and offers ways for women to work on being heard and lead without compromising who we are to “become like men.” They honor the differences in leadership, men and women, one not being better than the other, just more authentic to who we are. Men and women are different. It’s been years since I read these books and no longer remember exactly how they unpack this. Perhaps I will reread these books as part of my process of moving through my feelings during this dark time.

Our reading this week from Job is an incentive to move through darkness. It doesn’t really sound that way, perhaps; God scolding Job because he has missed the point. God reminds Job that God is creator of all, that Job is part of what God has created, and that Job plays a role, albeit small, in the ongoing recreation of the world, a re-creation grounded in love.

I think though of a book I once read, I believe it was “Job and the Mystery of Suffering” by Richard Rohr. I’d go back and reread some of the book to be certain, but it’s packed in one of many boxes of books from my former office, so I have to rely on my memory :-)

Following today’s reading Job responds to God. Scripture says, Job repented in sack cloth and ashes. (Job 42). Rohr suggests that one word is misinterpreted. Job did not repent “in” but rather he repented “from” sack cloth and ashes. In other words, Job, rather than sitting around feeling bad, needed to pick himself up and move on, certain that God was with him all the way. It seems God is telling Job that God will act in Job’s life when Job takes action in his life.

I hear in this that I need to reflect on what happened in order to learn from it. And, I need to honor my feelings of grief and remorse. I also need to trust that God is in this and therefore I need to move through my feelings.

Some time spent reflecting on what happened will be useful. I don’t want to become bitter and blaming, of myself or others. I hope an honest reflection will enable me to become wiser and more mature. I hope I am better able to understand my leadership style. Perhaps I’ll have some insight as to what I might do different the next time I encounter conflict and resistance. In time I need to forgive those who hurt me in this process and I need to forgive myself.

Perhaps I can learn from Job and trust that God is a part of all of this, the good, the hard, the painful. I don’t believe that God causes these challenging times in life. Loosely based on the systematic theology of John MacQuarrie, I’ve come to think that because of free will God allows life to unfold, the good, the hard, the painful. I also think that, as God did in the beginning of creation, when God created order out of chaos, that God helps us move through the chaos into a new created sense of order.

Perhaps as women we play an important role, at this time in history, helping God re-create from the chaos of the world. Perhaps God is speaking into the world in a particular way, through the voices of women and the way we lead. Perhaps in time relational leadership will pull order out of disorder and create new ways of being church? Perhaps we are called to lead in this challenging time so that the world can more fully understand what Jesus means when he says, “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Proper 23B

A Reflection on Proper 23B by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy - Mark 10:17-31

“He looked at him and loved him.” And that, it seems was the moment of the rich young man’s undoing in this week’s Gospel. When someone sees us and loves us as we really are, it can be challenging to us. It can call out a response in us to face the truth of our lives for good or ill. And it can make us turn tail and run for cover, even if we are grieving as we go.

I recently attended a clergy conference where the facilitator used the work of Parker Palmer from his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. As part of our discussion, he asked us to reflect and share with one about another our “shadows” which are:
 A basic insecurity about our own identity and worth

 The belief that the universe is a battleground and essentially an unfriendly place

 Functional atheism – the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us

 Fear of the natural chaos of life

 Denial of death and denial of failure

What was most interesting to me in this group of clergy was how many of us identified that our biggest shadow was “functional atheism” and how much we struggle with that. Many of us articulated how painful that is, and how deep it goes – that indeed it is a soul conflict. We “know” with our hearts and souls…indeed most of us with all of our beings that God is God and we are not…and yet…and yet….to see us in action, one might easily conclude that we might think that indeed the ultimate buck does stop with us. Many shared that they find themselves feeling burnt out, exhausted and even resentful about the demands of their call, and yet feel the need to keep doing more and more, and to keep striving to do it perfectly, or at least as others demand they do it because this is the only way they feel that they are “good enough.” Many also shared, with some sadness, what gets lost in all this striving. Compassion, joy, a sense of connection with oneself and with the Holy One.

“I have followed all the commandments all of my life. Indeed. I have been a good minister. I have dotted every i and crossed every t. I have visited every sick person and attended every meeting. I have signed every register and done good liturgy. I have studied hard and preached well. I have listened and been a non-anxious presence even when my own anxiety was rocketing me out of my skin. And God…I am so tired! That’s what that particular shadow in action looks like for many of us.

“Enough trying” says Jesus. “It’s not about that anyway, because my beloved silly human….you cannot save yourself anyway. Give it up, give it over, give it away….it is not about you.”

Oh. The young man couldn’t bear that particular piece of news, wasn’t ready for the depth charge. He had to go. But he went sadly. Knowingly? Maybe. Sometimes we do know when it’s there, the real thing, the better way, just out of reach…but we can’t quite manage it yet, the fear, the shadow pull is still too strong.

We were reminded that shadows are illuminated by light and that there is for us a Light that the darkness cannot overcome. We were also reminded that frequently we cannot see our own and that is why we need to be in loving community with one another.

We cannot save ourselves. For the functional atheists among us that may come as scary news on a bad day. The illusion of control brings us comfort and the command to give all we have away makes us quake in terror. Until we remember just who and whose we are anyway….just who it is that looked in love, said “give it away.” The credibility of the example is hard to argue.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Proper 22B

A reflection on Mark 10:2-16 by The Rev. Camille Hegg

I wish this reading were not in the lectionary anymore. It has always been, and still is, cause for controversy. The whole business of adultery and whether a person re marrying is committing adultery has been the cause of much pain in the church. Women abused by their husbands have been told to go back home and make things better, or to pray that God would so their husbands would act better.

I once had a mother come to me for counseling. Her daughter who was in her early twenties was in the hospital because the daughter’s husband had beaten her and she had a broken collar bone. She wanted me to pray for her daughter and her son in law, that the son in law would not hit her again. I asked her if she wanted her daughter to stay in the marriage and she replied, “Oh yes, marriage is sacred.” All of us reading this article know of very similar experiences. Violence against women does not seem to lessen.

For long history divorce in marriage was forbidden and women continued to be treated as property, or as unimportant as the small rocks an absent-mjnded walker kicks out of the way on his walk. When Jesus says that Moses granted that a man must give a wife a certificate of dismissal, we are invited to think this was an improvement. With the certificate she could prove she was no one’s property anymore. Perhaps she wouldn’t get beaten up so much. But she was turned out to fend for herself. Centuries later, through this passage Jesus broadens the issues and says whoever divorces and marries another is an adulterer. Seems to me that makes it worse. You can’t marry again without being another kind of sinner and the pressure to stay married because of this ‘teaching’ as caused much worse consequences. .

But I noticed something in this gospel that I never had before. Jesus says that when a woman divorces her husband and remarries, she get the same treatment. She is an adulterer, too. But she apparently is free to divorce.

It made me wonder: When did the ability of a woman to divorce her husband come into the culture? In the time of Moses? With the new covenant of Jeremiah? With Jesus and these words? I’m going to keep that question in my mind as I do some research. Perhaps the Greeks and Romans were already making it possible/legal for a woman to divorce and by the writing of the Gospel of Mark it was assumed.

I propose a look at the words of Jesus to broaden our images from this passage. Then maybe I won’t regret so much int being in the lectionary.

For instance:

Various translations of the creation story describe God as creating a “fitting helper” or a “helpmeet,” or a ‘partner.” Some refer to a wife and we infer a woman when we hear the word wife. The terms ‘fitting helper” and helpmeet” broaden our images of what a life partner means. It scares some people, but it seems a natural process to enter into discussions about what fitting partnerships are. .Perhaps one day we will ask the question “when did unions of people of the same gender come into the culture and be assumed part of the culture?” There will still be controversy, and divorce, and hardness of heart, and adultery.

Let us broaden our images of adultery and hardness of heart. Making something impure or using cheaper materials than called for means it is adulterated. It’s more than what people do in their bedrooms. It’s what they do in their lives to themselves and others.

Any relationship or person can be adulterated. Issues in relationships involve power and the potential to abuse it; giving or withholding respect, lack of forgiveness. Sometimes couples grow apart through neglect and dishonesty. Hardness of heart should be an occasion for tears, repentance, and calling forth the most honesty, integrity and respect we can pull from our being. To do less is a kind of hardness of heart toward ourselves. To stay in an abusive relationship also implies a kind of hardness of heart and a lack of forgiveness of oneself for allowing such treatment. That is a kind of adulteration toward oneself and an occasion for tears and self forgiveness.

The more we know about the world, the more we realize that women are still being treated very badly in many parts of the world. Keeping girls from education, killing them for being raped, female genital mutilation, starvation, are just the surface. They are some of the varieties of hardness of heart. The people who foster these systems and these cruelties engage in a kind of adulteration of themselves.

We need divorces from these abuses and hardness of heart.